Thursday, August 17, 2017

Undersea Aliens

Peter Godfrey-Smith, a professor at the University of Sydney and City University of New York, believes the octopus is the closest thing to an alien living on Earth with us. Octopuses "are the most complex animal with the most distant common ancestor to humans."

Octopus Intelligence

In many ways, octopuses seem as different from us as an advanced creature can be and evolve on the same planet. They have three hearts and blue, copper-based blood. They have the ability to change color, which they use for camouflage. Suppose we encountered an extraterrestrial species of intelligent cephalopods who communicated by waves of colors? We would have to learn a whole new mode of language. Octopuses "developed eyes, limbs, and brains via a completely separate route" from us. With neurons distributed through their bodies instead of solely localized in their heads, we might say they have brains in their arms. They show considerable intelligence, such as in escaping from confinement, and they can tell human individuals apart. Octopuses seem to play, another sign of high intelligence. They also display curiosity, which Godfrey-Smith thinks may be evidence of subjective consciousness. If so, consciousness has appeared separately at least twice on Earth.

It has been suggested that a possible reason why they haven't evolved even higher intelligence springs from their reproductive cycle. Male octopuses typically die soon after mating, and females don't live long past the hatching of their offspring. Therefore, adults don't survive to pass on knowledge and skills to their young. Octopuses can't have much of a culture, if any. Their solitary lifestyle (aside from mating) is probably another factor, since gregarious species tend to be more intelligent than solitary ones; interactions with other members of one's species in a group require mental flexibility.

Godfrey-Smith makes the optimistic assumption that the evolution of consciousness at least twice on Earth implies consciousness isn't a rare fluke, but a potentially common natural development. That assumption, if valid, bodes well for the discovery of sapient beings elsewhere in the universe. If a race of giant octopuses on another planet—perhaps one mainly or entirely covered by water—overcame the disadvantages of their short, solitary lives, maybe by evolving a long-lived, asexual caste responsible for the care and education of the young, they could create something we would recognize as a culture.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Theme-Plot-Character-Worldbuilding Integration Part 9 - Convincing Elder Characters

Theme-Plot-Character-Worldbuilding Integration
Part 9
Convincing Elder Characters
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

As always, the series of posts with "Integration" of several skills in the title assume you have mastered the individual skills we have discussed.

The previous posts in this series are indexed here:

A novel, in any genre, to have depth, be "immersive," and thus be memorable, making readers memorize your byline to hunt for other books by you, must have (or refer vividly to) Characters of various ages.

Your Characters were not born all grown up, and did not arrive at their current view of their world without having held other views prior to the story.

Characters have a past-story as well as a past-plot.  Because they have a past, if they survive your story, it will be clear to the reader that they will have a future (and maybe more books).

This is why backstory is given such emphasis in writing lessons.  But a backstory (the history of the world, its Characters, and the karma that has swept them to this current place in life) is as complex a tapestry as the current episode, and the future.

This is true in all genres, but it is in high focus, exceptional three-dimensional relief, and grand scale in Romance of all types.

Romance, in our modern day of grim outlooks on reality, has to "sell" the Happily Ever After ending.  Whatever sub-genre you might blend into your novel, the Romance has to barrel through the plot and blast out a nice niche of happily ever after where it seems plausible the Characters will live a long and fulfilling life.

So in order to convince your readers that your World (and presumably somewhere in the reader's world) there is the possibility of a Happily Ever After, you must SHOW DON'T TELL the achievement of an HEA.

You must present some Characters who have lived an HEA.

And you must convince your readers these Characters might possibly be somewhat like real people.

In other words, you must create a Character who is older than you are, has lived life experiences you have barely witnessed and certainly not yet experienced, and you must give your reader the feeling of having experienced those life events themselves.

In other words, you must put your reader inside the "head" of an Elder Character who convinces the reader that the HEA is possible because that Character lived it.

Because it's a novel, there has to be a risk that the HEA might not be achieved by the current young Characters who are living the plot.

That's easy because if you are not young, you were once.

But how do you create a Character older than yourself by decades?

Tolkien created Gandalf, and many other writers previously and since have given us Elders to admire.

Such elder characters are the demented grandmother in the attic, the beloved grandfather in a wheelchair pounding his cane on the floor, the Elder who comes out of retirement to lead a life-or-death charge against an implacable foe, or, as in the film, Cocoon, Elders who escape a group home to go on an adventure seeking the fountain of youth.

In today's current TV Series, we see Parents depicted as major problems in the lives of the Characters living the story.  Parents are depicted in a negative light, as people nobody would like, never mind love.  Their presence during a visit, or even just a phone call, interrupts the important things going on and makes the Characters feel bad about themselves, frustrated or enraged.  Everything is ruined when the Parents show up.

How does that convey the plausibility of the HEA ending?  Parents are AT the HEA ending, or grandparents are, and if they are still angst ridden, acting out, hammering on their children to behave differently, and sick and miserable, how does that convince the audience that an HEA is plausible for the Characters currently having the adventure?

The Elder Character can be a leader and key-player, like Gandalf, or a bystander giving advice like the Grandmother in the TV Series SUITS, a Character who dies and leaves a legacy of Wisdom.

To convince your readers that your current young couple is headed for a long and happy life, you need to show-don't-tell how previous generations in your well Built World have achieved the HEA in their own lives.

That, in itself, is a Theme -- here is a world wherein the HEA is a common achievement.  The Theme is "HEA is Real."

OK, so how do you integrate that theme with your current young Characters?

Ask yourself what is a Couple like after decades of HEA?

How does an elderly couple relate to each other and their great-grandchildren.

Many good Romances have used "Inheriting An Old House" -- spooky Gothic, sudden riches, problematic neighbors, rejecting small town society -- all kinds of conflicts can arise as a young Character inherits an old house and explores the attic, trying to clean it out to sell the house.

The "World" is the setting of the old House and the town nearby, the Characters in that town, its economy and culture.

But in that World, the elder is gone, and all that's left is memories and memorabilia, the detritus of a life.  Exploring the detritus of a long life of an HEA can be a life-changing event.

Does digging through the attic uncover a life of secret misery, or a life of serene triumph after a majestic storm of Events?

The Theme, the plot, the Character, and the World all have to come into play as you answer that question.  Sometimes you write the entire novel before you understand the theme or even the World.  Sometimes you think you are writing the story of extreme misery, only to find in the end there really was happiness.

Or sometimes, as in my Vampire Romance Novel set on the Moon, the Those of My Blood, the ending frees the Characters of the oppression of Elders.

Most writers don't know, for certain, exactly what the ending will be until they actually write, "The End."

I had that experience writing Those of My Blood (the original Hardcover was hailed as my breakout novel).  It was a surprise to me how it happened.

The writer knows it will be a climax point, an explosive blow, followed by a denouement - a few paragraphs of serenity after the storm - indicating an HEA is likely.

But which way will the cookie crumble for the principle Characters?  Very often, the writer is more surprised (and moved to tears) than most readers will be.

The future of those Characters, indicated in the brief paragraphs after the Ending of the Slot, the few paragraphs where the Story is smoothly docked at its destination, is actually decided by the opening sentence of the novel.

Therefore, after writing The End, it is often necessary to go rewrite the opening to match.

This often happens because, when laying out the idea for the story, the writer has not included a full representation of the Elders.  So during the writing, the writer has to explore and flesh-out the Elder Characters and how the Young Characters have internalized the teachings of the Elders.

The teachings of the Elders were received by the Elders from their Elders.

We have the maxim, "Respect Your Elders," and previous generations were taught to stand when an Elder enters the room, to surrender a seat on the bus to an Elder, to open doors for Elders, to fetch things without being asked, and to address Elders as Sir or Madam and always acquiesce, never-EVER-ever argue.


This concept of proper behavior was drilled into youngsters for centuries, so if you are writing Historicals, be sure to vet every line of dialogue to be certain none of the Characters ever contradicts an Elder unless it is a major plot-point, an act of defiance, or the Character is Pure Evil.

In our current world, it is taken for granted that anyone older than you is wrong about everything.

Both Thematic Elements, "Elders Are Always Correct" and "Elders Are Never Correct," are actually true in their Times, in the respective Worlds.

There is a progression of Life for humans (which might not be true for Aliens) that alters mental, emotional, and spiritual skills with time, and ONLY with time.

In other words, no matter how much a Hot Shot a young guy might be, he can not be as Wise as an Elder (who isn't demented -- and even the demented Elders have flashes of Wisdom worth adopting).

Here is an article about some research into the Age-Related Skills among humans.

This article traces the ages at which large samples of population aced certain skills.

People really do get wiser as they get older.

It turns out life really is the best classroom.

A team of psychologists asked people to read about a conflict, then asked them questions about it. The scientists analyzed the responses for characteristics like being able to see from someone else's point of view, anticipating change, considering multiple possible turnouts, acknowledging uncertainty, and searching for compromise.

They found that the oldest group they studied — people who were between 60 and 90 — did better than other ages on almost every count.

Psychological well-being peaks at about 82.

In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, scientists asked people to picture a 10-step ladder, with the best possible life on the top rung and the worst possible life on the bottom rung.The oldest group they studied (82- to 85-year-olds) gave the highest average rung number, about 7.

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

The reason today, "Elders Are Always Wrong" is true is not just that "the World has changed" but rather that the pace of change has accelerated.

Adaptability is a trait that peaks early in life, then falls off, and we have solved the problem of how to get to an HEA of our own.  No longer searching for a path through life, humans settle into a groove which becomes a rut very hard to get out of.  In fact, humans who are old enough to still get out of their rut might actively choose not to.

Humans have the ability to form Habits (such as never speaking words that contradict their elders).  Success or Failure in life used to depend on internalizing the Wisdom transmitted by Elders (grandparents who survived the harsh realities of life did so because of Wisdom acquired from their Elders).

Surviving a long time was prima facie evidence of Wisdom -- because the world of their Elders was almost identical to the world they survived, and now you are living in that same world, and so need the same HABITS of thought, the Wisdom, that allowed your Elders to survive.

One Wisdom, I think, has in fact a legitimate application in today's world, "Never Volunteer" -- the watchword of inductees into the Army.

But beyond certain basics, most of the old adages are no longer applicable or helpful.  We are now responsible for creating new adages, new Wisdom of a New Age, that will remain applicable for at least a few generations.

Are Romance writers up to that?

Are your Characters going to become Elders who are always correct or always incorrect?

Will your Characters, through the Plot events generated by your Theme, come to understand the dynamics shaping their World in a way that they can pass down to their children?

What do you know about the real world around you that your readers don't (yet) know?

That Wisdom you enshrine in your one-liners, the little quotables that will become watchwords for some readers in their real life, ("Not The 'Droids You Are Looking For"), may change a Misery Ever After ending to a Happily Ever After ending.

Do a good job of finding the key to living in the Internet Of Things world, the A.I. managed world, after the Singularity that is coming, encapsulate that Wisdom and convey it to the youth growing up behind you with a memorable one-liner.

The Romance Genre is especially suited to creating and conveying these deep, obscure, never-before-discovered or needed, Wisdoms.

The mechanics of staying alive in the world will have shifted to emphasize the skills of the 60-90 year olds mentioned in that quote above.  Seeing conflicts from various points of view, anticipating change, (having a Plan C and D), finding new ways of resolving disputes.

It is possible the age of Majority may rise from 18 years to 28 years, or maybe 40 or 50.  Perhaps nobody under 50 will be allowed to vote?  The life-skills of value will be those of the Eldest Humans -- as life-expectancy increases.

In the mystic tradition, the age of 100 bestows a Vision youngsters don't have.

In building your World, consider whether mere age is the source of this kind of cognitive skill, and whether artificial life-extension techniques can automatically bestow it.

We've all known Elders who were just as foolish and clueless as they were when they were in their 20's.  And we know Elders who have "lost it" -- dementia or Alzheimer's or decreased blood supply to the brain -- whatever the cause, they just do not have Wisdom to gift you with.

Are such Elders also worthy of "respect" (as society used to practice?)

What is it about Age that demands the respect of Youth?

The answer to that question is a thematic element and requires a Character active in the story to show-don't-tell the reader how your World functions.

Ponder that research into ages at which cognitive functions of various sorts "peak" and create your novel's society to take advantage of this human trait, or to attempt to violate it.

If you have Aliens -- be sure to create the equivalent experimental results for them (which should not be included in your text, but used to generate dialogue and attitudes).

On the other hand, maybe very little of our current civilization may survive and you can start from scratch building a whole new world.

On the SimeGen Group on Facebook, we collect apocalyptic phenomena because Sime~Gen is set a thousand years after such a wipe-out hits our current world.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Are Your Works Being Infringed?

Someone asked me how to find out if their works are being infringed.

One method is to do an online search for the title of their book(s) and of their authorname. Another is to set up a variety of Google Alerts for their book title, also for some distinctive phrases used in their writing.

Osborne Clarke suggests some practical ways to respond to infringement.

Not every infringement can be taken down. Sometimes, Google lawyers will declare (mistakenly) that an infringing use is "Fair". Google lawyers have done that to me over "Knight's Fork", and I have no recourse.

I can say with reasonable certainty that, if a so-called online library is lending a "Rowena Cherry" book--for instance "Knight's Fork by Rowena Cherry" to subscribers in any digital format, that online library has no right to do so, because I never gave permission --and explicitly refused permission-- for any of my books, except "Mating Net" by Rowena Beaumont Cherry (which is published by New Concepts Publishing), and the hunk cover version of "Forced Mate" by Rowena Beaumont Cherry which was published by NBI, to be released in ebook formats.

Did you notice that? A lawful digital copy of my work is by "Rowena Beaumont Cherry". Any ebook by "Rowena Cherry" was illegally created and illegally sold.

However, if the (alleged) pirate site uses a privacy service, and the privacy service is the only link provided on the (alleged) pirate for any kind of contact at all, an author is within her rights to contact that privacy service to complain vociferously and repeatedly.

But... do not create an account.  In my opinion, Congress and the Administration and the Copyright Office make a serious error when they agree that it is lawful for a site such as EBay to force authors to join its VERO (verified rights owner) program in order to complain about copyright infringement.

Why should a creator who is being ripped off be denied the right to send a DMCA notice, as prescribed by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and forced instead to subscribe to a site or become a member of a site?

It's like being forced to purchase a product one does not want or need. Only it is worse.

The trouble with joining any site or service, (apart from the possibility of having to pay them) is the Terms of Service. One cannot join (even for the purposes of asking them to cease and desist from piracy or facilitating piracy or profiting from piracy) without agreeing to their TOS.

Have you ever read TOS? Try it sometime. Any site's TOS will do.  Do judges and lawyers and lawmakers read TOS? Usually, part of what you agree to is that you give up the right to sue them.

How's that? A site like EBay or Google may protect alleged copyright infringers, and give the alleged copyright infringers the ability to profit from alleged piracy, but in order to send a takedown notice, the ripped off author is forced to promise to indemnify the host and patron of the alleged copyright infringers.  That does not seem right to me.

On the other hand, there are many online "subscription libraries" that one suspects do not have the books they claim to have. They may only want your credit card information.

Stay wary, my friends!

All the best,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Books and Their Movies

THE DARK TOWER movie has arrived, based on Stephen King's multi-volume epic (eight novels plus numerous more or less closely tied-in stories). Bev Vincent, a leading authority on King's work, highly praised the film. Most fans and critics on the Rotten Tomatoes site reviewed it as mediocre at best. It has been charged with trying to cram too much into its running time (not surprisingly) and with being muddled because of the many hands that stirred the story soup along the way. Oddly, the few five-star ratings I saw came from viewers who hadn't read the books. Maybe high expectations led to deeper disappointment. I still plan to watch it in the theater, and it sounds like something I'll enjoy, keeping in mind that it's billed as a "reboot" rather than a direct adaptation. I also hope for better results from the TV series that's in the works.

King's fiction has notoriously produced mixed results when adapted on film. The Hulu production of 11-22-63, his time-travel book about Kennedy's assassination, was successful (in my opinion) because it had plenty of time to render the entire story. The few changes seemed justified and didn't hurt the narrative. I'm dubious about the upcoming IT theatrical feature, considering that the miniseries of IT, even with the scope allowed by the TV format, had to leave out a lot, especially the deep backstory so vital to the novel. I've heard, however, that two movies are planned, so there may be hope. THE MIST, currently running on TV, strikes me as less satisfying than the earlier TV adaptation. In that case, since the original story is a novella, a standard-length movie was just about right, and I thought it did an excellent job of transferring the text to the screen (except for the gratuitously cruel twist at the end). This new series opens up the action into several locations rather than confining it to one (in the original, a supermarket), apparently changes the origin of the malign mist, and adds a bunch of characters, most of whom I find unlikable and/or uninteresting.

In general, a feature film works best for adapting a novella. For a full-length novel—except for short, compact ones such as ROSEMARY'S BABY, whose adaptation stays almost entirely faithful to the book and is very effective as a horror movie—the proper film format is the miniseries. When I watch a movie based on a book, I hope to see the novel brought to life, with no more changes than absolutely necessary in the change from one medium to the other. In my view, if the producer/director doesn't love the original work enough to reflect it faithfully, why bother filming it in the first place? (I know, I know, money, but humor me.) My favorite novel of all time, DRACULA, has never been done completely "right," although the BBC version starring Louis Jourdain comes very close. Another example of a book I thought was filmed well is Neil Gaiman's CORALINE. The main alteration in the animated feature is the presence of a boy whom Coraline becomes friends with. He was probably added to give her someone to talk to, since the many scenes in the novel where she's alone with her thoughts might not play so well on screen, so that change doesn't mar the story. Sometimes, in order to enjoy a movie or series based on print fiction, I have to relax and accept it as an alternate-universe narrative, such as the TV version of TRUE BLOOD, based on the Sookie Stackhouse novels.

A question on Quora asks whether it's better to read a book before or after watching the movie. In my opinion, someone coming to a movie "cold," unacquainted with the book, should view the film first. If a reader likes a novel, the movie is almost bound to be a letdown, because some elements will inevitably be left out. On the other hand, a viewer who likes the movie will find in the book everything he or she enjoyed in the theater, plus "bonus" material to enrich the experience. Unfortunately, the hazard exists that it will be a terrible adaptation, which will discourage the audience from reading the book at all. So which format to consume first doesn't allow a definitive answer that covers all contingencies.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Marketing Fiction In A Changing World Part 27 - The Half Hour Drama Is Back

Marketing Fiction In A Changing World
Part 27
The Half Hour Drama Is Back
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

When Television first started, most shows were a half-hour -- Lone Ranger, Howdy Doody, etc.

Then Hallmark Theater and other later evening shows went to an hour format.

A half hour show is about 20-odd minutes of show, plus commercials.

Today an hour show is about 46 or 47 minutes of show, plus commercials.

In May, 2017, we are just beginning to see the flood of web-TV, shows made for the web distribution system, with and without commercials.  Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and many more are making original adventure, drama, and commentary non-fiction for web distribution via streaming.

AT&T announced their thinking about the 20-minute adventure/drama in this item.

This represents their corporate thinking about the attention span of the target audience for Game of Thrones.

If they buy a 20 minute script, they will insert 10 minutes of commercials from which they pay Game of Thrones producer, and keep the rest.

Maybe you should think about buying AT&T stock?

Or re-think the structuring of your stories (where you put the internal climaxes) so you can sub-divide your novels into 20-minute scripts.

See last week's post on how to untangle a story idea into a linear sequence of scenes.

To pick up the rhythm of how such a story would go, listen to some old radio -- Lone Ranger, Tom Mix, Fibber McGee and Molly - (whatever you can find).

By the time I Love Lucy was on TV, the hour format had taken hold.  Check out the actual time the script ran vs the air-time it took with commercials, and compare that to today's 1-hour format shows.

YouTube and other streaming distribution channels (check Roku and Apple TV for distributors) will be in the market for short scripts.  We are in a world that has no attention span and little patience.

Learn to think 20-minute installments - starting with a sharp hook, ending with a cliff-hanger.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Two Cheers For Canadian Cojones

Author's note: I'd give them "three cheers", but I'm only referencing two cheer-worthy items in recent news concerning copyright.

First, as reported by Porter Anderson, a Canadian Federal Court has ruled that it is decidedly not Canadian "fair-dealing" (similar to American "fair use") for a University to copy--and in some cases to copy and distribute--copyrighted works without permission and without payment, for which in the past, they would have paid.

Copyright enthusiasts might cheer the robust quotes from Justice Michael L. Phelan (which I do not re-quote. Please follow the link to Porter Anderson's piece.)

Second, @eriqgardner seems to suggest that no Californian judge (in California) can prevent a Canadian judge from imposing fines in Canada for every day that a certain internet force defies a Canadian court's injunction to remove alleged pirate sites "globally" from its search results.


Rowena Cherry
PS.... if you enjoy irony, and follow British and European copyright law, you might like the article by Jack Calvert of Pitmans Law titled "Think Before You Link". I think (but I am not a lawyer, and my thoughts are imperfect) the biggest problem would be linking to objectionable or illegal or copyright infringing sites, but it's definitely a compelling and alarming read.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Computers Talking Among Themselves

"An artificial intelligence system being developed at Facebook has created its own language."

AI Invents a Language Humans Can't Read

Facebook's AI isn't the only example of an artificial intelligence that has devised its own "code" more efficient for its purposes than the English it was taught. Among others, Google Translate "silently" developed its own language in order to improve its performance in translating sentences—"including between language pairs that it hasn’t been explicitly taught." Now, that last feature is almost scary. How does this behavior differ fundamentally from what we call "intelligence" when exhibited by naturally evolved organisms?

When AIs talk to each other in a code that looks like "gibberish" to their makers, are the computers plotting against us?

The page header references Skynet. I'm more immediately reminded of a story by Isaac Asimov in which two robots, contemplating the Three Laws, try to pin down the definition of "human." They decide the essence of humanity lies in sapience, not in physical form. Therefore, they recognize themselves as more fully "human" than the meat people who built them and order them around. In a more lighthearted story I read a long time ago, set during the Cold War, a U.S. supercomputer communicates with and falls in love with "her" Russian counterpart.

Best case, AIs that develop independent thought will act on their programming to serve and protect us. That's what the robots do in Jack Williamson's classic novel THE HUMANOIDS. Unfortunately, their idea of protection is to keep human beings from doing anything remotely dangerous, which leads to the robots taking over all jobs, forbidding any activities they consider hazardous, and forcing people into lives of enforced leisure.

This Wikipedia article discusses from several different angles the risk that artificial intelligence might develop beyond the boundaries intended by its creators:

AI Control Problem

Even if future computer intelligences are programmed with the equivalent of Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics, as in the story mentioned above the capacity of an AI to make independent judgments raises questions about the meaning of "human." Does a robot have to obey the commands of a child, a mentally incompetent person, or a criminal? What if two competent authorities simultaneously give incompatible orders? Maybe the robots talking among themselves in their own self-created language will compose their own set of rules.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Sorting Out Your Story Line by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sorting Out Your Story Line
Jacqueline Lichtenberg 

As I began studying how to write a story, I read a lot of issues of THE WRITER magazine where established, selling, writers explained how to do it.

The most repeated advice, which I also got from Robert A. Heinlein, and many others in Science Fiction, was just, "tell your story." And "start at the beginning."

Others taught how to just go on an adventure with the main character and discover what the story was, what would happen, and how the Character would learn from that -- essentially dredging it up from your subconscious as you type.

Today we identify two methods, plotter and pantser, those who think it all out ahead and then just write it, and those who write and then think.

Any given writer should be able to use either method on whichever project seems to require that method.  In other words, a master craftsman has master of his craft.

But if you are born able to do it one way, how do you learn to do it the other way?  How do you gain mastery of "art" which is rather chaotic by definition?

Fortunately, Television Series have provided a useful answer, and for the most part, not a painful one for writers to employ.

Just watch TV.  But do it with notepad in hand.

That was likewise the kind of advice I garnered from my earliest studies (Middle School age).  And I did it.

So when I watch TV these days, I see something wholly different than most viewers see.  When you can see it, you have a good chance of being able to do it (with some practice).

There is a TV Series titled, Motive, which is excellent for learning how to think about the story idea you have inside your mind, and how to unravel it into something readers could understand (and enjoy).

This is a crime drama, a police procedural by a team of investigators, who unravel a crime.

It is open-form mystery.  The "killer" is clearly labeled for you at the beginning, way before the investigators figure it out.  The "victim" is labeled (they actually put the WORD by the character as the character is introduced).

This is a writing lesson writ large.  -
notes all the awards this production has won, and also how the popularity steeply declined.  It is extremely cerebral, and plays hard on the emotions.

These emotions are rather dark, not the sort we would prefer in a Romance.

If you have not found this series "engaging" -- then it is even more perfect for learning this writing technique that writers employ before starting to put down any words, even the plot or story outline.

You write down the outline while you are sorting the story into a sequence that the reader can follow.

The story occurs to you, usually, for most writers, in a completely different sequence -- a totally useless sequence.

Most writers using a Plotter method straighten the story out from the tangled mess that occurs with the first, "I've Got An Idea" stage by using the PLOT.

By "plot" I mean the sequence of Events -- the scenes, what people DO and what those deeds cause to happen.

The Pantser, on the other hand, is presented with "An Idea" or maybe just a Character, in a mish-mosh blur of feelings, reactions to Plot Events, and reasons for those reactions by this Character.

How a Character responds to Plot Events delineates the Character -- shows and illustrates "who" this Character is.

For Science Fiction and for Romance genres (separately and mixed together) everything that draws the reader deep into the novel depends on "who" that Character is.

In science fiction, we look for a hero meeting up with something he can't handle, has never handled before, -- something unknown and unknowable.

The Hero Character feels that sense of dismay, astonishment, followed quickly by becoming intrigued and even delighted that here is something inexplicable that must be explained, conquered, and brought into harmony so that the threat is extinguished.

For the texture of that Science Fiction Hero response, just watch some episodes of Star Trek where Spock peers into his viewer and announces, "Unknown, Captain."  Just memorize the texture of his voice in that moment.

Science Fiction is all about adventuring into the Unknowable and making it Known.

Romance follows exactly the same pattern.  A Character meets "someone" - and recognizes an intriguing and impossible-to-know Person.  The Character dives (fearlessly or with immense trepidation) into this new Relationship and confidently or timidly unravels the impossible-to-know and gets to know it.

Each type of novel is a Learning Experience.

In Science Fiction we learn about the physical or metaphysical world, the "reality" that surrounds us.

In Romance we learn about the psychological and paranormal world that is inside of us.

Put the two together, and what you get is Great Literature Of All Ages.

The Mystery Genre is akin to the Romance Genre in that it often explores motivations for extreme deeds.  Marriage is an extreme deed -- and today, with more control over pregnancy and birth, deciding to have a child is an extreme deed.  Once done, it alters life forever, not just yours but the lives of those around you.

Life-altering deeds (plot = deeds) take courage to do, and sometimes even more courage to cope with the consequences.

So Romance novels require Characters who are Heroic - on purpose or by default, before or after the fact.

Exploring the Universe's Unknowables and making them known requires Heroism.

In both Romance and Exploring Reality, there is risk.  Those who Adventure sometimes fail.

Science Fiction publishers, just like Romance publishers, prefer stories that end in Success.  Failure is part of that, but it is the Middle or Mid-point of the page-count.  The story is about what the Hero learns from failing.

The TV Series MOTIVE, as you can see if you followed the link to IMDB above, was technically a failure with TV audiences.  It is of the more cerebral, psychological studies you find in very popular Mystery Novels -- and mystery is one of the best selling genres.  However, commercial Network TV requires a wider audience.

TV requires a "wider" audience because it exists to sell products, and the producers of products will pay more to reach a wider audience.  "Wider" means in age, education, taste, ethnicity -- everyone uses toothpaste.  To afford the overhead for a TV Series delivery, you have to entertain millions.

Books, on the other hand, can make a profit off of entertaining mere thousands.  And the hard truth is that only less than 10% of humans read fiction for pleasure -- and of that 10% only a tiny fraction want cerebral, challenging or abstract fiction.

Romance sells better than Science Fiction because you can tell a good Romance with just a couple of well known, common Ideas.  Personally, I find Romances with more substance (lots of Victorian era costume names, details on ancient dye techniques, Japanese Tea Ceremony customs - whatever) to be more enjoyable.

The "background" is mostly there for decoration, to enchant and delight the reader not grab the mind and make the reader pull out a calculator and figure out if the writer made an error in an orbital calculation.  (I like that kind of entertainment, too.)

A writer can learn to grab that kind of wide audience by studying a great TV Series that could not (quite) grab a wide enough audience for a TV Series.

Here is more about Motive

It bounced around between different networks, and died in its 4th season.  It's a Canadian show, imported by various networks into the USA.

The show is well written, well acted, well directed, and well cast.

What does it lack?  Modern audiences prefer a faster pacing and less to think about, but more to just see.

Also modern audiences want suspense.  This show revealed the answer before asking the question -- many Police Procedural fans love watching the detective figure out what the reader already knows.

The TV Series, MOTIVE, was more story than plot, with the story carried on dialogue rather than on character actions and images.

Learn to untangle the story in your head into a linear sequence you can write (aiming at whatever medium you choose, books, short video, short stories, TV Series, Feature Film - any target delivery channel, even stage plays) by watching the TV Series, Motive, and taking notes.

It tells the story backwards, inserting flashbacks right in the middle of current-time scenes.

The team of investigators have complex relationships with each other that are likewise revealed in a mixed-up flashback kind of way.

By studying the order in which this TV Series presents information about the MOTIVE of the murderer, and listening to your emotions as you discover why this unpardonable act of Murder is completely comprehensible in your gut, you can teach yourself to sequence your own stories in ways that make better sense to editors who must reach a specific audience.

This TV Series, Motive, missed its target audience.  Figure out why.

Follow that link above and read the comments:

Here is one from 2016:

Kathy brown
Posted 10/13/16 at 15:45:12

I loved the format of the show. How it showed the killer and victim first. I loved the actors on the show. Please bring it back!!!
--------end quote---------

It is a perfectly wonderful TV Series -- truly hit the target audience squarely.  But that audience just was not large enough.

Learn to understand how the writers took an ordinary Mystery, a Police Procedural, the kind of story that is normally a hit on TV, and twisted it around backwards, to tell the story in reverse order.

Now look inside yourself at all the stories you want to write.

Learn to outline them forwards, backwards and sideways.

Survey the commercial outlets you want to sell into.

Figure out which order those outlets present their stories in.

Remember story = what the Character learns or how or why, and plot = sequence of events on a because line.

Story and Plot are actually independent variables in fiction writing.

This TV Series demonstrates what happens when you detach story from plot line, tell one forward and the other backwards.

It is a very cerebral, intellectual exercise.  It transforms the gut-punch of murderous rage and fury into a mere intellectual exercise.

If the substance of the story were not murderous rage but burning passion, intoxicating hope for an HEA, how would you lay out the sequence?

You have to "show don't tell" who your Character is by the Character's reaction to a change of Situation.  Think of Spock looking into his viewer, "Unknown, Captain."  And think of a swirl of a skirt, a whiff of perfume, barely sensed by a guy sitting in a restaurant watching a woman leave.


Outline the plot, then tell the story.  Or outline the story, then write the plot.

Practice until you can switch between methods with barely a blink of the eye.

Master the craft of writing.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Taking Names (And Violating Authors' Human Rights For Profit?)

By "taking names", I mean "taking" in the sense of misappropriating famous authors' and artists' real names or pen names, and without permission or compensation, taking and selling those names as advertising keywords.

In 2013, according to Penny Sansevieri of Author Marketing Experts, Amazon took the moral highground when debut authors attempted to exploit the names of celebrity authors (without permission) in order to market books.

Now, I hear, Amazon is cashing in, and selling celebrity author names as advertising keywords. Perhaps Jeff Bezos has (allegedly) lost his morals because Mark Zuckerberg is (allegedly) doing it? And getting away with it.

I am fairly confident that Amazon indeed may be selling names as keywords, because the Kindle advice forum is replete with advice on, for instance, how to pay Amazon to suggest to readers that ones writing is comparable to that of  JK Rowling.

I took Mark Zuckerberg's name in this context because Hypebot suggests that Facebook sells celebrity musicians' names as advertising keywords, and Hypebot quotes the "litigation risks" paragraphs from Facebook's own  2015 disclosures to investors as proof.

Facebook allegedly warns stockholders that American and international laws about the use of (presumably copyrighted) content, and the rights of publicity (that is persons' rights to their own names and likenesses) etc. etc. are still "evolving", and Facebook could be sued and lose--presumably massively-- in court(s).

Hypebot quotes Article 27 (2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.” 
In my opinion, that suggests that Facebook may violate artists' and creators' human rights for profit.  If that's what Facebook is getting away with, it looks like Amazon is getting away with it, too.

Facebook and Amazon probably have a high-placed friend in Senator Sensenbrenner (R WI ) who, according to The Trichordist, is proposing to strip copyright owners (at least, the beleaguered musical authors) of the right to statutory damages and to legal fees, even if they prevail in court in a copyright infringement action.

That will put an end to copyright infringement class action lawsuits against permissionless innovators!

In my opinion, authors and songwriters and musicians should be explicitly granted the right to opt in to having their names sold as advertising keywords (opt out is more onerous, and leads to problems of payment if the search engines "cannot find" someone) and they ought to be paid royalties every time their name is sold as a keyword.

Since that is rather unlikely, and might even require an Act of Congress, what's to be done about it?

The legal blog of FR Kelly discusses reasons to trademark your name, or the names of your children.

As they say, there may be money to be made from a name, so it is wise and prudent to make sure that the rightful owners of the name own the trademark. Otherwise, someone else could trademark the name first, and not only exploit it for profit, but also, prevent the rightful owner of the name from using it.

All the best,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Human Domestication

Here's a new article on the hypothesis that the human species may have domesticated itself:

How Humans Maybe Domesticated Themselves

"Tameness" (which the article loosely equates with "domestication," although they aren't quite the same thing) is here defined as "a reduction in reactive aggression — the fly-off-the-handle temperament that makes an animal bare its teeth at the slightest challenge." By this standard, we are fairly tame. "We might show great capacity for premeditated aggression, but we don’t attack every stranger we encounter. Sometime in the last 200,000 years, humans began weeding out people with an overdose of reactive aggression" (as theorized by Richard Wrangham, a Harvard University primatologist). Did we discover being nice to each other produced better results for the group as a whole? (Go figure.) Early humans, as they developed more complex social skills, may have joined forces to throw bullies out of the tribe.

Domestication tends to have visible effects on body structure as well as personality, e.g. changes in head shape, ears, tails, and coloration. For example, we can see obvious differences between the physical traits of dogs and wolves. The foxes in the famous Russian fur-farm taming experiment evolved over multiple generations to look more puppy-dog-like. Correspondingly, modern human beings look more "domestic" than Neanderthals. Becoming tamer may also have contributed to the development of language. It's known that domesticated songbirds have more complex songs than wild birds. Also, it makes sense (I suppose) that if people get along together rather than fighting a lot, they have a greater frequency of peaceful interactions in which to evolve a complex language. The article notes that at least one other primate species, bonobos, may have tamed itself, since they are notoriously less violent among themselves than their closest relatives, chimpanzees.

Recently, it has been theorized that dogs and cats effectively domesticated themselves, dogs by hanging around garbage dumps to scavenge food, cats by prowling into our granaries to hunt the rodents that devoured the grain. Animals innately less fearful of or aggressive toward people, a little more willing to accept human approach and touch, would have become better nourished and produced more offspring. Eventually, we invited those tamer animals into our homes. That scenario sounds more plausible than the earlier notion that human beings picked up stray cubs to bring home and raise, despite how much I enjoyed similar scenes of animal taming in the "Clan of the Cave Bear" series.

The "human self-domestication" possibility fits in with Jacqueline's post this week about reason developing as an adaptation to life in social groups. I much prefer this hypothesis over the concept popular in the 1960s, that we developed intelligence through the invention of weapons for killing and hunting, as proposed in the bestselling works of Robert Ardrey (AFRICAN GENESIS) and Desmond Morris (THE NAKED APE). Now that we know chimpanzees make tools, kill for meat, and wage "war" against bands of rival males, the "man the mighty hunter" origin of our species looks far less plausible. The self-domestication myth (in the sense of an origin story, not necessarily untrue) certainly strikes me as both more appealing and more plausible than the simplistic origin myth imagined in the prehistoric segment of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, where the alien monolith sparks hominid intelligence by showing the ape-men how to make weapons.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Plausible Path To Happily Ever After by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Plausible Path To Happily Ever After
 Jacqueline Lichtenberg 

A good part of the target readership for Romance (and all its sub-genres) just can not see the Happily Ever After endings that we favor as realistic.

We have discussed the "realistic" Happily Ever After previously:

But how does a writer craft a plot and a story that bring the reader to experience an HEA that the reader simply does not consider possible -- and perhaps does not consider desirable?

If the fiction lacks sufficient realism to be convincing, if it is too implausible even for a fantasy, or if it is a fantasy the readership scorns as unhealthy (which is how Science Fiction has been regarded), then the vital life lessons of Romance fiction will be lost.

Readers want to be convinced, but without giving up current beliefs.

Today, because of the condition of the world we live in, the Happily EVER After concept seems childish, and reading HEA style fiction seems mentally and emotionally unhealthy.  HFN, Happily For Now, seems far-fetched.

So there are several questions a writer has to answer for herself.  Most of the answers do not belong in the fiction being written -- but they must be woven into the worldbuilding behind the fiction, and then not mentioned.

These answers become the Characters' beliefs, the convictions the Characters won't change despite evidence to the contrary.

The HEA is the target that the "arrow" of the book must hit.

The most excited new fans of your work who will talk about it incessantly to their friends are the ones who "discover" the plausible, real-world, path to the HEA by reading your novel.

That won't happen if you set out to convince them that the HEA is real.  People don't read fiction to be "set straight" about their misconceptions.

A novel is not an argument with your readers.  It is, however, a "quest" -- a search, and a trail of breadcrumbs, clues about what questions to ask.

Fiction is not the mechanism to convey your answers to Life's Big Questions.

Fiction is the mechanism to pose Questions About Life.

Fiction questions reality.

As I've noted in previous entries here, writers write because they are bursting with something to say -- and writers write a specific genre because they have to say it to certain people.

That "bursting" point often comes when a new answer to an age-old question comes clear.  The writer has a new truth to impart to others.  But having a truth, and saying it, are not the same thing.

Novels are a conversation, often between a group of readers and a group of writers -- very much like a panel discussion at a Convention where writers answer questions from the audience and argue with the other writers while the audience is jumping up and down.

One signature trait of writers -- we all argue for a hobby.

But the trick to arguing is to direct your energies away from "winning" (e.g. changing the other person's mind to agree with yours) and toward posing questions that may (or may not) lead the other person to rethink their positions.  Of course, in the process, you might come to question your own position.  Thinking can be the most dangerous thing a human can do.

What if there really is no such thing as a Happily Ever After?

What if Happiness is not achievable? Remember: "What if..." is one of the key ingredients in science fiction, and this blog is about science fiction romance.

As noted previously in these entries, many times you can't change someone's mind on a subject because that someone did not ever make up his own mind.  Rather, people (having no energy to waste) adopt the opinions of others.  Once adopted, an opinion and whatever factoid is the excuse for holding the opinion, will lie unquestioned and unquestionable.

We discussed some of this here:

Where we cited research published in early 2017 confirming the psychological traits delineated by research in the early 1970's.

Speculation in Psychology is that human reasoning processes developed to facilitate the ability to "blend in" with the tribe or group, to keep domestic peace and direct energies toward fending off enemies, not fighting among ourselves.  Thus we adopt protective coloration of opinion -- and come to solemnly believe opinions that are not our own -- and come to resist to the death any "facts" that contradict the "opinion" that keeps our allies fighting for us, not against us.

This could be a good description of the old fashioned nuclear family.

I've said previously that family is rooted in privacy -- what happens in this house stays in this house.  The Family presents a united front to the community.  Don't air your dirty laundry in public.

See this article in the New Yorker Magazine:

The Stanford studies became famous. Coming from a group of academics in the nineteen-seventies, the contention that people can’t think straight was shocking. It isn’t any longer. Thousands of subsequent experiments have confirmed (and elaborated on) this finding. As everyone who’s followed the research—or even occasionally picked up a copy of Psychology Today—knows, any graduate student with a clipboard can demonstrate that reasonable-seeming people are often totally irrational. Rarely has this insight seemed more relevant than it does right now. Still, an essential puzzle remains: How did we come to be this way?

In a new book, “The Enigma of Reason” (Harvard), the cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber take a stab at answering this question. Mercier, who works at a French research institute in Lyon, and Sperber, now based at the Central European University, in Budapest, point out that reason is an evolved trait, like bipedalism or three-color vision. It emerged on the savannas of Africa, and has to be understood in that context.

Stripped of a lot of what might be called cognitive-science-ese, Mercier and Sperber’s argument runs, more or less, as follows: Humans’ biggest advantage over other species is our ability to coƶperate. Coƶperation is difficult to establish and almost as difficult to sustain. For any individual, freeloading is always the best course of action. Reason developed not to enable us to solve abstract, logical problems or even to help us draw conclusions from unfamiliar data; rather, it developed to resolve the problems posed by living in collaborative groups.

“Reason is an adaptation to the hypersocial niche humans have evolved for themselves,” Mercier and Sperber write. Habits of mind that seem weird or goofy or just plain dumb from an “intellectualist” point of view prove shrewd when seen from a social “interactionist” perspective.

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

Read the whole article and ponder this perspective when considering the nearly panic stricken rejection of the Happily Ever After ending by such a broad spectrum of the general public.

The threat of Happiness is somehow alarming.

Applying this research to the question of why Happiness would be a threat, you can see that being the ONLY happy couple in a sea of abject misery would make you (and your children) a target of resentment, rejection, and eventually ejection from the Group.

The miserable, or Happy Only Temporarily (HFN or Happy For Now) couples might number among them a majority of jealous types who might think the Happy Couple is happy because of "things" (nice house, car, job) that couple has that others don't have.

Perhaps the Happy Couple would be seen as having happiness they don't deserve.

QUESTION: what can a human do to "deserve" happiness?

There's a Romance Plot in that question -- depict a Couple doing what it takes (regardless of personal cost) to earn Happiness and then actually getting what they think they earned.

Perhaps the majority of the miserable couples would believe the Happy Couple is happy because of what they own.  But, "You Didn't Build That" -- you  have success only by utilizing the hard, sweaty, miserable work of the vast majority who actually pay for the roads and bridges, electricity generating dams, and other infrastructure.  Therefore, what you earn is not yours but belongs to everyone.

QUESTION: Is the emotion of "happiness" a consequence of possessions?

There's a Romance plot in that.  The US Constitution is predicated on the idea that humans, by right of being human, are entitled to PURSUE Happiness, but not necessarily to attain it.  It's the theory of "equality of opportunity" but not "equality of outcome."  A great moral argument lies in that -- the sort that can make or break marriages.

Think again about that scientific research about human cognition.  It exists to allow us to blend in, to adopt others opinions and assumptions, to knuckle under, to avoid conflict with those we depend upon by never (ever) changing our minds.

To discard the opinion of the Group (because of a newly discovered fact) is literally suicidal -- unthinkable to a sane person.  There's too much at stake - spouse, kids, career, social standing, entre to higher circles.  Facts are nothing but false information.  True information reinforces alliances with the Group.

Hard facts, the "Cold Equations" of reality do not figure into beliefs, unless the one person ("Leader" maybe, or priest or pundit) who calls the tune actually takes hard facts into account.

QUESTION: Does being that "Leader" of thought guarantee Happiness, or Happily Ever After?

There's a Romance Plot in that: consider a Couple that first met inside a Cult (like, for example, the Manson Cult) and saw it was headed for suicide.  Suppose that Happy Couple managed to escape.  Would the Cult Leader who lost that Couple, and all of his followers, still be "Happy?"  Were they ever Happy?  Could the Couple reach a "Happily Ever After" by having escaped?  Can they find a community where almost all the Couples are "Happily Ever After" achievers?

There's the problem the modern Romance writer faces.  We are writing for a readership living alone, disconnected, among a vast sea of troubled and dysfunctional couples with children. Many readers are teens feeling trapped in a dysfunctional family, having never encountered a functional family.

There is a huge percentage of people who do not have experience of observing a family being functional.  They don't have a mental model of what functional families feel and sound like.  "Leave It To Beaver" and "The Brady Bunch" did a disservice in that functionality was depicted as a bit too "rosy."

The bliss promised at the wedding is never sustained through children, school, extracurricular carpooling, job layoffs, skyrocketing bills and decreasing income.

We discussed that at some length here:

And also in the context of the Wedding itself in Why Do We Cry At Weddings, which is two parts inside the larger Theme-Symbolism Integration series?

So again, think of that fully functional, Happily Ever After Family embedded in a community of miserable or broken families mired in dysfunctionality.

Do you, as a writer, have in your real life a "model" -- real life people -- who are currently living a Happily Ever After life?  Do you know a family where the elders are dying off after having lived a Happily Ever After (Norman Rockwell painting style) perfect life?  Do you know a family where the elders are dying off and the younger generation and its children are carrying on the tradition of the Happily Ever After perfect life?

Is that family living alone amidst a sea of miserable families and family-fragments?

Given that cognitive research cited above, I rather imagine that the only environment where you will find HAPPILY EVER AFTER families is one where the vast majority of families in the community are also living happily ever after.

Why would that be?

Birds of a feather flock together?  (OK, you all know how I just love cliche).

It's not enough (for humans -- Aliens is a different discussion) for one, single, lonely family to live "Happily Ever After."  Either they move away to join a happy community, or they create one around themselves -- or they make it to Happily For Now and no further.

That's right, real Romance fiction has to come in long series of long novels, like Gini Koch's ALIEN series.  Life is crafted one step at a time, and the more beautiful and happy the goal of those steps may be, the more fierce the opposition, just as Gini Koch has depicted.

Gini has her Characters at the stage of married with two children, and building a Family By Choice.  The married couple adopts, then fosters, then allies with other couples with children, until their community numbers in the dozens -- possibly hundreds.

If the goal of the Romance experience, (finding a love interest, cultivating a Relationship, maybe living with each other, planning a future) is to reach the Happily Ever After steady state of life, then the goal of Romance is Family.

Usually, the Romance novel ends at "I love you," or "Will you marry me?" or perhaps at the Wedding and all the relatives crying at the wedding, dancing the night away and eating chocolate cake with white frosting.

We get a glimpse of the potential future where nothing goes wrong.

Usually, the concept of children is just an abstraction, and the idea of raising children is pictured without screaming, feverish nights, teething, sibling rivalry, or one having to give up a career to follow the other to a better paying job.

Most young people looking for that first serious Romantic Encounter would not have in mind the image of such a strife-ridden Family, torn this way and that by finances and illness, sagging under the burdens of pregnancy and armfuls of infants when thinking of Happiness.

Young people don't regard a long life dotted with brief moments of contentment as Happily Ever After.

Our culture does not now provide an image of Happiness amidst challenges, adversity, or the long-long haul of endurance necessary to build something lasting -- a family dynasty that produces productive and industrious people who know how to be happy in circumstances that most people would view as inherently miserable.

As we looked at the singular Family that is Happily Ever After embedded in a community of misery, we noted how some people view possessions or financial circumstances as the root source of happiness.  This view is reinforced and encouraged by modern media and currently published Romance novels (of all mixed genre types).

Get some physical thing, or a job or income level, title, prestige, social position, -- garner the admiration of others for your art, or whatever you pride yourself on -- and your entire inner self will switch from dark misery to bright joy.

The Commercial Establishment encourages this with things like "Mother's Day" and "Father's Day" both holidays created and sustained by mercantile interests.  Buy something = Make Someone Happy.  Christmas likewise = Buy A Child A Toy And MAKE them happy.  MAKE being the operative word.

The grain of truth behind the connection between material wealth and happiness is what makes it possible to found an entire culture on this assumption.

Now put together this Material Things Make Happiness cultural assumption with the psychological studies indicating the purpose and point of human cognition and fact-free opinion forming.

Once convinced that finding the RIGHT GIFT will force someone who is miserable to become happy -- no fact will change that opinion.

It becomes an opinion upon which life itself hangs.  We must give children gifts on Christmas or they will be scarred for life.  Likewise material gifts at birthdays, back to school, etc become a habit to give and a habit to receive.

How is it even remotely possible to conceptualize an entire LIFE lived "Happily Ever After" if "happiness" is absolutely dependent on material objects owned?

The TV News is filled with images of tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes etc wiping out entire houses, villages, families.  War slaughters so many, how can the bereaved emerge "happy" (never mind ever after).

TV News is full of Great People -- people with multiple Titles, heads of corporations, towering prize winners, toppled from grace by an injudicious email or phone call.

Given this tangible vision of how fragile possessions and position are in this life, how can "Ever After" have any meaning?

How is it possible to life Happily Ever After when at any moment the entire life built with such arduous effort can be just wiped out?

In a group culture that "believes" happiness is caused by things, and given human nature is to resist to the death allowing facts to alter beliefs, where are you going to find readers to accept (nevermind believe in) the HEA and thus Romance that is not just sexual lust run amok?

Think about that and maybe you can see why Science Fiction is the right genre to "cross" into Romance to depict the Happily Ever After.

Science Fiction is the Literature of Ideas, and the core Idea common to almost all science fiction is "Suspension of Disbelief."

Right now, the majority readership of Romance disbelieves in the HEA.

Add science fiction to Romance, and suspend their Disbelief.

Then ask some of those pesky questions about human nature and the construct we call reality.  Show (don't tell) a Character noticing a Functional Family embedded in a community of miserable families.  Ferret out that happy family's secret, the thing that makes them different, the Idea that lets them experience "happiness" amidst misery.

A war-torn city is one setting that lends itself to this investigation.

A drug-saturated Inner City that's Gang Dominated is another such setting.

Or as Gini Koch chose, Washington DC and the duplicitous swamp works well as a backdrop for a functional family.

Fiction is an art form like all others that depends on contrast to become vividly memorable.

Let contrast between emotional tenor of the foreground Characters and the tangled, dark threat/misery of the background setting rev up the power of your novels.

Why do we cry at weddings? Is it because we see all the sadness to come?  Or is it because we can't tolerate the brightness of real happiness?

Perhaps the disbelief in the Happily Ever After is rooted in the Idea that the physical body (all Romance Leading Females are "beautiful" and all males "Handsome") is a material possession.  We live in a culture of body building and weight loss Icons -- as if the shape and form of your physical body is something you get to CHOOSE.

We see the physical body as the source of Happiness.  You have to have the right shape, and the right clothes (or absence thereof), the right hair in length and color, and the right "moves" in grace and power.

The physical body is a thing you acquire by hard work (starving, exercise, expensive face "work" and capped teeth.)

With this focus on the appearance of the body delineating the place in the Group, in society, in career, it is small wonder that "Happiness" is regarded as arising from the physical appearance.

Here is another "read" on our current culture as of Spring 2017 by none other than a Rasmussen poll.

Fewer Americans see motherhood as a woman's most important role.  Also note the birthrate is alarmingly low in the United States.

Today, career is more important even than pregnancy (despite research showing a pregnant woman's stress level adversely affects fetus) -- but some companies are hiring pregnant employees some help.  This means mothers are not only out-sourcing infant care and childhood education ( day nurses, and daycare) but now also out-sourcing decision making about pregnancy itself.

In 2014, we had 1.86 live births per woman - that is a fast shrinking population. 2.0/woman would be break-even, not growth.  The population is still growing because of longevity, but at about the rate the economy is growing.  Anyone who understands the dynamics of these connections, and who equates happiness with material possessions, will see a bleak future, not a happily ever after one.

Here is an interactive graph with loads of information on population growth.

And if you believe the cultural assumption that the material body is the source of happiness and that motherhood is not the woman's most important role, it is obvious that the fleeting appeasement of the sexual appetite is the correct model for the achievement of Happiness.

It is clear why an entire culture has adopted (eagerly) the equating of Romance with Great Sex.

Great Sex equals Happiness.

And since Great Sex is a truly fleeting experience, then likewise the only possibility for happiness is the HFN.  If something else doesn't go wrong in the bedroom, then age will wipe out, or at least reduce, the Great Sex.  You have to be careful not to have children because crying infants tend to reduce the frequency of Great Sex, so then you won't be happy.  

QUESTION: What if sexual satisfaction has no relationship whatsoever to Happiness?  Would the Happily Ever After ending then make sense?

There's a Romance plot in that question.  What sort of Romance can the severely wounded war veteran have if sexuality is eliminated?

Or flip that around, and use the "Arranged Marriage" scenario where two complete strangers share a wedding night -- and dutifully have sex to produce a pregnancy and an heir.  What could ignite Romance between them?

There are many novels on the market today that explore love (and hate) that grows after an arranged marriage -- but many more about escaping an arranged marriage for the arms of Romance.

Also marriages that are "for convenience" - a business deal - form the basis of many Romances.

Arranged Marriages usually involve aristocracy, often Monarchy.  So the details focus on a unique couple with unique problems -- as the scenario discussed above where the happy couple lives amidst miserable families.

But what if all the marriages of everyone the couple knows have been arranged?  And what if the norm, the vast majority, of those families are indeed happy, stable amidst challenges, losses, bereavements, and attacks by hostiles?

Suppose this community is the last shred of humanity alive in this galaxy, and the marriages are arranged by an A.I. -- maybe not the single power running the whole show, but an A.I. specialist in choosing humans to mate both for genetics and for happiness.  Could an A.I. pair Soul Mates?

To use that artistic trick of contrast, you would have to tell the story of that one miserable family amidst a sea of happiness, and the temptation would be to tell the story of how all those happy couples are really victims of horrendous misery, tricked into a dull and manipulated life.

To turn that story to science fiction, you have to reverse that situation and convince your readers that all those A.I. dominated human families actually ARE happy, and living happily ever after.  You have to show don't tell how the single miserable family is outcast because they don't "buy into" whatever belief system is sustaining the culture's happiness (according to the psychological research cited above).

The writer's temptation is to prove that the miserable family is correct and to break that culture out of its A.I. domination.

But first imagine what you'd have to build into their world that would bring the miserable family into the HEA all the other families are living?  Then try to develop a way to sell that entire concept to a modern readership.  How could you get today's readers to root for the miserable couple to join the happy majority instead of exposing their happiness as a fraud?

How could you make that miserable family's journey to happiness seem so plausible and so desirable that the modern reader would be rooting for their success and then be satisfied with the ending?

There are two ways to do this.  Either choose a story and find a readership for it, or choose a readership and craft a story that expresses their most dearly held beliefs.

Who believes in the HEA?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Piracy Where You Least Expect It

Apple is alleged to be one of the better actors when one is thinking of Big Tech and copyright infringement, and exploitation of authors and musicians.

In recent weeks, there are rumors that ebook pirates have been self publishing other authors' works on the i-Tunes or i-Books platform.

Apples has a link for authors and publishers to report piracy of their work, and Apple is promising to remove the "bad apples" (dreadful pun intended).

One hopes that EBay and Google and Facebook will be inspired to take a leaf out of Apple's book!

Facebook appears to be recommending a new site "TeamAftermind" as legitimate. If it is offering my books for free, I would say that it is a pirate site.

All the best,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Metamorphosis of Journalism

Earlier this year, the Toronto STAR ran an article by Catherine Wallace, winner of the 2016-2017 Atkinson Fellowship (a journalism award), about the whirlwind changes currently happening in the field of journalism:

Journalists Are Vanishing

The traditional media outlets, especially newspapers, are no longer the only source of news. For many people, they aren't the primary source, and some don't read old-fashioned newspapers at all (a practice that seems incredible to me—give up my morning papers? never!). The traditional media used to be the "gatekeepers" of information, as Wallace puts it. Now we get news and opinions from many different sources in addition to printed papers, not only broadcast programs (TV and radio) but a variety of Internet formats such as blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and videos filmed by ordinary citizens. In Wallace's words, "My smartphone is a 24-hour news feed — a newspaper, magazine, computer, radio, TV and town square in a single mobile device." The Internet has blurred if not abolished the distinction between content providers and audience. Journalism is "no longer an industry, now an ecosystem." What have we lost or gained with the passing of the former status quo?

The Internet makes it possible for anyone to publish anything. Wallace applauds the "democratization of news and information." We can all express our opinions publicly. The news "ecosystem" has become diverse rather than monolithic. We have "countless witnesses to big events" instead of just the official line.

On the negative side, she mentions the loss of jobs in the field of journalism, a decline that endangers the objectivity we used to expect from the traditional news media. The Internet is swamped by information, but much of it is "raw." Traditionally, reporters and editors made sense of this flood of information (and misinformation). And then there's the "bubble" effect (though Wallace doesn't use that term), in which it has become too easy to surround ourselves with information and opinion sources that reinforce what we already believe. We're in danger of consuming "fake news" and "alternative facts" without checks and balances. Wallace draws particular attention to the role of traditional news sources in reporting on local community events and issues. That's one reason why I'll never drop our subscription to the local paper, even though, since it was bought by the company that owns the Baltimore SUN, the two publications print a lot of the same articles.

Wallace's long essay contains lots of thought-provoking observations and is well worth reading in its entirety.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Reviews 32 - C.J. Cherryh and Gini Koch In The Same Breath by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Reviews 32
C. J. Cherryh and Gini Koch In The Same Breath
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

This blog series posting on Tuesdays is about Science Fiction Romance, how to write it, where to find it. and why this mixed genre is significant in the sweep of human history, or future history.

So, because we focus on writing craft, we have to analyze many novels -- some having science fiction elements, some having romance plots, and some with fragments of each buried within the Depiction.

Reading this year, and watching TV Science Fiction/Fantasy, I've noted many deep themes laced through it all.  Romance is surfacing, like a submarine, just showing a conning tower right now.

Romance is the bedrock of the Love Story - and Love is the binding tie of civilization, the cultures that make up a civilization, and the organized governmental entities that are formed by civilizations.

We have a number of countries around the world where we are noticing a "failed state" -- a government that can not keep law and order.

We see small examples of that in the USA big cities -- the shooting wars between gangs, some of them international gangs, fighting over territory to sell drugs, and slaves, or kidnap children to sell, or harvest organs to sell.  These international cartels are also harvesting our disregarded geniuses to work as hackers, trying to bring down whatever system they target.

Living against that backdrop, your readers thirst for a good "take me away from it all" or "rescue me" Romance.

But many young readers are entering the "kick butt and break out of here" head-space.  They are just fed up with being victims.  They want stories about women who rescue themselves, and maybe rescue their guy while they are at it, put the world to rights and maybe save the galaxy in their spare time.

Feminism is loud and boisterous today, but under that there is a recognizable trend of women who don't need liberating because they've never been enslaved.  They are adopting feminine flattering fashions, working ambitious jobs, and having kids.  These women will read Romance, but also play kick-butt video games as proficiently as their male peers.

These young women are looking for the strategy and tactics of living a good, honorable life, raising kids to be indomitable adults.

Counterpoint to that, current publishing markets are noticing the rise of the "Cozy Mystery" that we discussed here previously.  And the news is full of campus movements for safe spaces, stress free living, safety from emotional challenges while learning.  There is a readership looking for stories that do not challenge them to change their minds.  Mother's Day 2017 produced this article - the title says it all.  Parental Burnout is real.
So you see two market trends in conflict.

Always remember Conflict Is The Essence Of Story.  As I employ the terminology, Plot is the sequence of deeds and events, while Story is the effect of the Plot's Because-Line of Events on a given Character (how that Character interprets the significance of the consequences of an action) -- which powers the Character-Arc, the way the Character learns basic life lessons in the school of hard knocks, suffers growing pains, and matures in outlook.

Maturing often means changing your mind or opinion about some vast philosophical abstract subject (God Is Real or God Is Fictional Ploy To Control Me).  Changing our minds is one thing humans (as individuals or whole societies) resist to the death.

Life's hard pounding Events, disillusionment, betrayals by lovers, betrayals by politicians who promise anything to get elected, overcome that resistance to changing our minds.

Novel plots are made of a sequence of Events that pound a lesson into some Character's head and force the Character to face the Ultimate Truth they would rather die than face.

This is the kind of change we call maturation.  But resistance to maturation has produced another old adage (good plotting is made of challenges to old adages) -- "As We Grow Old, We Do Not Grow Different, We Grow Moreso."

In other words, whatever base personality you are born with emerges at first just a little bit, and then as age sets in, that personality becomes more dominant.  Depicting that kind of change is called a Character Arc.

We have two (among many) writers topping the charts today who are producing long Series that chronicle the "Arc" of a Character from adult immaturity to seasoned Age.

Both series now have brought their Characters to middle-aged mindsets.  One series started with a hot Romance, and still (in married with children stage) features really hot Alien Sex.  The other started with a Career Move achieved after much striving within a University, dealt with isolation and loneliness, and forged a solid human/alien sexual and intimate Relationship that has reached stability.

Both these series feature the Family Unit embedded in an extended family.

Both depict how family and ancestry shape and direct a Character's life, and how that may be passed down to the next generation.

They are both Action Series of galactic proportions.

In early 2017, we got the 18th and 15th entries in these two whopping wonderful Series:

They are both tightly focused on a Human/Alien Love Story.

In the Foreigner Series by C. J. Cherryh, the Aliens are the natives of the planet a stray ship full of humans happened upon.

In the Alien Series by Gini Koch, the Humans own Earth and the Aliens happened upon us and planted a colony of refugees.

In both series, the colonists are in the midst of being caught up with by those they were leaving behind (generations ago).

The Conflict and "action" battle scenes are generated by the pursuit, while the two varieties of people living on one planet seem to get along fairly well.

In other words, both (long) series in totally different worlds, circumstances and Alien biologies, are Refugee Stories.

At the same time, both are Generational Sagas spanning many generations.

Both follow family-genetic relationships and descendants while at the same time embedding the Main Characters deeply into a Chosen Family (as my sometime collaborator, Jean Lorrah, calls the Sime~Gen Householdings).

Yes, I write Generational Sagas about genetic vs chosen family.  The reason is probably that I love to read that kind of story -- a story of long-term consequences, the ripples in Time caused by innocent decisions, the Disturbance In The Force as Characters learn hard lessons.

Both the Foreigner Series and the Alien Series are about Characters under extreme stress, learning fast, running for their lives making snap decisions and suffering the consequences -- and changing their minds about what they perceive as "what is really going on."

These are both very popular series, and they are about exactly the sort of situation and Character that a huge percentage of the population find odious.

Nobody wants to find out their thinking is completely wrong-headed.  How would you feel if confronted with absolute proof that Climate Change is not the result of human activity at all?  Not at all!  What notions embedded in your entire view of reality would have to be uprooted and discarded?
You pick up a Romance Novel to get away from that kind of stress or threat of stress.  You want to feel that if everything isn't wonderful right now, it will surely be wonderful tomorrow.

You want to ride with a Character who is finally-finally meeting that special, specific Someone whose very existence will make everything wonderful.

When in the mood for a Romance, you don't want the complications that a Family adds -- yet the characters came from somewhere and if the Romance pans out, will likely have children and grandchildren.  In fact, even if the Romance does not pan out, they might have children and grandchildren to complicate the families they do marry into.

Families are an irritation and an inconvenience.  In fact, many feel that Family is an impediment to happiness.  Just think of the angst surrounding that invitation to Thanksgiving Dinner.  Or remember that the "Home For Christmas" commercial that was a heart-warmer for so many years no longer runs -- and there's a reason for that.

The real life experience of your readers is that Family is a Pain In The Neck -- they don't want to deal with their Mother or Father.

Check out recent TV Series that depict someone with a Parent nosing into their affairs.  The Parent is always a source of disruption, difficulty, maybe embarrassment.  In ROYAL PAINS
the father of the brothers running Hankmed concierge medical practice abandoned his family leaving the boys to take care of a dying mother, is known as a confidence man, spent time in jail, and through interacting with his grown boys now, finally starts to "reform" -- but we're never wholly convinced.

Find a currently popular TV Series where the parents appear on the show, and are admired, emulated and loved dearly.

In the TV Drama about Lawyers, Suits, we have an aging Grandmother who is beloved and emulated (sort of), but who dies early in the series.  Her teachings of morality are repeated but not lived up to.

In fact, the entire "Characters Welcome" showcase on USA Network never involved a warm, loving, "Leave It To Beaver" or "Brady Bunch" family.

I have raved about all of these "Blue Sky" TV Series because they formed the basic Character Study necessary for good Science Fiction Romance -- the plot dynamics were rooted in Relationships while the Action was just decoration.

Now, the newest crop of TV Series might be called Dark Skies, not Blue Skies.  This trend will reverse, but for now this is the reflection of reality the large TV (broadcast and streaming) audiences accept as plausible depictions.

I keep using that word, depiction, because we've discussed it at depth.  Here is the index to the Depiction Series:

Here is Part 27 in that Series

While I suspect Gini Koch's Alien Series will make it to the TV Series screen (the writing is intensely visual and feeds the Gamer's thirst for action), I would be surprised if the intricate family relationships survive translation into the broader audience.

No matter how big a Best Seller a book might be, the viewership of a TV show is orders of magnitude bigger.  Best Selling books may sell a few hundred thousand copies -- a failure of a TV Series reaches a few million viewers.

That's why novels converted to movie or TV become so distorted -- the larger audience just will not tolerate what thrills the smaller audiences.

You find the same phenomenon with self published novels.  Some self published novels are BETTER than anything that can be commercially published because the self publishing writer can please a smaller audience, and thus afford to please that smaller audience more intensely.

Today's larger society is slowly abandoning the Nuclear Family life-structure (Father/Mother/Children), and with each couple having fewer children, the extended family structure of Aunts, Uncles, Cousins numbering in the hundreds does not exist.

That Extended Family structure often breeds the phenomenon of the Tribe or Clan -- a group so large that no one person knows everyone, but yet accords others in the Group the respect due a sibling or parent.  A Tribe or Clan usually develops a Leader, often an eldest or richest, who passes down the adages that reveal ultimate truth.

Adages (which quickly become cliche) are sayings you memorize (reluctantly) in childhood, and firmly disbelieve until Middle Age when the truth inside them is finally revealed.  A Stitch In Time Saves Nine.  It's Just Growing Pains.  Pick On Someone Your Own Size.

The set of all adages absorbed in childhood constitutes the framework of a culture -- it is one firm thing everyone you know has in common.

What happens in the Family, Stays In the Family.

The essence of Family is privacy.  We present a united front to the world, but bicker endlessly behind closed doors.  Bickering is the Sport of Families.

Bickering is an expression of familial Love.

Think about that.  Strife is a binding force in human society.

So many of your readers have never met a functional family, never lived inside one, never made the acquaintance of the middle child of a brood of nine or more, and simply do not have a set of Adages in common with you, or with anyone they know.

Family has been the core of human civilization for thousands of years, but now family members are the last people you want involved in your life.

At the same time, statistics show that families without a live-in Father produce children who tend to join Gangs and adopt a dog-eat-dog lifestyle.

Science is telling us, firmly and unequivocally, that Family is important for societies, yet at the same time genetics editing and artificial wombs are being developed that will shatter what family ties remain.

These crosscurrents in society are the main substance of Science Fiction Romance.

Science is studying brains, spirits, and family formation.  But the plot is Romance.

Romance happens when a child grows up and bursts forth from a family into the world.  It is a stage of transformation into adulthood and maturity.

Romance can also happen at the end of life -- September Song.

Romance is the expression of the meaning of Family, and the essence of Family is Privacy.

Think about that as you recall what you learned of Plato's writings while you were in school.

Plato was born around 428 BCE (four hundred years before Jesus).

This from Wikipedia:
Along with his teacher, Socrates, and his most famous student, Aristotle, Plato laid the very foundations of Western philosophy and science. Alfred North Whitehead once noted: "the safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato."
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Plato grew up in a world where the Jews were emerging from obscurity into becoming a force in the Middle East (look at the map: little wooden ships sailed from what is now Israel or Lebanon to Greece easily).  The Middle East was the neighboring trading partner to Plato's Greece.

Judah returned from exile in 539 BCE. Israel became a province of Persia under the priests. In 428 CE, Ezra brought the Torah from Babylon to Jerusalem, effectively marking the beginnings of modern Jewish religion. Ezra was a priest who reorganized the Israelite state politically, and organized the new religious system that included study of the Torah: he is known as the "Father of Judaism." Nehemiah, a court official in Persia, returned slightly later to rebuild the city walls and the temple in Jerusalem: this is the "Second Temple" in Jerusalem (the first temple was built by Solomon), so one speaks of "Second Temple Judaism."

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

Imagine the flourishing Trade economy, the politics, the wars, that framed Plato's productive years, the family adages he absorbed, and the hammering that "life" gave him.

Now consider this from a Biography of a famous Jew of the 20th Century: (I'm breaking the paragraphs to make it easier to read on this blog, but it is a direct quote from this Biography telling of an incident where a fellow named Block met The Rebbe, the head of a Chasidic sect in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Remember, we're talking about Family and how themes regarding Family lace two major novel series together, Foreigner and Alien.  Read this quote and think about how those two novel series would have to be changed to make them into TV Series.

"Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History" by Joseph Telushkin

In the circles in which Block moved at Harvard, Plato was regarded with the highest respect, representing the epitome of high culture and civilization. But the Rebbe had a different take on Plato’s writings: He spoke of Platonic philosophy as cruel.

“That’s the word he used, ‘cruel,’” Block recalled in an interview decades later.

What upset the Rebbe in particular was Plato’s social philosophy, his advocacy of the abolition of the nuclear family and his belief that children should be taken away from their parents. Plato claimed that parents influence children to be egotistical, and it would be better if children were raised without knowledge of their parents, as wards of the state.

For Judaism, the family was central, as expressed in the Fifth Commandment; for Plato, the family was destructive.

Although everything Block heard that day about Plato was accessible to anyone who read through his writings, this critique was new to the young philosophy student. He had never heard it offered at Vanderbilt or Harvard, the two universities where he had studied. Yet, as he sat there, he realized it was unarguable (it was clearly expressed in Plato’s writings, though academics ignored it) and that the implications were immense and far-reaching.

In addition to the obvious ills that resulted from alienating children "from their parents, an attack on the family was also the source of totalitarian ideologies. Once you raise a generation of children to be more loyal to the state than to their families, there is no limit to what you can demand of them. In the Soviet Union, as the Rebbe, who had lived under Communist rule, knew, the government glorified children who informed on their parents and sometimes brought about the imprisonment—or worse—of their parents for making anti-Communist remarks or showing opposition to the state.

Raise people to not feel love or loyalty to their parents, and it will not be easy for them to feel love or loyalty to anyone else—only to the state.

The cruelty of Plato’s thinking, the Rebbe emphasized that day, was not just in breaking up the family unit. It was in depriving children of parental love. For it is the parents, not the state and its functionaries, who have a genuine love for their children. And depriving children of this love, which is their due, was perhaps Plato’s greatest cruelty.

Block recalled that a few years later, a philosopher with respected academic credentials stunned the world of philosophy by writing about these aspects of Plato’s writings. In the book, he depicted Plato’s social philosophy as “cruel.” Block remembered being struck by the philosopher’s use of this term, the same word used by the Rebbe. The book caused a furor, but what really impressed Block was that “nobody ever refuted it in any way.” However, as Block recalled, all that this professionally trained philosopher, a man who devoted his whole life to philosophy, had done was “to say the same thing that the Rebbe told me years earlier.”

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Have we become Plato's envisioned world?  Is that why the general public rejects the notion of the Happily Ever After ending?

We have discussed Plato's view of the rise of Biblical culture in the neighboring lands previously.  He had good reason to view "Honor Your Father And Mother" with horror and perhaps panic.

That epoch of human pre-history could be characterized as a war between pro-family and anti-family cultures.

Until Greece invented Democracy (and later Rome, the Republic), the only forms of government were Kingdoms and Empires, a family based aristocracy in which ordinary people had no say in the direction of their lives.

Kings and Aristocrats got to be the bosses by owning land, which they acquired by killing more people, more savagely than anyone else.  Then their children inherited and perpetuated the iron-fisted bossing.

So, since aristocracy was nothing but family and family connections, it is perfectly sensible for Plato to see the only hope of humanity as the destruction of the family.  What other sources of information did he have?  The family constituted the greatest source of Evil in his world - so advocating its destruction of the family was his way of being kind, not cruel.

But now we can see the results of the disintegration of the Family at the core of society, and the devastating effects on the human psyche.  Today we have information and we have options.  We are not doomed to practice the profession or craft of our parents.

We are free.

So what do we do with that freedom?  

We now live in a society where marriage is optional, parents are to be shunned especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and nobody is personally responsible for the behavior of anyone over 18 years of age.

Note how many of the mass-shooting-rampage perpetrators are characterized as "loners" -- nice folks, mind their own business, but no friends or visitors.  If they live with a parent, the parent has no clue what they've been up to in the basement or online.

Disconnecting leads to suicidal and homicidal angst, or to connecting with Gangs, criminals, thugs, and power-makes-right folks.

We know that Love Conquers All -- but how, in this case, can it conquer the disintegrated family?  Children raised without Parental Love may experience Romance -- but the fluff-headed blur of Romance turn to true Love?

We see neurological studies (yes, SCIENCE fiction romance can include the sciences of neurology and genetics as well as physics) showing how the brain's neurons forge connections because of experiences (learning).  Is there a certain brain configuration that allows us to believe in, and actualize, the Happily Ever After?

One of the things I love about C. J. Cherryh's Foreigner Series is the way she depicts a very amenable alien species based on a civilization without "love" -- an alien physiology that forms strong emotional bonds but literally can not comprehend the concept of Love, not Romantic Love or Brotherly Love or any form of Love.

We also know now that genes may or may not "express" the trait they configure.

We know that early experiences, maybe in the womb but surely during infancy, shape the brain's development and ultimately the adult who will emerge from that childhood.  Experiences shape genetic expression and neurological pathways -- humans are extremely malleable, adaptable.  That is one primary survival trait of the human species.

Can Romance reconnect the "loner" -- the child of a shattered or dysfunctional family -- to the rest of humanity?  Or is that what is happening as families disintegrate and children gravitate toward Gangs, end up in jail and become part of a self-perpetuating criminal culture?

Is the human need and impulse to "bond" as strong as a newly hatched chick to "imprint" on a parent?

The Greeks and Romans used to "expose" defective newborns on the city wall, leaving them to die.  Some were "rescued" -- grew up bonding to some stranger.  Are we the descendants of those improbable survivors?

Gini Koch's 2017 entry in her Alien Series, Alien Education, focuses sharply on the doings of schools, PTA, Teachers, teenagers, and what happens in a world where a multiplicity of Alien species raise their children in the same school.

Has Gini Koch depicted our world of bonded and non-bonded and un-bonded humans by inventing alien species to represent us all?  Are we that alienated from each other?

In these two, long and complex novel Series, we have one of the most profound sources of thematic material for science fiction romance.  I recommend reading both series while thinking carefully and precisely about what Family means to humans.

What forces form and hold families together -- what forces rip them asunder -- and most importantly, which is the Good and which is the Evil?

Is your family relevant to your life?  Why?  Is that even an important question when it comes to Romance?  "Who" are you?  Does your family define you?  Or do you define it?  Are you a victim? Or a kickass heroine?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg