Thursday, August 22, 2019

Pre-Human Civilizations?

Could some other species have built a civilization on Earth long before we evolved? Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, considers that possibility:

Are We Earth's Only Civilization?

If a society of intelligent, nonhuman beings existed before the Quaternary period, 2.6 million years ago, mainstream geology tells us no material evidence of them would remain. "Go back much farther than the Quaternary and everything has been turned over and crushed to dust." Then how would we know about their civilization? The preservation of fossils and artifacts, even if that hypothetical nonhuman society had flourished recently enough to possibly leave such relics, depends on sheer chance. Schmidt speculates about how we could know they existed, as a thought experiment exploring what evidence, if any, from our own society would survive millions of years in the future. He suggests plastics, changes in sedimentary nitrogen patterns (from using so much of it as fertilizer to feed our population), and the appearance in sedimentary layers of "rare-Earth elements used in electronic gizmos." Above all, our intensive burning of fossil fuels should leave evidence in the form of shifts in the balances of carbon and oxygen isotopes. Schmidt wonders, if our own Anthropocene epoch is in the process of depositing traces in the Earth's bedrock, "might the same 'signals' exist right now in rocks just waiting to tell us of civilizations long gone?"

The article concludes, "By asking about civilizations lost in deep time, we’re also asking about the possibility for universal rules guiding the evolution of all biospheres in all their creative potential, including the emergence of civilizations." Could guidelines for such "universal rules" help us predict what we may find on alien worlds?

While Schmidt and the author of the article don't believe such a nonhuman culture actually preceded us on this planet, the possibility is interesting to consider. And since it's hard if not impossible to prove a negative, especially regarding events so unimaginably far in the past, we can't be sure one didn't exist. Unless time travel were invented, we would never have any contact with the builders of such a civilization or even know what they were like. That is, unless we somehow found long-buried structures such as the vast city of the extinct Elder Things in Antarctica in H. P. Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness." These creatures arrived on Earth when the moon was young and became extinct long before advanced terrestrial life evolved. The Elder Things also coexisted with giant penguins, and interestingly, the fossilized bones of penguins about the size of human adults have been found in New Zealand. They came along much too late to be alive at the same period as the Elder Things, though:

Giant Penguin in New Zealand

Suppose we discovered an abandoned city like that, miraculously having avoided being "crushed to dust," inhabited only by monstrous, amorphous shoggoths that survived and continued to reproduce after their creators died off? Hmm, I wonder what we could do with tame shoggoths. . . .

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Worldbuilding From Reality Part 9 - Conquest In Romance

Worldbuilding From Reality
Part 9
Conquest In Romance
Jacqueline Lichtenberg 

Previous parts in this series are indexed here:

Every world you build to showcase your story has to include the basic cultural elements anthropologists have identified in human cultures from time immemorial.

That doesn't mean your Aliens have to be Human!

It means you, the writer, has to explain to your reader why your Alien culture lacks this or that element common among humans, and what that absence means.

Spock on Star Trek is the most obvious example, and was created around exactly that formula -- "Human Minus One" -- in his case Emotion.  From that Character, all of Vulcan culture and history was fleshed out.  The necessity for that became obvious when the marvelous one-liner hit the air -- where Spock identifies a Romulan visage as reminiscent of his father.

One of the elements in human cultures has always been Religion -- or some sort of notion about supernatural forces interacting with "real world" elements.

Humans imagine.  If your Aliens have any imagination, they have something that fills the niche of Religion (organized, institutionalized, or not-so-much).

But not every Alien culture has to use (or blame) Religion for sexual behavior.  Not every Alien culture has to integrate Romance and Sexuality.  Sex may be completely irrelevant to Romantic attachment for an Alien.  If so, you have to explain how that happened to a species, and illustrate what it means in relationships with humans.

Alien Romance is a gigantic field that has barely been explored, certainly not mapped, and leaves everything wide open for writers.

There is one rule of writing craftsmanship you must meet, even when exploring Alien Romance with or without sexuality -- your worldbuilding must be internally consistent enough to seem like Reality.

OK, our everyday Reality isn't very consistent, but it does keep reverting to well known norms.  If you're going to create verisimilitude enough to transport readers into an Alien culture that does not have sexual arousal during Romance, you need to keep your worldbuilding rigorously consistent.

Worldbuilding, we have established in other series of posts on this topic, is rooted in a Theme.

Just like Spock delineates the theme of Emotion Is Not Logical in Star Trek, so your Alien delineates the theme of your entire world by what that Alien Culture has that humans do not -- or what the Aliens lack that Humans have.

One variable is all you get to play with in a work of fiction where you are departing from everyday Reality.  Just add or subtract one, and only one, element from the world your readers know, then pursue the way that affects everything that happens in an ordinary, regular Romance genre novel.

Suppose you want to rip a notion from current media headlines, from the media's current narrative, and create an Alien Romance from that topic.

One prominent narrative topic in 2019 is a second wave of challenges to Roe v. Wade and a woman's sovereign control of her body.

I'm pretty sure you can find marriages ending in divorce over this massive philosophical divide.

It is entirely possible that abortion is one, perhaps the only, issue that Love can't Conquer, even though it can Conquer All Else.

I do see our everyday reality as a place where love conquers all, and can even conquer this one, horrendous, topic.  But it is easy to imagine a fictional pair, head over heels into an epic Romance, ripped apart by this one topic.

Does a man have any rights over a fetus he fathered?

Does the Law have any business trying to criminalize any actions for or against abortion?

In the USA, we have the constitutional division of Law and Religion -- we can't make laws governing religion.  But in the 21st Century, that division is becoming blurred.

Take for example, a pregnant woman who is addicted to drugs (some bad stuff - heroine etc.).  What is her legal obligation to the fetus?  To the newborn baby, born addicted, and thus suffering a life-long set of health issues which, very possibly, the State has to pay for?

Where do the mother's rights leave off and the baby's rights begin?

The answers to those questions are THEMES.  Take a stance one way or another, state the theme in one sentence, and select every element of story, plot, character, setting, conflict, etc. to illustrate, explain, or challenge that theme.

Theme is philosophy and religion distilled into a platitude, aphorism, or folk wisdom.

So when you build a world from Reality, you start (whether you know it or not) with a theme, some idea about what Reality is or is-not.

Those who start with the concept of Soul Mates are inherently starting with the concept of Soul as a reality in their built world.

What is a soul?  Where does it come from?  Where does it go?  Can souls die?  Can souls be destroyed?  Or do souls learn?

Each of those questions is a brick you build into your world's edifice whether you know it or not.  We all make assumptions about our everyday Reality, but rarely do we articulate those assumptions.  So your Characters, likewise, may have many assumptions about Souls and how they slip into or out of Manifestation, and have no clue why they believe what they believe, or why they are willing to die for a cause.

There are women who will commit themselves to die trying to give birth, and others that prioritize themselves over an unborn fetus.  Both sorts of women are courageous, heroic, and completely believable to your readership.

In fact, one sort can transform before the reader's eyes into the other sort, and the transformation can be completely plausible.

Many women on one side or the other of this divisive issue hold their position because of Religion -- some from adopting a Religion later in life, others having been raised to certain strict standards of right and wrong.  But today's readerships are maybe more than half atheist, and that half divides pretty much along the same line (risk life to give birth vs. my life is more important than potential life).

So entire philosophies of "Who Am I" questions are woven into the themes you can use to feature a conflict over abortion.

Historically, abortion has been an issue that shatters the mood of romance, but today's readers and writers are gradually exploring Romance that deals directly with spouse-abuse, with rape and incest, and even abortion.

And all of these relationship issues are super-charged by Religion.

People on any side of one of these issues point to Religion to justify their position, while the people on the other side point to Religion to nullify their opponent's position.  Sometimes, they both point to the same Religion.

If you're writing Alien Romance, your aliens might have no regard whatever for an unborn fetus -- or even for an infant less than 5 years old.  Some human cultures don't name a child for a long time after birth.  So Aliens who think like that would be plausible to everyday readers.

In Paranormal Romance, you might have ghosts, demons or angels who actually know what a Soul is, and how decisions implemented during mortal life determine fates in the afterlife.  They might be allowed to tell mortals, or perhaps be prevented from telling.  Plot driving conflicts can arise over the refusal to tell -- or disbelief of what has been told.

So to craft either an Alien to love your human Character, or a Supernatural Being to love your mortal, you need to choose an answer to the questions that define Soul.

Are Souls real?  Does every human have one?  Does your Alien have one?

Are Souls necessary for Romance to happen?

The answers to those questions are THEMES.  You build the answer into your world, and that integration gives rise to your main plot conflict.

Whatever your answer is, there is a Character in your story who takes the opposite stance.  That creates your integrated Theme-Plot-Character structure.

To lure your reader into such an explosive story context and deliver the promised Romance, you need to study up on the World's Religions.  Chances are much of what you think you know comes from news or online articles.  That is necessary information as it tells you what most of your readers think they know -- thus lays out the plot which your conflict will generate.

People act on what they think they know.

Characters can act on what they think they know, but to tell a story, that Character must "arc" -- or learn something the reader didn't know, and begin to act in a distinctly different way.

So study the solidly orthodox, strict, version of several religions, and contrast it with the vastly more popular, more relaxed and accepting version of that religion.  For example, Catholicism vs. Tent Revivalist vs. TV Evangelist.

You might also study the Law, and the history of laws on a particular topic.

It can lead you into many topics, and sorting them out can be difficult.

Themes designed to support a long series of large novels can be "nested" one inside the other, to produce what some call the "braided plot" and possibly use several viewpoint characters.

But to nest themes, they must all relate to a single, overall, or envelope theme.  All the questions you answer have to be about the same topic.

Take "conquest" for example.

A Master Theme might be, "My Way Or The Highway"

Sub-themes could be answers to such questions as "Who Am I?" "How Does A Human Choose A Way?" "Do Humans Get A Choice?" "Is Running Away From Home Better Than Running Toward A Goal?"

Each of those sub-theme areas could split and split again to eventually come down to something small enough to fit into a single novel.  Together, they could make a series or a life's work.

Philosophy behind novel themes can be very abstract, and start with things about the notion of a God who is the Creator of the Universe, the master architect.  Does the Divine force take a personal interest in individual humans?  Is that different from interactions with Aliens?

Would a Ghost be able to hold direct dialogue with the Creator of the Universe?  And then tell a human?  Or perhaps a fetus?

Would a Creator still have any power over the Creation?  Note how the Bible's story of the Tower of Babel shows without telling what happens when the Creation challenges the Creator.  What if the Creator hadn't been so gentle in Conquest as to just mess up the ability to communicate?

Some answers to these questions in the context of Romance Genre will inevitably lead to all the issues of human sexual relationships, and thus to how human law attempts to codify morality.

But what about Divine Law?

The Hellenistic Greek gods didn't lay down laws that they, themselves, abided by.  They operated, like the Roman gods after them, basically on whim, and under the thumb of the biggest bully god.

Humans developed Law as a concept, but only very gradually, over many generations.  What if your Aliens don't have the concept of Law, as Star Trek's Vulcans don't have emotion?'

Not all of modern Earth lives under the Judeo-Christian concept of a Creator who has told us His Laws (10 Commandments, 7 Noachide Laws, or 613 Commandments).

The 10 Commandments and the whole set of 613 Commandments given in the Old Testament are considered to apply only to Jews, while the 7 Laws given to Noah apply to all humans.

But overall, the concept is a Divine Creator explaining how Creation works to his Creatures.  And it is a contract. If humans do this, then the Divine will do that.  Our deeds don't cause the Creator to act.  The Creator's word of honor on the Contract is the cause of the consequences of our actions.

Our real world is currently built on the aspiration to make Laws that fill in the outline given to us by the Divine.

Even atheists agree that most of those boundaries around human behavior make for civilization to function to the advantage of most (if not all).  

The USA is founded on the idea that government can't infringe on personal sovereignty.  Each human is entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (though there was a big argument over happiness or merely the pursuit thereof.)

Most of the Founders who framed the legal structure of the USA were Christian, and some were Christian mystics.  A lot of their subconscious assumptions became infused into that legal structure.  When they separated Church and State, they were thinking mostly of  various Christian churches, not freedom from Religion, not valuing pagan religions the same as Christian ones, and certainly not accepting the Jewish way of looking at the world.

But today, the USA is a dynamic and creative wellspring mostly because all these varieties of belief systems co-exist, interact, and even conflict.  Our differences are our greatest strength.

Yet, today's politics seem bent on conquest, not co-existence.

The political lines are being drawn as Men vs. Women, with sovereignty over the physical body at stake.

Does the father of your child have the legal right to force you to risk your life giving birth to his child?  What if your husband raped you?  In some religions that's not possible.  But civilization could stand or fall on that exact issue.

When does a woman have a right to an abortion?  When is a woman required to have an abortion?

Can human law be crafted (and enforced) to govern these decisions?  And if so, then what happens when men go to war over women?

Could the Gender War be settled by Conquest -- of either side over the other?

Are any of these questions even relevant to what is really going on with the US Supreme Court deliberations on Roe v. Wade?  I'm sure they're deliberating whether to take this or that case that would challenge the precedent.  If you're writing futuristic romance, you have to guess whether, in your built future world, Roe v. Wade still stands, and if not, what replaces it?

Here is an article that may give you some ideas of where Roe v. Wade is most vulnerable to being modified, or where the 2019 States attempt to craft anti-abortion legislation at the state level might be stopped by the Supreme Court.

Freedom of Religion is baked into our legal system, and most people think that all Religion is inherently anti-abortion.  Many Christian sub-divisions hold that no matter what (rape, incest, dire health collapse of the mother), no pregnancy may be terminated voluntarily.  So most people, even atheists, think that the only issue Religious people have with abortion is to prevent women from having abortion.

If you are pro-choice, you therefore must be anti-Religion.

That is the unconscious assumption.

However, the opposite is the case.

In Judaism, there are circumstances where a woman is required to get an abortion.

Yeah, who would think it?  But an adult woman, especially one with other children to raise, is absolutely not permitted to continue a life-threatening abortion.  Beyond that, different Rabbinic authorities hold that some other circumstances (such as psychological issues), may also dictate the necessity of an abortion.  Nobody can force a woman, no matter the risk, to have an abortion -- but sometimes, to comply with the Creator's Will, she must choose to do so.  A person who commits suicide is governed by the same laws that pertain to one who is a murderer.  Suicide is considered self-murder, and continuing a truly dangerous pregnancy would be suicidal.

Some of the current State laws being tried out would prohibit the practice of this religious requirement to save one's own life.

Here are two articles - one on the legal implications of abortion, and one on suicide.  Put them together and generate a lot of themes.

Another Jewish view holds that the Soul descends into the unborn fetus gradually, and over time.  That line of thought also holds that the Soul continues to descend after birth, as the body develops all the way to sexual maturity (12 or 13 years).  Does the degree of presence of a Soul have anything to do with the choice of abortion?

What about robots, A. I., will Souls descend to inhabit machine intelligence?

As a writer, consider the incredibly dramatic irony of these opposing views:
Religion requires abortion vs. Religion prohibits abortion.

Right now, this Earth is not in imminent danger of running out of humans. Other species are endangered, so it could come to us very soon.  Or colonies on other planets would place a much higher value on new children.  Artificial wombs will solve a lot of this problem, but will such children acquire souls?

Also note the birthrate in the USA has slacked off to where some official notice is being taken -- perhaps it's time to worry?

Nothing shatters the mood of a Romance novel like murder, death, blood sprayed on the walls, rape, abusive beating -- all the ugliness that goes on in our everyday reality.  Yet, writers are artists who love a challenge.

Can you build a world where one side or the other triumphs in conquest of the other side in these Religion vs. Politics debates?

Can you build an alien civilization where a refugee from the shattered Earth can find Romance and safety?

If you build your world out of unrelated bits, a hodgepodge patchwork world, it won't be a work of Art and will not communicate your theme clearly.

So try starting with your true, most deeply held, belief about Life and Souls.  Weave a powerful Romance, and drive the Characters to an accidental pregnancy.  Will Romance turn to Love and Conquer even this immense problem?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Like This

My heading needs punctuation, but whether it should be an exclamation mark, a question mark, a full stop, or ellipses... I leave it to the editor in your head.

Legal bloggers Madara Me Ika and Ieva Andersone for Sorainen discuss the pros and cons of having a Facebook Like button on European websites.

Original article

Lexology article

Most website owners know (or should know) that when the embed a "Like" button on their site, they are responsible for transmitting their visitors' data to Facebook without their visitors' knowledge or consent. In the case of Europe and the legal case under discussion:

".... every visitor’s personal data is transmitted to Facebook Ireland. Indeed, it is important to note that the data of every visitor, without their knowing it, and whether or not they have their own profile on the Facebook social network and whether or not they click on the “Like” button, were transmitted to Facebook Ireland."

As the bloggers explain, Facebook defends itself by pointing the finger, and saying the legal equivalent of, "they're doing it, too!"

Check out the Sorainen links to find out whose buttons may be just as dodgy.

Could you, as a website owner, be sued for force-feeding cookies to your visitors? Legal blogger  Christian M. Auty, for Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP gives a surprising answer for website owners with a European presence.


Lexology version

Of course, you have to be a big-enough fish, or it's not worth it.

For readers who would like to know more about shadow profiles (profiles on people who have neither joined nor consented nor agreed to the TOU or TOS of a site, but have nevertheless been "collected" and potentially monetized), read here or here or here.

Warning: click those there (or "here") links, and you will be showered with cookies.

Author Martin Hendry, blogging on behalf of  boutique intellectual property solicitors Virtuoso Legal shares his top ten Intellectual Property Infringement surprises from July.


Lexology version

My favorite of the surprises was the result of the model vs the paparazzo case. What's yours?

All the best,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Writing in Times of Anxiety

Kameron Hurley's latest LOCUS column tackles the problem of writing through anxiety. The essay focuses mainly on public crises and disasters but mentions its application to personal troubles as well:

Writing Through the News Cycle

She quotes a common reaction: “It’s 2019. Who doesn’t have anxiety?” She also highlights what she sees as the difference between today's news-inspired worries and those of people in the 1950s and '60s faced with possible nuclear war: Nuclear holocaust was a hypothetical threat; such crises as wars in the Middle East and global climate change are already happening. "That makes optimism and hope a lot more difficult to cling to, and anxiety ratchets up the more one stays glued to the news." (A good reason, by the way, to resist the temptation to click on every Internet headline or obsessively pore over social media streams, a remedy Hurley herself alludes to.) She compares chronic anxiety to a "faulty fire alarm" (I'd say "smoke alarm," which is what she seems to be talking about), which keeps going off despite the absence of fire. Subjected to constant alerts, one suffers fear and anxiety even though, objectively, there's nothing more wrong at this moment than there was a minute, an hour, or a day ago.

One cognitive trick I try to remember to use on myself, by the way, is becoming mindful of the fact that very seldom is this present moment unbearably terrible. (It can be, of course—if one is in acute danger or severe pain, for example—but more often than not, it isn't.) Much of our unhappiness springs from brooding over unpleasant, scary, or outright horrible things that might happen in the future.

In response to the challenge of writing "through the tough times in life, personal as well as national, and, increasingly, global," Hurley says, "I’ve found that focusing on a better future, and putting that into my work, has helped me deal with the news cycle and the rampant anxiety." My own reaction as a writer to public disasters and personal troubles is pretty much the opposite. I don't feel capable of creating fiction with the weight needed to confront such crises. The problems of my characters seem to trivialize by contrast the real-world distress around us. Instead, I've turned to composing lighter pieces, stories featuring hints of humor and protagonists with believable but not dire problems (such as my recent novella "Yokai Magic," a contemporary light paranormal romance inspired by Japanese folklore) rather than backstories that abound in horrors and tragedies. Also, on a personal level, working on a story that I can hope will entertain readers as well as myself not only helps to distract me from whatever I'm worrying about but can cheer me with a sense of having accomplished something.

Some critics might label taking refuge from real-world problems in fiction, whether weighty or light, "escapism." Tolkien dealt with this charge many decades ago, asserting that such critics confuse "the escape of the prisoner" with the "flight of the deserter"? If we find ourselves in "prison," why should we be blamed for trying to get out? Hurley herself makes it clear that "this doesn’t mean closing one’s eyes to the horror." A fictional vision doesn't have to equate to "the flight of the deserter"; rather, according to her, "We are what we immerse ourselves in. We are the stories we tell ourselves."

Coincidentally, this week the local Annapolis newspaper, the CAPITAL, published a column by psychologist Scott Smith headlined, "How to stay happy in a world filled with sad events." He discusses how to deal with the modern condition of being "inundated with tragedy." He makes the very cogent point, "Our human brain is not really built to process this ongoing flow of tragic and negative events. We live with a brain that is tooled for a much slower pace...." Like Hurley's column, Smith's emphasizes the emotional and physiological stress caused by being constantly bombarded with negative images in the 24-hour news cycle. He mentions, in addition, "Our brain is also not very good at placing tragedy in context or calculating probability." When we hear about high-profile, terrifying, but extremely rare disasters, our brains are wired to react to these remote (for the vast majority of us) contingencies as if they were "imminent threats." Smith lists several suggestions of ways to reorient our thinking and appreciate the good things in our own lives, remedies that collectively boil down to "focusing on the positive and limiting our exposure to negative events that are out of our control." He would doubtless agree with Hurley that we, as writers, should resist allowing stress to drain our energies and instead cultivate the positive benefits of exercising our creativity.

I've probably quoted C. S. Lewis's refreshing perspective on global problems here before, but it's too relevant not to include now. This passage comes from his essay on living in an atomic age—demonstrating that news-related stress is far from a recent phenomenon:

"In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. "How are we to live in an atomic age?" I am tempted to reply: 'Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.' . . . .

"In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds."

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Targeting a Readership Part 16, Plotters, Pantsers and Game of Thrones

Targeting a Readership
Part 16
Plotters, Pantsers and Game of Thrones

Previous entries in this series are indexed at:

So now here is an article in Wired Magazine which is by an Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Women's Studies, Daniel Silvermint, and addresses the infamous 8th Season of Game of Thrones

Long-standing threats are being dispatched too easily, and plot threads we thought would matter have been quietly dropped. More troubling still, character motivations appear to be in a state of flux, and much of the drama involves clever people committing obvious blunders and suffering reversals of fortune as a result.
-------end quote-------

All of the issues listed in that quote will always arise when a writer shifts, changes, forgets, or just plain ditches a THEME mid-writing.  A major rewrite has to be done to give the ending material the same theme as the opening material.

So the Wired article advances this idea:

It all comes down to how stories are crafted, and for that, we need to start with two different types of writers: plotters and pantsers. Plotters create a detailed outline before they commit a word to the page. Pantsers prefer to discover the story as they write it—flying by the seat of their pants, so to speak.
-------end quote-------

I understand both these creative styles because I was taught the craft by a pantser, though I rarely employ that method.  I suspect both these definitions miss a vital point.

My instructor worked from a detailed conceptualization of the thematic structure of the piece she was crafting, but seemed to have no conscious idea of what that theme was or what she wanted to say about it.  She followed her characters into the story to see what they'd do, and to be surprised by what they did.

Following your characters by the seat of your pants is somewhat like great conversation.  We often talk "off the cuff" without seeming to plan what to say even as the words flow out of our mouths.  We know the language, and use the knowledge of the "grammar" of language (even as children, long before studying grammar) to place words together.  We craft sentences to say what we mean without thinking about grammar, just about what we mean.

And so it is with both plotters and pantsers.  Plotters write it down, and pantsers don't -- and that's the only difference.

The writer gets inside the Character and runs into the World to see what happens next.  Those who write down detailed outlines often find the Characters take over and run in an unplanned direction.  Those who don't write anything down find the Characters just stop and look at the writer wondering what to do next.

Either way, writing is not about plotting any more than conversation is about grammar.

The process of writing a story is about communicating the theme.

If you change what you are saying, or which side of an argument you are espousing, right in the middle of dinner table conversation, you sound like a hypocrite, or maybe just an idiot.

If you change what you are saying with a story in the middle of writing it, you lose your target readership just as surely as the espouser of a Cause will lose the nodding heads at the dinner table conversation.

Again from
 blog entry:

Martin planned to skip the story ahead five years. But he couldn't make the gap in action feel true to the characters or the world, so he eventually decided to write his way through those five years instead. Knowing the bridging material wasn't ever going to be as gripping as the central conflicts, he compensated by planting more seeds in more corners of his already complex world. And once he had them, he couldn't prune them back without their resolutions feeling abrupt or forced. Worse, some of his idle characters were taking the opportunity to grow in the wrong directions, pulling away from the ending he had in mind for them. Soon, the garden was overgrown, the projected length of the series kept expanding, and the books stopped coming.

For the next couple seasons, showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss tried to take over management of Martin's sprawling garden, simplifying and combining character arcs with mixed results.
--------end quote-------

Trust me, read that whole blog entry to glean the context while thinking in terms of THEME.

In TV, when other writers mix in, other themes get introduced.  This tussle with Characters and Seeds, and conflicts and characters growing in the wrong direction is not dozens of different problems.  It is one problem all by itself -- loss of focus on the thematic structure.  What that world is about, is what makes a statement about this world.

Theme is the fabric that holds all those disparate characters together into a world of art that satisfies.

When opposite or oblique thematic statements are introduced, different segments of the audience become agitated, dissatisfied, disinterested, or just angry.

Study thematic structure from a philosophical point of view -- what is a human being, where do we come from, how did we get created, what is the meaning of life?

These are the kinds of questions that, when answered, form the framework of a work of art.

Changing horses in mid-stream does not lead to a work of art.

Or as this blog entry

That's why Game of Thrones feels different now. A show that had been about our inability to escape the past became about the spectacle of the present.
----end quote------

And later, it is stated:
Organic consequences gave way to contrivance. Gone was the conflict between complicated people with incompatible goals. Grey morality turned black and white.
------end quote------

The only way organic consequences give way to contrivance is when the underlying THEMATIC STRUCTURE is weakened.  Stick to your theme and you'll never write a "contrived plot twist."

Maybe you'll want to watch the whole Game of Thrones series again, or read the books it is based on, with an eye to sussing out the theme that Martin was working with that the showrunners missed.  I've done panels with Martin, and I'm telling you he understands his material on every level, even when it is his subconscious driving the action.

He is all about the charging forth into action, about strategy and tactics, but most of all force directed.

(He's also a very nice guy.)

So this very popular and easily available series is a perfect textbook example of what we've been talking about in all these blog posts.  Theme is the glue that holds it together for the reader/viewer.  Veer away from the theme driving the opening scene, and the ending fails.

Endings invite us to consider the story as a whole; where it started, where it went, and where it left us. And we can feel the gaps as this one comes to a close.
------end quote-----

Daniel Silvermint is absolutely correct.  Think about that as you tackle your next writing project.  What is your payload?  What are you saying?  Oh, do please read Silvermint's article in Wired.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Traps, Treats, Trickery, and Trolls

This week, there's no theme... beyond writers' rights. It's a smorgasbord!

Victoria Strauss posts on Writer Beware about an alleged pirate site named for osculation.

These alleged pirates behave differently from the average pirate --nicer manners-- but as with most pirates, "Reader Beware", especially if the price of a "free ebook" or a book acquired from a site that does not pay authors is your credit card info.

Following the thread of online payments, Vox Indie has a heads-up for the charitably inclined.

Apparently, those sophisticated West Coast tech folks seem to think that charity money is fungible, and the would-be donor does not really mind if their gift intended for one charity goes to another one instead... one that pays for placement.

Just because we are all wordies here, here's a lovely, informative blog from Cecilia Watson about punctuation: the semi-colon.

And, here's a real eye opener from Bloomberg's Susan Decker and Christopher Yasiejko  for those who thought that copyleft activists such as EFF were full of it when they fulminate about copyright trolls.

Apparently, copyright trolling is --or has been-- a highly profitable thing, for a small subset of pornographers, but judges may be bringing the hammer down on the funny business.

For the very few of us who worry about whether or not we could get into trouble if our individual, single-author websites are in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act, the legal bloggers for Buckley LLP  pen a reassuringly non-committal article.

also on Lexology:

The DOJ quote is a fascinating example of where the double negative is alive and well, and thoroughly useful to this day.
“absent the adoption of specific technical requirements for websites through rulemaking, public accommodations have flexibility in how to comply with the ADA’s general requirements of nondiscrimination and effective communication. Accordingly, noncompliance with a specific voluntary technical standard for website accessibility does not necessarily indicate noncompliance with the ADA.”

Finally, whether you --as a writer-- decide to take on a ghostwriting gig, or whether you --as a highly successful and prolific author-- decide to hire a ghostwriter, the law has become quite precise about what qualifies a work as "work-for-hire".  You should read this Warning from Craig B. Whitney, legal blogger for the law firm Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz PC.

Or, on Lexology:

All the best,

Rowena Cherry 

Thursday, August 08, 2019

An Ethical Duty of Civility?

The National Conference of State Legislatures publishes a magazine called (appropriately) the STATE LEGISLATURE MAGAZINE. Their July/August 2019 issue contains an article titled, "Is There an Ethical Duty to be Civil to Our Rivals?" My spontaneous answer is, "Yes, of course, you betcha." And, indeed, one recent survey finds that 93% of Americans believe our nation has a "civility problem." So, if the vast majority of Americans think we need more civility, why do we have a shortage of it? The article points out that inflammatory remarks and "negative campaign strategies" often backfire, causing the public to react against the perpetrators of "uncivil attacks." When this kind of behavior becomes too prevalent, it not only lowers the general tone of political discourse but tends to damage "the public perception of government and public officials overall." The article does suggest, however, that sometimes a "middle ground" between civility and "extreme incendiary language"—flavoring one's assaults on the opposing position with a dash of snark—can be effective for winning support.

Granted that the past is a different country, nevertheless I feel a certain nostalgia for the historical eras—if they actually existed—when even men preparing to kill each other in duels exchanged challenges in unfailingly courteous language. It costs nothing to be polite instead of rude, and claiming the high ground makes one's opponent look worse in comparison. Does this constitute an "ethical duty"? I think so, because a pervasive attack-mode verbal culture may lead to concretely harmful actions. Ben Shapiro, by the way, makes a distinction between "inflammatory" speech (which, he acknowledges, is still wrong) and speech that actively incites to violence. This strikes me as a valid distinction in principle, but in practice it seems that drawing the line between the two would be difficult and delicate.

Maybe the unpleasantness all too prevalent in political discourse arises from a version of the Prisoners' Dilemma, which you've probably heard of. Here's the Wikipedia explanation of it:

Prisoners' Dilemma

In short (if I understand the setup correctly), the prisoners will achieve the best outcome for both of them if both behave generously. Since they aren't allowed to communicate, though, if each assumes the other will turn informer then betrayal appears to be the optimum strategy. Do politicians and pundits fear that if they're the first to act nice to their opponents, they'll place themselves in a position of weakness?

What would highly advanced extraterrestrial visitors think about the behavior of our public figures? Imagine a society like that of Vulcan, or what Vulcan at least claims to be. Its purely rational citizens would argue the merits of each controversy on logical grounds, and theoretically the discussion would reveal the obvious solution to the problem, which rational beings would naturally agree to carry out. A hive-mind species would presumably have no trouble reaching consensus quickly, because they would all have the same factual knowledge and complete access to each other's opinions and motives. Klingons, on the other hand, would probably wonder why we don't settle political disagreements through trial by combat. Now, although that wouldn't be rational, it would certainly make election campaigns more exciting while not necessarily discourteous.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Targeting A Readership Part 15 Why Readers Feel They Have Outgrown A Genre

Targeting a Readership
Part 15
Why Readers Feel They Have Outgrown A Genre
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Previous parts in this series are indexed at:

In Part 14, we noted in passing how resolving a subconscious conflict can change a reader's taste in fiction.

People grow up reading Romance genre, then just drift away once they have found their spouse.  Others, hitting hard going in marriage, drift back to reading Romance, but look for a different sort of setting, or problem or issue.

Romance novels used to serve only the young women who wanted wish-fulfillment fantasy come true.  Today's older women readers were once just such young girls, but now they want a different story.

One such popular new story is, the divorced or widowed heroine makes her own way in a tough world and becomes a kickass heroine in her own right -- then meets her Soul Mate.

Another whole panoply of stories have emerged in the Vampire Romance and other Paranormal creatures women are fascinated by.

Each of these sub-genres emerges, sells huge for years, then submerges, perhaps surviving with a smaller readership.

Why does this happen?  

As a reader (all writers are voracious readers)  you know you have times when you're not in the mood for this kind of book, but will leap into that kind.

Moods come and go, but through life the mood that predominates will shift from one kind of book to another, and yet another.

One theory seems to cover most all of the mysterious changes people undergo with age.  And it's all about Conflict.

We say that as you become old, you don't become different, but you become "more-so."  Whatever traits persist and dominate across the phases of life, from High School, to College, to first job, to Marriage, to kids, to empty-nest, become engrained, perfected, showcased as seminal to the personality.

Or put another way, every human has within both a Wolf and a Tiger fighting for their life.  Which one will win?  The one you feed the most.  It's up to you to choose which of your traits will predominate.

In other words, as we mature, the fight-to-the-death within us begins.  Everyone has an internal conflict, and as that conflict see-saws back and forth, we make irrevocable life-course choices, and sometimes have to ditch an entire decade or more of investment, and just take off in another direction.

As we wrestle with these decisions, mostly on a subconscious level, we search for clues in our real world environment, and we search for interpretations of our real world environment in our fiction.

Different genres specialize in different sorts of Conflict, but all genres of fiction focus "story" around a "conflict."

Conflict is the essence of story. 

We are fascinated by certain stories because the Conflicts that drive those stories are derived from the same Master Theme  that roils around underneath our real world lives.  There's a resonance, a harmony, that energizes the subconscious issues that discomfort us.

Readers and writers discuss theme by sharing a story, walking miles in the Main Character's moccasins, and ultimately in addressing and resolving Conflict.

The fictional piece is energized and driven by a Conflict as ferocious as the conflict inside all humans.  Once fed enough, one element in that conflict will prevail, and the conflict will be over.  Peace, inner peace, and very often peace in the surrounding world will prevail.

It will prevail until a new conflict is joined, a new topic, a new problem in life.

Sometimes readers continue or resume reading a favorite genre, entertained by the predictable, reliable, firm resolution of the conflict.  But very often, readers will feel they have outgrown a genre because the conflict that genre specializes seems like something only a child or young adult would still be wrestling with.

Writers often come to writing late enough in life that they have resolved some conflicts, and experienced the peace that brings.  Such writers may want to share that peace with readers.

It doesn't work on a commercial level.  It can work with family and friends who have been associated with the writer through the fight and resolution, but it doesn't  "sell."

A personal story, a memoir, or autobiography is of interest only to those who have some knowledge of who this person is.  The main character in a world of fiction has to be introduced to the reader, all fresh and new, yet somehow familiar.

The "yet somehow familiar" (or 'give me something the same but different') part is the Conflict and the underlying theme that fires up that Conflict.

New writers, I have found, most often sidestep, duck, or ignore their Character's internal conflict.

I'm not the only one who has noticed this common issue among new writers.

Here is an excerpt from a blog I follow on Twitter about Screenwriting.

A few years ago, I posted this question on my blog: Why do we find conflict entertaining? The responses were fascinating and informative:

  • Conflict is interesting: In real life, we tend to socialize with likeminded people, so when we see characters in a movie who disagree, argue and fight, that is different and therefore stimulating.
  • Conflict is speaking one’s mind: In our daily lives, we often have to bite our tongue, but movie characters can give voice to things we wish we had the opportunity and courage to say.
  • Conflict involves risk: Whereas we may play it safe in our regular routines, we never know what could happen with characters involved in a conflict, an unpredictable dynamic implicit in every fight.
  • Conflict requires stakes: Characters don’t get into conflict unless there is something of importance at stake.
  • Conflict is about goals: One character wants one thing, another character wants something different.
  • Conflict is a battle of wills: There is always the question, “Who is going to win” which makes for an intriguing scenario.
  • Conflict is emotional: When characters are engaged in a struggle, it is not a mere exercise in logic, but charged up with feelings.

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

Notice how superficial these answers are, but every one of them would satisfy a professional Editor at a traditional publishing house.  They are not, however, useful from the writer's operational perspective to answer the question:  How do you DO THAT?

Think about each of those answers and about which sorts of Themes can best drive one of those conflict hooks.

Each of those reasons for being interested by conflict defines a Readership.

Which readership is naturally yours?

Feed the Readership you want to prevail in the real world Conflicts that are tearing you apart inside.

Ponder all that we've discussed about Theme, how to define it, how to use it, and how to blend it seamlessly, integrate it into a work of fiction to make that fiction a work of Art.

Once you have your Theme you will not be conflict-shy, pulling back or tip-toeing around a Conflict your Characters must resolve.

As you progress through life, you will evolve new Themes and new conflicts.  Literary critics define "periods" in a writer's life, and whether they know it or not, they are tracing that writer's personal resolution of personal internal conflicts.

When you're finished with a Conflict, you are finished.  You are at Peace.  And Peace is not Story.  Peace is what happens between Stories that happen to Characters.

Peace is not "Happily Ever After."  Many who disbelieve in the Happily Ever After ending think happiness is perpetual peace.  It isn't.  And that, in itself, constitutes a Theme Bundle -- an entire array of statements about reality.

If you, as a writer, want to share the experience of peace from conflict with your readers, learn to share the moment of resolution of a conflict.  That resolution-moment is the climax of your story and your plot (in the same Event, at the same moment, on the same page).  How and by what a conflict is resolved is your Theme.  The theme generates the conflict and resolves it.

Conflict isn't interesting for any of the reasons in the quoted list.  Conflict is interesting because of what/how/when it RESOLVES.  That's part of the reason viewers want a remake of Season 8 of Game of Thrones.

Here is a post on nesting Themes, creating a theme bundle that is large enough to support a long-running series (novels, TV shows, spinoffs).

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Friendship Breach

If you are a writer (or a racing driver -- according to RUSH), it helps to have friends. But...

Writers tend to have thousands of friends of the social media kind, who, in the real world would not count even as acquaintances. With those friends come risks; unavoidable risks; exponentially compounding risks. Stay with me.

Cameron Abbott and Allison Wallace, legal bloggers for K & L Gates "Cyberwatch: Australia" explain how your name and number get into the hands of global searchable database owners.

Who Have You Been Giving Your Name And Number To? A Cautionary Tale.

You might not have signed up for this, but if any one of your friends does so, he or she or they might legally agree to give away their entire contact list and the personally identifying information for every friend on their contact list. They might not even realize that they did that.

It does not seem right, does it?
Read the cautionary tale. It is worth your time.

Some super "helpful" sites (such as LinkedIN in the early days) even made it so difficult *not* to "opt in" that a well intentioned member who mindfully tried not to share his or her or their contact list found that they had done so.

Some contact lists are more comprehensive than others.  Maybe you should check what you obediently have entered on yours in response to prompts. Do you really need the full first and last names and nicknames and home addresses and phone numbers for work, cell and home, and email addresses of everyone on your list?

Legal bloggers Thomas Dubuisson and Tom De Cordier  for CMS Belgium discuss social media plug ins, and the legal consequences for website owners (which writers are) of those Facebook "Like" buttons, and "share" and "follow" buttons, too.

Using Social Plug-Ins....

As a visitor to a site, you do not have to click a Facebook "like" button. You do not have to have a Facebook account. The mere presence of the Facebook "like" on the host's page will plant a tracking cookie on your computer, and the trustworthy people at Facebook will receive your IP address and your browsing string.

If you are a writer who runs a website (or six), and you have installed social plug-ins for likes and links and shares and social media optimization, and you have visitors from Europe and your books generate assets in Europe, you should read the CMS Belgium "Key takeaways" section.

As for this blog.... please consider yourself advised.

By the way, please note the irony: many of the legal sites writing about "Like" breaches have all the plug-ins on their pages!

Students aren't safe, either. At least 62 universities and colleges have a weak link that might reveal highly sensitive information that one has no choice at all but to provide to colleges and universities as part of the application process.

Higher Education Data Breaches.... 

Specialists in cybersecurity and privacy for universities, Michael Best & Friedrich LLP share an alert, and their seven legal bloggers point out the problem with the Ellucian Banner system.

Finally, although Congress is on recess, it is still worth encouraging your Congress person to sponsor and support the CASE Act.  Even if you do not imagine that the CASE Act is of  benefit to you, it might be.

David Newhoff explains that which EFF does not want you to know.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry

Thursday, August 01, 2019

3D-Printed Organs

3D printing is now being used as an aid to cardiac surgery. The printers don't yet make actual replacement hearts. What they do is use information from ultrasound images to construct three-dimensional duplicates of patients' hearts for surgeons to practice on:

3D Print Heart Models

Here's an article about a baby in Baltimore, with a severe congenital heart defect, who's getting prepared for surgery through this method:

3D Heart Model for Toddler

This technique does, however, have the capacity to produce simpler cardiac replacement parts, in the form of 3D-printed silicone heart valves:

3D Print Heart Valves

A vital problem in growing artificial organs for transplant consists of providing them with a viable blood supply once they're implanted in the body. Creating "intricate networks of tiny blood vessels" is a major challenge. Now scientists at Rice University in Texas have made progress with "a 3D bioprinter that can print vessels less than a third of a millimeter wide in biocompatible hydrogels." They've even built an artificial lung capable of oxygenating blood:

Biggest Challenge with 3D-Printed Organs

Here's a Smithsonian article about the prospects for lab-grown and 3D-printed organs:

Printed Organs on Demand

Two obvious advantages of producing custom-made body parts on demand, of course, would be bypassing the donor shortage and avoiding any risk of rejection. Maybe in the future most of us will be cyborgs. Moreover, if such personalized replacements eventually become available to everybody, might we reach a point where people never have to die until they reach the upper limit of old age? Maybe our descendants in the near future will see the fulfillment of the biblical prophecy (paraphrased), "As the age of a tree shall the lives of my people be."

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Targeting a Readership Part 14 - Readers Are A Moving Target

Targeting a Readership
Part 14
Readers Are A Moving Target
(but so are you)
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Previous posts in this series are indexed at:

Here I am stating the "obvious" -- but it is so obvious, many writers just plain miss it.

Whatever topic you are interested in, say Romance, or Finding Mr. Right, or Playing the Field, or Rebuilding Life After Divorce/widowhood, it interests you because of something inside of you.

See my series on Tarot

And see my series on Astrology

And note how over time, humans go through experiences as individuals and also, at the same time, go through experiences with their age-group, (Pluto)  and at the same time as all that, go through experiences (major and minor) that challenge or destroy or build the ability to cope.

In other words, like is about experiences. When we have time to breathe, we (because we are human) either think about what has been happening and state it as a "word problem" or we try our best to shut the chattering-brain down so we can rest.

Some people use alcohol or drugs to shut the brain down -- some use fiction, and some use "activism" (e.g. getting involved in supporting a Cause, political or social).

Writers are no different from readers.  Writers live, sometimes survive, experiences that become major questions about the meaning of life.

Such major questions, generated  by the experiences the writer has had, generate a myriad answers, each of which can become the THEME of a novel.

Themes are ANSWERS -- not just questions.  But usually themes are posed as questions.

The science and art of posing a question involves knowing the secret of questioning -- that the answer is fabricated into the question itself.

The worst experience most people have of early education is running into the buzz saw of the WORD PROBLEM.  The trick of doing the math is to figure out how to pose the question, how to state the words in numbers, and after that, it's easy arithmetic.

Wrong answers are generated by incorrect statements of the problem.

And trick word problem questions are created by the way the words lead anywhere but the correct answer.

Themes are like that.  The writer lives through (sometimes by the skin of their teeth) an experience which is blended from the writer's generational experiences (Pluto, Uranus) plus the writer's personal individuality (natal chart, houses etc.)

The generational experience, woven into the theme, gives the resulting fictional work a resonance, like a musical Key or an interior decorator's palate of colors, with a vast number of people born when the writer was born, plus or minus maybe 20 years.

The personal experience woven into the theme gives the resulting fictional work a resonance that induces readers to recognize the Characters as real people such as the people they know.  Everyone knows a "social climber" or a "boot licker" or a "own drummer" type of person, and such types are recognizable far beyond the generational boundaries.  But those close in age know people of those types who have been hammered by similar experiences.

So the Eternal Truths of a Theme, the truths that make the novel potentially a Classic that speaks to far-future generations, come from the generational experiences the writer has survived.  These experiences are cyclical - repeating every 80 years, or every 250 or so years, and so those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.

The Spiritual Truths of a Theme, the truths that make the novel potentially memorable, with a high-impact on guiding a reader's life-choices (choice of college major, choice of walking out on a deadbeat husband, choice of having an abortion) come from the individualized, nuanced, personal and internal experiences the writer has survived.

Thus the most popular fiction of one generation might not "speak" to the next generation or the next, but might connect with readers a hundred years later.

So when targeting a readership, you have to blend two (often competing) streams of emotional force, the generational and the personal, and add something else, something contemporaneous, to say something relevant to the people of book-buying-reading age at the moment the novel will be published.

Publishers now have computers to sift/sort/surface information on book-buyers and what titles sell.  There might be ten manuscripts being shopped around by agents, but only one will be chosen to be promoted with Big Bucks (yes, promotion, advertising, marketing, cost enormous amounts of money).  Being chosen doesn't mean being better, wiser, or more important.  Being chosen means being more like whatever is selling now.

Analyses of what sells are very shallow.  Publishers, being in business to make a profit these days (unlike 50 years ago when they were designed to lose or break even, but do important books) focus on the numbers.

It matters what it costs to produce and deliver a book, vs how many copies can be sold at what prices.  That equation is very complex now because of ebooks, audiobook, print editions all at different discounts.

Editors choosing manuscripts look at Plot, Setting, and sometimes Character, but rarely if ever at Theme to choose a book.

That trend is changing.  Certain themes are being excluded, others emphasized in fiction publishing as machine-learning and AI begin to dig deeper into what makes a Best Seller.  But keep in mind, there's a difference between a Best Seller and a Classic.  Classics don't usually sell well off the bat.

So Targeting a Readership means Targeting an Editor who knows a lot more about the readership than you do.

See my series on what exactly the job of an editor is.

Think of it this way.  

You walk into a cocktail party, dressed to the 9's, full of news about your latest contract signing with a Big Publishing House, and just a little late.  You pick up a drink from a passing waiter and stroll into the room full of circles of people talking to each other (well, yelling by now).

You know some of the people, but not everyone, and hardly anyone recognizes you or pays you any attention.

So you drift into a circle of people having an animated discussion you can barely hear.  You listen intently, but the truth is you know nothing about the topic they are discussing, not because you're an ignoramus but because you just didn't see that New York Times Feature last Sunday.

Everyone has an opinion, and is trying to convince others.

This is your READERSHIP in symbolic microcosm.  The dynamics of selling a novel are the same as the dynamics of joining that conversation.

You might, after five minutes or so of being unable to get a word in edgewise, drift off to another group having a different discussion.

The publishing industry grinds out a steady stream of novels, trying to capture the attention of these circles of screaming, opinionated, intense and animated conversationalists.

Consider the Editors, who are your actual Readership, the first you must captivate, as the waiters at the Cocktail Party, circulating with trays of delights and noting what "everyone" is choosing.  They run back and forth to the kitchen getting more of what is being scarfed up, and less of what is just sitting there on trays.

You are in the kitchen, dispensing more of what the waiters pick up, and wondering what to do with the heaps of crates in the back room full of what nobody wants.

You have to choose from all the stuff on your catering trucks, and send out to the party what the guests are consuming.

In other words, you the writer have a million story ideas, and a lot to say about everything.  You have decades of life experience to distill into advice to those searching for a Soul Mate.  All that is in crates on your catering truck, backed up to the door of your kitchen.  You, the writer, run back and forth, selecting ingredients to grind, roll, and decorate into canap├ęs or mix into drinks.

If you're listening to the roar of the crowd, sampling the conversations in the various circles (watching Twitter and Facebook?), you guess more accurately what topic this crowd is addressing right now.

What people are talking about is usually what they are interested in.  Anyone who intrudes into a conversation trying to change the topic will be regarded as socially inept or ignored.

But just because you're talking about the same topic doesn't mean your comments will blend smoothly into the conversation, be picked up, and generate further thinking.

There is an art to conversation, and most of that art is composed of the ability to listen, and to hear what is not-being-said.

Why do you write novels?

A) Are you writing novels to reinforce what everyone thinks?

B) Are you writing novels to refute and disprove what everyone thinks, to challenge established assumptions?

C) Are you writing novels to weave a soft, pleasurable, comfortable world for your reader to escape into?

D) Or are you writing novels to lend your erudite talents in language and symbols to express the heart and soul of your Readership, to give voice to their subconscious beliefs?

Why you want to write this particular novel is the reason the Readership would want to read this novel.  That reason is stated in your theme.

The 4 Basic Readerships read novels to achieve those 4 basic objectives:

A) to relax into assuredness that the world really is what everyone thinks.

B) to articulate what's wrong with the world, state the word problem so a clear solution can be visualized.

C) to escape the rasping noise of life's experiences, to rest and heal

D) to grow spiritually by walking in another's moccasins, experiencing a different life, a harder life, but culminating in triumph.

Each of those 4 Readerships can be served by any Genre, often by all the active publishers.

Each of those 4 Readerships tends to go to different cocktail parties, or end up in different rooms of the house at a family get together (where the men are in the living room, the women in the kitchen, the kids in the yard, the teens off in a bedroom gaming).

You will likely have the best chance of success joining a conversation (getting a book published) that is about what most interests you at this point in your life.

Readerships age.

Just like the family party separating throughout the house by age group, readerships do that, too.

You have often heard, and probably experienced, "outgrowing" a particular genre, author, or setting.

People who were Star Trek fans in their teens have set the whole space-adventure-dream aside to live in their "real" worlds, or gone on to read in other fields, often non-fiction, but also Romance, Historicals, Mystery, and so on.

People "outgrow" interests when the subconscious questions raised by some Generational or Personal Life Experience have been satisfactorily articulated and a working answer implemented in their lives.

Themes are questions with proposed answers, all of which are rooted in assumptions.

Whatever is the fiery torch of absolute, riveting fascination at one point in life is the scattered embers at a later point.  It's done.  Burned out, and either answered satisfactorily or simply abandoned as unanswerable or unimportant.  The next generation will rekindle that torch, but it might become an LED instead of a Flame.

There is an art to capturing reader interest, as well as a science, but both are rooted in the writer's ability to listen, to hear what you are listening to, and to understand the subconscious resonances the speakers don't even know are in them.

What you have to say, or what you want to say, or what you MUST say, might not be what the people you are talking to want or need to hear.

Your job, as a writer, is not only to have something to say, but to find the people who want to hear it and to say it in a way that facilitates their achieving whichever of the 4 Goals of a readership those individuals are pursuing.

The upshot of all this is simple.  The adage, "There is no accounting for taste," is wrong.  Taste can be accounted for.  Mood is not random, and people are not victims of their moods.

The art of fiction writing is the art of evoking a mood, and using the nuances of emotion to cast new light on the old drudgery of life's routines.  To do that, you have to become part of the conversation, and not boorishly intrude and change the subject.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Perilous Promotions

Preamble: please be aware that Blogger places various types of cookies on any device that accesses Blogger blogs. By visiting this blog, you accept this fact of internet life.

Authors and aspiring authors are not necessarily marketing or legal experts. There's a lot to learn. For instance, swap a good review of a friendly colleague's book with a good review from your colleague for your own book and you might see reviews deleted by Amazon. Even the suspicion that you might have gamed the unsolicited review system might result in backlash.

Trusting a beginner to Tweet for you might also backfire if they damn your work or product or service with exceptionally faint praise.

Experienced legal blogger Jeff Greenbaum, writing for the law firm Frankfurt Kurnit Klein and Selz PC analyses the disastrous (well, not really dis-aster because misaligned stars had nothing to do with the self-inflicted damage provoked by some ill-advised Tweets) social media honesty about flying with KLM India.

Lexology link:

Original article link:

Jeff Greenbaum's social media advice should be well-taken. Authors could learn from his top 5 tips.

What else *not* to do.

There's the matter of bribery, and illegal sweepstakes and "contests" to persuade people to provide something of value to the person running the contest.  An illegal sweepstakes might be designed to induce "Likes" on a friendship-related social network, or reviews on a book-selling site, or a surge of book purchases during a specific timeframe.

There's a lot to know, and an exponential amount of legal paperwork if the prize value is in excess of $600.
The more a would-be contest organizer knows, the better the chances of staying out of trouble.

Legal blogger Philip K. Rebentisch ACP, blogging for Manhattan Advertising & Media Law Inc. offers some tried and true advice about the difference between a sweepstakes and a contest..

Lexology link:

Original link:
On the same topic, but geared towards healthcare organizations (but one can easily extrapolate), bloggers Randi Seigel and Po Yi for Manatt Phelps & Phillips LLP define raffles, games of chance and games of skill and share a very good checklist (or to do list) for organizations that wish to increase outreach, brand awareness and/or raise funds.

Lexology link:

Original link:

There's also a webinar mentioned in the latter blogs, for those who have the time.

All the best,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, July 25, 2019


There's a podcast series called Extra Sci-Fi, produced by people who also create podcasts on Extra History and Extra Mythology. All these short (usually around 10 minutes) presentations are entertaining as well as packed with information. Extra Sci-Fi, which has been exploring the history of science fiction, recently completed a sequence about dystopias and apocalypses. This is the first, from which you can follow the subsequent installments:

Extra Sci-Fi

It's interesting to view their survey of dystopian fiction over the decades and witness the changes in what kinds of dystopias and apocalypses resonate with readers as cultural conditions evolve. 1984 and BRAVE NEW WORLD are very different types of cautionary tales from A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, for instance. However, it's worth noting how different 1984 and BRAVE NEW WORLD are from each other, too. Orwell's novel portrays a society that's horribly oppressive for almost everyone, with the possible exception of Inner Party members (and they're constantly watched, too). The proles seem to lead their lives in an attitude of indifference to the all-pervasive surveillance, but still those lives can't be very satisfying in a society of perpetual economic shortages. In Aldous Huxley's world, on the other hand, life is comfortable and full of pleasure. Transient problems can be easily solved by another dose of soma (a happiness drug with no negative side effects) or a fresh love affair. Everybody enjoys his or her work because they're all conditioned from conception to fit into their destined social and economic slot. The only discontented people seem to be a few of the Alphas with enough intelligence and self-awareness to realize what they're missing in this shallow lifestyle. Since "even Alphas are conditioned," though, most of them accept that it's their duty to behave "childishly" for the greater good. Only from the external viewpoint of the reader, and John the Savage as the reader's representative, does the society of BRAVE NEW WORLD appear dystopian.

Ira Levin, author of ROSEMARY'S BABY, wrote a superficially utopian novel called THIS PERFECT DAY. While not very original, it does have some points of interest. For example, the F-word in its sexual sense is commonplace, but terms referring to violence (such as "kill") are taboo. All citizens enjoy security and happiness as long as they obey the rules. Under the surface, though, this conformist society turns out to be cruelly oppressive. In this kind of world, naturally the hero is the character discontented and curious enough to probe beneath the surface and rebel against the ruling authorities' violations of human rights and dignity.

TV Tropes labels a dystopian society that looks pleasant, cheerful, and generally attractive on the surface a Crapsaccharine World:

Crapsaccharine World

The page includes BRAVE NEW WORLD and THIS PERFECT DAY as examples.

This topic came to mind for me while watching the third season of THE HANDMAID'S TALE. Like Margaret Atwood's novel, the TV series portrays the Republic of Gilead as a society that's oppressive and unpleasant for almost everyone except those who manage to reach accommodations with the roles they're forced into. Perhaps the children growing up in Gilead, if its regime lasts that long, will simply accept those roles as "normal." In the series, as opposed to the book (except in the epilogue set long after the fall of Gilead), we at least get some relief from horrors by way of the scenes set in Canada. The only people likely to be content in Gilead, the Commanders with their privileges, power, and material luxuries, still have to face competition from their peers, so they may not enjoy complete happiness either. Junior Commanders and the Guardians, one assumes, have to watch their backs all the time. The Wives, although pampered, lead very circumscribed lives, endure the monthly humiliation of the Ceremony (embracing a Handmaid while the Wife's husband ritually rapes her), and have no real power aside from their potential influence over their husbands. Presumably a Wife who becomes a mother (through the surrogate maternity of a Handmaid) may find fulfillment in her child. As for the common people, married couples have to face the lurking danger that an econo-wife who proves fertile may be forced to become a Handmaid. Then there's the threat of execution or a slow death in the Colonies as punishment for transgressions. The only women with any actual power seem to be the Aunts, who exercise control over the Handmaids and perform the vital function of midwifery.

Pioneering behaviorist B. F. Skinner wrote a book provocatively titled BEYOND FREEDOM AND DIGNITY. A society such as Huxley's in BRAVE NEW WORLD offers and generally provides happiness for all, except for the very few who still care about freedom and dignity. The world of THIS PERFECT DAY and Crapsaccharine Worlds in general seem to offer that promise of happiness, which works as long as nobody probes too deeply. Then we have the downright horrible dystopias such as 1984, THE HUNGER GAMES, and THE HANDMAID'S TALE, dooming all but the privileged few to a miserable existence. Maybe the underlying theme of all types of dystopian SF is that warped societies, including those that look pleasant on the surface, aren't good for anyone, even the apparently privileged elites.

Of course, as Cory Doctorow says in his blog on "fake news" (which I linked to recently), that kind of fiction doesn't give us predictions, but rather warnings: "If this goes on. . . . "

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt