Thursday, October 27, 2011

Suzette Haden Elgin

Linguist and SF writer Suzette Haden Elgin, author of the "Native Tongue" and "Planet Ozark" novels and numerous nonfiction books in her "Verbal Self Defense" series, hasn't posted on her blog since April. This week a message appeared on her Live Journal blog, passed on from her husband, that she can no longer focus well enough even to answer e-mails. In fact, she has Alzheimer's. Here's a reaction to the news from one of her many fans:

Brilliant Writer Falls Silent

This article includes a link to the original discussion on Elgin's blog.

What a shock. I always eagerly followed her warm, witty, thought-provoking comments on Live Journal and have missed them. She generously posted drafts of poems, inviting reader comment and often revising the poems in response. She also gave us regular reports on the progress of the latest SF novel she was working on. Now that novel won't be finished (at least, not by her). She was a shining model of an author's interaction with readers.

With Terry Pratchett (who's still writing), that makes two of my favorite authors I know of who've developed Alzheimer's. As one of the commenters on Elgin's blog remarked, it's especially sad to see this fate befall someone whose life's work has been so deeply engaged with language.

Margaret Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Believing in Happily Ever After Part 4: Nesting Huge Themes Inside Each Other

Last week we looked at two conflict sets that form the basis for huge thematic statements that can be simplified down to something as stark and elegant as the underpinnings of the TV show Leverage. Now we'll see if we can combine these 4 thematic elements into a set of themes that generate conflicts and thus plots for large, multi-point of view novels as we began discussing in

Verisimilitude vs. Reality Part 2 September 13,2011 vs. Reality Part 3, September 20, 2011
The previous posts in this series were posted on:

October 4, 2011 11, 2011 18, 2011
Secret vs. Private + Standardized vs. Customized

You can "nest" those two sets of conflicts to produce a huge novel with a dizzying array of Point of View Characters.

You can nest them because they are philosophically related. If you can explicate that philosophical relationship all in Show and without any Tell (i.e. tell the story in pictures, in icons and images) you will have a masterpiece of commentary on the current human condition.

To start, note that in a Standardized culture anything about you that you don't hang right out in public is going to be regarded as grounds for suspicion about you.

Why is that?

Think about it.

In a Standardized culture, we're all alike. So if there's something about you that you aren't forthcoming about, then it must be something that identifies you as "Different" -- as unacceptable. It has to be something you're ashamed of, because after all we're all the same, so why would you keep it secret?

Once you've seen a naked woman, you've seen a naked woman.

Why would any woman "hide" their nakedness (or any part of their body) from you when all women are the same? Men, too, for that matter. What's to hide?

If you're not displaying your nakedness for all to see, you are keeping something secret. It's only logical.

There's physical nakedness, and there's psychological nakedness. In a Standardized culture, if you're not as naked as everyone else, you're not politically correct. You're keeping something secret.

In a Standardized culture (science fiction extrapolation to vast extreme for the sake of illustration), there can be no such thing as "private." There is only "secret." And in a Standardized culture, secret is evil.

Why is secret evil? Because something different might undermine the standardization of everyone.

In a Customized culture, on the other hand, there can be secrets and some of them may be about Evil, but most of what you don't know about another person is just private, and you're really not curious at all about other people's private business. You have your own private business to fill up the empty spaces inside you.

That's right, in a Customized (carry to extremes, remember? It's a principle of screenwriting) culture, a seriously totally customized culture, people would still be intensely curious about all kinds of things, but never about someone else's private business.

In a Customized culture, people don't dress or talk all alike. In a Standardized culture, they do.

In the 1950's, each year brought a specific fashion-necessary hemline length. If you couldn't afford a new dress (women didn't wear pants much), then you took up or let down the hemlines to within a half-inch of the specified proper fashion, usually sewing by hand. Standardization reigned in car-manufacturing, and in fashion. Uniform spelling was not just admired but an absolute requirement. Radio announcers had even become standardized for accent. (today you hear regional accents on TV announcers -- in the 1950's you didn't., though regional accents were more redolent.)

In the 2010's, walk along any street and see some women in pants suits, others in jeans, ankle length skirts, mini-skirts, all going the same place.

The other day I saw a video clip of a bunch of people walking out of the White House after a high level conference they were reporting on. I watched the women. They ALL wore skirt-suits (not a one of dozens wore a pants suit), and the skirts were above the knee in every case. Their dress for business wear had become standardized to a new standard. Even just 5 years ago, there were lots of pants suits in such shots. Remember Hilary Clinton wore and still wears pants suits more than anything else.

In between, there was a trend where women on TV non-fiction shows (there was a time when no TV anchor on a news show was female) all wore suits, sometimes with tailored shirts and ties, sometimes pants suits, but sometimes skirt-suits and they weren't mini-skirt suits.

I've taken a recent poll cruising news shows. All the newswomen are showing a lot of skin, cleavage, and often wear skin-tight dresses with cleavage and no sleeves, showing more of themselves than they would in a bathing suit. Just a few years ago, those same women wore suits with jackets when seen among men wearing suits with jackets. Today, female reporters stand on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (which is being bought by the Germans) among men in suits, but the women are showing cleavage and lots of skin, or if it's cold outside, they wear very tight sweaters.

And the Germans have a very different culture than the U.S.A. does. As much as German culture (via immigrants) has influenced us, we are still very different.

I'm not passing value judgements here. I'm surveying details that sketch the context of your reader's real-world, against which they judge the plausibility of your fictional world. I'm selecting details here that infer other types of details. Think about the reasons for these fashion shifts. This is how you "build" a world for your characters from the substance of your theme. When you build your fictional world from the elements of your reader's real world, the readers will believe your entire story - it will seem plausible. Your reader reads about how people dress, and your reader infers the value system of the culture in which those characters walk abroad.

Women wore suits to be like men, or to seek respect for not presenting themselves as a sex object.

There was a cultural conflict there generating that fashion choice -- the striving to be taken seriously. In prior times, women news reporters were never allowed to report on business stories or crimes (or from the locker room at a sporting event). Women reporters covered women's stories only. Nothing a woman said was ever taken seriously.

Today that cultural conflict is gone, and women are behaving as if they can be taken seriously and display as much skin as they (or the news producers) want. Yes, it seems the real reason for the cleavage display is that sex sells. Nothing rivets a man's attention like cleavage and the producers (even the women producers) of news shows see that in their ratings demographics. But the men don't wear wet T-shirts to display a six-pack.

I've seen prime time hard-news TV shows with a female anchor and a couple of female reporters, all showing a lot of skin, and reporting on serious news. Big change, and I haven't seen anyone note it even in passing.

The writer's eye must observe these things and translate the visuals into thematic substance.

Compare that cultural shift to the one described in the article I sited earlier in this Believing In Happily Ever After series about the increasing internet speeds and what enterprise has been able to do with that technological advance.

Here's the link again:

Microsoft and Google, the two publicly traded titans who, along with, reign supreme in the Customized culture, actually operate on the old Standardized Worker-bee model. Though their products are created by wildly dressed individuals, they are developed and marketed by standardized workers, in standard business suits.

Consider that Facebook became a publicly traded company in 2011. Now Google has launched Google+ a serious competitor to Facebook. Google+ is another example of a user customizable service that's standardized on the back end.

I was talking with an employee of GoDaddy the other day about this very thing, and we agreed that GoDaddy is the Home Depot of the digital world (GoDaddy is a do-it-yourself website hosting service with customer service phone answerers who really know what they're talking about just as Home Depot clerks know what the products on their shelves actually do).

While GoDaddy is enabling individuals to create totally Customized (or templated Standardized; your choice) websites, they treat their employees like identical worker-bees, and pay really low wages, rewarding the best sales people with bonuses. (Sears does the same, as do many department stores).

At GoDaddy the art staff gets paid less than the customer service reps, according to my informant.

Well, that's how it used to be.  Things may be changing there, too.  See this?

GoDaddy, the world’s largest domain registrar, has been sold to three private equity firms in a deal valued at $2.25 billion, the company announced in early July 2011.

So these successful businesses (creating those rich folks who take what they want) are now hybrids of the Standardized and Customized cultures.

They sell customizable products (all the same out of the box; you make them different), but manufacture them in a Standardized Henry Ford style way. Do you smell a conflict generating a plot yet?

Now, you all know of the "privacy" issues on the internet, and the hacking incursions into bank records, even personal cell phones of celebrities.

Take that "real" world your reader lives in, slice and dice it just as you sliced and diced the TV Show Leverage which we discussed in Part 2 of this series.

Build an alien culture from one of these sets of themes, and a futuristic (extrapolated to extreme) human culture from the other set, put them in CONFLICT over a problem, resolve the problem, and you have a major novel that seethes with Romance one way or another, because the only thing that can Conquer this stuff is Love.

In the Standardized culture in which every instinct to Privacy is regarded as keeping illicit Secrets, the unique individual strives to 'break free' of a stultifying oppression. The Standardization is the problem.

In The Customized culture in which Privacy is treasured (what happens in the family, stays in the family), the Businessman who seeks to maximize profits via standardizing both workers and products, strives to hammer slippery individuals into shape and make everyone want the same thing. The Individualization, the sacredness of privacy, is the problem.

In a previous post we discussed the origins of the science of Public Relations. You should read the wikipedia article on PR and advertising.

Here are 3 posts on PR and altering the perception of reality in the way described above with fashion.

Remember the principle, create a frustration then sell the solution and alter the general perception of reality.

To get the greater readership to accept the reality of the Happily Ever After ending, that ending has to become the solution to their greatest frustration -- like increasing internet speed and selling data connections by the megabyte.

The greatest frustration out there right now is the conflict between the innate (and I believe intrinsic in human nature) desire for individual uniqueness to be recognized (i.e. unconditional love) and the survival-instinct need to hunker down as one of the herd, to be a worker-bee and get a paycheck, to use the most popular brand of shampoo.

God Forbid anyone should think you're Different - because you know you are. That's CONFLICT the very essence of STORY. But more than that, it's the essence of Romance, because Romance starts with the impact of the vision of a future where you are not alone in your privacy.

The desire to be unique, and yet the same, and also recognized and appreciated for your individual uniqueness is the "problem" in the us vs. a problem conflict formula.

Right now, our genera population can't see Love Conquers All as the solution to that uniting problem in our culture.

Use Art to demonstrate that solution, and sell big time.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, October 23, 2011

My battle with Big Pizza

Also with EBay; Google AdWords Express; Virgin/Samsung; Ford; Papa John's Pizza, from whom I had an extraordinary response to a "red flag" below; a law firm (!) advertising on a pirate site; Lifelock, who will protect my identity -allegedly-- but not my livelihood, (a publisher of sorts); and more.

My admittedly Quixotic battles perfectly demonstrate something over which Congress is deliberating, according to a recent mailing from the

To cut to the chase....: Complain to your Congressmen about copyright infringement
This form goes automatically to your representatives in Washington. There is a form email, and you simply add your contact info. PO Boxes work.

Click on this URL to take action now

This is the serious stuff: The highlighting is my own.

Letter from the Copyright Alliance Director of Outreach, Lucinda Dugger.
Dear Copyright Advocates,

RUMOR HAS IT that the U.S. House of Representatives will be introducing its version of the rogue sites legislation in the coming weeks. I have been reporting to you about the legislation over the past year. We have seen it take on various forms and names, but the underlying purpose of the bill remains the same: to provide new tools to remove advertising and legitimate payment processing from foreign rogue internet sites that are dedicated to infringing activities, and to make those sites less accessible to US users.

You may recall that the Senate introduced its version of the bill in May. For a recap of that bill, click here.

The Debate Heats Up

Washington, DC has been teeming with supporters and opponents over the bill in the recent weeks, and we expect the debates to continue over the coming months. Though the Copyright Alliance holds a position that this bill will support both artists/creators and the creative industries broadly, technology giants and others are lining up organizations to misrepresent what the bill does. They are claiming that by preventing unscrupulous parties from making money distributing your works without your authorization, the bill is somehow a threat to free speech and innovation. But it is clear that no one has a "free speech" right to commercialize your work over your objections.

I hear from many of you about your struggles with digital theft through these rogue websites and know that protecting the rights and work of artists enhances creativity, free speech and innovation. If you want to share your story of digital theft, send an email to:

Additional Help for Small Business and Individual Copyright Owners

As preparations continue for introducing the bill in the House of Representatives, we have also heard from Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). As part of his effort to crack down on rogue sites, his office is interested in exploring additional remedies to help effectively enforce the rights of small businesses and individual copyright owners harmed by infringement. He has requested that the U.S. Copyright Office conduct a study about the feasibility of alternate "small claims court" procedures that could be quicker and less expensive for copyright owners to pursue. We will keep you posted so that you can help us weigh in once the study begins.

Take Action

Show your Senators that you support the bill and encourage your Representatives to quickly introduce their version of the bill by sending this letter to Capitol Hill.

Feel passionate about this issue? Let us know. . .we are looking for a few strong voices to help us get the word out about these issues. To chime in send an email with your name, address and contact information, and a little bit about yourself to

(redacted paragraph, cut for lack of links and length)

Lucinda Dugger
Director of Outreach


Now, for my little anecdote.
I've been watching, semi-helplessly, as a site that ignores DMCA notices shares one of my ebooks. Banner ads by various businesses fund this digital theft, as you can see for yourself.... which is why I include the link.

I wrote to Papa John's Pizza using the only online contact available. They are not set up to receive DMCA complaints and obviously a robot is in charge of Customer Service. Check out the response I received to my complaint that they are funding copyright infringement.


On behalf of Papa John's Pizza, we would like to apologize for any
inconvenience you encountered with your recent order from Papa John's. We
are truly sorry the problem from the restaurant caused your order not to
meet expectations. Our goal is to provide not only a superior quality
pizza, but also a World Class Customer Experience to our consumers at all
times. Your comments have been sent to the Owners/Operators for this
location and someone should be contacting you soon.

Thank you for taking the time to complete the Internet Feedback form.Your
incident number is PJIA-8MTTW8; please refer to this number in any future
correspondence. We want to encourage you to call your local Papa John's
whenever you have questions or comments, but if we can be of further
assistance, please visit us again at


Consumer Services Team 

For the record, I've also complained to PayPal 's Infringement Report team, because there is a Donate button at the bottom of the page (in a footer run by wibiya to whom I have also complained) which does work, and PayPal does take 1c of profit for every $1.00 donated to the site owner.

Since the Donate button is still there and still goes to PayPal, I infer that PayPal needs a bit of Congressional  scrutiny.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Cyborgs Revisited

Recently I watched JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN, a horrifying, nearly hopeless movie about a maimed World War I veteran, based (mostly faithfully) on an equally grim novel. The protagonist, Joe, has lost all his limbs and had his face blown off, unable to hear, see, or talk. He breathes and gets nourishment through tubes. His torso is intact, however, and his mind fully functional, although he's in the additionally nightmarish plight of having the doctors think he isn't conscious. By feeling the warmth of sunlight from the window of his room, he distinguishes day from night and starts keeping track of time. A kind nurse spells "Merry Christmas" with her finger on his chest, giving him a fixed point in the year. Eventually he communicates with the military doctors by tapping out Morse code with his head. He asks either to be allowed to die or to be taken on tour and displayed as an example of the horrors of war. The officer in charge refuses both requests. The movie expands the narrative that, in the novel, remains entirely inside the protagonist’s head. In the film, we see the hospital staff and hear their conversations about Joe, so we know he’s considered a hopeless vegetable until he reaches out with Morse code. If anything, the movie's ending seems more negative than the book's, which implies a faint chance that he might later succeed in opening further communications.

I started thinking about how Joe's story would play out in the present day. First, DNA testing would identify him, so he wouldn’t spend the rest of his life anonymously confined to a foreign military hospital. (In the book, he’s glad he can’t be identified, because he doesn’t want his family and sweetheart to learn of his horrible fate.) EEG readings would let the medical personnel know he’s conscious and aware of his environment. He would not be simply warehoused but would probably get regular stimulation such as massages, even if the exact extent of his mental capacity were unknown. Unless the auditory nerves are completely destroyed, implants might restore some degree of hearing. And he might get advanced prosthetic limbs. Coincidentally, this past Sunday I came across an article about an experimental robotic arm controlled by a chip implanted in the paralyzed patient’s brain. The user makes the arm move by thinking, like a natural limb!

Robotic Arm

Other technology would probably allow Joe to communicate through a computer, either by similar implanted electrodes or by the lower-tech method of teaching him to operate a keyboard with head motions.

A writing question: Could a man in that situation be a hero in a romance? Why not? The patient who’s testing the robotic arm in the above article has a girlfriend whom he met after his injury. In the novel JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN, Joe occasionally refers to “feeling romantic,” which I read as a euphemistic term for sexual stirrings; a doctor at the beginning of the movie, whose script was written by the author of the book, mentions that Joe’s genitals are undamaged. Although I wouldn’t be up to the challenge of writing that story, a gifted author could certainly accomplish it.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Believing in Happily Ever After Part 3: Standardization vs. Customization

Part 1 of this "Believing in Happily Ever After" series is:
Part 2 is:
Last week, we left off in the midst of examining the TV Show Leverage noting that Leverage has a "Tell Don't Show" opening that sets out the premise starkly, and explicitly states the theme.

The opening voice-over is:
"The Rich And Powerful take what they want.  We steal it back for you."

Now we're putting that TV show's premise and theme into the context of the world of the viewers it's aimed at, (you and me, actually, though Leverage is not a Romance.) 

Consider, this is a world in which huge social forces (not the least of which is the Internet and dot-com companies that  are going "public" on the stock exchange and wielding more power than any other kind of company before) are striving in two directions, creating conflict and a philosophical argument so big it's nearly impossible to see or define.

I parse it this way.  (do your own parsing).

I see, via Leverage's window on the philosophical/fiction-theme world, the conflict as Customization Vs. Standardization. 

Remember all the times I've sent you to read Alvin Toffler's non-fiction book, Future Shock.  He gave me the insight to be able to see things in this light now. 

Remember that the Essence of Story is Conflict. 

Plot is a sequence of events on a because-line -- because this happened we have a problem, which causes us to do this, which results in that, which causes us to do something else, and so on because-because- in unbroken chain all the way to problem-is-resolved. 

The conflict is Us vs. Problem. 

The conflict is resolved by a sequence of actions which resolve the conflict -- after the problem is solved, there is no further conflict.  (Happily Ever After) 

Out there in our everyday reality, the reality your reader lives in and uses to judge the 'plausibility' of your fictional worldbuilding, there are nested conflicts. 

We discussed nesting plots in Verisimilitude Vs. Reality parts 2 and 3, September 13 and 20, 2011.  

To create nested plots, you need nested conflicts, which means you divide one huge abstract theme into sub-themes, factoring a philosophical conundrum into smaller pieces and arranging them one inside the other, like Russian dolls.

So I'm looking through the window of a TV show (in this case Leverage, but this process works with any show, movie or novel) - and imagining the audience, the reality they live in, what they know about it and what they don't know about it.  I'm imagining the audience that Leverage is speaking to.

People love this show for a reason -- well, each person for a different reason -- but they see the show as trivial, as light entertainment, and of course it's not real.  But it's plausible for a reason.  We as writers need to know that reason.  Or reasons. 

The audience's emotional reactions come from their own unconscious assumptions and mostly from what they don't know about themselves.

Playing on that unconscious part of a reader's mind is called "art." 

Remember in the Big Love Sci-Fi series we discussed the social boundaries between Private and Secret shifting, melting and reforming.

That's one of the huge philosophical issues younger readers are unaware of but affected by emotionally.

So private vs. secret can be a thematic conflict line that generates a plot (thousands of plots).

Another conflict line even bigger than private vs. secret can be Standardization vs. Customization

So let's make a little list:

 a) Secret vs. Private
 b) Customization vs. Standardization
 c) Statistics vs. Prejudice

Each of these 6 components of conflict represents a huge, complex, abstract, and powerful thematic concept.

Let's think about Customization vs. Standardization in our world and how we can use that nascent argument to create plot generating themes and conflicts.

In the 1800's the Industrial Revolution took off steaming into the 1900s where Henry Ford popularized The Assembly Line method of producing thousands of identical copies of a complicated thing.

The more complex machinery became, the less economically viable hand-building such machines became.  With Ford's advent, the frustration of business men and industrialists with "craftsmen" who worked slowly and methodically to produce a non-uniform (custom made) product was resolved.

Read Toffler's Future Shock and the description of how our public schools adopted the "covert curriculum" of hammering kids into identical "workers" for assembly lines, because that's what Big Business needed schools to do (and of course Big Business was and is the source of political campaign funds that can not be ignored).

So until the World Wide Web, Microsoft, AOL, Google, Blogs, email, ebooks, etc, Standardization was the Holy Grail of Business.

Products had to be made uniform -- all alike -- or it wasn't cost effective.

But people weren't all alike.  So business set out to create consumers who all wanted the same thing.

Radio advertising and then TV advertising worked to satisfy that requirement -- that uniform products required uniform consumers to want them, and uniformity was the solution to consumer's frustration with things that don't work.

Different Is Dead became the rallying cry of the 1940's and 1950's. 

The 1960's brought the Internet and Star Trek and Spock who was DIFFERENT!!! 

Star Trek portrayed on the ultra-uniform medium of series TV a UNIQUE INDIVIDUAL character.  He stuck out like a sore thumb, and was admired, respected, obeyed and even loved by his crew-mates for his differences. 

Vulcan was a culture that lauded the philosophy of I.D.I.C.  -- Infinite Diversity In Infinite Combinations.

The 1970's ushered in an era of (Alvin Toffler's Future Shock was published in the 1970's and is in new editions today) an era of CUSTOMIZATION.

Toffler predicted the cottage industry of telecommuting and even named it.  Today a lot of your customer service online is done via chat by workers working from home on customized schedules and individually varying computers.

Women's Lib and Martin Luther King all belong to this, but branch off into the conflict of Statistics vs. Prejudice.

Let's focus on this Customization vs. Standardization for a bit more.

This is a huge, multigeneration trend that most of your 20-something readers won't be aware of because this long perspective on history isn't taught in schools, nor is the philosophy behind it addressed below graduate level in college. 

We are now in the crunch-zone of this conflict.  Schools world wide hammer young kids into identical bricks. 

The counter trend is only found in private schools for the gifted or rejected, schools that let young kids wander around a rich classroom and pick up things to learn about as they become interested. 

Mass market education is still aimed at turning out identical product - workers for factories that no longer really exist. 

Note how the Federal Department of Education (I'm in the USA and use that perspective), could be viewed as a huge and bloated agency created by combining agencies and then not purging out redundancies but rather fighting turf wars for good paying federal jobs.  As a result of that, and various administrations (this is not party-specific) efforts to appease campaign finance sources and do the right thing by our kids anyway, we now have a Federal series of tests that all students have to pass.

That's standardizing people to function in a standardized world.

But as Toffler pointed out, we're not in a standardized world any more.

Small wonder we can't produce enough employable people.  Small wonder there are whole segments of TV viewerships who see their lives as mashed down and unjustly ruined by these huge forces -- "the rich" or "the government" or whatever huge thing their squeaky voices can't reach.

That plight produces emotions that are likewise widespread.  As a result, fiction that would not otherwise be popular, is popular. 

Think like a Romance Writer for a moment.  Can Romance be standardized?

Or is Romance the enemy of standardization?

Here's an article, I hope is still online, about facial recognition software, facebook, google, and online dating sites -- and the whole issue of using your "real" identity online.

Remember the popularity of the Western Romance. 

What are Western Romances about?  Rugged individualists (not unlike the A-Team or the Leverage team).

Victorian Romance, Steampunk, you name it -- Romance is always about the misfit's unique qualification to succeed because of their differences not in spite of them.  (so is Science Fiction, for that matter)  And the TV show Leverage, the show Psych, the USA shows White Collar, Burn Notice, Royal Pains -- all of them feature unique individuals. 

This country was founded by folks who didn't fit the mold back home and went pioneering into the wilderness.  Those who survived to forge this country into a Nation were individualists who visualized a customized world, where each individual was valued for their unique qualities.

They lived in a "handmade world" where no two quilts were alike, no two butter churns were alike.  People wrote with quills - bird feathers - and no two of them are alike.  In fact, if you read original manuscripts from the 1700's even the most educated and erudite did not spell words in any uniform way, not even in the same document..  And precious few could read, though in the 1700's in America, that was changing.

Has anyone noted that there is a re-casting of the newspaper articles from the 1700's where folks were arguing about what kind of Nation we would become?  It's in modern English now because the originals are almost incomprehensible, (wild spelling, archaic words, involuted sentences like I write) and it became an overnight New York Times best seller.  The Federalist Papers.  It's on 

Standardization wasn't even a concept back then.  There was no conflict, not a lot of stories to write, about the vast sea of identical people and the one individual who stands out from "the masses."  "The Masses" as a concept didn't exist, though philosophical theorists were busily inventing the whole movement we label as "Liberal" or "Progressive" today. 

One novel series I do love from that era though is Cooper's The Leather Stocking Tales.  The story of two unique individuals reaching across a cultural gulf (European to Native American), against the backdrop of imported European armies fighting a war for territory.  By that era, Armies were rows of standardized troops moving in unison.  It may be that armies became the first standardization of people -- dating from Roman times, for sure. 

The power of Rome lay in that standardizing of troops, maneuvers, uniforms.  When Rome fell, England and Europe were left with Knights -- individuals in tin-can armor fighting for Honor.

Standardization , the assembly line, screws all the same size, brought vast wealth to this Nation, and a revolution to the world. 

It also brought the idea of Unions, of the rights of the peasants, the poor, the downtrodden, the "masses" of identical, expendable canon fodder peasants, into a political world. 

But we haven't won that battle yet.  The USA is still the only country with our style of government -- every other country that elects governments that actually govern uses the Parliamentary System of the country the USA broke away from, England.  The USA is still unique.

But there has arisen an entire society within the society of the USA - that might be a majority now - that values "fitting in" above "unique."  Some are so desperate to make sure everyone fits in and is thus happy that they're willing to use force to make others fit in, and that makes for great conflict to generate stories. 

That's the conflict most teen-romance features -- think Twilight.  Harry Potter.  The argument for the unique individual is presented in both those formidable series by the depiction of the environment and the people around the main characters, who stand out or are rejected by the masses of people who value being identical to others. 

Next week, in Believing in Happily Ever After Part 4, we'll look at how to link two of these "super-themes" -- themes so huge you can't pitch them in a voice over in front of a TV series and call it a premise.

Secret vs. Private + Standardized vs. Customized

See if you can find how these two huge conflicts blend into a nested theme structure. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, October 16, 2011

#BAD11 -- Food in Alien Romances

I am proud to be taking part in Blog Action Day OCT 16 2011

Does anyone else find it ironic that the requested hashtags for today are #BAD11 and  #FOOD ?

Let me start with a disclaimer. I intended to blog about something else when I logged on this morning, but since October 16th is global Blog Action Day and also World Food Day, I'm showing up. Don't expect anything profound.

The strangest food that I ever ate (not counting a live worm when I was an infant, and which I do not recall eating; nor counting a small gob of a playful former boyfriend's snot that I mistook for a morsel of the porridge we happened to be eating at the time; nor counting ....well, such things aren't properly "food", are they?) might have been a cholla cactus in the flowering desert near Phoenix. Camelback area.

After I'd eaten it, the guide informed me that the flesh of the fruit is famous as both an aphrodisiac and a laxative. I used the experience in my first alien romance novel, Forced Mate. In that particular case, the food item was "BAD" in the sense of being truly evil, and something the hero feared.

I will leave fertile minds to boggle. Aphrodisiacs and laxatives don't mix.

However, food shortages can happen anywhere, and I think it is important to remember that some foods
have side-effects. Some people can eat certain foods because they have done so all their lives, and have built up an immunity. Do we think enough about the potential for food allergies in the MREs and other cheap and easy foods we send to disaster areas? Do we send emergency food rations that are appropriate? How far is it appropriate to include chemicals and artificial fillers in emergency rations sent to places where such chemicals are not in the local food supply?

In my own writing (of alien romances), I've touched lightly on alien food and survival techniques for people obliged to try an unfamiliar fruit for the first time. (Insufficient Mating Material is a marooned-on-an-alien-deserted-island story).

Mostly, if I need to add an alien flavor, I've combined the appearance and taste of exotic and everyday fruits and vegetables found on earth. I assume that on largescale space transporters, food would be organic, grown on recycled human waste, so there would be a lot of mushroom- and fungus- based culinary delights. Also tomatoes. Beans would probably need to be modified, but beans and rice are one of the world's most efficient foods. In Knight's Fork, I included a discussion of legume-growing on a space ark.

What have you done with regard to alien food in your own writings?

Someone else's blog discovered via #BAD11

Blog Action Day's suggested topics are also great worldbuilding/plot/conflict thought starters.
Some topics suggestions for your Blog Action Day post.
  •   My favorite food
  •   The famine in East Africa
  •  To be organic or not to be, that is the question.
  • Hunger and poverty.
  •  Best and worst food memory
  •  Slow Food, Fast Food: What does it actually mean
  • Malnutrition
  • Conflict over Food: Will new wars be about arable land?
  • Is your hamburger hurting the environment?
    It takes 24 liters of water to produce one hamburger. That means it would take over 19.9 billion liters of water to make just one hamburger for every person in Europe.
  • Vegan, Vegetarian, Meat eater – Which one are you and why?
  • Trading in the future of food. What is the impact of food speculation?
  • Will we be able to feed 9 billion people in 2050?
  • How does Fair Trade food help farmers and communities get out of poverty?
  •  Freeganism  – eating the things others throw away.
  • The scandal of food waste.
  • What is the best way to farm food?
  • Growing your own – the joys and heartache of growing what you eat?
  • Too much or too little taking food to extremes.
  • Strangest thing you have ever eaten.
  • What food means to your culture.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Steve Jobs

The death of the founder of Apple came as a mild shock to me, not because I felt any special attachment to him or his products, but mainly because he was younger than I am. Yet another confirmation that I’ve attained geezer status. In our family we’re of the PC persuasion. Our first computer, however, was an Apple II+, with a five-inch floppy drive and, of course, no hard disk. So I do feel a certain sentimentality about the brand. We’ve hung onto that computer as a keepsake and a sort of historic artifact.

The Apple II+ cost about $3000 in December 1982, when that amount of money was worth a lot more than it is now. It was my husband’s Christmas present in honor of my advancement to candidacy for my PhD, because I needed something to write my dissertation on. To run the word processor, I had to insert its disk and load it, then insert a different disk to save files. There was a rather short limit to the amount of text that could be shown on the screen at one time. When I reached that limit, I had to close the file and start a new one. The word count equaled about half a chapter in the chapter length I was working with, so each chapter consisted of two separate files. Even after we got our first IBM-clone computer, it took me a long time to get out of the habit of saving each book chapter as a separate file and accepting that I really COULD make files as long as I needed to!

That Apple’s operating system was DOS-based, of course, and not WYSIWYG. When I typed the code to underline a word or phrase, I didn’t see underlining on the screen. I saw codes. As for printing, our first printer, naturally, was a dot matrix machine that used rolls of perforated paper. Yet this cumbersome system revolutionized my writing and made me orders of magnitude more productive because it liberated me from the necessity to retype. I don’t think I could have gotten through the dissertation, with all the picky changes my committee demanded (at long distance, since we’d moved across country), if I’d had to type the thing over and over from scratch.

I owe my writing career to word processing and the Internet. Without the latter, I would never have found most of my publishing outlets, and of course there would be no e-books, which constitute most of my books.

There were many pioneers in the field besides Jobs, but maybe without his influence the personal computer would not have become a must-have for almost everybody. There must have been a reason why, when my husband decided to surprise me with a computer, Apple was the name that leaped into his mind. I can hardly imagine going back to the time when I had to drive someplace and stand in line to renew the car registration or make a bank transfer, a world without word processing, networking, and the convenience of online transactions that have made life so much easier—such as making it possible to find and buy books I wouldn’t have owned or maybe even known about in the pre-computer era.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Believing in Happily Ever After Part 2: The Power of Theme-Plot Integration

Now we launch into some very advanced writing lessons aimed specifically at Science Fiction Romance writers and Paranormal Romance writers.  But anyone who ventures into worldbuilding, such as historical writers and mystery writers, will find some valuable inspiration in this series about the Ending called "Happily Ever After."

Here's one of my early posts here on the Happily Ever After ending.

Now this is an advanced writer's exercise.  We're going to employ the skills discussed in depth and detail in previous posts -- search for the tag Tuesday to pull up all my series on writing.

Here are some recent posts leading into this current discussion which also list posts from a while ago that laid down the foundation skills we're using here. 

The Big Love Sci-Fi series ran 8 parts from 6/21/2011 to 8/9/2011 and danced around the edges of this topic.

We discussed such dicey topics as Sex Without Borders, How Big Can Love Be in Science Fiction, the Mystery-Detective Romance, Modesty the Scrimmage Line of big Love, and then 3 parts on Unconditional Love and Science Fiction.

Here's the link to Part VI which has links to the previous parts of that series:

In Part VI on Unconditional Love and Science Fiction I wrote:
So SF has "proved itself" by having moved the boundaries of reality for many people now living. So they accept this new reality of iPhones and thus most SF no longer seems ridiculous or crazy.
---------end quote------

Here is a news item that reprises the changes in our world due to the internet and computers:

It traces what we who lived through it barely remember except as a relief from frustration - the increasing speed of computers, the internet connections, and web-page loading.  The people who created those innovations thought the unthinkable because people were frustrated and would pay money to be relieved of frustration.

With the demise of Steve Jobs, the internet is now full of historical summaries of the changes wrought by his innovations. (*celestial round of applause to this master, serial-innovator*)  If you never owned a Trash80, go read about Steve Jobs and how he moved us beyond that much lauded machine.  

To change people's everyday reality, first make them fed up with the reality they've got, then offer to sell them a solution to their problems if only they'll change their IDEA of the boundaries of their reality. (buy a new computer; switch phone services).  That is a plot outline, or a war strategy.  There's no way to tell the difference.

My more recent posts that list prior posts to read to catch up on the topic of theme and story-structure are:

8/23/11 Source of the Expository Lump Part 2 

8/30/2011 Astrology Just For Writers, Part 10, Pluto The School of Hard Knocks
9/13/11 Verisimilitude Vs. Reality Part 2 Master Theme Structure (on point of view shifting)

9/20/11 Verisimilitude Vs. Reality Part 3  The Game, The Stakes, The Template
10/4/11 Believing In Happily Ever After: Part 1 Stephen King on Potter Vs. Twilight

We've been working on the puzzle of  why the Happily Ever After Romance ending is too implausible for suspension-of-disbelief even by veteran science fiction/fantasy readers, and why Love Conquers All seems idiotic to the general public even though they verbally espouse that solemn belief. 

The essence of the problem seems to be that the Romance Genre simply assumes, without discussion, without challenge, without characters who espouse various sides of a heated debate on these topics, that all readers likewise assume these elements of fiction are actually built-in aspects of our everyday reality.

It's not that the HEA building block elements aren't true, or that they are rejected automatically by the scorning public, but that the writer does not argue the point, does not even know there's a point to be argued with the reader.

Arguing those unconscious assumptions in dramatic form was Marion Zimmer Bradley's greatest talent -- and it was a talent.  She didn't do it with conscious, deliberate intention.  It was simply how she presented her stories.

I studied under her tutelage for years, dissected her writing techniques since I was a teen, and I am just not as good at it as she is.  I have to do it consciously, so maybe I can demonstrate how you can teach yourself to do this.

Marion Zimmer Bradley never argued these two assumptions, The HEA and Love Conquers All, that I know of.  Scholars may dig something up that would demonstrate that's not true, but at the moment I can't point you to an example of exactly how to construct this argument.  I've never seen it done successfully - but I'm hoping some reader of this blog will comment with a link to a novel where this argument is laid out with stark clarity and convincing impact.

So let's delve into how to use theme to generate a plot that is part and parcel of this seminal argument.

Here's a perfect example to study because it's a TV show, ultimately very shallow, and very easy to dissect.

The TV show, LEVERAGE, TNT Sundays 8PM these days. 

You can find it on iTunes or Amazon. 
Leverage - all seasons

I've discussed Leverage previously.

I've watched a lot of Leverage episodes.  It's a typical TV Series, but has a story-arc with the lives and inner conflicts of the ongoing characters and their soap-opera style relationships.  It's not Romance, or even Intimate Adventure.  It's way too "dark" for that - the leader of the team is an unrepentant drunk, the team has a thief, a hacker, Muscle who solves problems with punches, and a grifter who plays the femme fatale with aplomb.

But the show is easy to dissect and understand for theme.  Not all good TV shows are this easy to dissect.  

As I've said in the series of posts noted above, theme is the part of the story where you say what you want to say.

It's the part where you put your opinion.  It's the part which carries the reason you want to write the story which ought to be the same as the reason the reader wants to read the story.  It's the part where, if you encode the theme-statement soon enough (1st page; 1st line in a novel) you can prevent people who will hate your novel from reading it. 

But to be truly effective, to evince an emotional response from your chosen readership, to sucker-punch the reader in a part of the mind/emotion complex that blocks you from "moving the boundaries of the reader's reality" so they can grasp the foundation principle Love Conquers All, your theme must be hidden from the reader's awareness.  Your theme must be "coded" -- usually in symbolism, which is one of the techniques we've discussed in previous posts.

See this post on icons and symbols: 

The best place to hide anything is in plain sight.

That's what Leverage does to make it worth studying.  It hides its theme in plain sight, yet very much "off the nose" - a screenwriting term we'll return to in future posts. 

As a TV show Leverage is very similar to A-Team or It Takes A Thief, or today's White Collar that I rave about so much, or even Burn Notice.

That blog entry is about how to craft a "show don't tell" opening.

Leverage has a "Tell Don't Show" opening that sets out the premise starkly, and explicity states the theme in such a way that the real message is "off the nose" (i.e. in subtext).

The opening voice-over is:
"The Rich And Powerful take what they want.  We steal it back for you."

And then Leverage proceeds to explicate that theme (Class Warfare is Innate, or The End Justifies The Means,  Might Makes Right, or maybe Robin Hood Was Right) with relentless precision, scene after scene, show after show with never a foot placed wrong.  The TV Series Leverage is a beautiful thing to behold! 

Note the opening does not say "some rich people take what they want" or "we'll steal only if we have to and then make it right with the Law" -- it says all rich people take anything they want (listen to the tone of voice in that voice-over) regardless of how it harms not-rich people, and you are not-rich so you need us powerful/ruthless folks as Leverage to take back what is rightfully yours regardless of the ethics or morals of stealing.

The subtext is that if you're not-rich, it's someone else's fault, usually a rich person's fault.  Listen to the tone of voice, and read into it what you choose - but I hear that there is no way to solve the problem of being an impecunious victim of wealthy power abusers that is within the law, no way to get that wealthy except by breaking the law.  The law keeps you trapped in the ranks of the downtrodden.  If you're not rich, the law is not your friend.  (very hard to dispute, I will admit). 

It says we, the Leverage Team, violate the law, and any rules of morality that get in the way, to defend the helpless from the mighty. 

It says Might (riches) makes Evil and anything you do to battle Evil is Right. (again, very hard to dispute; but this blog piece is about using writing techniques to say what you want to say, not to evaluate what others have said, only how well they've said it.  Respond to the Leverage theme in a piece of fiction!  That's being part of the conversation among fiction writers.) 

The TV Series Leverage says Law must not prevail because it's always against the helpless.  A government of Laws is bad. (Law is made by the rich who buy politicians.)

A show broadcast in July had a rich man who was hated by his associates throw a party with a staged murder that the guests were to solve.  But someone murdered the host instead (for real), and left the head of The Leverage Team as the only witness and therefore the only suspect.  A policeman, hired to monitor events at the party, who was involved with the rich man's daughter, turned out to be the murderer at the instigation of the daughter.  THEME: Police are bad guys; Crooks are good guys.  People with power or money or both are always bad-guys.  Always. 

The absolutes in that summary of what this episode says come from a lack of a Good Guy/Gal who is rich, or a Bad Guy who is poor and downtrodden.  There are no counter-examples among the characters to muddy the thematic picture (make it "deeper" or more "realistic") which is another reason this is a great show to study. 

One thing I do like about the Leverage Series is the Conflict illustrated by the emotional responses of the characters who are essentially criminals at heart.  The leader of The Team was seriously disturbed when his team seemed to think that maybe he had in fact murdered the rich guy at the party.  That characterization provides you with the "argument" I'm talking about here.

Right inside the plot (rich guy murdered before eyes of Team Leader is a PLOT ELEMENT, and technically forms the part of the plot called a "complication") is the argument statement "well, since the crooks want their friends to believe in them, the crooks must be good guys."   The good guys are doing bad things, but it's okay because they're good guys.   

White Collar and Burn Notice state their premise up front in the opening.  Burn Notice says:  "When you're burned, you've got nothing" etc.  But the way each of these shows state the premise does not ram the theme down your throat the way Leverage does.

EXERCISE: State the premise of your most recent Work In Progress just that briefly.  

Leverage is "dark" and though the explicit violence shown on screen isn't any more emphatic than White Collar or Burn Notice, the way Leverage slams the theme into your face in the opening, then hammers it into your brain scene after scene, is a kind of subversive violence worth studying.  Few shows are quite as easy to dissect and understand, just because of how elegantly they employ this technique.

Caution: I'm not advocating that Romance Writers should use this "Leverage" technique to ram the Romance themes down the public's throat.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  But there's a lot to be learned very easily by studying the theme-plot integration of this simplistic TV show, Leverage.  The study will reveal how to construct a more subtle and complex piece of fiction.

But even a subtle and complex Romance work must have such a thematic statement of the premise to become marketable as "Mass Market."

Now, you will notice that Leverage is on TNT while White Collar and Burn Notice (and a raft of other shows I love) are on USA (character's welcome). 

Yet Leverage has "characters" who are deep, complex, gradually revealed season after season, and who are, perhaps against their wills, maintaining relationships. 

The relationships they maintain are basically within the Team, outside interests fleeting. 

I see Leverage as "dark" because the Team members are portrayed as not having a shot at Happily Ever After, or if they ever did, they blew it.

White Collar and Burn Notice show heroic (if shady) characters striving toward an HEA.  They have long range goals they believe will vanquish their frustrations and stabilize their lives into an HEA.

Leverage depicts a Team that sticks together because it's their only hope at a Happily For Now situation.

If you've been watching Leverage, you probably don't see it as "serious" as I do.  It's offered as, and taken as, "light entertainment" and "just for fun."  It's a "what if" story.  But for some people in the audience, people who see themselves as being mowed down by the powerful who take what they want (in today's economic climate, that's a huge number of people), Leverage (like A-Team before it) is an "if only." 

Superman in the 1940's was an "if only" for a lot of people with unsolvable problems.  The theme song of Smallville features the phrase spoken loudly and intelligibly over the music, "Rescue me." (a prime Romance theme).

In difficult times, people can have the stuffings knocked out of them by forces of government, law, wealth, big business, anything that their individual strength can't affect.  So fiction of this type thrives.  Leverage says hire thugs to do your dirty work, and it's okay if you're actually righteous yourself. 

The people the Leverage team works for are always in "the right" from the audience's point of view, the generally accepted morality of today.  The people the Leverage team goes up against are equally starkly and absolutely in the "wrong" according to the morality of today.  The Leverage team itself is shades of gray, very dark gray. 

This is nothing like the TV show Forever Knight where the Evil (vampire detective) was trying to "atone for sins." 

Superman was the benevolent Power, the image of what a human being could and should be, honorable, unimpeachable, un-bribable.  The Leverage team has their own sense of Honor. 

In Part 3 next week, we'll get a little deeper into the thematic structure of Leverage and how it "leverages" its audience's world into a story.

Do search your own Work In Progress to reshape it around a premise statement that encodes or symbolizes your own theme, and make it as clear and concise as these TV show examples.  This statement is the opening sentence of your query letter to agent or editor.  It defines your target audience and what payload you deliver to that audience.  The definition of the audience will determine whether the rest of your query letter will be read -- or not -- and what publishers might consider publishing the work, for which imprints that publisher handles.  

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, October 09, 2011

The Giver: The Dark Side of Political Correctness

The ultimate in Fairness is "Sameness" according to Lois Lowry's science fiction novel "The Giver" (1993). What is more, Fairness/Sameness begins with literal, total color-blindness... which can be over-ridden by some.

Shades of "Animal Farm". Some pigs are more equal than others. Apparently, it would be really dangerous and disruptive if community members could see colors. Before one knows it, they would start to prefer one color over another, young girls would become interested in fashion, and once they believed they had the right to choose their clothing, they'd probably want to choose friends and lovers, life partners and jobs.

Ones vocation is assigned to one at the age of twelve. The Giver is the story of a sensitive boy who is chosen because of his unusual genetics to be the community's next "Receiver of Memories". Trouble ensues. Along the way, the reader is free to notice familiar themes in fictional planned living communities such as hypocrisy among leaders, and exemplars of Lord Acton's Dicta (“All power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” and "Great men are almost always bad men....").

A splendidly paternalistic quote from The Giver is,
"We really have to protect people from wrong choices."

One commentator describes this as "benevolent oppression." Perhaps all tyranny begins with good intentions and a defensible rationale.

The Community lives out the proverb "Ignorance is bliss", except that strong emotions are smoothed out, so there is no pain, no distress, and no joy, no ecstasy, no "bliss". As for "wrong choices", the way the Elders protect people from making "wrong" choices is by not allowing them to make any choices.

The clothing reminds me of the ideas behind the Mao Suit
( )
The rules about eating remind me of  Meals On Wheels gone wild. The same food is delivered at the same time of day to everyone, and the remnants are collected at the end of the allotted meal time. No one may store leftovers.

Everyone is medicated.... only instead of the sort of "self esteem" drugs that half American manhood uses (if one believes the Ask Your Doctor If.... adverts), in The Giver's world, they pop pills to prevent "Stirrings" of the genitals and of the imagination. And, if a child cannot learn to sleep soundly after a year, one is put to death. "Three strikes and you're out" takes on new meaning, since miscreants are given lethal injection on their third offense. Finally, in the ultimate "fairness", seniors have an expiry date and are given a lethal injection to ensure that everyone dies the same way.

Spark Notes
TV Tropes

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Disney Princesses

Last week I watched two video sequels to Disney’s classic CINDERELLA movie. Some random thoughts about Disney cartoon heroines, to which I get a lot of exposure with a five-year-old granddaughter in the family:

In the sequels, Cinderella exercises a lot more agency than in the original movie. She isn’t so passive. (Although, admittedly, she isn’t totally passive in the film; she does try to make a ball dress for herself, with the help of cute animals, until the stepsisters destroy it.) As the prince’s new bride, she asserts herself to be true to her own character rather than getting pressured into dressing and behaving like a “proper” princess. She also helps her stepsister Anastasia find love with a commoner (a baker) against Stepmother’s explicit prohibition.

The more recent Disney heroines, in general, have more assertive personalities—and, often, wider interests—than their predecessors such as Snow White and Cinderella. Ariel’s original motive in THE LITTLE MERMAID is to see the world above, before she gets sidetracked by falling in love with the prince. Belle resists her niche in “this provincial life” and loves books. She’s my favorite Disney heroine because the Beast woos her with access to his library. Also, unlike Beauty in the best-known version of the fairy tale, she doesn’t get trapped into substituting for her father at the Beast’s demand. She proactively invades his castle and offers herself to save her dad.

In the latest animated film, TANGLED, Rapunzel doesn’t marry the hero right away. The epilogue implies that she makes him prove his worth first. My second-favorite heroine is Tiana, in THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG. She doesn’t dream of marrying a prince. (That’s the fantasy of her rich, white friend.) Her ambition is to own a restaurant, which she achieves at the end of the movie. Falling in love with the prince-turned-frog doesn’t distract her from her goal.

The current line of Disney princess dolls and figurines includes ethnic variations such as Tiana, Jasmine, Pocahantas, and Mulan (not actually a princess, but still a nice inclusion), as well as the older, Grimm-inspired Caucasian princesses. Progress.

Critics can always find justifications for dissing Disney characters. For instance, a typical criticism of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is that the script encourages girls to accept abusive mates on the pretext of “love conquers all.” Not! Belle doesn’t begin to fall in love with the Beast until he first proves he has started to change, by saving her from the wolves. Sure, the Mouse’s animated fairy tales don’t exactly skate on the cutting edge of social progress. What do the critics want, a bona fide miracle? It’s DISNEY.

Still, they’ve come a long way from Snow White, who fantasizes about her prince coming someday (instead of plotting to reclaim her rightful throne), happily accepts a position as housekeeper to a bunch of dwarf miners, and doesn’t look nearly old enough to get married. I viewed the movie again recently and still think she looks about twelve—considerably less “developed” than I was at twelve, too. At least more recent films demonstrate the Mouse is TRYING.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Believing in Happily Ever After: Part 1, Stephen King on Potter VS Twilight

 In July, I was invited to Google+ by one of the Chat moderators on Twitter who runs #Litchat (which I recommend to readers and writers -- find times by following!/LitChat )  Today, Google+ is open to anyone.  Back then you needed an invitation to beta-testing. 

Immediately, I had a whole raft of writer friends turning up on google+ via the #Litchat connection so I made a circle for those folks, and before I knew it, here came a marvelous post with a quote from Stephen King -- this was just before the weekend when the last Harry Potter film was released.

So I'm trying to learn how to construct links that will lead you to elements on Google+.  So far, no dice. 

So here's a link that might lead you to the jpg with the quoted words on it.  It works for me.

This quote jpg of text is posted on:

Brandon Withrow, who got this interesting post from someone else on google+ known as Adm Chrysler, posted that image linked above, which had apparently already "gone viral" and which is a quote attributed to Stephen King.  It says:

"Harry Potter is all about confronting fears, finding inner strength, and doing what is right in the face of adversity.  Twilight is about how important it is to have a boyfriend." -- Stephen King

I commented on Brandon's post, saying:

I admire Stephen King for his true professionalism. I met him once and learned he does what he does on purpose! However, I disagree with his summation here only because it leaves out some important words.

Twilight is about how "confronting fears, finding inner strength, and doing what is right in the face of diversity is necessary in order to have and maintain normal Relationships, even if you or your boyfriend aren't exactly normal people."

Potter is about dealing with the situation you are in through no fault of your own; Twilight is about choosing your situation and committing to see it through no matter what happens as a result of your choice."
---------end quote--------

Kate Shellnutt commented with another reference to what Stephen King has said, and Brandon Withrow answered:

I suppose being a big HP fan skews his objectivity, where Jacqueline is giving a more even-handed take on the two. Not to geek out on it, but fan intensity for one or the other reminds me a bit of the Star Trek vs. Star Wars type of thing.
------------end quote---------

So of course I had to say:

Oh, but I love my geeks! And of course you know I'm a very emphatic Trekker, having been primary author on the Bantam paperback STAR TREK LIVES! which outed ST fanfic (which I contributed to by creating the Kraith alternate universe for Trek fanfic). But actually, you're right, there's two takes on this, and I think it might be worth a blog post. I'll copy your quote and see what comes of it -- that would be late Sept/ early Oct for the topic on where I post on Tuesdays on writing craft, and THIS quote is definitely a "craft" and "romance genre" related quote!
-------end quote-----------

Kraith is, as you know, posted for free reading on 

Both Harry Potter and Twilight are Romance based.

Potter's parents were obviously deeply in love, and battling toward a Happily Ever After and didn't make it.

Potter then recapitulates their battle, and becomes involved at the teenage romance level with admirable women, and  then "notices" such an admirable girl his own age.  And presumably things will go to the HEA for Potter. 

Twilight is more star-crossed-lovers, possibly more like the story of Potter's parents in the no-win situation where only their descendents make it to the HEA.

As a matter of "taste" - I think your concept of Evil and where that fits in the overall universe you live in - determines which you like better, Potter or Twilight.  They're both seminal discussions of the plight of good swamped by Evil.

I suspect King seems to prefer Potter simply because Potter is battling Evil head-to-head, and in his world Evil is an accepted social element (studied in school as a magical discipline).

I don't "buy into" that concept, so I have to work to suspend my disbelief to 'get into' the Potterverse -- which I have no problem doing because that's what being a Science Fiction fan, reader, and writer is all about. 

I can buy into the Twilight universe a little more easily simply because it extends my own view of the whole Vampire mythos that I've been a devotee of since my teen years.

Both universes are rooted in the discussion of whether the HEA is "plausible" in real life.  Both have the HEA as "the stakes" in the plot, as King pointed out. 

But the Potterverse says graphically that HEA isn't a given.  Potter's parents got killed by Evil, and that proves the HEA is not a real element in that universe.  Yet Harry is set up to go for another try at it. 

King's assessment of Twilight is correct, too, because in the Twilight universe, the HEA is at least plausible, reachable, imaginable, and the most "Evil" creatures strive for it because it is apparently there.

So King has nailed (I'm not surprised) the philosophical nexus of the entire discussion you and I have been having on for a few years now. 

The reason the Romance genre isn't widely respected as a genre is that the HEA is not seen by the general public as realistically plausible. 

The plausibility of the HEA is based on the philosophical concept that Love Conquers All - an absolute axiom of my existence for a huge variety of reasons.

When you believe (not "those who believe" but "when" you believe because it's mood-based for many) that Love Conquers All, then the HEA seems the inevitable if hard-won and high-priced result of the battle between "Good" and "Evil." 

When you don't - the HFN (Happily For Now) is the best you can hope for, and that's what Potter's parents had.

So the question becomes, "Why does it seem plausible that Love can't conquer Evil permanently?" 

Oh, this is a deep topic, and the richest source material for Romance writers looking for "conflict" building themes.

This is the main study of writers in all genres, but especially Science Fiction and Romance, PNR, writers.

Science Fiction is "The Literature of Ideas" and so requires a deep study of philosophy, and a system of relating that abstract subject to today's reality.

Romance is maybe "The Literature of Love" and so requires a very deep study of philosophy, and a system of relating that abstract subject to LIFE in today's world. 

These two, not at all disparate, subjects naturally crystallize into the thematic base of Science Fiction Romance, where as all good SF does, the story poses knotty questions about the value of "having a boyfriend/girlfriend" and how to acquire the character traits required to achieve a Happily Ever After union.

SF has long written of the process of acquiring those traits, as King points out -- though Potter is ostensibly Urban Fantasy.  King nails the process: Harry Potter is all about confronting fears, finding inner strength, and doing what is right in the face of adversity. 

And that's what every good Horror, SF, or Romance novel is always about, isn't it? 

Ah, but what is fearful?  Where does strength come from?  Which way or action is "right" and which "wrong?"  What really does adversity consist of, and what is just an annoyance?

We have a lot of work to do on the process of tossing all previous Romance genre work onto "the Potter's Wheel" and shaping it like wet clay into Science Fiction. 

That work is what leads to the skill sets needed to handle Theme.

See Part 2 of this BELIEVING IN HAPPILY EVER AFTER series here next Tuesday when we'll look at the power of Theme-Plot Integration.  

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Haven't Had Sex in 80 Million Years (and other Non-Fiction Book Reviews for Fiction Inspiration)

I doubt that one could write a block-buster alien romance about someone or something that hadn't had sex in 80 million years.

But, wait a minute. One could. It would be a Rip Van Winkle tale with a wrinkle... or a wrinkled pickle.

I'm reading an older Discover Magazine article about self-cloning female whiptale lizards, and also about some aphids that have sex only if there is a useful sexually transmitted infection that they wish to share.

At the moment, I cannot imagine a sexually transmitted disease that might be useful... but, I'm thinking about it. Evolution moves in mysterious ways. All the more reason, I suppose, not to forcibly innoculate twelve-year old girls against the possibility of contracting genital warts from a boy one day.

Would an 80-million-year-old Rip wake up with an itch and a very useful infection to transmit? Ewwww. Horrors.

I see that some scientists are now suggesting that sleep is not a shut-down state, but more like a series of rolling blackouts in the brain. I like this idea. Perhaps, more evolved beings might be able to chose the route of their own rolling blackouts, so that not all senses would be "asleep" at the same time.

There are mountain ranges buried under the ice of Antarctica. Maybe Atlantis is buried under ice, not under the sea. Cool. One could translate Voyage To The Center Of The Earth. Instead of having clouds in the sky, one would have a sky made of the bottom of the icepack. Light would be a problem, but I'm not clear what the light source was for the dinosaur world in the center of the Earth, either.

Three books reviewed in Discover caught my attention for their worldbuilding potential if the contents were combined and translated into fiction. One is Rat Island by William Stolzenburg reviewed by Patrick Morton, about the problems created by explorers (in this case of our own planet) because their ships carried stowaway rats which decimated indigenous populations of seabirds on islands the explorers visited.

I could imagine humans taking the role of the rats. Possibly escaped abducted humans.

Another fascinating review is that by Sarah Stanley of Unnatural Selection by Mara Hvistendahl, about the consequences of a sexually skewed population. Too many Asian male children grow up to one-child families that abort female fetuses because they are able to choose the sex of the only child they are permitted to have. But, when all these males are mature and wish to procreate, there aren't enough women to go around.

This sort of scenario is not new to alien-abduction-of-human-mates Romances, but I assume that mainstream Romances tend to focus on privileged and wealthy (lonely) males who treat their bought brides very well, rather than on the potential for monetizing mates. Instead of a futuristic adaptation of "Seven Brides For Seven Brothers", we'd see "One Bride For Seven 'Brothers'".

Reviewer Natasha Fryer's take on Epigenics: The Ultimate Mystery of Inheritance by Richard C. Francis touched on the unintended consequences of messing with testosterone (as in steroid use by professional athletes) and cellular changes that might be passed down to future generations. Mutants, perhaps?

One wonders (this one wonders) what might become of the unplanned descendants of E.D. remedy users. Do they mess with testosterone?

Discover Magazine subscribers (I believe) may still benefit from a special offer if they give gift subscriptions. IMHO, Discover Magazine is an excellent publication.