Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Rose By Any Other Name

I'm filling in for Jacqueline, and also on a blog tour at the moment, as mentioned in my regular (Sunday) blog.

Yesterday, Linnea talked about ultra long distance courtships, where most of the sensory cues are missing. You can't see the guy, you can't smell his pheromones (which is important), you can't hear his voice.

By the way, some actors have the most wonderfully attractive voices, IMHO. Anthony Hopkins. The late James Mason. Clint Eastwood. James Earl Jones.

Who might you fancy if their voice was all you had to go on?

Anyway, I was thinking about Linnea's blog while doing my morning-after blog-tour thing. Readers are offered prizes for the most interesting question, comment, or discussion starter.

A thread about my guilty pleasures evolved into a discussion of what Darth Vader's name meant, which turned to the pronunciation of foreign names, and whether or not Vader means father.

Having lived in Germany, I know perfectly well what father is in German. Vater. And I know how it is pronounced. Which brings me, with streaming eyes, to the thought that a person's name would be much more important than it is now.

How much respect or terror would Darth Varter command?

Would all the son-of surnames (Johnson, Masterson etc) be useful?

On Mars, it might be rather silly to have a name that makes one homesick for the green valleys, hills, and vistas of Earth: Belmont, Beaumont, Green... or of the trades ones ancestors handed down from father to son: Farmer, Baker, Mason, Fishmonger.

Flattering descriptive names might be quite effective: Richman, Handsome, Strongback, Goodmind, maybe even Goodnight.

Possibly, in a future world, we'd all use one of those ethnic descriptions that we see on the occasional census. In that case, my great grand-daughter's last name might be Caucasian.

Are names important to Americans? Given that two suitors were equally good looking (in their different ways), equally intelligent, equally good-tempered and humorous, and both shared ones interests, might a girl be swayed in her choice by which name would sound better as her married last name?

Is it taboo to wonder whether girls could really be that superficial?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Star-Crossed Romance: Guest - Rowena Cherry

Star-Crossed Romance: Guest - Rowena Cherry

Love in an (alien, high-tech) afternoon...

Just rambling here, because I've been conspicuously absent from this blog due to deadlines and edits and hence am not up on whatever current trend we're discussing (not that we write to trend here, but on occasion that seems to happen).

As Rowena noted, I had a blast reading her KNIGHT'S FORK. Her Djinn characters and "worlds" (not in the planetary sense, hence the quotes) are a total hoot and yet at the same time very thought-provoking. Much of it goes back to the us-not-them, and almost-like-us-but-not explorations. I'm reading (and laughing) about god-like people who have very people-like problems.

Which again gets me thinking about this genre and its proponents and nay-sayers. For what it's worth, I've seen a tad less naysayers lately in the sense that some blogging naysayers to the genre overall have been admitting that--while SFR certainly could never share the main table with SF, it might be able to at least be admittted into the dining room.

I think one of the reasons might be that a situation SFR often explores--love in an alien, high-tech afternoon--has started to become reality for those who've now met their significant others via the Internet. Facebook. MySpace. Those actually legit dating sites. Which means some of the "dating parameters" or "mate selection parameters" are again evolving.

History lesson: most of our great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents (and further back) either had their mates selected for them by their relatives and/or social standing, or their selection was limited by locale and lack of transportation. When you live on a farm in the Carpathian Mountains in Poland in 1825 (my family's history), your likelihood of meeting a nice young man from Australia are slim, none and the rest of the cliche. You're going to marry/breed with someone from your village or a neighboring village. End of romantic story. You fall in love (the best you can) with one of several limited choices.

You know. It's like going to a fast food burger place. You can have a burger, cheeseburger, double of either, a fish or chicken sandwhich and, oh, you want fries with that? Choices, sure, but they all kind of taste the same. Even the fries.

Nothing exotic. Nothing different. Because of that, you might even come to fear the exotic.

Fast forward to 2008. The planet is now your village, thanks to MySpace and Facebook and LinkedIn and whatever. Sure, people post photos (and how accurate are they?) and sure, there's still the element of "I find tall brunettes attractive" (or not), but the initial contact comes via email. IMs. Text messages. Eventually telephone but for a goodly period of time, it's a contact devoid of physical parameters--sight, smell (where are those noted pheromones?), texture. Is his skin smooth or rough? Is her hair soft or coarse? Internet lovers-to-be don't know. They only thing they do know is this person's written communications with me make me want to have more written communications from them.

Fascinating, to quote Mr. Spock.

The attraction starts based on shared values and the ability to communicate same. Shared experiences but experiences at a distance: "Yeah, I like [fill in the name of your favorite band/singer/rap artist], too."

So if at the opening of the relationship, we're taking a great deal of the physical out of it (I'm assuming that most humans do not post their worst photos on Facebook), what are we connecting on?

Ideas. Ideals.

So how does this relate to high-tech aliens?

To me, it opens the question of a relationship with the Other. With the humanOID, not just the human. It means that as a society we are now learning (in baby steps) to look past the physical or to not put such huge import on the physical as the first parameter in choosing a mate.

Which means, to me, we're opening to falling in love with a human or even non-human alien.

I think of Worf and Deanna Troi from Trek. Worf, to me, falls into the category of humanoid. And yes, being raised by humans certainly changed his physical-acceptance parameters (ie: hot and sexy doesn't have to include forehead ridges). But Deanna had to change hers, as well.

Now granted, working alongside someone often has that effect. Watching someone in action can change the importance of the standard "tall dark and handsome." And Worf does have this awesome voice for whispering seductive sweet nothings.

But initially, the idea of a Klingon finding a human attractive (and vice versa) is hard for most of us to accept. What we find physically attractive is, to a great extent, pounded into us culturally.

Yet now we have the Internet starting dozens of romances based less on physical attraction and more on intellectual/shared value attraction.

If--no, let me say when we eventually create the means for interstellar travel, our Facebook and MySpace training may come in handy. We may be in communication with other star systems long before we actually see their denizens. We may be establishing not just rapport, but relationships.

Yes, we'll still have our preferences and our prejudices. I think that's human nature. But I feel our acceptance of "other" will be widened, will be vastly improved because we're getting a bit away from the "you look, feel, smell, taste like me" and over to "you think like me."

I find that exciting. And I think science fiction romance is one of the main genres that lets us explore the possiblities in that kind of future.


Sunday, September 28, 2008

Knight's Fork

As I've said before, I go to a lot of trouble with my research.

For instance, for Knight's Fork (the virtuous hero has to unearth an alien skeleton on earth, but wants to do everything legally, with the utmost respect and good taste, and by the book) so I found myself filling out Exhumation Licenses...in 'Rhett's point of view, and talking with coroners, ministry officials, archbishop's assistants, funeral directors and persons who specialize in the intercontinental transport of remains.

(I blogged about this when writing the scene).

While I was working on the logistics of how to repatriate alien remains to an empire far far away, I couldn't help thinking of the Star Trek movie where Captain Kirk simply beamed up a whale.

I don't do "beam me up!"

Apparently, before an exhumation license is granted, the applicant has to attest where the body is to be reinterred. Of someone intends to transport a coffin by air, (perhaps because the entire family has emigrated) then the applicant has to submit a letter from the receiving funeral director in the host country, and also a letter from the airline.

Moreover, it cannot be some fly-by-night airline. It would not do to turn in a letter from Captain James T. Kirk on USS Enterprise letterhead stating that the Enterprise had been engaged to transport the remains from Luton Airport to the Pleasure Moon of Eurydyce.

Quite often, if something seems implausible or ridiculous in my books, it is because it's true that truth is stranger than fiction.

Most of this scene fragment got cut from the book.


'Rhett sat at a table, and rubbed his chin with the loosely curled forefinger of his right hand. "This is more difficult than I thought, Grievous," he admitted.

"Forms, are they, Sir? I never was much of a one for that sort of thing. Can't help you out, there."

"What I have here, is an Application for a licence for the removal of buried human remains (including cremated remains) in England & Wales, from One Of Her Majesty's Principal Secretaries of State in the Ministry Of Justice, and I am endeavouring to fill it out truthfully."

"So, where are you, Sir?"

"Full name of applicant."

"That should be easy enough, shouldn't it?"

"One would think so, Grievous. However, my 'full name' is Djarrhett Raven Perseus Pendragon Roland Djames Djinnmagister. If I write really small, I could fit all my names into the box, but should I?"

"Probably not, Sir. Someone is probably going to have to copy all that on a typewriter, if not one of those super duper new word processing gizmos. They're never going to spell your names right. The spell checker will have a fit."

"I doubt that I can avoid the problem. Selecting just three would be less startling, but if only three, which middle name should one choose?"

"How about being Rhett Roland Jinnmagister. Just cut out the apostrophes, and all the silent D's. They'll only cause confusion and expose you to the risks of being misfiled and lost. What's next?"

"I'm going to have to go with whatever spelling is on the death certificates. Next is 'Title'. Which one should I select? Prince?"

"As I recall, that's bogus! You might as well go for Great Djinn and lesser god?"

"That would be truthful, but unwise to tell humans so. Leviathan, Saurian Knight? That would arouse suspicion. No doubt, Mr. would be the stealthy choice. Sometimes an alien is obliged to lie for the protection of the person reading the form."

"Death certificates!" Grievous slapped his forehead with his open palm. "We're sunk. What are you going to do about that, Sir? When I took inventory, I don't recall seeing that sort of thing."

'Rhett looked up with a grin. "We kept a couple of safety deposit boxes…"

"It's been nine months. They might have been opened."

"Have you never heard of a standing order, Grievous? Bank fees are the least of our worries."


"Credit Suisse. A Swiss bank. Also Lloyds. And Coutts."

Grievous whistled.

"Grandmama Hell was –and is—and exceedingly good card player." 'Rhett spread his hands, "Now, I have to provide a 'Full address'. Also a telephone number."

"Where will you stay? I dare say all the red tape will take a while?"

"Anything from 20 days to three months."

"You can get a passport done in a day, if you don't mind kicking your heels. Maybe you should deliver your forms in person."

Grievous looked him over, with the assessing eye of a Savile Row tailor. "A dark suit would suit you, white shirt, Windsor knot to your tie---a nice wide one, I should think. Look here, Sir, did you see Star Wars. With your Djinncraft business could you
wave a gentle hand like Obi-Wan Kenobi and murmur "This is plausible." That sort of trick could speed things along very nicely, I dare say."

Knight's Fork will probably come out of bookstore back rooms on Monday night. Meanwhile, Linnea has come through for me with a lovely quote.

I'm so thrilled, that I'd love to share it here:

“Another wacky and wicked romantic romp from the talented keyboard of Rowena Cherry! With her trademark droll humor, she attacks intergalactic politics, sets up a sizzling romance and throws in a colorful—and memorable—cast of characters that rivals the best that Monty Python ever produced. A wonderfully fun read.”
~Linnea Sinclair, RITA® award winning author of SHADES OF DARK

I'm in the middle of a blog tour, and producing a radio special in honor of Sea Otter Awareness week in about four hours' time.

Please look out for me on star_crossedromance, also on BittenByBooks, and on Melissa Schroeder's blogspot blog. All tomorrow.

Best wishes,

Rowena Cherry

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week starts September 27:


This issue lies close to my heart — partly, of course, as a matter of principle. I'm a radical free-speech and privacy-rights proponent. I have a pragmatic motive, too, though. Many books I love reading, as well as several I've written, would be prime targets for censorship if such a policy became law in our country or various communities. Remember, within living memory LADY CHATTERLY'S LOVER and ULYSSES, more discreet than multitudes of steamy romances on bookstore shelves today, were forbidden to be sold in the United States.

So celebrate Banned Books Week by reading something provocative!


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Dragon con

Hi All,
Dragon Con in Atlanta over Labor Day weekend was fun and crazy and I have lots of pictures to post. I got to share a booth with fellow authors Sandra Hill, Lori Handeland and Susan Sizemoore. In addition, I ended up at a signing with the wonderful Peter David and really cool, I ate at the same table as Anne McCaffrey. All in all it was a great time.

Enjoy the pictures below--oh and if you're wondering, I'm 5 foot 7 1/2 inches tall.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

How To Learn To Use Theme As Art

Before we get to the topic - here's my posting schedule.
Tuesday September 30th is Rosh Hashannah, Oct 14 and 21 are the holidays of Succoth and Shmini Atzeret that nobody's ever heard of because it's not on most USA calendars. Wednesday the 22nd is Simchas Torah that some people may have heard of -- so I won't be posting then and I doubt I'll have time to write something for Rowena to post for me.

However, this below is at least double my usual posting size which is already triple what a blog post ought to be. And the ideas discussed last week, the week before, and now here this week are pretty heavy stuff. So giving you some time to digest it all seems like a good idea.

If anyone is actually reading all this, please let me know what you'd like to discuss next. I have two topics in mind. One we've kicked around on this blog quite a lot -- why it is that the Romance genre is so disparaged? And another writing craft topic -- exactly HOW does a writer use an "outline?" Where can you get a blank outline to fill in and write your novel? On the third hand, maybe something else will occur to me. So unless you ask, you might not get either of those topics from me.

Now to the topic.
How To Learn To Use Theme As Art

Believe it or not, the way to learn to use theme as art is to practice meticulous worldbuilding.

What is meticulous worldbuilding? It doesn't necessarily have to be done consciously. You can program your subconscious to create universes around your characters, to wrap the background around the character in such a way that it makes logical sense that this character would do this thing at this time in the character's life -- and that the blowback from the action it would cause the character to learn an important lesson and change because of it.

But how do you do that? How do you train your subconscious to create universes that "work" in fiction, worlds that are "meticulously" built?

Beginners and amateurs (and outsiders from the writing profession) believe that whatever is going on in their own imaginations constitutes a story, a novel, a movie. They believe what they dream, imagine, wish, hope for, or dread is Art and is an "idea for a story."

Nothing could be farther from the truth -- and still be exactly, precisely, meticulously true at the same time!

When an untrained beginner "has an idea" -- they get fired up with the conviction that this idea is unique, and that its value commercially lies in its uniqueness, and that they therefore must take the advice of lawyers and authors of great properties like Superman and protect themselves from people who want to "steal their idea."

This fallacy leads them swiftly down a blind alley. Some go looking for a ghost writer or co-author -- a writer with writer's skills to "turn this idea into a money maker."

All professionals have been approached by (and mystified by) people who say, "I have this great commercial idea, but I just need someone to write it. I'll give you half the money!"

And all professionals are beset by people who have written a story, novel, script, whatever, and "I just want you to rewrite it; you know, give it a little polish." Or suggestions that they will use to polish it.

The amateur possessed by An Idea seeks a very specific emotional payoff. Nothing a professional writer can do to their material will produce that payoff. That's why there are so many unsuccessful collaborations or ghost-writer contracts. That's why professionals don't want to touch an amateur's idea -- doing so leads into a quagmire of the very internal, very personal, unique-to-the-idea-generator, emotional search for satisfaction.

That imagined satisfaction would come, the amateur believes, from "seeing my story in print." Or on stage or in film.

Hence the huge market for self-publishing. There is a small percentage of books which ought to be self-published -- but it is not a huge market. Predators have enlarged that market because amateurs will pay to see their book in print. What the amateur hasn't grasped is that nobody wants to read their story. The devastation they experience is usually not handled well.

The big gaping difference between the amateur and the professional writer is not whether you make actual money off your words, but rather whether you understand the mechanism inside you that produces IDEAS.

Do you know what an "idea" is, where it comes from, and what to do with it once you have it?

Amateurs believe their ideas are unique and therefore sellable.

Professionals know that among their ideas are a few really valuable ones that can be monetized because the idea is NOT UNIQUE.

If it's personal, it's not sellable but rather "self-indulgent."

A professionally saleable idea is universal. It is a perfect reticulation of an archetype (one archetype per story; not half a dozen of them at once). It can't be given away to another writer to write because everyone already has it. And therefore it can't be stolen.

Hollywood is full of stories about writers who had been circulating a script on a given topic or background - an idea - and when a movie comes out using that idea, the amateur sues the producer or company for plagiarism. As I said - some amateurs don't handle rejection well because they don't understand the concept of An Idea plus the concept of Monetizing An Idea.

The thing which makes an idea worth money to a publisher or producer is that the seeds of it already reside within the audience, and probably every writer on earth, past, present, and future. It will be recognized as "mine" by a vast number of people.

The amateur "has an idea" and it is "mine." And therefore, they believe, proprietary stock in trade.

The amateur who writes such an idea up into a novel or script produces what Marion Zimmer Bradley referred to as a "self-indulgent story." It's a story about themselves, not about humanity.

The amateur is trying to write about his/her own personal experience of the world, of people. The amateur produces what became labeled in Star Trek fanzines as the "Mary Sue" story -- where the main character is an avatar of the author. When the author is not conscious of that mechanism, the resulting story is even worse.

The amateur who is unaware is enthusiastically and ritualistically indulging him/herself telling their own personal story -- without grounding in the archetype.

The professional (even one who has never sold) is not telling their own personal story -- but is telling YOUR STORY, the audience's story, the world's story, a readership or viewership's story -- a constituency's story.

The process of telling someone else's story is not clinical, intellectually distanced, calculated, deliberate.

The professional does something different from what the amateur does only in that moment after the self-indulgent personal story has burst into consciousness.

The professional takes the personal story that erupts from the subconscious and traces it back to its roots in the archetype that runs that professional's own personality.

For more on archetypes and your personality and your personal life and how you fit into the set of patterns common to all humanity -- psychology, timed-patterns of life's challenges, and the "lessons" life hurls at you personally -- see Astrology and the Tarot.

Many of the blazing, world-wide instant classics are actually stories which are visible in the writer's natal chart -- but not in their lives. Karmic stories from past lives, perhaps, or unrealized potential.

If you don't like that esoteric approach, read a lot (hundreds) of biographies and autobiographies, learn sociology, psychology, anthropology, archeology, etc etc. Actually, it's a good idea to have a solid grounding in all these anyway, but Tarot and Astrology do provide shortcuts and for some people clarification. For others, they are nonsense.

The point is that somewhere inside the amateur and the professional writer lies something totally personal, absolutely unique, the purest definition of Identity, which is at the same time also completely universal, utterly common, the purest definition of Society.

Astrology depicts this graphically in the opposition of the 1st House by the 7th House.

So, at the interface between the very, VERY personal -- and the infinite, the divine, the root commonality of all humanity -- Art is born.

At this innermost sanctum of your being, you grok or perceive the core pattern of existence, a core that you share with many other human beings, none of whom are anything like you.

Your recognition of what you have in common with others who are less articulate than you are is your stock in trade, the Art you can monetize commercially.

Yet your recognition has no value without that twist, turn, flip, color, depth, variation on the themes that is uniquely you.

Each human being is likewise unique.

One of the myriad things we have in common, and thus can learn from Art, is how each of us is unique and yet the same.

That's why Hollywood insists that scripts be "fresh and edgy -- totally original" and at the same time "exactly like some big, huge blockbuster success." Huge blockbuster successes are huge because they are rooted in an archetype, something Blake Snyder terms "Primal."

What we all find comfortably familiar is uniqueness.

The Art of storytelling lies in showing (without telling) the reader/viewer how the uniqueness of a character traces back down into the subconscious, deep, deep, abstract, theoretically, ineffably, to that divine spot in Creation where we are all the same.

The Artist (in any medium) connects the celebration of our uniqueness to the safety of our sameness.

That act of showing without telling the nature of the connection between the unique and the archetype is the one skill the professional has -- that the amateur doesn't (yet).

Depicting the connection can be learned -- maybe even taught.

SEEING that connection can not be learned or taught. It is the Art that is born within. It is the core skill of the magician -- perceiving the True Name of a Thing and thus gaining power over that thing.

It is a Gift.

Because of that universal fact, we have the burgeoning field of the Adult Fantasy novel -- thick novels filled with elaborate worldbuilding and characters who are born with magic, and others who are not. It's a juvenile premise -- some have Talent denied to others. But it's juvenile because it's primal, an archetype. Like all archetypes, it's both true and false at the same time. The Archetype exists above the level of reality where true and false first divide (see my books on The Tarot -- The Not So Minor Arcana.)

So the Artist's job is to connect the celebration of our uniqueness (the part the amateur writer gets very well indeed) to the more abstract security and safety of our sameness - the safety in numbers, the safety in protections of Law and Privilege and Riches, the safety of joining a gang, marrying a strong man.

The juxtaposition of Celebration and Safety -- exuberance and relaxation -- the simultaneous experience of these two opposites is exactly analogous to orgasm.

That's why the end of a book is called a climax.

The ability to find that connection is a Gift, a Talent -- a Vision. The connection itself is not yours. You don't own it. You don't have a proprietary interest in it. You can't sell it. The only thing that is yours, that you can sell, is your way of describing that connection.

We haven't discussed this aspect of writing before because the method relies on gaining a solid grasp of what Art is, where it comes from, and how to practice it, either commercially or as "fine art." Commercial fiction is one thing -- Creative Writing is another, more akin to "fine art" than to reaching a huge, artistically illiterate audience.

Previously, we've discussed the thematic sub-structure of various sized stories and how using that thematic backbone lets you paint on a much larger canvas, using more point of view characters.

All these different writing skills we've been discussing previously are actually not a hundred different, separate skills to be mastered only separately. They are actually just one single, unified thing.

Once you have:

1) read about one of these skills (Worldbuilding, Description, Dialogue, Action, Suspense, Exposition (yes, you need exposition, just not in lumps), Pacing, Dramatizing, Characterization, Motivation, Conflict, Resolution, Climax, etc etc)

2)read some more novels, dissecting out how different authors use these individual skills, then tried writing bits and pieces of something exercising that skill

3)then (and only then) you must start to practice integrating them.

Here we're talking about Art-Theme Integration, probably the easiest cross-term to master yet the hardest to describe.

With each and every individual writing skill, you work on it separately, master it separately (producing your million words for the garbage can because a finished Work needs all the skills simultaneously, but you must produce work which uses ONLY ONE skill at a time in order to train your subconscious), then integrate each separate skill with each and every previously mastered skill. Yep. Actually learn to walk and chew gum; pat your tummy and rub your head; whirl a plate on a stick and juggle four balls.

It's a program you put yourself through systematically. Writing is a performing art and you train to do it just exactly the way a ballet dancer trains for the Met. Ballet teachers don't let you go en pointe on day one of your training. Writing teachers don't let you start your magnum opus on day one of the class.

Like any performing art, writing takes training -- much more training than skill or even talent.

The more systematically you work on it -- the faster your subconscious will start to comply. Remember subconscious can not be taught, but it can be trained. It has the intelligence of a dog. You need kindness, consistency, and positive reinforcement not punishment to alter a behavior.

Well, all this is very nice -- very theoretical, very pie-in-the-sky, and very inspiring.


What do you do with your mind to find that vision inside you which SEES the ART with which the universe is put together?

Very simple. You live in the real world. Daily. You pay attention to the real world around you.

That's how you train your subconscious to do fictional worldbuilding. It's the same training a graphic artist goes through. There's a trick to using your eyes to see what is there and how it would look in 2 dimensions that would suggest the 3rd dimension.

If your readers are going to believe the world you build -- it has to be congruent with the world they live in even though it lacks a dimension or more. So you need to learn a trick.

People (you included) live in their own subjective realities -- some components dictated by social sanction, some by personal needs, some by family needs, etc. but all very subjective.

Remember that THEME is a statement that your work of Art makes -- theme is what you have to say about that connection between the infinitely personal and the ineffably universal.

But if you simply write what you have worked out about that connection, you end up with (likely a better selling) a non-fiction work on a topic using a thesis, not a story about a character illustrating a theme.

The THEME is what you have to say. Once you have had "an idea" then traced it back to its roots in the ineffable which resides inside you, found how it connects to everyone else in the world, you are standing there in your mind looking at this discovery, screaming WOW!!!

Now you are seized with an irresistible urge to run back and TELL EVERYONE about this incredible discovery.


That urge to TELL EVERYONE is your theme trying to be born out of your Art.

What are you going to SAY????? To whom? Who would have a chance of understanding this abstract, intangible, free floating feeling of a concept?

If you run out your front door and start babbling to the garbage truck driver -- what will happen?

In my first award winning novel, UNTO ZEOR, FOREVER, there's a quotation I wrote as part of the thematic statement of the novel. This was my second published novel and I did attempt more skills than I had. So I used a "device" to nail the theme -- quotations from a hypothetical work. One of them does, I believe, hold true in the real world.

"You can not give Wisdom as a Gift."

You can't tell someone a fact and transfer your wisdom into their heads.

And if you manage to couch the fact in Art and weave a novel around it -- the readers won't gain the wisdom you injected into it.

Marion Zimmer Bradley quoted this quote: The book the reader reads is not the book the writer wrote.

And that's OK. The reader shouldn't be reading YOUR book. That's what professionals understand that amateurs don't.

Make that credo your touchstone. The book the reader reads is not the book the writer wrote.
You can't go into that astral plane space in your head and bring back wisdom and inject it into the heads of your readers.

All you can do is assure them that there is a connection between their personal individuality and something larger that all humanity shares -- maybe with other species on other planets, too.

Yeah, I know -- that doesn't help at all when you're burning up to TELL THEM EVERYTHING.

So you must take this inner Artistic vision and turn it into 1 to 4 clean, clear, related, statements. This will be the theme, and maybe as many as 3 sub-themes that form the backbone of your work.

Everything in the work will either be derived from the theme or you will have to go through on second draft and select one of the themes from the pea-soup you wrote and then delete everything that doesn't explicate that theme. It's work. It's what you do for a living. Delete.

It's a process. It takes practice to do it with precision.

Now, how do you tell if you've arrived at a thematic statement derived from your artistic vision that actually does reside within most all humanity? Or at least your audience?

You can get lost in your imagination. You need to do a reality check both before you dive into your mind to find the connection between your view of reality and everyone else's view of reality -- and after you've returned with your theme burning holes in your mind.

There are a lot of things writers do on a day to day basis that fosters the subconscious' ability to identify these "universal themes" and to particularize or individualize the universality into something unique that is not the writer's own self.

A lot of writers just wander over to the mall, sit on a bench and people-watch. Actors do that too.

Some go to movies and watch the audience at least as much as they watch the movie.

Some join clubs, do volunteer work, work for the Red Cross disaster services, volunteer for political campaigns. Well, everyone does something like that -- but writers spend their time while doing these things OBSERVING.

That's the key word. OBSERVING. Just like a graphic artist. Just like any performing artist.

Performing Arts usually require 2 opposite skills. First there's the writer who creates the script -- then the actors who perform it. The choreographer who designs the dance -- the dancers who perform it.

Writers find their "script" or choreography or sheet music on the astral plane, in that space inside where the individual connects to the ineffable. The UNIVERSE is already written -- it's your script. Once you've been given your script, you must perform it.

By training your ability to OBSERVE -- like a detective, or a professional athelete, or a river boat pilot, an actor, a musician learning a song by hearing it -- honing your ability to observe until you could happily trust your life to it, you train your subconscious to see the patterns beneath reality.

You will know you have a viable commercial property when you find a self-indulgent, personally inspired IDEA connected to an Archetype which you have seen expressed in your outer-reality in several ways recently. When that happens, it means the universal consciousness is engaged in the issue and ready to listen to what you have to say on the subject. When you have a MATCH between the archetype you have discovered and the subject a lot of people are engaged in, you have a commercial property.

And you can talk about that idea, rave about it to everyone, try your best to 'GIVE IT AWAY' and you won't be able to.

It's commerical value can't be stolen from you, plagiarized, etc -- because it arises from the Art which is uniquely your own. No matter how you shout about it -- no other writer will be able to write your book.

Of course, after you've put all the words down -- yeah, people can steal your words, so they have to be protected by copyright every which way you can think of.

That's the business of writing.

But the professional knows that ideas are cheap, plentiful, but can't be stolen.

Nobody is interested in your personal ideas except you. What is personal to you is personal to you -- boring to anyone else.

Read some biographies and you'll see. What is interesting about a unique person is how they are actually just like you and me.

Isn't that what people are searching for in a Presidential Candidate? Someone they can relate to who understands what life is like for them?

So how do you pull this off? How do you train yourself to see, at one and the same instant, both the intensely personal and the unifying ineffable?

Watch television. You never know what you'll see after you've spent some years training your OBSERVATIONAL SKILLS.

Here's an example. Very personal.

I recently watched a few clips of the Summer Olympic games in China. And I've seen many news clips of Chinese government meetings, stock trading floors, etc. And there were a number of clips I saw of Chinese rescue officials working after a big earthquake.

I SAW at that time, the visible evidence of the underlying social sanctions of the Ancient and Modern Chinese culture -- which I know from archeology and anthropology go back thousands of years.

China is a culture where the individual is secondary, the family, the town, the group is primary. The family name is given first -- the personal name second -- and they don't put a comma between to show they've been reversed in order.

The value of the individual is how they FIT IN - how they are THE SAME. People who work in an assembly plant wear uniforms. They move the same. They gather at the same hour before work to do Tai Chi or some exercises -- all in UNISON.

This never astonished me or attracted my attention before the 2008 political conventions were broadcast.

Of course, China is like that. We all know that. What's to notice?

Many times, I've heard interviews with business people in the new China where it is possible for private individuals to establish businesses. Over and over, I've heard native Chinese who were educated in America point out that China doesn't INNOVATE -- but they're real real good at copying.

With the heating up of the 2008 political campaigns, I had occasion to stare at the US Natal Chart -- we have an Aquarius MC with an Aquarius Moon right on the MC. Our business in the world, our reason for existence is to be DIFFERENT. To Innovate. To Need Freedom! To be individuals first. We have a Cancer (home; mother; apple pie; nurturing; business incubators) on the 2nd House -- our main value is the FAMILY. But the family supports the individual -- not the other way around.

When I saw the conventions in the USA, (a lot of it I watched on C-SPAN so I saw things the networks neglected to broadcast because it's boring) I observed something I had seen before but not observed.

There were thousands of people in the auditorium (for both conventions - same image), and they were all dressed alike, but no two were wearing the same thing. Each day and evening had its "uniform." (casual; dress casual; office casual; semi-formal; formal) But G-d forbid two women would buy their dresses in the same store!

Well, no -- there were some delegations that had adopted hats, scarves, jackets to distinguish their state. DISTINGUISH their individuality. But even the people who were "in uniform" -- were all differently dressed in some other way. Balloons on their heads, stovepipe Dr. Seuss hat, etc. And their body language was distinctive, too.

A similar gathering of Chinese who were intent on the formal installation of a political figure to an office would have been really dressed alike. They would sit in their seats, feet on the floor, eyes front, and cheer in unison in all the right places. In China, ceremony is ceremony.

The USA delegations (both parties) during many of the speeches (except the main ones network broadcast, but even then!!!) milled about their seats, talked to people privately, totally self-absorbed in their conversations, came and went -- whole sections were empty at times -- stopped once in a while to applaud a speaker, and a few actually listened. But each adopted an individual seated posture.

Even during the major speeches, TV interviewers nabbed celebrities for an aside conversation while the other celebrity was speaking!

Both conventions' speakers were speaking to a milling throng of individuals, not an audience.

There I am paralyzed by this VISION -- what would a Chinese citizen who had never seen anything American in their life THINK of America to see this?

I know what I think of China to see the way they behave.

I have seen political conventions, and other huge gatherings of Americans on TV before, and the audiences looked normal to me, un-remarkable, practically invisible. Everyone is like that everywhere I go -- so what's to notice?

Suddenly - everything is to notice! That's what observation is.

My extremely negative reaction to Chinese public behavior must be mirrored in the average Chinese person's reaction to American public behavior.

I would assume the images of the convention delegates' behavior broadcast world wide by at least CNN, if not many other networks, must be telling the Chinese that Americans don't take government seriously, that these American people know they have no sayso in how this election comes out, all decisions are made in the back room just like in China, the people have no power, and that they really don't care who becomes President of the USA anyway. All Americans care about is themselves as individuals.

Most of all, those images of our public behavior have to mean to the Chinese that we have no strength, no substance, no guts, and will be easily beaten.

OK, you may disagree with "what" I saw and how I've expressed it here. That's actually good. It means you have a VISION and therefore are an ARTIST and will eventually find a THEME to turn into a novel.

My point is that from the ambient "reality" I have extracted a contrast-compare essay subject, two cultures alien to one another.

Take that attribute, individuality vs. the collective, and worldbuild a galactic civilization, find characters who are in conflict because of the differing philosophies -- and you have something which can communicate to all the people who have seen these TV images I've described (millions).

Translated into thematic language, you would have Individuality Poisons Society. Or maybe The Individual Must Reign Supreme. Only through the group can prosperity be safe. Humanity's progress depends on the individual secure in personal freedom.

Apply to that some specific individualities, connect the individuals to the archetypes, cut, trim and hone a theme from all that, and you are ready to plot a novel.

Well, you are ready if you've studied enough philosophy to understand the long history of the argument and conflict between the individual and the collective (1st House/ 7th House in Astrology -- which lies athwart the perennial conflict of 10th House, 4th House -- career and home).

You don't study philosophy etc to find out what you think. You need it to know what your readership thinks so you can talk to them in a language they understand.

There is an old adage that you have no doubt seen in almost every book on writing you've read: Write What You Know.

You can't do that if you don't know anything.

It doesn't mean use your own profession, home, family, neighbors, school, education or job as what you write about.

You know this cliche: "I've forgotten more about XYZ than you will ever know!"

What does that mean? Think about it. It means this elder has reached the point of being an ARTIST in his field -- working mostly from the subconscious and thus producing results far superior to those produced by a neo who has to think about everything.

What "you know" -- is what you've forgotten.

And that's what you should write about -- that's where your Art can define THEMES for you.

In order to have forgotten something -- you must first learn it.

So the business of being a commercial writer is the business of learning something about everything. There is no field that isn't professional training for a writer.

That's nice because writer-types generally have an eclectic and far-ranging curiosity about everything but don't tend to stick with a subject long enough to become professional in it, at least not unless it involves the use of words.

Once you have a firm grasp of how the world works, and how it looks and seems to others, you can build fictional worlds that seem realistic to others. To accomplish that, you will have to use Theme as your main Artistic Medium.

So if you're a professional writer, you have an excuse to self-indulgently become a dilletante!

But that only works if you then use what you've forgotten to produce deathless prose!

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, September 21, 2008

How to handle a villain....

I'm not sure why, but as I struggle to find something useful and profound to say tonight (and I'd really appreciate some help, because my publisher has offered me a showcase blog to help launch Knight's Fork) I can hear the late Richard Harris singing "How to Handle a Woman" from the musical "Camelot".

In the musical, "the wise old man" --whom I assume was Merlin-- advised King Arthur to handle Guinevere by simply loving her.

Didn't work, did it? Maybe King Arthur didn't take the advice? Of course, according to some versions of the legend, Merlin was a questionable authority on the ladies, and ended up losing his skin.

How to handle a villain?



How about loving him (or her?)

Let's think about that. I'm the writer. He's my brain child. It's my duty to love him, even if in the end, the greatest love I can show for my flawed and twisted child is to hand him over to the proper authorities, and hope that he is happier in a new incarnation.

Perhaps, if I wrote plot-driven romances I wouldn't agonize so much over my villains, but I write character-driven romances. I'm not the only one.

Janet Walker has a series of creative interviews with her own and other authors' villains on her Eclectic Writer blog.
Eclectic Writer

Just as I like my heroes to be slightly morally questionable, so I like my villains to be likeable --or at least entertaining-- when they want to be. As I wrote of Tarrant-Arragon (who is either hero or antagonist) his civilized veneer curls up at the edges.

There's a quote I see occasionally in someone's sig file. "If you've nothing nice to say, come sit by me."

If "reality television" reflects popular taste, we like to hear the dirt being dished, if it is done with wit and charm. Or even if it isn't.

For that reason alone, it's probably well worth cultivating our villains and giving them a plausible rationale for their actions... or not if we have enough scenes to show our antagonist's slide down the slippery slope! Sometimes, one mistake or piece of opportunism can snowball.

Django-Ra was my most heinous villain. Compared with him, the others are mere rivals, political opponents, adversaries, irritants. He hasn't received one note from any admirer ever. I shall be most interested to see--as time goes by--which of the enemies who surround 'Rhett in Knight's Fork attracts the cyber boos and hisses.

Good night.


Unabashed... well, not quite... (Promo)

KNIGHT'S FORK is a page-turner from the very first one to the very last. I enjoyed it so much, after I reached the last page I started right from the beginning again. KNIGHT’S FORK has it all! If you only have time to read one book this season, I highly recommend you run out and grab a copy today.

~Kimberly Leslie


Three other reviews have been posted on Amazon, and the book is in stock, as are Forced Mate and Insufficient Mating Material

What is a queen to do when the sperm donor of her dreams says no?

Carpe Scrotum. Seize Life by the Testicles! The Queen Consort of the Volnoth needs a sperm donor and only one green-eyed god has the right stuff. Little does she know that she has pinned all her hopes on the crown jewels of the fabled Royal Saurian Djinn. Not only is he the son of her greatest enemy, but he has taken a vow of chastity.

Knight's Fork continues the alien romance series of the god-Princes of Tigron, begun with Forced Mate. It takes up right after the grand downfall of my most heinous villain in Insufficient Mating Material, and this time the hero is 'Rhett.

'Rhett has incurred the resentment of his elder brothers/cousins for his more-virtuous-than-thou attitude, his spoilsport interference when they want irresponsible sex with unsuitable partners, and simply because he is his father's only son. They decide that he must be hiding a sordid secret, and they set out to find out who she is.

Rowena Cherry

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Cheating Gene

Have you read about the "cheating gene"? Here's one column commenting on the research:


It seems that some men have a genetic predisposition to intimacy and fidelity, because their bodies produce an abundance of a hormone familiarly known as the "cuddle chemical." Others, who suffer from a deficiency of this hormone, supposedly have trouble with monogamy. This discovery offers apparent support to the mechanistic philosophy that free will is an illusion, because our actions are controlled by genes, hormones, or neural wiring.

Does a genetic predisposition equate to "they just can't help it"? As a believer in free will, I maintain that biological determinists are confusing two levels of causation. Why did I write the previous sentence? Because nerve impulses traveled from my brain to my hands and caused my fingers to strike certain keys; because I wanted to communicate an idea to the readers of this paragraph. Both true. Why does a man decide to marry a particular woman? Because millions of years of evolution have produced a tendency to view people of the opposite sex with certain physical characteristics as good mates on account of their potential to produce healthy offspring; because the aesthetic conventions of our culture have conditioned him to regard a woman of her type as attractive; because he has been thrown together with her at a time in his life when he is ready to settle down, and proximity stimulates attachment; because the man and woman have become intimately acquainted, sharing important values and developing appreciation for each other's personality and physical appeal. All of these "causes" may be true, without negating the couple's freedom to make a decision about their future together.

I cling to the belief that each sapient being has—or is—a “self” that makes decisions and choices, although inborn traits and environmental influences shape the available choices (and some people suffer from mental illnesses or other handicaps that severely limit their power to choose or avoid certain behavior). The current theory of some neuroscientists that not only free will but even consciousness is a convenient illusion constructed by the brain to make sense of a chaotic whirlpool of impulses and responses still leaves me to wonder who’s doing the constructing and embracing the illusion. As C. S. Lewis paraphrased the version of this philosophy current in the mid-twentieth century, “all this time, almost nobody has been making category mistakes about almost nothing.” Nope, doesn’t work for me.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What You Can Do In A Novel That You Can't Do In A Movie

Novels, especially long ones, can draw a reader into complexities, depths, abstractions, theory of life, the universe, and everything -- with a variegated texture impossible to duplicate in a motion picture. Novels can argue for and against several propositions at the same time. Films -- because of the nature of how the human brain assimilates information -- simply can't do that.

In addition, today's viewers are conditioned to bits that can be sandwiched between commercials. Many young people who do not read printed text at all prefer to spend their entertainment hours watching short videos on YouTube or comic/animation websites, stories broken into webisodes.

At theaters, the management offers popcorn refills you can go get in the middle of the movie.

People can't sit still for more than an hour these days. And most 20-somethings are so conditioned to the 40 minute class or TV show that they see nothing wrong with their disability. They think it's normal to be unable to sit still for three hours. They think it an unusual imposition, an irrational demand, to pay attention to one thing and one thing only for three hours. (hence many workplaces now allow texting and surfing while at the work-desk)

And the same is true of reading novels. Though some fantasy genres are able to sell very thick novels (about 600 printed pages), most books have become shorter. And if they're not shorter, they are more "thinly" plotted, structured like movies.

People live their lives and imbibe their fiction in sound-bytes and 5-minute YouTube videos. To understand, comprehend, and grok a really complex theme, the reader must be able to remember what happened on page 20 by the time they get to page 620. Modern life does not foster this ability.

Books on how to write novels don't even explain how to construct a long, long novel that isn't over-written, fat, wandering, shapeless and boring with a sag in the middle.

So I was delighted when a student writer asked me (and then reminded me) to explain the structure of very long novels, with emphasis on how to structure a novel for 3 viewpoint characters, even if they're all protagonists.

It's really very simple to do, but infernally difficult to explain.

In order to understand how to craft such a long novel that doesn't sag in the middle or peter out at the end, you have to have a firm grasp of the basics of structure that I've discussed previously.

Protagonist, antagonist, conflict, beginning, middle, end, and THEME.

And the most important structural component in a long piece is THEME.

A short story (under 7,500 words) can have one theme, and only ONE. It must be something very clear, starkly simple, mostly concrete -- something you can say in 3 to 10 words. "Life is Just A Bowl Of Cherries" -- "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished" -- a bumper sticker.

A novelette (to 17,500 words) can have a DOMINANT THEME and 1 SUB-THEME (and only one).

A novella (17,500 to 40,000) can have a DOMINANT THEME and 2 SUB-THEMES (only 2).

A NOVEL (40,000 words and up) (up to any length) can (but doesn't have to have) a DOMINANT THEME and UP TO 3 SUB-THEMES and no more than 3.

I did not make this up. I learned it in the Famous Writer's Course (a correspondence course on how to write fiction which I completed in the 1970's).

I've been a professional reviewer since the 1980's and a paid reviewer for The Monthly Aspectarian since 1993. I've read a lot of books in addition to the books I read just because I want to. I have NEVER seen this above paradigm of thematic relationships successfully violated.

If you want to see how it works in practice, read the early draft of my Sime~Gen Novel, UNTO ZEOR, FOREVER which is titled SIME SURGEON and posted for free reading at
http://www.simegen.com/sgfandom/rimonslibrary/surgeon/SURGEON1.html Then read UNTO ZEOR, FOREVER (which had a HC edition and a paperback edition so you might find a copy somewhere).

The difference is the thematic structure paradigm strictly enforced, rigidly applied -- because my editor at Doubleday insisted or no publication. Her favorite mantra "It isn't clear" -- comes from how she searches for that thematic structure and the inner relationships between the sub-themes. But she, like most writers, does that subconsciously.

Marion Zimmer Bradley was a seat-of-the-pants writer who let her subconscious work out of conscious sight. Don't ask a centipede how it walks! If you don't naturally think in terms of THEME on first draft, don't try to "learn" how.

It is not a thing that can be learned. However, if you do work thematically naturally, but are untrained in how to do it -- you can learn to perfect your performance. (Remember: Writing Is A Performing Art).

It doesn't matter how you get to the final, finished product -- only that you do get there. So if you must write a very long novel and don't work with theme in your outline stage -- you will just have to rewrite.

A 2 hour movie uses up the material that would fit somewhere between a short story and a novelette. At the very most about 20,000 words of narrative text makes a 110 page film script.

A long running TV series like the 20 years of GUNSMOKE would be a series of novels. A miniseries like THE WHEELERS, can be a series of big fat novels shrunk to the small screen.

So if you're structuring a novel that you hope one day will become a motion picture, try to stay with one, single, monotone, theme.

If you can't construct a novel that will come out to about 40,000 to 80,000 words with one single dominant and clear theme -- then you really won't be able to do the longer forms.

If you attempt the longer form without the primary skills, you will end up with furious, emergency rewrites to order from an editor who has no idea what you really meant -- because you didn't make it clear.

If you write using THEME to structure your work, you will be able (with practice) to write and sell a second or at most 3rd draft of a 160,000 word novel.

If your subconscious is well trained in doing this thematic work, you may be able to do that without actually knowing that you're doing it. Then only minor rewriting will be necessary.

Whether you do it consciously or unconsciously, your finished product must fit this paradigm in order to succeed as a story. If it doesn't fit -- you might sell it; you might get it through editorial with minor hassles; you might even excite a lot of readers. But you won't find your novel still on the shelves years later, and you won't have a drawer full of respectable reviews that you are proud of.

In order for bloggers to talk about your book -- they need to have an idea of what your book says. And what your book says is your THEME.

If you can't find the themes of the novels you read, you need to practice until you can. Some people learn by example, so here's an example from my blog last week.

Michelle West's THE HIDDEN CITY -- is a tour de force of thematic clarity and complexity.

As should be the case, the title is the theme. This novel is about the hiddenness of entire communities.

The novel follows two points of view until well into the story where the universe has been clearly laid out -- then bits of other points of view are woven cleanly into the text.

There are 2 major point of view characters, protagonists both. But they have a conflict between them -- that resides HIDDEN within each. Their relationship gradually reveals what is hidden inside them as they gather other people about themselves -- each of which has something hidden inside that they must learn about. The reader learns what is hidden, and some of it is revealed to the character who is hiding it -- but not to the other character.

These are not "secrets" -- these are things that exist but the character is not aware of their own subconscious issues until events and relationships reveal them later in the book. They can then become "secrets" -- a thing which is known but deliberately withheld.

The setting is a city built over the remains of an ancient ruin -- which only the protagonists know how to enter. Below their normal reality lies a HIDDEN CITY.

So the physical setting explicates the psychological theme.

Then the antagonists as they are introduced through offstage action (hidden from view at first) turn out to be something very different from what they appear to be on the surface.

When the protags and antags finally come to a gigantic confrontation, much is revealed -- only to lead to more questions about what may yet be hidden from view.

One point of view character is a magic-user -- and the "hidden" and also "secret" nature of magical power is thematically discussed through her.

So the setting is HIDDEN, the characters have inner traits hidden from themselves, they hide things from each other, and the final action is triggered by lessons in impersonating those above or beneath your station in life and thus finding things within yourself that have been hidden from your consciousness.

Everything in the novel relates to that theme of HIDDEN.

HIDDEN is the DOMINANT THEME and it pervades everything in the novel, every description (even the various places they live).

There are 3 sub-themes. A sub-theme is another statement about the broader, more abstract or philosophical Dominant Theme.

The dominant theme DOMINATES the other 3. These are not 4 separate statements about the nature of reality. You can't find a set of 4 themes to write a novel about by randomly choosing philosophical statements from a book of quotations, your personal cardfile of story ideas, or just by picking a thought that occurs to you as "neat!"

These are an AXIOM and 3 POSTULATES derived from that axiom and proved by it. Think Boolean Algebra. Think Tetragrammaton. PROVED by it -- shown not told. Dramatized truths.

One of the sub-themes in THE HIDDEN CITY is virginity. One character is a sexual virgin and a virgin in the sense that she's never killed a human being. Another character is neither kind of virgin -- BUT is a virgin in the sense that she has never had a family that cared about her.

The process of losing virginity is the process of REVEALING the adult hidden within the child. It was there all the time; you just weren't aware of it.

Two of the characters are so traumatized that they don't speak aloud -- so they invent a secret language of gestures. That serves a vital plot point at the ending. Nothing that is established is there just to explicate the theme -- everything must figure in the plot or it gets cut. Ruthlessly cut. (save it for the website) This very long novel is actually sparsely written -- there is not one word that should be cut. There is no decoration. Nothing is there simply because it's interesting. Every word is functional.

One of the characters makes a living (and gets embroiled in all this trouble) by exhuming archaeological treasures from the city beneath the city, treasures the antagonists are after for magical reasons. Reasons of POWER.

They are all abandoned by family, bereft, orphans all in different ways. Alone, they forge bonds of family among themselves and become a community in search of safety in the shadows.

The Dominant Theme pervades, but each sub-theme illuminates or discusses the dominant theme.

So we have
a) virginity hides the adult
b) archeology reveals the past
c) languages conceal and reveal magical power

And it's all done in show don't tell.

That's why I spent all of last week's blog entry raving about this book. I had picked up and discarded 3 huge novels and was feeling as though nothing good was being published this month -- and then I found this and couldn't put it down.

If you can't tell what a book is about by the bottom of page 1, it is not going to be a good book. I know. I've read a lot of books, turning pages and hoping.

What the story is about is the THEME. In a film, you should know within 2 minutes what the film is about -- and by the 5th minute (page 5 of the script) the theme will be stated, even if obliquely.

The first theme you introduce in a novel and lay out in dramatized detail is your DOMINANT THEME. Don't touch the sub-themes until chapter 2 or even chapter 5. Make sure your dominant theme is clear before you start discussing it.

If a reader doesn't want to read a book about your dominant theme's philosophy, you don't WANT them paying money for your book because they'll only go on amazon and write a scathing review dissing your book! Don't sucker the reader. Respect the reader. Tell them what you're talking about right on page one (but not in so many words).

Take the first line of Marion Zimmer Bradley's first version THE SWORD OF ALDONES. We were outstripping the night. The whole novel is about running away from metaphorical "darkness" -- evil, power let loose, subconscious guilts for letting power loose. The key confrontation that turns Regis Hastur's hair white is at NIGHT.

Take the opening image from her runner up for the Hugo, THE HASTUR GIFT. The riding party crests a ridge and looks down on the valley of Thendara -- the Comyn Tower across the town from the Terranan Tower at the space port. The book's main conflict is Magic vs. Technology and the THEME is the far reaching consequences of the knowledge of both (i.e. LOOKING DOWN -- seeing the pattern from above). Those who know must lead, even where none follow.

So, how do you take an idea that's been throbbing in your mind for years and turn it into a large novel that has this structure?

First you practice writing the single 75,000 word novel until you can do it in your sleep -- protagonist, antagonist, conflict, beginning, middle, end, THEME.

The large novel with 3 protagonists is just 3 of these novels, and it's not quite 3 times as long because you don't have to repeat the background.

Each of the sub-themes is the story of ONE protagonist - antagonist pair.

And they are bound together by the dominant theme, which is the one thing you really want to say about "life, the universe, and everything" -- with this novel. Each protagonist's story explicates and illuminates that one dominant theme.

So you have a "Star" and 3 "Co-Stars" or Supporting Actors. The co-stars must have lives, backstories, personal quirks and "buttons," internal conflicts and enemies which show-don't-tell the arguments for and against the thesis that forms the Dominant Theme.

A long, complex novel is an argument about the topic -- showing all sides of the issue, from different points of view. And eventually, the writer must "end" the novel with a conclusion to the argument -- but with a long novel where all sides of the issue have been thoroughly illustrated and discussed, the ending can be equivocal from the reader's point of view -- but the characters must come to a conclusion they intend to live with. In a sequel, that conclusion can be blasted to pieces -- but for the reader to be satisfied with the novel, the main characters must find some kind of peace on the main issue.

Take Classic Star Trek. It's classic because it's structured exactly this way with a Dominant Theme "Where No Man Has Gone Before" and two prominent sub-themes "Logic demands curiosity" and "Emotional health demands security".

Kirk - "Follow me!" (into the unknown for the sheer fun of it)
Spock - "Unknown, Captain" (therefore something to be pursued, solved, discovered)
McCoy - "I don't want my molecules scrambled - " (exploration isn't worth the risk)

Kirk, Spock and McCoy are 3 protagonists. Scotty, Uhura, Chekov, etc are SUPPORTING characters.

Now "who" are Kirk, Spock and McCoy? I learned from Gene Roddenberry while interviewing him for Star Trek Lives! that he always saw Kirk, Spock and McCoy as 3 parts of himself.

In other words, the 3 added up to ONE PERSON -- one whole, fully dimensional person.

So how do you write a novel with 3 protagonists so that the 3 themes are all sub-themes of the same dominant theme?

You start with ONE character -- one fully dimensional, whole, complete personality. Then you factor that personality into 3 parts.

Roddenberry used to say that Kirk, Spock and McCoy were himself in different moods.

So try that. Take one character you fully understand and plunge him/her into different moods. Or give them different backgrounds, upbringing, advantages and disadvantages - the same basic person actualized and realized by different challenges. Or in different incarnations.

The trick here is to do the exact opposite of what a reader does.

The READER sees 3 different characters and plunges into the story to find out how they RELATE to each other -- how they are parts of a whole.

The WRITER does the opposite. The writer sees 1 single whole character and plunges into the story to discover how that character manifests as 2 or 3 people.

Remember the protagonist and antagonist are reflections of each other. They are bound together into conflict by a single theme.

So each of the 3 protagonists has a theme (sub-theme to the whole novel) and a personal antagonist bound in a conflict which must be resolved by the end of the novel.

The first conflict to be introduced must be the last conflict to be resolved. See Marion Zimmer Bradley's CATCH TRAP. I watched her struggle with that ending word by word, event by event. It taught me how that structure must go, and how to take an imagined story and craft it into the structure. It means changing things that to you, as a writer, are so real that you scream, "No, that's not the way it HAPPENED!" But that's what it takes to craft a great novel which is a work of art, a work of a Performing Art.

In a work of art, every single element is a "reflection" of other elements.

You take one whole thing and display it in different versions, different lighting, different moods, different circumstances. To "perform" a long novel, the one thing you take (your raw material, your clay or paint or sounds) is your Dominant Theme.

Theme works this way in music too. Study how musical chords are constructed. Long novels are constructed just exactly that way -- around a group of themes that are related philosophically like the notes in a chord played in a key.

Ever heard of "keynote" -- and by extension "keynote address?" Think of your long novel as a convention and your dominant theme as the keynote address. Or the typical ending of a speech, "On that note, let me present to you -- "

Themes get their unity by starting out as one thing -- and then being factored into a series of related things. Poetry works the same way as a long novel -- no matter how long or short the poem, all the parts are about that one single idea, concept, notion.

It is that underlying unity of theme -- the ultimate pervasiveness of the dominant theme -- that gives your built universe verisimilitude -- that makes it seem real, possible, plausible enough for people to walk into it with you.

And in a longer work, what keeps the reader picking the book up every night rather than watching TV, is the precise relationship between the Dominant Theme and the Sub-themes -- how they argue the point of whether the thematic statement is true or not -- how the sub-themes prove the point (not whether they prove the dominant theme's point, because they must prove it, but HOW it happens!).

That's where the kind of suspense comes from that lasts after the book is put down -- and a longer work has to be constructed to be put down. Everyone has to pee sometime!

The reader wants to know HOW these characters will come to understand the truth of the dominant theme, while being reassured that they will come to that understanding. If the characters don't come to understand it - the reader will be disappointed. Failing to produce that understanding is the writer's cop-out, not a surprising "twist."

Having stated your dominant theme at the opening, drawn a clear picture, then introduced the sub-themes to argue, challenge and ultimately illuminate and support the dominant theme, you must (at the resolution of the conflict; as near the climax as possible) make it clear that the characters finally understand that Grand Truth represented by the dominant theme.

And you're taking a big chance when you do this. Half the readership will disagree with your idea of Grand Truth, Transcendental Truth, Self-Evident Truth. And they won't want to read your book because it's drivel.

The trick is to make your drivel so crystal clear, your statement of the nature of reality so penetrating and powerful, that it will be fun for your detractors to read so they can argue against your point.

In order to get people arguing against your point, you must MAKE YOUR POINT -- clearly. And that means you must use this thematic structure.

Once you get them arguing, though, your name will be all over the bloggosphere and amazon won't be able to keep your novel in stock.

You have to goose people into arguing the truth which is your Dominant Theme's statement.

I've given you two examples, THE HIDDEN CITY and STAR TREK. OK, let's do an exercise because you have to practice this to get it. But as I said, it's really easy to do if you've learned all the previous techniques we've discussed and have explored enough different philosophies to have something to say.

So let's create a dominant theme and 3 sub-themes.

Try this one:


a) Deadlines
b) Decisions
c) Ceremony, Formality

Take that and create 3 or 4 characters to illustrate the arguments.

a) Deadlines -- the character is a college student whose HS teachers always gave him extensions when he missed the deadline for an assignment. Now he's editor of the college newspaper (brilliant guy - think Barak Obama with time-management issues). It doesn't come out on time. The students impeach him.

b) Decisions: The College Dean advisor to the Newspaper must decide what to do about this kid who doesn't beleive in deadlines but is a brilliant newspaper editor.

c) Graduation -- The Valedictorian who wins his/her position over the Newspaper Editor. Maybe this is the Student Body President -- or a Football Star. The Newspaper Editor doesn't get his diploma at the graduation but the character who understands formality and ceremony does - and lands a great job, too.

OK, that was a quick, off the cuff exercise. If I were really going to write this theme set, it wouldn't be a college campus story.

Here's what to do to teach yourself to do this.

1) do this much of an outline (a, b, c, above) for 5 different stories, different settings, that could be titled THE GAVEL FALLS. Extend a, b, and c to be complete thematic statements such as -- "deadlines are for dodos" -- "decisions should always be hedged, CYA" -- "Ceremony doesn't count" Use your own variants -- push your imagination to find off-the-wall statements about these subjects.

2) create 5 more theme-sets and run the same exercise for each of the 5.

You can quit as soon as it becomes so easy, it's boring.

The drill is the point here, not "learning" but "practice." The better you condition your subconscious to think in theme-sets like this, the easier it will be when you sit down to write a long novel. Your subconscious will do all this work for you before telling you that you have an idea for a long novel.

Just remember a long novel is not a movie. To make it into one, a screenwriter will choose one of the sub-themes, make it dominant, then change it to be a statement the chosen audience for the movie will either agree with or violently disagree with. This could become the inverse of your own personal philosophy of life. (note what happened to Ursula LeGuin when Earthsea was made into a TV miniseries). When the theme changes, the characters change characteristics.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


Monday, September 15, 2008

Two Heads Are Better...

I've had the pleasure this past weekend to have friend and author Stacey Klemstein aka Stacey Kade as my houseguest. Besides the fact that Stacey and I get along hilariously well (even though I'm near her mother's age) it's wonderful to be able to talk--at any time--to another writer. Writing is such a solitary occupation (other than the five hundred or so people living in my head). And yes, while I certainly chat a lot with other authors and authors-to-be via email, there's something special about sitting in side by side rocking chair, feet on the railing, sucking down a beer (me) or Fuzzy Navel (her) on my front porch, debating plot structure, conflict and why we like dark-haired male protagonists better than blonds. Or whatever.

No, it's not the same as speaking to another author on the phone. It's just not.

We've hashed out a number of issues this weekend--she, on her second book and proposal for Hyperion (her first YA paranormal--The Ghost and The Goth--will be out in 2010) and me, the follow-up book to Hope's Folly (the third book in the Dock Five series.)

The fun thing about this Linnea-Stacey combo is we approach the craft of writing fairly differently. She's very much in the Vogler/Writer's Journey camp. I'm solidly Swain's Techniques of the Selling Writer. We both subscribe to Deb Dixon's GMC but even with that, we come at ideas and structure in different ways. Which means she gets me thinking and I get her thinking.

Over the past few years that we've been critters for each other, we found it works very well. We've even started teaching writing workshops together.

I know there are authors who don't use critters or beta-readers (I use both). I was in a workshop this weekend with Romance Divas where a few posted that fact. That's great if they don't need the feedback. Me, I do. That doesn't mean I incorporate every comment. But I do consider andl listen to them. Sometimes they prove I'm wrong in my writing and I make changes. Sometimes they prove I'm right. Sometimes I can see why the comment was made but I feel strongly that what and how I wrote it is how it has to be.

But I still need the feedback. Understand--for those of you who aren't authors--that by the time a manuscript gets to the final draft, the author has likely read it over (and over and over) dozens of times. The brain fills in words or meanings that may not actually be on the page. Honest, it does. Fresh eyes and another brain, to me, are very helpful.

On the flip side, helping Stacey dissect her work makes me see more clearly how and why I do things. Explaining a concept to her helps me incorporate it more effectively in my own prose.

It's really a win-win situation.

So I'm in final edits now on Hope's Folly. Bantam has the manuscript and my editor, Anne, is giving it her fresh eyes once over. She, too, will have changes or suggestions. Which, yes, I'll run by Stacey. She knows my characters and worlds as well as I do. Maybe even better.

So I guess that makes three heads...

BIC HOK! (Butt In Chair, Hands on Keyboard: the writer's war cry)


Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Saddest News About Joan Winston

I'm posting this on Sunday the 14th -- with news of what happened on 9/11/2008.

We have sadly lost one of the Greats of Star Trek fandom, Joan Winston.

Notice appears on Gene Roddenberry's page on imdb.com -- she would be so pleased.

Here is a different notice from one of her relatives:
It's with great sorrow that I share with you the news of the passing of Joan Winston earlier today. She was a wonderful and crazy woman that brought joy to many who shall remain with us as long as the conventions go on.

Services will be held Sunday September 14th, 2008 at the Plaza Funeral Home located at 630 Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan at 9:30am. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to The Hebrew Home for the Aged at Riverdale located at 5901 Palisade AvenueBronx , NY 10471 (718) 581-1417 (phone) who cared for her in her final months. Please feel free to pass along this information as you feel appropriate.

Please remember, I'm never too busy for your referrals.

Craig S. Rosenfeld,
CRSRemax Realty
GroupActive Member of the Council of Residential Specialists



The online New York Times obituary for Joan Winston can be found here.....

http://www.legacy.com/NYTimes/DeathNotices.asp?Page=LifeStory&PersonId=117338745 And they have a Guest Book but I don't know how long it will be up or open.


You can contribute remembrances and tributes to the Joan Winston page and memorial at http://www.simegen.com/joan.html which is growing rapidly.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Senator McCain's choice of a running mate has stimulated lots of discussion in news media and blogs about the balance of family and career in women's lives. Most future societies imagined in science fiction take it for granted that women will have careers similar to men's. As someone mentioned on this blog many months ago, SF characters often embark on their adventures with no mention of the possibility of children. Maybe this phenomenon results from authors and readers taking it for granted that future technology will guarantee infallible contraception. Even so, some people will certainly want offspring, and someone will have to take care of them. I like the system envisioned in J. D. Robb's mid-twenty-first century mysteries, when the position of "professional parent" exists, with individuals who choose that path being paid a stipend at public expense. Still, there would be many couples in which both partners want to work outside the home at the same time. Robb's fiction also predicts robots advanced enough to serve as nannies.

Will housekeeping and child-care robots, if they ever reach that degree of sophistication, put an end once and for all to the home-career conflict? Or will they produce a class dichotomy in which wealthy and middle-class people have practically unlimited choices while those who can't afford robots still face the same quandaries present-day families do? Would households able to afford robot servants be in the same position as the wealthy people who kept houses full of human servants in the nineteenth century?

There's no assurance, of course, that the present-day trend toward gender parity in employment and career flexibility for both sexes will continue in the direction it's going. Economic and social upheaval might lead to a reversal of the cycle. The 1950s middle-class North American ideal of the two-parent-single-earner household, made possible only by the postwar economic boom, was a short-lived anomaly. It followed a period in which women flooded the workplace. A reversion to the one-earner family might occur as a result of a catastrophe like the population crash postulated in William Tenn’s short story “Down Among the Dead Men,” in which laws forbid women from working in any remotely hazardous job because they are too valuable as “breeders.”

In pre-industrial eras, women almost universally contributed to the household's earnings; they did it within the home, as most men also did. If wage-earning work could be returned to the domestic setting, numerous problems would be solved. Unfortunately, many jobs just don't lend themselves to telecommuting. Moreover, lots of people actually like going out to their jobs rather than staying home twenty-four hours a day.

In Japan, household and caregiving robots are already becoming commercially available. There is hope that robotic “servants” may encourage women to bear more children and alleviate the economic problems caused by Japan’s low birthrate.

Notice that the problem continues to be stated in terms of persuading WOMEN to devote more energy to families. Returning to the topic of a female presidential or vice-presidential candidate, have you ever heard a reporter ask a male politician how he expects to harmonize the demands of family life with a high-pressure career?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Information Feed & Michelle West's THE HIDDEN CITY

For my review column, ( http://www.simegen.com/reviews/rereadablebooks/ ) I'm going to review Michelle West's fantasy opus THE HIDDEN CITY with as much enthusiasm and I think maybe more enthusiasm than I did her first 2 novels in this Universe, HUNTER'S OATH and HUNTER'S DEATH.

For my review of HUNTER'S OATH and HUNTER'S DEATH see my September 1996 review column:
Unfortunately, West didn't use the "Pope In The Pool" technique from Blake Snyder's SAVE THE CAT series. The stageplay device of the "bomb under the chair" technique would have livened up the info-dump, too.

During this post-halfway point several times the viewpoint drifts (for no reason other than information feed -- which makes those drifts a massive flaw). Prior to that we had a nicely selected 2-point-of-view narrative that cut down on the background the reader needed to know, but then struggling with that information feed problem of this huge and complex universe, she finally had to TELL US. But by then, we were curious enough to listen to what she told us.

I have no idea what I'll be saying about this book. But here's advance warning -- this is a book you don't want to miss. It is Intimate Adventure -- and not Romance (at least so far).

In spite of any weak points -- probably caused by a word-limit that required slicing and dicing the plot -- this is a gripping, readable, breezy, LONG book that you don't mind setting down because you will enjoy being drawn back to it. The hardcover is large and my hands get tired holding it! (who says reading isn't a physical exercise!)

But if you're struggling with writing the information feed for a large and complicated universe, you'd do well to study THE HIDDEN CITY because it shows you both how to do really great information feed -- and what happens when you just have to fudge a little to make everything fit. It also shows you where in the story to make your fudge-and-patch back-and-fill shuffle without throwing the reader out of the story.

In West's HIDDEN CITY universe, magic is practiced by those with certain talents. You are born with the ability to do this or that type of magic, and if not formally trained you might be a big danger to yourself and others. The most fascinating of the Talented to me are the Makers whose art and utilitarian objects exceed all design specifications.

THE HIDDEN CITY is the first in a new series called THE HOUSE WAR, set in the same universe as her previous novels.

HIDDEN CITY kicks off with an immediately engrossing introduction to the characters, and though the book is over 600 pages (thick) with decent sized print densely packed, the story zips right along.

The two main characters are a 10 year old girl with a fascinating backstory, and a scavenger guy who is an adult with a mysterious and mixed past, very chequered.

The girl has certain character traits that endear her to me -- compassion, generosity (she's starving and has no clothes against the coming winter, but gives charity lavashly), and a non-confrontational spirit. She doesn't challenge the world like Anita Blake, but she doesn't obey orders either and isn't afraid.

The guy wants to be the opposite kind of person, alone, selfish, independent, not necessarily on the easy side of the law. He wants to be -- but something in this kid ignites the other part of himself he really wishes wasn't there.

The way West handles revealing all the information of this complex, deep and broad universe with these two difficult, nuanced, living-breathing and changing characters is positively DELIGHTFUL. It's so good that even when you finally get to the expository lump disguised as dialogue, you don't CARE. You really want to learn what you are being told.

So if you want an example of the end result of applying the method I sketched in last week's blog entry ( http://www.simegen.com/reviews/rereadablebooks/ ) try THE HIDDEN CITY.

Oh, and it doesn't lean on the previous books in this universe. All the information you need about the universe is "fed" to you in this volume. (quite a trick, let me tell you!)

Jacqueline Lichtenberg