Thursday, October 29, 2009

Going to College in Virtual Reality

At one of my schools, the University of Hawaii, some professors are holding classes in replicas of college settings in the Second Life online environment. The University of Hawaii island in Second Life includes four buildings around a courtyard with a view of the ocean, “as well as two floating skydecks and a treehouse.” Here’s an article, with a video:


My mind is definitely boggled. I’m amazed at how close we’ve come—in the short time the Internet has existed—to the virtual worlds we read about in science fiction. There’s a Globe Theatre island where full-length Shakespeare plays are presented. And I’ve heard of authors doing readings in Second Life, an idea that sounds really cool. The opportunities sound practically boundless (for instance, a kind of freedom for disabled people that they can’t attain in the physical world). On the other hand, interacting in virtual space is open only to the affluent; in addition to buying the equipment, a user has to pay real money for online resources. If such a realm of interaction eventually becomes commonplace, I can conceive of it as yet another barrier between the haves and have-nots.

I’ve never entered Second Life myself. If anyone here has, please tell us about the experience. For instance, how much does meeting someone in the virtual world feel like meeting a person in real life?

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

On the road

Hi All,
I've been out to San Diego to see my daughter. Then on a road trip from Florida up to Pennsylvania. And of course along the way I stopped in lots of bookstores, left bookmarks and signed stock. And I noticed that stores tend to shelve my books everywhere. It's almost as if aliens tried to see how many different places they could hide my books. I found copies of Lucan on new release tables, shelved under romance, under new books, on end caps, under the cash register and ever on the center isle turning styles. It was actually quite an education, but you know it's really hard to be an author. When I saw copies of my books on the shelves i feared the book wasn't doing well. When I saw no copies, I was worried that we didn't have enough on the shelves. So either way i tend to worry.

I returned home to find out that RION, my December book and the second in the Pendragon legacy series received a 4 1/2 stars from RT book review. "The review calls Pendragon a “sizzling series,” ending with, “Leave it to Kearney to build a passionate relationship and combine it with political drama and adventure!”

So I hope that those of you who enjoyed Lucan will preorder Rion to make sure you get a copy. Luckily Grand Central Publishing increased the number of books out there.

While on the trip we went to Hershey Pa. And of course we had to tour the chocolate factory. Now are you wondering what chocolate has to do with books? Well chocolate is an essential writer's tool--as necessary for creating great stories as my computer.

The pictures above were taken at a book signing, of me and my husband at a 3-d movie, very cool, and at the Hershey facility. Even the traffic lights in Hershey are in the shape of kisses. :)

Susan Kearney

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

7 Proofing Steps For Quality Writing

How could a writer possibly decide whether their own story or even article has a low, medium, or high "quality?"

"Quality" is a word, and concept that means something different to each person who uses it, and in each context where you find it.

"Quality" essentially means "it feels good to me, so it doesn't matter what you like."

But "Quality" is also a comparison measure to other things "like" this one -- whatever it is; a sofa, a dress, a silk neck tie, a painting, a story.

The problem with applying the word "Quality" to writing is that writing is an amalgam of Craft and Art.

Art does have some objective parameters to it, but different people respond to or care about different parameters. You really can't assign an objective measure to the "Quality" of Art.

Craft, however, is almost entirely objective, and the measure of "Quality" in craftsmanship has two dimensions.

1) Does the craftsmanship produce a seamless, smooth, useful product? (i.e. if it's a plumbing pipe, does it hold water? If it's a story, does it deliver an emotional punch, intellectual high or spiritual journey?)

2) Does the craftsmanship of this object compare well to the craftsman of similar objects? (i.e. does this pipe hold water better than that pipe? Does this story deliver a bigger punch than that story?)

The problem in judging "Quality" is that readers, or end-users of any product, measure "quality" by different standards than the originator of the object -- or the purveyor (in writing, that's the publisher).

For a writer, "Quality" means, "Does it say what I wanted to say?"

For a publisher, "Quality" means, "Does it have a huge market, bigger than anything else like it?"

For a reader, "Quality" means, "Does it satisfy me? Is this what I've been wishing for?"

It sounds like an impossible task for a writer (an originator) to look at the brand new product and judge whether the reader, end-user, will see it as a "Quality" item.

And in a way it is, and in a way it's not that hard because there are a few objective measures of quality in writing.

The writer is half-way-born-editor, just as most editors have some writing in them.

Editors, however, are not publishers. A publisher is someone who is in the business of peddling a product to a market. An editor is in the business of finding or generating product the publisher can peddle at a profit.

We've discussed writing as a business, and you've read many other blogs here and elsewhere about self-publishing, the fastest growing segment of publishing.

But there's something going on at YouTube and on the Web 2.0 sites like it that you need to understand in order to apply the objective measures of quality to your work AT A PROFIT.

This article explains where a lot of the most popular videos on YouTube are coming from, who makes them, and what their profit margin is, and why that profit margin is so slim -- and this article also offers a way for writers and videographers to make a little money on the side, provided they understand this "Quality" issue I'm discussing here.

Demand Media is doing what the Dime Novel did for the Wild West. But Demand Media has developed an algorithm to data-mine all the searches people do on google etc. They buy the search terms people put in from the search engine company, then sift and arrange the terms to generate topics of interest to lots of people at any given time.

Then they hire a videographer or writer to do a video or article explaining the topic. They have a web page where they post topics they want material on. They pay almost nothing, but they do pay writers. They're a volume shop.

The videographers and writers doing this work are often professionals who have worked to the extremely high and demanding specifications of the general media.

But now these craftsmen are learning a new way to look at their trade, and it's a lesson all writers, especially e-book or self-published writers and eventually traditionally published writers have to learn.

Traditional publishing is withdrawing support for writers so that publishers expect writers to fund and execute publicity for themselves. So eventually, traditionally published writers will be in the same boat as self-published writers (or vice-versa).

So read that article in Wired Magazine and think about what it says about the higher "quality" videos produced for much more money, and the business model behind that. Think about what this article implies about the shifting parameters in this world, and what it implies about craft mastery, and objective measures of "Quality."

This article in Wired Magazine is actually describing what used to be the difference between the Hardcover or Trade Paperback and the Mass Market paperback. Writers working in Mass Market had much less time to spend rewriting and polishing. Writers working in Hard Cover were expected to spend ten to a hundred times more time but Mass Market paid more. The trick was to get a Hard Cover into a Mass Market edition to get paid for the extra time spent.

With the $$/hour parameter of the business model dominating all your choices, there are two attitudes you might choose from.

A) It's all shlock so why bother trying so hard?

B) What I do is worth $20 so I have to do it three times an hour in order to live. So how can I produce "Quality" without spending time?

In other words, how do you train your art producing subconscious to spit out words already crafted in a high-quality product (or photograph images that you can clean up pretty good in the time allotted?).

How do you perfect SPEED and ACCURACY in craftsmanship?

The answer is simple and rather horrid to contemplate.

Slow, tedious repetition and self-correction, critical analysis of your own work, refusing to accept the first shlock that comes out, until at last that very first effluent from your subconscious is "Quality" crafted. Training subconscious is like training a puppy.

That's how you get to Carnegie Hall - practice, disciplined practice.

But not practicing your errors, practicing doing it right. The company that the Wired Magazine article is talking about might be a great place to do that practice and get paid for it.

Marion Zimmer Bradley once fed her family by writing True Confessions and Astrology articles for a market very much like the one Wired is describing. She rose to edit the Astrology magazine, too. She often said writing short non-fiction made her a better fiction writer.

Remember what I learned from Alma Hill that "Writing Is A Performing Art" -- and this $20/article concept is a perfect illustration of that fact. To do this at a profit a videographer or writer must PERFORM as if on stage before a live audience.

That's what you're practicing for - a performance.

When you practice writing, think of it as rehearsal. Any mistake you make is part of the permanent impression on your audience. So rehearse until you can perform your story flawlessly, in the time allotted.

That's not degrading your ART -- it's perfecting your craft.

Now, exactly what do you do, as a writer, to self-correct and train your craftsmanship to the point where you produce objectively measurable quality at the drop of a hat (or paypal deposit).

The following tests are for the objective part of story writing, the craft itself. Art is a totally different subject, but some of these tests will turn up flaws in the Art as well. If you find a flaw in your Art, you can choose to cover it up with Craft real-quick-n-dirty, or tear the story apart and re-do the Art from scratch. Choose by remembering the $$/hour parameter and the "rehearse until it's smooth" parameter.

7 points to self-test a novel for "quality"

1) PLOT INTEGRITY - check to make sure what I call the "because-line" actually tracks logically. If YOU think it tracks, ask someone you don't know to read it then ask them questions about why things happened in the novel. To FIX missing links, make sure every event happens BECAUSE OF the initial event. Anything with a very tight PLOT (PLOT = BECAUSE LINE) but very little EXPOSITION will sell somewhere (that's from Robert A. Heinlein).

2) CHARACTER MOTIVATION (i.e. the STORY-LINE which is the sequence of emotional states that leads the main character to change) must be clear to the target readership (not just to you). You have to explain WHY people do things in SHOW rather than TELL -- that WHY is inside the chosen plot events. When a character DOES SOMETHING the world responds with a LOGICAL consequence from which the CHARACTER derives a (possibly illogical but human) LESSON which the CHARACTER tests by doing something different "next time" which CAUSES (plot-line) another logical consequence, until the character has learned his/her lesson (theme=lesson learned)

3) When you've got both these lines whole, complete, transparent, accessible to your target reader, and precisely formulated to the genre that the symbolism belongs to, when everything makes complete sense, REDUCE THE WHOLE THING to an outline (chapter-by-chapter, describe what happens, why, and what it means in just 2 or 3 complete sentences -- this is your sales tool for your pitch). If you can't do that reduction, there's something wrong with the structure. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE NOT VIOLATED A TROPE OF YOUR GENRE (that is the real criteria by which Manhattan Agents and Editors work - trope-trope-trope.) Trope is often the cause of the PACING issue that editors will cite when rejecting. Editors don't know what's wrong or how to fix it. They're not writers. That's your job. Readers expect you to do your job. If you don't, they call the work badly written or low quality.

4) Go back and DELETE 15% of the words, cut-cut-cut, use better words, delete all the adjectives and adverbs, and shift to well-chosen words. Then if necessary add-add-add to get the exact length for the genre. Then delete almost all the EXPOSITION. Take what's left and break it up like a sonic beam breaks up a kidney stone. Pulverize the exposition and sprinkle it here and there in LOGICAL sequence. The trick with exposition is to make the reader curious to know the fact you need to impart -- take about 50 pages to build the curiosity -- meanwhile drive up the suspense until the reader just HAS TO KNOW. Then tell them in a dependent clause buried in the middle of something -- use an oblique reference, nothing "on the nose." Make the reader FIGURE OUT what you want to tell them in exposition. That's a dodge for SHOW DON'T TELL -- make the reader think it's their own idea, not yours. If you do the work for them, they don't have any fun even though you do. Writing is selling FUN, which means you have to give away your fun in return for money. So you don't get to tell. You have to work to induce the reader to figure it out.

5) Send it out to test readers you DON'T KNOW and who don't know you personally (not work-shoppers you see every month- actual people who have no stake in stroking your ego -- yes, building a cadre of such folks you have access to is one thing online networking can do best). Get tech experts in fields you have used to check the facts.

6) NOW - after all that, you polish the text, not just running spell check, but going through the whole MS looking for word-substitution typos, bad sentence structure, wordy constructions "Well, the fact of the matter is that he lied" becomes "Well... he lied." Don't use grammar-check, learn grammar.

7) Yet another test reader, one who knows grammar, punctuation, spelling and reads books from your target publisher in your target genre. (each publishing house has a style sheet dictating grammar, spelling, punctuation). That's your final step - no sense polishing words you're going to delete. In hand-written times, that was known as "making a fair copy." On foolscap.

After doing this 7 step self-test on various projects, you will eventually come to where your test readers aren't finding so many things to fix. With repetition, you start producing things that actually are publishable if not of the highest quality on second or even first draft. First draft is the goal in low-paying markets, and that means you must PERFORM your writing at concert pitch. In higher paying markets, you might run the story through these 7 tests several times and keep perfecting on each draft, raising the "quality."


Even if you meet the self-test criteria above, you can still attain the level of "badly written" IF THERE IS NO APPARENT CONFLICT.

Likewise, you can attain the label "boring" -- or "I couldn't get through it" -- if there is NO COHERENT THEME that is illustrated by the conflict.

A "story" is a sequence sliced out of a character's life wherein they LEARN A LESSON (your theme) by OVERCOMING OBSTACLES or ATTAINING A GOAL (obstacles and goal generate the plot-line).

If you pick the wrong primary character (lead, star or hero), no matter how well you do the objective mechanics in the 7 point checklist, the art fails and your novel is "badly written" or "low quality."

If you pick the right primary character, BUT start at the wrong place in that character's story, the art fails and your novel is "badly written."

"Quality" is actually NOT TASTE -- it is not mysterious.

That's why slush pile readers, screenplay coverage readers, editors, agents, and reviewers can sort a stack of manuscripts, screenplays, ARCs, or published books very quickly and toss out more than half that don't meet the quality standard necessary.

Here's how it's done. (all beginners think this is unfair and won't work, but it is fair and it does work when done professionally)

1) check first page -- any error of craft, toss the MS
2) check p5 -- if the story-development point (beat) is not there, toss.
3) check the MIDDLE. If the high or low EVENT isn't there, toss.
4) check the END. Compare to beginning and middle. If the final image doesn't RESOLVE the conflict set out on pgs 1-5 - toss without reading the whole thing.
5) check the 1/4 and 3/4 points -- if the plot development is correct on those points, then read the whole thing. (a novel is generally 4 "acts" or "movements" like a 1-hour TV episode, so it's quarter-points you look at; but with a screenplay for a feature film, it's usually 3 acts, so the pages for the beats are different, but the principle is the same.

These 5 checks quickly reveal if the writer has violated the TROPE the professional reader is looking for. If the trope the reader wants isn't there, even if the item is high quality of its type, it isn't worth the professional reader's time ($$/Hour remember? Business model rules supreme.)

So what chance does a writer have of getting through this screening process and having a manuscript read by someone who might pay for it?

Getting through those tests is also a learn-able bit of craft.

Focus on the simple fact that these tests are entirely objective.

Matters of taste and art are judged after the objective craft is judged. And according to that article in Wired Magazine, matters of taste and art are currently much less important than they once were.

Note how the article points out that using this computer algorithm to sift search results for what people want, and then providing exactly what they are searching for is more effective than a room full of professional experts creating topics they think people ought to want.

Soon feature films will be marketed that way, I'm sure, maybe novels first. Remember what Rowena Cherry found in that survey of Romance readers -- half want more sex. Survey replaces art.

The MAJORITY AUDIENCE will soon be conditioned to expect this kind of responsiveness from the media. "Quality" means "what I like." And now people are being mass-conditioned to expect their expectations to be met.

When you take their money for a book but betray expectations -- they have no clue what's wrong, so they say "badly written" and don't waste money on that byline again (and warn off all their blog readers).

A lot of editors either fall in that bewildered category, or simply have no time to waste with "writers" who can't write the required trope in the required time. It's not the editor's job to teach you to write. ($$/hour - remember that. Read that Wired Magazine article carefully.)

I have been tackling ways of explaining these parameters of "well written" stories for a couple of years now (not systematically) on this blog.

One thing Marion Zimmer Bradley taught, I have found to be true -- anyone who can write a literate English sentence can sell fiction. A LOT of my students have done so.

And though the article in Wired Magazine points to Demand Media as something "new" -- it actually isn't new from a writer's point of view. Since the commercialization of the printing press, quick-n-dirty production has been a component of the writer's business model. And as I said above, the Dime Novel, the Mass Market paperback, and now today YouTube videos, are all about $$/hour and professionalism.

Professional writing is not a mystery, it's not arbitrary, it's not a secret. It's not even hard except for the part where you take what your artistic subconscious produces and externalize it.

Failing to externalize your art produces what Marion Zimmer Bradley called "self-indulgent" novels. A particular editor might buy it - but readers will call it "badly written" because they don't know where the failure happened.

Externalizing your art is an entirely different process for each writer, it's idiosyncratic, but something you can teach yourself with the 7 point checklist for "Quality" of craft.

E-pub and self-pub is the ONLY route open to those who can do all these other things on the checklist, but fail to externalize their art, de-personlize it, universalize it.

The best way is to train your subconscious in your genre's trope until it produces fiction pre-configured to fit your market.

That's why professional writers warn neo-writers off "workshops" and posting "fanfic" online. You end up rewarding your subconscious for practicing your mistakes, and you train your subconscious to AVOID EXTERNALIZING. That will doom you to a lot of rewriting once you understand which step you have skipped.

"Quality" is often, alas, proportionate to time spent re-doing and perfecting the craft underlying the art. The ingredients of a quality product are often rare (fine olive oil is "virgin" -- the rest of the press is used for something else). Flawed diamonds are not used in the crown jewels, though they work fine for industrial purposes.

Are you in the business of fine art? Or commercial art? Knowing the difference and the difference in business model, could be the real key to success in your life.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Google Earth (or the stars, or Mars, or the moon)

It's easy to be seduced by Research!

When I wrote my first draft of my first alien romance, Forced Mate, I got carried away by the fact that there is (or was, in 1993) still a type of plane just big enough to carry a stretch limousine across the Atlantic, but small enough to take off from an abandoned World War II airbase near Cambridge (UK), and fly below radar all the way to Las Vegas, Nevada.

An amateur pilot mapped out the route for me.

Eventually, I came to see that there was no logical reason why a romantically minded space alien would abduct his heroine from Cambridge in the UK and take her (kicking and screaming) to Nevada, no matter how curious he might be to see how Siegfried and Roy made tigers disappear. Duh! He'd take her to his mothership.

Another researcher told me that the most plausible place for a spaceship (a smallish shuttle) to land in the UK would be on Salisbury Ridge, close to Salisbury Plain (and Stonehenge). I've lost touch with that researcher, unfortunately.

So, now I'm on my own, trying to find Salisbury Ridge. I'm using Google Earth. There's a place called Ridge at Chilmark. Another possible place to hide and lose a spacecraft appears to be in the Nile Clumps... I hate to make things up, if I don't have to do so!

I took a spin on Google Earth. My first destination was Ridge, Chilmark, which does look possible, but is a bit far from Stonehenge. I can zoom and bank to view the terrain with a hawk's eye view or with the perspective of a galloping sauropod... one with poor eyesight.

Seriously, I can see hills, trees, fields, crop circles, overgrown gun emplacements, drone launch pads (circular). If I wish to, I can see churches, pharmacies, ATMs, Holiday Inns, roads, fire hydrants... and more. I can also view photographs taken  by tourists.

Sadly, some of the really cool things, such as "pimples" (of the anti-tank kind) that were posted on the Google Earth 3 version, are not on Google Earth 5, but GE5 has more whizz bang stuff and links to Wikipedia.

While virtually scouring the surroundings, looking for places to hide a star-fighter, and enjoying images of stormclouds over Stonehenge --and very useful photos of forks in minor British roads--, I found a fitting backstory for my latest hero. Now to check it out.

There's a Google Earth Community with forums and chats and groups, not to mention a Search function that is everything you'd expect from Google. It's possible to meet a potential source in whatever part of the world interests you. This is too cool!

I daresay, the only reason the CIA hasn't tried to purchase Google (if it hasn't) is that it would be too expensive. And, of course, the CIA like anyone else can use it for free.

Google Earth doesn't stop there. You can look at Mars. It's a separate download. I haven't done that. I doubt I'd find men there, anyway. You can look at the stars, which is a great way to finally get a handle on astronomy and the placement and shapes of the constellations. Finally, there's the Moon and it has flags and icons denoting info dumps, and all sorts of good and useful stuff on its surface.

If you haven't tried it, I heartily recommend it.

Rowena Cherry
Space Snark TM

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Shapeshifter Heroes

Another productive session at RomantiCon was a reader focus group on what people want to see more of or less of in paranormal romance. The question was raised whether a shapeshifter's animal form has to be a predator species. Wolves and big felines (tigers, lions, leopards, jaguars, etc.) are, of course, the most popular kinds of were-beasts. People didn't seem to have any trouble with birds as shapeshifting heroes if they are raptors. The consensus seemed to be that a romantic hero must have an animal form that carries an aura of power and perhaps danger. Dogs and cats were okay with most people, too, depending on the story. Bears weren't mentioned, but certainly the bear bridegroom is found in fairy tales.

There seemed to be a generally dubious attitude toward herbivores as shapeshifter heroes, though. I think, however, that some kinds of non-predator animals make perfectly good were-heroes. Horses, for example. Stallions represent wild, free masculine power, and of course the traditional girl-horse bond contributes to the allure. Nancy Springer's YA fantasy HEX WITCH OF SELDOM, although not strictly a romance (no "happily ever after" union), has a teenage girl involved with a man-horse shapeshifter. Mary Jo Putney has a historical romance with a hero who has been involuntarily changed into a unicorn. What about bulls? Zeus ravished one of his human mistresses in the form of a bull, among many other shapes he assumed in myth, including the swan that impregnated the mother of Helen of Troy. Non-mammals other than birds? A large serpent, maybe? And don't forget the frog prince, not exactly a powerful or ravishing creature but certainly a familiar fairy tale motif. Branching out from the land, consider the Silkie, the seal who takes the form of a man and seduces women. I think a dolphin shapeshifter would make an appealing hero, though I don't remember ever reading about one. What other kinds of animals are charismatic enough to make suitable alternate shapes for the romantic male lead? Setting aside romantic comedy, in which a frog or any other less dignified form might work (again, as one of my editors always says, “it depends on the execution”).

In my fiction I've had werewolves, weredragons, a wizard changed into a St. Bernard, and a vampire who takes the form of an owl.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Astrology Just For Writers Pt 6 - Targeting A Readership Pt 2

The topic here overlaps and synthesizes two threads I've been developing in the search for means to change the image of SF/Paranormal/Futuristic Romance

Heather did a fabulous summary post of where we are now and how to get where we're going with Romance at

And I do agree that the prevailing market wisdom indicates we need a new label or BRAND logo for SFR. I think it will be derived from the seminal work that changes the landscape, what she calls the ground zero. (Rock-n-Roll; Punk Rock; Steam Punk, Urban Fantasy, New Wave, etc) That seminal work must have a visual element with an evocative label.

But in whom must it evoke what? Let's step back and take a longer perspective look at our market.

This look is founded in two of my previous posts here (plus all the others -- this is the phase of INSIDE THE WRITER'S MIND where bits and pieces get synthesized.)

Look again at:

1) Astrology Just For Writers Part 5

2) Targeting a Readership Part One

Now let's explore the use of Astrology over long, sweeping generations to look at what becomes popular among a given age group and why. Remember this post:

To synthesize all this into something a writer can use, we have to consider the Essence of Amusement, which is actually a separate topic -- what clicks your pleasure button and why. This is very mystical stuff with a practical application.

Rowena Cherry tickled the edges of "Essence of Amusement" in her musings about what a heroic-devil could and could not do in a novel and retain reader sympathy.

There are several discussions going on in the Amazon Communities boards for Romance about which hugely popular authors you just mysteriously don't like, and another about which authors you've stopped reading lately -- very illuminating.

Those Amazon Community Boards readers (you have to have an amazon account I think to get there, but here's the link)
are not reviewing so much as recommending books to each other. For example, there's a thread about "If I loved TWILIGHT, what should I read next?"

Lots of action in the Romance communities there, but I think there's more in the Romance community at where there are a lot of authors involved.

The Amazon discussions are mostly by readers for readers, which being a reader, I find fascinating and useful.

But they're discussing their personal reaction to this or that novel series (and series are actually as hot right now as publishers seem to think. Readers don't want "the end" -- they want "ongoing adventures of," which makes the HEA ending concept worth re-thinking.)

If they like some characters or a fictional world, readers want more and more of the same, but they drop the series once it becomes more and more of the same. Just like TV viewers!

Being readers they don't know or care WHY they like or dislike, or gobble or drop, a story or even a writer's entire output. They just want their money's worth of amusement. That seems fair to me. And wise.

Harking back to Rowena's post on dialog snippets:

"Give me a good read!"
"What do you want?"
"How should I know? You're the writer. That's your job."

OK, roll up your sleeves and let's get to the dirty work.

The Essence of Amusement

Why are we amused?

What is amusement?

Why does a writer have to know?

Caution here -- some writers shouldn't know consciously what amuses their readers.

Other writers can't produce good amusement without knowing consciously.

Yet others need a little of this and a little of that to get it right.

Neurolinguistic programming is a scientific discipline trying to find the interface between brain cells and responses. Scientists long ago found a "pleasure center" which can be directly stimulated, even with addictive consequences.

Reading (fiction or non-fiction) either stimulates that pleasure center in some peripheral, possibly intellectual way -- or it turns off some pain center responses. It may do both on occasion to produce the books we "love."

That effect on engaging the imagination to stimulate or overcome some brain circuit signal would likely have remained the same since caveman days. Or maybe before that. 4.4 million years ago, at least, twice as long ago as previously assumed. I need to find out how long ago Pluto was "captured" by our sun, if that's in fact what Pluto is - a Capture.

The fossil puts to rest the notion, popular since Darwin's time, that a chimpanzee-like missing link—resembling something between humans and today's apes—would eventually be found at the root of the human family tree. Indeed, the new evidence suggests that the study of chimpanzee anatomy and behavior—long used to infer the nature of the earliest human ancestors—is largely irrelevant to understanding our beginnings.
The Ardipithecus ramidus fossils were discovered in Ethiopia's harsh Afar desert at a site called Aramis in the Middle Awash region, just 46 miles (74 kilometers) from where Lucy's species, Australopithecus afarensis, was found in 1974. Radiometric dating of two layers of volcanic ash that tightly sandwiched the fossil deposits revealed that Ardi lived 4.4 million years ago.

We are now learning how species shift and evolve abruptly and why -- two reasons: supervolcanos and magnetic polar reversals.

There's a lot of research on evolution of humans that traces a huge genetic shift to the eruption of a supervolcano 70,000 years ago from now. It's a genetic process called a genetic bottleneck, and I did a really short blog post on that at

This stuff about evolution and our ability to be amused is seriously primal, as Blake Snyder says (Save The Cat!)all screenplays that "open everywhere" just have to be PRIMAL.

PRIMAL is the key, and nothing is more PRIMAL than sex or violence (or both). Rowena Cherry just dropped a note on her own post

Recently (as I mentioned on Heather's blog) a study was published that suggested more than 50% of romance readers want more sex in the novels they read.

Also, from my own observations and email exchanges with my Dorchester editor, marketability standards are changing. Some of the traditional "No-nos" are now acceptable.

If it's PRIMAL it sells -- provided it doesn't totally shatter a taboo. If you don't know about taboos and human culture, study some anthropology.

"Politically Incorrect" is another term for taboo.

In the film world, the term "edgy" means getting up close to the edge of a taboo but just not quite crossing that edge, so the almost-pain of anticipation is titillating, exciting, subconsciously disturbing, but not "run for the exits" pain. Laughter is the response to almost-pain. And laughter is a pleasure in itself. It's the ultimate goal of "amusement." Who doesn't LAUGH at unexpectedly terrific sex?

Done right, an "edgy" film about some social issue or political commentary can titilate the same nerve that gets a tweak from sexuality. "Playing" an audience with symbolism is just like "playing" a sexual partner to a maximized experience.

Well written fiction is configured just like good sex, which is why the ending of a story is called a CLIMAX.

Since films have to have the largest audiences because they are the most expensive to produce and distribute, "primal" has to be the watchword -- so essential an amusement even a caveman could understand.

And with the increasing emphasis on for-profit fiction, writers face a situation where the "edges" of "edgy" are shifting.

What is publicly acceptable has changed for whatever reason: possibly the audience is jaded; possibly a generation drilled in political correctness and sexual openness of the 1960's; possibly other factors such as Astrology may be involved; possibly all of the above.

So as Rowena correctly points out, editors are very aware (via twitter, facebook, myspace, amazon communities boards etc) that half the readers find the amount of raw sexuality in novels does not satisfy their need for amusement. They want more. But half the readers want the same or less!

If you look at the current political polls on approval for some government initiatives, we're right back where we were before 2008; the USA is about equally divided pro and con any issue, with about 15% in the middle apt to lean either way.

That political divide oddly mirrors the "acceptability" for sex in novels. I don't know if it correlates at all -- if the same people who want this political policy want more sex and the people who are against this political policy want less sex, while 15% in the middle are basically satisfied. I doubt anyone has done a study on that question. (who knows what may turn up on the web tomorrow!)

People with a taste for cerebral fiction (like SF or Mystery) don't necessarily also have a distaste for sexuality in fiction.

Cerebral thrills are only going to be sought out by the top 10 percentile rank of human beings, maybe 15 percentile ranks. Movies have to get 100 times cheaper to make in order to turn a profit off the top 15% of humans. The current tech innovations are bringing that target within range but it's not there yet.

Meanwhile, you'll always make more money off a bigger audience, so a writer should ponder how to frame their artistic output to reach the largest possible number of people with whatever the writer has to give.

Remember my post here on Winning a big film prize by choosing the age of your protagonist which I cited above?

Choosing protag's age to win an Oscar

Audiences are grabbed by a protag they can understand and identify with.

Young people don't understand or identify with old people, and don't want to but old people were once young and understand, identify with, and yearn to BE young people. Old people have their own unique life-issues (remember the film COCOON? And it's precious sequel?) but the life issues of the young are not alien or irrelevant to the older consumer.

At the same time, YOUNG consumers can be swayed by advertising and peer pressure. Older people can not (waste of advertising dollars to target over 40 consumers.)

And that could be a problem we're having with SFR and author-advertising. SFR really targets OLDER people -- a ship's captain, for example, should be over 30 to be plausible, over 40 to be believable however sexy. The age of the protag determines the age of the core readership. You waste your money advertising to the over-40 crowd, but that's the target audience for most SFR. Now what do you do?

Alas, older people are not as easily swayed by peer pressure, either. The older reader doesn't read books because "everybody" is reading them - they read what they like. (odd factoid derived from reading Amazon Community).

In a post inside LINKEDIN I saw a publishing professional explaining to a beginning writer pondering self-publishing that publishing is not a "meritocracy" -- and books that deserve to be published don't necessarily get chosen to be published by the big houses.

That's a very good way to think about it because many working writers today were children reading voraciously when publishing WAS INDEED A MERITOCRACY!!! That's the model we've internalized - if my book OUGHT to be published, it will be. What a shock when it's not.

We've all read older books that became true lifetime favorites, cherished and re-read. Those books were published back when publishing was a meritocracy -- and publishing houses were the tax write-off wing of a larger enterprise. (really, that was the business model; publishing was supposed to lose money and if it didn't, the publishing house would get sold at a loss.)

Owning a publishing house was fashionable and an entre into the literati and higher social circles than mere CEO's could aspire to.

Yeah, snob appeal.

Editors were hired not for their commercial sense but for choosing books that "ought" to be published.

That was a different world. Today publishing has become a "for profit" business, cut-throat and thrashing in what seem to be death-throes (at least in paper publishing).

E-publishing and self-publishing have lowered the standards of the finished e-product so that you don't get that prestige factor just for "being an author."

"Authors" used to be in the top 1st percentile rank of the top 15 percentile ranks of all human beings.

Really, that's true. Way back in the early days of the Web, I took a "poll" thing about where I stand in the prestige ranks. As a writer, I hit the top. Professors weren't top. CEO's were top, writers just under.

Today it's different. With self-publishing, authors are maybe somewhere in the top 15 percentile ranks. Since that basically includes most all readers, readers don't flock to "authors" as they once did. Everyone knows a published author. It's not special or inaccessible. (working producers are still inaccessible but that's changing too)

Meeting an author is not the opportunity of a lifetime today.

The world has changed so we have a big opportunity to establish something new that could shape the world of the future.

But to achieve that, we have to get a grip on what is really going on as opposed to what all the financial decision makers assume is going on. That's the real work of a writer, a futurologist, an amusement vendor, knowing what nobody else suspects and using it to advantage.

There's a puzzle of the marketplace that has never been solved, and I can't say I have "the" solution. But by using a futurologist's thinking tools and worldbuilder's imagination, we might stumble upon a real clue specifically useful to Romance sub-genre writers, with this problem about spending personal advertising dollars to sway over-40 year old readerships.

The puzzle that bewilders editors and producers is simple.

"Why is this a hit, while that better thing isn't?"

Maybe it's not all entirely marketing?

The people who get rich are the ones who notice the first of the trend-setting leaders and flood in behind with imitations before the general public has heard of the trend.

Those trend-setting leaders are usually "accidents" -- mistakes editors made trying to pick a big winner, or little indie films that make it big at a festival.

Sometimes the trend setting author is a visionary, but sometimes the author is as bewildered by commercial success as the editor (Rowling comes to mind).

So successful editors and producers watch the fringes for something that has tweaked the pleasure-centers, clicked the Amusement Button and produced Amusement in a DEMOGRAPHIC SWATCH of the population -- a demographic with disposable income and the immaturity to be swayed by advertising.

In 2008, I did a series of columns (the first 6 columns of 2008) on Blake Snyder's approach to film structure using primal issues structured in a primal way.

And I followed that with a series of columns on the astrological effect of PLUTO being dramatic and "larger than life."

Pluto: Melodrama Unleashed is the series title of those columns.

Under Pluto, I discussed Noel Tyl's Signature of Fame, an astrological meta-pattern you can find in natal charts of the absurdly rich and famous.

That Signature of Fame pattern pivots on Pluto in the natal chart and requires a fairly experienced astrologer to sift out of the background noise. But Tyl's Signature hypothesis explains graphically why it is so many who are rocketed to stardom crash and burn on drugs, sexual dissipation, bad judgment, trusting the wrong people, or dying of some dramatic disease.

Pluto is a magnifier of drama (among many other things). Pluto is just power, raw power, sexual power, financial power, political power, power over OTHERS (as in the power to sell snow to the Eskimos).

Pluto is not the drama itself. Pluto mixes in to an ordinary life event and magnifies it, blows it up, exaggerates, makes melodrama. You don't just drive your car into a ditch, you rocket off the Golden Gate Bridge leaving shattered traffic barriers behind.

Some handy current examples of Pluto in action.

When the economy crashed and burned at the end of 2008, it was after a long, slow shuddering buildup showing symptom after symptom that the "experts" ignored, which is typical of Pluto.

"I knew that would happen! Why didn't I pay attention?" And the answer is that Pluto represents what is underground, hidden, what is infrastructure. Plumbing, bridges, highways, electrical grid. You never notice it until it collapses.

So finally (it wasn't the beginning; it was FINALLY) Lehman Brothers melted down.

That coincided with the contact of Pluto to the 8th House cusp of (one of) the USA natal chart guesses. (astrologers argue about which chart is the real birthchart of the USA and all the candidates have different degrees for the 8th House cusp).

Pluto rules the Natural 8th House which is Scorpio, so when Pluto in current real-time comes to a degree that is a natal 8th House, Pluto's normally exaggerated effect is exaggerated more than 100%.

So we didn't just have a recession, we had a financial foundation infrastructure melt-down which magnified the recession we were due for.

8th House and Pluto and Scorpio symbolize the resources of others, (for a country, that's taxes and borrowing from foreign governments)

Obama was elected President with Pluto transiting opposition his Natal Venus, which is just about conjunct the USA Venus. (Venus rules Taurus-finances and Libra-Relationships).

Obama also had Neptune transiting his Ascendant casting a huge, magnified (Pluto) glamor (Neptune) over all his relationships (Venus).

His ability to speak was also at a lifetime best (Venus rules the voice box) etc. The whole country resonated to his way of handling relationships, and will for a while yet.

Pluto magnifies. It's about POWER.

Put a raw electric feed from the grid directly into your house circuitry and your house will just about EXPLODE with sparks and gouts of flame. No step-down transformers between you and the power plant, and E-GAD! The rest of your natal chart is the step-down transformer network through which POWER from Pluto (yes and your Sun) gets configured to be usable for daily living.

In "The Celebrity" that step-down-transformer network does not bring the voltage down to usability all the time -- and the result is extreme fame followed by a melodramatic personal meltdown (marriages-divorces; drugs; drinking; diving a plane into the ocean; spectacular rare diseases that make headlines)

8th House is Scorpio, one of the water signs, and thus participates in psychic attributes. People with a lot of water sign points in their natal chart are psychically open on some level, often without knowing it. That can help a Celebrity read an audience.

The first 6 columns I've done for 2010 which will be posted starting in January 2010 are all about The Group Mind (the psychic bond among us all at the Scorpio/Pluto/8th House level). In those columns I examine the interactive effects of the Group Mind and the Media -- analyzing popularity at its source. shows you the novels analyzed to reveal connections.

Hidden connections are Scorpio, Pluto, 8th House.

Pluto power can also manifest as a ruthlessness, obsessiveness devoid of conscience -- the perfect raw material for any arch-villain a writer might need. Secretive is a keynote of Pluto. 8th House, other's resources, plus secretiveness equals conspiracy. Wow, dynamite material for any writer.

Pluto is the upper octave of Mars that rules War (Aries, the First House, the supremacy of Ego). Mars is a cat fight, a squabble, a grab for some country's fertile fields. Mars is not violence but ego-energy, and if thwarted can use FORCE to impose the personal Will.

Pluto is war to total annihilation -- war exaggerated, with nothing personal in it. This is not war to possess the resources of another, but war to obliterate the other.

Pluto is capable of VIOLENCE with an iron clad will, an implacable purpose. But Pluto is not the violence itself, it's the magnifier that takes the violence erupting elsewhere in the chart and makes it implacable.

Pluto is the sexual "fun" derived from violence, especially the kind of violence perpetrated to control another (S&M) - games of sexual dominance played out on an international stage. (think THE GODFATHER). 8th House is also inheritance, the resources that are rightfully yours by inherent worth. Thwart that "rightful" possession and you get the explosive manifestation of Pluto. Pluto doesn't take what belongs to others. Pluto takes back what belongs to him. And everything belongs to him, by right of inheritance. Even if he has to kill to inherit. (fabulous villain material)

So why are we talking about Pluto while analyzing amusement?

We need a new theory of what amuses people for our New Electronic Age, and here's one I would like to explore.

Pluto is now making its last station on 0 degrees of Capricorn, just a bit past the USA 8th House cusp, and headed for a series of oppositions to the USA natal chart's most sensitive points.

We're in for a roller coaster ride, but if we can understand what makes Drama as Blake Snyder formulated it (2008 columns), and how the Group Mind interacts with Media (2010 columns), we can see what Pluto is magnifying.

If we then put all that together with the various other posts linked above, connect the dots and figure out what the NEXT most popular thing will be, we may trump Rowena's Dorchester editor (a great publishing imprint, BTW) and produce that Ground Zero work Heather's post on Galaxy Express talks about.

How can a writer come to understand their audience's "amusement" buttons?

The natural 5th House, Leo, ruled by the Sun, is usually considered the home of AMUSEMENT, the keynote of FUN. 5th House is where we play and recreate, procreate, speculate and gamble . 5th House is siblings and children and grandchildren, and all our love given to others. (it's opposite, 11th House is the love and appreciation we get back in return, the groups that accept us and appreciate our fun loving sense of humor.)

You'd think that to find out how to amuse people, to find out what amuses people in general, you should examine the 5th House.

But if you look at the explosive popularity of video games (based almost exclusively on violence, on KILLING opponents as a way of WINNING, of prevailing, of asserting dominance) and correlate with the demographic of the consumers of video games (teens at the threshold of sexual maturity) and then look at where Pluto was transiting during the years those teens were born, you might learn something startling about the nature of Amusement that can be sold in packages (8th House; other people's money).

In assessing any astrology problem, the hierarchy of planets is OUTER to INNER. First you look at the eclipse points, then PLUTO -- and everything else is commentary.

Most astrologers are taught to start with the Sun ruler of the Natural 5th. For our purposes, that won't work because it won't yield generational profiles.

What do generations have in common? The signs in which the outer planets Pluto, Neptune, and Uranus, are placed. The Sun goes around once a year. Those outer planets keynote generations by their slow movement. The Sun position binds generations together (each generation has an equal number of Leos, Aries, etc.). The Outer Planets separate generations.

Since advertising dollar effectiveness depends on generational age-groups, we need to look beyond the Sun for the key to the puzzle, "What Amusement Can Be Packaged And Sold For Money?"

Individual natal charts have the planets and signs in different houses, all aspected differently by faster moving points such as the Sun, Moon, Mercury and Venus. Really, when it comes down to it, astrology almost shows us why we seem to have nothing at all in common! No two of us are alike!

But as marketers have discovered, generations do have something in common with regard to taste.

What each generation wants (thank you Rowena for the "What do you want?" line) is a mystery until one of those obscure products (like hula hoops) suddenly explodes onto the scene.

There is a theme to each generation born, something that will amuse them all their lives long, in various different forms and formats.

How long Pluto stays in a given sign changes because Pluto's orbit is very elliptical, and it even cuts inside Neptune's orbit. That odd orbit, out of the plane of the ecliptic and slanting across another planet's orbit is what got Pluto demoted from planet status -- it's considered to be a captive from outer space rather than a planet formed from the plasma of our star. (BTW that is an old story, done to death in SF -- that Pluto is really a generation-ship, maybe with only dead or stasis passengers; the remains of a dead civilization out there somewhere).

So Pluto is an obsessively fascinating planet, but empirically you can see that as it changes signs, the world changes usually explosively or abruptly -- social mores change; civilizations rise and fall to the beat of Pluto (and maybe super-volcanoes and magnetic pole flips).

But on a very subconscious level, (and Pluto rules the subconscious values while the 2nd House ruler Venus rules conscious values) the Amusement Button for each generation may actually be best described by Pluto's sign in their natal charts.

What fascinates, obsesses, causes unbridled aggression -- what is it that marketers can use to get a handle on each generation?

It isn't what makes people laugh. It's what people of that generation simply can NOT take their attention away from. People will pay big bucks for what they obsess over subconsciously, bucks they won't pay for a quick laugh gone in an instant.

People would not pay $9/pack for cigarettes without nicotine (or a substitute that works as well.)

Consider these blocks of years and what topped the charts in music subjects, favorite actors, great political trends, shifting taboo lines, great-huge-magnified tsunamis of trends during these blocks of years.

Pluto takes 250 years to circle the sun, but it's in each sign (or 30 degree swatch of the zodiac) for different lengths of time.

Remember to add say 15-20 years to see when these folks would have an impact on amusement markets because they have disposable income.

PLUTO IN LEO 1939 - 1957 (Became The Flower Children of 1960's and '70's)

PLUTO IN VIRGO generation 1958 - 1972 (Gen X)

PLUTO IN LIBRA generation (assimilating out of justice?) Late 1971 - 1984 (Gen Y? sort of)

PLUTO IN SCORPIO generation 1985-1995 or so (video game generation?)

PLUTO IN SAGITTARIUS generation 1995-2008


Neptune Takes 165 years to circle the sun.

NEPTUNE IN LIBRA Oct 1942 - 1957






Uranus 84.3 years, a lifetime.

The popular press uses the 20 year swatch for a "generation" usually, or a demographic bulge of kids all born within 10 years to define a "generation." But think about the list above and see if it doesn't make better sense than the popular press definitions.

LEO is the natural 5th House of Amusement, but also of sovereignty --

Pluto in Leo produced the Flower Children, fun on drugs, altered consciousness and "doing my own thing."

Pluto in Virgo produced Generation X, craving White Wine and monied elegance. The detail oriented upwardly mobile fashionistes. There weren't many of them because the Baby Boomers (1947-1960) and Flower Children didn't have their kids until later in life.

Pluto in Libra produced Gen Y.

Wikipedia says there's no set borders for Gen Y but they're the Boomer Echo generation, the Boomer's kids. You see The Boomers fit inside Pluto in Leo but don't take up all of it.

Gen Y was coming of age in a "liberated" world where political correctness is everything, intermarriage is the norm, and women have their children only in the last minute panic of the biological clock. Many Gen Y kids have older parents.

The last of Gen Y turned 20 in 2004, coming out of school into a crashed economy, desperately in search of social justice (Libra is Justice) in a world they believed they didn't owe anything to (unlike the Boomers who flocked to President Kennedy's Peace Corps). Gen Y is the first generation to have computers in HIGH SCHOOL classrooms, and pioneered video games.

The following is from Brookhaven History

In 1982, Creative Computing magazine picked up on the idea that Tennis for Two might be the first video game ever and it published a story on the game ...
----------END QUOTE------

Gen Y came of age just as the possibility of video games emerged, and the home computer became financially feasible.

PLUTO IN SCORPIO kids -- only 10 years worth of kids -- grew up with computers in GRAMMAR SCHOOL classrooms and at home and became the market for the most violent video games. Pluto rules Scorpio, the Natural 8th House - when Pluto was in Scorpio it was its most POWERFUL. For the 1/12th of those kids born with Pluto in Scorpio in their own 8th House, Pluto issues are likely to rule the whole life.

There was a huge baby boom in the 1990's. Though it's only a 10 year span, 1985-1995 saw an unusual increase in the demographic significance of that generation who are now entering college and the lesser educated workforce.

That Pluto in Scorpio generation turned out the most young voters ever in this previous Presidential election, and you've all seen their vehemence (power) in political rallies (both sides of the issues!)

The generation reared on the most violent video games is determined to assert their right to their inheritance, their rightful possession by dint of the fact that they exist.

Employers have already noted that the current 18-20 year olds they hire are mortally offended by any workplace rule that prohibits texting during work hours. Employers have no right to restrict behavior or communication during work hours. (I saw a study about that posted online, and saw several interviews about it on TV, but didn't save any references, sorry. I may have referred to it in a previous post here.)

The Pluto in Scorpio generation (only 10 years long) has passed on their taste for video games to the Pluto in Sagittarius generation.

PLUTO IN SAGITTARIUS, 1995 - 2008, are still just babies, and their buying power is still mostly controlled by Gen Y parents.

But for us, it's interesting to note the success of TWILIGHT with the Pluto in Sagittarius teens.

Gen X acquired a real taste for the teen-vampire novel. The sex appeal of Vampires with the edgy connotations of risking death is soooo PLUTO!

YA shelves filled with vampires in the 1980's, which naturally gave rise to BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER a little later, and all sorts of vampire spinoffs for older people.

TWILIGHT and the urban-fantasy vision of reality as a thin film over a seething cauldron of evil is intensely popular with Pluto in Scorpio AND Pluto in Sagittarius.

Noel Tyl, an astrologer's astrologer, has identified the axis in the natal chart that describes one's deepest anxieties, fears, nightmares, repressed fears -- the kind of deep, inarticulate fears that rule our behavior and which we rationalize.

That axis is the 3rd House/ 9th House axis.

The Natural 3rd House is Gemini, ruled by Mercury (thought, communication, short trips, fast moves, and also indecisiveness and restlessness).

The Natural 9th House is Sagittarius, ruled by Jupiter, and all about Philosophy, Courts, Social Justice, the generous and magnanimous King, the kindness of the world, success by expansion, growth. Sagittarius is all about open-honesty as the adjacent sign of Scorpio is all about hidden realities. Sag is long trips, foreign countries, PUBLISHING!!!

Kids with Pluto in Sagittarius are the teens who gobbled up Harry Potter (foreignly published) when they were 9 years old, TWILIGHT etc, in their teens. TWILIGHT treats the darker (Pluto is "dark") aspects of the vampire as "out there" and mostly ignorable, while the vampires that are "in here" are trustworthy and above all that dark stuff - probably. In TWILIGHT the nasty part is "hidden" (Pluto).

Marketers have noted a leveling off of the growth of computer games sales (not shrinking, just not growing as fast as there are no more Pluto in Scorpio kids coming to buying age)

The trend in films toward ever more exaggerated violence and destruction, spectacle for its own sake, (TRANSFORMERS?) pleasures and amuses Pluto in Scorpio folks in some way that mystifies the Pluto in Leo folks. And I don't think it's just because the Pluto in Leo folks are older. I think it's because the Pluto in Leo folks have an Amusement Button that's configured differently.

When the Pluto in Sagittarius kids are 18-25, what films will they be taking their girlfriends to? What games will they spend their money on? What will amuse them life-long? What songs will they popularize? (already, I see lyrics changing)

The dark, ugly subject matter of the first wave of popularized rap is giving way to something else, but it's gradual.

If the Pluto in Scorpio generation pushed the violence in video games beyond all previous taboos, what taboo will the Pluto in Sagittarius generation (the obese kid generation -- Jupiter, ruler of Sagittarius is famous for obesity, the JOLLY FAT WOMAN image is usually Jupiter on the Ascendant) what taboo will this new generation expand out of all sense and reason? What will obsess them as violence and destruction obsesses Pluto in Scorpio?

I also noted in the above list of transits how the position of Neptune correlates to the position of Pluto in the generational charts.

Neptune is all about illusion; Neptune, ruler of the Natural 12th House, Self Undoing, rules all things having to do with imagination, with glamor (Hollywood), charisma and also Religion and Idealism, and oddly today with technology and engineering (Pisces folks make marvelous Engineers. Engineers blend science and mechanics into technology using IMAGINATION.)

Neptune dissolves and blends.

Neptune is very hard to get ahold of conceptually.

Neptune, as I've discussed in various blog posts, is the key influence in any Romance situation. Your very personality dissolves during that key Neptune transit where you fall in love. Your bullshit filters dissolve. Your critical faculties shimmer away.

Neptune transits put you (whoever and whatever you are) into your own most receptive (Scorpio is a water sign) state such as you've never experienced before. Neptune transits allow that soul-mate bond to form.

What forms and solidifies under Neptune can never be destroyed -- that's the odd paradox of Neptune. It dissolves everything concrete but solidifies the vision. Neptune is all about hope.

It's about Magic and fantasy, hopes, dreams and imagination and everything you wish were real but isn't -- and everything you hope to God isn't real.

The generation born with Pluto in Sagittarius mostly have Neptune in Aquarius. Aquarius is the natural 11th House, as we noted above, Love Received, appreciation lavished upon you. The Pluto in Sagittarius (Justice; different from Libra's brand of Justice) generation must, as a Group Mind, be dreaming of being loved, adored, appreciated, elevated.

Tom Baker, the actor who played The Doctor in Doctor Who for about 20 years, was himself a multiple Aquarius (yeah, I found his chart).

The way he portrayed The Doctor exemplified the footloose, fancy free innovator who formed only temporary but intense ties with people who passed through his life. He cared about humanity -- not actually so much about individual humans except as they represented humanity. It's a tough distinction to make without making the character seem like a villain. But it's there if you look..

Aquarius males have a very easy time getting married, and a very very hard time staying married. They exemplify the utmost in loyalty but can't see why that should tie them down. Freedom. It's all about personal freedom.

So synthesize Pluto in Sagittarius with Neptune in Aquarius and see if you can determine the configuration of Amusement Button for the whole generation now just beginning to turn 14.

There are a lot of them and they will have buying power.

Marketers know that teens have more discretionary spending money than their parents.

When they're in college, what habit will they have become addicted to? (Pluto is that sort of energy; addiction, habit, subconscious).

Here are a couple of addendum notes to mull over while trying to nail the Amusement Button for the current teens.

Article on why it is that Science Fiction authors just can't win in this world (not sure I agree with definition of "win" but this is good advice in the making.

Is a very short post with the following link

So the core of the advice is that if you want a "genre" to gain respect, you have to drop the genre label and invent a new one.

Sylvia Louise Engdahl gives us a really explicit example of how this is being done today with her FLAME novels,
Stewards of the Flame and
Promise of the Flame,
stories of all-human societies but not on Earth, on Earth-derived colonies out there somewhere.

The setting demands the genre label SF, but the characters demand the label futuristic romance, and the plot (and huge, long, lazy expository lumps with the flavor of mainstream literary novels) demands the label philosophical fiction. Reading the FLAME novels is like reading early Heinlein but for modern readers.

So Engdahl has dropped both the YA label in which she became famous and the SF label.

Article on Women Horror Fans and film makers

“Jennifer’s Body” was designed with both feminists and 15-year-old boys in mind, a seemingly eccentric blueprint that, as Ms. Kusama points out, is in line with the best movies of the slasher tradition. “It may be one of the best ways for a young male audience to experience a female story without feeling like they have been limited by a female perspective,” she said.

"It was an effort that often bedeviled Ms. Cody and Ms. Kusama, who tried to balance brute violence and lesbian kisses with the film’s more substantial metaphors. “The tricky thing is if you’re going to subvert those tropes, they have to be there,” said Ms. Cody, whose script is a self-described “crazy, chaotic homage” to the horror films of her youth. “We were constantly bobbing and weaving. Karyn and I talk about the film as a kind of Trojan horse. We wanted to package our beliefs in a way that’s appealing to a mainstream audience.”"

"Horror films have adapted with Darwinian fortitude over the years, allegorizing everything from cold war paranoia and eco-anxiety to the breakdown of families. And yet the success of slasher movies, which exploded with films like “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” in 1974 and came to dominate what we now think of as scary movies, might have stalled cinema’s most resilient genre. "

The director Rob Zombie, whose recent release, “Halloween II,” revamps another 1970s proto-slasher (and one of the original “final girls,” the character Laurie Strode), says the genre’s indulgence has been its undoing.

“The ’80s are the decade that ruined everything for everybody,” he said. “The soul went away, and it became gore for the sake of gore, and kids were cheering at killings and yelling and screaming. It became a roller coaster ride. And of course once something becomes a roller coaster, all you can do is build a bigger, more extreme roller coaster. That’s where I think horror movies really got perverted.”


There's a lot more to say on this topic of generational taste in amusement.

The important point is that people will pay more than they can afford for amusement that obsesses them, but not for amusement that merely entertains.

Those over 40 can't be enticed or attracted by advertising that costs money. Those currently over 40 were born with Pluto in Libra, Neptune in Sagitarrius. Go for it!

Jacqueline Lichtenberg
Romantic Times Award Winning Dushau Trilogy

Sunday, October 18, 2009

For God's sake, I'm a kitchen witch. I can't do magic....

I'm having trouble getting over the sexy menace in Jacqueline's dialogue (I like it so much):


"The same," he intoned with an elegant bow. "Now we shall see who has summoned whom."

She gasped. "What do you want?"

By filling in the missing material, the dialogue suddenly makes sense.

"Devil" identifies a figure the reader can "see" -- and "What do you want?" characterizes the brash and self-confident woman, while the "gasp" shows she isn't as poised as she wants the Devil to think she is. So there's characterization of both in the dialogue, and the plot is advanced by the demand "what do you want?" The story is left hanging by "what do you want" as we try to assess whether she'll give it, fake it, try to trick the Devil, or scorch him with prayer to a higher authority.

How about "scorch him with a prayer to a higher authority"?
Which higher authority?

What would a white witch, or a Wiccan, or a feminist pagan do? I've got six in-depth questionnaires on my desktop, but nevertheless, I had not considered what my heroine might do if confronted with a hostile devil, or someone who might or might not be a devil. After all, unless it is Bedazzled, why would the Devil need a car?

Suppose my heroine isn't a convinced and committed pagan. When she social networks, she talks of praying to The Goddess.  She writes "Blessed Be" or "Namaste" at the end of her emails. But, might she throw out a panicked "For God's sake...." to hedge her bets?

"Hey!" a bystander shouted. "What's going...?"

The Devil hissed something. The bystander froze.
"Get in the car, or I'll be forced to harm anyone else who sees you," the Devil gritted.
(I suspect that I'll need another action here... but would it interfere with the pace of the abduction if my heroine protests the harm to the bystander, and is told that she can undo the freezing spell?)

"For God's sake, I'm a kitchen witch. I can't do magic."

"I can. Get in the car."

This leads me to another puzzler. How badly behaved can a hero be and still be sympathetic as a hero yet convincing as a "devil"?

Obviously it is okay for an alien devil to kidnap a heroine or two as long as he means to make an honest woman of her. (Grinning at the sexism of that cliché!) He cannot rip her bodice, although he can want very much to do so.  He can accidentally damage her, but he cannot deliberately hurt her. He can kill lesser beings who attack him first. But he cannot permanently petrify Good Samaritans simply because they are inconvenient.

Or can he?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Erotic romance publisher Ellora’s Cave ( put on its first annual Romanticon last weekend in Ohio near the publisher’s headquarters. This is one of my publishers; I have several paranormal erotic romances out from them, plus a contemporary elf romance from their non-erotic division, Cerridwen Press. The con was cozy and relaxing, with (from what I heard) about 150 people attending. Only about half were authors, meaning the other half were fans of our books. Cool! The vast majority were women. I saw only a few men other than the seven or eight cover models who posed for pictures and performed roles such as announcing raffle ticket winners at the big group events.

I’ve never attended (or even heard of) a convention strictly for one publisher before. It turned out to be a delightful experience. The very nice program book, in trade paperback format, included detailed summaries of the panels and pages with spaces for each author’s name, so people could collect signatures in a systematic way. I signed more autographs than I ever have at one time, thanks to that feature. We had a huge book fair Sunday afternoon. I got to stay for most of it (having to leave for the airport about fifteen minutes before the end) and sold four or five books. The Friday night event was a “psychedelic soiree,” a casual meal of hot dogs, hamburgers, etc., with music from the 1960s and early 1970s—my generation’s sound. The music was way too loud, but I’m always on the losing side on that issue. Sigh. The tie-dyed theme carried throughout the weekend but was especially prominent on this evening. I enjoyed seeing people’s fringed miniskirts and other hippie attire. I wore a caftan.

The Saturday night dinner included recognition and awards, some serious, most of them fun and frivolous, such as “most erotic use of e-mail in a story” and “hottest home improvement.” One nice feature was the presentation of “Rising Star” trophies to all the authors who had new releases this year. As far as I’ve experienced, Ellora’s Cave treats its authors well. The personal touch is one of the advantages of writing for a small press, whether E or print.

Panels and presentations discussed business and genre-related topics for writers. I thought the most interesting and useful features was the set of reader focus session, in which readers gave feedback on what they like and dislike in various subgenres of romance. The 50- to 60-minute time slots didn’t really leave enough room to talk as much as people wanted. Under the moderation of the managing editor, these sessions were lively and a rousing success. To me, the most interesting and useful was the discussion on taboos in romance. What situations and character types turn readers off? What words are or are not sexy?

Naturally, people didn’t all agree about language. Whether certain words are exciting or repellent depends so much on individual background and age. We did agree that some terms might work in context for a man to use in conversation, but the heroine wouldn’t use those same words. I brought up a gripe I have with my editor sometimes, the request to use the “graphic” (i.e., formerly known as unprintable) words in place of non-four-letter terms that are actually more specific. Many times, I think it’s more descriptive and even more exciting to specify what portion of the male organ (for instance) is being referenced than simply to use the generic “graphic” term for that organ. Especially when the same word gets used over and over again in a scene. The moderator agreed that variety is important, too. To me, “graphic” means lots of details and very explicit description of sensations and emotions. To the publisher, “graphic” means these elements PLUS a generous use of the words (or a certain two or three of them) you didn’t used to be able to say on television.

It was also fascinating to hear what readers and authors thought about behavior that would make characters ineligible to be heroes or heroines. For example, how close can two people be related and still have a romantic bond? Most people thought a stepparent and stepchild couple would be acceptable in some circumstances. Opinion was divided on first cousins, but nobody seemed to mind the idea of such a pairing in historical fiction, since those marriages were more common in earlier centuries than now (in this country, anyway). Any transgression in the category of harming children or cruelty to animals, everyone agreed, made a character irredeemable. Rape (no matter how far in the past) also barred a man from becoming a romantic hero. (That’s quite a difference from a few decades ago, when a relationship could begin with rape if the author could convince the reader of extenuating circumstances. No romance publisher would allow that plot device nowadays.) A murderer, however, could be redeemed, depending on the circumstances, his motive, and his emotional and moral growth since the act. A woman who’d worked as a prostitute could be a heroine, again depending on her reasons for taking up that career. Interestingly, Marion Zimmer Bradley redeems a rapist in TWO TO CONQUER. The story ranges over many years of his life, beginning in youth. We get to know him first as a character with good qualities and see the events that turn him into a hardened, selfish man driven by ambition. In redeeming him, of course, MZB has the advantage of telepathy. A woman with laran (psychic power) invades his mind to force him to see the rape through the eyes of his victim. Genuine remorse ensues.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Dialogue As Tool

Rowena Cherry mulled over the rewrite problem of the dialogue line:

""Devil!" She gasped. "What do you want?""

in her post on Monday.

First let me point out that your dialogue is absolutely off limits to copy editors and editors. But you can get back a lot of bright red circles with marginal notes saying "weak" "ineffectual" "unclear" "redundant" or even "out of character considering remark on p121."

Next, as I read this line of dialog, "She gasped." is a separate sentence and therefore "she" is not gasping the word "Devil." So that's OK.

But Rowena has posed a nice problem because the "right" word that goes in the second utterance absolutely depends on characterization.

The way a screenwriter solves this type of dialog problem is to refer to the character sketch notes and choose a main trait to illustrate with the dialog line. With screenwriting, dialog needs to be done that consciously because a screenplay is a work by committee. It's kind of like how you work in your own kitchen vs. how you work in a restaurant kitchen where there are dozens of people using the tools in shifts.

I have yet to discuss in this blog the integration of the various individual techniques we've discussed, characterization and dialogue being only two. The learning drill first combines each of the techniques in pairs with all the others, then in threes, etc until you are doing them all simultaneously. Drill-drill-drill is the key.

So here's two drills you can do with this swatch of dialog.

First note how the content of that second utterance depends on the plot and also on the story, as well as providing an opportunity to characterize and expound.

So that's 4 inter-linked (not independent) parameters that coalesce to generate that line of dialogue. Bad dialogue is produced by a lack of coalescing, not by a bad word choice. The bad word choice is a result, not a cause. Yes, writing dialogue is like walking and chewing gum. As long as you don't know you're doing both at once, it's easy.

The key to good "dialogue" (as opposed to natural speech) is that dialogue only works if the characters actually have something to SAY to each other, rather than to the audience. What they have to say resides in plot and story events.

But sometimes you want the characters to chatter at each other knowing someone is overhearing, or possibly unaware that the audience knows another character is overhearing. Overheard dialogue can spice up a plot, rev up a suspense line, or set up for a real funny payoff.

The "What do you want?" line we're playing with is not generated by ANY of the parameters I've named, nor any of the others that might be involved, as far as we can see from the excerpt.

That is why it falls flat, out of context or in context.

Let's spin some context examples out, just as an exercise.

Miriam closed the warding circle behind her and lifted her athame to begin the summoning.

Displaced air thumped into her back. She whirled to find a tall, buff and naked rouge figure outside her defense circle.


"The same," he intoned with an elegant bow. "Now we shall see who has summoned whom."

She gasped. "What do you want?"

By filling in the missing material, the dialogue suddenly makes sense.

"Devil" identifies a figure the reader can "see" -- and "What do you want?" characterizes the brash and self-confident woman, while the "gasp" shows she isn't as poised as she wants the Devil to think she is. So there's characterization of both in the dialogue, and the plot is advanced by the demand "what do you want?" The story is left hanging by "what do you want" as we try to assess whether she'll give it, fake it, try to trick the Devil, or scorch him with prayer to a higher authority.

It also made sense to me that the expletive "Devil!" might be spoken with ALL the breath, and thus a gasp was required before the demand or query, "What do you want?"


Ethan plugged the new computer into the wall socket. It whirred for a few seconds, then snapped and a little curl of smoke rose from it as silence fell in the kitchen.


The monitor lit showing that same suave figure that had been haunting his dreams and nightmares, only this time the figure was enjoying a belly laugh right there on the dead monitor's screen.

Ethan gasped. "What do you want?"

"How should I know? You summoned me."


So the lame dialogue actually isn't lame at all, just under-written. One thing beginners often labor over is "business" -- the bits of narrative between bits of dialog that detail what the characters are doing while they're not speaking. Dialogue includes "business" because we all talk with our hands, often contradicting our words.

So suppose what we have is a woman recognizing someone as "Devil" and then getting in his face and getting right to business.


Carla opened the front door. Five little kids stood before an adult, all in matching fairy costumes. She started handing out candy, letting each pick their favorite from a large basket.

The adult stripped off his mask revealing a ruddy complexion and two neatly curved horns, a second mask.

"Devil!" She gasped. Smile frozen, she proffered the candy basket. "What do you want?"

The Devil smiled at the kids before him.

It wasn't a second mask.


Now let's see how to change just the "What do you want?" in that line Rowena was playing with. Let's do a characterization/exposition exercise.
Each reposte to the Devil's sudden appearance avoids an expository lump by illustrating a character trait.


"Devil!" She gasped. "I suppose you're here to take the hindmost."

"Devil!" She gasped. "This is not, repeat NOT, your food cake."

"Devil!" She gasped. "Second hand smoke is toxic, you know."

"Devil!" She gasped. "I told you to knock before appearing!"

"Devil!" She gasped. "Will you put some clothes on!"

"Devil!" She gasped. "Don't poke that thing at me!"

"Devil!" She gasped. "If you don't get behind me this minute, I'll turn my back!"

"Devil!" She gasped. "Oh, just in time. My cooktop is on the fritz."

"Devil!" She gasped. "Bye!" POOF!!!


Frankly, I'd expect a copy editor would put one of those curly zigzag lines between "Devil!" and "She gasped." to reverse the order.

She gasped. "Devil! What do you want?"

I could play with this all day, but there's work to do.

So now it's your turn. Drop a comment with a rewrite of the dialogue line in question and name the techniques you used to generate the line.

Remember, as a writer your stock in trade is FUN, and if you aren't having fun, your readers definitely won't. So have FUN with dialogue.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Dushau Trilogy now on Kindle



Sunday, October 11, 2009

Folks, has been "spam bombed"


Do not open any mail from
It might be a viagra pitch, or it might be a really bad virus.

Spam bombing is when some hacker decides to spoof my account and he sends out millions of spam emails every second to every email address in the internet dictionary.

It can happen to anyone with a public domain name, and there is nothing that can be done about it.

Please pass the word.

Best wishes,
Rowen Cherry

Le Mot Juste / The Right Word

Earlier this week, Brenna Lyons discussed lamentable editing in her brennalyonsden blog.

Sometimes, repetition of a word is vital to the elegance of a sentence and the development of a thought. Repetition is a crucial component of oratory, whether it is a pattern of "Like.... like.... unlike" (Brenna's example) or "a gentleman of extraordinarily propriety.... a gentleman of extraordinary impropriety" which I misquoted from a Georgette Heyer novel.

When a misguided copy-editor gets hold of your carefully crafted words after you've signed off on the edits and makes a change behind your back, there is nothing you can do about it. Thus, in my e-book Mating Net "her Concubinage class" became "her concubine class", and my made-up, alien, scholastic discipline became a nonsense (at least, in my opinion).

If you are writing alien romance, or even a romance set in the future, you will probably need an occasional made-up word. And, if your editor substitutes a modern day synonym, I encourage you to be ready to justify and defend your original word or wording. You might win it back.

I've worked with four editors, and they have all been reasonable when I've presented a convincing case for --for example-- the arrogant alien Tarrant-Arragon to say "unsense" although we would exclaim "nonsense!" As demonstrated with Concubinage, not every won battle remains won.

The right word is worth fighting for.

But... how do you know what is the right phrase, or sentence? Is it a bit of a toss up for you, before you decide? Or does the right expression leap fully formed and perfect from your head, like Athena out of Zeus?

"Devil!" She gasped. "What do you want?"

Forget whether it should be "She" or "she", and whether it is possible to say "Devil" while gasping, and whether a spirited heroine would gasp after recognizing a devil.

What about "What do you want?"?

(Punctuating that quoted question within a question is another can of worms, I think!)

As Jacqueline Lichtenberg pointed out in a recent blog, dialogue in fiction is not real life dialogue.

Assuming that the Devil "wants" the heroine, "what do you want?" might be the best question. If your editor substituted "What are you doing here?" (unlikely... more wordy) or "Why are you here?" would you care? Would you fight for it?

Does "Why?" always trump "What?" in character-driven Romance?

Introducing "here" into the question subtly changes it. Now, the heroine's focus is on their location. Also the Devil cannot respond as succinctly. He can't answer, "Sex" or "You."

Even the most laconic of devils would have to turn the "" question back, and say, "I've come for you," or "Abducting you." Moreover, if he clearly states his intentions, that's like seeing Jaws before the first swimmer is eaten.

"How did you get here?" isn't dramatic enough to consider, even if he did just emerge from a hole in her bathroom floor, unless it's a story about logistics, and ductwork and plumbing... a futuristic Mission Impossible. It isn't.

On the other hand, "What do you want?" is a bit rude... abrupt, familiar. That might be fine if the heroine has met this Devil before. However, "What do you want?" could be said in at least three different ways, depending where the heroine puts the emphasis.

Do we explain this? Do we use italics?

Maybe I should look for a better greeting. "What are you going to do to me?" I think not. A devil might be tempted to answer with concise, shocking vulgarity. I don't believe that such crudity should appear in the second sentence on the first page of a romance novel.

It's not the best hook. It's certainly not a "stopper". For the time being, my Prologue has to start somewhere. I can edit later. Maybe, before the heroine speaks, she glimpses fingers thrusting up through her carpeted floor. Or through a grating in the floor. Or both.

This was erroneously posted to my Space Snark blog. Sorry for the repetition to anyone who follows both blogs!

Rowena Cherry

By the way, in a previous post, I discussed "stoppers".

Some examples of stopper:

“I don’t know how other guys feel about their wives leaving them but I helped mine pack.”

“I’ve been sleeping with your husband for the last two years."

“When the phone rang, Parker was in the garage, killing a man.”

If that's the gold standard, dross might be this year's Bulwer Lytton winners