Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Sizing Up The Competition: Part 1 The Tigress And The Canary

Picking up on the previous topic of weaving deep, rich, complex themes for Romance Novels, I  want to talk about the evolution of our fiction delivery system -- in particular, at the moment, the evolution of the e-book and web-tv (or podcasting). 

It's all about cost, price, and competition.  It's all about the tiny spot where the hard rubber of economics meets the even harder road of consumer demand. 

This is where the business model of fiction writing and publishing actually becomes indistinguishable from the thematic substance of the work of fiction. 

Consumers want their fiction-fix, but how much are they willing to pay for it?  And how does a Romance writer make their fiction worth the price the Romance reader is willing to pay? 

My answer:  the monetary value of a piece of fiction lies inside the deep, rich complexity of the thematic structure -- of  what the fiction says and shows, illustrates and iconisizes, about the meaning of life.

Here's a "show don't tell" from a famous commercial for financial services.

An elegantly dressed woman considers a china cabinet full of expensive looking pottery.  She takes down a dish, turns to a table, picks up a hammer, and smashes the dish.  She thoughtfully inspects the pieces, picks one out in the middle and takes off.  Next scene, she's inserting the piece she extracted into a mosaic on the wall in another building.  She admires the completed mosaic and the voice over tries to sell you their service. 

Of all the nonsensical commercials I've seen lately, this one resonates.  I  can't recall what company it's for, and it didn't convince me to call their offices immediately.  It just made me admire the writer for finding a show-don't-tell that is cheap to film and captivates the eye at least the first time you see it. 

It's for financial services, and it's about completing your portfolio, making it make sense, making it strong and without a hole in it.

But the illustration could just as easily apply to a dating service offering a chance to complete your life.

Which is more fundamental, financial stability or a good marriage?

This commercial illustrates how the very simplest, clean, clear, short, penetrating IMAGE can open doorways into vast, dim, complex, roiling depths of philosophical muddles where the best high drama lurks. 

A good novel opens with that sort of image, and ends with that sort of image.  The image tells the story.

There's an adage in stagecraft that applies (remember: writing is a performing art) and that adage is "Don't speak for the moment, let the moment speak for itself." 

Don't explain, don't tell, don't muddle the image or the moment with dialogue.  Let the reader absorb the impact and ask themselves the question. 

Does life have any meaning without Love?  Without at least one experience of Romance? 

I doubt it.  But some people need a bit more convincing. 

So we've recently been talking about sources for complex, multi-layered themes that lend themselves to Romance requirements. 


And the 4 posts on Believing In Happily Ever After Plus the 3 posts on Poetic Justice. 

Here's a post with the links to these prior posts in this discussion:


It's all about handling theme at a level that makes novels last for centuries, makes them be re-printable, re-readable, and something you would save to hand down to your children and grandchildren. 

So let's consider the Tigress and the Canary. 

I found this canary on talkstandards.com on an article about competing e-book formats.


We've been talking about e-books for a long time, of course, and in 2010, with Amazon's second Christmas push of the Kindle, it became clear that the e-book was a marketable commodity.  In 2011 e-book sales are meeting and even topping tree-book sales.   And here comes the big Christmas commerce-push again now with Kindle Fire etc etc. 

Here's a blog post highlighting the kind of thinking Amazon is putting into fiction delivery:


This is what all readers have been telling e-book publishers for at least 10 years.  One of the most important things about buying a book is being able to lend it.  Another, so far not addressed, is being able to trade it on the used book market for other used books.  A third is the ability to collect the autograph of the author on the book, to increase its sales or sentimental value.  They're working on all these problems, too!  And the traditional publishers know that. 

Here's a blog entry by a writer who's run into the teeth of the raging combat between tree publishers and e-publishers erupting into a lawyered-up contract dispute:


As with the beta vs vhs standards wars, and blu-ray vs dvd, and onwards into future proprietary rights wars, we have marketplace competition. 


 Most tigers wouldn't necessarily bother eating something as small as a canary, but your house cat might consider it fun to play with for a while.  *CHOMP*

But consider the tiger personality and the canary personality.  We worry about tigers being an endagered species while we breed canaries for fun (cage birds) and profit (coal miner's warning). 

Tigers would eat our babies (i.e. compete with us), but we worry about a world without tigers.

Canaries might not be good to eat for humans -- mostly because they're too small.  But their cousins, the chicken, we eat fried on a stick.

Canaries are a food source for other things that tigers might eat. 

The tiger is an icon of violence, slow, smarmy, sudden violence. 

The canary is an icon of sensitivity and beauty. 

A woman of a certain age, aggressively after a man (or men, really) is often called a tigress.  Or maybe cougar.

Can sensitivity and beauty be agressive?  Can sensitivity hunt and pounce? 

The canary's food doesn't tend to fight back - though it can be hard to find.

I'm talking plot/conflict here as it integrates with theme. 

If the relational structure of life on this planet that Darwin revealed is looked at from a Romance writer's point of view, (with maybe some astrology tossed in) we can see how humans, who sit on top of this evolutionary ladder, contain all the attributes of the animals lower down that ladder.  That's physical and psychological attributes. 

However we got this way, we contain all life on this planet within us. 

Every human is a walking habitat of microbes at war with each other for living space within us. 

Many psychologists argue that such economic competition as we now see with e-book vs. tree-book is innate in humans and actually arises from or is based on sexual competition for a mate. 

It can be argued that the whole animal kingdom is at war, and it's all based on sexuality.  OK, it's a stretch to blame microbe-wars on sexuality since they don't have any, but still they eat each other.

The thesis is that violence is inherent in primate nature.  Violence is necessary to ensure that the strongest among us mate and proliferate the most. 

This is exactly the sort of science-philosophy that science fiction (and by extension science fiction romance) exists to challenge, dissect, discuss, and speculate about.

More about that in Part 2 next week.  The fiction delivery system of this rapidly changing world is adapting, and in the process providing extraordinary opportunities for Romance writers to present the inspiration and vision of the Happily Ever After lifestyle to those who simply can not imagine it in any kind of reality.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Visiting the Land of Ago

Happy Thanksgiving (in the U.S.)!

I’ve just read Stephen King’s latest novel, 11/22/63. The narrator, Jake Epping, a high school English teacher, goes back in time to prevent the assassination of President Kennedy. The time portal to which Jake is introduced by the dying man who first discovered it, who had to return to the present when his cancer became too advanced, leads to only one point, a particular day in September 1958. No matter how long you spend in the past, only two minutes elapse in 2011. Furthermore, each use of the portal creates a “reset,” a concept I hadn’t encountered in time travel fiction before. Doesn’t matter whether the same person or a different one makes the trip; every trip erases any previous changes. (Or so they believe until the end; the truth turns out to be a little more complicated.) So when Jake travels to 1958 to spend five years preparing to fulfill his friend’s aspiration to save Kennedy, he has to start over from scratch. It’s interesting to watch King work within these conditions he has set up.

Naturally, Jake tries to blend into the past and draw as little attention to himself as possible. He fears stirring up butterfly effects that might derail Lee Harvey Oswald’s destiny in unpredictable ways. Over the years, though, Jake gradually finds himself putting down roots in the “Land of Ago” and falls in love with a woman. The only way, finally, he can preserve their relationship in the face of her suspicions about him, after she finds out he has lied about his background, is to admit the truth.

But how do you tell someone you come from the future without having her think you’re either a con man or a lunatic?

If you traveled into the past and WANTED to reveal your origin to somebody, maybe to avert a disaster by warning people, how could you prove you’re from the future?

Your first thought might be to show off a piece of futuristic technology you’ve brought along. Jake deliberately avoided bringing anything that would arouse suspicion, so he couldn’t do that. Besides, flashy tech wouldn’t necessarily prove you’re a time traveler. You might be an alien or a mad genius pulling some kind of con. Spider Robinson uses that premise in one of his novels (LIFEHOUSE, I think); the supposed time traveler isn’t, and he’s tricking a pair of SF fans who are too eager to believe his story.

Documents reporting future events wouldn’t do much good. People in the past might reasonably suspect them of being faked.

You might make short-term predictions that astonishingly come true. That method would work if you’d prepared by memorizing lots of events from the historical record. Jake didn’t have time to prepare in that way. He has his friend’s exhaustive notes about Oswald but has to rely on his own sketchy memories for everything else, and he’s an English teacher, not a specialist in mid-20th-century history. He does have notes on sporting events, for use in gambling to replenish his financial cushion, and an uncannily accurate bet on a boxing long shot impresses his lady friend so that she’s prepared to believe the truth.

But what if the butterfly effect of your own presence in the past caused your predictions to come out wrong? Then nobody would have reason to believe you, and when it came to navigating the tides of history, you wouldn’t have much advantage over anybody else.

Jake mostly has the opposite problem. One of the novel’s themes is that “the past is obdurate.” It doesn’t want to be changed. The closer he gets to the major events of the era, the harder he’s swimming against the tide.

As far as bittersweet endings are concerned, this story is emotion-wringing. And the culmination of the time travel plotline wasn’t anything I expected.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Legendary sci-fi author Anne McCaffrey has died - Celebrity Circuit - CBS News

Legendary sci-fi author Anne McCaffrey has died - Celebrity Circuit - CBS News

I can't put words to how this makes me feel, but I thought even though it's not my day to post, I just had to get this link up for you.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Poetic Justice In Paranormal Romance Novels Part 3

Parts 1 and 2 of this series, were posted on aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com the previous 2 Tuesdays.



We're looking at creating a working definition of Poetic Justice that will fit Paranormal Romance to enhance the believability of the Happily Ever After ending. 

So far, we have the following axioms to build into the Paranormal world:

1) Free Will
2) The Reality of the Soul (otherwise no Soul Mates)
3) Uniqueness of the Individual
4) Love Conquers All
5) Happily Ever After is possible though not guaranteed
6) Poetic Justice is real

In creating the plot of the Paranormal Romance Novel, look for ways to challenge the postulates you use these axioms to prove.  That will give your plotting a scintillating bizzaz that will glue the reader to the words.

If you didn't learn how to construct proofs in beginning Geometry, pick up some books and learn how to do that.  Working through geometry proofs is one of the most powerful cognitive disciplines for plotting any story, but it is especially applicable to all kinds of fantasy novels, from elves and trolls to dragons and demons and all the way to Urban Fantasy magic realism.

The more fantasy there is in your constructed universe, the more essential is the cognitive procedure internalized in elementary geometry.

So, last week we worked out a definition of poetry in terms of the Western musical scale based on 7 full tones, (we didn't discuss the 5 half-notes which add depth and texture) and came to the following:


7 is a biggie, so the Western musical scale is a great analogy to use in worldbuilding.

Poetry and music are different level manifestations of the same thing.  Poetry is not just the sounds of the words,  but the abstract meanings.  Concepts can be mapped onto this system of 7 or 7X7. 

One of those concepts is "Justice."

Poetry is not about rhyming, but it is about harmony.

Poetry is as much about the groups-of-7 as it is about the intervals between those 7 elements in a group.

Poetry is about how very distinctively different things interact with, blend with, meld with, unite with each other.

Poetry is about how two can become one.

Poetry is about the underlying unity of reality. 

Poetry is about Love Conquers All. 


So we know that Poetry is how Love Conquers All -- through harmony, through resonance, through the way that the two G strings on a guitar are the same note, an octave apart, and when you pluck one of them, the other picks up that energy through the air and vibrates its own note.

Poetry is about resonance - about how one event in one place and time stirs the substrata of reality setting off a resonating note among other events, other souls, in other places and times.

In other words, poetry is about how two distinct Events in different places and times can both be manifestations of the same thing. 

So what's Justice? 

Most people would say Justice is an evening or balancing of the Scales -- one event weighing the same as another, keeping the universe in balance.

That would work fine if the goal of life were to remain static. 

The statue of the goddess blindfolded holding the scales of Justice is Roman based on the older Greek concepts.  Our whole modern civilization in the U. S. A. is from the Roman (via England) which came from the Greek, which grew from Ancient Egypt - Persia (which is now Iraq/Iran).  Babylon (Syria) figures in there.  The Code of Hammurabi.  Assyrian roots. 

Hey, look, they all kind of knew each other, married into each other's clans, bled ideas and propagated ideas down the ages. 

But this current version of Western Civilization owes much to Ancient Egypt.


If you don't know about the Code of Hamurabi, it may be because you weren't a dedicated Star Trek fan looking up every Shakespeare and classical reference.  Kirk loved Hammurabi -- saved his butt in a court of law. 

Read this if you need a refresher:

But note that the article admits the Hebrew Torah is more famous. 

A lot of US Law is based on the Torah laws, or if not actually the Law itself, then the underlying concept of JUSTICE is what the US legal system lifted from these ancient documents.  (I'm assuming you all know the elements and ingredients in the Magna Carta.) 

So as a writer trying to convince a reader that some strange, made-up universe of yours would actually work in practice and is real (at least for the moment of the story), mine those ancient documents for the unused or abused, the disregarded or oddball interpretation that might sound strange to a reader, but would "ring true."

"Ring true" means poetry. 

Pick up the resonance of ancient events, and harmonize modern fantasy events with them.  It'll come out plausible.

So we're looking for poetic justice.

Does your universe need a portrait of the ideal state of human civilization as static?  Or do you need, as most science fiction novels will, a sense of dynamic progress?

Are things, affairs of humans, wizards and elves, only "right" when they are in "balance" (i.e. static) -- or does your universe have a purpose, a goal that it hasn't reached yet?

If it is a universe which is progressing, what is it progressing from and to? 

The reader doesn't need to know (doesn't want to) but you must have a notion of what your universe is about  in order to select each detail to be consistent with that notion.  Consistency builds verisimilitude.

Maybe you don't have this notion consciously -- maybe you have to write it to find out what it's about.  Many great talented writers work that way.  Others think they can and fail without knowing how disastrous their failure is.

So give the issue of Justice some conscious thought, then let it cook in your subconscious and see what worlds and universes you build.

The most fertile source of crazy ideas is the world around you and the ancient worlds from which it came. 

The Romans as noted above, portrayed Justice as static, a balance, evil balanced against good.  When you get the scales straight, one pan weighing the same as the other, you have achieved Justice.

But does your heart yearn for a world where Love Conquers All -- and I mean All.  Shouldn't the Good outweigh the Bad?  Shouldn't Justice mean there's more Good than Bad and the scales are tipped, skewed? 

Does Justice mean "I win?"

Or does Justice mean "There is no right or wrong - just stalemate?" 

Isn't that the formula for the Horror Genre novel?  Evil can never be destroyed or transformed into Good - it can only be locked away, chained with sigils and signs, sealed with theSeal of Solomon and left sleeping for the next generation to deal with.

Can Love Conquer All in a universe where you can not destroy or transform Evil into Good?

Is that why elements of the Horror genre just totally ruin a good Romance novel?  It's a "note" (tone, or sound) from a different scale.  It isn't the same song Romance Novels are made of. 

Think about my favorite Paranormal Romance genre - the Vampire Romance.

Until the advent of The Good Vampire - the vampire who was a decent human in life and who therefore fights the "curse" to behave decently (think of the TV Show Forever Knight and my Vampire Romance Those of My Blood) - any novel that had "a vampire" in it was automatically published under the Horror genre label.

Then all of a sudden, we had a slew of Romance novels about GOOD VAMPIRES - or vampires whose nature might be very "dark" but who were capable of love, affection, bonding.

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's St. Germain is one of the ground-breakers, and especially her novel which is more Historical Romance than Vampire Novel, Hotel Transylvania.

And now "vampire" does not automatically mean Horror genre.

There are panels at science fiction conventions about the Good Vampire. 

What does it mean about the nature of our real reality -- and our culture's opinion about the existential nature of reality -- that we, as writers and readers, have transformed the darkest most evil mythological creature into a force for Good In The World???? 

That's only one example.  Look around you.  Good things are being transformed into bad (not actual evil; there really isn't much of that around, but there's plenty of dark stuff).  But really awful things are being used for Good and transformed into Good.

Love, your ability to love, and your highest idealism is lighting up the farthest corners of this world -- often via the Internet, Web 2.0, and so on.

People help strangers in trouble on the other side of the world.

Is this a static world where the best we can hope for is a stalemate, a balance between Good and Evil? 

Most Paranormal Romance novels today are about that age-old battle, armegeddon, between Good and Evil -- but in my reading, I've found that for the most part, writers are portraying the scales tilted with Good on the heavier side of the balance. 

The static balance between Good and Evil is no longer the highest aspiration, the portrait of the ideal world, the Roman vision of the best we can do. 

Today people live in a dynamic world where the scales of Justice are tilting toward the Good.

But in the real world of your reader's daily life, the scales actually are swaying wildly this way and that, averaging better maybe, but in any given life, swaying wildly.

So you can build your fictional Paranormal Romance world with a non-static portrait of Justice.

That means you must be able to portray your Good and your Evil in ways that the reader can distinguish one from the other and make an informed choice which side to root for. 

If you, yourself, inside your own mind, are not able to define just what is Good -- in terms that don't simply mean "I win is good."  then you won't be able to get your reader to ponder their own definition of good, and come away with an Aha! moment, or as I said in Part 1 of this series of posts, a religious experience.

So, in terms of the Paranormal Romance novel, what you're looking to deliver is the Happily Ever After moment portrayed as Poetic Justice.

That moment has to be when the Soul Mates come out of the Pluto transit which I discussed here on August 30, 2011, find the sun shining as the Neptune Transit of "falling in love" wanes, see that the honeymoon is over (even if they spent it in Jurassic Park running for their lives) and understand that they will live Happily Ever After.

The Poetry in that moment resides in Events previous to that moment that belong to the same "chord" made from the scale of 7 cardinal emotions.  

If you've forgotten, here are some posts where I discussed the 7 cardinal emotions as depicted with the "Lower Face" of the Tree of Life.



The "Justice" of Poetic Justice resides in the Good that has resulted (and will likely yet result) because of the Soul Mates' survival, of what they did to survive, what they did to get themselves into that fix, in the whole backstory of how they were swept together by "fate" and events larger than themselves and could never have foreseen they'd arrive at this moment.

Poetic Justice is evidenced by a long, improbable, chain of Events on a " because line" (where each choice results in an event that causes another event which presents another choice etc in unbroken sequence) that finally results in the Soul Mates bonding and living Happily Ever After.

Poetic Justice says to the modern mind fostered by the scientific view of the universe that science doesn't know everything, that the universe makes sense, that life has a purpose, that it's not all random and haphazzard, that you can win if your heart is pure and your actions ethical.  Poetic Justice says because you have lived the universe has changed in a significant way -- and changed to the Good.

Poetic Justice is how the writer says to the reader that life is meaningful, that there is a purpose, that your personal struggles are taking us closer to the goal. 

It's not an easy thing to code into a novel's events without any expository lumps.

If you succeed, the payoff is huge in terms of reader loyalty to your brand.

The best way I know of to learn to do it is to analyze every movie you see and every book you read to see how others have done it for you.  At the same time, you need to find ways in which the world out there, the "real" world, actually does behave poetically and justly.  News stories, biographies, non-fiction, all that is fodder for the creative mind.

If you look for Poetic Justice in the real world, see it depicted in fictional worlds, can nail it consciously, eventually your subconscious will code it into the plots of your novels.

If you set out to write a novel, deliberately, to exemplify poetic justice, you will probably produce something so "on the nose" (so explicit) that it won't sell because it comes off "contrived."

If you see the world as poetic and just, that vision will resonate in the fictional events blasting into your consciousness as pure inspiration.  Very likely, you won't even recognize that you've done it until years later.  By then, you'll understand that the rigorous training you put yourself through paid off big time.

In fact, you may suddenly see the poetic justice in your own life. 

Live Long and Prosper,
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Heroes With Prostheses

A correspondent recently expressed doubt that Viz-Igerd (a secondary antagonist in Knight's Fork) could ever be a suitable/marketable hero in his own right, because he has an artificial hand.

What about Wolverine?

Is Wolverine potential Romance hero material, even with his hot temper and troubled past? Where does the gentle reader draw the line?

Luke Skywalker had an artificial hand, as did his father. Does anyone wonder how many Jedi had bionic body parts? When one fights with light sabers, it seems likely that a lot did.

Did anyone fantasize about Lee Majors' "Six Million Dollar Man" in the late 1970's? Was Steve Austin the first cyborg hero? How influential was that show? And why don't they do a remake?

Wolverine, Luke, and Col Austin looked "normal" at least some of the time. Anakin went to bed with a hand of gold. Was that a problem? Be honest. So, now I'm thinking of other beloved heroes who have what I will brutally call "something wrong" with them. One is Laura Kinsale's "Prince of Midnight" who is deaf in one ear. One can certainly be hard of hearing and still be a hunk and a hero!

The Amazon forums have a discussion full of recommendations for heroes and heroines who don't hear well, but few of them have ear implants, unlike Arthur Dent, galactic Hitchhiker, who had a Babel Fish. I also recommend this link for a discussion of super senses.

Here's an interesting discussion of TV tropes about artificial limbs and "disability superpowers", including a link to characters who hot-swap their bionic parts according to their needs at the time. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ArtificialLimbs.

There is also a link to an interesting article about when asymmetry is cool. As is pointed out, society tends to find symmetry attractive. Arms and legs should match. In my distant youth, I dated an Olympic oarsman. He was a Stroke, and one side of his back and shoulders was visible more developed that the other side. It never occurred to me to think of this as a deformity.... and it certainly has nothing to do with prostheses.... but what if the second most famous hunchback in History (Richard III) was simply a superb sportsman, whose muscles on the lance-hefting side of his body were over developed?

Check out the comprehensive Anatomy Arsenal listed here. It has to be admitted, few of these (particularly Fartillary) has great Romantic potential for the alien romance author, unless one is free of the constraints of a mass market editor, and probably work better for adolescent-oriented comic books..

Finally, there is a Listmania on Amazon where a reader compiles her list of favorite books with heroes or heroines who are physically imperfect, including some with bad knees. I recommend it to any alien romance author looking for the encouragement to write that disfigured or implanted or surgically "improved" hero or heroine.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Helpless Heroines

After hearing this Brad Paisley song on the radio multiple times, I got annoyed enough to rant about it:

Little Moments

"I live for little moments like that" sounds like a tender sentiment. The intended point of the song seems to be that "little imperfections" make the beloved person human and therefore more interesting. Perfection would be "boring." Nothing unsound in itself about those statements. But the lyrics come across to me as showing something different from what they're telling.

What does the narrator of the ballad actually show us? His wife or significant other dents his truck, burns the birthday cake, and gets them lost by misreading directions. In short, he sees her as an incompetent klutz. He doesn't portray himself as loving her in SPITE of those mishaps. Regardless of what the last verse claims, the overall impression isn’t that he sees her flaws as incidental quirks that are endearing because they’re part of her personality. "I LIVE for little moments like that"—as far as the action depicted in the song demonstrates, he loves her BECAUSE she's incompetent. And this is supposed to be romantic? Nowadays if a romance novelist created a heroine whose main attraction was helplessness, most readers would throw the book at the wall.

I'm reminded of the Japanese concept of "moe":


A moe character in manga or anime appeals to audiences by her or his (usually her) cuteness arising from an air of immaturity and a need to be protected. It seems unlikely to me that a country music star's work would be overtly influenced by Japanese popular culture. So does some segment of American popular culture still cherish the mindset of songs such as the tearjerker "Honey," from my teen years, in which the narrator fondly recalls how cute it was when his now-deceased young bride wrecked his car?

Of course it feels good to be able to protect and take care of the loved one. And it feels good to be taken care of sometimes, too. In modern romance, however, whether in fiction or other media, shouldn't we have grown past accepting a scenario where all the taking-care-of goes in one direction, infantilizing one partner (usually the female one)?

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Poetic Justice In Paranormal Romance Novels Part 2

Last week


we ended off with a load of loaded questions:

Is Justice a figment of the imagination?  Or is it a property of Reality?

Is Justice real?  Does it exist?  Or is it imaginary?

Then there's the problem of what exactly is poetry?  Does it mean rhyme? 

Maybe the term "poetic justice" is an oxymoron? 

And of course we have to add, "What does poetic justice have to do with Paranormal Romance, or any other sort of Romance?" 

We developed a list of concepts for the worldbuilder of a Paranormal Romance novel to include in the premise of the universe so that the Happily Ever After ending will seem plausible even to those who are absolutely convinced it can never happen in reality. 

1) Free Will
2) The Reality of the Soul (otherwise no Soul Mates)
3) Uniqueness of the Individual
4) Love Conquers All
5) Happily Ever After is possible though not guaranteed
6) Poetic Justice is real

I've mentioned here before that the main reason Romance novels as a whole don't seem realistic to most readers is that the genre has a rule against challenging the underlying premise of Romance.

The commercial concept "genre" is all about repeating a specific experience for a specific readership that comes to the bookstore looking for that exact experience.

Science Fiction genre is based on the emotional experience that science works, it solves problems when it's used by someone with knowledge and creativity.

Fantasy challenges the Science Fiction premise by using the SF premise and turning it on itself -- "What if everything you think is real actually isn't?"  Fantasy has developed genre rules that aim it at readers whose assumptions about reality are in flux.

Romance genre in general is aimed at those who want to experience that ineffable, once in a lifetime, feeling of having a part of the brain activated that normally doesn't respond - the part that melds you to a Soul Mate.   

Or we can look at it all from a different direction. 

Science fiction, and in fact most Literature, reaches the largest audiences when the unconscious premise of the readers is directly challenged -- and definitively exonerated or blown to smitherines then reassembled into something new.

The Paranormal Romance is popular because it's doing just that -- challenging the widely accepted premise about reality that science can (and mostly has) explained everything..

Science Fiction flourished as the literature that challenged the absolute conviction of the majority that we can never, ever, "go to the stars" and that there are no civilizations "out there" for us to meet, no planets for us to colonize.

Now science (mostly via the internet) has convinced a majority that the galaxy or maybe the whole universe is what science fiction portrayed.  Now we have actual discoveries of real planets, even probably earth-like planets around other stars.  It is possible that there are "people" out there, or empty planets to colonize.  "Life" at least is a near certainty among the stars, when a few decades ago it was a silly idea for the useless idiots of society. 

But now along comes Stephen Hawking and declares we can never - ever - reach those planets because of the inherent nature of space-time. 

So once again the majority view has become absolute and unassailable and unquestionable, as "majority" almost always is.  There will be no interstellar civilization for us to join, or create.  You can hardly sell an interstellar adventure these days.  Even one without any non-human aliens like Joss Whedon's Firefly doesn't fly. 

The torch of vital, creative imagination has passed to the realm of Fantasy, particularly Urban Fantasy which postulates MAGIC IS REAL.  The interest in the Paranormal has surpassed the high water mark of the interest in interstellar civilizations. 

Science declares absolutely, (and proves it convincingly) that magic is superstition and not real.  Only stupid fools "believe in" Tarot, Astrology, Ceremonial Magic.

Science can explain every human experience as a  bit of brain chemistry or brain-electronics, including out of body experiences and near-death experiences.

So creative writers take up the challenge. 

What if Magic is not impossible?  What if "reality" really is multi-layered, and magic and/or religion actually had it right and science has run up a blind alley?

What if we've thrown the baby out with the bathwater? 

What if Ancient Wisdom actually was wise if not totally "right?"

So we have a plethora of Urban Fantasy novels portraying our everyday world as a thin film over a seething cauldron of (something -- Evil?  Mystical Good?  Armegeddon being fought or prevented?).

The Potterverse is probably the most widely known of these, with the magic users being schooled and interpenetrating our world with train station doorways in pillars. 

We get through that door and into an otherwhere -- and find the same old/ same-old human stories of power use and abuse, of politics and skullduggery, of heroism and search for identity.

But you know what?  If you look closely, you'll find Poetic Justice (and a good dollop of Love Conquers All) laced through the foundation of the Potterverse.

So how do we duplicate that popularity?

Nobody has ever found the magical combination for making a runaway best seller.  For every success, there are several dozen contemporarily published novels or films that have the same elements, but don't capture the public eye.

Yet every really big, big success has these certain elements, including Poetic Justice. 

Poetic Justice must be a necessary condition, but not a sufficient condition, for popularity.

For famous films, study Saving Private Ryan and Elf.  Both illustrate poetic justice in action.

I'm sure that if you hadn't studied this element before last week's post, you've looked for it now and can't find anything really popular that does not have this element. 

If it's not Poetic Justice -- then it illustrates poetic injustice, which establishes the "reality" of the underlying concept of poetic justice.  Even a story about poetic injustice illustrates the point. 

Poetic Justice can be the source of the primary thematic statement for any work of fiction. 

But how do you, as a writer, use Poetic Justice as a fictional element?

You need to settle on a working definition of Poetry and one of Justice.  It doesn't have to be what you believe.  It doesn't have to be what others believe, or part of any religion.

It just has to be a statement that your fictional characters illustrate graphically (i.e. in pictures, in actions, not in words).

It doesn't have to be unique, or new to your audience.  Cliche actually works well when generating a theme from an axiom you're building into your world. 

"What goes around, comes around."

"As you sow, so shall you reap." 

"Hoist on his own petard." 

"Gets his just deserts."

So let's hack out a working definition of poetry.

You know we're not talking about doggerel, or any cheap rhyming words that only work in one language.  

We're talking about the abstract level of reality which is recognizable as things like "poetry in motion." 

What exactly is that and where does it come from?

Poetry is like Soul, in that the whole world is made of it, so it's very hard to see that it's there.

In Judaism, the Torah, the Five Books of Moses, which are the story of the life of Moses, starts poetically.

In fact, the whole Torah is a poem -- it's a song that's sung, not read.  That's right, it has a tune, and a rhythm, and all the words fit --- do you know how long it is?  Check it out.  That's epic.

Well, the story of this one man's life starts out, "In the beginning," and tells the story of God creating everything by simply saying words.  And it ends with Moses' death.  It doesn't end with entering the Land of Israel.  Moses doesn't get to do that.  He goes up on a mountain and dies in  a place that is to remain unknown (so he won't be worshiped).  He doesn't get to enter the Land of Israel, his life's work complete.  But he gets to see it.  It's not a tragedy - he gets to know how it all will come out and that his life's work will be complete, and why he can't be the leader into the Land of Israel.  It's not a "Happily Ever After" because we know how it came out later.  But it is poetry.  It is poetic justice. 

Isn't that cool?  The whole of reality is described as a poem.  We are the words that God is speaking (not spoke; is speaking) recreating this reality with the vibration of Voice every split-instant.  We are a song. 

If you take that view, and really think about last week's post where we explored how it is that we can be unaware that we have a Soul, just as maybe a fish is unaware of water, it's small wonder that the concept "poetry" is so difficult.

We are a song.  How can we understand songs if that's what we are?

We are vibration.   Science has dug down far enough to portray matter as vibrating particles.  There is nothing but energy, vibrating energy -- it just seems solid. 

So the music analogy, the music of the spheres, can give us a working tool for injecting our fiction with poetic justice.

Think of a musical chord.  If you don't know, go look up how musical chords are formed.  The individual tones relate to each other in a specific way (and yes, there are many 'scales' in different cultures; some seem like noise to the untrained ear.)

But the tones of a scale, and the chords made out of that scale, relate to each other in precise mathematically defined ways. 

Here's a whole presentation on this subject:

When you put the tones of a chord together, they resonate to produce a unique sound, a recognizable sound. 

Now, think of each tone in a scale as a personality trait.  In Western music, we use octaves - 7 distinct tones.

Way back when, astrology only knew 7 "planets" -- Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn.  And that was enough to describe all the permutations and combinations of human personality, the ways we are the same and the ways we are different.  (Today we have Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, too -- but they are regarded as "generational" -- so that everyone born in a given 20 year stretch mostly has these slow moving planets in similar enough places that the individuals of a generation move with commonality through life -- the Baby Boomer Generation is a real example.)

We are unique, each and every one of us, but we are all composed of combinations of the SAME 7 traits. 

The combinations make us unique, not the ingredients. 

There are 7 days in the week, and Kaballah identifies 7 levels to the Soul and 7  cardinal emotions to be mastered by the Soul in this life.  You can go on and on identifying 7's - think Rainbow.  The universe is made of groups of 7.

7 is a biggie, so the Western musical scale is a great analogy to use in worldbuilding.

Poetry and music are different level manifestations of the same thing.  Poetry is not just the sounds of the words,  but the abstract meanings.  Concepts can be mapped onto this system of 7 or 7X7.  One of those concepts is "Justice."

Poetry is not about rhyming, but it is about harmony.

Poetry is as much about the groups-of-7 as it is about the intervals between those 7 elements in a group.

Poetry is about how very distinctively different things interact with, blend with, meld with, unite with each other.

Poetry is about how two can become one.

Poetry is about the underlying unity of reality. 

Poetry is about Love Conquers All. 

Think about that, and next week we'll look at how to hack out a working definition of Justice. 

Live Long and Prosper,
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Poison for breakfast?

The gentle bouncer guarding the Bat Mitzvah party favors was a giant. As I waited for my daughter, I reflected that I've never stood so close to a man over seven feet in height.

Paradoxically, on the drive home, my daughter informed me that the human race is getting smaller. My thoughts flew to attractive but diminutive male celebrities in the entertainment and motor racing circles, but of course, they could not possibly spread their DNA widely enough to affect statistics. Not on a global scale.

So, I posed the question to Google, "Are we getting shorter?"

Apparently, we are. 

The Devastating Effects of Agriculture: We're Getting Shorter NOT Taller and Our Brains are Shrinking, So is Farming to Blame?

People have got shorter and our brains have shrunk - and scientists believe farming could be to blame.

Modern humans are about 10 percent smaller and shorter than our hunter-gatherer ancestors, scientists have found, and our brains have fallen in size by the same proportion.

The entire article is worth reading, especially the suggestion:

Comment: It is not puzzling so much as horrifying to realize that the introduction of agriculture led to a systematic degradation of the human race, with a shrinking of the brain being the unavoidable result. The consumption of poisonous grains actually carries much sinister ramifications than shrinking bodies and a gradually increasing rate of higher mortality.

Greg Wadley and Angus Martin, authors of Origins of Agriculture - Did Civilization Arise to Deliver a Fix? write the following: Recent discoveries of potentially psychoactive substances in certain agricultural products - cereals and milk - suggest an additional perspective on the adoption of agriculture and the behavioral changes ('civilisation') that followed it. In this paper we review the evidence for the drug-like properties of these foods, and then show how they can help to solve the biological puzzle just described...

I've never understood why it is considered normal and healthy to eat processed, preserved cereals with other unnatural additives, cooked to make them crunchy, then served in milk to make them soggy. No doubt, if I serve an alien breakfast on Earth, he will muse along similar lines.

The other appalling thought is that the CEO of PepsiCo apparently is determined that everything we eat and drink will be a Pepsi product.

One might be pardoned for concluding that we Westerners drug and poison our children with opioids and dopamines for breakfast, then drug them with pharmaceuticals when they can't concentrate.

If the introduction of farming might have been one of man's greatest mistakes ever (as http://www.sott.net/articles/show/229880 suggests, perhaps the invention of television (or at least, the tolerance of commercial advertising on television) may be another great error of collective judgment.

What do you eat for breakfast?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Copyright Protection Online

Here's Cory Doctorow's latest essay on copyright and Internet regulation. Briefly, his major premise is that because the Internet has become so pervasive in daily life (and for many people is fast becoming necessary to routine activities such as communication and banking) "there is no Internet policy, only policy." As the online realm increasingly interpenetrates every area of our lives, attempts to regulate online copying and distribution may have the unintended effect of regulating all sorts of other things most of us don't want official interference with:

Talking About Copyright

As usual, I have reservations about some directions in which Doctorow’s argument develops. On the other hand, the idea of an entire household losing Internet access because one member has been accused (not necessarily convicted) of piracy strikes me as deeply scary. And not that farfetched—similar draconian measures have been imposed in cases where the accused are suspected of downloading child pornography, haven't they? I’m exasperated by some of the page’s commenters’ wrongheaded notions about electronic theft, but I’m also a fanatical advocate of privacy rights. It won’t be easy to map out the right places to draw the lines.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Poetic Justice In Paranormal Romance Novels Part 1

We've been focusing on the plausibility (in real life) of the Happily Ever After ending, employing Astrology and every other philosophical tool we can find to explore how such a wish-fulfillment fantasy can actually be "real."

We added 2 posts on astrology just for writers, part 10 and part 11, to the collection in the last few months, finding ways a Paranormal Romance book can be constructed without ever mentioning astrology or Tarot.

I wrote:
The key the writer needs to grasp is how a character's free will choices combine with the prevailing influence in her life to produce events which, though decades apart in time and place, nevertheless are related poetically.

Two foundation concepts that make the Happily Ever After (HEA) ending plausible are Free Will and the Uniqueness of the Individual.

In the fishbowl analogy:

we discussed how souls can meld while lives remain separate, though reflective and in harmony.

Now we need to consider how these 2 premises, Free Will and Uniqueness, apply specifically to the Paranormal Romance novel.

The most concrete manifestation I have yet found of how these two human properties combine to produce the Happily Ever After in real life is often called Poetic Justice.

Literature teachers sometimes demand that a "book review" written by students to prove they read the novel in question should point out how the ending demonstrates poetic justice. Old classic novels all had this element, though it's harder to find in recently published SF Fantasy or Romance.

If your education hasn't supplied that drill for finding the poetic justice in a novel, I suggest you adopt it as a regimen for a few years. It will give you a handle on the subconscious beliefs of the largest audiences.

Today's Paranormal Romance novels don't all demonstrate poetic justice.

The reason may be that the writers and editors aren't sensitive to it, or that they don't think the intended audience understands it, or wants it in life, or fantasizes about it, or yearns for it. Since finding Poetic Justice in fiction may not be taught in all High Schools as it once was, those writers and editors might be correct.

So the new writer's job becomes bigger and much harder. To break into the field of Paranormal Romance novel writing, you may need to explain what poetic justice is, where it comes from, how to recognize it in "real" life, and then blindside the reader with a revelation at the ending that will leave them gasping, in tears, or maybe even with a religious experience.

Yes, I said religious -- an encounter with God that brings the reality of the Eternal Soul out of Religion and into real life.

As I've said in this blog, one of the premises of Romance novels in general, but particularly the Paranormal Romance novel, is that the Soul is real.

The Soul may not be tangible, or even subject to definition in words, but it's real, just like gravity and Kepler's Equations are real.

Very often, an individual human's first awareness, first loss of virginity, is in the first blush of Love. The idea of Love At First Sight is based on that kind of touch to the Soul by another Soul.

Think about that. If nothing touches your Soul, you don't know your Soul is there, can't feel it as yourself, your Identity.

If your whole inner world is untouched by anything, anyone, outside you, you don't know you have an inner world at all.

Here's a theory of Soul. Souls are like candle flames. A family is a group of Souls that all have been ignited from one, ancestral, candle. Parents ignite your soul, you then ignite your children's souls. These are not the same flame. Each is individual, each dances in the breeze differently, each candle burns down at a different rate, slanting this way and that according to the substance of the candle and wick. But there is an underlying similarity, a commonality among Souls ignited by the same Flame.

The first Soul, Adam, was ignited by God's breath. We all have been ignited from Adam.

Think about the Soul conflagration that engulfs the whole Earth.

We are one flame, but each is a unique individual.

A child, among family, doesn't feel that "individual" until puberty when the be-all of existence is to separate from The Mother and become an independent individual.

When that sense of individuality is established, the first thing it does is reach out to TOUCH another Soul. Puppy love. Teen crushes.

When the reach is returned, the newly individualized Soul finally gets a sense of having a Soul by being touched by another Soul.

That's the first loss of virginity, something very special that never happens again in a lifetime -- until the actual Soul Mate touches and unites in that special way.

Finding a Soul Mate does not guarantee a Happily Ever After. But it awakens the yearning for it.

That's the yearning the Romance Novel can fulfill. By painting that vision vividly and with depth of detail, the Romance Novel writer can touch the reader's soul and open doors into possible futures. The inspiration can sustain a reader through the search for a real life Happily Ever After.

The Paranormal Romance novel can open bigger doors into a bigger world, just as the Science Fiction Romance Novel can ignite a curiosity about science and the role of science in Love.

The Science Fiction Romance novel deals with the adventures of a Soul in the single, shallow, layer of "reality" that science addresses.

For more on what part of reality science addresses, see my posts on Tarot. 20 posts on Tarot are listed in these posts, but we keep coming back to this subject as we do to astrology and religion.



The Paranormal Romance Novel deals with the other dimensions of reality portrayed in my Tarot posts.

The Paranormal deals with that which is above, beyond or maybe beneath the "normal."

The assumption is that what we ordinarily see as "reality" is actually only a thin film, a crust, or a "user interface" like the "skin" you can "download" to decorate your Yahoo page.

As in the Potterverse, the "muggles" or normal people, just have no clue what's really out there.

In Horror genre, what's "out there" is truly ugly and a serious threat of which most people must be kept ignorant. There's no way to conquer it at all. The most you can do is closet it away for future generations to deal with (think enchanted chains on the Vampire's coffin, sealed with the Seal of Solomon and magical sigils of angels.)

In Paranormal Romance novels, what's "out there" is scary at first, but with the strength of Love, it can be conquered and perhaps even turned to Good.

Love Conquers All is an assumption of all Romance, but truly vital in the Paranormal Romance story.

So a Paranormal Romance worldbuilder must include at least some axioms about such topics as:

1) Free Will
2) The Reality of the Soul (otherwise no Soul Mates)
3) Uniqueness of the Individual
4) Love Conquers All
5) Happily Ever After is possible though not guaranteed
6) Poetic Justice is real

Different writers can use different axioms to cover these elements, but failing to cover these elements and make all the components of the worldbuilding behind the story conform to whatever axioms you use will cause readers to respond that the story is "contrived" or "unrealistic" or the villains are cardboard or the hero and heroine are idiots not worth reading about.  Yeah, that's the level of worldbuilding in SF or Paranormal or Fantasy novels that causes willing suspension of disbelief.

The reader doesn't have to believe in God, or find God real in their own life.  The reader just has to be able to relate to the position of the characters on these subjects -- without any single word ever making these philosophical abstractions explicit in the novel.  

If you miss any one of those elements, the Happily Ever After ending will seem more implausible to more readers than you might guess. 

So let's see if we can find a poetic justice definition that can work for authors of Paranormal Romance. It's one thing to unravel a Romance story to find the poetic justice inside, and quite a different thing to portray poetic justice in your romance story. The one process is not the opposite of the other.

Now think about this: God is a paranormal element.

I don't think religion is a paranormal element. Religion is a word we use to designate an organization, or a belief system, more than a law of the universe. Religion is what other people tell you about God. So religion is a different subject that belongs to anthropology and culture, two other aspects of worldbuilding.

Here we're looking for the universal, underlying, principles of reality that can make a Paranormal Romance world seem utterly real to the readers for whom The Paranormal is ridiculous in daily life. The point of the exercise is to find a way to present and explain Poetic Justice to readers, editors, and the general public that adds to their sense of how real a fictional universe is.

Science Fiction writers specialize in imagining a universe where what we absolutely know for a fact turns out to be not at all true.  Happily Ever After is in that category for a lot of readers, the same category as intelligent life on other planets.  

We have to show not tell that the Happily Ever After with a Soul Mate is actually Poetic Justice, even though Happily Ever After is a ridiculous premise in real life.  

If you just slap Poetic Justice into your Paranormal world, it will be one more thing readers have to suspend disbelief about. If you grow your version of Poetic Justice from the core premise of your world, it becomes one of the elements that convince readers your world is real.

So we have to find out what justice is and what poetry is, and why people in all cultures the world over cherish these notions while they only yearn for a Soul Mate and Happily Ever After and call those silly wishfulfillment fantasy.

Do you need God in your worldbuilding as an axiom? A postulate? A premise? Do you need God as an element in your fiction in order to portray Justice in the world?

Does "Justice" come from outside or inside "reality?"

What exactly is justice and how do you tell if it has manifested (yet)?

If you know enough mythology, you have many gods to choose from, fickle ones, ones that come from dysfunctional families, benign ones, neutral ones, bribable ones. You also have a cast of thousands of demons, elves, pixies, trolls, and a plethora of supernatural creatures to include or exclude from your world.

You can use (though you might not be able to sell it right now) Islam and the Prophet, or any Islamic concept of Justice and how it can be arrived at. All of those beliefs belong to the paranormal, and can be inventoried in a Paranormal Romance novel's worldbuilding.

You can study the era of the Prophets in Judaism -- theory is that at one time, during the days of the Temple, nearly everyone received Prophecy from God, but only a few got prophetic visions that pertained to the future history of Judaism, visions that were worth preserving. Most people got information about ordinary things or matters of personal concern. As far as I know, no Paranormal Romances have been set in that time and place -- could blow the whole Paranormal Romance publishing industry to the top of the charts.

Theory in Judaism, particularly Kabbalah, is that today people get real "prophetic" visions in dreams -- personally applicable information, on a routine basis. "Prophetic" doesn't necessarily mean "about the future" -- but it can mean just deep insight into the true meaning, the Paranormal meaning, of what's happening on the surface of events today.

So Prophecy is a Paranormal element that can be used in Romance worldbuilding, and has been. Many stories begin with a dream of the One who will be the Soul Mate.

Fantasy Romance is routinely lumped in under Paranormal Romance. But most people associate the word Fantasy with "impossible" or "unreal" -- or even consider it unhealthy to dwell on, mentally or emotionally.

That's why "wish fulfillment fantasy" is a pejorative.

Paranormal, however, is often associated with "crazy."

Which brings us to the question: Is Justice a figment of the imagination? Or is it a property of Reality?

Is Justice real? Does it exist? Or is it imaginary?

Then there's the problem of what exactly is poetry? Does it mean rhyme?

Maybe the term "poetic justice" is an oxymoron?

We'll explore this a little more next week in Part 2 of Poetic Justice in Paranormal Romance novels.

Live Long and Prosper,
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, November 06, 2011

About Asteroids

In my opinion, the most interesting comment about Asteroid YU 55 passing within approximately 202,000 miles of Earth is not that
"...(it)...  will be visible from the planet's northern hemisphere," or that, "The best time to observe it would be in the early evening on November 8 from the East Coast of the United States," but that, "It will be too dim to be seen with the naked eye, however, and it will be moving too fast for viewing by the Hubble Space Telescope."

Senior research scientist Don Yeomans, with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California told the Reuters news agency, "It is going to be very faint, even at its closest approach. You will need a decent-sized telescope to be able to actually see the object as it flies by."

That interests me (as an author of alien romances) because it means I can plausibly go on using spaceships disguised as asteroids and comets. (And for the grammatical purists, I deliberately echoed a "boldly go" phrase.)

Of course, my own alien spacecraft are larger that this large asteroid. YU 55 is described as the size of a battleship, and is estimated at a quarter-mile wide. Mine, influenced by a variety of How To manuals was concealed under a mile of water ice. (The "water" part of "water ice" was considered important at the time, because one can have ice that is not water-based.) That would make a battleship sized alien space craft at least two-and-a-quarter miles wide.

Which might be visible to the naked human eye. However, my original spacecraft, which I drafted in 1994 about the time that Steven Spielberg was polishing his game Dig (involving humans landing on what they think is an asteroid, and discovering that it is a spaceship), is set -- as it were -- in ice. I cannot suddenly turn it into something cooler, like YU 55, which is blacker than charcoal,and is thought to be made of carbon-based materials and some silicate rock.

It's a C-type. Sounds rather Mercedes, doesn't it? And it gets better. There is an S-type!

The best resource I've seen on Asteroids is  http://nineplanets.org/asteroids.html

It will tell you the size of the largest known asteroid ( 1 Ceres. 974 km in diameter.) And explain the classifications of asteroids into types according to their spectra (and hence their chemical composition) and albedo (to do with reflection of starlight/sunlight).

C-type, includes more than 75% of known asteroids: extremely dark (albedo 0.03); similar to carbonaceous chondrite meteorites; approximately the same chemical composition as the Sun minus hydrogen, helium and other volatiles

S-type, 17%: relatively bright (albedo .10-.22); metallic nickel-iron mixed with iron- and magnesium-silicates; 

M-type, most of the rest: bright (albedo .10-.18); pure nickel-iron. 

Nine Planets also talks about classification of asteroids according to their location in the solar system, which gives us designations such as Trojans, Centaurs, Amors.... and more.

 Another fact that I really appreciated was that some asteroids are not solid at all, but may resemble compacted space rubble. 

Another site I like is Universe Today, for instance to keep me straight about the differences between an asteroid and a comet.  

For example "The main difference between an asteroid and a comet is what they are made of. Asteroids are made up of metals and rocky material, while comets are made up of ice, dust and rocky material. Both of these space objects were formed during the earliest times of the solar system, around 4.5 billion years ago. Asteroids formed much closer to the Sun, where it was too warm for ices to remain solid..." 

There's a lot more fantastic information, and links, so if interested, do visit http://www.universetoday.com/33006/what-is-the-difference-between-asteroids-and-comets/

Thursday, November 03, 2011

The Decline of Violence?

I recently read a book by Steven Pinker on why violence has declined, both worldwide and in Western culture, over the millennia and even within the past century. Here’s a part of my review of this book in my November newsletter:

“THE BETTER ANGELS OF OUR NATURE: WHY VIOLENCE HAS DECLINED, by Steven Pinker. Pinker is one of my favorite nonfiction authors, a psychologist, author of THE LANGUAGE INSTINCT, HOW THE MIND WORKS, and THE BLANK SLATE. As the author acknowledges, the first reaction of many readers may be disbelief in this book’s major premise, that violence HAS declined. He lays out in great detail examples throughout history, backed up by exhaustive statistics, to demonstrate that the contemporary world does in fact suffer from much less personal, official (such as harsh legal punishments and torture by governments), and international violence than any prior era. As a percentage of the world’s population, death tolls from these causes have steeply decreased. I was mildly dubious about war, but he does have the statistics to support his position, and one can’t argue when he points out that we haven’t had a war between major powers in over sixty years. Conflicts between smaller nations (as opposed to civil wars) have also become less frequent. Concerning terrorism, a high-profile phenomenon whose actual death toll is negligible compared to all other forms of carnage, it, too, has been around for millennia but has declined from its historical peak. As for the reduction of other kinds of violence, Pinker is clearly right, and, equally significant if not more, our toleration of it in North America and western Europe has conspicuously decreased, not only from preindustrial centuries but even from the mid-twentieth century. He attributes this trend to several factors but most prominently to the rise of centralized governments that suppress violence within their borders through their official monopoly on the use of force. He also discusses at length the “humanitarian revolution” that began with the Enlightenment. Two chapters, “Inner Demons” and “Better Angels,” explore in depth the psychological, social, and cultural factors that influence our behavior toward violent or peaceful expression. Particularly interesting to me was the section on the biology and psychology of self-control.”

Although this book comprises almost 700 pages not counting bibliography and index, it held my attention throughout (except that I confess I didn’t study the graphs and charts). Pinker is a lucid, lively writer with a gift for making technical topics understandable to the general reader. He convinced me that our perception of the twentieth century as the most violent in history is mostly an illusion of perspective (it looks that way because we’re so close to it), and in fact things have actually gotten better. He assesses the devastation of war in proportional terms rather than only in terms of absolute numbers and points out that, contrary to popular belief, traditional hunter-gatherer societies didn’t live in Edenic peace. The percentage of the total population who died as a result of raids and battles far exceeds the comparable statistics (as a percentage of population) in modern warfare. As for violence on a more personal level, there’s no contest. Up through the early modern period, criminals could be condemned to death for petty offenses, torture was an accepted judicial procedure, and slavery was universally legal. Today the first doesn’t happen in “civilized” nations, and the last two are illegal worldwide (when they do happen, they’re condemned by public opinion). Even within the lifetime of some of us here, domestic abuse and rape have been treated as fit subjects for humor. Now their victims’ demand for justice is taken seriously. As Pinker mentions, in some areas the pendulum has swung so far that “political correctness” has grown to ludicrous heights, but regarding it as a sign of our culture’s attempt to treat people fairly, consider the alternatives. I don’t buy every one of Pinker’s assertions, and I think his section on the ancient world is a bit weak (conflating myth, legend, and fiction with real-world violence), but I definitely recommend this book.

If you’re as taken aback as I initially was by the premise that our world is becoming steadily less violent, you’d probably find THE BETTER ANGELS OF OUR NATURE as intriguing as I did.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Astrology Just For Writers Part 11-The Fishtank Model of Romance

Most writers and readers don't want to know anything about Astrology, and that's fine.  There are plenty of other systems for parsing the patterns of human life.

A writer only needs one such system, but having several can give a writer the flexibility to work with vastly different audiences.  Adding Astrology to your toolbox can position you to take advantage of unexpected opportunities with unruffled aplomb.

But you don't need to become an astrologer, or even to "learn" astrology or do it.  You only need to learn to think like an astrologer, and to understand what lives look like from the point of view of someone well versed in this craft.

Here are the previous posts in this Astrology Just For Writers series that help you get the perspective we'll discuss next.

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2010/03/pausing-for-you-to-catch-up-with-me_30.html lists posts on Astrology

And here are additional ones:

Part 10 was on August 30, 2010.

And this is Part Eleven.  The intention is to collect this series into an e-book and make it available for download on simegen.com.

The 20 posts on the Tarot Swords and Pentacles that I've done here will likewise be published along with the discussions in volumes on Wands and Cups, plus a volume on how and why to study Tarot, and when and how to shun it.

Here are two posts indexing the 20 Tarot posts available.

When using Tarot to structure a novel, never mention cards, suits, mysticism, foretelling the future, etc.  Keep your use of these tools "off the nose" and be able to say, "It just came to me."

To achieve that unruffled aplomb, that level of "Cool,"  in the face of the opportunity of a lifetime, the one thing a writer needs to learn about using Astrology in their writing is, just as with Tarot, never mention the name "Astrology" or "Natal Chart" -- or any of the planets or stars that Astrology tracks.  Never mention "influenced by" or "under a transit."  Not even "Horoscope!"

Mentioning the source is what Hollywood screenwriters call being "on the nose" -- or in the parlance of the narrative text writer, "telling" rather than "showing."

I've seen this "on the nose" error in text a lot lately, even from seasoned professional best sellers.  That happens because the editors don't catch it and send it back for rewrite.  Editors need to know this stuff just as writers do.

Lazy writers, or any writer just in a hurry or being lazy, tend to try to disguise expository lumps as dialogue or description.  When that is done, the dialogue or description comes out "on the nose."

Here are some of my entries about Expository Lumps:

And there's another on August 23rd, 2011

Also see my series on Editing.  Here's the final installment, and it has a list of the previous parts at the top.

A master craftsman writer portrays the life (and arc) of a character in a way that is familiar to the readers -- they know real people who've lived through that pattern (or died in it).  But you must not tell the reader how you found out about that pattern.  It just came to you.

There is a popular commercial running in 2011 for Progressive Insurance in which the iconic saleswoman shows a prospective buyer the "Bundling" machine.  You put your information in once, and get out two products in a box.

The buyer turns to her marveling and asks, "How did you think of that?"

She answers, "Oh, it just came to us."  Then looks over at a centaur shopping the shelves of bundles.

That line, "Oh, it just came to us."  is supposed to be a tickler, funny, amusing, memorable to the viewers.

What most viewers don't know is that it is the stock answer to that question in Hollywood.

It's so routine, and so stock, and so necessary when a producer or director asks a writer "How did you think of that?" that the "never let them see you sweat" rule kicks in automatically, and the only answer is a nonchalant shrug with, "Oh, it just came to me."  Saying essentially you have a genius that the nuts-n-bolts people who make your story real for viewers just don't have.  You are indispensable to the process, but not overly impressed with yourself.  It was an accident you thought of this ingenious solution.

This is so absolutely ingrained in the Hollywood culture that Blake Snyder ( http://blakesnyder.com ) of the Save The Cat! books insists this is the only way a writer can respond to that question.  He teaches writing, and goes out of his way to make this point.  There's skill, craft, and lots of sweat behind these ingenious solutions to production problems, but you as a seller of your skills must never let them see you sweat.

And that's true of the relationship between you and your reader as well.

You must never let the reader know how you know -- know what process you used to create the magic they adore.

It won't be magic if you do.

Think of a painter facing a well prepared blank canvass.  Most often, after settling on the subject, the painter reaches for charcoal not pigment, and maybe a ruler, and draws in a whole lot of very faint lines later to be erased.  Those lines set up the composition, the perspective, the point of view from which the subject's inner nature will be revealed.  The painter deliberately plans how the viewer's eye will sweep across the images, and what they will notice first, what next, and what will be in focus and remembered.

Yes, it's all very deliberate skill in painting.  It's learned early and practiced like a musician practices scales until the painter can have an image "just come to him" and boom, it's on the canvass and you never know what happened even if you were watching.  The Master Craftsman usually isn't conscious of "what happened" either -- he really lives the "it just came to me" moment without asking himself how that happened.

Teachers on the other hand have to unravel that "just came to me" moment and convey the individual skills to the craftsman one at a time, in boring repetitive drills.

That's what we're doing here in this blog for writers who want to figure out how better writers achieve those marvelous effects.

Today's craft point is a look at Astrology from the writer's point of view.

So let's look at the two lead characters in a Romance.  Blake Snyder's SAVE THE CAT! series of books on screenwriting, says all Romances belong to his "genre" called Buddy Love.  I recommend you read those books.

Blake Snyder On Amazon

Also, because of the encroachment of graphic novels, film, webisodes, games, and other visual media on storytelling,  today's text-narrative writers must incorporate the pacing and visual emphasis that fiction consumers have become accustomed to.

So I recommend getting Snyder's screenwriting SOFTWARE that goes with the books, and using that to lay out the structure of your novel.  I am particularly involved with that software right now because I'm a beta tester on version 3.0 and I really love the improvements.

You can find it at blakesnyder.com or Amazon.  The software is also called SAVE THE CAT!  You can also find it on professional screenwriting software sites like Final Draft.  It's integrated with Final Draft 8

So now you're looking at a blank canvass to create your characters, their arcs, and the story they must live through.

You've nailed the transit influences affecting them.  Since this is a Romance, of course Neptune is hard at their respective sensitive spots.  But other influences can fly through that long-arc Neptune transit as well.

So you need a mental model too understand what these two people are and why they act and react as they do.

And that model has to be comprehensible to your readers especially because you're not going to explain it "on the nose." 

Without learning astrology, what can you visualize that will tell you what is happening to this couple, this pair of Soul Mates, falling in love?

Visualize it like this, and see if this works for you.

A Soul incarnates at a particular moment.  Astrology captures the moment of birth in a flash-photo still shot called the Natal Chart.

That chart delineates the positions of the planets of the solar system, and the Sun and Moon, at the time of birth.  It further captures the two lines delineating the path to the horizon east and west, plus the point directly overhead at Noon - the highest point the Sun reaches on that day at that longitude and latitude.  The opposite point is directly under foot, opposite the Sun's peak of arc, midnight.  That line is called the MC, and defines the 10th House and the 4th House, the mystical purpose for taking this life vs. the foundation of the Home under the person's metaphorical feet.

The Ascendant defines the view of "reality" the person has from inside his life, and what others see when they look at him.  Opposite the Ascendant is the 7th House cusp, which delineates partnerships, significant others, spouses, and the public (when you figure what all those things have to do with each other, how they're all absolutely identical, you'll have an understanding you can use to write fiction.)

Different astrological systems of mathematics assign different ways to calculate the positions of the other 8 "House cusps" -- I favor Placidus, Tropical, and it works well enough for my purposes (creating characters).

This up/down, horizon to horizon framework delineates the support structure of this character's life.  When you put the planets, Moon and Sun, into the framework positioned relative to the  birthplace on Earth at that moment the baby draws first breath, you then have a giant clock with at least 10 "hands" moving at different paces.  You can get fancy, and delineate 20 hands to the clock.  But a writer doesn't need that.

You don't need to understand how those clock hands move as much as you need to understand that they're there, they're set with precision, there's no escaping, and everyone alive is utterly familiar with their permutations and combinations in dynamic effects.

That "setup" of life at birth is the part of astrology that lets you make your characters "the same" as Hollywood always wants, and as Manhattan publishers need and will buy.

When something has become popular (like Harry Potter) the purveyors of fiction strive to duplicate exactly what it was that sold so well..  And that's why they always want "the same but different."

Writers, however, have read a lot of books, and usually want to put their work forward as "different" and not at all the same.  "Different" feels like the essence of art, the essence of your soul. (because it is)

You can do "different" and get small readerships.  Or you can add in "the same" dimension and strike for larger readerships.  It's a choice.  Create a pen name for each career path.

But first see my entries on PEN NAMES.

The Blake Snyder Save the Cat! books and software show you how to do "the same" without infringing on your personal "different" and thus unleash your full potential as a commercial writer.

Now visualize this giant clock everyone is born inside.  Each of us live inside a clock set to a different time zone, a unique (or nearly unique -- even twins are born at different times) time zone.

This clock forms the framework of your life, the outside of your life, not the inside.

Think of this framework as the walls of a fishtank.

Fishtanks come in a lot of shapes and sizes, but they have transparency in common.  At least one wall is transparent (think of the giant aquarium at a zoo).  Most fishtanks are transparent on at least 3 sides.

The tank you live in, your natal chart, defines the size and shape of your life just like the walls of a fish tank.

You can think of it as walling you away from what's out there.  Or you can think of it as containing a benign environment uniquely suited just to you, thus protecting others from your environment.  This should be familiar to SF readers of space adventures with intelligent aquatic creatures.  Metaphor?  Maybe. 

Unlike most fish, you can see OUT, hazily.  With distortion.  You can see the reflective walls of other people's tanks, and sometimes glimpse through those walls into the life of another.

In this (admittedly limited and distorted) analogy, your Soul is the fish.

Unlike fish, you can create, shape, decorate, personalize and customize your tank.  You create your inner environment.

What your Soul is capable of creating, how nicely you can arrange things, what you can "do with the place" is limited by your talent, determination, and other resources your soul brings into this life.

You live your life within your natal chart, within your clock, by the choices your Soul makes, and the resources and wisdom it has brought with it, and what it learns from this life.

The "clock" does not say "You will meet a tall, dark, non-human, stranger and fall in unrequited love."

The clock does not say a tall dark stranger will come into your life.

The clock says it's time to meet strangers, go find one.

Whether there's a stranger there or not, and how you respond to that particular individual stranger, is a matter of the Soul, not the clock.

It's not that there's no such thing as "destiny" -- it's that "destiny" is far more complex than the Ancient Greeks ever knew.

"Destiny" is crafted from the material at hand (via the clock, the shape of the fishtank, the limits of imagination in fixing up the place inside the tank), by freewill choices, but not just your own.  Everyone has free will and makes choices which you respond to.  And others respond to your choices.  You interact (i.e. fall in Love) with others who likewise live in fishtanks of their own, tanks you can sometimes almost see into, but never enter.

In my universe paradigm, there's a third force acting to shape and reshape "destiny" for each of us and all of us collectively - God.  But the fishtank analogy holds whether there's a third outside force or not.

So here your character is inside her fishtank, and is moving stuff around trying to make the place (her life) comfortable.  (i.e. has landed a plum of a job promotion, and really sees the big bucks coming soon)

And she decides out of pride of place to clean her tank walls nice and clear and transparent so she can see and understand the world (i.e. takes a course and learns something, or proves something).

She wants love, so she makes herself more visible, her real self, or what she wants to believe is her real self.

And what happens when she cleans her tank wall is that she SEES another tank out there because it's time to meet strangers, and she can now see through her own reflection to something that is not herself.

She sees another tank wall, and reflective though it is, it seems to curve around the edges of her tank very neatly, and with the angle just so, she can SEE the Soul swimming around inside his life.  Or she thinks she does.  Part of the image is a reflection of herself, but having cleaned her tank walls, she is seeing something that is not herself.  Thrill of a lifetime. 

Wow. He's gorgeous.  Just look at those sweeping, draping fins!

The two souls can get close, nudge their tanks right up to touching, so it seems the walls have merged into one wall, and they can create new life together.  But neither can leap over into the other's tank and swim there.

The analogy kind of breaks down because Soul Mates who marry do actually merge into one.  Those two tanks bond and stick together.

But the insides are always separate, even when most of the reflection effect at the tank surfaces is eliminated by bonding the two tank walls together.

Lives are SEPARATE -- Souls merge.

We each live in our fishtanks, isolated and alone.  But we can share a Soul, mate with a Soul.

Think of this analogy.  The two tanks come together, the walls fuse so they can almost just about see into each others' tanks (there's always reflection -- what we see when we look at others is a reflection of our inner Self).  So they move into such harmony that they each redecorate their tanks to match, so you can't tell it's two rooms.

Maybe she quits her job, and he quits his (ok, today it's more likely they'll get laid off), and they start a business together -- a shop, a newspaper, a blog-for-money operation, e-Bay sales, whatever.  They change their lives to harmonize.

That's what "Happily Ever After" -- the HEA ending -- actually looks like.

We talked about the Happily Ever After concept in a 4 part series the Tuesdays in October 2011 titled Believing In Happily Ever After.

Using the fishtank analogy of lives that are set up at Birth, and Souls trapped inside those lives at least for this incarnation, you can see immediately why people today just don't credit the Happily Ever After goal as realistic.

You can never really get inside another person's life.  You can't let them inside yours.

You can't even see inside other people clearly, which leads to misunderstandings.

Consider a good marriage where, after some time, one partner wanders off to live mostly in the far end of his tank, becoming mostly invisible from the mated tank.  Left alone, she ends up living at the far end of her tank, where there's a view into someone else's tank.

No matter how close some part of your life is to another's, or how visible, there's a part of your life they can't see or share.

That's what it means to be an individual, a unique person, a sovereign person.

Since everyone has that experience, it's easy to see why most people don't believe another person would deliberately live their life only in the corner of their tank that touches the other tank.

Until you mix in the Soul Mate dimension, that delineates the unique pleasure of being near another, willingly sharing a life (redecorating) for the sheer pleasure of the meaningfulness you find in the other's company, there's no way to explain Happily Ever After to those who have no experiential model for it.

That is, there is no way to explain unless you're a writer who has mastered show don't tell, the off-the-nose techniques Blake Snyder teaches so ably.  The genre that specializes in making the unbelievable real to the reader is Science Fiction and its more recent offshoot adult Fantasy.  When you mix SF/F with Romance or just plain Love, you get PNR and SFR.

PNR writers need a firm grasp of the esoteric or occult disciplines such as Tarot and Astrology to make the rules of magic of a constructed fictional world real to their readers.

Here is where you can find my novels, and my co-author Jean Lorrah's, to see how we apply these principles.


Jacqueline Lichtenberg