Thursday, November 20, 2014

Story Hacks

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

Stories Are a Fuggly Hack

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

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

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

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

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

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is a profit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Profit became the key to Respectability.

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

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

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

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

Adventure into strange ideas is an acquired taste.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most books don't do that. 

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

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

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

Here is an idea to mull over. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Friday, November 14, 2014

WheretoWatch -- Search for legal movie viewing

The shared news of a convenient innovation by the MPAA.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a great weekend!

Rowena Cherry

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Series Time Slips

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

From the Dark Places

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

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

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

Margaret L. Carter Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Ghost on Horseback Guest Post by Carol Buchanan

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

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

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

See the series on "depicting" here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Humanoid Aliens?

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

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

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

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

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Identifying with the main character is what most readers seek. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STAR TREK proved that is possible. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the index post for Astrology Just For Writers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, November 02, 2014


It's the second day of NaNoWriMo which is approximately National Novel Writing Month, and writers all over the world have signed up, and are still signing up, to meet the challenge of writing the first, unedited, draft of a 50,000-word literary work.

Join in. Visit

If you do join, I am RowenaCherry and I welcome "buddies". My word count is negative. I just threw out an entire prologue, a chase scene, and a fight.

My best wishes,

Rowena Cherry

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Real-Life Zombies

Just in time for Halloween: An article from NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC about parasites in the animal kingdom that "zombify" their hosts:


For example: The jewel wasp's sting turns a cockroach into a "zombie" that the wasp can lead into a burrow by its antenna. The roach passively allows the wasp to lay an egg on its underside and stays motionless while the larva hatches and digs into its abdomen. Another kind of wasp inserts its egg into the abdomen of a ladybug, which goes about its normal behavior while being gradually eaten from inside by the wasp larva. When the larva crawls out of the ladybug and spins a cocoon, the insect remains "enthralled." Immobilized by the alien chemicals in its brain, it stands guard over the cocoon. When the adult wasp emerges and flies away, the ladybug dies. Gypsy moth caterpillars sometimes get infected by a microbe called a baculovirus. When it comes time for the virus to leave its host, it changes the behavior of the caterpillar, causing the insect to climb to the tops of leaves. Then the virus dissolves the caterpillar into "goo," which drops onto leaves below where the next generation of immature moths will ingest it. Killifish infected by certain flatworms tend to gravitate to the surface of the water, thus exposing them to getting eaten by birds, the next stage in the flatworm's life cycle. The single-celled parasite Toxoplasma, to complete its life cycle by moving from rats to cats, causes infected rats to lose their fear of feline odor and even become attracted to the smell of cat urine.

Although the hosts do behave in a zombie-like manner, because they haven't actually died they seem more like possessed creatures than undead (with the possible exception of the unfortunate ladybug, which continues a gruesome pseudo-life with its guts being devoured). While the hosts may be compared to zombies in their mindless behavior, the parasites remind me of many fictional vampires with their mind-altering abilities. I'm gratified to learn that there could be an authentic biological basis for my premise that my own vampires secrete chemicals in their saliva to have soothing, euphoric, and addictive effects on victims.

Creatures like the ones described in the article irresistibly bring to mind Octavia Butler's classic story "Bloodchild." Human colonists on an alien planet have agreed to a symbiotic partnership with the sapient inhabitants, who seem to resemble giant centipedes. Almost all female (they're apparently suffering a shortage of males), they need human hosts (mainly male) to incubate their eggs, which are laid inside the man's body. Normally, the mother removes her offspring when they hatch before they can hurt or kill the host. But sometimes she doesn't get there in time . . . . These aliens' stingers inject a chemical that eases pain and induces a calm, pleasant emotional state. The female alien in the story acts as a patron to a human family, of whom she seems genuinely fond.

Many fictional vampires enter symbiotic relationships with human blood donors, especially in romances. But would a human community plausibly become desperate enough to make a bargain like the one in "Bloodchild"? Possibly, if the alternative is certain death for all of them.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Strong Characters Defined Part 3: Tit For Tat in Paranormal Romance by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Strong Characters Defined
Part 3
Tit For Tat in Paranormal Romance
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Previous posts in the Strong Character Defined series are:

Part 1 in Strong Characters Defined series posted:

Here is another post with foundational material about Character:

And here is Part 2 in this series:

Today we're going to examine a Theme that turned up in a quote posted on Twitter.

This tiny quote reveals a Theme that can be used as foundation of a really hot Romance which has a Character-driven Plot, and might be a long series of very long books.

Michelle McKee retweeted a tweet that @Goodluck Msangi sent to @tase_ny :

---------quote from Twitter Retweeted by Michelle McKee----------
Goodluck Msangi ‏@tase_ny May 12

Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good  for each other and for everyon… …

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

That's from Thessalonians 5:15 which is posted on the URL ".niv"

The full, non-twitter condensed, version is:

"Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else."

I have no idea what this conversation was about or why the retweet ended up before my eyes, but it fits perfectly with the discussion on Depicting Culture using Dialogue:

Aphorisms, platitudes, punch-lines of jokes, and every sort of encapsulated Ancient Wisdom passed down in sayings or children's rhymes can be used to depict the culture your characters live in without ever a word of Exposition (thus avoiding the dreaded Expository Lump.)

We all know that Bible Quote as a version of "An Eye For An Eye" -- which is so garbled in translation it's hopeless to try to explain that it's not Revenge or "making someone pay" but rather, just like the US Constitution, LIMITS the power of the judiciary by expressing the precise liability a person has for the damage done to another person. 

Therefore, it makes marvelous fodder for the care and feeding of a Romance.

We all know that Couples argue (even fight) over Politics, Education, Birth Control, or the cut of a political candidate's suit.  Most of the time, the domestic issue is not the ostensible issue.

Marion Zimmer Bradley taught that the Villain is the Hero of His Own Story -- that who is good and who is bad is a matter of Point Of View.  She learned that from her mentors.

Read the quote again.

Words like "pays back" and "wrong" and "strive" and "good" are subject to wildly varying definitions as you switch point-of-view to tell a great story.  There are hundreds of distinctly different novels set in dozens of Worlds buried in that one little quote as you change the definition of those qualitative words as you shift Point of View.

When you write a story from two points of view, you (as writer) must draw a STARK (i.e. artistic) distinction in black and white for the comparison of the points of view.

The reader must feel secure in comprehension of that distinction before you introduce any shades of gray.  The nature of that distinction is the source of your narrative hook.  Readers will accept or reject a book on the basis of whether the difference, the conflict, has personal relevance.

Fiction is not reality, but rather an artistic depiction of reality.  Certain attributes your Built World are exaggerated, others minimized, to bring depict the Theme of this character's Life. 

Shades of gray, and "there's no such thing as an absolute Truth" just won't work to fuel the hot-hot scenes you want to write, and won't hit the reader in the G-spot of imagination.

You need the high contrast of absolute Right and absolute Wrong, but once those polar opposites are in place, you can bury them in colors chosen from the palate of colors appropriate to your Theme (just as an artist selects certain tones to key a picture; writers must select just a few tones of reality to depict their world and let the reader fill in the rest.)

"Never repay a Wrong with a Wrong" makes a dynamite theme if both the Protagonist and Antagonist (or both who will form a Couple) are absolutely committed to behaving that way, yet define what is Right and what is Wrong differently. 

So even though the real world the reader lives in is painted in shades of gray, blue, red, yellow, green and everything between, the Art that is sought by a Romance Reader needs to separate the shades, to bring up the contrast. 

The romance reader won't be able to sink into the story if it isn't clear "What She Sees In Him" and "What He Sees In Her."  At the same time, it has to be clear why the Couple doesn't  just skip the story-part and get married today.  The Conflict is them vs whatever-keeps-them-apart.

The essence of story is Conflict.

Therefore, what she sees in him and vice versa has to be utterly clear (even if it is to change later in the novel via an Epiphany.)

So let's assume both the Soul Mates are Strong Characters when they meet.

And let's suppose, since this is the season, that they are working together for a particular Political Candidate.

They are both on "the same side" - so there should be no barrier to them getting together.

Let's employ what I like to call "karmic plotting" -- using some Paranormal Dimension to explain how and why the main characters came to this Situation, why they are in it together, why they want to kill each other even if not literally.

Maybe this Couple were the victims of an Arranged Marriage way back in the Middle Ages.  Maybe they never shared a bedroom?  Maybe, in bitter retaliation and grand defiance against his inattentiveness and against her Father for hurling her into this, she had a kid by another guy and pretended it was the husband's kid (but the husband knew better).  The husband threw the wife and kid out of the mansion and repudiated them publicly.  (i.e. he returned a Wrong with a Wrong). 

In other words, the Arranged Marriage is "unfinished business" in their karmic relationship.

And let's take the case of a married woman getting pregnant by another man as the karmic background here.

So each of them is feeling relentlessly attracted to the other (without even considering sex in the mix), and absolutely scared white lipped at the idea of getting involved with each other. 

The part of the mind that has an affinity for RIGHT says, "Marry that one!" and the part of the mind that has a weakness for WRONG says, "Run!"  because running is the easy way out which a Strong Character would never choose.

As the campaign they're working on heats up, the campaign manager turns to Attack Ads, and maybe includes lies about the opposition's record.

Let's say the Opposition is claiming to be the son of a famous person -- and that connection is what makes his following trust him.

In a Conference meeting about their next attack ad, one of the Couple blurts out a suggestion, "Just say he's not the legitimate son of Famous Guy.  His wife cheated and he's been fooled into accepting this guy as his son." 

"We don't have any proof of that."

"What do we need proof for? It'll hit only two weeks before the election - early voting will be under way!"

And the other one of the Couple says, "We can't do that.  It would just be so wrong!"

The first one of the Couple says, "Not only can we do that, we should do it because of all the dirty lies he's told about our Guy."

The Campaign manager considers, "Well, tit for tat, we'd be even."

"Besides," adds the first one of the Couple, "there is so little resemblance between father and son that I wouldn't be surprised if he isn't really the father."

So the Campaign Manager launches the disinformation ads.

At a Campaign stop, in the middle of the novel, the two get a Tarot Reading, or a Psychic divines the Relationship of their previous lives -- but they don't believe any of that non-sense.

Meanwhile,the Couple destroys the headquarters staff as they argue every aspect of the issue and the staffers take sides, then fight between themselves. 

If you're writing from this Outline, you insert encounters with Psychics, Clergy, and some spooky experiences on the campaign trail.  Oh, and they get the endorsement of a Romance Writer famous for Historicals, who has written Their Story.

The parallels between the Middle Ages arranged marriage build slowly, and there's confusion in them both as they dream the Past, and it's the same as the Present.  Maybe they decide to break the jinx by having sex which they never did in the Past?

Not only are they now arguing that the Campaign Ads should not have veered toward such a blatant lie, but also that it's bad karma to lie.

Maybe they start to think the Campaign Manager is a reincarnation of the son she fobbed off as her husband's?  This novel can be very spooky in a realistic way as the staff takes sides in the Couple's battle.

The Campaign becomes ineffectual for lack of staff cohesiveness.

The Campaign loses. 

The Opposition Candidate (now Elect) turns out to be the son of another man.  The Lie turns out to be True.   The Public is outraged, and divided over whether this man (an imposter) is actually Elected or not.

The newly Elected Official commits suicide, because he had no idea he wasn't his father's son and couldn't face the world after living a lie so publicly.

The Couple has to attend the Funeral, as part of the Political Campaign Staff.  Be sure to give them jobs on the Campaign that would require them to do the courtesy.

At the Wake after the funeral, they get drunk together, having both learned that one does not respond to a Wrong by doing another Wrong.  The Karmic Consequences are just way too severe.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, October 26, 2014

EBay and PayPal Profiting from Sale of "Resell Rights" to Dean Koontz, Jeffrey Archer, Robert Ludlum

EBay does not post the name and contact information of a copyright agent on their site.

Therefore, IMHO, EBay does not qualify for Safe Harbor under the DMCA, at least in Northern California, if it could be argued that Oppenheimer v. Allvoices, Inc is a precedent.

Quoting from a blog on Lexology:

"In the case of Oppenheimer v. Allvoices, Inc., the plaintiff, a professional photographer, alleged copyright infringement by the defendant. The defendant is an online service provider that publishes various audiovisual content.......... The United States District Court for the Northern District of California held that the defendant "may not invoke the safe harbor … with respect to infringing conduct that occurred prior to Allvoices designating a DMCA-related agent with the Copyright Office"


This might be interesting to Random House, given that Dean Koontz appears to have an address in California.

I am not posting this to encourage anyone to knowingly (which it would be, if you follow this link )
to try to buy "Resell Rights" to any living or recently deceased author's body of work. The point I want to make is how outrageously eBay turns a blind eye to the most obvious copyright infringement.

Perhaps I would hesitate to talk about turning a blind eye, except that I have a record of correspondence that I had with eBay CEO John Donohoe's office in which I pointed out multiple instances of copyright infringement, and suggested that, given that EBay can force would-be sellers to  provide every detail of the weight, package size, shipper they will use and much more before the seller can complete an auction listing, EBay could easily use the same metric to oblige sellers who claim they own the copyright and the right to sell resell rights to 55 Dean Koontz stories, and 29 short stories by Jeffrey Archer, and a bunch of works by Robert Ludlum.

I believe that EBay deliberately chooses not to even try to educate sellers about copyright. The quotes below show gob-smacking ignorance of copyright law. The fault is eBay's, IMHO, because they allow alleged falsehoods to be published and perpetuated.

Alleged falsehoods such as this:
This a PayPal only auction.  Upon Payment this eBook collection will be sent to you within 24 hours.
Attention eBay Staff:  I am an Authorized Reseller of this product and also the copyright holder or I have resale rights to this eBook or item.

Full Resell Rights are Granted by the copyright owners to sell these eBooks with Resell Rights or Master Resell Rights Granted! This ad complies with all eBay rules and regulations.

"I will send this item by postal mail. Sending this item by email or by any other digital delivery method is not allowed and violates eBay policy."
On the rare occasions that a copyright owner discovers an infringement, joins VeRO and submits a take down notice before the auction ends, buyers of the illegal items are not informed that they bought an illegal item, or that they actually did not acquire Resell Rights (or, they weren't a year or so ago.... and if they are now, this particular seller appears to be unaware that he does not own the rights he is offering to sell.)

Also, eBay posts "Have One To Sell"? "Sell Now". That implies that anyone who buys Dean Koontz's books, or Jeffrey Archer's books, or Robert Ludlum's books from this seller is welcome to relist using the same template, doesn't it?

If this listing truly complies with all eBay rules and regulations, IMHO, EBay's rules and regulations are woefully and deliberately inadequate and or inadequately communicated to users.

One seller boasts that he is not greedy. He readily claims that he has created multiple copies of the ebooks in different formats: "I have multi platform converted these ebooks so more people can read them on multiple readers"

It is easy not to be greedy when one sells "stuff" for which one did not pay!

I sincerely hope that someone raises the matter of EBay and how difficult it is to takedown this sort of thing at the USPTO multi-stakeholder forum on October 28th.

Rowena Cherry

A reminder that the USPTO and NTIA will host the fifth public meeting of the Multistakeholder Forum on improving the operation of the DMCA notice and takedown system. The meeting will be held on October 28, 2014 from 9:00am - 12:00pm in Berkeley, California at the UC Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall, Booth Auditorium, 215 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, CA 94720). The weblink to access the live webcast for this meeting is: The phone bridge information for remote participation is: 1-888-453-9955; Passcode – 6039037.
At the meeting, the Working Group will report on the substance and progress of its work to date. Attendees of this meeting will thereafter have an opportunity to respond and further discuss or identify matters for the Working Group to address.
For more information about the Multistakeholder Forum, please visit the Multistakeholder Tab at: For an archive of documentation relating to past meetings of the Multistakeholder Forum please visit
To register for the meeting, please follow the instructions at: 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Saving Ova for Later

Columnist Susan Reimer writes about Apple's offer to subsidize the freezing of eggs for women who want to delay childbearing while still taking advantage of the optimum age for producing healthy ova (a perk already offered by Facebook):

Susan Reimer

In theory, these women can jump-start their careers with the prospect of being able to time motherhood to fit their life plans. One catch, as Reimer points out, is that the optimum age for harvesting eggs is in the twenties, and how many young women of that age are likely to have jobs offering this benefit? At present, also, there's the practical problem of the low success rate for in vitro fertilization of previously frozen eggs.

One observation by Reimer: "One commentator wondered aloud if we really wanted to support a society that requires us to work so hard that we have no time to have children. I would argue that we are already that society. This just makes it easier for women to navigate it." She also points out that before focusing on such a relatively exotic perk, we should work harder on accessibility of health coverage, maternity benefits, day care, flexible work hours, etc.

Those who've read Heinlein's PODKAYNE OF MARS will recall that in the future society of the novel a similar process of cryogenic preservation is routine (on Mars, at least, where the human inhabitants tend to marry early and have large families). The custom reconciles the discrepancy between the best biological age for conceiving and gestating infants and the best social age, in terms of emotional maturity and financial stability, for rearing them. In this novel, however, couples don't save eggs or embryos; they have full-term infants, produced through natural pregnancy and birth, frozen. Podkayne mentions one typical example, a young married couple who have their babies while finishing school, then consign them to cryogenic preservation. After both husband and wife complete the main phase of their careers and take early retirement, they have all three of their babies revived to be raised as triplets. Podkayne's own mother had five children in quick succession, Podkayne and her younger brother being characters in the novel and their three infant siblings still being in stasis at the opening of the story. If Heinlein were writing this book now, I suspect he would opt for preservation of embryos rather than full-term babies.

If the technology of freezing eggs or embryos ever becomes reliable enough to be as routine as on Podkayne's Mars, would that necessarily be a Good Thing? We might ask whether professional women who decline this perk and choose to have children earlier in their careers might find themselves subtly penalized, stigmatized as not sufficiently dedicated to their work. And would the custom of allowing some women (the privileged) to postpone the child-rearing life stage through cryogenics spawn yet another class distinction? Given the possibility of these effects, might availability of such a procedure become another way of encouraging women to become as workaholic as would-be successful men have traditionally been expected to be?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Strong Characters Defined - Part 1 - Reading Market Reports by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Strong Characters Defined
Part 1
Reading Market Reports
Jacqueline Lichtenberg 

This is Part 1 of the Strong Characters Defined Series, even though Part 2 has already posted. 

Part 2 is

Cindy Holby wrote in her Saturday Jan 27th, 2007 post on this blog:
I write very strong characters. Characters that seem to make an impact on my fans as every letter I get mentions how much they love the characters, how much they were drawn into their lives and how much they think about them long after the story is over.
----end quote---------

The few weeks previous to Holby's post, I posted some comments on Genre and how though it is enforced and defended by publishers, Genre is really invented by and perpetuated by readers (the opposite of what Editors think, and yet Genre is defined by publishers). 

As a fiction consumer, you can up your odds of getting what you want from a book by learning something about how publishers tell writers what the reader wants to buy.  Publishers do that via a publication called Writers' Markets, and via columns in periodicals aimed at Writers titled something like Market Reports, which is a report to writers on where to market which kind of property. 

One of the requirements you see over and over in Market Reports (where publishers describe what they're buying now) is "strong characters."

They want "strong characters" because those books (and films) make bigger profits, not because there's no market for Weak Characters but because there's a bigger market for Strong Characters. 

Writers, publishers and readers often mean different things when they say "strong characters.'

Publishers don't mean by the term "strong characters," characters the reader can identify with (as Holby's readers admire), nor characters that have big muscles, nor characters that impress the reader and make the reader remember their names and use the character for cosplay.

Publishers mean characters whose decisions direct and energize the plot.

Publishers mean the point of view character must be the person who makes the decisions (internal conflict) that manifest in Plot Events (external conflict).

The Market Report is telling you to send in stories with a protagonist who makes the initial move that sets the plot in motion, and an antagonist who acts to prevent the protagonist from achieving the protagonist's goal. 

Protagonist and Antagonist define the Conflict.  The writer uses Conflict to Depict the Theme.

Publishers do not want point-of-view characters who agonize, wring their mental hands, or worry without ever taking charge of their own life.  However, a character who merely acts and never thinks or feels, won't be considered "strong" either. 

A Strong Character is one who wins his own Internal Conflict between his Emotions and his Reason -- between Desire and Values -- or whatever dichotomy you choose to illustrate your Theme.

The character who loses his/her Internal Conflict is the Antagonist.
That's the series on Depicting with links to previous posts.

Confusing the role of Protagonist and Antagonist is one mistake beginners so often make when choosing a point of view character.   

You might also want to read Dialogue Part 9, Depicting Culture.  Very often an internal conflict is best depicted by a conflict between Values and External Culture (or peer-pressure).

That entry also has links to previous parts.

A strong character is defined by publishing as a person whose "character" is strong -- who has values and sticks to them regardless of their own emotional internal pain.  A Strong Character is defined as a person who backs his Values with life and limb, takes risks, stays focused on the goal, and maybe goes down swinging, but never, ever, ever compromises over "right" and "wrong." 

Uncompromising, unyielding, unbending, stubborn, obstinate, obstructionist, are traits which are produced by Strong Character. 

But the words have a negative semantic loading - (look up semantic load if you don't know what that is). 

In Executive Training, these internal character traits are redirected into external manifestation as "Goal Directed" and "Strategist" and "Taking Charge" and "Gets the Job Done" and "Determined" and "Dominant" and "Successful."

If you want to learn to think like a "Strong Character" so you can write the dialogue convincingly, then read some books on Executive Training. 

I've never seen a Market Report where a publisher asked for "weak characters." 

They don't want to buy stories where the main point of view character is someone to whom the story happens.  They want the main point of view character to be someone who makes the story happen, if not at the opening scene, then as the character "arcs" or changes under the impact of Events, the character steps up and takes charge of their own life. 

Now, in Romance, there can be another character who "makes the plot happen" -- whose decisions direct the course of Events.  But the protagonists have to assess that course of Events, and re-position themselves to "succeed" in achieving their own goals, regardless of what the Decision Maker's goals might be.

An example is the Arranged Wedding.  Set in different times over the last few centuries, the Strong Female Lead might cut a deal with the arranged-husband, negotiate for a part of the marriage where she makes the decisions, then parlay that into being the Title Holder.  Or in later centuries, she might arrange for the arranged-husband to meet with a sorrowful accident.  In modern times, she might "just say no" even if it means leaving her religion and her country behind.  But if she's "strong" she will get her own way -- and might live to regret that.

One point of confusion between Strong and Weak Characters lies within the concept "Character Arc" -- we all want to see the characters in a novel learn from their experiences, not repeat the same errors.  We want to see people change their minds about certain fundamental assumptions, but in a work of fiction that mind-changing must seem not just logical but inevitable to the reader.

For example, a teenage couple hooks up at a wild party and has unprotected sex.  Then comes the dog-fight over abortion, what's right, what's wrong, what should we do, what can we do, whose decision is it anyway?  Oh, and what will the rest of their families think?

The Shot Gun Wedding used to be the only choice.  Now, life is more complex.

So if one says do the abortion, and the other says that's just wrong, one of them must "arc" - one mind or the other has to be changed.  In real life, that doesn't happen.  In fiction, it has to happen for clear-cut reasons that bespeak the Theme.

Say for example, the woman wants to do the abortion and the man says no, and they are both strong characters but are too young to do a good job of considering the other person's position.  So she does it anyway, as is her right because it's her body even if it is his son.  Neither has changed their mind, and it's way too late now.  The argument is moot. 

They part in a STORM of toxic emotion.

Ten years later, pushing 30, maybe one or both are divorced after an infertile marriage, and they meet as professional rivals -- say two Lawyers faced off over opposing Clients, maybe arguing before the Supreme Court.  Or maybe they are each CEO's of new-hot-tech companies, chewing at each others' market shares.  They are pitted against each other.

The ferocity of their professional battle will mirror the ferocity of the battle over abortion, and you will have an opportunity to depict two cultures in a fight to the death over right and wrong. 

If you are doing this in Science Fiction (maybe with Time Travel) or Fantasy -- maybe with Paranormal Romance where ghosts figure in to the plot -- you can depict the "might-have-beens" and that she could not have gone to college if she'd had a child to raise, and that he could not have finished a Ph.D. if he had a wife and kid to support.  But the bone of contention in their current rivalry involves a 10 year old boy -- the age their son would have been by now.

See the potent drama unfolding? 

When women are raised to be Weak Characters so that men can always dominate them, and men are raised to be Strong Characters (regardless of their individual Nature), the situation appears a lot more peaceful -- but only on the surface.

When women are raised to be Strong Characters just as men are, you have the Clash of the Titans, and people must determine their own criteria for what is Right and what is Wrong. 

If men and women are equally "Strong" in their stance on what is Right and what is Wrong, then the only Resolution of the Conflict (Internal and External) is "Character Arc" -- one or the other (or both) must admit to a flaw in their concept of "Right vs. Wrong" and either or both must change the basis of their thinking.

That is the typical story of, say, a Religious Conversion leading to an Alcoholic going sober and staying sober. 

The hardest thing a human being ever does is to admit to having been wrong.  We all need to know beyond doubt that what we understand to be Right is in fact Right because we put our lives on the line for it.

In Fiction, the moment when a Strong Protagonist admits to having been Wrong is called "The Epiphany" -- because it is a sudden, blinding, shift in perception of the world just exactly like a Religious Conversion. 

Constructing an Epiphany moment for a Strong Protagonist is a complex (and dangerous) thing for a writer to attempt.  But it does make for a memorable novel.

The key to learning to create a believable Epiphany moment is to go through your everyday life asking yourself, "What would I accept as proof that I am wrong about XYZ?"  Challenge everything you believe, from politics to morality, from religion to science (especially science) with that question, and take notes on what your mind does. 

To write a "strong character" from the inside, you must be a strong character.  To write a convincing Epiphany from the inside, you must experience an Epiphany of your own (and take notes.)

So what kind of book do you want to read?  Do you prefer to read about someone who is a victim of circumstance because of their own ineptitude or lack of forethought whose problem is ultimately solved by someone else's actions?  There is a market for that. 

Or would you prefer to read about someone who was a victim of circumstances and despite paying a huge price, prevailed over circumstances and made the world a better place for it? 

A strong Character has, as primary consideration in crafting goals, the ultimate fate of others.  The strong Character does not put him/herself first. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg