Thursday, February 25, 2021

Tackling Revisions

Since I'm currently revising a paranormal romance novella under consideration by one of my publishers (addressing changes the editor requested), naturally I've been thinking lately about the process of revision. Professional advice about revision and rewriting varies widely; writers can find many different approaches and suggested procedures. There's an often quoted precept to the effect that, "Writing is rewriting." One of Robert Heinlein well-known rules for writers, however, states, "Never rewrite except to editorial order." He seems to mean that it's better to devote time and energy to a new project than to undertake a massive rewrite of an old one. (I assume he doesn't include as "rewriting" the unavoidable polishing on the sentence level.) At the other extreme, I've read advice from a bestselling fantasy novelist that assumes a fledgling writer should expect to produce multiple, extensively overhauled drafts before allowing a work to see the light of day. That expectation risks the author's turning into one of those aspiring writers who spend years on a single novel in a quest for perfection and never get around to submitting it, much less starting any other work.

Among many resources about revision available online, here's one example, very lucid and detailed:

8 Awesome Steps to Revising Your Novel

Some of the advice strikes me as well worth following, such as setting the book aside before one starts to edit (although not everybody has the luxury of "stepping back" for the month or more this article suggests) and then doing a preliminary read-through to list problems that stand out. Overall, the questions suggested for interrogating the work are definitely useful, too. Some of the recommendations, though, seem mainly directed at "pantsers." When the article explains how to evaluate such elements as plot complexity and consistency or character arcs and motivations, I instantly react with, "Why didn't you take care of all that in the outlining phase?" To me, "pantsing" would feel like an exhaustingly time-wasting method of producing a book, although I realize many writers can't work any other way. Stephen King and Diana Gabaldon, to name only two bestselling examples, demonstrate what amazing creations sometimes result from that approach.

Some writing-advice articles explicitly recommend a separate read-through for each element of editing (e.g., plot, character arcs, grammar and style, spelling, etc.). If I tried to do it that way, I would get sick of the story long before completing the process, as well as getting so familiar with it that I would probably cease to see errors. Also, the not uncommon advice not to bother with minor corrections during the first editing pass, because you may scrap or entirely rewrite that scene anyway, doesn't apply to me, for two reasons: I've already planned the story or novel scene by scene in the outline, so if a particular section didn't fit, I would have noticed before writing a full draft of it. Second and really primary, I'm constitutionally unable to read a chunk of prose without noticing and correcting errors as I go. No doubt that's a side effect of having worked as a proofreader for over twenty years.

Anyway, all writers, after seeking out and absorbing the advice most relevant and helpful for their own temperaments and stages of growth, develop their own individual revision processes.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Reviews 61 - Forged an Alex Verus Novel by Benedict Jacka

Reviews 61


An Alex Verus Novel


Benedict Jacka 

Reviews have not yet been indexed.  To find them search for the Label, Reviews.

We looked at MARKED, #9 in Benedict Jacka's Alex Verus Series.

And here is #11 in the series, FORGED,  - which ends off with a lot more adventures in store for the intrepid team which the hero, Alex Verus, has put together.

This is not a Romance Series, but the plot is driven by iron-clad Bonds among individuals, some male, some female, some not human.  In this entry to the Series, we meet a self-aware Artificial Intelligence who willingly joins Verus's team after being rescued from the bad guys.

The whole novel (and series) is composed of fast-paced action scenes - with astonishing and unexpected weapons, skills, attacks, and mishaps appearing out of nowhere.  

It all makes perfect sense when you understand that Alex Verus is essentially a "good guy" with his fanny caught in one horrendous bear trap and his goal merely survival.

He's not out to destroy, expunge, or vanquish the bad guys.  He doesn't want power over them.  He doesn't want to become the boss of the world or correct all the wrongs of the world. He just wants them to stop trying to kill him and his friends.  To move toward that goal, he has killed many, sometimes dishonorably. 

In the ensuing battles, some of his friends get killed, some captured and tortured, (sometimes rescued by him or his other friends), and the total situation of the massive war that scampers across alternate-Realities changes with nearly every blow landed in combat.

The real meat of the story, though, lies between battles, between attacks, in the quiet moments when Verus cements his bonds with his friends, frenemies, and even former enemies, and potential Lovers. 

This is well written, easy reading, with deep characters whose predicaments make you ask yourself hard questions about your own life, and what you wouldn't do to survive.

And it does pose good questions about how or if Love can actually conquer "All."  By the end of this Book 11 in the Series, it does seem that friendship has a serious chance at stopping the violent attacks, and might forge new alliances.  

If you are trying to write a Romance, this is a good Series to study for ideas about what sort of "All" your Characters' Love might have to conquer.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Talking Trademarks

Time is short for those who might like to sign up for a free Trademark Basics Boot Camp webinar run by the USPTO. The deadline to register is February 22nd (Monday!).

The event is on Tuesday February 23rd from 2pm to 3pm Eastern Time.
Click the link for more information, please.
I believe it is expensive to apply for a trademark and be denied, so before you apply, for instance, to trademark a catchy phrase you should do some research, and perhaps even some soul searching. Does that phrase uniquely describe your book series, your brand as an author, your range of products and their source? 
Writing for the Baker & Hostetler  blog that focuses on IP Intelligence (as opposed to the other nine or ten blogs that this prestigious law firm owns),  Robert Horowitz details several tales of trademark application woe and offers some very wise advice to would-be trademark owners and to those advising them.
For those seeking advice or representation, the World Trademark Review conducted a series of interviews with leading TM attorneys.  Here are three links:
Note also the informative right-margin sidebar with topical, trademark-related Tweets!
Question: What do Sexual Performance, Wind Power, and Trademarks have in common? 
Answer: "Use it or lose it!"
All the best,

Rowena Cherry 

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Survival in the World of Publishing

Kameron Hurley's new LOCUS essay reflects on her first ten years as a published author:

How to Survive a Decade in Publishing

Her first series went through three publishers, the last of which folded when one of the owners allegedly absconded with the royalties that were owed. She notes that "publishing is weird," a conclusion supported by her examples from her own career and those of some other writers. Knowing "the one thing we can control in this wild business is the words on the page" (and not always even that, where the finished product released to the market is concerned), we have to accept that the "glorious highs" and "very low lows" of a writer's life depend heavily on many outside factors, including luck.

Her remark that all her adventures as an author since then have been "measured against that first foray into the publishing world" resonates with me. I had two very different publishing experiences at the start of my career. My first two books were mass-market paperback anthologies, CURSE OF THE UNDEAD and DEMON LOVERS AND STRANGE SEDUCTIONS. The sale of anthologies edited by someone with no prior writing or editing experience to a major publisher was an amazing stroke of luck then and would be impossible now. At the time, I thought I would thereafter (1) make lots of money and (2) sell everything I wrote. It is to laugh. The advances did constitute more money than we'd ever received in one lump before, although they were probably modest even by early 1970s standard. One of them did provide the down payment on our first house. Neither book earned out its advance, though, and the publisher didn't buy anything further from me.

As for the second expectation, my next publication was the first full-length book I wrote myself, a nonfiction work of literary criticism on vampirism in literature. After a couple of years of floundering around, still not very knowledgable about the industry, I contracted it with a small press that proved to be disastrous. They printed the book by offset from my typed manuscript, long before word processing, so the thing looked sadly unprofessional. It had a small print run, as typical for academic-oriented works, and it was exorbitantly overpriced. It cost something like $29.00 in 1975, when the average paperback went for $1.25 and most hardcovers for under $10.00. (I checked those figures by glancing at books from that decade on my shelf.) It's a wonder any copies ever sold. Moreover, after the first year or two the publisher stopped communicating with me, and I eventually resorted to a lawyer's letter to get them to disgorge a meager royalty payment. Years went by before my first professional fiction sale, to one of the early Darkover anthologies, and well over a decade between that monograph and my first novel, to a startup small horror press—which treated its authors well and even paid an advance. So, not forgetting that aforementioned ghastly vampire monograph experience, with later publishers I felt good about the deal when they actually answered mail and disbursed royalties on time.

Hurley reminds us that at every stage of a writing career, rejection will happen, and she recommends an attitude of "grim optimism." For surviving in this industry, she advises writers to "create a strong support network. Get a good agent. Understand that everything changes."

I've read that something like 90% of published authors don't live off their writing, but have another source of income such as a day job, a pension, or a well-employed spouse. Of the other 10%, few support themselves by writing fiction; most depend on occupations such as journalism or technical writing. Anyone whose principal goal in becoming an author is to get rich or even affluent is probably doomed to disappointment. To survive the highs and lows described in Hurley's essay, one has to write for its own sake. As Marion Zimmer Bradley famously said, nobody told you not to be a plumber.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Worldbuilding for Multiple Alternate Universes Part 5 Why Are There Alternate Universes in Your Reality

Worldbuilding for Multiple Alternate Universes

Part 5

Why Are There Alternate Universes in Your Reality?  

Previous parts in this series:

Part 1 - Star Trek Fan Fiction

Part 2  - Find Some Crazy Ideas

Part 3 - What Makes and Idea Too Crazy

Part 4 - How to Make Ghosts, Vampires, and Demons Real

'The Netflix original series titled Enola Holmes is described as :

"Her mother?  Vanished.  Her brothers, Sherlock and Mycroft?  Useless.  To solve this mystery, she'll go it alone. The game is afoot."  

Utterly intriguing, but not suggestive of the Relationship driven plot that is at the core of a good Romance.

As professional writers, we study "pitches" -- what few words will grab an editor's attention, a producer's?  What utterly different few words grab a writer's?

What grabs me is pretty simple.  Here I am in "this" reality, but what's going on in ANOTHER REALITY?  

Every piece of fiction, regardless of the media channeling it to me, is going on in a "world" that some other writer "built."  And their world is not like mine.

The key ingredient that always grabs me is, "What is different in that Reality from my everyday Reality -- or from a Reality I have built for my novels?"  

What's DIFFERENT is the hook.  

Note in the description of Enola Holmes, here is a sister of Sherlock and Mycroft.  In those few words, the blurb writer has framed the entire "world" built around this Character, Enola.

No, at this writing, I have not yet watched this 2 hour movie, but I do intend to.  Being a Sherlock Holmes fan, I think I could write it better -- but that "what is different" question just hooked me. I have to see what these writers (always more than one on a movie) have done that I might not have thought to do.

We can regard this Enola sister's story as an Alternate Universe.

Holmes myth has spawned hundreds, maybe thousands, of alternate universes as the Baker Street Irregulars were writing original Holmes stories even before Star Trek fanzines took off.  In fact, the publisher of one of the very first Star Trek fanzines, T-Negative (which published my original Kraith Series), Ruth Berman was already famous in the Baker Street Irregulars fandom when she started T-Negative.

Science fiction fans have always been Sherlock fans -- it's a natural, as Spock is a very similar character with similar problems "fitting in."  Note that in Kraith, I gave Spock a half-sister who was a real pain for him.

By adding a Character, you shift a fictional universe sideways one tiny increment, and that increment can grow.  So that can be one reason your story needs Multiple Alternate Universes.

If you can't figure out the physics read up on mathematics.

Mathematics always invents methods just before physics figures out a way to use that new Math to describe something new -- and in fact, may go looking for that something new because the existence of the Math that describes it indicates it's real.    

Currently, theoretical physics is postulating that we live in a reality that is just a "simulation."  And there are parallel universes.  Hence one of the oldest SF premises is new again - alternate universes.

But in the world you are building, WHY do the alternates exist?  Is it only that your Character's story needs to shift sideways and back again to teach your Character the lesson you have in mind (your theme?)

Or do Multiple alternate realities exist in the world you are building because you see that this world actually is one of many alternates?

And that brings us to the dramatic hook -- do you postulate multiple alternate universes to demonstrate the contrast that the differences make among your universes?  

In one Universe, magic doesn't work but science does. In another magic works but science doesn't. In a third, both work, but only for certain "gifted" individuals?

And so on.  What rule of normal, everyday life, is different in your alternative universes? And what other differences are generated by that original difference?

To craft a "world" that contains multiple alternative universes, and Characters that have the intellect and emotional stability to travel "paths" between them, among them, and back again, you need a model, a thesis, of the ultimate Nature of the Human Being.  

What exactly is a Human?

In Romance Genre, we have two main (and many  branches) assumptions about the nature of humans: a) a human is a great ape, an animal subject to the overwhelming physiology that compels reproduction (e.g. "...but they couldn't resist the primal heat between them...) -- and b) a human is bifurcate, body of an animal imbued with and welded to a Soul that can, but often does not, Rule the primal urges of the body.

What if these 2 concepts of "what" a human actually is are both TRUE -- but in alternate universes?

That would be a "difference" in the rules of science, of theology, of cultural norms, and thus of the course of History (think Helen of Troy -- suppose the battle had gone the other way, and today the whole world was Ruled from Troy?)

Also note in the description of Enola Holmes, the emphasis is on  "... she'll go it alone."  The trailer establishes that Enola is "alone" spelled backwards.

What exactly does "alone" mean in a world where the animal body generates what we perceive as Soul?  What does it mean in a world where the Soul comes from elsewhere and gets welded to a body it "rides like a horsewoman?"  

To study "alone" closer, take a lookout the Netflix original "The Queen's Gambit" - a series about a young orphan girl who is a Chess Natural and sets out to become a tournament champion (decades ago when, "girls can't play chess.")

Chess happens to be my game -- I dearly love everything about it but haven't played in many decades. So I was delighted to watch this young (9 year old, the age I was when I learned) girl playing an obvious champion and learning the game.  After a few matches, they showed the two of them rapidly moving through a classic game pattern, and about 90 seconds before the teacher conceded, I shouted, "SHE WON!"  I still recognized the moves.  The series might be "boring and dull" to some viewers, but Chess is the quintessential generator of Alternate Universes.

This young orphan girl doesn't have a bosom buddy in the orphanage, and isn't involved in multi-level relationships as young girls usually are.  That is somewhat typical of budding chess champions (male), so it is authentic, but pushes this series away from Romance.  I've only seen part of Episode 1, so maybe there's a Romance in her future.

Another Netflix Original worth watching, with LOTS of "relationship driven plot" and many possible alternatives is "Sweet Magnolias" about 3 grown women, divorced and on their own, who were bosom buddies growing up, and now combine again to open a new business in town, a Spa, in an old mansion they renovate.

I haven't seen enough of it yet to say, but it definitely has the "feel" of Romance.

None of these shows, Enola Holmes, The Queen's Gambit, or Sweet Magnolias is science fiction -- and none have the worldbuilding structured around dodging across Multiple Alternate Universes to either escape from or ambush or conquer some existential adversary.

But each of these 3 rather pedestrian fictional worlds has the potential to be one of your Science Fiction Romance alternate universes -- a "place" your Character races through or gets stuck in for a few chapters, and has to cope with the rules of reality there.

I hope they are still available on Netflix when you get to search for them -- taken together the 3 open vast perspectives of what is possible with an Alternate Universe Romance that doesn't need a Fantasy Element to be gut-wrenching drama.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, February 14, 2021

What's Moral Got To Do With It?

For anyone who has ever thought of having a photograph copied and inked onto their body, or --possibly-- thought of putting a copyrighted photograph onto the skin of a fictional character, there's an interesting lawsuit in progress.

Color me draconian. I was very interested to see whether the remedies sought by the copyright-owning photographer of a very remarkable photographic portrait of a great musician included a request for either the removal of the offending tattoo or a follow up tattoo to add the copyright management information. Apparently, the remedies sought are financial.

What, though, if the person with a copyright-infringing image on their skin were to be liable for infringement any time they took off their shirt in public? What if the image-bearer were a traditionally published author or musician and the copyrighted image might be somehow politically disfavored?

Publishers have "morals" or "moral turpitude" clauses in contracts, some more loosely worded than others, that allow publishers to cancel publishing contracts with authors and other artists.  When negotiating a contract, authors should pay attention to the contractual definition of "immorality". A mere accusation or allegation in private or on social media should not be sufficient. The "immoral" actor (or author) ought only to have their contract imperiled if they either admit to the immorality or if they are convicted in court of that immorality.

The "immorality" ought to rise to the level of illegality, and should not merely be a difference of opinion or something subjective. Also, the publisher should be able to show a realistic likelihood that the "immorality" is sufficiently offensive as to affect the anticipated market for the work.  Moreover, the "immorality" would have to be something of which the publisher was ignorant/unaware before signing the contract.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Rowena Cherry

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Valentine Snark

The sending of Valentine's Day cards became a mass-market phenonmenon in the nineteenth century, especially after the introduction of postage stamps in 1840. In early decades, cards were often decorated with real ribbons and lace. Later, as they began to be mass-produced, paper lace came into use. Here are a few images of elaborate nineteenth-century valentines:

Vintage Valentine's Day Cards

ClickAmericana Victorian Valentines

We readily associate sentimental, romantic images of hearts, flowers, and Cupids with that era. Lesser known are the negative-message cards also popular among the Victorians, often downright mean missives called "vinegar valentines." Originally they were labeled "comic" valentines, a category that still exists today, but not quite so harsh. Nowadays we can find funny, sometimes sarcastic cards alongside the serious, sentimental ones, such as birthday cards with jokes about getting old, but we seldom see cards as openly insulting as some of the Victorian examples:

Victorian Vinegar Valentines

Here's a page of authentic cards in that category:

Vinegar Valentine Images

They're relatively hard to find, it's said, because people tended not to save them. No wonder! Hard to imagine who'd send acquaintances cards mocking their looks, personalities, and failures in love, yet apparently there seems to have been a substantial market for those products.

Like Victorian pornography, some of which was as hardcore as ours, vinegar valentines remind us that the popular image of Victorians as pure-minded, romantic, sentimental, and wholly devoted to family values is an incomplete picture of the realities of the era.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

Worldbuilding For Multiple Alternate Universes Part 4 How To Make Ghosts Vampires and Demons Real

Worldbuilding For Multiple Alternate Universes

Part 4

How To Make Ghosts, Vampires, and Demons Real 

Previous parts in this series are:

Part 1 - Star Trek Fan Fiction

Part 2  - Find Some Crazy Ideas

Part 3 - What Makes and Idea Too Crazy

Here is an article from 2020, targeting the Halloween readership -- about ghosts, and the scientific explanations for what people are "really" seeing or feeling but interpreting as "supernatural."  You've read a lot of these, I'm sure.

The multiple universe worldbuilding for very long series of very long novels is usually done "on the fly" by authors who accidentally write the first book in a series thinking it is a stand-alone -- only to have it sell so well that the editor asks for another book.

This has happened to me. It's REAL.  

It happened to me also on submission.  Here's one story:

My Agent told me I needed to establish another byline, so I thought about it, and found I could write one of the action-action-action novels such as we discussed in Part 3 of Worldbuilding For Multiple Alternate Universes.

So I submitted a very short novel to my Agent which he said was too short for the market he had in mind, and I should make it longer.  So I added more action scenes - combat, unarmed combat, space-battle, but that didn't satisfy my standards for story.  So I added more story, more Relationship and Character to bring it up to the length he wanted.  He liked it, and submitted it. 

My Agent called me back shortly thereafter with good news and bad news.  He had an offer from a Mass Market paperback original editor, but they wanted a sequel.

There was a chance for even more books in the series, so I needed to add more worldbuilding - creating a sprawling galactic war backdrop that could support many sequels if needed.  

As it turned out, the publisher and editors all shifted jobs (as happens constantly in Manhattan Publishing) and the third book was never sold, but the two hit the stands and sold very well.  I retrieved the rights, and posted Hero and Border Dispute,  on Amazon Kindle as a single volume because they are very short novels by today's standards.  You can read free on Kindle Unlimited.

By expanding the world building behind the story of HERO I  learned a lot about how the Setting and the Story interact with the Plot of a novel, or a Series.

Hero and Border Dispute both occur in a single level of reality, no alternate universes, no "supernatural."  But those elements are in there, behind everything, hidden, and easily to be revealed if necessary.

The structural integrity of the world building behind the Setting bespeaks the author's intentions, values, understanding of Real Reality, and scope of Imagination.  

The world you build reveals more about you than what you wear, how you speak, what makes you smile, or whether you believe in God.

And most of the time, as you write, as you cast the outline of a story into a sketch, you have no idea just how much you reveal.

Are you precise, organized and goal directed?  Are you helter-skelter, mess churning, haphazard, and amateurish?  Are you an artist or an artisan?

Are you able to see the paranormal dimension in your own everyday reality?  And if you can see it, can you explain it? Do you understand it? Have you studied it? Are you master of the state-of-the-art material all humanity has generated over centuries of study of the Paranormal?

The answers to those questions are the bare bones of any fictional world you build to tell a story against.

Who are you? 

That is the essence of Worldbuilding -- building a world broad enough, strong enough, coherent enough, deep enough, and variegated enough to support a long series of long novels -- or a series of long stories broken into shorter novels, shorter books, books designed to fit into any publishing environment.

I like to depict "Aliens" -- people who maybe aren't very human, but have enough in common with Earth's humans to be recognizably people.

The question that generated the premise behind the novel HERO -- was simply, "What if an Alien species, allied to humanity to fight a vicious war, regarded heroism as a horrendous crime against their species?"  

What if heroism was a stigma?  

What if well meaning, big hearted, humans awarded such an Alien some supreme accolade for heroism? And what if he/she/it then went home?  

That's the story.

What's the plot?  Well, there has to be a common enemy and it has to be righteous and proper to slaughter them, maybe even to the point of genocide.  And there has to be a reason it's not easy.

What traits in an alien species could qualify them to be exterminated?  (Yeah, I know, so I'm a Star Trek Fan with a lot of Doctor Who included.)

So in this case, the book idea started with a Character feeling horribly embarrassed about something the reader would regard as an Honor.

And the plot, and the world (and other Characters) unfolded from that overwhelming embarrassment.

But if you look closer, you'll see that the World (the galactic war situation) these characters live in make a thematic statement you find you most of my other work -- what if what you think you see isn't actually there?  

What if you think you see ghosts -- but actually they're just real people living in another dimension?

What if Vampires (complete with blood lust and apparently magical powers) are just Aliens from another Planet stranded on Earth and struggling to get home?  

I wrote that as THOSE OF MY BLOOD and the

parallel novel DREAMSPY, and was pleased with the hardcover editions, except for the covers. The subsequent publishers took a little of my advice, and I ended up with these covers, that at least show it's a Relationship Story.

What if Demons are REAL???  What if a Vampire's human friend was haunted (and viciously targeted) by a demon?  I have a series of Vampire short stories about a human/Vampire pair who have demon problems -- reprinted here:

I've rarely used the "demon" character in my own work even though I have followed with rapt attention the way other writers, especially Romance genre writers, have developed the common, ordinary, symbol of pure Evil, the threat to the humanity of a human, into a varied and unpredictably almost-good-sometimes Plot Moving Character (i.e. a point of view Character).

And in the series we looked at in Part 3, the Cassie Palmer series about a time traveling guardian of the timeline titled a Pythia, we have a fully rounded depiction of demons, gods, half-breed god/demon and human/demon and god/human mixes as people trying to just live "normal" lives, and having to morph into Heroes.

The Demon, Ghost or Vampire -- the Evil One -- as the best of the Good in humanity, is actually what Science Fiction and Romance are really about.

You will find that in all my novels -- the world building is predicated on the assumption that the universe is rooted in the Fountain of Love in such a way that LOVE DOES CONQUER ALL.  

The essence of solving any problem humanity might encounter will always be the emotional bond between one human and another -- no matter the details of the species each human belongs to.

In other words, the essence of my worldbuilding is a philosophical idea about the nature of reality -- that all the universe we call "real" is fabricated from the musical note of Love.  

But to solve problems, we have to figure out what is really happening, and ride the wave of reality by understanding what is "right" and what is "wrong" in the situation we are in -- do righteously, and Love will bring an optimum solution to the problem.

So that science article about Ghosts cited above is in hot pursuit of the solution to some problems.  It poses the question gnawing at most of us -- if Science can't analyze it, then is it actually Real?  Or put another way, "What exactly is Reality?"

When you build a world to house multiple alternate Universes where the same Characters live through different plots - becoming different people because of their choices and the results of their actions - you, the writer, must know what is "right" and what is "wrong" in each of the universes and why that is so.

What property of each of your alternate universes (pocket realities, or whatever) determines the laws and rules of righteousness?

The answer to that will depend on your take on what property of our everyday reality determines what the laws of morality and ethics are.

For example: if God is real, and has revealed his Rules of Order in the Bible, then the rules of this Earth's reality are known to most of your readers (or they can Google it).

If your world uses different Rules - how does God manifest in that Reality? 

Whether the Characters know it or not, there has to be a "scientific" explanation that you know for the existence of these various orders of beings in your various alternate universes - Magic Users, gods, demons, vampires, ghosts, hostile and friendly -- for reasons.  Everything that shows on the surface of your narrative has to be consistent with those premises.  Just as in Mystery Genre, you must play fair with the reader and be sure there is a way for them to figure out what the "reality" is even if the Characters don't know it (well, especially if the Characters are clueless.)  

If God is not Real, and was just made up by bossy humans who wanted control over others, then who made up the Rules of your well built world?  What would the Rules of morality be in a world created by "Demons?" 

What do the peoples of your built world think sets the Rules, and what Rules do they argue over? (very hot wars can ensue from such a premise).

As a writer, you don't need to know the answers to these questions consciously. Most of the synthesis of all these variables will be done by your subconscious - but the resulting novels will be incoherent and incomprehensible to readers if you don't train your subconscious and fill it with the Collective Wisdom of Humanity.

You can find a whole lot of different Collective Wisdoms recorded throughout History (and pre-History) and around the Globe.  Set them against one another and you have Conflicts vast enough to support a long series of long novels.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, February 07, 2021

Thom Tillis And The Whack-a-Mole Problem

If Thom Tillis is the Harry Potter of Copyright protections for authors, who would you cast as Lord Voldemort? Another Senator? Or someone in Big Tech?

Our sprightly hero (Thom Tillis) has proposed legislation to rescue creatives from a maze of dead ends and aggressive-root-like red tape involved in trying to take down user-generated copyright infringement, and also
of whomping willow-like protections for OSPs and ISPs.

The current situation, whether with EBay or our gracious hosts here, or Twitter, or other social media sites is that it takes a while to send a take down notice, one has to reveal a great deal of personal information, and if the information seems valid, the specific copy of the infringing material may be removed, but the take down notice and partial link to the infringing material may be posted elsewhere "for transparency", and the take down does not apply to other copies of the same work on the same site, or to subsequent uploads of the known-to-be-infringing work on the same hosting site... even by the same user.

The Lumen site is better than its predecessor, Chilling Effects, but it still reveals which pirate site is very likely to still have a whack-a-mole copy of the copyright infringing work that should have been taken down.
Creatives are invited to comment on Thom Tillis's proposed reforms, and so the commentary battle begins. The hugely powerful dark forces of the established order will obviously comment in disfavor of changing the status quo.

Kudos and thanks (if that is not tautologous) for the heads-up to legal blogger David Oxenford of Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP

What the EFF wants:

EFF manages to sound reasonable and persuasive, but their view of the whack-a-mole problem seems to be that it does not exist, as if take-down-and-stay-down is the current situation. "Excise" is a terminological inexactitude.
"In a nutshell, Section 512 shields intermediaries from copyright liability for content their users upload, as long as they promptly take down infringing material that is brought to their attention. In exchange, content holders got a powerful tool to police infringement, known as “notice and takedown”: by sending an email or filling out a form, they can excise infringing content."

Also, "excise" in the surgical sense is not apt. In surgery, the cut out growth is not put back in its original state if someone files a counter notice, nor is an identical growth copied and pasted back onto the host within hours.

I'm going to have to write to Thom Tillis to warn him about the weasel words.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry 

Thursday, February 04, 2021

The Value of Friendship

Here's a guest post in LOCUS by Mike Chen, discussing the undervaluation of friendship in contemporary culture, particularly in fiction:

Like a Friend

He praises friendship as "one of the cornerstones of our lives," especially in the past year of unprecedented isolation, and mourns the frequent neglect of its importance. As he puts it, in stories friendship is "often presented as a lower-tier relationship, something given to a secondary character to help the main character achieve their goal of family connections or romance." He deplores this attitude and offers examples of a few strong friendships in popular media, expressing the wish that such fictional relationships were more common. He also celebrates friendship as a relationship of choice, different in that way from familial bonds and the swept-away emotions of erotic love. The concept of friendship and its portrayal in storytelling "should show the power of choice over the given defaults of blood family, the power of steadiness over the intensity of romance, the power of consistency over flings that come and go."

This essay reminds me of the friendship chapter in C. S. Lewis's THE FOUR LOVES. Lewis would agree with that remark about choice. He begins by stating that any discussion of friendship in modern times must start with a "rehabilitation," because nowadays most people don't think of it as a love equal to affection or eros (romantic attraction), or even a love at all. For Lewis, friendship (as opposed to affection, such as parent-child or other family ties or any attachment that simply grows out of long, comfortable association) arises from mutual interests and deeply shared values. Sometimes it's situational, as between classmates who grow close by bonding over schoolwork, sports, or hobbies, and sometimes it lasts a lifetime regardless of outward circumstances. Lewis had a lifelong friend of that type in a boyhood neighbor with whom he maintained ties until death severed them.

Chen's article discusses whether men and women can be true friends without romance. Lewis takes the rather traditional view that, unless one or both of the friends is/are otherwise committed, male-female friendship is likely to develop into eros. His own life took that direction after he united with one of his best friends, Joy Davidman Gresham, in a civil marriage-in-name-only to allow her and her sons to remain in England legally. He later fell deeply and passionately in love with her. "Friends to lovers" is a favorite trope in contemporary romance novels, understandably, since a solid friendship makes a firm foundation for a lasting union.

In my life, friendship has tended to be situational. I've had church friends, writing friends, convention-attending friends, and, when I worked at a day job, office friends, and during my husband's military career, Navy friends. For the most part, I didn't keep up with the latter two types (aside from occasional Christmas cards) after the respective situations changed. If challenged by Mike Chen, I would have to admit that in my own fiction—mostly paranormal romance in recent years—friends usually play the role of secondary characters there to act as confidants for the protagonists (as Chen mentions in his essay). As for books and other media, on THE X-FILES Mulder and Scully remained loyal friends for many years, but eventually they became lovers; how much that shift was driven by pressure from fans, I don't know. One of the most memorable friendships in popular culture, of course, is the trio of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. Similar non-romantic friendships developed on STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION. Currently, we can find friendship separate from romance in ensemble-cast TV shows such as NCIS, where the core investigative team displays strong bonds among its members. As for novels, in the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, Jamie and Claire have a devoted friend in Lord John Grey, who was originally hopelessly in love with Jamie but now accepts the platonic friendship with no indication that he regards it as second-best.

So celebrations of friendship are not quite so rare in modern storytelling as Chen pessimistically suggests.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Worldbuilding for Multiple Alternate Universes Part 3 - What Makes an Idea Too Crazy

Worldbuilding for Multiple Alternate Universes

Part 3

What Makes an Idea Too Crazy? 

Previous entries in the Worldbuilding for Multiple Alternate Universes Part 4 are:

And if your Idea is "too crazy" even for a novel crossing multiple alternate universes, how do you sell the novel to traditional publishers?  

Some people view "Love Conquers All" and "Soul Mates" to be ideas way too crazy for mass market.

But reader appetite for types of stories evolves faster than the editorial willingness to invest all that money in manufacturing books and spreading them around where readers might randomly stumble over them (Supermarket shelves, book stores even).

It costs a lot to publish a novel, and the economics demand the prospect of selling a number of units that would return the investment plus a nice profit for the company.

Long before the 1960's, a "profit for the company" was the last thing publishers wanted.  Publishing companies were owned by bigger corporations specifically to lose money, and to be a tax write-off.  This changed when the tax laws were rewritten to classify books stored in warehouses in the same tax category as hammers and tools -- so every year a book is stored, the company that owns the company pays an additional tax.

The whole economics of fiction and non-fiction was changed by a tax law.  

Now books don't get published because they "ought" to be (because of the content), but rather they get published because an acquisitions editor sees a market for them.

If the market isn't visible, the author doesn't get an offer.

So in the last couple of decades the market for what used to be called "everything and the kitchen sink" plotting has become visible.  

This is the sort of novel with worldbuilding that depicts a reality even more complex than our real world.

Classic Soap Opera ladle's onto characters one massive disaster after another - until viewer credulity is stretched almost too far.  These are the sorts of personal disasters that do happen in real life (being widowed while pregnant, being jailed for a crime you didn't commit ) but they happen once to one person, not every few months to the same person year after year.  

Classic Science Fiction depicts an ordinary individual handed an impossible task and accomplishing it by discovering or inventing something that didn't exist before, render the formerly impossible possible.

Classic Romance depicts the forming of a Relationship as a life-altering event, which just like the Science Fiction discovery, renders the formerly impossible life-achievements into possible ones.  

Classic Soap Opera leaves the Characters few free-will choices, few chances to act to change their lives for the better, and when they do have such an opportunity, they choose incorrectly (but the viewer doesn't see the error at first).  

When you combine all three Classic forms with the all-male style Action-Action plotting (fight scene, after chase scene after mortal combat scene, after dire threat scene, after unarmed combat scene, etc), you get a story that you could never have sold into the 1960's market for Science Fiction.

The current editors have been rewarded for acquiring and publishing long series of long novels blending all three Classic forms with action (the more action, the better).

I have reviewed Gini Koch's ALIEN series (16 very long books) consistently, with recommendations to read and study them carefully.

Now, contrast/compare the structure of the ALIEN series with Karen Chance's Cassie Palmer Series, book 10 published in 2020.  

Then contrast both of those with the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher (book 17, Battle Ground,  published September 2020).



THINGS ARE ABOUT TO GET SERIOUS FOR HARRY DRESDEN, CHICAGO’S ONLY PROFESSIONAL WIZARD, in the next entry in the #1 New York Times bestselling Dresden Files. 

Harry has faced terrible odds before. He has a long history of fighting enemies above his weight class. The Red Court of vampires. The fallen angels of the Order of the Blackened Denarius. The Outsiders.

But this time it’s different. A being more powerful and dangerous on an order of magnitude beyond what the world has seen in a millennium is coming. And she’s bringing an army. The Last Titan has declared war on the city of Chicago, and has come to subjugate humanity, obliterating any who stand in her way. 

Harry’s mission is simple but impossible: Save the city by killing a Titan. And the attempt will change Harry’s life, Chicago, and the mortal world forever.

---end quote--

Gini Koch's character Kitty Kat has an Alien (on Earth) fall madly in love with her -- and she reciprocates vehemently -- and that changes her life, handing her (unbeknownst to her at the time) the impossible task of making peace in the galaxy.  Classic Love Conquers All because of Soul Mates meeting.

Karen Chance's character Cassie Palmer is handed the impossible task of freeing humanity from the ancient gods (Ares, Apollo,), and her love is torn between a Master Vampire and the ancient Merlin, a vigorous Incubus.  She teams up with the Incubus and kills a god, then goes on to settle things for humanity, all because of the power of love in her unique relationship with an Incubus. Classic Love Conquers All, not sure about the Soul Mate aspect.  

Jim Butcher's Dresden Files #17 (Sept 2020) I have yet to read, but I've read all the prior ones in this (absolutely magnificent) Fantasy Series about Harry Dresden, Professional Wizard (hard boiled detective crossed with Have Gun Will Travel gun-for-hire-but-the-good-guy).  Harry is driven by bone-marrow-deep affection for various people in his life, but seems more a free-radical, living a life without his Soul Mate.  Even so, his love does conquer pretty much all the problems that come at him. 

All 3 of these long series of long novels have fascinating main characters pursuing impossible goals against impossible odds and succeeding.

And although the characters are marvelous, the real star of the series is the world building.

Around every plot turn and twist lies a revelation about the true nature of the world the characters live in -- knowledge often won in the heat of battle, magical and otherwise -- and those revelations drive the plot into new vistas.

Keep in mind these series of long books all start with the very close, very tight focus on a character with one, or maybe five, problems to solve just to survive the current threat.  The reader doesn't know how vast and varied the protagonist's world actually is.  The character may have an inkling, but is off by orders of magnitude.

If the first book (or trilogy) doesn't sell well enough, the next contract won't be offered and the series dies.

Keep in mind that how well a first book in a series sells doesn't depend on its content or anything the writer has power over.  

How well a book sells has to do with promotional budget allocated by the publisher - and part of that budget is the cover art, another part precisely where it is distributed and advertised.

How well subsequent books sell has a lot to do with word of mouth (or Facebook) among readers who love that sort of novel.  

Hooking the specific market on a particular novel is the writer's first job.  

Today's market loves scrambled up, competing artistic symbolism, confusion, doubt and what appears to be winning by random thrashing rather than skilled planning.  

It may be too late to start writing a series with these traits embedded in the world building, as the market always shifts with the generations, and with the impression new generations have of the everyday world around them.  

In ten or twenty years - the time it takes to deliver a 25-novel series - tastes will have shifted.

Today, we see a world that just doesn't make sense unless there is some hidden under-layer seething with power and motion, surfacing in apparently random events and disappearing again.  So novels like the Harry Potter Series, and the three mentioned above, all postulate such a parallel or hidden reality unknown to ordinary humans.  All these lavishly built worlds seem completely plausible to today's readers.

What exactly will be next?  What will these series look like to readers 40 years from now? 

Are you writing for that far future reader?  Is your too-crazy-idea simply ahead of its time?  

Consider that in the days when my Romantic Times Award winning novel, DUSHAU, ...

Dushau, Farfetch and Outreach on Kindle:

...was first published (my first novel that was distributed on supermarket shelves and such stores as Walmart, not just book stores), Science Fiction publishing absolutely rejected adding "Romance" tropes to a Science Fiction novel -- because you couldn't sell it to a defined and identifiable market.  

It was way too-crazy-an-idea.  

But just as Gene Roddenberry sold Star Trek as, "Wagon Train To The Stars," I sold DUSHAU as a galactic political adventure.  

That's what you do to sell an Idea that's just way too crazy - you repackage it as something familiar to the acquisitions department, hiding the hook you are planting to grab your intended market deep inside where only the reader will see it.  

Being too crazy to sell means being first with an idea.

If you're first with an innovation in story-telling, you may only make it to a trilogy (or as with Star Trek, 3 seasons, the minimum necessary for syndication in reruns), but subsequent authors may be able to drive the unfolding flower of a new genre to 25 novel series (or as with Star Trek, many other series and movies in that and parallel universes).

Do you want to be a pioneer, and change the world while being changed by it, or do you want to ride a wave started by previous authors?  

Do authors start these waves -- or do readers?  

In our interconnected, online world of social networking, maybe the origin point of the energies of change will continue to shift from the investing business to individual consumer (fanfic readers and writers?).

Jacqueline Lichtenberg 

Sunday, January 31, 2021


NFFF sounds like a something you'd see in a grunt bubble in a comic book fight scene, and perhaps that is why the .org is also known as N3F.

Have you heard of it? The acronym-free form is The National Fantasy Fan Federation, and it is very well run by George Phillies.

"The mission of N3F is to help members enjoy and discuss science fiction and science fiction fandom, in all media.  The N3F welcomes the membership of fen of all nations, backgrounds, and political persuasions."

One of many good reasons to subscribe is that, "...if you are a dues-paying N3F member, and if you have recently published a novel, we will be happy to publish as a teaser the first chapter or so.  Please forward it to George Phillies,"

Few people write thank-you notes any more, but Keith Kupferschmid of the Copyright Alliance has made it very easy to thank your Congresspersons for passing the CASE Act. The draft note can be edited, toned down (it is a mite exclamatory) and otherwise personalized, which is a nice touch.

Assuming that giving thanks where it is due is a good habit, Angela Hoy of WritersWeekly has a wonderfully helpful article this week about freelancing: Four Fundamental Habits To Develop For Long Term Successful Freelancing, by Jennifer Brown Banks

All the best,

Rowena Cherry  SPACE SNARK™ 

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Portraying Animal Viewpoints

Recently I've read several bestselling first-person, canine-viewpoint novels by W. Bruce Cameron, the trilogy A DOG'S PURPOSE, A DOG'S JOURNEY, and A DOG'S PROMISE, plus a stand-alone book, A DOG'S WAY HOME. (I've watched three movies adapted from them, too, and I recommend those films. They stick as close to the novels as practicable within their running times.) The latter is realistic, aside from the literary convention of having the canine protagonist narrate her experiences in articulate, grammatical English. The author's afterword mentions the extensive research he did to ensure that her 400-mile cross-country travels would be plausible and also discusses two important motifs in the story, breed-discriminatory legislation and therapy dogs for veterans. The trilogy is fantasy, since it deals with a dog's many lifetimes, reincarnated over and over as he/she strives to fulfill his/her purpose. (Even if I believed in reincarnation, I'd classify these novels as fantasy, since we have no way of knowing what the afterlife is like or exactly how the rebirth process would work.) These books portray the world through a dog's mind and senses, smell and hearing preternaturally acute by our standards, but an understanding of human words and actions necessarily limited. The canine narrator acts like a living video and audio recorder. He or she sees and hears everything that goes on within sensory range, but a lot of it goes over the dog's head. Therefore, the reader understands what's happening even when the narrator doesn't. The dog recognizes many words but is often puzzled by the context. For instance, why do people frequently mention the names of other people who aren't present? Why don't humans appreciate the importance of chasing squirrels or checking out intriguing scents? In a funny scene in one of the books, the dog thinks his owners are encouraging him to bark louder when they yell at him to stop barking. The dogs in Cameron's works don't talk among themselves. They infer the moods, motives, and emotions of other dogs from smells, nonverbal vocalizations, and body language. I highly recommend these novels. Yes, they're tearjerkers with sentimental happy endings, but I love that if it's done well, and the human characters have believable, non-trivial problems.

Fictional animal autobiography goes back at least to BLACK BEAUTY in 1877 (and earlier, according to Wikipedia). Again, the horse narrator tells his life story within a framework of equine perceptions and concerns. Human actions are described and interpreted as they directly affect him. Like Cameron's dogs, he and his animal companions don't talk. Aside from having a horse tell the story, BLACK BEAUTY sticks to events that could actually happen. Indeed, the author's principal purpose was to awaken people to the real-life sufferings of horses and incite reforms in the treatment of animals.

There's a similar level of animal verisimilitude in BAMBI (Felix Salton's novel, not the Disney animated film). The main difference is that the deer do converse verbally. Otherwise, they behave like normal woodland creatures.

The rabbits in WATERSHIP DOWN represent a step away from completely naturalistic wildlife behavior. They have not only a language but culture and mythology. The author, however, researched the actual lives of rabbits, making his characters behave like their nonfictional models. For example, extreme fear can make them go "tharn," paralyzed with terror.

Diane Duane's feline wizard trilogy, THE BOOK OF NIGHT WITH MOON, TO VISIT THE QUEEN, and THE BIG MEOW (the latter available only through the author's website), being fantasy, depart further from strict realism. This series features cat wizards with human-like intelligence and a complex feline language. Nevertheless, aside from their wizardly duties, they view the world and human society from a feline viewpoint. For instance, they make a sharp distinction between neutered and sexually active members of their species, and intact males, even cat wizards, still act like tomcats.

On the opposite end of the spectrum from BAMBI and Cameron's dog stories, we have books such as George Orwell's ANIMAL FARM. Although the pigs and other farm inhabitants retain many animal traits, they essentially serve the function of satirizing human political structures rather than attempting to portray the actual lives of domestic livestock.

At its best, deep-dive immersion animal viewpoint fiction can allow the reader imaginative access to minds unlike our own that we can nevertheless empathize with.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Reviews 60 - How The Multiverse Got Its Revenge

Reviews 60
How The Multiverse Got Its Revenge 

We discussed creating a World for a series of novels spanning multiple alternate Universes here:

How The Universe Got Its Revenge by K. Eason has a title that seems as if the novel would be a model for how to apply the considerations highlighted in those two posts.

I read the novel with great anticipation, and was just a bit disappointed because of my expectations.

The novel is not disappointing.  It's well done, for what it is -- a lot of combat scenes glued together with some plot and some vaguely sketched Relationships.

But I could imagine what a grand novel it would have been had it been a lot of Relationships challenged and welded together by some vaguely sketched combat scenes.

But for what it is, this is a very good book.

Most readers will enjoy How The Multiverse Got Its Revenge by K Eason - even without reading the prequel.

I read it in small snatches because (well, life, you know) but every time I had a half hour, or thought I would, I came happily right back to this book to see what happens next.

The book is well written, powerfully plotted, but skips around point of view among several sub-groups of the main characters in the previous novel. It shows clearly how their team has remained intact, even though they split up physically at the end of the previous adventures.  They won, and "retired' to new lives.

Only - well, life happens.

Now they are back at saving the Multiverse as they know it, with several species of people trying to form and hold profitable alliances.  The narrative does not dwell on the politics -- you grasp the sparse sketch of the politics instinctively.  It is a nicely set up situation that showcases the main characters combat abilities -- in skirmish after battle, after danger after near-miss.

So in a vague way, this novel does illustrate what happens when you mess with the Multiverse as these characters did in the prequel.  But I didn't see that it really lived up to its title about the nature of reality, the nature of life, the definition of "person" and the adversarial relationship between Reality (or THE Multiverse) and a small group of unlikely friends and allies.  

Given the title, Multiverse, I expected more modern science, math and theoretical physics explaining what the Multiverse is doing, why it is doing it, and what these characters can do about that.

Why "revenge" -- why is "the" Multiverse so petty, small, childish, petulant, and impotent?  Only the truly impotent seek "revenge" so why would some Macrocosmic All regard this ragtag band of political adventurers as a threat to be swatted back at?  None of those questions are addressed or answered or even sketched.

The definition of "revenge" is not addressed. That's what I kept coming back to the book looking for.  It isn't there. The characters are (mostly ) good people pitted against people who somehow intend to destroy the comfortable existence of good people. That might be revenge - or maybe not. The theme is not clear.

So if the title alone attracts you, maybe you should read the prequel HOW RORY THORNE DESTROYED THE MULTIVERSE, or wait for the sequel and read all 3 at once.

But you won't get any real Romance out of it.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, January 24, 2021

The Power Of Thoughtful Questions

 "I ask questions for a living..." Larry King responded to an interviewer of perhaps the most famous interviewer of our generation.  

Larry King also shared some of his guiding principles, such as that an interview is about the interviewee, not about the interviewer, therefore he "left ego at the door". He "never brought [his own] opinion to [his] interviews." He believed in asking concise questions, and giving his guests an uninterrupted opportunity to answer.

Writers can learn a lot, craftwise, from public figures who ask questions for a living. 

While Larry King asked questions to edify and entertain and broaden the horizons of his viewers and listeners, asking questions of a different sort is the basis of an attorney's craft. Asking questions is also a critical part of a teacher's Socratic method to stimulate critical thinking and draw out ideas. The right questions, at the right time, and in the right order can often achieve what no amount of argument will do.

There is an anecdote in "Doesn't Hurt To Ask" by Trey Gowdy in which Gowdy gently roasts Senator Tim Scott for having a vanity license plate US SENATOR 2. Senator Tim Scott responds with a question: "How many times were you stopped last year by the police...?"

Off topic, but maybe vanity license plates that convey a helpfully reassuring message to law enforcement ought to cost no more than regular plates. Maybe somewhere on the back of a vehicle, it should be possible to have the photos of the licensed driver and co-driver of that vehicle.  If the need to ask to see License, Registration, and Proof of Insurance are the most dangerous part of a traffic stop, shouldn't those documents have an RFID chip that the police could read before approaching the driver's window?

One of Gowdy's chapter titles, likely to appeal to writers, is "A word is worth a thousand words".  That might be an oxymoron for the ages. Deep!  Another great insight from Gowdy's years as a prosecutor is that there may only be two witnesses to a murder. One is dead. The other is the defendant.

Another truth is that almost every human likes to talk a lot more than they like to listen. That gives huge life advantages to anyone who likes to listen, or likes to ask incremental questions and is willing to actively listen to the answers.

For authors perhaps wanting a refresher in character development, or the use of dialogue while in the POV of the questioner, Trey Gowdy's "It Doesn't Hurt To Ask" might be a goldmine. As Gowdy says, "Asking the right question is a devilish way to turn the tables."

All the best,

Rowena Cherry


Thursday, January 21, 2021

Digital Feudalism

In Cory Doctorow's early January LOCUS column, he discusses in considerable technical depth the surveillance and privacy (or anti-privacy) policies of big tech companies, mainly Apple but also others such as Facebook and Google:

Neofeudalism and the Digital Manor

He draws an extended analogy with the medieval feudal system. Private citizens besieged by cyberworld bandits have no practical recourse but to ally themselves with "warlords" who offer protection through powerful security measures unavailable to ordinary users. Behind the nearly impregnable walls constructed by the warlords—Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, etc.—we can consider ourselves fairly safe from encroachment by predators. Safe from everyone, that is, except the warlords themselves.

Doctorow's example of Apple's "feudalistic" practices: "For more than a year, Apple has engaged in a covert, global surveillance of its users through its operating system, which automatically sent information about which apps you were running to Apple, and which gave Apple a remote veto over whether that program would launch when you double-clicked it." The corporation might claim this feature protects users from malicious software, but it doesn't prevent Apple from blocking any software it chooses, whether harmful or beneficial. Furthermore, Apple also locks out programs consumers might use to turn off the surveillance and blocking feature.

The article cites various examples from other major corporations. It also explores entanglement between big tech and government, with the state claiming the right to mine data collected by technology giants. How chilling to contemplate that "the US government viewed the tech companies as host organisms to be parasitized at will, a force that would mobilize market investments to erect a vast, expensive surveillance apparatus that the state could then wield at bargain-basement prices."

If the only thing that stops Apple or any big tech lord of the manor "from blocking you from running legitimate apps – or from gathering information about your movements and social activities – is its goodwill and good judgment," what can we peasants do? Doctorow, of course, has some suggestions, but they're solutions no individual or small group of consumers can implement on our own.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Worldbuilding For Multiple Alternate Universes Part 2 - Find Some Crazy Ideas

Worldbuilding For Multiple Alternate Universes
Part 2
Find Some Crazy Ideas

Part 1 - Star Trek Fan Fiction

We pointed to Star Trek as an example of a TV Show whose fans created fanfic -- some writers attempting to replicate the aired-Trek universe exactly, while others embroidered freehand to create alternate-Trek universes, from which other writers spun off alternate-alternate-Trek universes.

Of course, no matter how hard they tried, fanfic writers never could replicate the aired-Trek characters and ended up with "original" Spocks, Kirks, McCoys, and Scotties (and Uhuras and so on).

Seeing that, other fanfic writers just plain grabbed the archetypes and spun themselves original characters - sometimes using the aired-Trek names, and sometimes adding new characters, or just creating.

Some of those writers soon "went pro" and sold their own original science fiction for professional publication.

You might be surprised to discover how much fiction has been published (in various genres) "inspired by" aired-Trek.

Once inspired, a writer just doesn't stop.

So at some point, the writer originates material that requires several universes, parallel or perpendicular, branching from, and time-line-corrupted -- possibly just a dreamland the Character negotiates.

All of the Main  Characters' adventures as they splash through alternate universes and try to figure out "what the hell is going on" and "how do I get home from here?" -- all while rescuing each other from dire predicaments and sharing quiet moments of bonding -- have to be living a coherent path through their personal lives.

That means the essential theme has to be replicated in all the alternate universes they cross, and their responses have to generate further events (because line) consistent with the underlying premise of the alien universe.

You'll need a lot of material to create such alternate realities and lend them verisimilitude.

OK, so where do you get those crazy ideas from which to spin insane universes for your characters to traverse?

The solidity of your worldbuilding is even more important because it is not the focus, or the reason the readers are turning the pages.

Romance, and yes, Science Fiction, actually focus on the Character Arc - how the Character changes because of the impact of the plot events.

So the important thing about the Setting (which alternate universe they are in) is what they think is happening - much more than what is really happening.

What is really happening can be information the writer has but never imparts to the reader -- or even to the Characters.  What is really happening is the stuff of which sequels are made.

What the Characters think is happening is the most important element in both Science Fiction and Romance because from those inferences, the Characters will launch their responses to Events.  That's how Johnny gets his fanny caught in a bear trap -- the novel is about Johnny's adventures getting it out.

Show don't tell how the Characters responding to an incorrect take on the meaning of Events leads them to do things that just make matters worse.  At the 3/4 point, you can let it dawn on the poor blokes just how wrong they've been, so the "worm turns" and attacks the real problem.

The real problem will yield to that head-on attack, but if you leave out some information, the real problem will die down for a satisfying ending, but then re-grow from deeply buried roots, and attack again -- making a grand sequel.

To sketch out a story-dynamic of this type, the writer has to stockpile material -- sometimes for years and years.

The adage is "write what you know" -- but who knows life on another planet, or how any couple can achieve a "Happily Ever After" in this turbulent world?

The whole point of reading Science Fiction and/or Romance is that you don't know.

That's what makes an "adventure" -- not just that the Characters don't know, but that the writer doesn't know before writing.

But it is also true that the desk drawers (and hard drives) of writers are littered with abandoned books half-written and shelved.

Those projects become abandoned when the writer had to stop writing to do research.

Or it might be that the writer didn't stop writing to do research -- and as a result created a whole universe that just won't work at all.

The way to avoid both kinds of research problems is to be an eclectic and omnivorous reader, and stockpile heaps and heaps of useless information, ideas, points of view, emotions, and all the alternatives that humans have already created down through the ages.  And then just forget it all.

Absolutely forgotten - barely recognize if you ever see it again, forgotten.  No way you could verbalize any explanation but you fully understand it on a non-verbal level.

Once "forgotten" this kind of information forms a compost heap to fertilize the freehand invention of whole universes.

As needed, the writer wallops out a few words to "describe" (or more accurately, evoke) the entire alternate universe the Characters pass through on their adventures.  Two or three vivid details, a symbol, a souvenir or wound, and BAM, they are gone into the next alternate universe.

So what do you research to find bits to shovel into your compost pile of universes?

Actual reality makes a good start.

Theory, theme, ideas, bizarre occurrences (don't get me started on UFO stories!) and yes, even politics and religion, make grand sources of crazy ideas.  Romance writers need to read a lot of non-fiction on psychology, anthropology, sociology, and history.  Science Fiction writers need to read lots of science, peer-reviewed journals, but most importantly "junk science" and pie-in-the-sky theory at the tabloid level and the serious (but made-simple) kind of science reporter level.

Science Fiction Romance writers need both. The reading predates the writing by at least 10 years, if not 20, so start in elementary school.

Biographies are a good starting place, as you can discover which sciences enchant you most by reading the life story of those who have degrees in those fields.  And you need to read lots of biographies to be able to craft a Character Arc that will make your Characters seem real to your readers.

So a fiction writer stocks their compost heap with non-fiction.  A corollary to that is also true: a non-fiction writer stocks their compost heap with fiction.

Here is a non-fiction best seller -- stuffy academic topic; best seller status on Amazon in 2020 -- that weaves Sociology, with Politics, Anthropology, and the theory of governing HUMANS (not non-humans, mind you, so you have a lot of elbow room to create here).

It is a book ABOUT academe, but not academe itself.

It suggests a relationship (which may not be true for humans but might for some alternate universe non-humans) between the flights of fancy of academic philosophers inventing new Disciplines and courses in them, and the everyday "real world" you and I live in.

Maybe there is such a relationship, but it isn't configured the way this book suggests.  Or maybe, hitherto in human history, there has never been such a relationship, but today's academics are creating that relations (so in an alternate universe, what if they succeed? What if they fail? What if the whole thing turns on them?)

Here's the book, and its description from Amazon:

Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity―and Why This Harms Everybody



------blurb from Amazon------
Have you heard that language is violence and that science is sexist? Have you read that you shouldn't practice yoga or cook Chinese food? Are you confused by these ideas and wonder how they have managed to challenge so quickly the very logic of Western society? In this probing and intrepid volume, Helen Pluckrose and James A. Lindsay document the evolution of this dogma, from its coarse origins in French postmodernism to its refinement within activist academic fields. As Pluckrose and Lindsay warn, the unchecked proliferation of these anti-Enlightenment beliefs presents a threat not only to liberal democracy but also to modernity itself. Only through a proper understanding of the evolution of these ideas can those who value science, reason, and consistently liberal ethics successfully challenge this dangerous and authoritarian orthodoxy.

--------end blurb------

Here's a quote from one of the early reviews:

....This book gives a detailed history of the movement to destroy liberal principles and replace them with Wokeness. It makes what is happening on our streets make sense. It explains the absurdity of things like the videos going around as I write this, of restaurant patrons being harassed by thugs screaming in their faces and demanding that they make a show of obedience and fealty to the mob.

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

This book details a neat way of looking at history -- the evolution of IDEAS -- and it lends itself to Romance so very easily.

Take a couple, one holding one view on this matter, and the other holding the opposite view, each used to hanging out with people who reinforce their views.  What does she see in him?  What does he see in her?

But love conquers all, right?

Can such a couple survive without killing each other, or themselves Romeo and Juliet style?

The essence of story is conflict -- and I can't see anyone reading this book without fulminating with conflict.

If the topic doesn't  catch your attention, go on Amazon and put this paper copy book in your cart, then watch what Amazon recommends would interest you.  Find a topic you can fulminate over, read some of the books Amazon recommends (check ABE books for used copies, you likely won't want to keep), and then just forget the whole thing.

In a few years, you will "have an idea" for a novel.  Your idea will sprout from the compost heap of balderdash, bravado, and homespun nonsense you read and forgot years and years previously.

This non-fiction best seller contains the material for two, maybe three, whole alternate universes for your Characters to tromp through and fight about (and for, and against).  Don't ignore these kinds of books, and don't sell them short as source material for your compost heap.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg