Thursday, May 21, 2015

Enforcing Sexual Mores

An article on why people monitor their neighbors' sexual behavior and apply social pressure to punish those who break the rules:

Other People's Sex Lives

Evolutionary psychology, according to this article, speculates that condemnation of casual sex is ultimately a matter of economics. A study in THE ARCHIVES OF SEXUAL BEHAVIOR "found that promiscuity—by both men and women—is more likely to be considered a moral violation in places where women are economically dependent on men." Men don't want to be tricked into supporting children they didn't father. Women don't want their husbands diverting resources to other women (and their children). Women, according to this research, are more inclined than men to "shame" other women who engage in casual sex, because someone who "gives it away" (to use an old-fashioned term) is spoiling the field for women who play by the rules. Now that contraception has separated sex from reproduction and most women in our society don't depend on male support for survival, condemnation of casual sex should fade away. However, attitudes that have become hard-wired through evolution—assuming this behavior really has evolved that way—lag behind changes in culture.

This perspective on sexual relations goes back a long time. Samuel Johnson, for instance, declared that an unfaithful husband does no serious harm to his wife because a man who commits adultery doesn't foist bastards on his wife. I would rather see marital fidelity as rooted more in equally shared love and intimacy than in economics!

The article concludes that "judging other people’s sex lives remains an act as innately human as sex itself," making the economically-based demand for fidelity sound universal. In fact, though, it's culture-bound. In some pre-industrial societies, for instance, a woman's acceptance of multiple sexual partners works in her favor where support is concerned. A pregnant woman shares sex with as many men as possible, because every man she couples with thereby becomes a "father" to the infant. Children can have several fathers, all of whom contribute to their maintenance.

Women's economic dependence on men has no relevance to sex in matrilineal cultures, where the child belongs to the mother's clan, and she stays with her family of origin rather than living with her mate. The biological father doesn't play the role of family headship and financial support traditional in our society. The children's uncle—the mother's oldest brother—fills that position.

No connection at all among sex, proof of paternity, and financial support would exist among the logical Vulcans. Reproductive sex can happen only during pon farr, and that can occur only between bonded mates. So sexual straying, even if possible (T'Pring's plan for her future with Stonn hints that it is), could not result in offspring to cloud issues of inheritance. And of course the whole concept would be totally irrelevant to a species such as the one in Le Guin's LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS, humanoids who remain sexually neuter except for a brief period each month and become male or female, potentially father or mother, at random.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Theme-Plot-Character-Worldbuilding Part 5 - Murderer In The Mikdash

Part 5
Murderer In The Mikdash

Analyzed by
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Previous entries in this 4-skills integration series are:

Last week we started dissecting a novel, Murderer in the Mikdash.

I hope you've read the novel by now. 

We are looking for reasons it didn't make it into Mass Market Paperback, and what to do to fix that.  So we will include "spoilers" (which won't spoil the read for you even if you haven't read the book yet -- this book is that good!  You can't spoil it.) 

The same author has done a number of non-fiction works, and blogs and lectures. 

The book, Murderer in the Mikdash is a Mystery and a Romance -- but the ending of the Romance thread is ambiguous and open while the Mystery thread definitively resolves its conflict.   

In a twitter conversation with the author, I learned that the Romance thread will continue into the sequel. 

So let's examine the 4 elements this series on Theme-Plot-Character-Worldbulding Integration discusses to see how they are used in Murderer In The Mikdash.

Remember the 2 and 4 technique integration posts are "advanced" -- they are written assuming you've mastered the individual skills we have discussed individually and in pairs and that you are ready to walk-and-chew-gum.

The Romance thread ends with the couple abandoning what appears to be a Soul Mate Relationship because of fundamental philosophical differences that typically do destroy marriages. 

So the parting of the main couple at the end has an element of Mature Judgement.  These are sensible people with very pragmatic attitudes gained through a lot of pain, disappointment, and draining anxiety.

You respect the main couple because of that Maturity, but at the same time want to throw the novel across the room because it disappoints in the end, and you are screaming at the female lead, NO NO NO!!!  You idiot!  You coward!  You can't do that!!! 

So it's not an HEA ending to the love-story plot, and it's not even an HFN ending (Happily For Now).  It's more a QWA ending (Quit While Ahead.)

This couple agreed to part (and one big flaw in the writing is that they agreed to part off-stage, not in a Big Blowup Fight at the airport, getting one of them nabbed by Security.) 

Apparently, both of them agreed to part for the same reason.  Remember the ending to Casablanca?  That's what this novel needed and didn't get.  Remember the ending to Gone With The Wind?  That's what this novel needed and didn't get. 

None of the previous scenes showed them arguing over the point that eventually separates them.  The point is well defined within the narrative, and it is there in show-don't-tell, but it is not discussed in dialogue via SUBTEXT. 

This is one pervasive failing in the Dialogue techniques used in this novel: scenes are not powered by combat-couched-in-dialogue, and the real issues are not presented in subtext. Dialogue is used to move the plot but not often to move the story.  Dialogue is used to impart information to the reader, but sometimes not to the characters.

All we learn about their incompatible religious views we know from ON-THE-NOSE dialogue, not subtextual conversation.

We don't have enough information via subtext to decide for ourselves whether they could (or should) make a life together despite their different personal religious convictions and attitudes.  The facts are there, but the subtext is not.  Readers doubt text and believe subtext.  So one tool for convincing readers to suspend disbelief is not used. 

The plot of this novel is pure mystery - leaving no room for one member of the the proto-couple to act to convince the other to change attitude.  What action in that direction there was turned out to be ineffective, and not driven by the kind of heroic determination we expect of Soul Mates overcoming obstacles.  

Remember the TV Series Beauty and the Beast?  (not the Disney cartoon!)  That dimension is missing from Murderer in the Mikdash, but it would have worked fabulously well.

Or maybe the TV Series LOIS AND CLARK (an all-time favorite of mine).

In both those Urban Fantasy Romance series, you have the love story between a very human woman and an alien man -- a man with secrets, with powers, with complicated issues.  In fact that describes the reason Star Trek spawned so much fanfic: Spock/Viewer Relationship.

That is the overall genre that the core Romance material behind Murderer in the Mikdash seems to belong to.  Rachel Tucker, the ABC TV News Anchor (Lois) is pretty ordinary among human women.  The disqualified Cohen she seems so very interested in is so very-very the "mild mannered" coffee shop owner by day and the immensely talented psychological counselor (Cohen-skills-set) by night.  That Cohen is Superman-wrapped-in-Vincent-Clothing. 

For all intents and purposes, in our real modern world, a Cohen involved in the Third Temple operations would fill the spot in the Cast of Characters reserved in Alien Romance for The Alien -- such a character is a mysterious-mystery as alluring as Spock in STAR TREK. 

The market for this kind of real-life-alien-character is enormous and untapped. 

Fiction such as Lois & Clark and Beauty and the Beast strikes deep into the heart of every woman and gets at least a double-take from every man such a woman would be interested in. 

In Lois&Clark on TV, we rarely get those subtext-rich conversations about why they can't "be together."  But in the Lois and Clark films, we do indeed get a few moments of such conversations, mostly in subtext and imagery (remember a film is a "story in pictures.").  Who can forget any of those flying scenes with Lois -- or the balcony scene? 

In Beauty and the Beast, the TV series, we do get many such discussions both on-the-nose and very off-the-nose deep in subtext.

It is those conversations that readers live for. 

The Mystery part of the Plot of Murderer in the Mikdash (Is Her Husband Dead or Alive? Was her best friend murdered? Did it have something to do with her husband's disappearance?) has a big, firm platform built so that when that question is resolved, you believe the resolution.  It's a solid Mystery.  And it's an irresistible page-turner of a Mystery. 

The other part of this novel's structure that is exemplary is the Futurology.  Even as well done as it is, it does illustrate the dangers of working in a near-future world.

The book, set in Israel, was published in 2006 when smartphones weren't prevalent in Israel.  It was probably conceptualized a few years before that when the importance of the smartphone as an element in Mystery Solving was not apparent --- so characters in this novel write too much on paper, do not Google or use a Maps app (but do have GPS), and they do phone.  They also don't use Facetime or videochat. 

Given the recent release of iPhone 6+ and even sharper ones for 2015, some of the Galaxy Note and Lumia phones, the worldbuilding of Murderer in the Mikdash seems just "off" because the ABC news anchor Rachel Tucker (main female character) uses a separate "device" as a camera until her ABC cameraman arrives.  And she uses film-based thinking. 

Today you can get broadcast quality video off an iPhone.  With a small tripod and a lens-addition, an iPhone can do top-notch broadcast quality images.  What will the 2016 iPhone be able to do?  2017?

In 2006, the idea of a phone that could do that kind of video was ridiculous.  Not only that but TV screens and broadcast quality was much less.

So the author can't be faulted for the plot-wrinkle that has the "camera" get left in a car when it was most needed, or the worldbuilding problem of a camera that couldn't photograph hand written pages with enough clarity for them to be legible.  Today we deposit checks via phone.  Who knew?

An anchor would have an ABC issued top-notch phone, no nonsense.  And if the company wouldn't spring for a great phone, the heroic woman we want to identify with would have bought one for herself.

Look again at the title of this blog series -- Theme-Plot-Character-Worldbuilding.  Note that I started discussing Murderer in the Mikdash last week by pointing out issues with the genre signature and saleability of the novel.  Targeting an Audience

Targeting an Audience is the first thing you do before you frame the Idea into a story that generates a plot.  You define your audience before you build characters from the substance of the World you created. 

If you don't do it in that order, you'll end up doing it in that order upon rewrite, or perhaps at editorial direction.  At some point in the production process, you will run the process in this order: audience, world, character, plot, theme.  At other points, other orders will prevail. 

If you do public speaking and use anecdotes, jokes and stories to illustrate points, you know that you can tell the same anecdotes, jokes and stories over and over to different audiences and every time you will frame the story differently.

You learn with practice that what you are saying can always be the same, but how you say it has to vary with to whom you are saying it.

So when a writer knows they have a story to tell, the first step is to look up and see who's listening, then frame the presentation accordingly.

You don't have to compromise who you are, or write to a "formula" to sell Mass Market.  You have to find your audience, and talk to that audience.  The editor who has to feed that audience will grab your manuscript after reading the first 5 pages, if you nail it.

Murderer in the Mikdash has a perfect opening 5 pages for an Amateur Detective Mystery -- the opening events that later unfold into a whole ball of yarn have the right symbolism, and all the things the novel eventually presents are rolled up into that ball of yarn.

The Mystery plot of Murderer in the Mikdash has the right opening, the correct middle in the correct place, with an ending that ends off with neat precision. 

The characters are introduced in the correct order, at exactly the right pages.  The mystery-conflict is perfectly presented. 

If you want to sell mass market - you have to read this novel and discover why it didn't make mass market.  Then compare this novel with what you write, and figure out how to aim your material at Mass Market Editors. 

The differences in your story are not about what you say, but to whom you say it.  You must speak in the audience's language.  This novel speaks MYSTERY exceptionally well.  It even has the proper Action Sequences in the correct places.

So while staring at the audience, knowing who you have to captivate, decide how to talk to them, then use that to build the world you will tell them your story within. 

That world is built from the unconscious assumptions that bind that audience into a whole.  Build the world right, and the audience will all laugh in unison, tear up at the same time, gasp in the right spots, and give you a standing ovation (OK, for a writer, it's buy the next book.) 

Murderer in the Mikdash is a genuine Futuristic and the Worldbuilding of that Future vision is as solid as I have ever seen from any Science Fiction writer. 

Because the "science" behind this novel's fiction is not physics, math and chemistry, not even psychology, or even parapsychology, but actual Biblical Prophecy, the novel is not Science Fiction. 

If it were fake Biblical Prophecy it might be classed as SF.  If it were say, Chinese or African mythology of an alternate universe, or re-imagined Ancient Greek mythology, it would be classed as Fantasy. 

As it is, the novel is more like "the Future" as depicted in the film Back To The Future:

You've read (and maybe written) any number of excellent Fantasy Romances that use various mythologies in place of the Science that science fiction uses.  That's why they are called Fantasy -- they use some mythology in place of science, and most often today, re-imagine the real mythology, rewriting mythologies freehand.

Some term the product of this kind of re-written mythology Science Fantasy, others are trying to popularize an umbrella term, Speculative Fiction.

Murder in the Mikdash uses real Biblical Prophecy (not rewritten or re-imagined) for the worldbuilding the same way Vampire Romances use the various different Vampire mythologies found in various cultures around the Earth. 

Murder in the Mikdash is more like science fiction.

Science fiction uses our real-world science that you read about in peer-reviewed publications and extrapolates from that science.  Murder in the Mikdash uses real-world Prophecy you can read in very-very old editions of the Bible or modern translations and extrapolates from that real Prophecy using the same cognitive skills a science fiction writer uses. 

To me, the precision of the thinking behind the futuristic worldbuilding in Murderer in the Mikdash is edifying. 

This novel, by itself, (nevermind the flaws I point out) is a lesson in Depiction.

The worldbuilding is fabulous, and that world is depicted with a tight, disciplined focus that any writer in any genre would do well to emulate.

Murder in the Mikdash is set around the year 2048 (in other words, now), a few years after the Messiah is identified as of the line of David and is set on the throne as King of the New Israel (as prophesied). 

None of the creation of that throne is detailed in the book -- which is a great strength of the book, and to the writer's credit.  It is a perfect choice in the worldbuilding.  The Arrival becomes backstory. 

At the time of the story, the Kingdom is changing things among the nations fast.  Peace with the neighbors is setting in.  About 2/3 of the people are making contact with G-d, and that contact is changing social interactions slowly, plausibly, but emphatically.

Oh, I should explain MIKDASH is the Hebrew word for the Temple in Jerusalem -- the one on the spot with that other building sitting there right now.  At the time of this story, there is a nifty new Temple built on that spot and it is fully functional with all the offerings and ceremonies being done by Cohen descendants.  The Levy descendants attend to infrastructure details (alas, we never get to hear them sing, though). 

In this new world, the way you make contact with God is to go to the Temple and do whatever offerings the instructions detail for you, or just watch.

When you do that, it changes you, gradually, gently, barely perceptibly, but in an enjoyable way.  Going to the Temple services becomes habit forming because it's so pleasant.  People who start going, tend to keep on going -- even if they have to move to Israel to be nearby enough to make it often.

Some of the characters in this book never go to the Temple.  Others go every day.  Others on special occasions.  Through the array of characters and their behaviors, you get a feel for the impact of the Temple Service on the general behavior of the population.  Characters and their behavior is the correct way to reveal to the reader all the delightful intricacies of the world you have built. 

This author never resorts to the "info-dump" technique, the expository lump.  There is no preface or throat-clearing awkwardness in Chapter One.  You just leap right into the action and catch up as you go along.  Perfect writing technique.  You have to study this book. 

As you meet the characters, you also get to know characters who see the Temple operations as a wonderful chance to attain wealth and power.  And you see the opportunities that Organized Crime would spot in this nexus of wealth and power -- and those characters behave in the perfectly reasonable way any of them would behave today. 

You see people in transition from one type of person to another type.

You see the resistance within well-meaning people to making the transition to a more G-d centered lifestyle.

Many issues in such transitions are raised but not addressed in this novel -- which is one reason I was convinced it needs many sequels, long ones, a TV Series, maybe a movie or three.  There's a lot of material hidden in here.

I recall a novel from a long time ago by Herbert Tarr called The Conversion of Chaplain Cohen.  If that book could get published way back then, this one can make it today with a little tweaking. 

If you like humor, you should read The Conversion of Chaplain Cohen.

Character arc issues involving religion or change of religious convictions are all very difficult for an author to handle plausibly for a wide audience.

Religious issues are, at this point in our social evolution, not mentionable in polite company.  Political Correctness shuns any mention of religion, but especially of the exacting requirements of the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob upon these people, but not upon those.

Most readers of this  blog don't remember when the word "sex" was not used in polite company.  Now that word and many of its more vernacular synonyms are perfectly acceptable, but the word God is not acceptable.  Nor is the Word of God (from any heritage). 

That pendulum of social acceptability is about to start on its backswing.  Murderer in the Mikdash and its sequels may ride that new trend. 

As authors of fiction about Soul Mates, you can catch that wave.

For all its being a "pure fantasy" of a future where Prophecy comes blatantly true in ways few expected it ever could, Murderer in the Mikdash resonates with a pragmatic realism about human nature and what it takes to change it. 

The Arrival of the Messiah does not cause all existing humans to suddenly become morally upstanding and angelically perfect.  The Arrival is not depicted as an ending, but as only a beginning of a slow transition to a different general public attitude. 

The specific details of individual behavior still run the gamut from Gentle Wisdom to Callous Viciousness, from Acquisitiveness and Avarice to Gracious Generosity, just as humans do today.  The characters in Murderer in the Mikdash are individuals. 

That spectrum gives the Characters in this novel a depth and realism necessary when spinning a fabulous yarn.  In an unrealistic world, the characters must be realistic.  In a realistic world, the characters must be unrealistic (Superman/Clark). 

So now we have examined the Target Audience of the novel, the Worldbuilding behind the plot and story, and now come to the Characters.

The main character is Rachel Tucker, an ABC News anchorwoman of some renown.  She's Jewish, but for her it is a matter of ancestry, and the rest is ignored or shrugged off -- despite the very real presence of a descendant of King David on the throne of Israel. 

Israel considers itself a benevolent dictatorship at the time of the novel.  Rachel Tucker has been dragged into living there by her husband.

While she loved this man and was glad to marry him, even glad to bear him a son whom she loves dearly, the main force in her life is her career.  Her  husband interfered with that career by "dragging" her to Israel.

She commuted to New York as necessary but did a lot of her work from Israel -- even strove to find stories to cover from there.  But she was feeling stress over that even before she got pregnant. 

While she was pregnant, and was in Israel with her husband, he disappeared.

No notice, no trace, no hint he would "leave her" -- no harbingers of difficulty in the Relationship, no reason at all.  He just didn't come home when expected.

At the time of the story, the baby has been born a couple weeks before. 

As the story opens, Rachel has hired a daytime babysitter and spends her days following a guy she suspects might have murdered her best friend, a woman married to one of the Priests at the Temple.

The best friend died in the street recently (backstory, before the opening of this novel).  The death was officially called Natural -- though the woman was young.  The man Rachel is following was seen near the friend as she died.

In the course of unraveling this mystery, answering questions the Police can't or won't answer, Rachel uses all her investigative reporting skills and resources, and in the end nails at least one ring in a chain of organized crime rings (SEQUELS!!!) -- and earns a place in the Most Wanted lists of such organized crime rings.  She has a knack for making enemies. 

This plot drips of Good vs Evil themes in the abstract -- what is Good?; what is Evil? -- why do both exist in G-d's world?  Potent stuff of which the best fiction is fabricated. 

All those nebulous, abstract themes are wrapped up in a bundle and buried within the Angst Cabinetts inside the Characters.  The reader hardly knows the issues are there -- but they drive the plot by driving the story which drives the Characters.  All of it is present on page 1, in the symbolism. 

Remember I use "Plot" to mean the sequence of Events chained together by the Because-Line (because this happens, A does that, because A did that, B does this, because B did this, that happens, because that happens, A does like-so, etc etc to AHA! and THE END). 

I use "Story" to mean the sequence of significances to a character of the Events on the because-line.  This happens - Character A feels that.  Character A feels that, does such-and-so, which causes Character B to do something else, from which Character A learns ). 

"Story" means the sequence of emotional-and-mental/spiritual lessons the Character takes from the Events of the Plot. 

The plot ends in a climax. 

The story ends in a moral. 

Ideally both plot and story end in a single IMAGE, or event which crystalizes the reader's understanding of "why" things happened.  The reader learns what the character learned. 

Not all writing teachers use the same terminology, but all do make that distinction between story and plot.

In a well written novel, the reader can't see any difference between the story and the plot -- the integration is seamless and invisible from the outside.

Murder in the Mikdash has some problems with the Characterization, with the depiction of the characters more than with the characters themselves.

These problems arise from the need to make the material "accessible" to the general reader (not a genre reader), and they throw the composition out of the Genre categories where it might sell to Mass Market.

The choice of a major network news anchor for Female Point of View Character is ingenius, and one of the reasons I think this work could make a great film or COLUMBO-style TV Miniseries. 

But don't forget the advice in SAVE THE CAT! by Blake Snyder, -- "Keep The Press Out Of It."  This novel breaks that rule, but I think Blake Snyder would agree with me, it is the exception that proves the rule. 

Pulling off the breaking of such a cardinal rule proves this author has both genius and vast discipline.

The choice of a disqualified Priest for the news anchor's love-interest and the core of the Romance plot is likewise perfect.  As I said above, Vincent from Beauty and the Beast or Clark from Lois&Clark. 

The characterization problems arise in Plausibility.  A genre Target Audience would have problems with Rachel Tucker's portrayal that a general Literature audience would not.

It appears the novel was originally designed to be marketed as general Literature, not Genre. 

In a general market, the Characters would seem plausible to the reader.  In Romance, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery, Suspense, genres the female character just isn't plausible.

It has been my observation that smarter, and either better educated or more widely educated, people tend to gravitate toward reading Genres, even if they also read a lot of general audience literature.

That's why Genre is mostly called "Mid-List" -- Genre doesn't sell to untold millions because the material is aimed at narrower slices of humanity, people with specialty tastes, but who buy books in disproportionate numbers.  So Genre novels don't sell the most books -- and don't sell the least, but hit the "middle" of the sales statistics. 

Mysteries, Westerns, Historicals, Romance, Science Fiction of all mixed genres, and almost all varieties of Fantasy require not just having an education but enjoying the process of becoming educated.  This Mid-List reader segement learns stuff because learning itself is fun.  Different genres are just different stuff to learn. 

Genre readers tend to be people who love learning trivia -- the less useful the trivia in daily life, the more fun it is to acquire expertise in it.  Just note what Gamers know about the worlds they play in.

Genre reading is a bus-man's-holiday for people who work in fields where they are paid for their acquired expertise in something. 

Such people like learning, just for its own sake.

Rabbi Gidon Rothstein is an expert in the Biblical Prophets (among other things), and has infused Murderer in the Mikdash with a smattering of little bits of trivia to whet the appetite of the genre-reader for something new to learn, just for the hell of it. 

General Literature readers don't get excited over learning Star Trek trivia like the rules of Fizbin or the Rules of Acquisition, and for the same reason would not delight in ferreting out and learning the rules of entry to the Temple.  Geeks and Nerds would delight in a whole new set of trivia to become expert in. 

Science Fiction, and futuristic fiction of all sub-genres, tends to draw in people whose main personality trait is curiosity.

Wish-fulfillment Fantasy for such people has to show-don't-tell the unfettered joys of satisfying Curiosity.  And that is the essence of Romance of all kinds -- finding out things about the mysterious-stranger, reveling in the delight of revelation. 

Action genres, such as Mysteries, Westerns, and Science Fiction, also require the main character to be Heroic as well as indefatigably curious.

Integrate those two elements into the 'formula' for a main character, the point-of-view character, for a Genre novel, and you have to have a Main Character who is Heroic in the Quest to Satisfy Curiosity.

Rachel Tucker ALMOST has that attribute. 

We see it in her responses many times.  She just won't let go, even when the fatigue of recent motherhood swamps her.  She puts her baby first, but just won't let go of the mystery nobody is forcing her to solve.  She just wants to know, and that means she has to know.  That is the essence of her Character -- must-know what she wants to know. 

Throughout the body of the novel, what Rachel Tucker does -- the PLOT -- illustrates that kind of won't-let-go heroism.  Her day-job requires that kind of heroism, and in her interactions with people she interviews, she demonstrates an incisive ability to pose questions. 

She has it all, except in one dimension. 

To Integrate the Character with the Worldbuilding, and create Tucker as an "objective correlative" that the non-genre reading general audiences could identify with, she is given the trait of "just not paying attention" to the changes in the world around her, the implementation of Biblical Laws within a cell-phone-and-TV-News world. 

This "not paying attention" trait gives the writer the chance to surprise her with details of the new world evolving under this new King of Israel.  And it lets the author lead her into attempting an illegal act, the consequences of which eventually lead into her Cohen-quandry-Romance.  The consequences of that one illegal act also lead her to solving two mysteries and putting away a good chunk of an Organized Crime Ring. 

So her ignorance of what's really going on in this New Israel are integral to both plot and story.  A rewrite can't fix that though it is a major impediment to selling this novel as Genre Mass Market. 

If I had to solve this kind of Character-Plot Integration problem, I would have had the Law she violates be something she knows all about (because it's been in the news constantly for months as the Knesset members -- who are probably all Cohanim, Levites and Rabbis -- wrangle over how to do it, not whether, just how). 

As she was about to give birth, it would have been plausible that she missed the announcements of laws passed making this and that city a "City of Refuge" and then, after they are established and people have moved, the final piece of legislation passes implementing the Law she violates.  So then it would be perfectly understandable why she missed that one law and misunderstood the explanation of it when she did find out.

That she attempts an act which violates that Law is an absolute Plot requirement.  So it has to be there.  But somehow it has to be made plausible that a person of this calibre would not-know such a thing.

Such a person being ignorant is perfectly plausible to the typical reader of Literature.

Such a person being ignorant is unreal, impossible to identify with, for genre readers.

But at the same time, Rachel Tucker is too smart for general Literature readers -- too aggressive, too sharp minded, and way too famous to be their alter-ego in the story.  She's LOIS in Lois&Clark.  She is soooo Lois. 

The author did not sell me on the idea of a Character who's that smart, that successful (Blessed by G-d), that well traveled, and who speaks and interviews on such a wide range of popular topics, could possibly not-know what she does not know. 

So I'm just screaming mad that the novel is so spoiled by Rachel Tucker's ignorance of what everything in her character says she would know.

In other words, I take this novel very personally.  You all know what a Lois&Clark fan I am.  How can you write a Lois&Clark look-alike novel and make me disbelieve in Lois?  This has gotten very personal! 

And there you go with THE definition of a GREAT NOVEL. 

A Great Novel is a novel that the readers take personally, and therefore do not want to end.

In other words, SEQUELLSSSSS!!!!!  .

But no sequel can work with this out-of-Character trait that Rachel Tucker evidenced in Murderer in the Mikdash.
It is just not possible that such a woman would not know.  Every time there's a change in any little bitty twist of Israeli Law, especially anything to do with Religion, the Jerusalem Post (in English) is filled wall to wall with discussion, articles, videos on the various factions arguing the points.  People in the street are yelling at each other about it. 

Now, yes, an ordinary person might wall all that noise out of their heads, (especially when pregnant) but not an internationally successful NEWS ANCHOR.  Not LOIS!!!  (remember the iconic scene of Lois hanging from the underside of the elevator in the Eifel Tower?  Would she not-know???) 

Choosing to make the lead Character a news anchor is an act of genius. 

Making her ignorant of her adopted country's laws (however much she doesn't want to be there, and calls the USA home) undermines her Character in a way that makes her weak -- in a way no male character would be undermined.  If Clark wasn't Superman, he could never have out-reported Lois, not even once. 

OK, so now we come to the PLOT of Murderer in the Mikdash.  I covered most of PLOT here above and last week. 

It's near perfect as a plot.  I read a lot of mysteries, but I don't write genre-mystery.  I do know what goes into the writing, though, and I know marketable mystery manuscripts when I see them.

This is sizzle-hot marketable mystery-plotting.

I've always been a Columbo fan -- and before that Perry Mason.  All the Agatha Christie classics have my admiration.  Now I'm a total fan of Faye Kellerman's Decker & Lazarus series, though it's sort of Petering out (excuse the pun).

Murder in the Mikdash is top-drawer mystery.  Amateur Detective Cozy Mystery doesn't come any better than this.  The Mystery Plot is perfectly turned; the action-sequences are convincing; the pacing is exquisite.

But because of the Futuristic Urban Fantasy ingredient (real, solid, actual Biblical Prophecy totally realized right in front of your eyes) it can't be marketed under the Cozy Mystery brand (BTW I do love Cozy Mystery!!!).

The Romance and the Mystery are fully integrated, a flawless seamless whole rooted deep in the characters' unconscious minds.

Now Theme.

The theme in this novel is suitably obscure, buried inside everything, and it drives the central core of every character, every scene, every locale. The whole novel hums with fully orchestrated theme just as described in these previous posts.

Maybe the theme in Murderer in the Mikdash could be stated: "The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same." 

Or maybe, "Human Nature doesn't have to change;,society just has to catch up."

In other words: "Humans Are Essentially Good -- but we screw up sometimes." 

Or, "It is possible to break the cycle of being doomed to repeat History, but it'll cost you."

But my favorite way to say it is, "Everything matters; just don't sweat the small stuff."

The envelope theme for a series based on this vision of the Future might be: "Human Civilization Doesn't Turn On A Dime, But Maybe on a Flaming Half-Shekel."

 Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Warning To "Content" Users

I am grateful to Morrison and Foerster LLP for an article drawing attention to the rights--at least of European copyright owners-- to sue copyright infringers in multiple jurisdictions where their copyrighted work is made available without permission online.

This doesn't help American authors, but it is a good start.

Rightscorp is an anti-piracy organization that has had some recent trouble in uncovering the identity of alleged copyright infringers. One can sympathize. In my experience, online sites that host alleged pirates as well as honest folk may have privacy rules that prevent a copyright owner from pursuing an infringer.

For instance, unless the copyright owner actually purchases something from an alleged infringer on an auction site, there is no way to discover the alleged infringer's real name and contact information. I've written about my opinion of EBay's protection of copyright infringers. As far as I can see, EBay is still acting as a fence for illegal sales of ebooks and apparently using what I would call willful ignorance as a figleaf.

But, I digress. Rightscorp seems to be somewhat like MUSO (which locates potentially illegally hosted files and links, and sends takedown notices where the copyright owner asserts that the links and files are indeed illegally hosted) except, Rightscorps seems to specialize in BitTorrents, and Rightscorp apparently sues.

Alleged pirates don't like that, and some have sued Rightscorp for trying to identify them.
An interesting discussion took place here:

The warning in this one is that it appears at this time that the plaintiff (not Rightscorp) appears to be on the hook for the defendant's (Rightscorp) legal fees.

My apologies for the brevity.

Rowena Cherry

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Mother-Eating Spiders

This past Sunday, the rector of our church began his Mother's Day sermon with a description of a spider in the Negev Desert that feeds herself to her newly hatched babies. I found her online (trigger warning for squick):

Mother Spider

While the eggs grow in their silken case, with the female watching over them, her intestinal tissue begins to dissolve. When the spiderlings hatch, she regurgitates this liquefied material for them to eat. As more of her internal organs turn to liquid, the babies swarm over her face, feeding on the goo that leaks out. Finally, they "pierce her soft abdomen with their mouths" to devour the rest of her guts.

According to the article, "In the end, the mother has given all but 4 percent of her body mass to her young, who leave her heart alone." That's either a perfect metaphor for sacrificial parental love or, from a different viewpoint (as Buffy said to Angel when he expressed a desire to hold her heart and keep it warm), "Euwww."

Matriphagy (eating one's mother) has been observed among many species of spiders. Suppose we visited a planet dominated by sapient aliens with this kind of biology? Such infantile cannibalism would seem revolting to us. Our own reproductive and child-rearing habits, however, might repulse some Earth animals if they were sapient. What would an intelligent bird think about carrying a live infant in one's abdomen and having to painfully push it out in a bloody mess instead of neatly laying an egg? In a story by Isaac Asimov about a pair of aliens trying to figure out human reproduction, one of them recoils in disgust at the idea of the young consuming fluid from a living body (breast milk). A culture of sapient matriphagous spiders might condemn our failure to feed our bodies to our children as the equivalent of abandoning a newborn baby to die.

Matriphagy would have far-reaching social consequences, of course. No children would ever know their mothers or grandmothers, and the only females able to take a proactive role in society would be celibate. Maybe they would have a dedicated class of celibate females who serve as teachers and surrogate aunts to the young. And suppose that world's scientists invented a high-tech method of surviving motherhood, such as in vitro reproduction? Would some factions denounce it as an unnatural abomination?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Theme-Plot-Character-Worldbuilding Integration Part 4 - Sidewalk Superintendent

Theme-Plot-Character-Worldbuilding Integration
Part 4
Sidewalk Superintendent
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Previous Parts in this 4-way Integration Series:

My objective in this long series of blogs on writing craft is to dissect the Romance Novel into components, dissect the Science Fiction novel into components, then blend the compatible components of each genre into something like Science Fiction Romance, Futuristic Romance, Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy, Mystery Romance, or whatever combination that can attract the respect we all know that "Romance" (as a human experience) deserves.

Our Civilization as a whole once discarded the importance of "romance" in the form of "love" -- assuming that love had little or nothing to do with marriage.

Then an era came in that elevated Romance (marrying for love, even if it was just infatuation) to the absolute epitome of the Value System.

Then Romance as the touchstone of finding and cementing Relationships for life was discarded.

Today physical infatuation (instant and irresistible sexual attraction) has replaced Romance at the epitome of value systems that direct young people into marriage or other Relationships intended to be Lifelong. 

Meanwhile, millions read stories about finding a Soul Mate and living Happily Ever After.  The contradiction (the conflict which forms the essence of Story) is sidelined in the plot.

As we have developed disposable gadgets, replacing rather than repairing them, so too have we developed disposable Relationships. 

I suspect that long-term trend of disposable gadgets/Relationships is again at the verge of reversal. 

And here's an article on a widely read source (never mind the auspices) that might be a harbinger of this shift in attitude.  I disagree with a lot this article says, but the departure from the prevailing attitude is stark.  Find out why you disagree with this article, and your reason will make the Theme of a whopping-good Romance.

Still, that bit of propaganda is nothing compared to the underlying misconception that so many of us carry around consciously or subconsciously, because we’ve seen it on TV and in the movies, and read it in books a million times since childhood: namely, that there is just one person out there for us. Our soul mate. Our Mr. or Mrs. Right. The person we are “meant to be with.”

We think that our task is to find this preordained partner and marry them because, after all, they’re “The One.” They were designed for us, for us and only us. It’s written in the stars, prescribed in the cosmos, commanded by God or Mother Earth. There are six or seven billion people in the world, but only one of them is the right one, we think, and we’ll stay single until we happen to stumble into them one day.

And when that day happens, when The One — our soul mate, our match, our spirit-twin — comes barreling into our lives to whisk us off our feet and take us on canoe rides and deliver impassioned romantic monologues on a beach in the rain or in a bus station or whatever, then we’ll finally be happy. Happy until the end of time. We can get married and have a perfect union; a Facebook Photo Marriage, where every day is like an Instragam of you and your spouse wearing comfortable socks and sitting next to the fireplace drinking Starbucks lattes.

Yeah. About that. It’s bull crap, sorry. Not just silly, frivolous bull crap, but bull crap that will destroy you and eat your marriage alive from the inside. It’s a lie. A vicious, cynical lie that leads only to disappointment and confusion. The Marriage of Destiny is a facade, but the good news is that Real Marriage is something so much more loving, joyful, and true.

    I didn’t marry The One, I married this one, and the two of us became one.

We’ve got it all backwards, you see. I didn’t marry my wife because she’s The One, she’s The One because I married her. Until we were married, she was one, I was one, and we were both one of many. I didn’t marry The One, I married this one, and the two of us became one. I didn’t marry her because I was “meant to be with her,” I married her because that was my choice, and it was her choice, and the Sacrament of marriage is that choice. I married her because I love her — I chose to love her — and I chose to live the rest of my life in service to her. We were not following a script, we chose to write our own, and it’s a story that contains more love and happiness than any romantic fable ever conjured up by Hollywood.

Indeed, marriage is a decision, not the inevitable result of unseen forces outside of our control. When we got married, the pastor asked us if we had “come here freely.” If I had said, “well, not really, you see destiny drew us together,” that would have brought the evening to an abrupt and unpleasant end. Marriage has to be a free choice or it is not a marriage. That’s a beautiful thing, really.

God gave us Free Will. It is His greatest gift to us because without it, nothing is possible. Love is not possible without Will. If we cannot choose to love, then we cannot love. God did not program us like robots to be compatible with only one other machine. He created us as individuals, endowed with the incredible, unprecedented power to choose. And with that choice, we are to go out and find a partner, and make that partner our soul mate.

------------END QUOTE----------

Just after I wrote the words above that quote, "the verge of reversal," I noticed return tweets from the author of the book I set out to discuss in this blog entry. 

He plans a sequel to the novel of interest here, and that news changes the way I will discuss this novel.

To make a lifelong career in writing, you should learn these trends of Civilization, the root reasons for them (roots which this 4-way Integration series is discussing), and how to leverage the prevailing trend to sell your own fiction without trying to write just what the Market wants. 

Today, however, you don't have to try to sell Mass Market at all, since there are many successful self-publishing writers creating whole new markets.

Writers often ask which way should they go, Self-Publishing or Traditional Publishing, or Small Press.  My answer is, "That's the wrong question."

The term "Rebranding" has risen to public notice the last few years.  You even hear the term on TV News.  It is a way of controlling the public image using Public Relations techniques (which I've discussed in this blog at length).

Your byline is your brand.  So your decision of whether to go Self-Publish, Small Press, or Traditional Publisher is not an either/or decision.  It is a both/and/and decision.

The real question is not whether to do this or that or the other, but rather under what brand name do I do this, and what brand name do I use when I do that? 

The question is: "Should I use the same brand name (byline) for this publishing venue as for that?"  Many professional writers do Mystery under one name, Science Fiction under another, Romance under a third.  Many have been required to do so by their editors. 

I used the Daniel R. Kerns byline for my space-action-adventure novels, HERO and BORDER DISPUTE (on Kindle in a combined edition) because the acquisitions editor required it since they are a different Brand than Sime~Gen etc etc.  But HERO and BORDER DISPUTE are Alien Relationship driven novels.

The Branding wisdom is that a brand should define the product in the most narrow terms possible. 

That's why big companies like Pillsbury buy brands from other companies, the put Pillsbury in tiny print on the back of the package and keep the brand name in large print on the front.  ConAgra does that, too.  Publishers establish Imprints and do the same. 

As a writer, you are Pillsbury or ConAgra, and you may own many Brands, many bylines. 

Each of these fiction markets is targeting a different set of readers looking for a different product.  If your current product differs from your previous products, use a different byline or Pen Name.

Here are three posts on the use of a pen name.

If your product has a common thread that connects all the works configured for different markets, then use the same byline.  Brand the thread. 

Sensitivity to the tastes of the market at the end of the pipeline you choose to put your product into gives you the best chance of success in that market. 

Way back when I took my first formal course in writing, I learned the trick of this from the textbook.  They warned that students tended not to believe the advice.  Those students rarely launched a career as a selling writer on the 4th lesson of the course, but those that followed the advice generally did.  I know one other student who rejected the advice and did not sell.  I took the advice and sold the homework assignment for the 4th lesson.

That was my first short story sale, and it is posted online for free reading -- the first Sime~Gen story sold:

The advice was simple in its complexity:

Study the editor or agent you intend to sell to.  Craft your piece to push that individual person's buttons. 

It does  not mean write something your heart isn't in.  It doesn't mean violate your personal standards to be commercial.  It means nothing more than what it takes to revel in a good conversation -- pay attention to who you are talking to, and listen to what they are saying.

It is exactly the same advice that is followed by successful social-networkers.  If you join a Group on Facebook, or a "Community" on Google+ or any such social grouping (say at a cocktail party), lurk for a while and let the conversation soak into your head, develop an idea of "who" these speakers are and why they are saying what they are saying -- and to whom they are saying it.

Then when you have something to say that adds to their enjoyment of the social interaction, say it, paying attention to the silent-gaps that indicate an invitation to comment.  Watch the body language.  Pay attention, then participate. 

It's that simple.  If you can socialize, you can sell fiction. 

The only difference between a cocktail party conversation and publishing is that at a cocktail party, people speak in half-sentences, innuendo, raised eyebrows, and Toasts.  In publishing, people speak in books and stories.

Each novel you read, each short story in a magazine, is a sentence in a conversation among a Group.  In Science Fiction, that Group consists of about 1500 to 1700 professional writers who are members of the Science Fiction Writers of America (and its foreign equivalents).  Romance Writers of America is bigger.  Mystery Writers of America is probably bigger.  And there are umbrella organizations for writers.

Novels are sentences in a conversation among writers -- readers are the sidewalk superintendents.

The Market for a Manuscript is the Agent.  The Market for the Agent is  Editors.  The Market for Editors is the Committee with cover artists, Publicity specialists, managing editors, budgeting people, and all sorts of business functionaries who have not and will never read the book in question, but who will decide on the basis of a 3 sentence description whether to allow the infatuated editor to buy it.

Marketing, Genre, Branding and byline about summarizes my twitter-conversation with Rabbi Gidon Rothstein, author of the (almost) Futuristic Urban Fantasy Romance Mystery that does not quite (yet) fit any Genre label. 

He is inventing a new Genre, but has two major plot-threads that dominate the novel we'll examine, Murderer in the Mikdash. 

This novel is Futuristic Romance, and it is Futuristic Mystery.

It is a bit akin to Isaac Asimov's Black Widow mysteries in intellectual sharpness, but I think of it more like Randall Garrett's forensic magician stories, or even Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, magic using private eye. 

This novel's Characters and Theme are nowhere near (in fact rather opposite) those examples, but the worldbuilding behind the story belongs to that category. 

Since Dresden Files has over 20 (long) novels and counting, and has had a (short) TV Series made from it, I see no reason this novel won't develop into the same sort of Urban Fantasy publishing property. 

Here's my interview with Jim Butcher.

As I noted, the novel we're exploring is titled MURDERER IN THE MIKDASH and it is by Gidon Rothstein. 

This novel is nothing (at all) like Jim Butcher's work, yet it fits the same publishing niche, and is part of the same "conversation" among writers that all of the series I've mentioned so far have created.

 Murderer in the Mikdash is THE SAME but DIFFERENT, just as you learn in SAVE THE CAT! 

Murderer in the Mikdash is not "Occult Fantasy" -- it is the exact opposite (which gives it the "but different" property).  No magic,  just a "just the facts ma'am" near-future world. 

Writers need to study Murderer in the Mikdash both for where it succeeds at an impossible task of depicting "the future" (it is genuinely Futuristic) and where it fails at depicting Romance within the Romance Genre rules. 

I have read a few of Rothstein's short stories in the collection called Cassandra Misreads The Book Of Samuel.  In the years between writing Murderer in the Mikdash, and the Cassandra material, the author learned a lot about writing, so the observations I've made about "Murderer" here will not apply to any sequels -- in fact, this first novel may be rewritten and re-released as part of a set. 

Therefore, grab yourself a copy of it as it is now because it warrants your study, and if a rewrite shoots it to a higher profile, you will want to know why that happened and what changes caused that to happen. 

So starting with this one now, you will be ready to follow where this discussion leads in a couple of years.

Here's the book I'm talking about:

So we're going to discuss this novel which is excellent in itself, but could not "make it" in Mass Market because it appears to be aimed at a narrow, specifically defined readership which marketers have not identified. 

The reasons Mass Market editors would reject this novel, in the form it is in right now, are detailed in my 7-part series on what it means to be an Editor.

That Part VII post has links to the previous posts in the series. 

Different sections of Murderer in the Mikdash are imprinted with the genre signatures of different genres.  Today you can "mix" genres, but not splice them together unmixed. 

Many of the scenes in MURDERER IN THE MIKDASH have "Romance" written all over them, but the ending veers into a more "Literary" signature -- avoiding even the HFN ending. 

So to me, Murderer in the Mikdash screams for a sequel. 

Therefore I was beyond delighted when the author answered my Tweet and told me he has material for a sequel and is working on it. 

But he also said he wasn't able to sell it to Mass Market after great effort.  So in this analysis of the novel, I'm going to probe into the under-structure to illustrate why that happened to an otherwise excellent, pristine, perfect, totally amazing, commercially viable Work. 

What's wrong with publishing that it could REJECT such a book?  Why aren't you seeing it advertised all over Amazon, etc.? 

Would I have risked my job as a big traditional publishing editor (which I've never been) to accept this book?  Probably not. 

Would I have taken this author on as a client if I were an Agent at a big Agency?  Probably not. 

Would I have taken him on if I were an Indie Agent?  Again, probably not because, as currently styled and written, this book had to go to an ebook Indie Publisher and they mostly don't do business with Agents. 

This situation is wholly unacceptable.  It's too good a book to be buried without honors.

But how to fix the situation? 

Direct contact with the author via twitter has given me a bunch of clues about what to do with this material, and in the next few posts I will share some of those ideas with you -- because I firmly expect many of you have similar properties in your desk drawers that failed to make the Mass Market cut, and you don't know why. 

As noted, Murderer in the Mikdash has earned my A+ grade for the integration of a long-long list of the techniques we've discussed in these Tuesday blog entries. 

Here's why I titled this Part 4 of this series "Sidewalk Superintendent"

A sidewalk superintendent is a passer-by on the sidewalk around an urban construction site which is partitioned off by a safety fence.  The passer-by peeks through a knot-hole in the fencing and criticizes what the workers are doing (or not-doing).  Mostly the passer-by sees men standing around (on the clock; paid with his tax dollars) doing nothing visible.

So the passer-by who knows nothing of construction criticizes what the Builder is doing.

And that's what I'm doing here with this novel.  I'm peering into it from outside, admiring the achievement I could NEVER have achieved -- but have vast ambitions to achieve -- and finding flaws in the execution.

At the moment, staring through the fence with one eye, I see a ragged hole in the ground, a lot of mud at the bottom where it rained, a cement truck backing up, and a faded picture on a sign that indicates what the building may be when it's built. 

Before the author tweeted me back, I didn't know there would be a sequel, and didn't know he was aware of the steep learning curve it would take to get this book into Mass Market.  I didn't even know it was his first novel, or he'd tried to market it to Mass Market.

So I had read the book with the assumption that the author thought the story was DONE.  But through the hole in the fence, I see that very big pit, some cement forms that had been knocked together, and a crew standing around doing nothing with their hard-hats under their elbows.

Now, with the Twitter exchange, suddenly, I see a work crew arrive on a big transport, jump down, clamp their hard-hats on, and begin pouring cement and wheel-borrowing loads around the site.  It'll be a building in no time!  It's going to be beautiful!!! 

As you read this novel, keep an eye out for Dialogue that should be narrative, and narrative that should be dialogue.  Watch for exposition that should be scenes.  It's subtle, and occurs only in a couple of places, but it's a no-sale flaw for a first novel. 

After buying a few novels from an author, some editors will accept a draft with this issue, blue-pencil the troublesome paragraphs and just X them out and scribble an indecipherable marginal note, relying on the previously demonstrated skills of the author to tell the author how to fix the issue. 

The appropriate techniques to use for various sorts of information feed are different in different genres and all genres differ from Literature.  Editors rely on authors to know the genre signature of the line the Editor is buying for. 

The choice of what to narrate, and what to detail in a scene, is entirely dependent on genre.  Just reversing narration and dialogue information feed  can shift genres.  For example, if you introduce a sex scene and then end the chapter with "Go To Black" (as in screenwriting, HARD CUT, in playwriting, CURTAIN), you get one genre. 

If you write 5 pages of athletics, detailing who did what to whom, with long paragraphs of what it means to each of them, you get a totally different genre. 

In various places in Murderer in the Mikdash, the decision to couch the information in dialogue, exposition or narrative was made using the rules of different genres, not always with the rules of Literature though the book was aimed at the Literature (general fiction) Market somewhat like THE YIDDISH POLICEMAN'S UNION ...'s_Union

Most editors would not know why they have to (regretfully) reject the Murderer in the Mikdash manuscript because of that variance in narrative and dialogue styling. 

Many younger editors would blame their rejection on the futuristic element and/or the Biblical element or the Jewish element -- even though they had bought manuscripts with one or another of those elements before and knew of all the Awards THE YIDDISH POLICEMAN'S UNION had won, and even of the stellar sales performance of other novels rooted in Jewish tradition such as the award winning Historical (radical feminist) series titled RASHI'S DAUGHTERS 

Or the hysterically funny Interview with a Jewish Vampire ...

...which might not "click" with a reader who had not read Anne Rice's Interview With a Vampire that became such an incredible media phenomenon and triggered a flood of Vampire Romance novels

Or the incredible best selling Mystery Series by Faye Kellerman that I've raved about in these blogs (mostly because of the Romance/Marriage/Life-building narrative) The Decker/Lazarus series.

That Goodreads page lists the novels in order.  Remember Goodreads is owned now by Amazon, but you can sign in with your Facebook account.

Good editors have sensibilities that align with the sensibilities of their target readership -- so they tell writers, "I just want a good story."  They have no clue what "good" means, but they just know it when they see it.

If they don't see it, they don't know why, and don't know how to fix that -- but mostly they've learned by harsh experience that most writers just wouldn't know what to do with the editor's complaints. 

Editors don't have time to mess with writers (which is why they only deal with Agents, but today Agents don't have time to teach writing)  -- and there's more than enough material to fill the editor's pipeline, so they reject what isn't up to snuff.

Subtle things like getting the narrative and dialogue portions sorted out can make the difference.

We will dig deeper into the structure of Murderer in the Mikdash next week.  I hope by then you'll have read the book.  It's not very long.

Here it is again:

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Did You Feel It?

Like Margaret L Carter, (See her Thursday post) I have been reading old magazines!

Intrigued by a DISCOVER magazine article by Leeaundra Keany dating back to 2010 "Become A Human Seismograph", I googled "Did You Feel It" and was pleased to see that the site is still active.

Find it here:

Apparently, at the time of writing, there were 21 earthquakes (or earthquake like events) in the last 24 hours. I think that is slightly fewer than average.
  1. The USGS estimates that several million earthquakes occur in the world each year. Many go undetected because they hit remote areas or have very small magnitudes. The NEIC now locates about 50 earthquakes each day, or about 20,000 a year.Jan 13, 2015
Or, better than average! The site contains a wealth of information, such as how to geocode your own address.
We have the capability of adding geocoded maps for certain larger events with many hundreds (or thousands) of responses. To do this, we take the addresses that people provide when they fill out our questionnaire, and send them to TomTom, a company which turns regular street addresses into precise latitude and longitude coordinates (generally 6 digits of accuracy, enough to distinguish the nearest 1/2 block on a street). We then group nearby coordinates into regularly sized boxes, which are generally a few km across, and calculate their intensities the same way we do for normal ZIP code maps. To test this geocoding on your own address, try this interactive script.

Here's an early warning page:

There's an interesting page about urban noise... lots of information that might stimulate writers' imaginations. With a site such as this, any earth-shaking activity by aliens since 2005 might well be reported to "Did You Feel It". Now there's the beginnings of a plot twist.

Happy Mothers' Day.

Rowena Cherry

Thursday, May 07, 2015

More on Good and Evil

Coincidentally, after writing last week's post, I came across an old issue of TIME magazine from 2007 with the cover story "What Makes Us Good / Evil." Some topics covered include: parts of the brain involved in moral decisions; apparent ethical judgments made by "lower" animals such as apes; how the group enforces standards and punishes offenders through behavior such as shunning; the differing applications of moral principles to people "inside" and "outside" what we perceive as our group. Our empathic response to "in-group" and "out-group" also varies with closeness and distance. An individual might throw himself in front of a train to save a stranger but feel only passing sympathy upon hearing of a mass disaster on another continent. C. S. Lewis speculates that our capacity for sympathy wasn't designed to deal with constant exposure to distant catastrophes we have little or no power to affect. Many psychologists believe we're born with the programming for morality, "a sense of moral grammar" similar to the linguistic framework for syntax built into the human brain. As with language, though, we can't apply the grammar of right and wrong until we learn the necessary content and application from people around us.

The first question that arises, of course, is how to define "good" and "evil." The TIME article doesn't propose a definition explicitly, only by implication. The caption on the first page seems to identify "good" with "morality and empathy" and "evil" with "savagery and bloodlust." The text of the article itself focuses mainly on empathy and the sense of fairness. (It seems some animals are amazingly good at noticing when they're treated unfairly compared to others in their group.) In the STAR TREK episode discussed in last week's post, Kirk and Spock at first didn't have any opportunity to display empathy or justice. They were simply ordered to fight their "evil" opponents to the death. Only when Kirk and Spock refused to fight, and the alien threatened the lives of the entire Enterprise crew to force them to participate in the contest, did they have a chance to display the quality of empathy. At the end, the alien even admitted an essential difference between the Enterprise officers, fighting for the lives of their people, and the "evil" characters, fighting for selfish goals or maybe just for the fun of it.

One of my favorite nonfiction authors, Steven Pinker, wrote a book called THE BETTER ANGELS OF OUR NATURE, which maintains that we live in the least violent era of human history. In other words, global society is getting more moral. He supports this counter-intuitive position with exhaustive, specific evidence. Although in regard to early history he sometimes conflates myth and literature with real life, and later occasionally slips in data on phenomena that, while deplorable, I wouldn't call "violent," the book offers a lot of solid information and provocative arguments to think about.

On a different topic: If you can get a copy of the May 2015 SMITHSONIAN magazine, check it out. This issue has the theme "The Future Is Here." Articles cover subjects such as magnetic levitation technology, the effects of plastic waste on the environment, constructing replacement human organs with 3-D printing—and "Mind Meld." The last doesn't involve true telepathic conversations, of course. It's only a rudimentary beginning, an electronic connection that allows two people to communicate simple "yes" or "no" data. Ambitious speculation envisions a future ability to download information or techniques directly from the brain of an expert. Or suppose you could upload the contents of your own brain to save and re-download in case you suffer a stroke or the like? Something I've often wondered about mind-reading: Would universal perfect telepathy or empathic perception bestow perfect harmony upon the world? Or would we find ourselves in a situation more like the plight of the lawyer in the movie LIAR, LIAR, whose son was granted the wish that his father could never tell a lie, leading to much awkwardness?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Reviews 14 by Jacqueline Lichtenberg - Delayed Gratification

Reviews 14
Jacqueline Lichtenberg
Delayed Gratification  

These novels discussed below illustrate the integrating of 4 of the writing craft skills we have been discussing: Theme-Plot-Character-Worldbuilding.  It's about delaying gratification, which is an ingredient in building suspense. 

This combination of 4-skills is about mastering that singular skill usually called "Show Don't Tell." 

The writer, as an artist, observes "life" (the Universe and Everything) and apprehends an abstract idea from it all.

This "Dance in the Rain" attitude is exemplified by Captain Kirk of Star Trek : The Original Series (ST:ToS)

You saw it, also, in Buffy The Vampire Slayer TV Series.  The thing people loved the most about that series was the smart-ass quips snapped out during action scenes.  The action (fighting, dusting Vampires) usually exemplified the subject of the quip -- it was Art In Motion.

And people loved that pithy take on Life.

Both characters, Kirk and Buffy, were Icons of an Attitude toward danger, toward uncertainty, toward overcoming obstacles.

Icons are arrays of Ideas, artistic compositions compiled from many components.  Icons are complicated, but look simple.  They are the height of the Art of "Show Don't Tell."

In this Tuesday blog series on writing craft, we are looking for how to create an Icon -- a "Show Don't Tell" -- for why the Happily Ever After Ending is actually realistic, is real, and is a perfectly rational goal.

More than half the potential readership (or viewership) does not accept the HEA as plausible.  That generates two questions:

A) Why do we accept the HEA as obvious and reasonable?
B) Why do so many people not know what we know?

"Why," "happy," "reasonable," "know,"  are all abstractions.  To dramatize that kind of abstraction is to "Show Don't Tell."

The method writers usually use to concertize such abstractions is Poetic Justice.

Poetic Justice is very familiar to most readers, but it takes a long and often intricate plot to get from injustice to justice and make the two harmonize poetically.

The key factor in an HEA is that it is an ENDING.  (maybe not THE ending, but AN ending).

In other words, some thread or "because line" of the plot has to come around to a point where there are no further consequences of the initial action to be narrated.  One plot-thread ENDS. 

That ending has to provide many emotional peaks all with one image, one line of dialogue, one culminating Aha! moment. 

Another defining property of the HEA is that abstract concept "After."  The writer's job is to find the artistic Icon to explain "after what?" 

What does Happiness come AFTER??  What has to be BEFORE in order for Happiness to be a consequence?  Do they have to have an obvious cause-effect relationship?  Or do things just happen?  Or does happiness have to be earned by being "good?" 

Nebulous philosophical maunderings of this kind are the prime ingredients in Theme -- just as flour is the prime ingredient in bread. 

Here's one possible theme to distill from abstraction:

"Delay Gratification" and you qualify for success.

If your definition of "success" is living the HEA, then this principle means you probably can't get to it today - maybe not tomorrow, either.  Arriving at an HEA will take years and lots of apparently fruitless effort.

Today's modern culture has often been accused of encouraging instant gratification, rather than delayed gratification.

Very little of our current school curriculum prepares students to pay off a student loan by living cheaply for 10 years after graduation while making a solid upscale income.  When they reach the goal of a degree, and get a good job (which hasn't been forthcoming instantly for 9 years or so now), they expect a new, top of the line car, the best mobile phone, the most expensive mobile services, brand name wardrobe items, and a lot of vacation time.

Delayed Gratification is not trained into elementary school students by strict discipline.  Likewise, our youngest students are not led into developing personal self-discipline so they don't need a teacher or parent to discipline them.  They are encouraged to act on their feelings, not think everything through and wait for the desire to ebb before evaluating whether to take the action -- or not.

Parents who haven't been raised to self-discipline can't pass on the training because they have no idea what that training entails (and many child-raising advice books and TV shows admonish parents not to do the things that instill self-discipline.)

Teens and twenty-somethings raised this way are your primary readership.

A few among them have managed to acquire self-discipline and routinely practice delayed gratification.

Among those few, I think you will find the greatest percentage of those who understand what the HEA is and what it costs. 

It costs giving up what you want now for what you want most.

If you want most an HEA for your own real life, what are you willing to give up for it? 

"What" is not an abstract.  If you can name and describe a concrete something for that "what" -- you are halfway to creating an Icon for a novel.

The icon for the novel is one component in the Set Piece.

See screenwriting books like SAVE THE CAT! -- the set piece is a scene in a film. 

The set pieces are the ones you find in movie trailers.  See all the set-pieces of a film, and it's hardly worth the admission price to see the whole film.  The set-pieces tell the story, chronicle the plot, and exemplify the characters, all in images.

A novel has to have set-pieces, too, because one of them is the cover image of the book.

"Delayed Gratification" is a combination of two abstract concepts.  Your job as a writer is to find a way to Show Don't Tell delayed-gratification, it's cost and its reward.

The reward usually involves poetic justice -- things coming full circle, and things ending as they "should."  A sense of rightness that increases the reader's sense of security in a world they understand. 

So here are some novels that actually do all of this.

First we have a series I've been pointing you to for a while.  The final book has been published and amply fulfills the promise of the series -- delivering poetic justice with an HEA.

This series is aimed at adults, but many mid-teens would be thrilled with it.

Here are the Rising Flame series books (all one story so read in order)

These books pretty much stand alone, but you might want to read the whole Flame saga to get the point I'm making here.

The Hero lives a very long, extended life, and dedicates all his efforts to the Cause which he understands is the key to humanity surviving among the species of a galactic civilization. 

His failures and long periods of making no apparent progress, his hammering away at the Cause, are all at the expense of parting from his Soul Mate. 

How and why he attains his personal HEA, what it costs him, who helps (and how painful that help is) all using the Icon of "The Flame" and showing via an eventful plot full of risky decisions, exemplifies a theme that shows the connection between the HEA, Doing The Right Thing, Self-Discipline, and that Icon I put at the top of this review -- "Every time I thought I was being rejected from something good, I was actually being re-directed to something better."

Good and Better are all about perspective and point-of-view. 

These novels are not so much genre "Romance" or even just "Science Fiction" as they are Literature.  These are novels about life. 

I highly recommend all of Sylvia Louise Engdahl's novels -- her YA novels are good for your children, and they will grow up to enjoy her adult novels.

The same is true of Katherine Kerr whose writing career spans many genres -- and many re-formulations of genres.

She's got the knack for Adult Fantasy with grit, action, and female-hero-driven plots.

I have been partial to Kerr's Nola O'Grady Series for a while, and the 2014 entry,  #4 in that series, is strong, a fast and enjoyable read.

Nola O'Grady gallivants across parallel universes in the company of her partner, the Israeli Agent Ari Nathan.  They are in hot pursuit of two criminals (while other things chase them).  Meanwhile the connections between the parallel universes are disintegrating, and a lot of things are going on that apparently nobody really understands.

I'm sure there will be more of these stories, but this one is a good study in the immense payoff karma brings to those who do not grab at instant gratification. 

Lastly, here are two audiobooks from Allan Cole (whom I've discussed before), that you can also get in Kindle.

It's very different in content and style from Cole's Fantasy works, but illustrates the consistency an author's skill brings across genres. 

And here is Allan Cole's MacGregor In: Dying Good -- a contemporary exploration of human trafficking, again "the same but different" from everything else he's done.  MacGregor brings down an international human trafficking ring preying on children.  It's not "Romance Genre" per se, but it is driven by love in transcendent ways.

Cole's characters (young, medium, and old) get themselves into very tight spots, face probable death, do "the right thing" (amidst some maybe no-so-right, and some out-right-bad things), and pull off a highly improbable stunt with the orchestrated aplomb of Master Operatives.  You can clearly see the Hand of God moving the characters -- but the characters can't see it. 

Taken together, these books form a set that illustrates many of the points brought forth in the Theme-Plot-Character-Worldbuilding series.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 3 is an index to relevant Review Columns I wrote for the magazine I used to work for.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg