Sunday, November 22, 2020

Egregious (Reversal of Royalties) And Urgent

What is the point of "selling" a book to a reader, if the middleman (an Amazon company, for instance) actively encourages the reader to return that book --after reading it-- for a full refund or free exchange for another book, at the expense of the author?

That's not a "sale", it's a merry go round.

Read all about it.


Please read the full letter and  sign the petition.

How can an author make a living if book sales can be cancelled, and book revenues can be clawed back up to 365 days after the assumed sale?  
How can an author plan her finances, or project what her tax obligation will be?  However, assuming that one has something to leave, or something to invest, or a rollover IRA, this is the time to do some urgent tax planning.  One probably has until December 10th, 2020 to get ones financial ducks in a row.

Three links:


While this writer cannot offer financial advice (not being qualified), the most interesting advice might be to transfer one's biggest losers into either a Roth or a GRAT. 

All the best,

Rowena Cherry 


Thursday, November 19, 2020

Revision Habits

I've just finished the second revision stage of my current work in progress, a light paranormal romance novella, a loose sequel to two previous novellas from the Wild Rose Press. All authors probably have their own individual approaches to self-editing within a few broad categories. Some writing mavens advise a separate editing once-over for each level of potentially needed changes. For instance, one for major plot and character issues, one for style, syntax, word choice, and grammar, and finally one for spelling, typos, punctuation, and other minor errors. A few seem to expect even more rounds of revision. If some writers strictly follow that advice, no wonder they may take years to finish a book.

Such writing mentors probably tend to be the same people who advise us not to bother with granular stylistic and proofreading changes on the first revision or two, because we'd be likely to waste time changing passages that won't even appear in the finished product. That may be good advice for "pantsers." I outline extensively, deal with plot and character difficulties at that stage, and excise elements that don't fit before the actual first-draft composition begins. Also, I edit as I go, at least on the level of sentence structure and word choice. This habit makes me a slower writer than I want to be, but on the other hand, it means I end up with a fairly polished first draft. After all this time, I really can't help doing it that way; my habits were formed over decades as an academic writer and more than twenty years employed as a proofreader.

Personally, I couldn't bear the waste of time involved in doing a separate pass for each level of revision, from global down to nitpicky. I tackle them all at once, sort of. Again, I probably couldn't force myself to do otherwise anyway. If I decided to start with overarching plot and character evaluation, along the way I would inevitably notice minor points that needed fixing. My usual procedure, after the revising-in-progress first draft phase, is to let the work rest for about a week, then read through it and make any corrections that occur to me. Next, I send sections to my online critique group and the whole thing to a critique partner for comment. After addressing all their suggestions, I leave the piece to sit for a few more days. Then I give it a final pass before submitting to the target market. Incidentally, the function that underlines misspellings in red is permanently activated on this computer. That way, I can't miss typos, as might happen if I depended on running spellcheck, with the risk of absentmindedly blowing right past an erroneous word.

Many writing authorities have strong opinions about how many drafts a work should go through before it's ready to submit. Do the terms "first draft, second draft," etc., have any fixed meaning in the era of computer word processing, when previous versions disappear into the ether unless they're printed before changes are made? A draft is an even more nebulous concept for someone who revises in the process of composition, like me. The document I send to a critique group or partner is more like "draft one and a half" than a definable whole number.

I've often thought how unfortunate it is for future collectors and critics that most authors nowadays won't leave successive drafts for scholars to study and compare to the finished work.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Fictional Science or Scientific Fiction Part 1 - Stephen Hawking

Fictional Science or Scientific Fiction
Part 1
Stephen Hawking 

This blog is about Alien Romance, or human/non-human Soul Mates - Love at first sight, and Love Conquers All.

It is all about the essence suffusing the state of mind where, somehow, what others think is crazy and unreal is actually perceived in a new, different way, from a new perspective.

Romance is a state of mind, and many writers on the subject hold that the perception of another person available in a state of "Romance" is actually more accurate than the everyday assessment anyone might make of that person.

One of the ingredients in Alien Romance is the idea of a non-human species, evolved on some other planet around some other star, either coming here -- or humans going there.

For human and Alien to meet (for a rousing good Romance Novel) you have to postulate a transport mechanism.

Yes, Stephen Hawking Lied To Us All About How Black Holes Decay

These days, it's not enough to do what Star Trek did and just "say" that the ship is propelled into "Warp Drive" using engines that have to contain a (non-existent) substance you say is Dilithium Crystals.

Too many people know too much.  Things that used to be available to learn only in University post-Graduate seminars are now taught in High School -- even Elementary School or Middle School.

So here is an article (with animated illustrations) from Forbes Magazine that shows how currently known science tosses out very firmly established knowledge to chase after something new.

Experts can be wrong - or misunderstood.

Authorities should be believed only after proving what they say to you, independently, for yourself.

One of the items I remember from A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME by Stephen Hawking is the firm assertion that interstellar travel is impossible. (well, we've heard that for decades).

But he had the math to prove it.

But it's OK because there are no other living civilizations out there, anyway.  Math proved that.

Guess what? Now math (with new, different assumptions) indicates there may be over 30 civilizations out there.

So it's not OK that we can't go there. If "they" can go around, so can we.  Even if it's impossible.

Now comes an astrophysicist thinking around the edges of Hawking's theory.

Black Holes and the fabric of space-time, the nature of reality and existence, are the sum and substance of the reasons why "space travel is impossible" - but it turns out, maybe that's just not the case.

As usual with Science - it is partly fiction.  Math is the language of Science, but to do the Math you need to input assumptions - you need to postulate and hypothesize.

If you change the input assumptions, the output changes.

Here is an article in the widely respected magazine, Forbes, posted at -- in July 2020.

Yes, Stephen Hawking Lied To Us All About How Black Holes Decay

None of this should serve to take away from Hawking's tremendous accomplishments on this front. It was he who realized the deep connections between black hole thermodynamics, entropy, and temperature. It was he who put together the science of quantum field theory and the background of curved space near a black hole. And it was he who — quite correctly, mind you — figured out the properties and energy spectrum of the radiation that black holes would produce. It is absolutely fitting that the way black holes decay, via Hawking radiation, bears his name.

But the flawed analogy he put forth in his most famous book, A Brief History of Time, is not correct. Hawking radiation is not the emission of particles and antiparticles from the event horizon. It does not involve an inward-falling pair member carrying negative energy. And it shouldn't even be exclusive to black holes. Stephen Hawking knew how black holes truly decay, but he told the world a very different, even incorrect, story. It's time we all knew the truth instead.
---------end quote--------

This does not mean you're free to postulate just anything convenient to tell your story.

Roddenberry had to do that, but you must not if you're writing a novel (not a screenplay).

As I noted, too many people know too much for you to flimflam them. They will disbelieve the Romance if you fudge the Science.  If they disbelieve the Romance, they will not believe the fiction.

But you have to fictionalize your science, while at the same time you make your fiction scientific.

Science fiction is the recreation of scientists.  Romance is the recreation of spirit.  You have to create the spirit of science using the art of wordsmithing.

Read this Forbes article - then read Hawking's book(s).

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Sudden Death

If you do a DuckDuckGo search, you will have a hard time finding a definition of "sudden death" that involves bad luck and sportsmanship... or lack thereof. You will need to include a term such as "playoff" in your query.

Today, I am writing about the last gasp of the CASE Act, which has been apparently successfully smothered to death by being sat on by Oregon senator Ron Wyden and needs emergency resuscitation; the Legacy Kit from the SFWA; the focus at Authors Guild on the Death of the Author (owing to rampant overreach by internet giants), and the hidden perils of promoting ones book or other product through illegal contests involving luck or minimal "skill".

You see, it is all copyright-related, but grim, nonetheless.

If you follow this blog and do not support the SFWA, perhaps you should make joining a New Year's Resolution. It is a very useful professional association, and the dues are tax deductible.  They have just published a Legacy Kit, which is a wonderful, 28-page resource for authors interested in being prepared for their own sudden death and authorial immortality.

The Authors Guild is hosting a webinar on November 17th, called "The Death of the Artist: How Creators Are Struggling To Survive In The Age Of Billionaires And Big Tech".

The blurb:

"In the age of Big Tech and the gig economy, how can writers and artists survive? It’s never been easier to publish a book or make your art available to the public, but at the same time, the pay has never been lower."

Of course, the pay will never improve as long as writers have rights without meaningful recourse to the courts and the ability enforce their rights.  Which is why the Copyright Alliance is encouraging one final push by all creators and artists to implore their senators to pass the CASE Act, SW.1273.

Their blurb:

“Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act of 2019” (the CASE Act) — a bill that would create a “small claims court” within the U.S. Copyright Office to handle copyright infringement claims from individual creators and small businesses that cannot afford to defend themselves in federal court."

Their link:

Desperate to survive financially, many authors use legally questionable methods to promote their books, including illegal sweepstakes and contests that lack the fig leaf of legality. When the "skill" involved in a "contest of skill" amounts to little more than figuring out 2+2, it is little more than a game of chance. Depending where a contestant lives, a "consideration" (price of entry) might only be a "like" or a "follow" or a review on social media, but those things are "of value" to the author and therefore, to stay on the straight and narrow, the author must allow would-be winners of the prize, whatever it is, to enter in an alternative manner without providing the review or like or follow.

There is a lot more to it.  Legal bloggers Kasey Boucher and Matthew D. Stein, for the law firm Pierce Atwood LLP explain their top Ten Common Mistakes When Conducting Sweepstakes Or Contest Promotions On Social Media.

Lexology link:
Original link:

If you don't believe that you've been doing it all wrong these past many years, and would like a second legal opinion, or are especially concerned about Facebook, legal blogger David O. Klein of Klein Moynihan Turco LLP has just the ticket for you....metaphorically speaking with Planning On Running A Facebook Sweepstakes? Here's What You Need To Know.

Original link:
All the best,
Rowena Cherry   

Thursday, November 12, 2020

More on AI

Cory Doctorow's latest LOCUS column continues his topic from last month, the sharp divide between the artificial intelligence of contemporary technology and the self-aware computers of science fiction. He elaborates on his arguments against the possibility of the former's evolving into the latter:

Past Performance

He explains current machine learning "as a statistical inference tool" that "analyzes training data to uncover correlations between different phenomena." That's how an e-mail program predicts what you're going to type next or a search engine guesses your question from the initial words. An example he analyzes in some detail is facial recognition. Because a computer doesn't "know" what a face is but only looks for programmed patterns, it may produce false positives such as "doorbell cameras that hallucinate faces in melting snow and page their owners to warn them about lurking strangers." AI programs work on a quantitative rather than qualitative level. As remarkably as they perform the functions for which they were designed, "statistical inference doesn’t lead to comprehension, even if it sometimes approximates it." Doctorow contrasts the results obtained by mathematical analysis of data with the synthesizing, theorizing, and understanding processes we think of as true intelligence. He concludes that "the idea that if we just get better at statistical inference, consciousness will fall out of it is wishful thinking. It’s a premise for an SF novel, not a plan for the future."

While I'd like to believe a sufficiently advanced supercomputer with more interconnections, "neurons," and assimilation of data than any human brain could hold might awaken to self-awareness, like Mike in Heinlein's THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS, I must admit Doctorow's argument is highly persuasive. Still, people do anthropomorphize their technology, even naming their Roomba vacuum cleaners. (I haven't done that. Our Roomba is a low-end, fairly dumb model. Its intelligence is limited to changing direction when it bumps into obstacles and returning to its charger when low on power, which I never let it run long enough to do. But nevertheless I give the thing pointless verbal commands on occasion. It doesn't listen to me much less than the cats do, after all.) People carry on conversations with Alexa and Siri. I enjoy remembering a cartoon I saw somewhere of a driver simultaneously listening to the GPS apps on both the car's system and the cell phone. The two GPS voices are arguing with each other about which route to take.

Remember Eliza, the computer therapist program? She was invented in the 1960s, and supposedly some users mistook for a human psychologist. You can try her out here:


As the page mentions, the dialogue goes best if you limit your remarks to talking about yourself. When I tried to engage her in conversation about the presidential election, her lines quickly devolved into, "Do you have any psychological problems?" (Apparently commenting that one loathes a certain politician is a red flag.) So these AI therapists don't really pass the Turing test. I've read that if you state to one of them, for instance, "Einstein says everything is relative," it will probably respond, "Tell me more about your family." Many years ago, when the two youngest of our sons were preteens, we acquired a similar program, very simple, which one communicated with by typing, and it would type a reply that the computer's speaker would also read out loud. The kids had endless fun writing sentences such as, "I want [long string of numbers] dollars," and listening to the computer voice retort with something like, "I am not here to fulfill your need for ten quintillion, four quadrillion, nine trillion, fifty billion, one hundred million, two thousand, one hundred and forty-one dollars."

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

NetGalley And Small Publishers

NetGalley And Small Publishers
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

In 2012, I signed up for NetGalley when they were a startup, just garnering a list of Traditional Publishers they could supply reviewers for. ( )

Professional ReaderThey have grown and grown and become a staple of the reviewing industry.  Their rules are a little complex and involuted for qualifying for free ebook copies of forthcoming titles. They have time-limits (which I don't like) and they want a review posted on their site, as well as wherever you actually review or discuss books.

As readers, we discuss books everywhere -- and these days there are a lot of everywhere -- LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and on and on!

Recently, PenguinRandomHouse, which has been supplying NetGalley copies for convenience, has shifted to emphasizing NetGalley as a source, so I refreshed my profile on NetGalley and drew down a Kindle copy of C. J. Cherryh's new Foreigner novel DIVERGENCE.

We'll discuss that soon, but it is Book 21 in a (terrific) Series, so if you haven't caught up, you have some time. Start with FOREIGNER -- jumping into the middle of this series can be confusing.

Today, I just wanted to alert you all that I'm using NetGalley as a source, and it has changed as the publishing industry has grown and diversified.

There are publishers from a number of different countries, and divisions of the large publishers.  There are publishers you've never heard of (possible markets), and early alerts on popular books.

They have a list of most-requested titles.

They let you "favorite" publishers to get sub-sets of titles.

They have sub-sets by genre.

And publishers get to pre-approve you so you can grab a title as soon as they post it.

I like reading paper books (a lot), but I also enjoy having Kindle editions I can resize the type, make notes, drop bookmarks, and store massive amounts of books without bookshelves collapsing.  I don't think the Netgalley title, even as a Kindle, will let my notes be "shared" in the Goodreads social networking platform.

I still don't like Kindle's filing system - I lose books in the huge list. Putting them in groups is extra work.

Downloads from NetGalley in Kindle format can be "sent to Kindle" but end up in "Documents" instead of the list of books -- I expect I will lose track of titles I want to discuss here because of that awkward filing system nobody likes.

But publishing has changed - so we change to match.

Here's what has not changed in publishing.

It is still a horse-race.  It is all about speed.

Whether a title or series survives the brutal speed test to become a "classic" depends on getting lots of reviews up FAST - right during the few weeks after publication.

Without the limits of paper-book-shelves-in-stores (slots), there is no REASON for this anymore. It's an archaic artifact of Traditional Publishing which will likely disappear in the next few years.

It's all about ripping your attention away from whatever you want to do and getting you hooked on paying attention to what they can make a profit from.

What publishers (and their editors) add in value, that you pay for at $10 for a Kindle edition, is the publisher's ability to sort the slush pile, and resort the surviving titles into genres, creating sequences of books that are "the same but different" -- giving you the anticipation of a guaranteed good read.

So beyond editing for consistency, continuity, clarity, and beyond copyediting for grammar, spelling, punctuation, and homonyms - improper word usage, and punctuation (especially of dialogue) - publishers get paid for sorting a few precisely similar items from a whole pile of dissimilar items.  It's a lot of work.

NetGalley also connects reviewers profiles to Goodreads and Twitter, blogs and LinkedIn.

They are building a high-tech sorting net that will, one day, enable readers to be certain they are not wasting money on a title they just won't like.

Long way to go, but I think it is happening right before our eyes.  I'm impressed with what they've done in just 8 years.

I can imagine where the new "reviewer" tools industry will be in another 8 years.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, November 08, 2020

When Is A Mark Not A Mark?

Perhaps you remember the homophone riddle from your childhood: "When is a door not a door?"

Here is a link to some riddles to help small children develop critical thinking and healthy skepticism for the meaning of the written word:

For this writer, this week, some of the most interesting legal blogs were about trademarks, hence, "When is a Mark not a Mark?" There's not snappy answer, but increasingly, it looks like ".SUCKS", "PAST PRESENT FUTURE", "You're fired!" and "TEXAS LOVE" are not markable ... trademarkable, that is.

Legal blogger Kimberly M. Maynard, representing Frankfurt Klein and Selz PC discusses a  possibly precedent-setting decision by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. The TTAB ruled that a generic top level domain name is the back-end part of an address and not a distinguishing mark that any reasonable potential customer would identify with a service.

So, "dot sucks" might make a mark (in the law enforcement sense of the word "a mark") think of a sordid service, but it's too much of a stretch for the TTAB to agree that the common man would see "dot sucks" and jump to the conclusion that this is an obvious and alluring and highly reliable domain name registration service.

The puns are mine. For a comprehensive and sober analysis of why "dot sucks" cannot get a mark to apply, read the original.

Link to the original article:  

Jeffrey H. Brown, blogging for Michael Best & Friedrich LLP opens with a knock-out pun to explain why a boxing champion cannot have legal dibs on "PAST PRESENT FUTURE" as a trademark for T-shirts.

Lexology link:
Link to the original article:

When it is "commonplace" it does not work as a trademark. It might be ones own favorite slogan, or one widely used by others to promote other goods or to express other sentiments, but increasingly, one may not trademark a slogan unless the trademark is very narrow and specific.

For Marks, Works and Secrets, (an Akerman LLP blog),  bloggers Ira S. Sacks and Rachel  B. Rudensky  ask (in part) "...when does a slogan function as a mark?"

Link to the original:

It's an important article that brings clarity to a confusing topic. No writer relishes the idea of certain words or expressions being unavailable for use or book titles, and if "TEXAS LOVE" is available for sale on some item of apparel, that does not put a writer in jeopardy if she writes a book called "Texas Love".  We need to know that stuff!

There's the bottom line. Descriptive use of a registered trademark is not infringement. You can write its name. 

For Harness Dickey and Pierce PLC, blogger Bryan K. Wheelock examines the use of common dictionary words in good faith, and in a descriptive capacity to communicate ones own ideas or products or services rather than to trade on someone else's mark.

When is a door not a door? When it's ajar! ("A jar".)

All the best,

Rowena Cherry   



Thursday, November 05, 2020

The Tyranny of Now

The November/December issue of SKEPTICAL INQUIRER contains an article by psychologist Stuart Vyse titled "COVID-19 and the Tyranny of Now." The phrase refers to our tendency to choose immediate rewards over potential future benefits. Our instincts drive us in that direction, since we evolved in environments where basing choices on short-term results made sense. There was little point in worrying about one's health in old age when one might get eaten by a saber-toothed tiger long before reaching that stage of life. Vyse's article summarizes this tendency as, "Smaller rewards in the present are chosen over larger ones in the future." Understandably, our first impulse is to go for the immediate, visible reward instead of the hypothetical future one that may or may not become reality. That's why people living in high-risk situations tend to heavily discount the future; if a young man in a dangerous neighborhood frequently sees friends and neighbors getting shot, the wisdom of long-term planning may not seem obvious to him. In the context of his physical and social enviroment, that choice makes sense.

Vyse reflects on climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic as two current high-profile examples. We have immediate experience of the inconveniences and hardships of changing our lifestyles to minimize the effects of those two phenomena. The potential rewards of self-denial, on the other hand—a return to being able to lead "normal" lives without catching the disease, a cleaner and more stable environment—exist in a future we have to take on faith. In connection with the pandemic, the fact that any effect of precautions or lack thereof shows up weeks (at least) after we change our actions makes it harder for us to judge the value of restricting our behavior. Another factor is that a drop in cases as a result of lockdowns can lead to the tempting but irrational response, "What we've been doing has worked, so now we can stop doing it" (my summary of Vyse's analysis). In short, delays are difficult. We have to make a deliberate, analytical effort to resist immediate impulses and embrace long-term gain. As Vyse quotes from an anonymous source, "If the hangover came first, nobody would drink."

Here's an article explaining this phenomenon in terms of a struggle between the logical and emotional parts of the brain:

Why Your Brain Prioritizes Instant Gratification

"The researchers concluded that impulsive choices happen when the emotional part of our brains triumphs over the logical one." The dopamine surge can be hard for the rational brain to resist. The article explores some methods for training oneself to forgo immediate pleasures in favor of later, larger gains, such as managing one's environment to avoid temptation.

This Wikipedia article goes into great detail about the neurological, cognitive, and psychological aspects of delayed gratification:

Delayed Gratification

It devotes a section to the famous Stanford marshmallow experiments of the 1960s and 70s, in which preschoolers were promised two marshmallows if they could resist eating a single marshmallow for a certain time span. Children who succeeded devised strategies to distract themselves or to imagine the tempting treat as something less appetizing. Interestingly, this article reports that, according to some studies, 10% more women than men have the capacity to delay gratification. It also mentions that the ability to exercise that kind of self-control may weaken in old age. "Declines in self-regulation and impulse control in old age predict corresponding declines in reward-delaying strategies...."

It's easy to think of a different reason why some elderly people may abandon the "rational" course of postponing rewards. The choice not to delay gratification may result from a perfectly sensible cost-benefit calculation, rather than surrender to the "emotional brain." In the absence of a diagnosed medical condition that poses an immediate, specific danger, if you're over 90 do you really care whether too much ice cream might make you gain weight or too much steak increase your cholesterol?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Reviews 57 - The Cal Leandros Novels by Rob Thurman

Reviews 57
The Cal Leandros Novels
Rob Thurman

Reviews haven't been Indexed.

I just finished reading Slashback by Rob Thurman, a Cal Leandros novel published in March 2013 by RoC.

I have fond, and gripping, memories of the first Cal Leandros novel, Nightlife, published in 2006, and picked up most of the others along the way.

There are 10 extant in this series, and an 11th that apparently was never published (see Goodreads and Facebook).

The 8th in the series is Slashback.

Here is a list I found on
(but they don't list me or Sime~Gen)

Nightlife (2006) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Moonshine (2007) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Madhouse (2008) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Deathwish (2009) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Roadkill (2010) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Blackout (2011) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Doubletake (2012) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Slashback (2013) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Downfall (2014) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Nevermore (2015) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

Slashback doesn't disappoint. It has the same solid structure, good word-work (colorful, descriptive, vivid, well chosen vocabulary, not over-written, very little repetition), and marvelous pacing that engrosses a wide audience.

The books use the dual point of view that has been so well developed by the Romance writers and works so very well in Science Fiction -- two characters in a relationship experiencing the same things at the same time, but seeing it all from a different point of view with different priorities.

Cal Leandros is one of the brothers, and his brother is Nikos Leandros.

Their problem is that they live in an Urban Fantasy world where Cal was deliberately conceived and birthed by a drunken, wasted mother who wanted a half-monster child for reasons of her own.

She barely raises them.  Nikos, a child himself, raises Cal as best he can with the ethics learned in Martial Arts.  He focuses on martial arts because monsters are out to kill Cal (and Nikos, too), or maybe worse.

So they live in the everyday normal world, but are stalked, haunted, and attacked by monsters from another dimension.

These skirmishes shape their budding character and morals, where their absentee mother does not.

By 8th novel in the series, Cal is a grown man mastering the monster-powers imbued in his genes by his absent father.

Here, they confront and vanquish a demon that has been after them for basically all their lives.

It is gritty, face-the-ugliness-of-life, Urban Fantasy, but it details the maturation of a fascinating Character, Cal Leandros.

What makes him fascinating in a way Paranormal or Science Fiction Romance writers can use?  It's his personal journey of self-discovery, of delving into the ugly-monster side, finding "powers" he can use and maybe bend to the service of Good.

Does he want to live a life of doing Good?

With his older brother as role model, it's a good bet he will.

What's missing from this series of novels?

Love is there aplenty - love of an older brother for his younger brother abandoned by his mother.

And Cal loves his older brother right back.

But Cal isn't going to make it in this world -- nor will Niko -- without their Soul Mates.  They both need Romance to ignite the spark of Love that Conquers All.

Study this series of novels and consider creating mature Characters with somewhat of a similar background, then designing their Soul Mates, and showing how that diverts them into the path of a life of Happily Ever After, children, pets, community, fulfillment in career and aspirations.

These novels are backstory for one of the hottest Romance setups in Fantasy or Science Fiction -- the half-breed, displaced person.  It's classic.

This series might have gone 25 novels and taken us well into the HEA of both brothers, but the author, Rob Thurman, apparently suffered an accident (found a mention of that on her Facebook wall), and somehow dropped out of social media.  Her Amazon page hasn't been updated, and her Goodreads line shows Book 11 was in progress but never (yet) published.

To visualize what the brothers' HEAs might be like, watch the TV Series on Netflix, Madame Secretary which we discussed here in October.

Madame Secretary details the personal married life of two former spies now working for the Federal Government.  It details the goings-on of only one family.

Suppose you take the two brothers, marry them off to real Soul Mates, fast forward to 4 or 6 children each, and see how they are "now" making a living and coping with children, some of whom are part-monster, and some quite ordinary humans?

Fast forward to a team of these cousins going into business together - say as mercenaries in the ongoing international and inter dimensional wars.

Take those characters and their Elders, all solidly in the HEA portion of their lives, and hurl them into the affairs of wizards.

Read these older series, and use the worlds and life-patterns you see in them as the backstory for another, wholly original, new universe you build.

Build your worlds to teach your wayward characters their life-lessons - how to be a better person, a person like Cal's brother, Niko.

Never let another writer's partially completed series go to waste.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, November 01, 2020

It's My Life

Occasionally E.F.F. takes a position with which this writer agrees. 

"Privacy should not have a price tag."  The price tag should not be set by the company that exploits your data, whether for what they might pay you if you agree to be exploited, or whether they sell your data to someone else... or what they extort from you as their price to you  for NOT revealing your data to others.

Among the many shocking revelations, Hayley Tsukayama suggests (although this writer has paraphrased) that the information that Person XXX has erectile dysfunction is worth about 0.08 cents.  Imagine what it might cost the real Person XXX if they do not have erectile dysfunction, but an insurance company has bought the list and factors ED coverage into the choices of policies they are willing to sell to Person XXX.

Have you ever received a call from a telemarketer whose apparent purpose is Medicare Fraud, who appears to be convinced that you are on his list as being Diabetic in need of supplies mailed to your home, or/and a chronic pain sufferer in need of multiple supportive braces at no cost to you? Has it occurred to you that they really did buy a list, and false medical information about you is out there in the wild?

Apparently, if you went to "the wrong school", or if the public records falsely claim that you went to "the wrong school", your credit rating may suffer, you may not be able to secure the sort of loan or credit card for which you ought to qualify.  You can also, apparently, suffer by association if someone in your neighborhood is an asshole or a villain or an incorrigible debtor. Some of these sites will list neighbors whom you have never met as if they are close friends.  Bad luck if you live next door to a major felon!

Bad luck, too, if the sites list an old address (perhaps your parents' home) as your primary residence, and your true city of residence --now you have left the nest and bought an apartment of your own-- retroactively denies you a Homesteading deduction on your property taxes.  That can cost thousands in additional taxes, interest and penalties and is very hard indeed to appeal.

In "Why Getting Paid For Your Data Is A Bad Deal" On data and privacy,  Hayley Tsukayama of E.F.F (the electronic freedom foundation). makes many good points:

Her revelations about "location" might make a person nervous about some of those fitness trackers, not to mention smart phones (which we have discussed previously).

Trisha Anderson, Yaron Dori , Lindsey L. Tonsager, and Kurt Wimmer  blogging for the law firm Covington & Burling LLP discuss How The Upcoming Election Could Change Privacy Laws in the US.

Although there seems to be bipartisan agreement that something should be done about any individual's rights to access, to correct, and to delete their own permissionlessly posted "data", the prospects of any legislation before late 2021 or 2022 are less than rosy.

For Wilson Elser, legal bloggers  Marisa Trasatti  and Benjamin Kerr  have generated a 2020 Data Privacy Compendium aimed at helping businesses stay on the right side of data privacy laws.

As authors, we might collect and retain some information about readers and newsletter subscribers, whether intentionally or accidentally. It might be worth checking out the compendium, especially if one has readers in California.

Meanwhile, sites will sell your data for $50, $39, $5, $1, fewer than 10cents, and although there is verbiage on the sites asking customers to promise not to use the data to make credit decisions, renting decisions, hiring or firing decisions... if they plan to hack your title and steal your house or otherwise steal your identity, the likelihood is probably nil that their click in a consent box is going to be honored.

Sites that sell your information include truthfinder, peoplesearch, peopleconnect, wink, USSearch, zabasearch, yasn, IDTtue, Intellius, Looku, Nuwbe, peekyo, peoplebyname, peoplelookup, privateeye, peopleverified, been verified, spy, spokeo, radaris, public records, peoplesmart, people finders, lookupanyone, family tree, emailfinder, dexknow, truthfinder ....  and more.

Doxxing is apparently legal, but especially when an internet company does it for profit. Here is some helpful info:

All the best

Rowena Cherry   


Thursday, October 29, 2020

Eggs and Equity

Recently on a wildlife program in the PLANET EARTH series I viewed a segment about clownfish. In addition to their sexual mutability, which enables the largest male in a group to transform to female if the adult female dies, they display interesting parental behavior. Clownfish live in symbiotic partnerships with sea anemones, nesting among the anemone's tentacles, deadly to most other sea life. The anemone "fortress" shelters the fertilized eggs, for which the male takes responsiblity, tending and guarding them. If the dominant female doesn't find his level of care acceptable, though, she'll reject him in favor of one of the rival males lurking in wait. So the devoted father in FINDING NEMO is true to life in a way.

As far as paternal child care in marine life is concerned, everybody knows about the prime example, the seahorse. The female lays eggs in the male's pouch, where he fertilizes them and carries them until they hatch. Mr. Seahorse, not his mate, undergoes pregnancy. They appear to practice monogamy through at least one breeding season.

On another episode of the same series (PLANET EARTH, BLUE PLANET, etc.) a tiny tree frog is shown depositing his mate's fertilized eggs in small water reservoirs in leaves. To provide nourishment, the female lays an unfertilized egg in the water drop, while the male guards the eggs and tadpoles.

Most people have probably watched documentaries about penguin parents raising their young on the Antarctic ice. The father keeps the single egg warm on top of his feet while his mate is feeding out at sea. When she returns, she relieves him and takes over the care of the chick while he goes in search of food.

Some birds, rather than tending their chicks as monogamous partners, practice polyandry. The female controls a large territory in which she mates with several males, each one incubating a clutch of eggs in a different nest. She helps each of her mates defend his individual nesting territory.

These animals and many others illustrate the fact that in oviparous species the female isn't "tied down" by pregnancy and lactation. When the young hatch from eggs, either parent or both can guard and care for the eggs and offspring. If otherwise convenient, the female can leave parenting duties entirely to the male without jeopardizing the welfare of their children. Therefore, a society of intelligent, oviparous aliens might practice very different sexual and child-rearing customs from ours. In a high-tech culture, the option of sheltering the eggs in an incubator, terrarium, or aerated aquarium (depending on the species) could even allow both parents to combine childrearing with other pursuits. They might have completely egalitarian gender roles or even female dominance.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Interview with Larry Nemecek on STAR TREK LIVES!

Interview with Larry Nemecek

I was interviewed on this podcast episode by phone in June, 2020, and is about how my Bantam paperback original about Star Trek fans came to be.

It is short, and there is another short episode coming.  You can subscribe to this podcast on Apple Podcasts, and I would suppose other phones, too.  It's called THE TREK FILES.

There is a text (by email) interview with Anthony Darnell also done in June, 2020, for  I will note them on this blog as information comes available.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, October 25, 2020

How The Cookie Crumbles

Regrettably, this is not about an end to data-collecting "cookies".  It's about intellectual property esoterica. 

For Fenwick and West LLP , legal blogger David L. Hayes Esquire  has complied the most comprehensive and fascinating summary of the most newsworthy and influential copyright lawsuits in recent times.


Here is the link to the .pdf, all 1020 pages of it.

It's an absolute treasure trove if you want to know what was really going on with the Dancing Baby (see page 889), or why EBay cannot be touched when its sellers sell copyrighted works at auction (see page 926) , caching, incidental copies of copyrighted works, inducement liability, vicarious liability, innocent storage, acting as a conduit,  and much much more.

Many decisions seem harsh to copyright owners. That's the way the cookie crumbles.

Of great interest is pp 999 - 1001 (First Sales In Electronic Commerce), which goes to the heart of why the Internet Archive's digital lending premise is not permitted under the DMCA. At least, it is of interest, if you read this rather piratical distortion of copyright history by Ryan and LaToya and Maria.

I'm not sure if you can "like" this author's reply to the premise, left in the Comments section of the piece, but the comments about "the future of book ownership" are absolute, opinionated rubbish.

Another somewhat concerning article about a religious institution deciding to opt for piracy instead of donating their library to a University occurred this week.

For those writers with a book written and ready for competition, entry into the Vivian is free for members of RWA and also for non-members this inaugural year, and will open for entries on November 10th at 11.00 am Central Time.

Visit for information.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry 

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Horror as a Coping Mechanism

It comes as no surprise to me that a recent psychological study suggests horror fans may be uniquely well prepared to confront scary realities:

Horror Fans Prepared to Cope with Our New Reality

"How does horror teach us?" One authority quoted in the essay says, “What’s special about horror is that the genre lets us chart the dark areas of that landscape [of hypothetical frightening scenarios] — the pits of terror and the caves of despair.” Horror fiction serves as rehearsal for confronting our real-life fears. Its function as "catharsis" is also discussed. Moreover, its monsters and other threats often work as metaphors for societal anxieties. The familiar example of Romero's undead in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is cited as reflecting the "existential" fears of its time.

In his history of horror, DANSE MACABRE, Stephen King argues that all such fiction is ultimately designed to grapple with the fear of death. Death is "when the monsters get you." This essay mentions King's PET SEMATARY as a story that explores the potentially tragic consequences of evading the reality of death.

One of the study's co-authors praises the "prosocial" dimension of horror. “Horror fiction is very often about prosocial, altruistic, self-effacing characters confronting selfish, anti-social evil." Much classic horror focuses on good versus evil, with the heroes working together to defeat the monsters. DRACULA and the majority of vampire fiction inspired by it offer obvious examples. Of course, not all horror follows this pattern. Sometimes it's bleak and hopeless, with no objective "good" or "evil" in the universe, as in Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos stories, in which protagonists who survive usually do so by sheer luck. However, even horror without the religious or spiritual worldview of a vampire tale wherein heroes brandish crosses or King's IT, wherein the heroes know "the Turtle can't help us" yet draw upon a still higher power beyond both It and the Turtle, can showcase the bonds among human beings who fight together against larger-than-life threats.

Therefore, I've always thought it's strange that some people consider reading, watching, or (gasp!) writing horror a symptom of a warped psyche.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Index to Verisimilitude vs Reality

Verisimilitude vs Reality

Here are blog posts about how to create fiction based on Reality using a similarity to reality, verisimilitude.

Verisimilitude --- from Wikipedia

Verisimilitude is the philosophical notion that some propositions are more true or less true than other propositions. The problem of verisimilitude is the problem of articulating what it takes for one false theory to be closer to the truth than another false theory. Wikipedia

What is "fiction" if not a "false theory" that is closer to Truth than another false theory?

Reality is True. Fiction is True. Neither is Truth without the other.

Part 1

Part 2 Master Theme Structure, The Camera, Nesting Plots and Stories

Part 3 - The Game, The Stakes, The Template

Part 4 - Story Arcs and the Fiction Delivery System

Part 5 - So What Exactly is Happiness?

Part 6 - Show Don't Tell Theme

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, October 18, 2020

What's In A Name?

Some words are widely misunderstood, others have changed their meaning over time, and some have been deemed too archaic to be worth recording.

When Juliet  Capulet said, "Wherefore art thou Romeo?" She did not mean, "Where art thou, Romeo?"  She meant, "Why, Romeo, did you have to be born the son of Lord and Lady Montague?"

Maybe the rot set in the 60's with a song, "Don't sleep in the subway, darling" when the lyrics included a reference to "Whys and Wherefores" as if the two words were not synonyms.

One cannot trust online dictionaries for guidance, it seems... although, I can still find "absquatulate" (to decamp) and both meanings of "momentarily" are available (in a moment or for a moment).  However, on Wednesday Oct 14th, unilaterally, one dictionary changed the definition of "sexual preference" in hours.  Normally, Dictionaries announce new inclusions and deletions once a year.

Some articles on the topic show images of George Orwell (aka Eric Arthur Blair), to suggest that this is a frightening, "Orwellian" move by an internet influencer to change language to support a political narrative. But, that is all by the by. Or by the byway!

Nouns are important, as are all words. Without words, we cannot reason. When the meaning of a noun or verb changes suddenly, myriad written works become --perhaps-- obsolete or offensive, or inaccurately convey the writers' intended meaning at the time of writing.

Legal bloggers   Adrienne S. Ehrhardt, Rebecca L. Gerard, Elizabeth A. Rogers
, Guy B. Sereff , and Ryan T. Sulkin for Michael Best and Friedrich LLP  have generated a very useful compendium of Cyber Security vocabulary terms


On a completely different level, the copyright office is extending copyright protection to blogs.  It appears that a blog like this one would have to file jointly (because there are 3 of us), every quarter, for copyright protection of up to 50 individual posts.

Legal blogger  Brandon W. Clark   for McKee Voorheis and Sease PLC explains.


For blogs where authors serialize a novel, Dickens style, this would be very useful indeed.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Living in the Moment

Kameron Hurley's newest LOCUS column further discusses the quandary of living in these fraught times.

Measuring Life in Keurig Cups

She describes the joy of creative projects other than writing, endeavors that engage the body and senses such as the backyard pond she and her spouse constructed. She reminds herself and us that we can choose to brood over what's happening in the country and the world outside of our control or focus on what we can control, how we spend our own time.

I especially like her quote from Paul Harvey: “During times like these, it helps to remember that there have always been times like these.” Hurley brings up the example of Monet painting within earshot of bombardment during World War I. I often remind myself that the country and the world have survived much worse and returned to whatever "normal" may have been at the time. Consider the plague-devastated village at the end of Connie Willis's DOOMSDAY BOOK or London during the blitz in her BLACKOUT and ALL CLEAR. And yet here we are.

A message in Hurley's essay that particularly resonates with me is the theme of living in the moment. She puts it, “Am I physically all right, in this moment? Is everything okay here, in this moment?" This is a reminder I try to invoke for myself regularly, but I tend to think of it in negative terms: Is anything terrible or unbearable happening right now? The answer is usually "No." Of course, it may occasionally be "Yes," as with acute grief or terror or agonizing physical pain. More often than not, though, I suffer self-inflicted unhappiness by obsessing over bad things that may or may not happen in the future. Even impersonal forces such as political trends—sometimes I have to figuratively hit myself upside the head with the reminder that if the party I oppose wins the November election, the apocalypse won't descend upon us in the first week of November or even on Inauguration Day. To paraphrase a quote I came across somewhere recently, worrying doesn't make tomorrow any better; it makes today worse.

Since, unlike Hurley, I don't have a creative avocation other than writing, I make a conscious effort to take note of good things happening day by day—e.g., sunny weather, functioning cars, appliances, and utilities, reasonably okay health, Facebook videos of our youngest grandson (age two), the convenience of ordering books and other treats online, the restaurants that have reopened, etc. I've started posting some of these daily on Facebook under the label "Today's Good Things," most of which probably give the impression that my life is rather boring. That's okay; I prefer boring to chaotic. I also keep track of the daily word count on my current work in progress, which encourages me with the sense that I'm accomplishing something, however slowly.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Verisimilitude vs Reality Part 6 - Show Don't Tell Theme

Verisimilitude vs Reality
Part 6
Show Don't Tell Theme 

Previous parts in Verisimilitude vs Reality

Part 1

Part 2 Master Theme Structure, The Camera, Nesting Plots and Stories

Part 3 - The Game, The Stakes, The Template

Part 4 - Story Arcs and the Fiction Delivery System

Part 5 - So What Exactly is Happiness?

Now in Part 6 we'll look at a TV Series - just one scene out of several seasons of the Netflix Original, MADAME SECRETARY.

I think the scene I'm going to analyze is from Season 2, Episode 5 or 6.

As you probably know, Madame Secretary is about a woman who comes from CIA roots, was a station chief in Europe, and with friends in high places ever rising, ends up working for the Secretary of State because a good friend becomes President and another good friend becomes Secretary of State.  Her kids have grown up associating with the President's son - Washington becomes a family business.  (Oh, and she's married to a former field operative now a Professor of Religious Philosophy and history buff.)

She uses her experience in the spy business to work out problems at the international level, and "wings-it" through complex situations, deeply disturbing career professionals in the State Department.  She becomes Secretary of State when her boss dies in a plane crash and she's next in line.

She discovers her boss, the former Secretary of State, was actually murdered, and there were unsavory money trails connected to that.

As she's investigating the murder of her boss, she solves more international problems. The whole plot-arc reminds me of SCARECROW AND MRS. KING, but instead of applying housekeeping skills to international affairs, she applies CIA spy craft skills.

The whole thing is a Mary Sue, wish-fulfillment-fantasy, superhero Mom TV Series - well produced and very entertaining.

It has a contemporary setting, and is very adroitly RIPPED FROM THE HEADLINES.

Here are posts about ripping story material from the contemporary headlines:

Even if you're sick-sick-sick of the news and politics, this is a very diverting and interested show -- transparently Hillary or not, it works very well.

One reason it works is the depiction of the HEA life.

This show is about a couple years and years into the HEA life -- their oldest kid of three is in college.

The Secretary of State job is high-pressure, fast moving, an emotional jerk-around every day.

You'd think a professor's life would be placid - but unbeknownst to the Secretary, the CIA re-recruits her husband for a spy job.  He confesses the offer to her, and they make the decision together that he will take the job.

Eventually, by this point in Season 2, he has been promoted from field operative to "Handler."  His cover job is teaching international students the history of war.

The Secretary's brother is a doctor working in a hot-zone of the Middle East, lots of shooting, lots of wounded to care for.  He's in a position like Doctors Without Borders.

This episode opens with the doctor, scruffy beard and all, doing surgery on a critical patient when two tough guys, looking like Secret Service in battle gear, burst into the tent where he's improvising through a lack of supplies.

They are there to grab him and exfiltrate him back to the USA -- because there are death threats against his sister, the Secretary.

He goes, reluctantly but cooperatively - and he's steaming mad about it.


He's getting out of a car in front of her DC house as she's arriving and walking to the stairs.  He's still steaming mad and charging at her confrontationally -- all body language, not much dialogue.

Her Secret Service detail flattens him against a car's hood.

She notices, turns and flies to the rescue, "That's my brother!"

They let him up.

Her kid comes skipping down the stairs and wraps a hug.

Escorted inside, there's the big family scene, and how upset he is being dragged back to DC.

The explanation is that he could be kidnapped and used to blackmail her into whatever the terrorists want.

The THEMATIC MESSAGE is encoded in the camera work and dialogue, or lack thereof.

We have the Secretary of State under heavy Secret Service (more than usual) guard, being accosted by a scruffy dressed, bearded man (he's a big man, too).

The Secretary of State has to TELL her Detail it is her brother!

We have Secret Service body guards who don't do their homework to be able to recognize her family, and apparently haven't been looped on the memo about the Secret Service collecting and repatriating her brother a few hours ago?

Why do they wear those little earphone thingies if not to be informed of movements among their outfit? Why weren't they hearing a report as the brother's car stopped?

We have a clear "show don't tell" scene saying the Secret Service is incompetent.

This scene is more vivid because for all the previous episodes, the matter of her predecessor being murdered has been a Plot-Arc.  That murder was a failure of his Secret Service detail.

So on the plus side, the Secret Service flattened a potential attacker -- which is their job, and they did it well.

But find that scene and check out the camera work.

The Detail guys back off INTO THE SHADOWS, the camera slides away from them -- no emphasis on their chagrin, embarrassment -- no supervisor coming up behind them to give them what-for.

The Secretary does not upbraid them for failing to recognize her brother, does not yank out her phone and scorch the ear of the supervisor who didn't inform her detail that her brother was approaching.

Watch that scene carefully and really think about what's NOT there!

What theme do you think it illustrates symbolically.

The absences bespeak some of the themes of this show, the envelop theme about competence in Washington - at the helm of the most deadly government in the world.

Put this brother-arrives-steaming-mad scene in the context of the previous episode where Air Force One is "hacked" and the President, Vice President and Speaker of the House are not available to sit the Oval Office chair.  Madame Secretary gets sworn in as temporary President while they struggle to find out what happened to the President's plane.

Consider all the episodes where Madame Secretary pulls off strategic maneuvers and oddball decisions making everything come out fine when all the professional Washingtonians fail.

It's a Mary Sue.

She's the competent one - everyone else except her husband are fumbling idiots.  But because they are on the scene, the ship of state is on an even keel.

They have three pretty normal children (despite their oddball upbringing), and a very solid marriage.  They communicate.  They co-parent with grace and competence.

They both enjoyed being CIA field operatives, solving problems on the fly, going adventurous places, depending on knowledge and their backup teams working smoothly.

They bring matured skills to the jobs of Washington top-drawer decision makers.

They are in the Happily Ever After -- it is right there in front of the public's eye in one of Netflix's most popular dramas.

And her brother is steaming mad, despises her politics and career choices, and she uses information he provides while they are fishing to destroy a Terrorist (who also smuggles medicine).

Is your Happily Ever After being in a position where you are the most competent person around?  Most of the time, you can get powerful people to make reasonable decisions, but not always.

In a town where even the Secret Service bodyguard details are incompetent, how can anything get done right?

THEME: Incompetence can safely be ignored.

You don't think that's what the "That's my brother," scene says?

What isn't there speaks volumes.

How would you rewrite that episode's script if the theme was, "The USA Secret Service body guards are better than the reputation of Israel's Mossad."

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Saturday, October 10, 2020

No Old Chestnuts

 Titles matter. Originally, this short article was to be "Autumn Opportunities", then "Chestnuts" but "Chestnuts" or "Old Chestnuts" seemed uncivil. Hence the addition of "No..."

Starting on Tuesday, October 13th, the Authors Guild is running a series of conversations on Zoom, "From Manuscript to Marketplace."

This is the registration link.  It does not appear that participants have to be members. It ought to be particularly helpful for new writers who wish to learn more about the nuts and bolts of writing and publishing.

There is an old chestnut of an entry theme mentioned in the "Don't Do" details about the Writers Weekly 24 Hour short story contest.  Only the first 500 entrants may compete for 85 prizes. Entry fee is $5 and the 24-hour contest begins on Saturday January 9th, 2021.

If writing a short story within 24 hours seems like an adrenalin rush, try a full length novel from start to finish in 30 days. That is National Novel Writing Month, every November.  Read all about it. Sign up. I don't believe that you have to donate to the charity.  Even if you don't participate, there are some excellent pep talks to inspire and motivate.

There are many regional sub-chapters with events and support, so if you are a procrastinator, this might be the event that gets that first draft done.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry

Thursday, October 08, 2020

Stubborn Skepticism Versus Indiscriminate Gullibility

Working on a paranormal romance novella, I'm presently dealing with a recurrent problem in fiction of the fantastic: How long should a character keep rejecting the possibility of the supernatural before admitting it exists? How do you find a balance between jumping to the conclusion that every anomaly proves the existence of a vampire or ghost and clinging to adamant disbelief in the face of overwhelming evidence? Most people who discovered a century-old photograph that looked uncannily like a present-day acquaintance wouldn't think he must be a vampire, after all. They'd say, "Wow, what an amazing family resemblance." On the other hand, if they saw their friend turn into a bat or a cloud of mist, it would be only sensible to entertain the vampire hypothesis.

In DRACULA, Dr. Seward at first quite logically rejects Van Helsing's pronouncement that Lucy has risen from the dead as a vampire. After all, Seward is a man of science, running a "lunatic asylum" according to the most up-to-date precepts and practices. Of course he's aghast that his revered teacher, with advanced degrees in multiple fields, would embrace outmoded superstitions. Even when they find Lucy's coffin empty, Seward falls back on the obvious explanation of grave robbers. Only when he witnesses the undead Lucy walking in the cemetery does he open his mind to the horrible truth. After that, though, he drops his objections; he doesn't try to insist she's a hoax or hallucination.

Right now I'm reading THE HOLLOW PLACES, by T. Kingfisher, an outstanding horror novel featuring an alternate universe. It offers a skillful treatment of the characters' shift from skepticism to belief. When the narrator finds a hole in a wall of her eccentric uncle's combination home and novelty museum, she assumes a visitor must have damaged the drywall and left without mentioning the mishap. Upon starting work on a patch, she and her friend Simon discover a large open area behind the wall. Naturally, they first believe they've stumbled into extra space that was walled off for some reason. As they explore, they see that it's much larger than the dimensions of the building should allow. Even then, they don't think they've fallen through an interdimensional portal. They discuss ideas such as a tunnel constructed by illegal alcohol dealers during Prohibition and try to rationalize the fact that they don't seem to have gone up or down a level as they should have. When they open a door onto a fog-shrouded river dotted by numerous small islands, though, they realize they've entered an alternate world, an "anti-Narnia," as the narrator says. Despite Simon's joking remarks about being poisoned by black mold, they don't seriously waste time on the possibility that they're hallucinating.

My work in progress features a ghost child who performs poltergeist-like tricks. At first, the protagonist does her best to attribute the odd events in her house to the cat, her seven-year-old son, or even herself in absent-minded lapses. Further along, she contemplates whether she might be sleepwalking and moving things around or whether she dreamed the strange singing she thought she heard. The sight of the little girl vanishing before her eyes forces the heroine to accept the supernatural as real. I consider it plausible that an otherwise normal, stable person would believe in a ghost rather than assume she's suddenly gone crazy with no provocation. The latter happens in vintage horror movies, not ordinary life. For the same reason, her highly skeptical boyfriend converts to the ghost hypothesis when he, too, witnesses the child disappearing into thin air.

Where should the creation of a character in fantastic fiction draw the line between the extremes of hardheaded materialism and softheaded gullibility? The former can make a character very annoying, but the latter can lose the reader's sympathy, too. The main reason I never cared for the SCOOBY-DOO cartoon series when our kids used to watch it was that, no matter how many times the gang exposed a haunted house as a hoax, when they investigated the next "ghost" Shaggy always believed in it as uncritically as ever.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt