Thursday, December 14, 2017

AI Learning

The June issue of SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN included an article on "Making AI More Human," which discussed improving the way artificial intelligences learn. Can they be designed to learn more like human children? Computers excel at tasks hard or impossible for human beings, such as high-speed calculations and handling massive amounts of data; yet they can't do many things easy for a human five-year-old. Developing human brains receive information about the environment from the "stream of photons and air vibrations" that reaches our eyes and ears. Computers get the equivalent information through digital files that represent the world we experience. Both "top-down" and "bottom-up" approaches to learning have advantages. In top-down learning, the mind reasons from high-level, general, abstract hypotheses about the environment to specific instances and facts. Bottom-down learning involves gathering and analyzing huge accumulations of data to search for patterns. This Wikipedia page further explains the differences:

Top-Down and Bottom-Up Design

And here's a brief overview, which suggests, "A bottom-up approch would be the most ideal way to create human-like intelligence as we ourselves are part of a bottom-up design process (which occured in the form of evolution)."

Top-Down Vs. Bottom-Up

I'm intrigued by this page's mention of "child machines with a willingness to learn." According to the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN article, real children apply the best features of both top-down and bottom-up processes and even venture beyond them to make original inferences.

How similarly to a human child would an artificial intelligence need to grow and learn before we'd have to accept it as, in some sense, human? Would it have to possess free will in order to qualify as a fellow sentient being? That question would require defining free will—a feature that classic behaviorists and some other determinists don't even think WE have.

The SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN article concludes, "We should recall the still mysterious powers of the human mind when we hear claims that AI is an existential threat."

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Reviews 35 Best Seller Vs. Best Read by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Reviews 35 
Best Seller Vs. Best Read
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

I have not made an index of the Reviews series yet, but you should be able to find the previous ones with a search on this blog.

This is a review, but it dovetails into many topics we've examined under a microscope of such high power that most people find it boring, or incomprehensible.  Most of what we've discussed in this Tuesday Alien Romance blog is exciting only to people who have attempted to write a story or novel.

The main advice to begining or aspiring writers is, "Just Write!"

Until you get your head into a place where your fingers will cooperate and just make some words,  you simply can not learn this stuff.  After you've done some writing (the worse the product the better it augers for your career), then and only then are you able to comprehend these craft topics.

If you just want to enjoy a good read, I have three novels here for you today.  If you are up to reading to learn how to structure your story, not just a story, reading these novels will constitute a giant leap.

None are romances.

If you aspire to a career in Romance Novel writing, reading books like these and analyzing why they work for some readers but not for you, is the most efficient way to get a solid hold on how to craft your own, personal, novel.

It is efficent, but boring.

Two of these novels are not hot, not steamy, not sweaty, and not sweet.

That is why you, who want to write great Romance, can learn from reading them.

Novels that you get caught up in are necessary fodder for new writers.  They show don't tell what you want to do with your life.

Novels you love twang a response from your heartstrings -- and you aspire to twang other readers' heartstrings in the same "key" or "chord."

You learn to do that fastest by reading through, all the way to the end, novels you absolutely hate -- or better yet, novels that absolutely bore you to death.

Those boring novels will make you rear up on your hind legs and scream, "NOT LIKE THAT -- LIKE THIS!!!"  And you will blast out a true Master Work and found a career.

Many who read a best selling Romance react just like that to the sappy, sacharine, helpless-heroine, befuddled couple, victim-of-bodily-lust Characters who can't help themselves or exercise good judgement.

And they produce novels such as two of the ones I have here from really giant Publishers of Best Sellers.

Taken together, these three novels will teach you all about expository lumps, worldbuilding, and THEME-CHARACTER INTEGRATION.

Last week, we considered Creating a Prophet Character as Part 11 of Theme-Character Integration.

The week previously, we looked at Creating A Prophecy as Part 17 of Theme-Worldbuilding Integration series.

Index posts listing Theme-Character posts and Theme-Worldbuilding posts are here:

The index to Theme-Worldbuilding Posts is here:

As you can see, we've been chewing away at these complex topics for years.  It all remains an amorphous sea of hazy ideas in the back of your mind until you put it into operation.  The first step in implementing these concepts and views is simply to read sets of novels such as the set we'll talk about here.

Yes, it is often like reading textbooks in school.

But in this case instead of reading to pass a test some teacher makes up and holds as a club over your head to bludgeon your imagination into line with the "approved" academic opinion (usually found in Cliff Notes), this time you will read for the purpose of creating the exact emotional response in your readers that you, personally, want to create.

This is learnable stuff.  It has been said anyone who can write a literate English (or whichever language) sentence can write fiction and sell it.  That is not art.  It is craft.  Art can't be learned.  Craft can.  But it is not usually fun.

The "steamy romance" sub-genre often fails to attract a wider audience because of faulty theme-character integration.  Faulty theme-character integration turns a perfectly logical, completely spiritual Soul Mates Romance into pure porn that just does not "work" for any reader looking for a story.

Without theme-character integration, you put your reader into a frying pan not a sauna.  They don't sweat; they flinch.

Switching point of view -- as a means of conveying information to the reader because the writer has been too lazy to work through the boring business of learning the craft -- produces more flinches and glazed-eyed bordom than panting and sweating through the suspense and release.  Adding sex scenes doesn't cure the problem.  Helpless protagonists overwhelmed by lust don't cure the problem.

So many writers reach for worldbuilding details to cure their problem with readers not understanding what the story is about.

The more worldbuilding detail you lard on top of a faulty theme-character integration problem, the worse the novel becomes.

When you fall in love with a fictional world you have built (even if it is a view of our real world that your readers see on the TV News), and that world is the reason you want to write this novel so you create Characters to tell the story of that world, you will very likely produce a first draft full of expository lumps.

Two skills necessary to eliminate expository lumps ...

 ... are Depiction and Theme-Plot Integration.  Plot is pure show-don't-tell narrative of deeds and events.  Depiction can include description.

And ...

So, proceding on the assumption you have read and absorbed those previous posts on the craft of fiction writing, I have a book here from a major publisher, a novel that enraptures a reader looking for international intrigue with sympathetic characters (as opposed to villain vs villain and the most viciious one wins).  It is a best seller from a St. Martin's Press imprint called Griffin.

On Amazon it has 4 and a half stars from over 700 readers.

It pleases READERS -- which could be why this editor chose to accept the manuscript in its current condition.  If it were a Romance, or Science Fiction (or even Western, or Police Procedural) it would have been sent back for rewrite - maybe two or three more times.

Note it is a novel in a best selling SERIES -- so there could have been time pressure to get the thing into print with the shoddy patch job that screams out to the practiced eye (but would not be noticeable to the reader!).

I don't know the editor who bought this novel personally, but I have sold two novels to St. Martins as hardcover originals now in Kindle (and Kindle Unlimited), new Trade Paperback, and the St. Martin's Hardcover is still available ...

...and so I have learned vast respect for their editorial staff.  None of them would have let me get away with the clumsy expository lumps in SAVING SOPHIE.

Read SAVING SOPHIE with the blog entries I linked above in mind, but mark and analyze the spots where your eyes glaze over and your mind wanders.  There are a couple spots where some readers will set the book aside and never pick it up again.

Find those spots.  You can't find them when reading in your favorite genre.  They leap out at you clearly when reading in a genre you just don't particularly care for but will read "if it's a good story."

Most readers will read anything "if it's good."  They have no idea what they mean by good except how it makes them feel.

SAVING SOPHIE is a "feel good" novel -- the whole novel consists of the classic opening scene of a movie - SAVE THE CAT.

The title is the THEME -- "saving."  Sophie is a 10 year old girl (mark that age because the next item to contrast with this novel is about a 10 year old in a similar situation.)

After you've read SAVING SOPHIE, keep reading my commentary here.

SAVING SOPHIE is set in a series, but reads just fine as a stand-alone.

That's a good trick, but it actually is not well pulled off.  My editors at St. Martin would not have allowed this error.

SAVING SOPHIE is billed as a novel in a detective series where the lead Characters are amateur detectives, Liam Taggart and Catherine Lockhart.

What's wrong with that?

Nothing -- you know I love series!  I have pointed you to Faye Kellerman's Decker/Lazarus series that started with her award winning THE RITUAL BATH, which is actually as much Romance as Mystery -- and with real appeal to science fiction readers.

I've read every one in that series, and loved them all, but the "Romance" genre aspect disappears into the domesticity of raising kids in a policeman's household.

And I rave about Gini Koch's similar series with more Fantasy/Paranormal/Science Fiction worldbuilding, ALIEN.

So my criticism is not a question of taste, but of simple mechanical craftsmanship.

SAVING SOPHIE reads well if regarded as an early draft or as fan-fiction of the intrigue drama genre.

The editor would have had to STOP publishing and START teaching writing to bring this novel up to my standards.  Editors are not paid to teach writing craft, and most of them don't know it (Fred Pohl, who bought my first story for a magazine and later bought my first non-fiction book, STAR TREK LIVES!  being a prime example of one who does.)  But editors are not paid to teach.  They are paid to "develop" writers.

This editor at St. Martin's Griffin imprint is a master developer.  Just look at the Amazon profile for Rondald H. Balson to see that.

So what would I have preferred to see fixed in this excellent novel?

The expository lumps.  Faye Kellerman doesn't do expository lumps, but her husband is a best sellding novelist so probably clued her in to how to avoid lumps at the outline stage.

Gini Koch doesn't do expository lumps (and has finally tamed her dialogue issues).

Both these series are similar to SAVING SOPHIE, and don't have this problem.

The Kellerman series is about a husband-wife detective team with the wife good at detecting but not employed as an actual police detective.

The Koch series is about a human and an Alien-living-on-Earth who become a kick-ass mobile combat unit turned politicians, and the human woman is one of the finest intuitive detectives ever to grace the pages of a novel series.

So my criticism of SAVING SOPHIE is not a matter of taste.

I saw a tweet the other day on Twitter from a novelist who wondered why she came out of a movie theater rewriting the script when she doesn't want to be a script writer.  I replied that is what writers do that annoys people!

And that is why I have so many problems with SAVING SOPHIE as a novel (not as a story!).  It occurs in our real world, and accurately depicts the international situation as it is unfolding in 2017.  One day it will read as a Historical that is uncannily accurate, like the Rabbi Small Mysteries I've pointed you to.

How do these writers avoid expository lumps?

It really is very easy.

When you find you must write page after huge block paragraph filled pages of EXPLANATION before you can TELL THE STORY (i.e. start the plot rolling), when the world you have built (or researched for a Historical or Contemporary set in the real world) is more interesting to you than the Characters -- you will commit the cardinal sin of the Expository Lump.

In your heart, you know the reader will not get the emotional impact you intend if the reader doesn't know what you know -- all of what you know.

Before you can tell the story you must explain the world.

When that happens to you, you can be certain your novel is lacking an important character -- the one that shows (depicts) the information in that expository lump, and brings it alive to your reader, makes that "information" into intuitive and personal understanding rather than a list of facts to be explained.

One of the reasons for exposition in novels is to CONDENSE.  In commercial fiction, length matters for reasons having nothing to do with Art and everything to do with market.

Exposition burns through material much faster than show-don't-tell.

But people believe what they figure out for themselves, not what they are told.

You can't evoke emotion in your readers.  The readers must do that for themselves.

So you must break up your expository lumps.

One method of doing that can be learned from any or all of the novels by Andre Norton (you can get omnibus ebooks of her works on Amazon).  By highlighting in different colors (which you can do on Kindle) each sentence's components by type (Exposition, Narrative, Dialogue, Description) you can see how to orchestrate using these tools and keep the plot moving while the reader is unaware of learning anything from the exposition (but absorbs it unconsciously.)

So mere word-work can expunge most expository lumps.  Failing to use this 4-part harmony tool is just plain lazy writer syndrom and has no place in commercial fiction.

But editors don't get paid to teach that word work.  They may "catch" a violation here and there, but will flag only the worst to avoid messing with the writer's style and voice.

That basic word-work is where "style" and "voice" are conveyed.  Only practice can bring those elements up to snuff.

But a severe case of Expository Lump as you find in the first third of SAVING SOPHIE has another, structural source.

There is a Character Missing.

So the writer sat one of his Detective Pair down with an Expert and wrote out in dialogue all the exposition he was sure the reader didn't know and had to know to understand the motives of the other Characters.

I peg this as a Craft failure and simply as a beginning writer not knowing the techniques needed to avoid the Lumps, as pure laziness caused by publishing deadline and length pressure.  Rewriting to add the correct Character would have taken maybe a year's work.

This is the kind of Character who has to be built in from the first 1-paragraph summary Idea.

In the case of SAVING SOPHIE, my opinion is that the missing Character is The Enemy of The Adversary.

In this novel, The Adversary is the grandfather of Sophie, the 10 year old girl.  He is a big-wig Palestinian with pride of heritage, very Islamic (as opposed to the ordinary Muslims).  Sophie's mother has died - (we later find out she was murdered by her father, this Grandfather).  The American court awarded custody of Sophie to her American father, with visiting rights to the Palestinian Grandfather.  One day, as part of an intricade, decades in the making plot, the Grandfather absconds with Sophie, takes her to the Palestinian part of the city of Hebron.

The Grandmother is depicted as a non-entity, totally squashed by her husband, worse than a slave.

But her daughter, Sophie's mother, is depicted as a woman with gumption who is master of her own mind and opinions.  That is, ultimately, why the grandfather killed his own daughter (she married her American Soul Mate).

The missing Character in this story-structure is the Palestinian enemy of the Grandfather.

The author goes to great expository lengths laced with contrived dialogue to convince the reader that SOME (probably most) Palestinians are not Terrorists, disapprove of Terrorism as a political tool, and loathe the kind of Muslim who thinks they have a duty to kill people.

And that fact just happens to be true in our everyday reality.  The trouble makers are few, the trouble they make is huge.

Instead of lecturing and posturing on this topic, the author should have used a show-don't-tell technique to create a Character who is the enemy of the Grandfather/kidnapper/terrorist.  The Grandfather is part of a plot to kill thousands of Israelis with a bacterial infection, which he used to kill his daughter for her crime of marriage to the man of her choice.

The detective pair is hired to bust this international terrorist plot.

And incidentally, also to solve the mystery of what happened to millions of dollars during an international bank transfer.

The problem with this marvelously intricate (and completely logical, well constructed plot) is that it is NOT the "story of the detective couple."

The detective couple are supposed to be the main characters.  They don't even belong in the story, never mind in the plot.  They are external to the drama.  SAVING SOPHIE is not about them.  They do bring a bit of relationship/romance to the book, but they don't belong in this book.

Note how Kellerman's husband-wife team is always integral to story, plot, theme of all the Mysteries they solve.  The cases the professional detective husband encounters (not all of them, but only the ones Kellerman chronicles) are actually ABOUT the dynamics of the couple's Relationship.

I infer that the reason this detective couple are in this novel is that the first novel about them (set in Ireland) was a grand, commercial success.  The editor probably asked for another one.

The story of SAVING SOPHIE is ripped from the Headlines, as I've talked about on this blog quite frequently.  It is topical, which is another reason it had to make deadline, flaws and all.

So, to make the point that most Palestinians just want peace to raise their kids, what should the author of Saving Sophie have done?

My answer (which is not the only answer, just the most obvious) is to create another Palestinian Character who is fed up to here with this nonsense and kidnaps Sophie from her kidnapper-grandfather, possibly with the grandmother's help.

The point is made that the Grandfather loves Sophie -- but he doesn't.  He sees her as another female to dominate.

The Character Development weakness in the writing is that Sophie is a wimp.

Yes, many 10 year old girls are wimps and wouldn't fight.  But Sophie doesn't "adjust" to circumstance, she pines and whines.  This makes her an object not a plot moving Character.

So making a deal with a good Palestinian and her Grandmother to get herself kidnapped out of the Grandfather's clutches, while finding out enough about the sinister plot to kill thousands to rat them out to Mosad, would make this an interesting book with ABSOLUTELY NO EXPOSITION, and even less need for the Liam Taggart and Catherine Lockhart detective team.

Sophie's father, who is hell bent on rescuing her, is the one set up as a patsy for embezling the missing millions of dollars.  He's fleeing authorities because of that frame up, which hampers his ability to rescue her.

That's enough story for a novel.

One of the other sources of expository lumps that will not yield to these standardized techniques of word-work and Character Illustration is cramming too much material into one book.  Very often, the unwieldy expository lump is unbreakable because what you actually have is several novels condensed into one book.

This story may happen in the career of this detective couple, Taggart and Lockhart, but there is no reason to chronicle this incident in their life.  It doesn't change anything for them, and they don't learn a Life Lesson from it (just a lot of Near Eastern History and Politics).

In other words, the basic structure of SAVING SOPHIE is absolutely contrived and very flimsy because of it.

As a result, though the story-logic is excellent, and the depiction of our reality is spot-on perfect, the whole book is crazy boring.  Nevertheless, (check Amazon comments) readers of this genre love it.  It is woven of hot-wire topics, ripped from the headlines.  And editorial work patched it up well enough to please this readership.

But I love kickass heroines, and I know 10 year olds, and I just do not believe this 10 year old girl -- but if she's "real" she is boring.

Notice I use the word boring a lot here, today.  It is because it is a favorite word of another 10 year old Main Character in a novel series about a couple.

That couple is Kirk-and-Spock, and the novel series is Leslie Lilker's Sahaj Series.

I was asked on Twitter to do some blogs about FAN FICTION, so I am tiptoeing up to that topic here.

Leslye Lilker is the pen name for Leah Charifson, who has a Sahaj Continued Group on Facebook where we talk a lot about all the Star Trek incarnations, including fanfic and TV shows inspired by Trek.

Sahaj is the 3/4 Vulcan son of Spock whose mother (a Vulcan Ambassador) who was a really nasty character but has recently died in the novel, THE AMBASSADOR'S SON, which catapults Sahaj into a situation similar to the one that "Sophie" of SAVING SOPHIE is in.

You can get THE AMBASSADOR'S SON online in various formats HERE  is the top of the site with a Chronology of the stories.  "Sahaj" is a whole universe, and one of the most influential in all Pre-Harry-Potter fanfic.

Sahaj handles his situation much more the way I would have handled it at 10 years old, and Sophie does not handle her situation.

Sophie is a cypher character, a place holder of no value in and of herself.  She's the object, the McGuffin, while Sahaj is a real person, with real problems -- much more a Victim (in this plot) than Sophie ever was.

McGuffins are a device to eliminate from your writing by use of Plot-Character Integration.   A MacGuffin (a.k.a. McGuffin or maguffin) is a term for a motivating element in a story that is used to drive the plot. It serves no further purpose.  Sophie is a tear-jerker character with no other purpose.  That technical craft problem is so easy to solve that fanfic writers can't get away with using a McGuffin device.

So the second novel to read to analyze the difference between a BEST SELLER and a BEST READ novel is my nominee for this year's Best Read, THE AMBASSADOR'S SON.  (and yes, the rest of the series - there are links in the back of the book.)  You don't have to know anything about Star Trek: ToS to have a walloping grand time reading THE AMBASSADOR'S SON.

Even so, THE AMBASSADOR'S SON whirls you into Sahaj's story without expository lumps, lectures, or instruction.  Yes, it is fanfic, leaning on ST: ToS  -- but even without remembering any of it, the novel makes sense and is a compelling read.

Leslye Lilker is a byline to memorize and search for.  Excellent craftsmanship, never a beat missed, and a vast, truly broad appeal that extends far beyond the usual Star Trek fanzine readership.

Sahaj fails to extricate himself from his plight -- but that does not stop him from trying again, and again, from figuring angles, and driving toward his goal in a single-minded, entrepreneurial, success oriented methodology (with unfortunate results).  Eventually, (years and novels later) he does achieve his goal, and acquires other goals along the way.  When he does achieve a goal, the reader deems him worthy.

Sahaj is dominated by an Alien Entity attached to him by his villainous mother for the purpose of making him hate Spock and then for the purpose of killing Spock to get back at Sarek and the Ancient Family Spock is descended from.

Sahaj, when we first meet him, is the trojan horse in an interstellar intrigue plot bigger than any of Ronald H. Balson's paper-thin Palestinian Characters, and going back even more centuries of Vulcan politics and the adoption of the non-Emotion based culture.

In the plot, Sahaj is the victim.  In the story, Sahaj is the hero.  In the end, Sahaj gets the last laugh.  You want to read all the Sahaj stories -- Lilker has dragooned a number of other (creative, talented and craft proficient) writers into creating in her alternate Trek universe because Sahaj is worthy.

More than that, if you are a Romance reader who loves Alien Romance, who loves Paranormal Romance, you will be glad to know there is Alien Romance in Sahaj novels being worked on in 2017.

Read it as an example of an intricately "built" world cradling a heart-rending multi-generation saga -- all without expository lumps.  You know the world; you know the Characters -- but you never have to be told.  You figure it out, and the figuring is fun.

Sophie will never be worthy because she has no personal investment in her fate.

So in SAVING SOPHIE, the Characters, Plot, Story, Theme, and Worldbuilding are all independent elements that just do not belong together, can not be "integrated" as I've discussed in many of these series, and sit there like oil and water in layers.

The missing Character could have been the soap necessary to integrate them -- but that would require eliminating the Detective Pair they probably intended to use to market this novel.

Success begets success -- but you don't want it to come so early  in your career that you bomb on your second or third novel, before you've internalized the craft tools needed to fit an Editor's stringent requirements.

"Write me another book about this pair of Detectives."

Well, SAVING SOPHIE is not about the pair of detectives, but that is what it is marketed as.

That is a very hard writing assignment, and the failure of this writer is easy to sympathize with.  Writing a novel for commercial reasons is very hard if the detective pair was not originally created to be the foundation of a series.  And using material ripped from contemporary headlines for a plot can make it even harder to execute the Pair Of Detectives Roam The World Solving Insoluble Problems For The Powers That Be trope.

International Intrigue is a genre that uses multiple points of view to tell a coherent story.  Point of View Shifting is a major craft technique (which is also a bit shaky in Ronald H. Balson's writing).  It requires integrating almost all the individual techniques we've discussed.

The third novel to include in your contrast/compare study of the Expository Lump and the Best Seller Vs. Best Read issue is actually by Pete Earley, a writer who achieved Best Seller status all by himself, and here collaborates.

VENGEANCE is the novel.

It is another example of creating a novel specifically to sell to a particular readership -- and this time, the grand Best Selling Author name in a huge font on the cover is Newt Gingrich (whose wife has been confirmed as Ambassador to the Holy See (i.e. Vatican).

The former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich (architect of the contract with America that a group of Representatives signed while campaigning to enact a specific economic agenda, which they actually did do), has gone on to become a producer of video, other novels, non-fiction books, children's books with his wife, and is seen on TV almost every night.


He is a pretty fair writer, by himself.  He has apparently (I don't know him personally) learned to take editorial direction and has good editors.  His work is pretty sound.  So his NAME on the cover in blazing huge type is not exploitative of popularity, as it often is with celebrities.

Many celebrities of such stature have their names on books they barely looked at before publication -- the sweaty, boring (Sahaj's favorite perjorative term) business of writing a book is beyond them or beneath them.

The work is done by ghost writerrs -- who often don't get their name on the cover, nevermind with "and" before it.

Pete Earley has many books to his credit (search him on Amazon), but this is the third in a series, and it avoids all the problems I highlighted with SAVING SOPHIE.

Every Character driving the plot explicates a thematic element that is part of the psychology of revenge or vengeance.  It is Art at it's best.  The title is the THEME (just like THE AMBASSADOR'S SON is the theme.)

Note how SAVING SOPHIE is not the theme but the McGuffin.

Earley is proficient with all the craft tools we have discussed, and picks them up for a word or phrase or two, and lays them aside gracefully, never missing a beat with the pacing.

I suspect Gingrich wrote the Presidential Oval Office Speeches (which are short, move the plot, deepen characterization, provide motivation, and illustrate what show-don't-tell is all about) because I have heard him on TV saying very similar things.

I suspect he provided some of the Washington D.C. "color" details from his years in that environment.

By the acknowledgements, I see they have expert consultants, and from reading this novel  I think they listened to their chosen expert.

It is well edited, and well copyedited, published by Center Street imprint of Hatchette.  Top drawer operation, and no significant fails in this novel.

OK, maybe you won't like the politics -- but forget that.  Both SAVING SOPHIE and VENGEANCE use the material of the Middle East Conflict, both include a full blown tutorial on the vast, deep, and meaningful history of that conflict (just exactly as you must do if writing about ghosts, djinn, Harry Potter, or Aliens from another planet and their interdimensional or galactic wars.)

No created story world is complete without the war-history of the clashing cultures.

The content of that history, or at least the part you choose to reveal to your readers, has to highlight, underscore and illustrate (in show-don't-tell) all about your THEME.  The nature of the content is not important.  The way you present that content is VITALLY IMPORTANT to the emotional responses of the reader.

Since both SAVING SOPHIE and VENGEANCE are about the Middle East Conflict, the world-girdling religious wars currently in progress (often not mentioned in headlines), you must read them both, together or in rapid succession to grasp my point here.

Both major best sellers, but one is boring and riddled with amateurish errors never permitted in fanfic, and the other is fascinating, smooth, and easily a candidate for Best Read of the Year despite being pure Best Seller material exploiting previous successes.

They are a pair, and the difference between them is best explained and illustrated by reading THE AMBASSADOR'S SON.

The difference is Theme-Character-Integration.

You can read about this craft technique for years and still not be able to do it.  But read about it and read these 3 novels all at once, and you will suddenly see why your submissions are rejected or relegated to the bottom of the heap.

Yes, they are not "Romance" per se, but that makes it easy to focus on the craft techniques and see immediately how to use them in Science fiction Romance.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, December 10, 2017

In Praise Of Procrastinators....

Well, perhaps not "in praise", but I like alliteration in my titles. It would be more accurate to title this article, "Sympathy For Procrastinators."

If you are a common or garden blogger, you are probably not an OSP (Online Service Provider), and you probably do not need to register your Copyright Agent with the copyright office.

Or perhaps you do. If you have a YouTube video of your own promotional book trailer in your footer, are you sure that YouTube isn't showing--and won't ever show--something similarly titled, without telling you?

For $6.00 and the loss of some privacy, you can register yourself as the copyright agent for up to ten (10) websites and blogs, and you will be covered by the Safe Harbor provisions of the DMCA in case some visitor posts someone else's copyrighted content (a photo, or hyperlink, or lyrics) without permission.

Or maybe you have a website and a webmistress, and you never asked her where she licensed the images that decorate your site.... or whether she licensed the fonts.

You start here:

You create an account with a user name and a password, then wait for an email from to confirm your DMCA Designated Agent Registration Account.

When it comes, you follow the link, sign in, and follow a 4-step process filling in your real name, real address, real phone number, also your business name. All authors ought to have an LLC.  Then, you add the names of your websites and blogs. Then you check for accuracy, and you pay.


For those more motivated by what lawyers say in their blogs, there's "Two Copyright To-Dos Before Year End", from  Elizabeth A. Tassi of Stinson Leonard Street LLP

It's a well-written article.  This author recommends it.

"December 31,  2017 Deadline to Avoid Loss of Safe Harbor Protection Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act" is a short, to the point reminder from David A. Donohue, blogging for  Frosse Zelnick Lehrman & Zissu PC (arguably the largest lawfirm in the world dealing with trademark and copyright law).

Another worth-your-time legal blog is "The Low-Down On DMCA Regulations And Take-Downs".

For Burr & Forman LLP, legal bloggers Brooke Penrose and Deborah Peckham include a warning about the consequences of failing to designate an agent.

Finally, for our European readers (who know all about the cookies that Blogger puts on their equipment), there's a heartening article about Pirate Bay and Torrents from legal blogger Jaroslav Tajbr of Noerr LLP.  (My Mnemonic : No Error).

That's "Torrents At The European Court Of Justice Of The European Union." And, it's about time someone ruled that torrents are infringement, IMHO!

All the best,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Stylistic Superstitions

There are a couple of too-prevalent over-corrections often seen in published writing that especially bug me. "Lay" as the past tense of the transitive verb "lay" particularly makes my teeth grind. As in, "He picked up the book and lay it on the table," instead of the correct past tense "laid." It's as if the author thinks "laid" sounds too crude. Likewise, many people overuse "whom" because they seem to think "who" is incorrect everywhere except when clearly the subject of a main clause. The tricky kind of sentence that trips them up goes something like this:

That's the man who I believe robbed the store.

Often someone will write "whom" instead, under the impression that it's the object of "believe." In fact, the object of "believe" is the entire relative clause (of which "who" is the subject). A lucid illustration of this point that I read not long ago rearranges the sentence this way:

That's the man who robbed the store, I believe.

By "superstitions," however, I'm referring to a different phenomenon, usages people think are grammatically or stylistically wrong even though they're perfectly innocuous. By now everybody probably knows that there's nothing evil about splitting infinitives or ending a sentence with a preposition. Those "rules" were invented in the eighteenth century by grammarians determined to make English conform to the structure of Latin.

We still hear stern admonitions, though, not to start a sentence with "and" or "but." As a pupil of the strictest old-fashioned English teachers imaginable, in the 1960s, I never heard of such a "rule." It seems to be a relatively recent invention with no rational basis. "And" and "but" are coordinating conjunctions, used to introduce independent clauses, so there's no reason to forbid them to introduce sentences. And if you want to find numerous examples of such usage, take a peek at the King James version of the Bible.

I once had an editor who insisted the possessive case couldn't apply to inanimate objects. Quite aside from the grammatical fact that the possessive ("genitive" in Latin) has other uses besides indicating literal possession, substituting an unnecessarily clunky "of the" phrase for apostrophe-S with all non-living nouns contradicts both normal conversational English and venerable precedents in formal writing. For example: The dawn's early light. The twilight's last gleaming. The church's one foundation. New Year's Eve. Numerous familiar phrases such as "the year's best books" and "the world's oldest person."

Another editor of my acquaintance had what I consider an irrational objection to "stand up" and "sit down." On the grounds that the "up" and "down" were redundant, she made me delete them everywhere. In many contexts, plain "stand" or "sit" sounds abrupt and/or stilted. When inviting someone to take a seat, we say, "Sit down," rather than barking "Sit" as if addressing a dog. Also, we often need the preposition to distinguish between verbs of position and verbs of action. "Stand up" and "stand there" mean different things. If you write, "She sat on the couch," do you mean she was already sitting there (using the simple past "sat" to avoid the past progressive "was sitting," another construction many people irrationally condemn, with the mistaken idea that it's "passive") or that she was in the process of taking a seat?

Too much contemporary published writing, alas, is riddled with more than enough genuine errors, without muddying the waters of correct style by imposing groundless prohibitions on top of the established standards.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Theme-Character Integration Part 11: Creating A Prophet Character

Theme-Character Integration
Part 11

Creating A Prophet Character


Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Previous parts in this series are indexed at:

The last few weeks we have discussed the use of Prophecy in crafting a world against which to showcase your Characters.

Note, Prophecy, like ESP of any sort, or "Magic" by enslaving a Djinn, speaks to the way the laws of physics (and maybe even math and Chemistry) differ in your world.  The reader very often buys a book based on whether it is set in "real reality" or a reality made up by the writer.

The difference in the Laws of Nature between your Romance Novel's reality and the reader's reality is the primary SHOW DON'T TELL element that defines your THEME.

The general rule is to allow only one such difference per novel.  That's a corollary of the K.I.S.S. rule.

In other words, you can't insert a Prophecy into a real-world novel without informing the Reader that your world is not "real."

It is the same for the Soul Mate thesis -- if Soul Mates exist, then Souls exist, and that is not part of all your reader's realities.

But if Souls exist, then it is very likely that Prophecy exists in your world.

Souls, by definition, are "immortal" or transcend our physical reality.  Neuroscience is busy proving that everything about human life and perception can be explained by brain functions.

Here are a couple of recent articles about how your reader thinks.

They have identified a multitude of cognitive biases, assumptions that cloud our thinking and cause us to misinterpret new data or discard it as unreliable.  Robert Heinlein wrote Hero Characters who called this type of thinking "lazy thinking."

Here is the infographic featured in that item:

Here is an article showing how they are still discovering new organs in the human body, changing the scientific view of how our immune system connects to the brain.

Since we are considering the use of Prophecy in Science Fiction Romance, let's explore one way to use the Theme of Prophecy.

In this World where Prophecy is real, but Science still works and exists, (i.e. in a Science Fiction Romance), we need Characters whose internal conflict centers on the Theme.  So we need first a thematic statement about Prophecy and Science.

THEME: Science Disproves Prophecy - (astrophysics about how Time works)

THEME: Prophecy Disproves Science - (Spirituality about how Time works)

THEME: Prophecy Can Come True Only If Source is Creator of the Universe.

THEME: Anyone Can Foretell the Future With The right (scientific) Device/Gadget

THEME: Reality is fungible: Prophecy and Science do not conflict.

The cliche plot would work out a conflict between a True Believer and a Scientist.  X-Files is an example.  There are a few newer shows using this conflict, and a wide variety of themes.

So if you are using your reader's "real" world, and changing only the element that says "Prophecy Is Real," then you can design several sorts of Characters to place in conflict to each other.

Theme is the statement derived from the outcome of that Character vs. Character conflict.

If the Character who accepts Prophecy as real is proven correct, the THEME is PROPHECY DISPROVES SCIENCE.

If the Character who debunks Prophecy is proven correct, the THEME is PROPHECY IS BUNK.

You can save yourself 20 years of rewriting (I am not kidding; I know writers who worked and reworked novels for that long, finally selling it only when the theme was clarified).

If you have to change the theme of a novel on rewrite, you are in for a world of hurt.

There is another theme that goes with using The Unseen as a concrete element in your world:

THEME: I am correct and if you don't believe me, you will be sorry.

Or put another way, a Character whose life revolves around The Cassandra Complex -- remember Apollo gave her Prophecy and cursed her with not being believed.  Many science fiction and fantasy novels have been written around this theme: "I know something you don't know."

Would two Characters be able to stay in love, get married, raise children, after one proves to the other that their entire worldview is incorrect?

It has happened in real life via Religious Conversion epiphany type experiences.  But can you make it plausible to your target readership?

You can use three major Characters, perhaps a love triangle, where one is the Prophet, one the Scientist, and one the Believer (but not necessarily a True Believer; perhaps a skeptical Believer.)

You can use an Ancient Prophecy and the True Believers who accept it is about to come true.  And in that context, you can bring that Ancient Prophet onstage in your novel, via flashback (a very, very difficult technique to master), and show don't tell your reader the Prophecy the contemporary Characters are dealing with was a) made up as a scam, b) was genuinely Received from the Creator of the Universe, c) has already manifested fully and is moot to your modern Characters.

I'm sure you can think of other possibilities.

The most important part of creating a Prophet Character is that the Character's Internal Conflict (and thus his behavior under the impact of Plot Events) has to be about the Message to be delivered.

The Prophet Character can be conflicted over the very Reality of Prophecy, or like Jonah who fled to sea rather than deliver God's message, resisting the Message itself as well as his own Agency in delivering the information.  \

In the Biblical story of Jonah, Jonah was not in internal conflict over the existence or dominion of God.  He did not want to be the bearer of this message to those people.  After being swallowed by an ocean creature and barfed up on land, Jonah went and delivered his message, and many people believed him and took his advice, to their benefit.

One (of many) points of the story is simply that if God tells you to deliver a message, do yourself a favor and just go say what you're told to say.

If a Prophet Character is your skeptical scientist Character, he might well resist saying this nonsensical message or be loath to say it to the target audience.  In the film, OH, GOD!, John Denver is non-religious but becomes convinced this is God who is telling him to get the Word out.  It only takes a few little miracles.  But he can't convey that conviction to his listeners.

And the message is not a Prophecy that will come true, or not, and thus be proven real.  It is simply that the world is designed to work, but only if you stop killing each other.

Making a film for a wide audience, you can't come down on one side or the other.  They presented God as real (George Burns at age 100 did a fabulous job playing God), and wrote the Message in the way of most Prophecy -- wide open to interpretation, and dependent on what people choose to do.

Thus you can make a tight case for either side of the argument.

But that is film.  A novel reader, especially in the Romance sub-genres, wants something more substantial and unequivocal.

Once you inject that substantial element into your Prophecy, it can be proved or disproved.

Note that in the study of Philosophy, the hypothesis of God is considered non-falsifiable.  There is no way to disprove God's existence, therefore there is no way to prove God is real.

So if your Prophecy can be proven, then its Source is proven real.  If that Source is God, you might be able to sell the novel only to the Christian Press -- but they won't go for ad hoc Prophets walking contemporary Earth.

The market for proven Prophecy is the Best Seller Blockbuster Biblical Code market -- like The Davinci Code:

That novel revived an old Genre.  Note how Amazon will pull up books about demons in the same search with Davinci Code.

There is room in that market for a whopping, James Michener sized Science Fiction Romance - maybe with more than a touch of Paranormal.

So select your Theme by considering what your target readers want.

Many read novels for the ideas, or a view of far away places with strange sounding names.  Many read novels for stimulation or to whet the appetite for aspiration.

Would any in your target readership want to be inspired to become a Prophet?

Is your Prophet Character the Hero, or the poor sucker being used by a relentless paranormal force?  Was he/she a good guy turned corrupt by this outside influence?

Does your Prophet Character need rescuing from this Controlling Force?  (Cassandra style).

"Who" is your Prophet -- inside, subconsciously, what needs and ambitions beset this individual?

How does either being infected with Prophecy from childhood, or blossoming suddenly into a Prophet affect the priorities of that individual.

Would Love and ultimately Sex relieve the individual of Prophet duties?

Consider what the answers to those questions reveal about your THEME.

A theme is a non-verbal, show-don't-tell, statement about what is "right" in life, and what the price of doing the "right thing" will be because of the nature of your well-built World.

So the answers to those questions define your Theme.  The theme is what you have to say on this topic.  How you say it depends, as in any conversation, on who your audience is - what they already believe, and how you argue your point until you convince them.  Maybe you can't convince them that your theme is correct, but you might plant a doubt about whether their notion of reality is fully formed.

"The Truth Is Out There" - was the theme of X-Files, and it is still a theme that works today.  Truth is not fact, information or data.  Truth is not "in here" inside your mind.  It is external, objective, and often unknowable.

Most Cognitive Bias functions to relieve us of the need to think through the ramifications of what we "know."  It is lazy thinking, and feels good because we never have to consider the nature of Truth.

Cognitive Bias often leads us into Royal Pickles and Adamantine Plights, Horns of Dilemmas, and dark miseries.

At the peak turning point of those Situations we often have to break out of our Cognitive Bias and stare Objective Truth in the eye.  Those who don't do that do not survive the moment.

The Prophet Character will be, like the hapless Grocery Clerk in OH, GOD!, the one who has penetrated Cognitive Bias and found a new truth.

The film dealt with the Prophet Character from the inside, telling his story of wrestling with the truth of the Impossible.  Taking a different point of view for a novel would lend the air of mystery and suspense.  Your erstwhile Lovers might well be fighting each other over the genuineness of your Prophet Character.

You might even consider making your Prophet Character a Matchmaker, bringing the two Lovers together for a most improbable match made in Heaven.

Fortune Telling or Foretelling the Future, divination and oracular pronouncements, is an entirely different thing from Prophecy.  In Prophecy some Force from outside reality thrusts a message into the Prophet's mind.  In the various forms of fortune telling, like the Oracle at Delphi, someone asks a Talented person a question and the person uses that Talent to SEEK the answer -- to find out, to observe reality from a different perspective.

The Fortune Teller is making an assumption, a Cognitive Bias, about the nature of Reality -- that what information they can access will remain unchanged.

That is the Fortune Teller is using the Hellenistic concept of Destiny - rooted in a polytheistic view of reality.  The gods decree, and humans suffer.

The Biblical view of the Universe incorporates the (cognitive bias) that humans have Free Will, but that the Creator of the Universe is still Creating it moment by moment, and can (at Will) create a different path for an individual's life.

The Prophet carries a message of the form, "If you keep on doing this, then I will do that."  Or, "if you don't stop doing that, I will do this."  Prophecy is conditional on free will acceptance of the divine Will.

The film, OH, GOD! hedged that message form down to a plain vanilla message without pointing to what humans are doing wrong (except the generally accepted killing each other) and no defining of the penalty for continuing to do wrong.  For an example, read Ezekiel.

So one of the thematic choices you have to make is whether your World incorporates Fortune Telling as efficacious - or if Prophecy is real -- or both.  For example, Fortune Telling and Prophecy might both be real, and the Prophet has been sent to issue a cease and desist notice to the Fortune Teller.

STORY: A pagan gypsy Fortune Teller meets a genuine Prophet of the Creator of the Universe who objects to the Fortune Teller's using cognitive bias as a weapon to cripple the Free Will The Creator gave them. .

Prophecy is usually about the shaping of civilizations, nations, and thousand year spans of history.  Fortune Telling is usually about an individual's personal fate.

Is "fate" real in your World?  Or can an individual "Be Saved" by a Divine Savior, just by believing?  Or maybe you have to save yourself by making amends, fixing what you broke, cleaning up your mess, then relaunching your life along the lines of righteous behavior?

In Biblical times, there were thousands of genuine (well vetted by their guild like organization) Prophets who could be consulted by individuals regarding the proper course of action through a dilemma.  People did consult them, and the advice consistently proved correct.  The Prophets would take the assignment, and then sleep on it overnight, dream the answer, and come back with their best description of what they had "seen."

The Book of Prophets contains the writings of the few great prophets who advised Kings and Princes - whose words moved nations and are still relevant today for the principles revealed.

After you've sketched out the science fiction romance novel you want to write, read the Book of Prophets -- maybe also the first 5 Books of the Bible with the story of the life of Moses.  Moses was different among all the Prophets as he spoke with G-d face to face, not in dreams.  Nothing was open to interpretation.  He repeated what he was told.

Decide if you need to create a Character who moves International Politics, or one who founds a Nation, or one who advises individuals.

Decide what the penalty would be to your Prophet should he speak falsely.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Seeking Pirated Content, And Support H.R. 3945

More than 430,000,000 (four hundred and thirty million) people seek pirated "content" every month. Most of these people would never dream of shoplifting, but they see nothing wrong with going out of their way to avoid paying for that which they seek, if it is available online.

Source : Keith Kupferschmidt

People who visit pirate sites are 28 times more likely to pick up malware and spyware, and often, the quality of whatever they download is inferior to what they could have purchased safely and legally and for a very reasonable price.

Talking of a reasonable price, many copyright owners would benefit from being able to take the next step in enforcing their copyrights if it was possible to pursue an infringer in small claims court.

Currently, a copyright owner may send a DMCA (takedown) notice to a site that hosts user-uploaded files.  You can find a sample DMCA Notice here or here.

However, if the copyright infringing user files a "Counter-Notice" stating that that user believes that he (or she) is entitled to publish and distribute the author's copyrighted work, the site will reinstate the pirated files or links, and the copyrighted work will continue to be published and distributed forever.... unless the copyright owner is wealthy enough to bring a lawsuit in federal court. Few are.

H.R. 3945 would permit copyright owners to take action against an untruthful "Counter-Notice" through a small claims court. The cost to the plaintiff would be less. The potential fines would be much less.

The Copyright Alliance asks authors and other copyright owners to use their system to customize and personalize a sample letter and to let the Copyright Alliance forward it to their  Representatives and Senators.

Click this "Add Your Voice" link.  Click the orange "Ask Your Representative... To Cosponsor H.R.3954...."   On the next page, fill in your address and zip code.  Clicking the blue "Search" button will take you to the Copyright Alliance's template letter to your own unique Senators and Representatives.

Customize the letter.

Example:  Copyright Alliance's first paragraph

I am writing to urge you to co-sponsor H.R. 3945, the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act of 2017. This bipartisan bill is important to America’s photographers, illustrators, authors, songwriters and other creators and small businesses that own copyrighted works.
Example: This author's first paragraph.

As an independent author who does not make much from the legal sales of my works.... I implore you to consider stepping up to co-sponsor H.R. 3945, the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act of 2017.

It's December. For those who allow anyone at all to upload files to their sites, if you wish to retain safe harbor protections under the DMCA, you must register a copyright agent for your site asap, and certainly this month.

For more information:

All the best,
Rowena Cherry