Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Theme-Worldbuilding Integration Part 13 Authority, Responsibility, and Power in Alien Romance

Theme-Worldbuilding Integration
Part 13
Authority, Responsibility, and Power in Alien Romance
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Here is the index to the Theme-Worldbuilding Series:

Mostly, we don’t expect a theme about “Power” (not electrical, but social) in Romance Novels. “Power” themes today trend toward the dark, very dark fantasy, and major battles against Evil by characters who have “super powers.”

There may be a love story — in fact a love story is obligatory in most adventure fantasy and supernatural battles.

Character is most clearly depicted via a loved-one, if not a “Romance” per se, then family, or buddy loyalty.  You know a person by the company they keep.  In fiction, though not so much in life itself which is more murky than fiction, the viewpoint Character’s is reflected clearly in the surrounding characters.

Thus a bully will surround him/herself with yes-men, and just throw their ‘weight’ around and punish the non-compliant.

That is seen by most readers as an abuse of power, if the bully has ‘power’ (e.g. is the office boss, the parent of a child who may be an adult, a teacher who dishes out bad grades for insolence).

Character can be reflected in friends, lovers, and family members as an opposite, or as an image.  For example, a viewpoint character may surround himself or herself with people who he/she admires, looks up to, or wants to emulate, without understanding that they see themselves in him/her.  Friends stick around when they see themselves in you.  Role models adopt you into their circle because they see the quality they most admire in themselves nascent within you.

Romance blinds a Character to flaws, but reveals the virtues that first create affinity.  Soul Mates have flaws and virtues that fit together like two sides of velcro strips.

Here is an index posts to series on developing Character.


“Authority” is both a position in the social world you are building from your character’s innate traits, and also an innate trait of the character.

“Authority” is an attribute of what we often term the Alpha Male or Alpha Female.  As a young Alpha has to fight to rise in the pack, to learn by experience how to acquire and wield Authority, so do all humans who have that trait.

In fact, most humans have the Authority trait, but it is often recessive or undeveloped.  We have the classic tale of the lowly Private in the army detachment whose officers are all killed, and who then “rises to the occasion” and pulls off the mission successfully, maybe recruiting natives from the surroundings to help.

An experience like that makes a boy leave home and return as a man.  It works for both human genders.

Not every human with Power has a well developed Authority trait.  The result of that disparity is the classic Bully who wields Power to serve his/her inner emotional needs.

Among humans Authority is an innate trait, not something that is “handed to you.”  So we have the phrase, “promoted over his head,” or “out of his league.”  You can hand a person with an undeveloped Authority trait a job that bestows Authority upon them, but that just won’t  hand them “Authority.”  If they don’t turn into a Bully, they become a Patsy for their underlings.

So you get the Plot Situation where some disaster happens, and the Character in position of Authority blames an underling.  Mere office holding or titles does not develop Authority and often unleashes wild abuses of Power that result in disasters the office holder blames on the unexpected misbehavior of others.

A Character with the trait of “Powerful” (in Astrology, that’s Mars and Pluto) who gains a position of Authority without stepwise development of Power and Authority inner traits, will not know how to “take responsibility” for the consequences of their actions or inactions.

We saw that in February 2016 in the Revival of the TV Series X-Files, where Scully’s mother dies and she realizes that giving away her baby has far reaching consequences for which she is responsible.  It is a very good script that gradually unfolds the issue of Responsibility for unforeseeable consequences.

In the case of giving up that baby (because they lived a life of incredible danger in a confusing world of the supernatural or alien threats), they made a choice and at this point in maturity, Scully is feeling the weight of Responsibility (in Astrology, Responsibility is Saturn and Capricorn).  Her mother died feeling that weight.

As I said above, sometimes Parents are bullies.  Our laws give the parents Authority over the children - (today that is vitiated by Child Protective Services, but it is still an awesome Authority) whether the parent has a well developed Authority trait or not.  Because of child protection laws, parents have Authority but not Power, and sometimes not even Responsibility.

This trend of society structuring law to separate Authority and Responsibility by shifting the Power centers is not a “human” thing, but a current social trend.  It may be an improvement, but Ancient Wisdom says it is not.  In fact recent wisdom says you can’t separate Authority and Responsibility, and that is a principle behind most of the laws in the USA.

When you have the Power and Authority to drive a car, (most 10 year olds CAN drive most cars, but don’t have Authority of a license), you then have the Responsibility for the consequences created when that car moves under your command.  Since the potential consequences far outstrip individual ability to pay the price, we invented liability insurance.

So, in traditional law, we have a fusion of Authority and Responsibility for the use and abuse of Power.  In modern social laws, we have the Power of society driving a wedge between fused elements.  This could easily be viewed with creeping horror by an Alien in love with a Human.

Human irrationality might be horrifying to Aliens - but on the other hand what we consider to be rational might actually be the source of horror.

For example, the Abortion controversy.  We are trying to craft laws which fuse Power (the choice to have an abortion and then actually do it) and Responsibility (the responsibility to bear the child and give it up for adoption or raise it).  We do this by giving the pregnant woman Authority (license) to decide if that fetus will develop.

So we examine the social origins of customs both for and against raping a woman and forcing her to bear the child.

Several TV Series have dealt with human-alien hybrids.  With Spock, on Star Trek, we see that creating a living human/Vulcan hybrid was “the logical thing to do.”  With the Tenctonese on Alien Nation ...

...we see it is more complicated.  Perhaps most fascinating is the situation in the film Enemy Mine ...

...where an alien pregnancy is triggered by emotional affinity with a human, and the human takes responsibility for introducing the resulting child to the Alien home world’s genealogy — to give that child an Identity.

So we see that to Build a World for a human/alien Romance, you must deal with Questions of Ultimate Concern, such as what is life, what is death, (in a Paranormal Romance, a ghost might love a living person), what is reality and what is fantasy?  What is reality and how it differs from fantasy pivots on the question of what is humanity?

Belief enters into the defining of Character motivations, which depicts that velcro that glues Characters in a Romance.


What choices a writer makes when defining the fictional Society’s beliefs, and the fictional Character’s beliefs, defines the intended audience.  Here are some posts on targeting audiences.



When building your Alien’s reproductive physiology, you weave your Theme into the non-verbalized assumptions your aliens make about Life, The Universe and Everything — about matters of ultimate concern.

Remember, since your readers are contemporary humans, the alien has to be comprehensible to them (or so alien there is no comprehending).  So you have to start with your reader’s surrounding world.

For example, the arguments for and against Abortion hinge on the definition of when “life” begins.

We have very little “science” behind our beliefs, despite the extensive research on genetics.

So religion figures into the belief end of the spectrum, and science presents a lot of data that can be interpreted according to those beliefs, or against those beliefs.

Historically, on earth among humans, it has not always been assumed that science (natural reality) contradicts religion so adamantly that an individual person must choose one over the other, but never both.


Note that article is from Fox News and is on their Opinion page, and is mostly about a book recently published, so don’t expect much but do glance through it. It’s not about abortion, but a pitch to buy a book.

"Amazing Truths: How Science and the Bible Agree" (HarperCollins)

As presented in the opinion article, the idea that there’s no inherent conflict between the Bible and Science is not new, or surprising — but it is quite “alien” enough for you to build your Alien’s world around it.

A being from such a world would look at our contemporary American culture, fractured into opposing camps over a non-existent issue, as one might view insane asylum inmates — whose opinions don’t count.

In a Romance Novel, the fog of Romance (Astrologically Neptune) would blot out awareness by the alien that the human is so non-sane that her opinion doesn’t count — and the human would be unaware that she was marrying an individual to whom her opinions are insane and thus not important enough to listen to.

The writer creates suspense and a leery fascination in the reader by salting bits and clues to when and where that mis-match in respect will surface and create a plot turning point.

Abortion is not the only example you can use this way, but it is a handy example we’re all familiar with.  Death and the existence (or lack thereof) of Ghosts is another such issue.  Cryogenic freezing for revival later (does the soul rejoin the awakened body?) Or Dr. McCoy’s famous aversion to Star Trek’s transporter scrambling his molecules is another.  Cloning — do clones have souls?  Artificial Intelligence? Do robots have legal rights? One famous court case is trying to establish personhood legal rights for a monkey.  And climate change - never forget the elephant in the room.

So the issues at the juncture of science and religion abound, but let’s just work with Abortion, and then you can duplicate the process with other issues that can make thematic stumbling blocks for your Characters.

Underneath the issue of Abortion are the following thematic issues:

A) Law: what is law and what should it govern?  Who gets to make it and who gets to say what it means? (It used to be that all judges were male, remember?)
B) What is Life? When does life begin?  Where exactly does Life begin? To what purpose and what end?
C) All living things die, so what difference does it make when?  Better not to live than to be an “unwanted child” hated by parents.
D) What, exactly, is a human being? In Alien Romance novels, this is a crucial question and it is integral to the Worldbuilding.

To answer these questions, you need to have a good idea of what your target readership thinks, what they believe, and what they think they believe.

Remember, with humans what a person thinks is not necessarily correlated with what they believe or think they believe. This is a trait that can drive an Alien to distraction, or repel any bonding with humans.

The essence of story is conflict.  The writer has to articulate the conflict and underlying theme in order to encode that information in symbolism so the reader does not have to articulate it.  Here's part 4 of a series on symbolism with links to previous posts.


A disparity between thinking (science) and believing (religion) can be a wonderfully dramatic conflict, so I included that opinion article from Fox News above to give you some ideas.

Also remember that humans can believe in science to the point where science becomes their religion.

Religion has elements of Neptune.  The “organized” part has more to do with Saturn, which is also one of the signifiers of science.

A) Alien law might not be based on anything resembling the Code of Hammurabi or anything resembling the Magna Carta. Those two works along with the Bible are huge ingredients in the laws of the U.S.A. that we take for granted.

B) Aliens would have to understand “life” somewhat similarly to the way your reader does if there is to be a Romance — the the aliens might have enemies or trading allies out there somewhere who don’t understand “life” as we do (rock-creatures; crystalline creatures?)

C) Aliens of a hive mind or inherited memory (or who eat the dead to acquire their memories and experiences?) might have a different idea of the value of an individual’s life. In a Romance, “I love you” generally means I place the value of your continued life above the value of my own. I’d die for you.  Aliens might turn their backs and walk away leaving the beloved to die alone, and then be puzzled why the human strong enough to survive would no longer be interested in this Romantic Relationship.

D) What constitutes “Being Human” in your Worldbuilding will very precisely determine the potential audience for your work.  You pretty much define your audience by choosing a definition of what, exactly, is the trait that makes us human.

That trait of defined humanity is the one thing the human and the alien in an Alien Romance have in common, and the reader has to be able to see it.

The reader has to be able to divine what he sees in her and what she sees in him, despite all the conflicts and disparities.

For many, the point of reading Alien Romance is to grasp the essence of an idea of what the defining trait of Human is.  We read fiction to gather and “grok” (internalize beneath the verbal level of knowledge) various intangible concepts about life.  Alien Romance specifically pivots on this one thematic point woven so deep inside the world building that the reader doesn’t even notice it is there.

Those unnoticed elements of theme coded into the world building, welded and integrated beneath the story, beneath Character, beneath conflict, underneath it all, are the elements that cause readers to memorize your byline and search for more of your books, while recommending them on Facebook.

So let’s do an example of Abortion.  And we have a human woman pregnant by an alien somehow wafted into that alien’s world, leaving Earth so far behind there is no going back.

That was the Situation the movie STAR MAN ...

...avoided by leaving the human woman pregnant on Earth, and leaving some instructional devices for the boy as he grew up.

So let’s say our pregnant woman is out there among the aliens.

Why would she want an abortion?
a) it is a monster or might be?
b) this pregnancy is making her deathly ill
c) the alien genes are altering her body,
d) her alien has (apparently) abandoned her and she has no income
e) she wants to go home to Earth and this kid would be bullied and rejected there,
f) Alien medicine won’t be able to deliver this monster baby
g) Alien culture will rip the child from her and put it in a zoo display or study it to learn how to conquer Earth
h) If she raises the kid well, the Aliens will use it to invade and conquer Earth.
i) let your imagination roam — the reasons are infinite

Why would the Aliens reject the concept of abortion, no matter her (reasonable) reasons?

1) Life begins at conception
2) Humanity, thus what we term Human Rights, begin at conception
3) Her death is of no consequence, but the life she bears is portentous
4) Human genes are so faulty, the alterations the fetus is making in her are an improvement
5) Poverty is a noble condition - or she can seek protection from father’s family
6) Nobody knows where Earth is for sure
7) If she dies, good riddance
8) If they get a monster for their zoo, it’ll be a tourist draw and make money
9) Or they get a half-human to use as leverage to conquer or enslave Earth

To choose one of those plot options, or invent a new one, you have to have a philosophical model of the actual origin of human life.  It doesn’t matter so much if you get the correct model. It matters that throughout the book or series of books, you keep everything in the world building from the style of the furniture, the position and shape of windows, the existence of a drug-underculture, the agricultural methods, everything must be consistent with your assigned philosophical model.

Also remember, if you’re inventing an entire planet of aliens, they are most likely not mono-cultural, and even within a culture there will be groups that operate on a contrasting assumption about what constitutes “human” life, or personhood’

For example, suppose your human/alien couple have determined they are Soul Mates despite the physiological differences.

This pre-supposes that The Soul is real, and both humans and aliens have the property Soul.

The fact of your built world may not allow for Souls, but the culture of some of the Aliens might.

So suppose your Aliens believe in the existence of an Immortal Soul — but maybe not for everyone.  Maybe their theory says there is no way to distinguish an individual with a Soul from one without a Soul, not even by behavior.

What if their theory is that when the egg cell and sperm cell (or equivalent) are separate in the adult bodies, they are in fact living cells, imbued with the Soul of the person whose body they exist within (if that individual has a Soul).

In other words, “life” begins before conception.  Life began whenever living cells first developed on that planet, or in space, or whatever their theory (you, the writer need to know, but the reader does not.)

Life doesn’t “begin” at conception.  Life began at the origin of Life.

What begins at conception is the attribute that Terrans call humanity and the aliens call whatever they call themselves.

You have to decide if your aliens have Individuals or are a hive-mind, or inherited memory, or some other structure to their physiology.  Let’s assume they regard Individuality as a trait inseparable from Humanity.  That is, at conception, what begins is Individuality.  What begins at conception is uniqueness.

If your aliens have a hive-mind or some other grouping physiology, individuals would not be the unique element, but the Group or Hive would have that uniqueness stamp, and all the animal-bodies of that hive would be of a single Soul.

A hive, on the one hand would regard individuals as disposable, and on the other hand regard pre-hatched or pre-born individuals as more valuable than old, used up individuals. Thus a hive might view the concept of abortion as anathema because it threatens the continuity of the hive,

So, if you are depicting a human-alien Romance between Soul Mates, and the aliens believe that the Soul becomes welded inextricably to the body the instant a zygote forms from two cells, you can pose a wrenching question to your readers about Authority, Responsibility and Power with a Plot involving the abortion of a hybrid fetus.

Note, we’ve addressed Authority, Responsibility and Power — but not yet added in “Rights.”

These days, we’re dealing with such questions as the rights of the pregnant mother, the rights of the fetus, the rights of the father, the rights of society, the dominance of religion in authority over women via government and law, and many more issues of how Reality is structured,

We use science to try to sort out the underlying structure of the universe, and we’ve pretty much discarded Religion as a tool for dissecting reality.

By addressing these current events issues via Alien Romance, you can isolate and simplify the knotty philosophy well enough to depict the essence of the issue.

The essence of the issue of Abortion pivots on the existence of a Soul and the point in development when the Soul can be harmed by abortion.  One extant theory I’ve mentioned before is the idea that the Soul enters manifestation through the dimension of Time.  And we also know there’s a connection between Time, Space, and Gravity, but we don’t know exactly what that connection is. We have the Higgs Boson and are in hot pursuit of Gravity Waves. Aliens would know about these things (if they have an interstellar drive), and their Religion would probably assign some interaction between Time and the Soul — possibly connected to Gravity Waves and some Interstellar Drive.

I played with that idea a little in the novel DREAMSPY, ...

...but left out the Divine Dimension.

It gets even more complicated if you postulate God orchestrating the conception, birth and destiny of the Soul’s Journey through Life. When you build God into your fictional world, you add dimensions most people don’t want to deal with in fiction.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Review of "Half The World" (Shattered Sea #2) by Joe Abercrombie.

Half way into "Half The World", it struck me that this book reminds me of "Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers" with Eowen's story folded into it. With bodily functions.

Not that I hadn't noticed the Eowen theme since page 34, if not before, when she meets her equivalent of the Lord of the Nazgul. The "no living man..." meme or trope was repeated rather too many times, and if I hadn't enjoyed the "thusness" and complexity of "Half A King" (Shattered Sea #1), I might have set the book aside, assuming that I knew the ending. I'm glad I kept reading.

From the set up, I half expected that eventually the warrior heroine Thorn Bathu would fight the very formidable Grom-Gil-Gorn (a Gilgamesh-like figure, who built the walls of Uruk... what fun to play word associations!) like Legolas fighting the Oliphaunt, on a smaller scale.

By the way, Mariah Huehner's "'I Am No Man' Doesn't Cut It" is an excellent commentary on the difference between the Eowen of the book and the Eowen of the movie. http://www.themarysue.com/the-story-of-eowyn/ I looked it up after reaching my own conclusions, and was very taken by analysis.

Bottom line, if you loved Eowen, you'll probably like Thorn Bathu. Thorn begins her journey by fighting three boys (and being judged to have not only failed the unequal test, but sentenced to death when her battle is most unpleasantly interrupted), and she progressively fights more and more men simultaneously. To fight one invincible warrior seems almost an anticlimax after some of her adventures.

The backstory of the elves is built upon in this middle book in the series, with elf relics playing a bigger role. What kind of elves, though, toted shotguns? I have to read "Half A War" to find out if I'm right. I also want to know how Yarvi gets to kill Grandmother Wexen.  As with a Romance, which this is not although there are romantic elements, the greatest interest is the How, not the What or the Why.

The bad faith diplomacy and cut-throat intrigue of the courts of the various high and low Kings, Queens, and of the Empress of the South is highly entertaining. Father Yarvi, the Minister is very like the Queen (or Grand Vizier) in a game of chess, and his uncle, King Uthil (who was "Nobody" in the first book in the Shattered Sea series) is a surprisingly limited mover... like Theoden. In this book, Yarvi seems older, and nicer, but of course, he is mostly seen through the narration of his two pawns, Thorn Bathu and the muscular and morally courageous Brand, and one must remember that Yarvi is "a deep-cunning man." In a complex and complicated series such as this, one should never underestimate the unreliability of a young and unsophisticated POV narrator, especially when it is a virtuous teenager.

All the same, I think that Brand will have to be killed off in the next book. He knows too much. Father Yarvi tells him too much.

All the best,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Death of the Midlist

A blog by horror author Brian Keene offering the most thorough explanation I've seen lately about the root causes of the death of the midlist:

How the Mid-List Died

In brief, he blames "corporate stupidity" and changes in publishing. His overview gives an interesting brief history of those changes. He doesn't mention one other source of the problem, alterations in tax laws that made it more expensive for publishers to store large inventories of backlist books.

He discusses the importance of an author's having books available through online sales, independent bookstores, and what's left of the nationwide chains (if possible). That said, he pessimistically expects Barnes and Noble and Books-a-Million eventually to go extinct as Borders and Waldenbooks did.

Here's Keene's follow-up essay on the practical aspects of diversifying as an author:

Making a Living in a Post-Mid-List World

Again he emphasizes the need to avoid putting all one's creative eggs in the same publishing basket. No longer can a non-bestseller expect to earn a living wage by writing for one or two publishers, as Keene did at the beginning of his career.

He mentions that he started getting published twenty years ago; from this bit of data, I infer that he's younger than I am. When my first book was published (when dinosaurs roamed the Earth), I broke into the mass-market paperback realm by selling an anthology of vampire stories, CURSE OF THE UNDEAD (you can find cheap used copies on Amazon), to Fawcett. In my early twenties, with no professional publication or editing track record whatever, I got a contract to edit an anthology—a type of book nowadays considered a very hard sell—for a major genre publisher. Not only that, I received an advance (in 1970 dollars) almost half as large as the one Harlequin paid me (in 2005 dollars) for my only mass-market novel, vampire romance EMBRACING DARKNESS (still available as an e-book).

Verily, the past is a different country.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Marketing Fiction in a Changing World Part 18 Amazon Makes Some Bad Marketing Decisions

Marketing Fiction in a Changing World
 Part 18
 Amazon Makes Some Bad Marketing Decisions
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Amazon has a rule against writers "reviewing" books by other writers.

I'm an Amazon Vine reviewer, and a writer, and of course I know a lot of writers on Facebook, Twitter, etc. It's almost impossible for me to read a book by anyone who isn't a friend, friend of a friend, member of one or another writer's group -- somehow connected online.

Amazon's snoops can find those connections.

So they assume I'm just shilling for my friends' books.

Well, a lot of beginning, self-publishing writers do get their friends to post 5-star reviews, so they can amass 500 5-star reviews to brag about.

But guess what? If you know a person and are friends with them, if you LIKE a person, chances are very good you will indeed like the books or stories they write -- even if they aren't very well written, but just great stories that thrill your bones.

That is the nature of fiction. Fiction transmits from the subconscious of the writer to the subconscious of the reader -- when there is some sort of harmony of the notes between you, you LIKE each other's fiction.

I've spent a lot of time on this Alien Romance blog talking about writing craft, and how the writers' perspective on "headlines" and especially politics, and social movements, is vastly different from the perspective someone just living in our civilization experiences.

Writers see the universe as differently as Graphic artists do.

Writers experience reading fiction differently than non-writers do.'

You know you're a writer when you have lost all enjoyment from reading books, and then all of a sudden find yourself enjoying books again, but seeing something totally different.

Writers enjoy well crafted stories that shine with artistic brilliance.

Non-writers never get to experience that brilliance full on.

CAUTION: there are people, readers, who have never written or never published a story, who are nevertheless writers in this sense. They see, and revel in, the technical craftsmanship of novels.  Many such people end up working as editors. Even more are professional reviewers, librarians, teachers, and personal friends with lots of published writers.

So production of stories in text format is not the criterion I use, but it is the criterion that Amazon seems to use to purge the comments on a novel of any really useful information you might want before you buy a book.

If you're a professional writer, editor, publisher, etc. Amazon doesn't want you to inform the public about the brilliance or the flaws in a work someone might want to buy.'

But as it happens, the ONLY people capable of both enjoying a friend's works and judging that work objectively enough to inform a general reader are the very people Amazon prohibits from performing that service.'

In other words, Amazon has made a very bad marketing decision.

On the other hand, Amazon does own Goodreads.com, where writers and readers can interact.

So there is method to their madness, but it does not serve the general fiction reader browsing for something to read.

One of the most informative bits of information a prospective book buyer can have is a list of which other writers this new writer is friends with.  Who hangs out with whom.  Which new writers have been inspired by the writers you grew up loving most?

The generational hand-off of traditions in writing is one thing Librarians taught me to look for, when I was learning to browse a public library.

So today, I'm giving you a book series by a writing student I started on a long and varied career who is now garnering top awards attention.

Here is what I wrote on Facebook (back in February 2016) about the third book in his award winning series:

Here is Book 3 in a Series that is garnering vast amounts of Award attention, and with good reason. It's about a human polymath from Earth who because of a labyrinth of political machinations ends up leading a First Contact and First Deep Contact mission into a well populated (and war-torn) Galaxy.

The worldbuilding is detailed, the space-war-armament development superlative, the aliens suitably strange and amazing (and mysterious), and I'm smitten with the portrayal of a polymath at work. Anything more I might say could be "spoilers" for some, so take a good look at this novel and dive right in. It's easily readable even if you haven't read the previous ones.

This series is getting Nebula attention. In some ways it reminds me of Cj Cherryh 's galaxy-building visions, or Janeen O'Kerry - in fact the galactic history building in Janeen's series on THE SALIK WARS and THEIRS NOT TO REASON WHY is similar, though Janeen is known for her Romance novels.

I can only wonder if Robert J. Sawyer has read this whole series. In a way, the concept reminds me of Jack McDevitt with overtones of Jack Campbell Taylor Anderson - Author of The Destroyermen carrying on in the tradition of Keith Laumer and Poul Anderson.

So far the series is not a Romance, and does not feature a Love Story -- BUT Caine as a character is one grand hunk, and like Spock will become a focus for many Romance style stories.


---------end quote----
You will note that is Book 3 -- there is a 4th coming soon -- and if you have been following my series on Worldbuilding, you will find the Caine Riordan series extremely interesting.

Now, to an example of what kind of information Amazon wants to deprive shoppers of.

Here below is a comment made on Facebook by Charles Gannon after reading the anthology of stories written by writers other than Jean Lorrah and I -- contributing new characters and new angles to the Sime~Gen Universe.

Here is the book I gave him a copy of in exchange for a copy of his Raising Caine --- a common practice among writers, severely frowned upon by Amazon.

---------from Charles E. Gannon --------
If you are a fan of series and universes that unfold themselves over the course of multiple books and stories, creating a world in which you get immersed, then you need to be aware of this if you are not already:

The Sime-Gen series launched by Jacqueline Lichtenberg. Intrigue, exploration, adventure, house politics, and under it all, much larger, lurking questions of where different societies are able to find synergy--and where they are likely to tumble into devastating conflict.

Does this sound like a paid-for advertisement? Well, in one sense it is...because, you see, I have a debt to (gladly, joyously) repay that I will never be done repaying: Jacqueline Lichtenberg, for reasons I will never fully understand, took me under her writing wing when I was 12 years old. The attention and enthusiasm she lavished on those early efforts of mine was nothing short of Herculean. In a file cabinet not more than 25 yards from where I sit writing this, I have her first 7 pg (single space, Corolla type-written) critique of a story that was, maybe, about 80 % as long as her critique.

I knew at that moment what good fortune had descended upon me in the form of her mentorship. Or so I thought: until you actually are working in this field, you cannot fully appreciate the way a good mentor's initial lessons keep paying dividends, kept showing up to guide you like a footman's lantern down the better path.

It was also only later on that I fully realized what an extraordinary craftsperson she is, and how far-sighted her vision was of attempting to tell a story across a variety of media, over time: an exercise in world-building that preceded the gaming industry's discovery of just how many ways you can sell world-expansion and development products that create a total narrative in which the once-focal adventure products become small specific events that subtly push the warp and woof of the much bigger world-tapestry that has been created.

So, as advertisements go, this one sucks. It's too long, too personal, too gushing...yeah. I know all that. I worked in advertising. But you won't forget it--and that's the point. Because until you go and see what I'm talking about in the form of Jacqueline's extraordinary Sime-Gen saga, you won't know the extraordinary voice and vision that gave rise to this long paean of praise.

So: go here--and find out what I'm talking about.


And here's the Amazon page that is your gateway into this incredible world:


The newest entry in the Sime-Gen series Fear and Courage is at the bottom of the page, and features some of the other many persons who Jacqueline has mentored, who have brought the voices she helped them find and refine back to this wonderful world in order to expand it even more.

Don't miss out.

------end quote-------

So you see, tracing the connections among writers can give you an amazing amount of information about whether you will enjoy a book or not -- all having little or nothing to do with the blurb on the book, the content, story description, spoilers, or other readers saying "I liked it" or "It was a page-turner."

As a beginning writer, cultivate connections with writers whose work you admire.  I learned from the generation previous to me. It is a long-long tradition going back to cave dwelling days and stories around camp fires.  We are bards.

Here is a permalink to Chuck's post on Facebook.  Glance through the comments for mentions of other writers his fans read.


And here is a permalink to my Facebook post about RAISING CAINE so you can see the comments there.


It turns out I made a mistake picking names from the FB dropdown, and Janeen O'Kerry corrected me, adding Jean Johnson to the list of writers you should check out.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Oh, Arrgh and Blasty!

There's a new service on the horizon to help authors locate and scupper pirate links on Google. It's in Beta, so is free to the patient and those willing to provide feedback... and to the impatient for a fee of $19.99.

It's Blasty.co
Note, it is dot co , not dot com!   

So far, I am impressed. When I applied, I was asked to name one of my titles, and to give my author name. Once I was accepted, I was allowed to create a password, upload my covers, add the rest of my titles, and to start "Blasting" copyright infringing search results on Google.

The site only works with Google Chrome. One can apply without using Chrome, but the findings and the choice whether to Blast any given link or whitelist it only work in Chrome.  I am not clear whether the service actually sends a takedown to the hosting site, or only to Google so this service might be a supplement to a service such as Muso.com or DMCAForce 

However, even if it removes Google search results, that makes it harder for most pirates to be found by "valuable traffic" and to make money off other people's works without paying them. Many of the links go to sites that are obviously hosted overseas, and that have no intention of honoring the DMCA in any case. Some post the legal blurb that they are required to post, and warn copyright owners of severe penalties for sending a DMCA notice in error.

Many post a cover and some blurb and big "DOWNLOAD" links. Authors should understand that they only have to have a "good faith belief". The DMCA does not require that authors download malware or infringe other people's copyrights (where multiple ebooks are hosted in one place) in order to suspect that their ebooks are being published and distributed in violation of their rights.  There are scam sites that probably don't have any ebooks at all, but hope that people who know they are behaving immorally if not illegally will provide credit card information to "subscribe", or else will download ransomware in hopes of a free read of something erotica.

(If you look closely at the blurry pages sites that purport to have a certain title, you may see a tiny disclaimer that they may not have that title, but will have something related and equally interesting.)

Surprisingly, some Google results are .pdfs that are pages of live links to where ebooks may or may not be hosted.  Anyone trying this service will have to take the time to look at all the results before taking the decision whether to Blast, to WhiteList or to leave it for later.

So far, I've Blasted 54 links, and although one cannot believe the copyright infringing sites' boasts about how many happy people have downloaded each book, it looks like I could have lost tens of thousands of potential sales (which, if on Amazon, might have resulted in tens of thousands of returns, to!!!).

My bottom line: after trying this new service for four days, I am inclined to heartily recommend it.  I would suggest, though, that if any alien romance authors (or authors from any other genre, but I like to hit my metadata!!!) that you copy and paste the urls you find suspicious and email them to yourself , because once they are gone from Google, you might want to see if they are still on Bing and Dogpile and the other search engines. Or, you might want to send DMCAs to some of them.

Happy hunting,

Rowena Cherry

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Real-Life "Superpowers"

Here are three lists of real-life extraordinary human anomalies from the "Cracked" website:

DNA Mutations That Make Ordinary People X-Men

Personally, I wouldn't classify genes for adventurousness and happiness as superpowers, simply normal variations. The Argentinians who have a supernormal tolerance for arsenic and the Inuit who process dietary fats differently from the rest of us, though, strike me as bona-fide extraordinary.

A sample of abilities everybody has in infancy but loses as he or she grows up:

5 Superpowers We All Had as Babies

A recurring theme of these infant "powers" is that growth requires pruning and focusing so that some abilities get lost as a necessary part of adjustment to the needs of adult life. For instance, pre-verbal babies can hear and produce all the sounds possible to the human vocal apparatus; when they learn to talk, however, they "forget" how to process the sounds their native language doesn't use. Reminds me of the scene in MARY POPPINS where we're told all babies understand the language of birds, yet as they learn human speech, they lose that gift.

How about a man who can touch live wires with impunity because he has seven to eight times greater resistance to electricity than the average person? Or the autistic savant with perfect visual memory, who can draw a whole city in accurate detail after seeing it once? The man who can control his autonomic body functions so well he can sit almost naked on ice without freezing and the man with reflexes faster than the human eye can follow also fit credibly into the "superpower" category:

6 Real People with Superpowers

If the environment changed radically enough in some distant future era, could one of these traits become so important to survival that it spread widely through the population, making individuals who carried that gene an elite group? In the back story of Tanith Lee's SABELLA, a human-like species evolved a form of gender dimorphism in which women fed on the blood of their mates, so that the population could survive dire, long-term food scarcity. How great a change in the environment would be required to generate alterations in human biology this extreme? Or the tendril-bearing, telepathic mutants of A. E. Van Vogt's SLAN or the Simes and Gens of Jacqueline's far-future Earth?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Theme-Worldbuilding Integration Part 12: What Makes Evil Seductive? by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Theme-Worldbuilding Integration
Part 12

What Makes Evil Seductive?
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Is existence, all human experience, the condition of being human, a battle between "Good" and "Evil?"

Of such abstract questions are High Concept themes composed.

A writer is generally a writer because a born writer just can't not-write!

Writing, per se, is seductive.

But we still must somehow "make a living."  So it is with great trepidation that most of us realize that what we write is of no real use or interest to anyone else. What a bummer!

Still, life is not so terrible for born writers, provided one little trick is firmly mastered early in life.

The trick? REWRITING.

There are at least 4 Types of Writers (and any given person may morph from one to another throughout life).

TYPE A:  Isaac Asimov is a prime example. This type writes and sells "first drafts." Many beginners think that if their first drafts are not sell-able, then they "can't write."  But that's not true. It's just that they aren't TYPE A writers.  There are very few TYPE A writers working professionally in writing. Most of them are Journalists. Remember Asimov wrote mostly non-fiction best sellers.

TYPE B: Many more writers do their first drafts in their mind, then rewrite and refine it all mentally.  Eventually, they just type it up.  To an observer it all looks remarkably easy. When asked how they write such best selling material, they have no idea how to explain it.  This type of writer can't figure out what beginners don't know.

TYPE C: An even more populous category of writers first-draft mentally, then rewrite and refine by telling the story verbally to other people.  I've known a few who did that, but I am generally of a type.  Most of the Type C writers I know personally never publish.

TYPE D: The most populated category is the work-a-day writer who writes a first draft for personal satisfaction, then stores that in the proverbial bottom drawer and hammers out a sellable version of the story through the process known as drafting, or rewriting.

All of Type D's rewriting efforts that we will discuss today are done long before an agent or editor ever sees the manuscript. Much of the re-drafting is done before Beta Readers see any of it (or hear of it). Then Beta Reader input is digested and incorporated, producing more drafts.  Finally, after submission and acceptance, comes more drafting to hammer the work into shape for the specific publisher's existing market.

Here is a series of posts detailing exactly what an editor's job is from the point of view of a writer trying to appear professional.


Part VII contains links to previous parts.

So what has the type of writer you are got to do with What Makes Evil Seductive?

Well, types A, B, and C either already know or don't want to know.

It's Type D writers who have to learn, know, observe, dissect, analyze, and understand such abstract ideas that compose the core material of a theme.

When writing for yourself, for personal satisfaction, to craft a story about an interesting person, you don't have to SHOW DON'T TELL, illustrate or dramatize the utterly abstract notion of Good or Evil, or even the conflict between them.

You don't need a theory of Good and Evil - what they are, where they came from, which side your protagonist is on, which side wins, - or any conscious statement of these abstract, underlying principles of Creation.

You don't need religion. You don't even need to know if you have a Religion, never mind what your Religion is.

You just write your story, and it is yours.

But if you intend to monetize the time spent writing, rather than just tossing it away as "recreational," then as a Type D writer,  you will have to think hard about abstractions.

There are 3 things to study separately before combining them into a coherent Worldbuilding exercise based on a cleanly stated Theme so you can show-don't-tell how your Characters' World is fully integrated with your Theme.

If these 3 things are clear in your mind when you begin a rewrite,  you will be able to convey the Unity of  your World and your Theme in one, penetrating, unforgettable, quotable scene.

1) What your intended audience assumes about the nature of Good, Evil and how they conflict.

2) What you assume about the nature of Good, Evil, and how they conflict.

3) What your Characters assume ab out the nature of Good, Evil, and how they conflict.

Here's one example about what audiences assume:

"The Good Guys Win Because They Are Good."

That's an envelope theme, and can be broken out into thousands of more specific themes, such as Love Conquers All.

Yes, Love Conquers All is a thematic statement about the nature of Reality -- it is made concrete by assigning the value "Love" to the initial variable "Good Guys."

To be a "Good Guy/Gal" the Character must be
a) capable of love,
b) using that capability when we first meet the Character (saving the cat), and
c) losing at first, taking it well, coming back in middle, hitting his stride at the 3/4 point, and winning in the end.

In our culture, "Winner" = "Good"

Being enamored of the romance genre novel, we generally tend to be seduced by Love.

Romance is the hint of the hope of love.  Romance seduces even the most wayward Character into Love.

We live in a world where Love = Good = Winner.  And Love starts with Romance, the quick double-take, the captured attention, the incessant obsession, the surrender to Love.

So, if the Romance Genre Novel is all about Love,
about Good,
about being good or becoming good,
about falling in love with "The Good Guy" who is the Winner-Guy (big, strong, hunk, powerful protector),
then why is the Bad Boy Romance so seductive?

Why do we drool over an unshaven, torn jeans, tough-guy biker running from the law?

Why is Darth Vader so popular?  Why are there so many Evil Guy costumes at ComicCon?

Why did the Vampire Romance explode so fast big three publishers had to invent spine-symbols for those books on the Romance shelves? Most Vampires in Vampire Romance were pretty good Good Guys, or struggling to be so. Remember the TV Series Forever Knight and that hot romance with a woman Coroner?

Or conversely, why is Cozy Romance so popular?

If "Winner" = "Good" does that mean "Loser" = "Bad" ?

What makes Evil seductive?

Today, the genre tropes and tastes, even the sub-genre names and symbols have shifted to market to a new generation.

Today, the Fantasy Genre is churning out, in books, TV and film, endless variations on Worlds  built around "Meta-Humans" or other mutations, some from parallel universes, some with "magical powers."

One such example is the TV Series The Magicians.

"The Magicians" stars Jason Ralph ("A Most Violent Year," "Aquarius") as Quentin Coldwater, a brilliant grad student who enrolls in Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy, a secret upstate New York university specializing in magic.


And of course, we have The Flash, Supergirl, and many others, both in comics, and now on TV and film.

The Worldbuilding provides the display case, the black-velvet backdrop, to show off the Strange People (the Aliens).  Some like The Flash or Supergirl are 'Good Guys" but in each case, there's some sort of "Bad Guys" for the Good Guys to fight.

What is so fascinating about these Variant Humans?

In most of the Built Worlds, "they" live secretly underneath or beside regular humans such as the reader/viewer.

In others, they have two identities, like Superman and Clark Kent.

Rarely are they publicly known and accepted, but we see that kind of Worldbuilding in novels today. I expect to see it on TV soon. We have had the TV Series Alien Nation where the aliens were known to have crash landed on Earth.


And there was the lovely TV Series Beauty and the Beast


So, today, the mass market audience has become accustomed to Aliens among or beneath us.

And the image of The Alien has morphed from Alien  = Bad Guy (early Hollywood, not cured by The Day The Earth Stood Still), to Aliens Are People, Too.

Thus today's Aliens (magical, Vampire, Supernatural, other dimensional, meta-human mutants by accident or genetic experiment) come in Good Guy and Bad Guy flavors.

Remember the TV Series V ?


What made that series interesting was the single Alien who saw how Evil was encroaching on his people and defected to the Human Resistance fighters (Good Guys).

So you see a group of 1980's TV Series here that etch the outlines of a cultural shift in the way your Romance reader audience regards and defines Good and Evil.

Perhaps the entire world culture has be 'seduced to the Dark Side of the Force?'

I doubt there is one, single, answer that a writer of any of the 4 Types can use to reach "all audiences."  But you don't need a General Relativity Theory to market a novel.

You don't need all answers or "the" answer -- you just need "an answer" that your Protagonist discovers he/she knows and believes, uses and applies to his/her problem, and WINS.

Happily Ever After is a plausible ending, a "win" if it is the optimal answer to the question posed on Page One, usually in Paragraph One.

The Good Guy/Gal is introduced on Page One at the moment in life when the general Battle of Good Vs. Evil impacts his/her life.

It is a pivotal moment that makes or breaks a life.  Some audiences lust to see a life broken, especially the life of a Good Guy/Gal.  Others yearn desperately to experience what it would be like if the "Good" quality of a human being CAUSED (because-line = plot) that person to Win.  The sure sign that winning happened is the moment when Romance turns to Love.

So what is seductive about Evil?

Find out what your audience thinks, what you think, and what your character thinks about why Evil is seducing them -- then craft the moment when Good chooses to do Good despite the apparently inevitable, and devastating cost.

Fabricate your fictional world in such a way that the Evil in it can be converted to Good, then show don't tell the process of converting.

For Romance Genre, that usually means taking your Bad Boy Hero and showing him what life is like on the Good Girl side of the tracks.

Let your Good Girl be seduced by your Bad Boy, leave him despite the cost in lost love, and by that leaving, awaken the Goodness within the Bad Boy.  The Awakening is shown not told in the moment when he 'saves the cat' at the end of the book. (Remember Darth Vader's death scene.)

That is the High Concept story we all love so much -- as in the TV Series V -- a minion of the Evil Guys has an epiphany and throws in with the Good Guys. He's a traitor to his Oath to Evil, but we see him as a Good Guy because of it. Poetic Justice.

In Romance genre, what makes Evil so sexually seductive is the potential for converting it to Good.  But what happens when Good is converted to Evil?

If you've first drafted such a novel, on rewrite, you need to write down very clearly, what is Good, what is Evil, and why they can't co-exist without conflict. You need 3 definitions to each of those three elements - your audience's, yours, and your Characters' definitions.

Conform each of the scenes in the novel to that set of definitions. The set of definitions is your Theme.  Theme is the core element in the Type D writer's rewrite process.  First Draft may be haphazzard and chaotic, dramatic power viciated by  contradicting themes. But the finished product must be pristine, single-pointed, clarity personified.

The Theme is what the book is about, what it says about Life, The Universe, and Everything. It is the Truth as the Character comes to see it at the end. The transition from delusion to truth in the Character's perceptions is the source of reader satisfaction.

In other words, the writer's job is to deliver the "Aha!" moment of illumination to the reader.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, May 15, 2016


Imagine pores in a human skin. If you wish, imagine blackheads in pores in human skin. Now imagine each dark pore is teeming with life forms, and each one contains a slightly different and isolated ecosystem.

You'd have a one disgusting world, wouldn't you?  Or myriad disgusting microworlds.

There is a similar phenomenon in the world's glaciers, and there is a 3-page, illustrated story about it in this month's DISCOVER magazine. The authors of that article mention man-made global warming, and say that the cryoconite phenomenon is exacerbating the melting of the glaciers.

As I read about the sticky airborne bacteria flying through the air, gathering up dark dust and fragments of salts and minerals and black waterbears, then landing on glacial ice and absorbing sunlight into the dark matter and thus melting tiny holes the ice like road salt does on iced roads, I thought of all the recent volcanic activity.

I don't think the article mentioned volcanic ash, but the focus was on how the tiny dark pools form, and how ecosystems are created and fed by sunlight and photosynthesis, and how the dark dust sinks to the bottom, attracting warmth and sunlight, and increasing in size, and life thrives and evolves.

Volcanoes seemed more likely to me, especially since there was Eyjafjallojokull in 2010 (which shut down most of the European airports for several days) and then the biggest series of Icelandic volcanic eruptions in centuries through 2014, and more in 2015.  One can find a list of which volcanoes are currently erupting here: http://www.volcanodiscovery.com/erupting_volcanoes.html and more about volcanoes here: http://www.volcanodiscovery.com/news.html 

How can one talk about dark dust on glaciers and not talk about volcanoes?

So, I googled "volcanoes + cryoconite", and sure enough, someone--Patrick R Dugan PhD-- has written an excellent and highly informative book about the effect of volcanoes on "climate change" and on glaciers.


With my copyright activist hat on for a moment, I have to express my astonishment that Google displays over 40 consecutive pages of a 64 page book that is in copyright and for sale on Amazon. How that is an insignificant snippet of the work that cannot affect sales... is beyond my comprehension.

As one might expect, volcanoes throw up an uncommon mixture of minerals, salts, fragments of rock,  ash, dust, and no doubt bits of whatever happened to be living on the top or side of the mountain before it erupted. That explains the waterbears in the air!

As a writer of alien romances, I imagine alien worlds from time to time, and --forgive me if I've mentioned it previously-- I like the idea of multiple ecosystems developing in parallel, and in otherwise hostile surroundings.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Prehistory of Artificial Intelligence

A brief historical survey of automata:

Frolicsome Engines

Machines that imitate voluntary movements, operated by hydraulics, go back at least to the first century. Later, similar mechanisms were also operated by clockwork and by cylinders with pinholes. Pinned cylinders, of course, led in a direct line to punch cards used in automatic looms and eventually to computer punch cards. Charles Babbage, in the 1830s, modeled the operations of his Analytical and Difference Engines on automatic looms.

As the article describes, many of those early automata performed frivolous activities such as soaking unwary visitors with water, not to mention the famous artificial defecating duck mentioned in the title. On a more serious level, medieval automata enacted religious motifs such as mechanized tableaux of Paradise and Hell. In the eighteenth century, pinned cylinders allowed mechanical figures to play musical instruments and produce speech.

Contemporary observers were intrigued by automata on the grounds that perhaps they "genuinely modeled the workings of nature." Automata foregrounded the philosophical theories of the time about "animate versus inanimate matter, willful versus constrained motion, mindless versus intelligent labor." In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, living processes were interpreted in terms of clockwork. Nowadays, we often think of the brain as an organic computer. Our concepts of how life and thought work are heavily influenced by our technology.

Of course, the animated machines of past centuries don't display "intelligence" in any sense we recognize. Yet at the time they inspired speculation about the nature of voluntary versus involuntary action. How much independent action does an artificial device have to be capable of before it transcends the status of a toy to become a robot or an AI? When our older granddaughter was a preschooler, we gave her a talking doll that probably had more brain power than our first computer.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Theme-Conflict Integration Part 2: Battle of Ideas - A Grifter, A Shyster, and A Priest Walk Into A Bar

Theme-Conflict Integration 
Part 2: Battle of Ideas
A Grifter, A Shyster, and A Priest Walk Into A Bar
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Part 1 - about J. J. Abrams and sexism is here:

Last week we discussed Theme-Marketing Integration, and this week we'll look at a particular best selling writer's recent novel for examples about how Theme and Marketing can be Integrated using Theme-Conflict Integration.


So what if the "Bar" that the Grifter, the Shyster, and the Priest walk into doesn't serve liquor, but justice? What if the Bar is the Court of Law?  Or perhaps, the Bar is an Alien  Court of Law?

Art is an selective depiction of reality.

That selectivity is best illustrated by the cartoonist's art.

Here's an example from Dick Morris Reports back in January, 2016 when Trump and Cruz went at each other on stage at the Fox Business Republican Debate.


Note the YELLOW hair - strokes vaguely evocative of Trump's haircut.

Note the nose-to-nose post, squashing both (in reality different) noses flat against each other.

Note the bloodshot eyeballs shooting out of their heads.  Conflict is "eyeball to eyeball" in modern parlance, but it is not meant literally.  Here in this selective recreation of reality, you see it literally.

Note the boxing gloves, posed fist to fist -- the suggestion is of a "hit" but each hitting the other on the very well armored protection of the glove.  "The Gloves Come Off" is a metaphor for bloody fighting, fighting for real, not prize-fighting.

Note how this selective graphic representation somehow conjures "reality" in your mind's eye. That is exactly what writers do when "hooking" you into a novel.  That is a graphic representation of how to create an  opening paragraph. It is also an entire essay on how to create a book cover.

Remember the line, used politically earlier than January, "this is not a cage-match."  Meaning, it's not for real. Nobody's whole life is in danger. It's just a game played until the winner gets a prize -- it is not a grudge-match, it is a Game.

Politics is called, "The Game Of Politics."  Internationally, The Great Game - where politicians use spies to maneuver nations into a Hobson's Choice, or Prisoner's Dilemma.

It is not called the "Literature of Ideas."  Nor is politics termed, "A Meeting Of Minds."  It is a Game.

So who are the "players" of this Game?

Maybe it is "Politicians" vs. "Voters?"

And what is the name of the Game?

The Protection Racket?  The Confidence Racket (or Con Man)?  Snakeoil Salesman? Scammer? Phishing?

Note the title of this piece -- A Grifter, A Shyster, A Priest.  These are three Attributes that are  components of every living person.

We all know what a grifter is from watching the TV Series Leverage.

"Shyster" is a derogatory term for lawyer, or sometimes any businessman who relies on deception or fraud.

"Priest" here means your Inner Priest, your conscience, spiritual sensitivity, sense of right and wrong, of fair and just. That Inner Priest configures your personal individual identity by patching together the crazy-quilt of beliefs, rules of thumb, maxims, old wive's tales, and cliches by which you live your life and make major spur of the moment decisions.

So grifters and shysters pretend to be something they are not.  Do writers do that?  Do writers have to do that?  Is all back cover copy fraudulent? Does being in the business of self-publishing make you a shyster?  After all, you're selling the "snake oil" of the Happily Ever After Ending.  Are writers all con artists?

What exactly is a Con Artist?

Most people probably think that all politicians are con artists, except the one oddball who seems trustworthy.  Many bar fights start from disagreements over which politician is trustworthy.

Here's an article that explains what an app detected in voice analysis of Presidential candidates:

And here's another article that explains the same thing from a different perspective.  Compare these two articles and any others you find about this app, and reconstruct - as an archeologist does - the original press release.


Both articles seem to be made from the same press release, a publicity barrage that has to have had immense amounts of money behind it, yes, but also a marketing genius leveraging the USA political calendar (these articles appeared deep into January, right before the Iowa Causes.)

The company was trying to sell you an app.  And they went on a campaign to trick you into wanting it by tying it to the headlines of the day - the most popular and riveting spectator sport of January - the Presidential Primary Season. (just like Basketball Season or Deer Season.)

When you see articles announcing something like this app product -- not paid ads, but ARTICLES that might as well be paid ads, that sell you on wanting something better than a paid ad could sell you -- you are looking at marketing.  It is a whole profession, usually incompatible with the skills of a writer. Today, we conflate News with Publicity.

Each newspaper or magazine editor requires the writers to take these topical press releases and craft an article "slanted" toward their special readership's interest. So each article is ostensibly about something different -- but the core content is the press release.

Fiction writing skills let you take a press release and craft a newspaper or magazine article from that release.

In writing fiction,  you learn to take a huge mass of data (your story Idea) and re-arrange it into a straight-line (plot) that will interest (story) your particular target readership.

Writing such a release is an entirely different profession.

Today's self-publishing novelists need to master both skill sets because "publishing" means PUBLICITY, or press-release.  Getting widely distributed "news" sources to focus their readers' attention on your novel is very hard.

Writing an article from a press release is very similar to writing an advertisement, or 'cover blurb' from a press release.  Both craft skills require sorting through a jumble of facts to "bring to the surface" or emphasize certain "selected traits" (like the blond hair in the cartoon above) to "characterize" the novel.

You characterize a novel as belonging to a particular genre, appealing to a specific reader.

You selectively recreate the reality of what is in the novel, drawing a caricature, a cartoon, of the novel itself.

And like the two articles linked above, each depicting a larger reality, you take your own "larger reality" of the novel you have written, and whack-and-whittle it down by selecting TRAITS (like the trademarked "hair") and leaving out all the rest.

It is what you leave out that (for you) was the whole point of writing the novel to begin with. In fact, that most important part or point is often edited out before publication by a major house.

You can learn a lot about what to  "select" for your cartoon representation of your novel, and what to leave to the imagination, by studying the Battle Of Politicians and the Race For The White House (will they ever paint it another color?).

What you learn has to do with not telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Just like that cartoon does not "tell the truth," and just like the two articles about an app being publicized do not "tell the truth" about the app.

You 'select' the traits of your novel that connect  best to your target audience.  Thus, since Trump's hair was the subject of so much attention at first, his trademark became his hair-transplant comb-over style.

So look at your Theme, state your theme a number of different ways until you hit on vocabulary and imagery that "depicts" the topic the readership has been most deeply involved in lately. In other words, rip your theme from the headlines.  Make your THEME recognizable to your target audience, so book browsers see it and say, "I love that kind of book."

The Conflicting elements have to be depicted in your blurb, too.

Note in the cartoon how the eyes pop -- I mean, really!  I wouldn't believe that image of Aliens -- but one non-verbal glance and you know what that popping eyeballs image means, even if you miss the gloves.

Donald Trump's college degree is in Business, not Law.

Cruz made a neat point of that by saying he wouldn't take legal advice from Trump.  But we all know that Trump got the advice he's spouting at Cruz from his own Lawyers.  Lawyers get to know Presidential candidates in hopes of a Supreme Court appointment in the future.

So the "conflict" in that cartoon is "lawyers vs. lawyers." The lawyers are using the politicians to fight a "proxy war."

Lawyers are famous for a) picking fights (as in divorces that would have been amicable if not for the lawyers getting involved) and b) backing people into a corner so they will "settle" whatever lawsuit.

Lawyers are also famous for charging a lot of money -- but nothing like what Publicists charge.  Lawyers, though, being lawyers seem to get to keep a bigger chunk of the fees paid.

Under current law in the USA, it is virtually legal for lawyers to behave like grifters.  To become a rich grifter, get a law degree.

What do lawyers do that is patterned on what grifters do (or is it vice-versa?).

If you've won the lottery or been in a traffic accident, a building collapse, or sold a product that some odd individual got injured using, you will find yourself surrounded three deep by Lawyers looking to "protect" you - trying to scare you with visions of people attacking you or denying you justice.  Lawyers will promise you, as the erstwhile victim, not only their protection but a windfall profit, a huge sum of money for doing nothing but "suffering."

A majority of Lawyers don't behave that way.  The small segment of that population that does "ambulance chase" and victimize the victims, are often called shysters, though not all shysters are actually lawyers.

The Idea that Grifters and Shysters have something in common is like Trump's hair - a vivid item that can be extracted from a confusing mass of information and used to depict something that a lot of people remember.

But it is an abstract Idea.

So the title of this piece is A Grifter, A Shyster and A Priest.

The "Priest" is a symbol for a person who is steeped in ideas, motivated by the abstract, and very selective about objectives.

The Grifter and the Shyster operate via emotion.  They get their mark or their client to do something the mark/client would see as self-destructive if not for the emotion aroused.

The Grifter and the Shyster play on emotion, and they both choose the emotion they evoke in their target.

The Grifter arouses Greed.

It is always said, and I've found it to be true, that if you have no Greed in your soul, you can not be fleeced by a con man.  If the price is "too good to be true" - it is not the price you will pay.   Everyone knows that intellectually (the Priest Within You told you that).  Don't fall for a bargain - because it is not a bargain.

So when Politicians offer you something for nothing -- or point to someone else they will trick into paying so you can get something -- you only fall for the trick if your Greed is in charge of your opinions.

The Shyster arouses Fear.

It is always said that you have nothing to fear but fear itself -- and that is such a truth that all your readers know it.  When you're afraid, you twitch and jerk around in ill-coordinated actions that are more self-destructive than self-protective.

So when Politicians offer to allay your fears, to deal with what threatens you, to protect you from ( big bad corporations; alien invaders; your neighbor who owns a gun) you only fall for the trick if you are afraid.

When you are afraid, the Priest Withing You who is more focused on Ideas, Intellect, principles of faith, can't shout loudly enough to be heard.  Fear is a brain-noise that will always take charge of your actions.

So a theme can be expressed (cartoon depiction of your novel for a back cover blurb) as "The Masses Can Be Manipulated."

"The Masses" would refer to the old political theory that most people are illiterate, stupid, and behave like a herd of sheep,  or cattle.  The Leaders can easily trick the Masses into doing whatever the Leader wants simply by arousing certain emotions.

Romance novels turn on a variation of this. Everyone wants to be loved, so the declaration, "I love you" changes everything.

There is such a thing as a Greed For Love - someone so desperately hungry to be loved that they believe the grifter's offer, "I'll marry you and cherish and protect you forever if you'll just have sex with me now."  You can translate that dialog dynamic into Politics very easily if you see electing someone as handing them a blank check to your bank account.


The Grifter can use Greed for any missing emotion to manipulate the unsuspecting into self-destructive behavior.  Some people have Greed for Power -- offer them Power without a price-tag (like discipline and responsibility) and the mark will do anything.  Remember Spiderman -- with great power comes great responsibility.  Well, what if it didn't?  What if great power could be had without responsibility?  Then you have the novel about the ne'er-do-well Scion of a Great House who gambles away his inheritance and goes into debt.

To integrate a theme such as "The Masses Can Be Manipulated" you can define the conflict as Leader vs Follower.

Take the famous maxim, "A Sucker Is Born Every Day."  That's a theme.  What if humanity meets up with Aliens who don't bear suckers every day?

Or reverse that - and what if humanity were not producing a new sucker every day, but aliens at war out in the galaxy are?

Jean Johnson's prequel to her famous series Theirs Not To Reason Why is called The First Salik War, and Book 1 is titled The Terrans.  Book 2, The V'Dan is now available.

Here's my discussion of The Terrans:

And here's where to get The V'Dan

It's a First Contact novel with leading Characters, an Alien Prince in a psychic/sexual bond with a human woman who is a Politician, a Prisoner's Dilemma maneuver, and clash of notions of what constitutes Honorable Behavior.

On Jean Johnson's future Earth, humans have finally come to their senses and eliminated discrimination by skin color, elevated honesty in Politics to a level where failure to be honorable and truthful means corporal punishment by public caning, and utter physical humiliation.

In other words, fear keeps power-lust in check for law makers and especially law-enforcers and military commanders (this book introduces a Caning law previously applied only to police to be used to hold military commanders and new recruits in check). Every morning, each government official has to recite an Oath to be Honorable.  It's long, complicated, abstract, and the repeated recitation has a similar effect that prayer does. It is designed to engrave on the psyche that when you act in the name of others, you are responsible for the consequences.

Greed is controlled by Fear.

The expected signature behavior that proves Greed (for power, money, sex, anything) is in complete check by fear of Caning is Honorable Behavior.

"Honorable Behavior" is presented, in this series, as a set of rules that is objectively true, as clear and precisely determined as any scientific fact.

For most readers, the word "Honorable" means something hard, absolute, easily understood and recognized in the behavior of others.

Blake Snyder illustrates the core-value shared across the USA as "honorable behavior" as "save the cat" (take a personal risk to save the helpless).  Compare the thinking behind Snyder's image of "saving a cat" to the thinking behind that Trump/Cruz cartoon.

The thing is, in the USA today, we do not share a common creed of Honorable Behavior.

What is honorable to one (murdering a daughter who refuses to dress correctly, thus insults her parents and dishonors them) is considered death-penalty-material to others.

The difference between an illegal alien and a drug smuggler is that while they might both promise to sell you heroin, the drug smuggler will deliver.  Which one is the Honorable one?

Generation to generation the definition of what behavior is Honorable changes.

For example, in the early twentieth century, an apology was considered false and worthless if given in response to a demand for an apology.  In the 19th century, if someone uttered an insult about another person, ("You're a Horse Thief!" or "You Cheated At Cards!") the insulted had the right to deck the insulter (or shoot him dead).

In the 21st century everyone takes offense at any statement (true or not) and demands an apology, which, when choked out bitterly is still regarded as valid, and the matter as settled.  There was a time when the statement of a truth could never be considered an insult, however rude it might be.

In fact, this "I'm offended, so you must apologize even if you didn't think you did anything wrong" attitude now governs international affairs.

Heads of State demand apologies from other Heads of State -- not individual to individual, but whole countries to whole countries, involving people who never knew anything about it and have no idea what is true in  the matter.

Jean Johnson, in The V'Dan, has noticed this rise of a new custom regarding insults and apologies.

Johnson has shown (not told) how the "I demand an Apology because I feel offended and therefore you must act to assuage my feelings, never mind how you feel, only my feelings count..." attitude can be used by an Interstellar Ambassador from Earth to illustrate Earth's superior Morality.

Because Earth's Inner Priest's sense of Honorable Behavior is so superior, the lead character is Honor Bound to force Earth's behavior norms down the throats of aliens during First Contact negotiations.

All of this is rationalized by the fact that the Aliens are treating the Earth humans as if they were children, not adults -- not allowed to spend large sums of money to buy supplies for the Earth Embassy building, not allowed to buy liquor, not allowed to drive.

It is a genuine First Contact issue (and absolutely hilarious to read).  But the reason the issue is an emergency to be taken up immediately with the Alien head of state is that these Aliens keep insulting the humans by treating them as children.  Other human groups might consider the Aliens' penchant for protecting children to be a sign the Aliens are kind, considerate and honorable.

Johnson's Earth humans take offense, and because they feel offended, are honor bound to force the Aliens to apologize and adopt Earth's then-current human standards.  This novel series is full of such absolutely gorgeous work.

The way Johnson depicts interstellar politics plays into the current USA fear of being irretrievably emotionally damaged by the words of others.  It is, from this, very clear why Johnson is a national best selling author.

To the target audience for this novel, mere words are an existential threat that must be countered by wielding force majeure.  An insult flung can cause a mortal wound.

The V'Dan depicts with searing accuracy how the reader's Earth currently manages international affairs.  And this novel portends, just as our current election-cycle portends, that change is seething below the surface, about to erupt perhaps violently.

The enemy in the interstellar war of Johnson's series is a species that eats Alien sentients. The tastiest type of food they know is the flesh of sentients of species other than themselves (though I believe they do eat each other).  It doesn't matter how alien the body chemistry is, these Salik will eat anything sentient.  The Salik are Greed Personified.

The V'Dan are humans whose ancestors left earth almost 10,000 years ago, and colonized a planet (now a lot of planets) so far away from Earth the region has not been explored by Earth's budding interstellar united planets.  Somehow, many earth plants and animals were carried with the humans who eventually colonized a planet and became The V'Dan.

The V'Dan have many non-human allies in the fight against Greed Personified, the Salik. But that coalition is losing the fight against the Salik, and they know it.  They are Afraid.

So, Jean Johnson, a very well known National Best Selling author, has crafted theme and conflict around Greed, Fear, and The Priest Within.  It's a beautiful mix of carefully selected attributes, brought to the fore just like Trump's hair and the popping eyeballs.

That's what Best Selling Writers do!  Dissect any Best Seller, and you will find a pattern just like this -- something that reflects what is the most prominent Theme in the headlines divided up into recognizable adversaries who naturally conflict.  Personification and Dramatization are subsidiary techniques. Ripping theme from the headlines is the primary requirement.

The conflict is the exact conflict inside all of us -- the Grifter's Mark who believes in something for nothing; the Shyster's client who sees something to be afraid of, and The Inner Priest who knows "the right thing to do" but is not in charge.

The basic human animal will be emotion-driven, though the human spirit reaches for the ineffable.

Our current civilization has surrendered to the animal nature of humanity.  We see that in the rise and sustained popularity of Romance novel plots turning on the absolute irresistibility of sexual urges.  The V'dan and its prequel The Terrans, turns on the formation of the psychic bonded pair that will literally die (both of them) if denied sexual intimacy. Star Trek did something similar with Pon Farr, but Star Trek got that from much older science fiction works.

That inner dichotomy between the animal body and human spirit can easily be roused into Conflict.

All audiences recognize the Greed & Fear vs. Voice of Reason or Righteousness.

Look again at that cartoon.  Why do you understand what it says?

Yes, people will disagree about what it means, but everyone can see what it says.

That's what Jean Johnson accomplishes to earn the appellation, "Best Selling" writer.

Now, go watch the Politicians hurl insults at each other and demand apologies as if they are in the grip of Greed for Power and Fear of Humiliation.

Remember your early childhood. Did you ever lust after enough power to make your parents stop preventing you from doing what you wanted to do?  "When I grow up, I'm going to stay up all night!"

Greed for Power (especially over your own life and destiny) is absolutely basic to the human animal.

Now think back to your childhood, and remember how you eventually learned to refrain from some action, "...Mommy won't let!" you would tell  your friends luring you into misbehaving (then you'd probably do it anyway, then lie about it).

Eventually, you learned to do it anyway, lie about it, and not get  caught in the lie.

And beyond that,  you learned it's really better not to do that anyway because it's counter productive.

The different self-perceptions of Child vs. Adult is the pivot upon which the novel The V'Dan turns.  Just how insulting is it to  you to be treated as a child? Then why do you treat your children that way?  Does truth have anything to do with it?

Only with many decades under your belt do you arrive at "mature" considerations.  You no longer lunge greedily after the proverbial Free Lunch -- because you've learned the price.  Therefore, you have nothing to lie about.

To arrive at a life-stage where you're not greedy because you have all you need, not fearful because the worst has happened ( bankruptcy, divorce, being fired, whatever) and you handled it, you have the luxury of listening to what that Inner Priest has to say about right and wrong, truth and lies.

With enough years and enough experiences, we all turn into Gandalf or Yoda -- serene, confident, wise, having resolved that conflict between Greed, Fear and the Inner Priest.

When someone slings insults at such a Gandalf/Yoda Figure, that Figure is not insulted.  Such a Figure is not insulted by being treated as a child. Knowing that what comes out of a person's mouth says more about the speaker than about the topic being spoken of, the Figure does a kind of Emotional Judo.

Judo is based on the physics of using the opponent's strength and momentum to defeat the opponent. Many techniques of Judo and Karate are based on just not-being where the blow lands.

That's not a technique of "dodging" a blow.  It's a matter of letting the force the opponent emits expend itself on the opponent, not on you.

That's what the mature learn about insults. Let the insulter hoist himself on his own petard and hang there in humiliation.

Demanding an apology is an admission that the blow landed on its target -- it is an admission of guilt.

Demanding an apology often seems childish, petulant, an admission of weakness before the superiority of the insulter.

In emotional judo, the target flows aside and lets the force of the insult boomerang onto the insulter.

Look again at this article about stress level measurements in Presidential Candidates voices:


The article notes that the only candidate they measured whose voice rarely shows the kind of emotional stress (expected of Greed or Fear or lying) is Donald Trump.  He's gotten more insults and death-threats than most of the rest combined by now.  He sometimes offhandedly mentions that someone should apologize, but he rarely "demands" apologies except where appropriate.  His attitude toward apologies seems to be that they are good for the soul, so do it for your own sake.  If not, no skin off my nose. (note the nose-to-nose posture in that cartoon.)

He's old enough to know those who attempt to destroy will destroy themselves if you just stay out of the way.  For that matter, both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders (and Biden and Bloomberg) are old enough to have arrived at that maturity.

Perhaps this article's observation of relative voice stress indicates what the pundits have missed in analyzing Donald Trump's initial, wild popularity. They have assumed the voters are "angry" (anger is most often the emotional response of the coward to feeling fear, so calling voters "angry" is an insult).  Maybe they were wrong?

The pundits have assumed the voters are  "the masses" (sheep, followers, herd animals), instead of individuals. When panicked, the masses, the voters, stampede after a "bell-weather" or leader.

The pundits identify Trump as the leader.  The voters are just blindly following this leader out of simple minded anger.

The article shows, somewhat scientifically, that Trump's trumpeting is not stoked by anger.

He's the calm one.

Voters chose him as the best in the field (OK,  not necessarily any good, just the best of the lot, until he disqualifies himself) because he's not afraid and he's not lying.  What he says may not be true or factual, but he believes it sincerely.

He's not stressed when he says he can handle all the President's problems. (Little Does He Know!)

He is confident and relaxed, not running in fear or greed for power. He's not a "Leader" -- he's not greedy for power or fearing he'll lose. He's a goal-oriented achiever, not caring if anyone follows him.  He just goes and does his projects. He doesn't need followers.  He hires specialists.  He's undaunted, calm, confident because of his life experience, and he (unlike the other candidates who have this trait) lets it show. And that's why he's popular --  you can hear it in his voice in person. He's not stressed.

Study Trump's antics on stage, especially his epic "equal opportunity insulter" tactics, and try modeling your Leader/Hero Character after him and see what you get.  Understand the insult as a social instrument by reading a lot of Regency Romances written thirty years ago (mostly free on Kindle). Drawing Room insults are an artform well worth reviving in the interstellar era.

Such a novel won't work in today's market, as Jean Johnson well knows.  She's a best seller because she does  not use Trump as a model.  Such a Character would not be plausible to her target readership. Trump is a salesman, a marketer, a branding master.  His target audience responds to him, just exactly the way you want your target audience to respond to your Romance Novels.  So study him.

The lesson about non-stressed, confident Voices prevailing over anger, greed, fear and panic is the core theme used by Gordon R. Dickson in his long, exemplary, much celebrated best selling series, The Dorsai.


Confidence backed by real strength is a military tactic -- great strength, used properly, never comes to blows. Wars are won by maneuvers, by what the adversary knows you can do, not explosions. Destruction is counter-productive.  The Romans learned that and coined the term Pyrrhic Victory.

Combine Gordon R. Dickson with Keith Laumer's Retief novels, ..

...about professional diplomat Retief engaged in official interstellar diplomacy, much like Jean Johnson's characters but far more effectively, and find a Theme and a Conflict you can Integrate into a Best Selling Series.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg