Thursday, April 28, 2011

Masters of the Earth?

"Take me to your ant."

Thus, says the latest NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, an extraterrestrial ambassador might greet us. We think of ourselves as the Earth's dominant species. According to that issue of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, however, one expert estimates that there are between a thousand trillion and ten thousand trillion ants in the world at any given time. And that's just ants. When you add in all the other species of insects, seven billion human beings are astronomically outnumbered. Alien visitors might reasonably decide, from initial observation, that insects are the dominant life form on this planet. After all, they're not only the most numerous land-based multicellular animals, they communicate among themselves, many of them build structures, and some even keep other insects as livestock. Objectively speaking, how does Homo sapiens stack up by comparison? Maybe the aliens would think we exist to feed roaches, ants, and mosquitoes.

If they spent a longer period watching us more closely, on the other hand, they might decide the North American land mass is ruled by cats and dogs. These creatures obviously keep human beings as servants.

Or robotic ETs might try to establish contact with our machines—or our computers, regarding us as these obviously superior beings' inefficient but necessary caretakers. (I remember once seeing a cartoon image of a robot trying to talk to a parking meter.)

If you've seen the STAR TREK movie about the ENTERPRISE going back in time to retrieve a pair of whales, you'll remember that the invading aliens in that film had no interest in communicating with us. They wanted to talk to the whales.

Maybe we should be nicer to our potential interstellar diplomats?

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Social Networking Is Not An Advertising Tool

Well, social networking is not an advertising tool, but it's a writer's best friend!

As you have noticed recently, I've been talking about two writers I met on twitter, Carol Buchanan who Guest posted here last week, and whose novel, Gold Under Ice, I discussed the previous week.

And Gene Doucette who sparked a lively discussion here with his novel Immortal.


Recently, with the release of the new Sime~Gen Series novels written by Jean Lorrah and me, the fans started a Group on facebook, SimeGen, where suddenly 50 people were chattering on and on about the Sime~Gen Universe, flooding my mailbox with fascinating observations.  I don't know where all these people came from, but I love them!

Here's some previous posts on social networking that I did to explain the place of social networking in a writer's life now that "marketing" has become part of our responsibility. 

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2010/02/strange-benefit-of-social-networking.html

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2010/03/conversation-on-twitter.html

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2009/05/marketing-fiction-in-changing-world.html

An item passed by me quickly on facebook, about an article citing a very old study that I'd heard of years ago about the upper limit to the number of "friends" (acquaintances, associates) a person can maintain.  What's the upper limit to the size of a clan, villiage, or Yahoo or Facebook Group? 

I believe the number they're currently entertaining is between 400 and 500.  And you spend over 60% (I'm just vaguely remembering these figures) of your time "maintaining" such a social network.  It's a huge investment of output energy, and the only payoff or profit is that it makes you feel good to have friends. (that's huge by itself, especially for a writer who works alone in a boring chamber wishing the phone wouldn't ring for another two paragraphs or so!)

In such a large network though, the people you interact with won't be "friends who help you move" or "friends who babysit your kids" or "friends who loan you money."  Not friends who are there when you're sick and mop up after you -- not friends who get a bailbondsman when you get thrown in jail.  Not REAL friends - the kind we choose to make a Hero in our novels.

I saw a Twitter tutorial that pointed out that 1,000 people is the most a person can follow and have any hope of interacting with regularly. If someone who follows more than 1,000 people follows you, don't follow them back because they'll never see what you're saying. There's a way around that, though.  The messes technology makes in your life, technology can cure.  

I know writers who've spent a lot of time on twitter and facebook, and feel it has no value, and drop it.
 
Recently a professonal posted on twitter that he was dropping LinkedIn because it gains him nothing.  I pointed out some valuable connections I made on LinkedIn, and he decided to hold on for a while.

And I dropped into a twitter chat #bookmarket where someone said a writer should write not for those who buy and read her books, but for that buyer's friends, so that the chatter about the book would "go viral" -- that is, aim to be talked about!  Give readers something to say about the book that their friends or social-networkers will grab and repeat to their friends, who will etc.

Another writer answered that was impossible, it just boggles the mind, it's all a writer can do to write for a specific readership! 

The thing with social networking is that each person may know 450 people, but most of them know 200 people that the first person doesn't.  Social circles interlink like a chain.

On another twitter chat, writers were talking about how to break out of obscurity, and I said something that made someone say I couldn't claim to be obscure.

That stopped me in my keyboarding tracks.

Interlinked social circles, make chainmail, armor that protects the psyche and nurtures shared values, thus creating community. (great plot ideas in that concept.)

On Backlist E-books Yahoo Group List (a Group of famous writers who have retrieved rights to their mass market novels and posted them as e-books),

http://astore.amazon.com/backlebook-20

Jerry Weinberg ( Gerald M. Weinberg
http://geraldmweinberg.com )

asked me,
-------
Would you be willing to give me a couple of tips? Such as:

- How do you find out about these chats before they're finished?

- How does one start a chat?

- How do you find out about what #abc markers are available?

Thanks in advance,

Jerry
---------

and I answered:

The chats I've enjoyed most seem to stick in my mind, and if I'm free I check out the stream.  I memorized #scifichat right away because it's my area.

I run 3 or 4 programs at once during a chat - http://tweetchat.com/ and twitter itself, hootsuite, and sometimes tweetdeck -- which you get at tweetdeck.com -- I use the free versions.  I open a lot of firefox tabs.

So I noticed a tweet in my main feed hashmarked #bookchat, looked at the clock and realized it was the time it was on last week, and went to the chat.  That's how I "stumble on" chats -- people I'm subscribed to mention them and I go look and goshwow, I love these folks!

Here's a tweet from a tweeter I follow (who also follows me) that came up on #scifichat when I opened tweetchat.com this morning -- I see her at many writerly chats:  (#FF means #FollowFriday and you can search on that hashmark to find people who attend chats and will talk to you).
----------
@PennyAsh #FF these great chats #scifichat #scriptchat #steampunkchat and all the folks therein :)
----------
People recommend chats and they go viral.  I love #scriptchat -- it has 2 sections, one for European time and one US, both on Sunday.  #litchat is also good, and runs weekday afternoons, one topic a week in short bursts.

You find out about them by following the moderator.  @scifichat or @bookmarketchat

And since I haven't started a chat, I don't know all the ins-and-outs, but I'd ask a moderator how they did it.

Ask @DavidRozansky who runs #scifichat

The moderator has another twitter account with the chat name in it, and stacks up a series of delayed posts timed to appear during the chat period, with questions to prompt comments on a pre-announced subject.  The moderator participates under their own name -- in this case @scifichat posts Questions, and @DavidRozansky tosses incendiary answers to spark discussion.

Chatting is just a busman's holiday for writers!  Have fun with your skills in 140 characters or less.

Another way I stumble into chats while they're going is that I have hootsuite (free download at hootsuite.com ) set up with a "tab" (a section across the top like a tab in a webpage), and I made columns with searches for each of the hashmarks for chats I'm interested in.  When I have a few minutes, I go look to see if anyone's posting, and see what they're talking about.

I also have a hootsuite tab set up with Lists I made on twitter or hootsuite - putting people I follow, and even people I don't follow into a List.  Then I make a column under that tab with the List as the search criterion, and see what those folks are tweeting about.

So when I have time, I go look to see what Backlist eBooks members are tweeting, and try to find something to RT.

The only chat I make time for is #scifichat because it's my field.

Since I'm cultivating a following composed of writers, editors, agents, publishers, producers, screenwriters, image folks, sound folks, everyone in "the biz" from end to end, but focused on professionals more than fans, (though they're fans too!), I select what I tweet as you would if editing a magazine, leaving out politics, what you ate for breakfast, news items (though I do an occasional emergency alert) and focus on say, TV programs tonight, developments with actors and directors, and other news of interest to those trying to sell words to make money.  And of course, there's all my tweets hammered out during chats that get Retweeted and turn up in front of many noses -- sometimes I gain followers that way, usually writers etc.

It's all very haphazzard. Once you have software set up, you can troll across your interests and drop in from time to time and meet the most incredibly interesting people, learn things of real value, find links to discuss on facebook and fodder for blogging.  Probably 99% of the stuff on twitter is real garbage.  These tools allow you to focus tightly on that remaining 1% -- which is huge!

If you make a chat, let me know time and hashmark.

If you'd like to follow me, I'm @jlichtenberg and http://facebook.com/jacqueline.lichtenberg
So you see, social networking isn't something you do for monetary profit because it's not cost-effective. 

The "profit" is intangible.  It's what we all get from those 450 people we know who know us, a sense of being, a mental orientation, a feeling of being in touch with the world and understanding that world.

You can't monetize that feeling.  And no amount of money can buy that feeling.  You can't get that feeling by associating with people who are interested in you only because they want to sell you something. 

But without that feeling, nothing you do to make money will ever mean anything.

Worse, because we work in "The Arts" -- if we go about doing our social networking "with gritted teeth because I have to in order to make money" -- the words that flow from our fingers will be toxic and unwelcome by those we inflict those words on.

Social networking is what we do for FUN, and "fun" is our stock in trade.  Fun is what we have to sell.  If we don't have fun writing, nobody will have fun reading what we've written.

Ballet dancers warm up by doing exercises; writers warm up by socializing.

Your job, as a writer is to entertain people.  If you don't know anyone, how can you entertain anyone? 

And really, is "buy my book" an entertaining message?  Surely you, as a writer, have more to offer than that?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg
http://jacquelinelichtenberg.com

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Danger, danger, danger.... A Review of Con & Conjure by Lisa Shearin

Caveat: I seldom review books. When I do go public with a review, it will be favorable. 
"Raine Benares is a seeker who finds lost things and people. Ever since the Saghred, a soul-stealing stone that's given her unlimited power, has bonded to her, the goblin king and the elves have wanted to possess its magic themselves. Which means a goblin thief and her ex-fiancé-an elven assassin-are after her. To survive, she'll need the help of her notorious criminal family."
(Official blurb)

It's been about ten days since I read CON & CONJURE by Lisa Shearin. I wanted to see how my impressions mellowed, and which potential title for my review would stand the test (for me) of a short time.

"Danger, danger, danger!"
"Of Glamour and Small Manhood."
"End This Series!"
"Where's The Con?"

Danger comes on thick and fast. Raine Benares and her tall, dark, handsome and charmingly corrupt cousin Mago had a most intriguing con on the front burner. I should have liked to see that con play out.

Unfortunately, their cover was blown, if not blown up. Goblin Prince Chigaru sailed into port a few days early, and he is an assassin-magnet. He's also in love (but not with Raine) and in a committed relationship which I found strangely disappointing... maybe because his name means "hound" in Egyptian. If Tam is off the table as the dark point of a love triangle, a Mal'Salin prince might have made things even more interesting.

The Mal'Salin royal family is mentally unstable, which is convenient, because the Prince isn't utterly consistent in his behavior and in his reactions to Raine. No matter. Here's an example of what I love about Lisa Shearin's world-building and style, snagged from Lisa's website.
".....Goblins thought differently from elves. Hell, goblins thought differently than any other race. To them a threat of murder was simply overprotective and harmless. And if Chigaru’s guards had succeeded in offing me, the prince would have referred to it as an unfortunate misunderstanding. A misunderstanding for him that would be unfortunately permanent for me. As Imala said, murder and intrigue were merely another way to pass the time at the goblin court; neither was met with much if any concern.
And now, Prince Chigaru was pissed at me, or at least regally annoyed. I saved his life and he blamed me for interfering with his plans.
“Did your plan involve getting yourself shot, poisoned, and blown into fish food?” I asked mildly."
http://www.lisashearin.com/2011/01/24/con-conjure-snippet-prince-chigaru-malsalin-hes-baaaack/

Raine spends a goodly portion of CON & CONJURE saving Prince Chigaru's royal backside and other parts from himself, and from others. High elves, even higher and mightier goblins, and low commoners for hire are all doing their best to kill the prince, with no regard for collateral damage.

It's the collateral damage that concerns Raine most. There is also the proverb, which she does not quote, "My enemies' enemy is my friend." Raine's enemies want Prince Chigaru dead. Raine's enemies, of the mortal and also immortal kind, want Raine dead in the worst way.

A death sentence and lawful beheading "for her own protection" is the kindest cut facing her if she  is seen to use the Saghred's powers. Old goblin enemies plot to kill her in unspeakable ways. A gang of elven mages give darker meaning to "bondage" with their plan to share her and her Saghred-given powers.

Raine Benares is in more danger than ever before. Con & Conjure is a page-turning, heart-pounding, absorbing read, with the stakes ever higher --especially around the dangerous goblin embassy,--the long and short-- knives out, and Raine cannot depend upon anyone being who and what they appear to be.

Tamnais Nathrach was my favorite character in the previous books in the series. I knew that I wouldn't see much of him in CON & CONJURE. In fact, knowing that, I seriously considered not buying this episode, but I am glad I did buy the book, even though Tam did very little of his trademark hissing something short and deadly in Old Goblin and killing villains with a black magic word.

Another favorite from the earlier books was the suave and flamboyant Captain Phaelan Benares. His accident-prone role in this book reminded me a little bit of Merry in Lord Of The Rings. He's still good, but his big brother Mago is better, and wittier.

On the other hand, I did not miss the teenage spellsingers in the least. They were mostly motivation, and Raine has other innocents and not-exactly-innocents to protect as the villains up the ante. You wouldn't think it possible to up the ante after Hell opened and man-eating demons invaded Mid in THE TROUBLE WITH DEMONS, but Lisa Shearin achieved it, IMHO. (Not forgetting BEWITCHED AND BETRAYED came between.)

I don't want this series to end. And I do. With a story this good, I want to know how it ends, and waiting for a year or more between books without knowing when the series will end is... well... a drag.

As for the small penis jokes, no matter how good or important they might have been, basing a review on that precious aspect of the book would inevitably have been a spoiler, so I won't go down there... except as a segué to the bottom line.

Bottom line. I recommend that you buy the paperback. Buy all the paperbacks, if you haven't already, and read the series from start to date. If you don't do that, then read every word because everything the new reader needs to know is covered, but economically and only once. Each book does stand alone, but the sum is greater than the parts.

I have one pet peeve, and it is nothing to do with author Lisa Shearin. It's the cover art for the series. Could the art department use the same model for each book? And could each model please have the correct hair color? Raine is consistently described as a redhead. Why, then, is the girl on the cover sometimes blonde?



Thursday, April 21, 2011

Is Addiction Always Bad?

Here's an article about a new book on the physiological process of addiction, THE COMPASS OF PLEASURE, by a neuroscientist from Johns Hopkins University:

Defining Addiction

I've always found it irritating when people casually toss around the word "addiction" for any habitual behavior they enjoy to excess. If there's no chemical substance being introduced into the body, I think "compulsive" makes more sense than "addictive." Turns out that the scientific criterion for addiction "is defined by the changes that certain activities can make in the brain." Any activities that "short-circuit the medial forebrain pleasure circuit," from taking drugs to compulsive gambling or shopping, fit that definition. So, okay, I guess I have to accept that addiction is a broader category than I used to believe, even if the popular overuse of the terminology annoys me. Some non-chemical stimuli really do hijack the dopamine (pleasure chemical) processing circuits in the brain to produce a "super-potent experience." The brain gets rewired to respond to certain associations with cravings. Some surprising facts:

The majority of people who engage in pleasurable, habit-forming activities don't get physiologically addicted, even those who sample a powerful drug such as heroine once or twice.

Addicts don't get more pleasure from their drug of choice than average people do; they get less. Because of the effect of repeated abuse on the neurons, addicts need constantly higher doses to get the same effect. (Which is one reason I don't drink coffee every day, quite aside from the downside of the diuretic and laxative effects. If I consumed as much of the stuff as dedicated coffee lovers do, I would no longer receive the illusion of a burst of energy from a single cup or one frappuccino.)

Not everything often called "addictive" really is. Alcohol, nicotine, fat and sweet foods, exercise, shopping, gambling, and sex can be; meditation may be. Marijuana and video games aren't.

That list brings up the question of whether addiction can be a good thing. Exercise (if not taken to the point of physical injury) and meditation are good for us. Within a committed, loving relationship, sex is good for us (strengthens emotional bonds, provides exercise, has other physical benefits). I can't see how, in most people's lives, there could be "too much" meditative prayer or loving sex. I've come across comments by alcoholism counselors that there's no cure for an addictive personality; someone whose brain is wired that way generally substitutes one addiction for another—replacing drugs with marathons, for example. But doesn't it make a difference whether the compulsive behavior is harmful or beneficial? If one can't escape "addiction," surely it's better to be a workaholic or exercise-holic than a chain smoker or compulsive gambler. Some people might consider Isaac Asimov addicted to writing. He did it all day, every day, and he wouldn't go on a vacation without taking his work along. Yet even if that behavior signified an addiction, he was apparently happily well-adjusted to his condition, and millions of readers have benefited.

My father once labeled me "addicted to reading" (and he was a book lover himself, not one of those odd folks who dismiss reading as a waste of time), and he had a point, in that I never go anywhere without a book, and if more than a day goes by when I'm too busy for periods of sustained reading, I feel "withdrawal" symptoms. If I weren't a bookaholic, though, I would never have become a writer, and that's an experience I wouldn't want to have missed. For that matter, I suspect writing itself is something of an addictive behavior for me. Although I enjoy the preparation (outlining) and the byproducts (published books and their royalties), I don't usually enjoy the act of writing itself. I feel compelled to do it, though, and if I'm prevented for too long a stretch, I get depressed and irritable.

My fictional vampires, if they feed too often on a single donor, become addicted to that person and can't bear to drink from anyone else. (They get their bulk nourishment from animal blood, so they are not draining their chosen donor.) I frame this outcome as a good thing, though (if the partnership is carefully chosen), because the mutual dependency creates a deep emotional bond, far more satisfying than preying on anonymous victims. Nature actually intends a vampire to bond with a single donor, and those who feed randomly can't get the full satisfaction the experience was meant to provide.

Likewise, in real life, I'd view some "addictions" as benign reinforcements of pleasurable bonds, such as the "addiction" to sex with one's mate.

As Obi-Wan Kenobi says, sometimes it's all in one's point of view.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Worldbuilding - Building a Fictional, but Historical, World

 The following is a Guest Post by the author of the book I discussed last Tuesday,
Gold Under Ice

I strongly urge you to pay attention to her other novels.  She has mastered the knack of "transporting" you to an "other" world and engaging your emotions with characters whose environment is foreign to modern readers.

The underlying writing craft techniques that produce this are the same for Westerns, Historicals, Romance in another galaxy, or infatuation with demons on the path of reform.  Our ancestors are as "alien" to us as any djinn from outer space.  Read, study, and watch how this is done.


 -------------
Building a Fictional, but Historical, World
by
Carol Buchanan, author, 
God’s Thunderbolt: The Vigilantes of Montana 

Just like humans, fictional characters need ground to walk on and air to breathe – at least most of them do. So we, their creators, have to build them a world, an environment, to function in. Some writers of contemporary fiction may not need to go far to find the materials for their worlds and provide points of reference for readers. A scene in a Starbuck’s is familiar to most of us.

But writers of science fiction (sci/fi) and historical fiction have to provide knowable points of reference into worlds unknown to modern readers.

In sci/fi, the story takes place sometimes very far in the future. It’s often populated with strange creatures and beings whose very substance differs from what we consider flesh and blood. Their means of transport may involve light and molecular transference, and sometimes they have evolved to a stage that does not require feet or other appendages.

In historical fiction, obviously, the story occurs in the past, sometimes very far in the past. (One definition of historical fiction requires a story to be set at least 50 years before publication.)

Unlike sci/fi characters, which writers can make up entirely, it seems, historical characters inhabit worlds that once existed.

It’s a historical writer’s job to reconstruct that world as accurately as possible. The people who populated these past worlds had far different clothing, food, social habits, and transport than we do. And they had different attitudes, too, which were part of their times. 

In writing historical fiction set during the Montana gold rush of 1862-1867, I recreate as best I can the world people lived in: their clothing, the books they read, their politics. I’m a stickler for historical accuracy, so I depend a great deal on research. Both of my novels, God’s Thunderbolt: The Vigilantes of Montana (winner of the 2009 Spur award for Best First Novel) and its sequel Gold Under Ice, are full of information few potential readers could know.

This information is necessary if modern readers are to understand who the Vigilantes were and why they hanged 24 men. It’s difficult for readers to suspend their modern understanding of the term “Vigilante” in order to understand what happened during this period of Montana history and why.

I help readers enter into the gold rush world by defining the terms used by gold placer miners, detailing the legal situation in court scenes as my protagonist-lawyer works with the laws in place then, and letting the characters speak out on Civil War politics. To weave local law and national politics seamlessly into the narratives, I created the protagonist, Dan Stark, to be a lawyer from New York who is ignorant of gold mining (in God’s Thunderbolt) and gold trading (in Gold Under Ice). The reader learns as Dan learns. As he comes to understand the legal situation in Alder Gulch (God’s Thunderbolt), so does the reader.

For example, as he helps to bury a murdered friend, he grapples with his frustration in the following paragraph that also explains the situation in a territory without law, where ruffians ruled and murder was tolerated.

“If. If’s loomed in an aggregate as heavy as the stone he carried, staggering a bit, over rocks and pits. If they had a police force. If they had a court capable of dealing with matters more important than boundary lines and claim jumpers and petty theft. If the miners court had a judge who knew anything at all about the law, instead of the popularly elected president of the mining district, a medical man by training and a gold seeker by inclination. If they had a jail in which to incarcerate criminals that a police force caught and arrested. If they had police. If they had more than three punishments: whipping, banishment, hanging. If they had any body of law to go by at all, if Congress had allocated the Constitution to the Territory when they formed it. If the miners court had a formal, twelve-man jury instead of the jury of the whole, made up of anyone – drunk or sober – who happened by when the vote was taken for guilt or innocence. If. If. And if. “ 

Besides establishing the lack of law in Alder Gulch, I researched how the Civil War (1861 – 1865) divided the nation and defined not only politics, but vocabulary. Even the word “free,” as in a “free people” or “free man” primarily meant “not slave.”

Yet even this divide had its nuances within Union and Confederate sympathies. Some fought for the Confederacy though they hated slavery because they considered that the Union had invaded the South and the Federal government was prosecuting an illegal war. Some fought for the Union because they believed that the South had seceded illegally from the Union and they could give a damn about slavery.

To ignore these attitudes or judge them would have been to oversimplify the politics on the one hand and come dangerously close to writing a polemic on the other.

All in all, I researched God’s Thunderbolt for five years before I began writing it, and did more research during the two years I spent in the writing. For the most part, I could piggyback Gold Under Ice onto that research because the two novels occur in close sequence. 

For Gold Under Ice, I had to recreate New York City in the summer of 1864 and the relationship between the tides of war and the fluctuating values of gold futures and the Federal government’s paper money, the “greenback.” Because I had lived in New York for a couple of years, I remember how its sticky summers feel, and I don’t imagine that riding a crowded omnibus was much less comfortable than riding a subway at rush hour.

For how a lawyer acts and thinks in a courtroom and outside, I had the invaluable assistance of a former prosecuting attorney in Montana, a sweet man who said with a beatific smile, “Nasty is no problem. I can do nasty when I have to.” He also told me that frozen corpses do stink.

Oddly enough, some of the research that readers and reviewers have commended me for took no research at all. My rescue horse, Gus, teaches me about equines. Thanks to him, I know what barns smell like, and how different feeds change the color of horse poop. For nearly a year in my childhood my parents and I lived in a boxcar with no running water or indoor plumbing or electricity. I’ve primed a pump and worried about bee stings on my heinie in a privy. I’ve done homework by a kerosene lamp while my mother and father shared the newspaper.

Here are two sentences from God’s Thunderbolt: “Dotty, for once without much to say, set to drying the dishes. Martha poured the dirty wash water into the slop pail, and set the dishpan with clean water on the stove to heat.” Just like Mother did.

All I had to do to portray domestic life was remember that year in the boxcar.
In the next novels, the world I build will be founded as it has been, partly on research and partly on personal experience. After all, don’t people advise us to “write what we know?”
-----------



So now please go look up Carol Buchanan and watch what she does.


Jacqueline Lichtenberg
http://jacquelinelichtenberg.com

Thursday, April 14, 2011

New Sime-Gen Books

Exciting news! Here's a glowing example of the benefits of e-books and Print on Demand publishing: The Sime-Gen series by Jacqueline and her co-author, Jean Lorrah, is back in print—and electrons—from Wildside Press. Even more wonderfully, books their fans have been awaiting for years or decades have finally been released.

I just finished reading the long-anticipated TO KISS OR TO KILL, Jean's Sime-Gen romance set in the tumultuous period right after Unity, an excellent demonstration of the fact that the universe of the series can serve as a setting for fiction of any genre. Wildside has also published Jean's THE STORY UNTOLD, a compilation of stories about musical duo Zhag and Tonyo, major secondary characters in TO KISS OR TO KILL. This past Sunday I bought Jacqueline's never-before-published Sime-Gen novel, PERSONAL RECOGNIZANCE.

In addition, other newly published books include a collection of Jacqueline's vampire fiction, THROUGH THE MOON GATE; a collection of her SF and fantasy stories, SCIENCE IS MAGIC SPELLED BACKWARD; and a volume of Jean's fantasy short pieces.

All these books are offered in Kindle format as well as trade paperback. Without e-publishing and POD, we might not have access to any of them.

Jacqueline, please tell us more about these new releases. I'd enjoy reading whatever you feel free to discuss about these works' long journey to publication.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Gold Under Ice by Carol Buchanan

Folks, I met Carol  Buchanan on Twitter (just as I'd met Gene Doucette there), she mentioned she'd written a Historical titled GOLD UNDER ICE, about gold mining during the civil war in Montana.  I think we were talking about "Westerns" which I love on some #chat and so I asked for a review copy.

She sent me the e-book (it's also in paperback). 

I loved this book.  It's a feel-good read that is so smooth and nicely crafted.  I'll be raving about it for a while.

As I mentioned last week, I can't think how to use it in a writing lesson.  This novel is so smooth, so tightly woven, there's just no way to manipulate it the way I showed you that you could manipulate Gene Doucette's IMMORTAL. 

But I think you should try reading it for contrast/compare. 
http://www.amazon.com/Gold-Under-Ice-Carol-Buchanan/dp/0982782217/rereadablebooksr/

So I reviewed GOLD UNDER ICE in my column for The Monthly Aspectarian - it's in the June 2011 issue.  (for print magazines you have to work with a lead time)

I sent Carol Buchanan a copy of my review.

Now consider this magazine is New Age and has a very steep "slant" -- it's readers are conversant with Tarot, Astrology, and dozens of magical systems and neo-pagan practices.  I talk jargon in that column, and readers know what I mean. 

So I didn't think Carol would like what I wrote.

She wrote back that she was pleased  to be presented to a readership she had no idea would be interested in this novel, but she had no idea what I'd said.

Hmmm.  Thought about that, and strove to explain what I'd said. 

I'd indicated that GOLD UNDER ICE was a novel of Initiation in the 9's of the Tarot, in Wands, Cups, Swords, Pentacles. 

If you've read my posts here on Tarot, you should be able to see immediately why this would be a grand hook for New Age readers.

And you should see instantly what an accomplishment I thought the novel was.

Maybe not.

Here are two posts listing my posts on Tarot, in case you missed them.

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2010/03/pausing-for-you-to-catch-up-with-me.html

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2010/03/pausing-for-you-to-catch-up-with-me_23.html

Read the 9's. 

I've only posted on Swords and Pentacles on this blog -- the set of chapters on Wands and Cups are in the as yet unpublished books on Tarot I've written.  The holdup is lack of interior artwork - 3 versions of the Tree of Life diagram.

But 9's are 9's - all 4 represent the Astral Plane in some way.

So here's this novel, GOLD UNDER ICE, that is a real treasure of a find for me, and I'm trying to explain to the author why I wrote an offhand reference to the Tarot 9's in the review. 

The Hero, main character, point of view character - the person whose story we live through in this novel, goes through 4 Major Initiation experiences simultaneously.

The whole thing is woven together in a life's biography integral to the Civil War years in both New York and Montana (during the time it became a Territory of it's own).

There's a rich tapestry of historical fact, without a single expository lump -- the facts are all used smoothly the way Andre Norton always wove alien background into her novels.

The author was surprised to hear me liken Historicals to Fantasy Genre, or SF -- but she writes a little bit like Andre Norton, but for adults (yes, GOLD UNDER ICE is a sequel to a prequel that won an award, and it's got an ongoing Romance thread to pant over!)

But the writing technique for building imaginary worlds is identical to that needed for Historical worlds.  After all, Gene Roddenberry sold Star Trek as "Wagon Train To The Stars."

Each of these tidbits of historical fact is related to the overall themes, the 4 Initiations and what it takes to pass through those stages into adulthood.

The main character "arcs" -- changes, and grows in emotional maturity by facing situations that are natural to life in those times.

OK, that's easy, but Buchanan does 4 of them simultaneously without letting the seams bulge!  This is a beautiful novel for the student of the esoteric. 

But she didn't know what I'd called her novel!  How could I explain it?

Here's how I boiled it down for her. Could you do it better?

---------

Yesod is the name of the Sephera of the Tree of Life right "above" our everyday world, the nearest "place" or psychological plane, where Time is not Defined -- it's the "astral plane" of dreams where everything is plastic.

The Wands, Cups, Swords and Pentacles are the "suits" of the Tarot - each "suit" represents one of the 4 "Worlds" of the Kaballah, Thought, Emotion, Action, Materialization.  Each of the 4 has all 10 Sepheroth.

This readership can be counted on to be familiar with (or learning) all that shorthand.

9 Wands is the state of being all fenced in with defenses - your guy is VERY defensive, all wound up in his own ideas until "she" comes into his heart.

9 Cups is all about fulfillment of emotional potential - getting what you really want out of life (he falls in true Love)

9 Swords is your deepest subconscious nightmares - your guy goes back home and faces down his inner demons

9 Pentacles - wealth - being independently wealthy, being strongly situated in a "house" (or life) with solid foundations.  Independence of wealth - security, and it's also associated with INHERITANCE (in your guy's case, he inherited a debt).  It's about materializing your dreams.  This is where that "Honor" aspect comes in.

Putting all 4 together, those are the life lessons your guy comes through with flying colors.

Any way you slice it, you wrote a good book.
---------------
GOLD UNDER ICE is totally different from Gene Doucette's IMMORTAL, almost the obverse, but only because of Point of View and the nature of the character whose head you ride in. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg
http://jacquelinelichtenberg.com

Sunday, April 10, 2011

On Jacqueline Lichtenberg’s ‘Dushau’ by Diane Dooley - THE GALAXY EXPRESS

Here is a very nice review of my Dushau Trilogy praising my worldbuilding.

On Jacqueline Lichtenberg’s ‘Dushau’ by Diane Dooley - THE GALAXY EXPRESS

Orphan Works

Judge Denny Chin threw out the Google Book Settlement, and commentators write lines such as
"The Dream Is Dead". It wasn't a particularly honorable dream, was it?
 
Part of the problem is the jingoistic implied assumption about orphan works.

According to Wikipedia, "An orphan work is a copyrighted work for which the copyright owner cannot be contacted."
 

Outgoing Register of Copyrights, MaryBeth Peters opined in 2008
Some critics believe that the legislation is unfair because it will deprive copyright owners of injunctive relief, statutory damages, and actual damages.  I do not agree.  First, all of these remedies will remain available (to the extent they apply in the first place) if the copyright owner exists and is findable. 

Well, "being findable" is open to abuse, isn't it? 
 
The week before last, EBay treated a class of 14,000 mostly American romance authors' e-books, and also a class of 17,000 mostly living American authors e-books as orphan works.

On EBay, iOffer, file-sharing sites, on Googlegroups, Yahoogroups, Facebook, Twitter, Social Go, Picasa, and all around the world, authors' works are treated as orphan works, and are published and distributed for fun and profit. (Usually, EBay at least closes the auctions once authors complain and prove who they are and complain again, but hundreds of sales remain as done deals.)

Are we findable? Are you findable?
Almost everyone is "findable", no thanks to Intellius, Spokeo, Zabasearch and their ilk.... as long as we're
only trying to protect the rights of our countrymen.

Even so, British and Portuguese and Californian Ebayers (and many others) shrug off complaints of copyright infringement in their auctions, with excuses such as "I've never heard of these authors," and "Those books are freely available online, so why shouldn't I burn them onto a CD and sell them?"

The problem is, finding authors is a nuisance. Getting in touch, and getting a response can take precious time.

Another problem for authors is that the "available remedies" are prohibitively expensive. 
 
Have you ever tried to pursue a lawsuit in a foreign country, even one that is a signatory to Berne? 
 
Have you tried to hire a copyright lawyer in your own country? If you don't have a professional relationship, it could cost you a $5,000 retainer simply to open a case!

Is a debut ebook author who sells her self-published romances on Amazon for $2.99 going to be able to justify the cost of asserting her rights, knowing that actual damages will cost less than the lawyer, and 
statutory damages, if awarded, will mean bad publicity?
 
The e-book pirates know that. One of them even wrote a guide about it on EBay,
 
I'm starting to hear that some perfectly findable authors are seeing their (Not!!) "orphan works" being uploaded on Amazon's DTP program, and sold by strangers.

The rot has spread.

A recent NYT Editorial applauded Judge Denny Chin's decision.

However, the writer suggests "Congress, meanwhile, can resolve the problem of orphan books. In 2008, it almost passed a bill that would allow anybody to digitize orphan works without fear of being sued for copyright infringement as long as they proved that they had tried to find the rights’ holder. This would give all comers similar legal protection to that which Google got in its agreement."

I ask you, How would we (Americans or Britons) feel if Baidu in China --or any other search engine-- did as Google and the Libraries did? How would we feel if the works of any American author who did not follow the news in Chinese were to be legally considered "orphan works"?

If I received an email in Chinese from a scrupulous Chinese digital publisher, would I read and respond to it?
Would it be reasonable to expect every working author to cut and paste every foreign language "spam" filter message to an online Translate site?

I cannot recall if the Google Settlement assumed that all foreign-authored works were "orphan", but digital works can be published worldwide, yet national lawmakers only protect their own author citizens. (Or don't!)

For example, the British Public Lending Right only pays a small royalty on British Library loans to resident British authors, who can produce a street address and a recent utility bill with their own name and address on it. Presumably, books by all other authors in the world are loaned out without any PLR payments made by the British lending libraries.
 
Judge Denny Chin's "Opt-in" recommendation is the only honorable way to go.


Scott Turow's letter to the NYT is published here:
 
 

 
The New York Times editorial is here.
 

 
EBay guides
http://reviews.ebay.com/VeRO-Copyright-and-the-e-book-collection_W0QQugidZ10000000019922449


http://reviews.ebay.com/What-to-do-if-you-bought-an-illegal-e-book-collection_W0QQugidZ10000000021207441

Thursday, April 07, 2011

The Future of Publishing

The phrase above is the title of John Scalzi's contribution to the "SF in the Digital Age" section of the January 2011 LOCUS. (He's president of SFWA.) He was asked how book publishing will look five years from now. His four predictions, quoted verbatim:

1. Publishing will still exist in five years.

2. E-books will be a bigger chunk of sales, but print books will still be about.

3. More authors will be successful self-publishing, but possibly fewer than you might expect.

4. Writers will still engage in magical thinking when it comes to the online world and social media.

I can identify with, and wince at, the last. I often catch myself wondering why my website, e-mail newsletter, blog posts, and excellent online reviews of my books haven't automatically increased my sales.

My favorite sentence from Scalzi's essay, commenting on the rise of e-books as a significant factor in the book world:

"Publishing is nearly always undergoing wrenching change, distribution and marketing is always getting the rug yanked out from under it, and 'the good old days' are always at some point in the past where older authors can convince younger authors that giants walked the earth and money fell from the sky."

And he goes on to say that the publishing industry "is likely to survive today's wrenching change, so it can freak out about the next wrenching change five years down the line."

(This article doesn't seem to be on the LOCUS website, so I can't supply a link. If you can track down a copy of the issue, read all the essays in the topic section.)

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Gene Doucette's IMMORTAL revisited

In January 2011, I posted an analysis of Gene Doucette's novel IMMORTAL.  At that time, it had gathered a nice sized readership and was still growing in popularity and even controversy. 


At the time I wrote the analysis, some months prior to posting, I asked his permission to dissect his work in public and use it for a writing lesson.  Being a professional, he consented, and I sent him my analysis.  He sent me a response which I then set up to post right after my post on his novel. 

He noted these posts on his own blog and website -- and several of his fans leaped in to add commentary, all of which is absolutely fascinating and worth reading.

Note that I did not, in the body of my post, "review" IMMORTAL.  This is not a review but a nuts-n-bolts analysis that should be taken in the context of my previous writing-lesson posts.  My post was not a criticism of the novel (that would have different content).  My post was an analysis aimed at Romance writing students. 

I could not capture or articulate all the important points about IMMORTAL in this one post, and so recommend all writing students (regardless of genre specialty) read this novel, make marginal notes and come back years later to study it.

Here are the direct URLs.

My analysis of IMMORTAL. 
http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2011/01/constructing-opening-of-action-romance.html


Gene Doucette's response:
http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2011/01/gene-doucette-discusses-his-novel.html

Each of these links will take you to a page with the comment-discussion at the bottom.

Note, if the colors make it hard to read, you can highlight everything with your cursor and get black text on white background.  The blog-owner may still have issues with the color scheme.

So, on Gene's post, one of the comments is from Angela who was curious about what I meant by "couldn't put it down."  Another was from Mike, who observed how easy (and interesting) it is to get caught up in a secondary character's story and make it your own. 

I set out to answer as a blog-comment, and well, you all know I don't write short.

So my answer has become this blog post, scheduled for March, and there are several reasons for that.

First, while these 2 posts were being discussed, Gene Doucette mentioned to me that he was still in the process of determining how commercially "successful" IMMORTAL would be.  I think that was after I had noted that I felt it would do wonderfully well as a feature film script, and he answered that he had that in mind. So I wanted to wait a few more weeks to see what might develop.

Second, I did recommend students read the novel, and didn't want to continue the discussion until they'd had a chance to do that.

Third, meanwhile the subject came up on a #scifichat that a "Star Trek-The Love Boat" mashup would be something to avoid at all costs -- which spawned the sequence of 7 posts from Feb 15th to March 29th, 2011.  Oddly, that dovetails with the discussion of IMMORTAL but most specifically with the aspect of commerciality. 

Fourth, on a #scriptchat I think it was, there was a discussion of the 4-quad script and the virtues of the 4-act structure as opposed to the 3-act structure Blake Snyder favors. Taking "4-quad" to refer to the 4 demographics a film must capture to be an "opens everywhere" film, (by age and gender), which speaks directly to this issue of how intensely Gene Doucette's fans respond to the novel IMMORTAL as opposed to how wide the potential market for IMMORTAL might be.  (size of market vs. cost of production). 

Fifth, I do have an example of a self-published book as strongly crafted as IMMORTAL but in a totally different genre.  It is not, however, readily apparent to me how to make a writing lesson out of it -- all I can do is point and say "write like that" Carol Buchanan's GOLD UNDER ICE is on Amazon (read it; we'll talk about it's Tarot underpinnings)

http://www.amazon.com/Gold-Under-Ice-Carol-Buchanan/dp/0982782217/rereadablebooksr/

So I still have a lot more to learn from Immortal.  I want to see the screenplay!

So go read or re-read the posts and comments on IMMORTAL linked above, and here's my answer to Angela and Mike who commented on Gene Doucette's guest post.

---------
 Angela:

As a writer, I enjoy things in a story that are not the same as what a reader enjoys. 

I read and analyze at the same time.  It's a rare book that forces me to suspend analyzing for structure, beats, character motivation, theme, etc etc, the moving parts of storytelling.

IMMORTAL was not of that kind for me.  But it is, precisely, that kind of book FOR OTHER KINDS OF READERS. 

And that's what kept me reading.  I saw this book through the emotions of others, not myself.  That is what it means to be a writer reading to learn the craft.

Reading stories becomes very non-personal, and the reward, the payoff, the zing at the end comes from the craftsmanship used to entertain that readership to which you do not belong. 

It is such a "high" to get outside your own head, to go where you yourself could and would not go, that seeking that high becomes the point of reading stories.

All addicted readers do that.  It's part of what it means to be a reader.  Readers seek to be "transported" into imagination, to places where things are "different."

IMMORTAL has proven, through its loyal readers, to have the level of craftsmanship behind it that I did see upon reading it.  The spirited response to these two posts shows clearly that I was right about this book.  It's special. 

But what kept me turning the pages was the promise that I had in my hands the exact book I'd been seeking for years while writing this blog about Hybrid Romance Writing Craft.

This is the book that illustrates these points - and I read a lot, believe me.  I also get a lot of beginning writer's manuscripts where I have to explain to them why it won't sell (explanations that have been drilled into me over years in the publishing industry).

I know this stuff so well, so subconsciously, that I'm inarticulate on the subject and can't get my point across to students without an example.

IMMORTAL is the perfect example, and I seriously believe that all those aspiring to sell Romance novels of any type, especially ALIEN ROMANCE, need to read and reverse-engineer this book for themselves.

I do not ever mean to imply there is "one and only one" way to write, to do the Art of writing, and by no means am I defending "the publishing industry" and the standards by which working editors at the mass market imprints choose books to publish.

If you have read most of my entries on this blog and the more technical teaching-blog editingcircle.blogspot.com you have to know how I am following and interpreting the changes in publishing due to POD and e-books.

You must have noted how I keep returning to doing futurology on publishing using the tools I'm illustrating in the writing craft posts.

If you've followed these blogs, surely you've browsed through my professional review column and noted that my personal take on the world is that, contrary to the Great Wisdom of true sages, I see the world as complicated, not simple.

As I see it, there are no "simple" answers.  But what I do in these writing craft posts is focus up close on a single strand, or a tiny pixel-sized light, in the overall pattern I'm seeing, and try to give you the "hex-number" for the color of that pixel.

Armed with that information, the writing student can use that color code to enhance the richness of color in his/her own compositions.

Get enough of these color-codes into your toolbox, and you can create images in your reader's mind in three dimensions.

There are thousands.  It's very complicated.  There are more "right answers" than "wrong answers."  In fact, there are only a few "wrong" ways to write a story.  That's why it seems there is no rule that can't be broken.  But there really are some. 

When you can bend and twist the "right ways" to look like something new (a craftsmanship level beyond most working professional writers) you can create something like IMMORTAL.

My students may never be able to duplicate the feat that Gene Doucette pulled off here, but I do want them to understand how he did what he did, and how they can do it too.

Mike: Does what I've said here show you why I didn't "lose myself" in a supporting character, and that's why I found this book fascinating and worth discussing?

By looking at a piece of writing in multi-dimensions, you discover the adage of all stagecraft, "there are no small parts."  There's no such thing as a "supporting player."

Marion Zimmer Bradley also taught me something she'd learned from her teachers: "The Villain Is The Hero Of His Own Story."

When a story is well written, all the characters are Heroes with Stories.

On Star Trek, they introduced "The Holodeck" as an entertainment center, the next step in fiction reading is to step right into the 3-D story and participate, make decisions that direct the plot, act and react.

Why is that such a natural thing to understand?

Because all readers already do that, using cold text! 

The writer's challenge as an artist is to get readers to step into the story and walk a mile in the moccasins of one of the characters (any one of the characters the reader chooses).

Gene has achieved that with IMMORTAL -- for his targeted audience, very specifically, very exactly, very precisely. 

Therefore, this work is worth studying.

We'll talk about Carol Buchanan's novel GOLD UNDER ICE next week.  And I think there will be much more to say about all this. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg
http://jacquelinelichtenberg.com