Saturday, July 31, 2021

Group RX For Writers

If you are a member of Authors Guild or SFWA, and based in the USA, you have until August 15th, 2021 to find out if LIG Solutions might be right for your health care needs.

SFWA links:

AG link:

If you are not a member, there might still be time to join.

All the best,

Thursday, July 29, 2021

The Internet of Trees

An old song laments, "I talk to the trees, but they don't listen to me." Apparently, however, trees listen to each other. Some of them communicate among themselves by means of a symbiotic fungus connected to their roots:

Plants Talk to Each Other

Mycelia—thin threads that make up the underground portion of mushrooms, far more extensive than the part we see aboveground—"act as a kind of underground internet, linking the roots of different plants." In a symbiotic relationship, mycelia that colonize the roots of plants "help the plants suck up water, and provide nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen," while the host plant supplies the fungus with nourishment in the form of carbohydrates. The fungus also enhances the host's immune system. In addition, through their mycelial connections some plants "help out their neighbours by sharing nutrients and information – or sabotage unwelcome plants by spreading toxic chemicals through the network." By transferring nutrients such as carbon, phosphorus, and nitrogen, large trees have been found to "help out small, younger ones using the fungal internet."

The article compares this network to the global communication among trees in the 2009 movie AVATAR. The fungal internet also brings to mind Clifford D. Simak's 1965 novel ALL FLESH IS GRASS, which portrays an invasion by a "planetwide biological computer that works through photosynthesis," manifesting in the form of purple flowers, as discussed on this website:

Intelligent Plants in Science Fiction

Do plants in fact have some form of intelligence? A few scientists think they might, according to this article about plant neurobiology:

New Research on Plant Intelligence

Of course, plants don't have neurons. They do, however, display reactions analogous to memory, learning, and response to stress. Their roots shift direction to avoid obstacles without coming into physical contact with the obstruction. Experiments have shown plants producing defensive chemicals when they "hear" a recording of a caterpillar eating a leaf. So it all depends on what we mean by "intelligence."

If we visited a planet dominated by a global hive-mind composed of sentient trees, would we be able to communicate with it? Or would the time scales on which our thought processes operate be too different for mutual comprehension?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Sunday, July 25, 2021

APP Your Peril

Can an app wreck your life?

Apparently, so. From Electronic Freedom Foundation to RedState, dark cautionary tales abound. At bottom, it is data brokers to blame, and you really cannot stop them. Even if you pay them to remove your info, it seems to get re-upped with regularity.

You can be wrongly tagged as a terrorist, and you have little recourse, as Cindy Cohn explains a Supreme Court ruling.

You can gaily go around town browsing online for so-called sinners to seek out and perchance to save, and be judged.
Time was, if you had a Ring in your door, you could be subpoenaed by the police. Now, at least, the use of your app to surveille your street may be voluntary... if you use another Amazon app. Matthew Guariglia has it covered.

Matthew Guariglia assembled a horrifying graphic and article to demonstrate the thirteen wonderfully overlapping ways that unlucky urban citizens are watched by Big Brother. It really is a must-read compilation, and --even better-- it includes some suggestions on how to fight back.

Legal bloggers Carrie Dettmer Slye and Julie Singer Brady for Baker & Hostetler LLP discuss (doubtfully) whether all this tracking and spying and brokering of data may meet the standards necessary for class action lawsuits.
Pandora's box was filled with apps, it seems.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

No Time Like the Present?

What accounts for the current fad of present-tense narrative in fiction? Most of the time, it makes my teeth grind with annoyance. Even a recent urban fantasy novel by Charles de Lint veers onto that strange byway. The traditional convention of writing fiction in the simple past demands no mental contortions from the reader. Its familiarity makes it "invisible," allowing the story to come through unfiltered from the author's mind to the reader's, or at least producing the illusion of unfiltered immersion in the story. Present tense draws attention to itself and away from the characters and plot, until the reader manages to shift mental gears and adjust to that technical oddity.

Now, the writer might have an artistic motive for purposely directing the audience's attention to the narrative technique itself. Even so, in my opinion, doing this for a longer span than a short story is usually so off-putting as to defeat any such purpose. I can think of a few circumstances when present-tense narrative serves a legitimate function: In the case of an experience told in the first person by a protagonist of horror or suspense, writing it in the present could avoid the near-certainty that the narrator will survive until after the end of the adventure. Unless he's speaking from the afterlife, the reader will assume that if he narrates in the past tense, he lived to tell the tale. Another reason for the use of present tense by a first-person narrator might be that the narrator's mind is somehow clouded or she has some other cause for extreme confusion. Present-time narration could give the impression that she's groping her way through a strange environment. Also, I've read a few novels with lots of flashbacks that distinguish in-story past and present by alternating the verb tenses accordingly. And, of course, if a text is framed as a diary or series of letters, parts of it might legitimately consist of a stream of consciousness in the present. In the case of the rarely used second-person narrative voice, past tense—a blow-by-blow account of what "you did"—might sound peculiar unless (as in an effective horror story I once read) the "you" has amnesia and the story is telling the protagonist about his or own past experiences in an attempt to awaken memories. Present tense therefore has some advantage in a second-person narrative.

Fiction written in the second person, however, foregrounds the narrative technique itself so emphatically that it seems to me suitable only for short stories. At novel length, I'd think it would be intolerable. Many years ago, I read a horror novella I liked very much, except that the whole thing was told in second person, present tense. That choice still puzzles me, unless the author hoped it would draw the reader into the deepest possible intimacy with the protagonist. It seems to me that the writer was taking a serious risk; readers might be repelled by the narrative voice, viewed as an annoying gimmick. I was enthralled enough by the plot that I stuck with it despite the odd style of narration, which combined two distracting techniques in one story.

What do you think of present-tense narrative? Legitimate writing tool, a pointless variation from the norm that hampers suspension of disbelief, or something in between?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Influence This

If we publish, we promote. There's no avoiding it.

If we have assistance, increasingly, it has to be willingly given (or subcontracted), and the willingness has to be properly defined with waivers and contracts.

We cannot --or should not-- snag or take an image of a famous person or character, and exploit it without permission for our own profit and fame.

Take broadly smiling Borat, for example. Or to be more precise, do not take Borat.

Edward H. Rosenthal, blogging for for Frankfurt Kurnit Klein + Selz PC   discusses a variety of copyright-related claims brought by the actor Sacha Baron Cohen against a Massachusetts based Cannabis dispensary which used his image as the Borat character on a billboard, in total disregard for Mr. Cohen's rights, reputation, and feelings.

Motorists glimpsing the billboard might be given the false and misleading impression that Mr. Cohen willingly and probably profitably endorsed the dispensary's product.

As Edward H. Rosenthal points out, "No matter how this one turns out, it is very risky to make commercial use of a celebrity's image...."

For what it is worth, it is probably risky to profit from any photograph or video taken of an unwilling subject.

Most authors have blogs specifically for marketing/promoting our works.

David O. Klein  of   Klein Moynihan Turco  LLP  has some very good advice about using blogs and social media for marketing which is well worth reading.

Beware of posting fake or paid reviews of your own work. Or of someone else's work!

Proper disclosure will protect the blog or website owner from the appearance of deceptive marketing. Bloggers are not expected to be paid spokespersons.  Is this a concern for hosts of blog tours?  Presumably, it is not, if the hosts are not paid, but what if they are paid?

Mr. Klein's focus is not an authors, but he summarizes the most interesting updates too the FTC's  Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising

Authors must disclose clearly and quite prominently what the author stands to gain in connection with writing/posting same.

Also, "The guidelines also make clear that fake testimonials are strictly prohibited and, when using an authentic testimonial, the blogger or writer must not edit or change it from the original in any material way."

What does that do to the long-standing tradition of taking the most fulsome "snip" from a lengthy review?

Not many authors can afford to hire an influencer, but, if one does so, one must do it right. 

Finally, from the UK, legal blogger Astrid Arnold representing Stevens & Bolton LLP  shares a bit of good British news for someone who contributed mightily to the development of a movie, but did not get credit or a fair share of the writing royalties.

All the best,

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Monopolies and Interoperabilty

Another LOCUS article by Cory Doctorow on monopolies and trust-busting:

Tech Monopolies

He begins this essay by stating that he doesn't oppose monopolies for the sake of competition or choice as ends in themselves. He cares most about "self-determination." By this he means the individual consumer "having the final say over how you live your life." When a small handful of companies controls any given field or industry, customers have only a limited range of products or services to choose among, preselected by those companies, even if this limitation remains mostly invisible to the average consumer. Not surprisingly, Doctorow focuses on this constraint as imposed by Big Tech. He recaps the growth of "the modern epidemic of tolerance for monopolies" over the past forty years. In the present, technology giants tend to crush small competitors and merge with large ones.

To some extent, this tendency—e.g., the situation Doctorow highlights in which everybody is on Facebook because everybody else is, in a feedback loop of expansion—provides a convenience to consumers. I'm glad I can find just about anyone I want to get in touch with on Facebook. As a result of such "network effects," a system becomes more valuable the more users it has. As a reader and a bibliographer, I don't know how I'd manage nowadays if Amazon didn't list almost every book ever published. I resent the brave new broadcasting world in which I have to pay for several different streaming services to watch only a couple of desired programs on each. I LIKED knowing almost any new series I wanted to see would air on one of our hundreds of cable channels. (Yes, we're keeping our cable until they pry it out of my cold, dead remote-clicking hand.) On the other hand, I acknowledge Doctorow's point that those conveniences also leave us at the mercy of the tech moguls' whims.

Half of his article discusses interoperability as a major factor in resisting the effects of monopolies. Interoperability refers to things working together regardless of their sources of origin. All appliances can plug into all electrical outlets of the proper voltage. Any brands of light bulbs or batteries can work with any brands of lamps or electronic devices. Amazon embraces interoperability with its Kindle books by allowing customers to download the Kindle e-reading app on any device. Likewise, "all computers are capable of running all programs." For self-published writers, services such as Draft2Digital offer the capacity to get books into a wide range of sales outlets with no up-front cost. Facebook, on the other hand, forecloses interoperability by preventing users from taking their "friends" lists to other services, a problem that falls under "switching costs." If it's too much trouble to leave Facebook, similar to the way it used to be too much trouble to change cell phone providers before it became possible to keep your old phone number, consumers are effectively held hostage unless willing to pay ransom in the form of switching costs (monetary or other).

Doctorow concludes, however, with the statement that the fundamental remedy for "market concentration" isn't interoperability but "de-concentrating markets." Granting a certain validity to his position, though, how far would we willingly shift in that direction if we had to give up major conveniences we've become accustomed to?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Recipe For Disaster?

Sharing favorite recipes is a great way for authors to reach new audiences, and ever so subtly to promote a book that perhaps mentions a particular dish.  Often, authors will get together to publish a multi-author recipe book, or blog series.

Can that get one into legal hot water?

That depends. A published recipe is generally fair game if treated as a list of facts... that is, the list of ingredients, and the sequential list of actions necessary to assemble, mix, and otherwise prepare those ingredients.

However, it would not be prudent to lift several consecutive recipes from the same publication. Just as a photographer can copyright a photograph because of the unique choices made by the photographer about light quality, angle, shadow, time of day, exposure, and other ephemeral elements, so the creator of an anthology of recipes makes unique and artistic choices about what to include and in what order.

One is asking for trouble if copying and publishing someone else's images of the ingredients or the dish. Much better to take ones own photographs (and copyright them in bulk). Try to use unique and original illustrations.

Unique and original words are always good to use in the description and specification of ingredients and in the instructions... assuming that the unique words are your own.  Perhaps avoid the appearance of a product endorsement of a trademarked kitchen implement, even if you do use a miniature hockey-stick/mashie (golf-club) hybrid to fold, lift and pummel your pastry.

Canadian law blogger Kiera Boyd  for Fasken offers some interesting "Takeaways" on whether or not recipes are protected by copyright in Canada, also insights into US case law. 
Katharine Stevens, partner at the UK law firm Bird & Bird LLP, discusses intellectual property rights in recipes and food (in the UK), with especially interesting analysis of trade secrets and patents for unique creations.
For the aptly-named Chip Law Group (pardon the pun) Pramod Chintalapoodi covers specific samples of food trade secrets, food patents, food trademarks, recipe copyrights in the USA and offers great tips for those who would write about other peoples' recipes.

The original is an AWS document.

Watching the movie Julie & Julia from a copyright enthusiast's perspective, it is not so hard to understand why Julia might not have been a fan of Julie.

All the best,
Rowena Cherry
PS. Publishing early owing to past and expected power cuts.

Thursday, July 08, 2021

Educating the Passions

Over the July 4th weekend, columnist David Brooks wrote about the importance of storytelling:

America Has a Great Story to Tell

Skipping past the explicitly political content, I was particularly impressed by the discussion of "propositional" (intellectual) knowledge versus "emotional and moral knowledge." Brooks quotes 18th-century philosopher David Hume: “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions.” My first reaction, as many readers' might be, was, "Huh?" But Brooks goes on to explain:

"Once you realize that people are primarily desiring creatures, not rational creatures, you realize that one of the great projects of schooling and culture is to educate the passions. It is to help people learn to feel the proper kind of outrage at injustice, the proper form of reverence before sacrifice, the proper swelling of civic pride, the proper affection for our fellows. This knowledge is conveyed not through facts but through emotional experiences — stories." I would add, by the way, that poems and songs perform the same function. Think of "America the Beautiful" or "This Land Is Your Land," to name only two examples.

The importance of educating the passions (i.e., emotions) forms one of the core messages of C. S. Lewis's THE ABOLITION OF MAN (1943). He adopts from Plato the metaphor of the human personality being composed of three parts, the head (reason), the chest (spirit, in the sense of emotions), and the abdomen (basic appetites). Reason should rule the whole person, including appetites and desires; however, it does so, not directly, but through the "chest." One of the chapters in THE ABOLITION OF MAN, in fact, is titled "Men Without Chests." The "proper" attitudes alluded to by Brooks develop not through intellectual study, important as that is, but by osmosis, so to speak, permeating a child's world-view before he or she has any idea what's happening. And that happens through implicit assumptions that may never be explicitly stated. For instance, in Lewis's book he analyzes passages from a pair of English textbooks for pupils at British elementary schools (as we'd call them). Both of them convey the underlying, taken-for-granted idea that there are no such things as objective values. The authors of the texts may not have even consciously realized that's what they were doing. Lewis covers similar ground in his PREFACE TO PARADISE LOST, where he refutes the disdain of one of his contemporaries for "stock responses." The attitudes and emotions dismissed by some critics as "stock responses," Lewis maintains, are not innate and automatic. They have to be deliberately shaped through years of growth. Good preconceptions as well as bad have "got to be carefully taught" (to quote the song from SOUTH PACIFIC).

As writers, we should be heartened to recognize the vital importance of stories in that process.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Monday, July 05, 2021

Downside of Anonymity

Privacy is very important to many individuals, creators, artists... and erasing privacy is highly profitable for crooks, advertisers, copyright infringers, data miners, evil-doers.

In 2018, legal bloggers J. Alexander Lawrence and Siena Sofia Magdalena Anstis  for Morrison Foerster LLP sent a warning flare over the bows of  pirates who surfed the internet. 
Lawsuit losers may lose their anonymity. Also, copyright infringement is not protected "speech".  It's well worth re-reading.

Then, there are witnesses who wish to be anonymous: whistle-blowers, or persons who are not so proud of their private lives that they want judge, jury, and court reporters to know the details of who offended whom with an allegedly offensive comment. The jury is still out on this case.

UK lawyer Michael Halsey, blogging for the law firm VWV  discusses sympathetically the arguments for accepting anonymous testimony in British employment law.
And then, there's Banksy. 
Jennifer Heath, blogging for  D Young & Co explains why Banksy's preference for anonymity cost him his standing to sue for trademark infringement.
On the same issue, senior art law associate, Becky Shaw, on the Boodle Hatfield "Art Law & More" site discusses what the Banksy trademark losses mean for street artists at large.

The bottom line appears to be that creators of all stripes cannot sue those who infringe their copyrighted works as long as the creators are unwilling or unable to give up their anonymity. Or, to be pedantic, artists can sue, but it appears that they cannot win.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry   


Thursday, July 01, 2021

Talking with Aliens

When extraterrestrials visit our planet, or vice versa, will we be able to communicate with them? This article discusses the issue of learning alien languages:

If We Ever Came Across Aliens...?

Many linguists and psychologists maintain that the human brain is hardwired with a universal grammar. All human languages we know are built from variations on a few basic structures. Would intelligent beings who evolved on other worlds share the same innate grammatical structures we've developed? If not, an unbridgeable chasm might exist between the two species. The other theoretical framework, the cognitive view of language, places more emphasis on meaning—concepts and semantics—than on sentence structure. In that case, we might expect any sapient creatures to share certain "building blocks" of meaning. The difference between these two theories brings to mind the two main SF approaches to telepathy. In one view, mental conversation works like silent talking. The people communicating telepathically have to understand a common language. So there's no possibility of immersing oneself in another's mind and learning things he or she doesn't want to reveal. In the other approach, whole concepts are transferred from one brain to the other, and the receiver "translates" the transmitted thought into terms he, she, it, or they comprehend.

The article mentions the possibility that inhabitants of other planets might communicate in sound ranges inaudible to us. However, we might find more radical differences. Suppose the aliens' language consisted of flashing lights, bands of color, carefully modulated odors, or hand (or tentacle or pseudopod) signals? They might not recognize our mouth noises as attempts at communication. In CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR, an incident in the early life of orphaned Cro-Magnon child Ayla illustrates problems that might occur even between two human subspecies. The Neanderthal shaman, trying to teach Ayla the Clan's language, worries because she's so slow to catch on. Maybe she's mentally impaired? Meanwhile, Ayla wonders why he keeps waving his hands around, distracting her from hearing his words. The breakthrough occurs when she realizes hand signals constitute the core of the Clan's language, with oral speech in a secondary role.

The classic story "A Martian Odyssey," by Stanley G. Weinbaum, features a friendly alien whose language doesn't contain words with any fixed meaning. Every sentence is unique. While I can't quite visualize how that would work in practice, it's a fascinating idea. In one of the most thought-provoking episodes of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, Captain Picard deals with a species who converse in metaphorical allusions to cultural myths and legends. (As I've heard someone mention—probably Jean Lorrah—this mode of discourse can't be their only language; at the least, there must be a children's dialect for communicating with offspring too young to know the metaphors. Also, in my opinion they have to possess a straightforward denotative dialect for scientific and technical use.) In Robert Heinlein's BETWEEN PLANETS, the highly intelligent dragons of Venus wear electronic devices that translate their mode of communication into grammatical sentences in a Terran language. (In the case of the dragon who becomes a friend of the hero, it's English, of course.) I have faith that no matter how aliens converse, we'll figure out ways to bridge the linguistic gaps.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Afterthoughts Part 4 Assembling An Opening Scene


Part 4

Assembling An Opening Scene 

Afterthoughts haven't been indexed yet.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

One description of a novel: "Johnnie gets his fanny caught in a bear trap, and has his adventures getting it out." 

That type of plot starts with who Johnnie is, and what there is about him that needs the lessons getting his fanny out of the bear trap will teach him, (e.g. what he ever did to deserve this) -- then what he DOES (start with the action) that results in fanny getting caught.  What character trait caused him to make that specific mistake at that particular time.  

Thing is, the writer might not KNOW the answers to those questions -- and is writing the book to find out. Those are the kinds of books I like - journey of discovery, of innovation, and of character-arc.  Why is this happening to that character? 

At the end of the novel, the reader should understand the connections between apparently random events and the deepest elements of human character that attract those events out of the cosmos. The nature of that connection is the THEME, and the theme is the reason a particular reader, at a specific time in life, will enjoy reading this unique book.  

The theme is the reason you want to write the book, and the reason you want to write it is the reason the reader wants to read it. Craft that into the SHOW DON'T TELL symbolism of page one. 

Writing is a performing art - an ART.  The artist's job is to reveal hidden meaning.  

Here is an example from one of my own novels, DREAMSPY, that encapsulates a lot of information by unfolding an overheard comment - and the action the Main Character undertakes is to pretend she didn't overhear.  Here is a link to the LOOK INSIDE feature on Amazon.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, June 27, 2021


Disclaimer: as far as I know, "Scamsaurus" is a made-up word, and I made it up moments ago.  I googled Scamsaurus, and was offered a choice of dinosaurs, among them Samosaurus or Camosaurus. I was also offered seemingly Japanese advice on ways to discern whether or not one might be dating a married man.

One has to be careful about words these days. The USPTO is experiencing a tidal wave of trademark applications, and they cannot cope with the influx from all over the world of persons wanting to lay claim to our words and phrases.

Be sure to check out the comments for unofficial theories. Maybe leave a comment; there is a place to include a self-promoting url.

The copyrightalliance is another fine source for information about copyright looting. The article on the Internet Archive is a great starting point, but then scroll down to their other fine blogs.

The Authors Guild recently sent out a warning about an apparent scam where the alleged scammer appears to have appropriated the Authors Guild logo for the letterhead of their deceptive correspondence by unsolicited email. Genuine literary agents probably have their own logos and trademarks. Genuine agents used to be quite open about rejecting 95% of authors' queries, and even if that may not be the case these days, agents are unlikely to query authors.

For more about the Authors Guild, start here:

Talking of deception by correspondence, legal blogger Frouke Hekker for Novograf gives a comprehensive list of scams targeted at intellectual property owners.

You have been warned!

All the best,

Rowena Cherry 

Thursday, June 24, 2021


"Virtual help agents" have been developed to perform many support tasks such as counseling refugees and aiding people to access disability benefits. Now a software app named Woebot is claimed to perform actual talk therapy:

Chatbot Therapist

Created by a team at Stanford, "Woebot uses brief daily chat conversations, mood tracking, curated videos, and word games to help people manage mental health." For $39 per month, you can have Woebot check in with you once a day. It doesn't literally talk but communicates by Facebook Messenger. The chatbot mainly asks questions and works through a "decision tree" not unlike, in principle, a choose-your-own-adventure story. It follows the precepts of cognitive therapy, guiding patients to alter their own mental attitudes. Woebot is advertised as "a treatment in its own right," an accessible alternative for people who can't get conventional therapy for whatever reason. If the AI encounters someone in a mental-health crisis, "it suggests they seek help in the real world" and lists available resources. Text-based communication with one's "therapist" may sound less effective than oral conversation, yet in fact it was found that "the texting option actually reduced interpersonal anxiety."

It's possible that, within the limits of its abilities, this program may be better than a human therapist in that one respect. Many people open up more to a robot than to another person. Human communication may be hampered by the "fear of being judged." Alison Darcy, one of the creators of Woebot, remarks, "There’s nothing like venting to an anonymous algorithm to lift that fear of judgement." One of Woebot's forerunners in this field was a computer avatar "psychologist" called Ellie, developed at the University of Southern California. In a 2014 study of Ellie, "patients" turned out to be more inclined to speak freely if they thought they were talking to a bot rather than a live psychologist. Ellie has an advantage over Woebot in that she's programmed to read body language and tone of voice to "pick up signs of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder." Data gathered in these dialogues are sent to human clinicians. More on this virtual psychologist:


Human beings often anthropomorphize inanimate objects. One comic strip in our daily paper regularly shows the characters interacting and arguing with an Alexa-type program like another person in the room and treating the robot vacuum as if it's at least as intelligent as a dog. So why not turn in times of emotional distress to a therapeutic AI? We can imagine a patient experiencing "transference" with Woebot—becoming emotionally involved with the AI in a one-way dependency of friendship or romantic attraction—a quasi-relationship that could make an interesting SF story.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

When Should You Give Up On A Manuscript Part 7 -- How To Climb Over The Wall That Hit You

When Should You Give Up On A Manuscript

Part 7

How To Climb Over The Wall That Hit You 

Index to  "When Should You Give Up On A Manuscript"

Sometimes you shouldn't try to burst through that brick wall that just loomed up and hit you, and sometimes you shouldn't climb over or burrow under. Sometimes, the solution is to go write something else. Sometimes that's not an option if you have sold the thing on the basis of a one-paragraph description (which I've done -- even sold a trilogy like that), so here are ideas about what to do if you must produce that particular novel or story.

If you hit a wall in midst of a novel length work, there's a very high probability you made a huge mistake on PAGE 1, very likely Parag 1.

Go back to the outline, nail the point at which the conflict is initiated, nail the resolution, and find the MIDPOINT. 

With those three "beats" (see SAVE THE CAT! writing textbooks) explicitly one-sentenced before your eyes, you can draw the line between them with defined SCENES.  

Three Book Series SAVE THE CAT!

Find the scene that derailed your writing -- chances are it is either a) off the because-line between conflict and resolution,,,

... so CURE is to delete that scene ...

...or b) involves explicitly showing rather than telling something deeply personal that's been festering in your sub-conscious for years and needs some psychological probing ...

... so CURE is harder. 

You don't need to put in your idiosyncratic life details (which is probably the wall that you hit) -- you need to put in the details you will find by reading "self-help" books on that psychological hangup.

To find exactly how to craft that scene, read the most popular current self-help on that topic and then articulate the problem as a question to post on QUORA -- see what answers turn up, and that will likely be what you can use to convey an understanding to your audience.

Now go back to drafting the manuscript and start on page one incorporating the "foreshadowing" for that emotionally potent and revealing scene using every art of SYMBOLISM ...

...and Art of subconscious cultural associations -- every ART -- because this "hit a wall" problem is best and most expeditiously resolved by the use of ART. 

This process will allow you to deliver your manuscript on contract deadline and in publishable form -- and likely facilitate the publisher wanting to buy your next novel.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Of Art and Dirty Laundry

In times of inflation, art appreciates. When cash (or bonds, or equities) lose value, people spend. They buy art, precious metals, property, stamps, and alcohol.

By the way, the cost of an American "Forever" stamp is likely to go up from 55c to 58c on August 29th, 2021.
For those who still use postage stamps to pay bills and send thank-you notes, buying a stash of forever stamps before the increase represents at least a 6% saving.
The savvy shopper might also invest in Tide Pods as a store of value. Proctor and Gamble has announced that it will be raising prices in September on adult incontinence products, baby care, feminine care and more.

Art is more interesting from a copyright perspective, and also a literary point of view. Thrillers have been written about high value rare coins, high value rare stamps, lost and stolen masterpieces: Charade, The Saint in Palm Springs, The Rembrandt Affair, The Monuments Men, The Last Vermeer etc.

Works of art can be forged, stolen, traded, used as a medium for smuggling something even more valuable, or created or sold as a beard for money laundering. In some jurisdictions, such as the UK, the authorities are taking notice. The law office of DLA Piper have a great article on anti-money laundering and requirements for art market participants to register (in the UK.). 
Legal bloggers Gabrielle C. WilsonHoward N. Spiegler, Lawrence M. Kaye and Yael M. Weitz of the law offices of Herrick Feinstein LLP have published a thorough and comprehensive "snapshot" of the state of art ownership and trading in the USA including a discussion of what happens if an unsuspecting person buys a work of art that later is revealed to have been stolen.

One of the most interesting commentaries on the international art market comes from Art Law: Introduction, authored by Pierre Valentin of Constantine Cannon LLP

Quoting a small portion:

"Owing to changes in taste, high-end and, to a lesser extent, mid-market 20th-century and contemporary art and collectibles are doing well. Old masters and older furniture are not doing as well, unless they are exceptional examples."

And, on prices for exceptional works:

"...some commentators predict that within just a few years, an [iconic example of] artwork will sell for over US$1 billion. There is a relatively small pool of international billionaires and museums competing to acquire trophy pieces. Exceptional prices have been achieved at auction when only two such collectors or museums bid against one another."

Astonishingly, works of art costing $500,000 or less are considered "lower end".

If and when one buys a physical piece of art, one owns the canvas (or wood, or paper) and the paint (or whatever medium is applied to the surface), but one does not necessarily own the intellectual property. One cannot create prints or derivative works... except in the circumstance that the creator assigned the IP by written contract.

That principle also applies when one does not own an original copyrighted work at all, as is the case with Andy Warhol and his copying of a photograph of Prince. An Appeals court has ruled that it is not transformative, and not fair use to take someone else's portrait and merely change the color of the subject's skin.

Lee S. Brenner and Nicholas W. Jordan for Venable LLP, discuss the case, and the four important factors that determine whether or not a use is "fair".

It would seem that the Warhol Estate's contention that giving a person a purple face transforms them from awkward to "iconic" is ... not convincing.

On the same topic, Clyde Shuman, blogging for Pearl Cohen Zedek Latzer Baratz explain that this case may have a lasting impact on the concept of "fair use" in American copyright law.

I think that is good news for professional photographers, and also for artists in general.

Happy Fathers' Day.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry  

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Canine Conversations

A speech language pathologist, Christina Hunger, claims to have taught her dog, Stella, to "talk":

Can That Dog on Instagram Really Talk?

The communication method depends on a soundboard like those used by some apes, with the animal pushing buttons that stand for words. They produce sound recordings of words such as "outside" and "play." According to the author of the above article, Jane C. Hu, a cognitive scientist, there's little doubt that Stella "understands" the meanings of some buttons in the sense that she knows certain actions, in terms of choosing a button to push, cause certain results. Was she deliberately combining words to form a message when she pushed "outside" followed by "Stella"? Maybe. I'm highly skeptical, however, that she combined "good" and "bye" to make "goodbye" or that "'Later Jake' (Jake is Hunger’s partner), in response to him doing a chore, meant 'do that later'," and Hu seems to agree. Granted, it would be big news to discover "a dog could plan future events and express those desires," but does Stella's performance prove her capable of abstract thought to that extent?

I'm neither a cognitive scientist, a linguist, nor a zoologist. Reacting as an interested layperson, though, I don't go so far in the skeptical direction as a critic of ape communication I read about somewhere who dismissed an ape's situation-appropriate use of "please" as the animal's having been trained to push that particular key before making a request. How is that different from a toddler's understanding of "please"? He or she doesn't start out knowing what the word "means." It's simply a noise he has to make to get adults to listen when he wants something.

Another catch in interpreting Stella's dialogues with her mistress, as pointed out by Alexandra Horowitz, a psychology professor and expert on dog cognition, is that the dog's "vocabulary" is limited by the available buttons. Also, it's possible that Stella, instead of acting independently, may be responding to unconscious signals from her owner. Yet we know dogs do "understand" some words in the sense of associating specific sounds with things, people, and actions. A border collie (recognized as one of the most intelligent breeds) named Rico is famous for his 200-word vocabulary. After being ordered to go fetch any one of the objects whose name he knew, he could get it from a different room, a procedure that eliminated the risk of his picking up cues from a human observer:


Psychologist Steven Pinker, author of THE LANGUAGE INSTINCT, takes a dim view of attempts to teach animals some form of human language, as if learning to "talk" would prove the animals' intelligence. He maintains that rather than trying to induce apes and dolphins to communicate like us, we should focus on understanding their own innate modes of communication. He may have a point. If IQ were measured by how many different odors one could distinguish, how would our "intelligence" compare to that of dogs?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Afterthoughts Part 3 - Grimdark in Genre Fiction


Part 3

Grimdark in Genre Fiction 

Part 1

Part 2

I found a question posed on Facebook in Fantasy & Science Fiction Writers Group by Jonathan Russell on May 5, 2021, "Is anyone else sick to death of Grimdark in genre fiction?"  

----Wikipedia quote-----
Grimdark is a subgenre of speculative fiction with a tone, style, or setting that is particularly dystopian, amoral, or violent. The term is inspired by the tagline of the tabletop strategy game Warhammer 40,000: "In the grim darkness of the far future there is only war."[1][2]
---end Wikipedia quote-----

I responded as follows.  

Art requires contrast.  

The problem with "Grimdark" genre fiction is not the presence of ugly-underside-of-human-nature, or even the thematic statement that life is hopeless, Evil Always Wins. 

Those elements are present in the real world, and thus have a place in works of art such as Genre Fiction.  However, as in "reality" the whole point of there being "darkness" is that it showcases the "light."  

Light without darkness is just blinding and meaningless.  

Our current problem stems from an absence of "light" not the presence of "dark."  

This historic origin of this "Grimdark" view may be a shift in our daily vocabulary, likely due to popular self-help books trying to buck up the dejected.  

It was suddenly recommended, as a prescription to fix society, that strong demands for performance in any situation were responsible for an epidemic of depression.  Therefore, no employee should be required to do more than they "can." The employee got to decide what they can or can't do - where the limits to their efforts should be. 

As a result, it became "politically correct" to explain one's failures as "I'm doing all I can."  Which declaration immediately let you off the hook because you weren't responsible for doing something you obviously can't do.  That was an entirely NEW concept in American culture, peopled at that time with the "Can Do" Generation.  

Promises and guarantees went from "I'll do it," to "I'll do all I can" which morphed into meaning under no circumstances will I enlarge my inventory of what I can do in order to accomplish what I've promised.

We accepted limits imposed from without (or within) as "real" and the violation of those limits as "wrong."  We must stay within limits.  

Under no circumstances may you do what you can't.


Science Fiction is the literature of ideas -- and adopted that idea, that heroism itself is wrong because to be a hero you must do something that is beyond your ability, and beyond the limits of the possible.  

Going faster than light was (is) considered impossible. Science fiction presented many visions of what we could do if we could break the "light barrier" as we once broke the "sound barrier."  Breaking the sound barrier was deemed impossible.  We did it. Getting into orbit was deemed impossible. We did it.  And so forth -- life was lived for the purpose of doing what you can't.

Today it is deemed anti-social to transgress limits set by others -- you must only do what you can.  You are never responsible for succeeding if it means doing what you can't do (thus changing where the "here be dragons" line lies on your psychological map.)

Science fiction like all fiction and all art reflects the audience's view of reality.  Writers are spokesmen for those who can't craft words to describe what they feel.  

Is Elon Musk only doing all he can?  

Marriages fail when one party refuses to do something they can't do.  Marriages succeed when both parties ignore their limits and do whatever it takes, regardless of any previous limitations.  

Every first novel ever written was an exercise in doing something you can't do -- before writing that novel, you "can't" write a novel.  You change reality by doing what can't be done. '

Jacqueline Lichtenberg 

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Hacker Ways And The Decline of Language

Decadent thought leads to decadent language, which leads to even more decadent thought... and a vicious vortex of decay and corruption ensues. Is the process accidental or deliberate?

In "Politics And The English Language", George Orwell compares sloppy language to a sloppy drunkard.

"A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts." 
In 1945/1946, Orwell seemed to believe that the decline was reversible and clarity of thought and expression could be revived if writers and speakers made an effort and followed simple, critical rules such as:

i. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

ii. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

iii. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

iv. Never use the passive where you can use the active.

v. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

vi. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
Today, public speakers appear not to know the difference between a benefactor and a beneficiary, or between an expletive (noun) and something that is explicative (adj).  Badly written advertisements don't say what the advertiser intends: "Like you, my hands mean everything to me." "Report your allergy to your doctor."  "As a scientist, my dog..."  How supportive of vaccine acceptance is it for one Medicare coverage provider to be advertising, "With all the uncertainty of the virus AND VACCINE..."?
The one-time service to help copyright owners remove infringing copies of copyrighted works from the internet, MUSO writes about the predictive value of piracy , based on a study conducted in Europe.

They describe pirates as a bellwether, and explain (approximately) what a wether is... while decorously omitting the difference between a ram and a wether.  In a nutshell, a wether is castrated.
If one has to explain ones metaphor or simile, and if one cannot explain it fully, perhaps the metaphor is dead and the imagery stale. That said, I dropped the "nutshell" knowingly.
While MUSO  may or may not be pivoting to a marketing business,  the authorities in Canada seem to have less use for intellectual property pirates.

Legal bloggers Ken Clark and Lawrence Veregin  representing the combined intellectual property team of Aird and Berlis LLP and Aird and McBurney LP predict the beginning of the end of online piracy in Canada, and describe how Take Down and Stay Down will work --in Canada-- via real time site blocking.

On hacking, Mary B. Ramsay and Grant P. Dearborn of  Schumaker Loop and Kendrick discuss the devious ways of Hackers and the risk from phishers phishing. Never give your email address and PW in order to open an attachment, even if it appears to have come from your better half or significant other.
There is a story involving far greater effrontery than that shown by all those young men who make telephone calls to seniors in the hope that the senior victim will find it plausible that he or she has a grandchild in immediate financial distress... but with access to Bitcoin or Western Union.

Lexology link

Original link:

The news has covered the Colonial Pipeline and the JBS meat packer hacks but less has been said about the hacking of iConstituent, perhaps because the latter is less inconvenient to the public.

Apparently, according to at least two sources, sixty members of the US Congress have been hacked or phished, and as a result they lost their access to iConstituent.  If you notice a pause in the begging letters and emails, you might infer that your Congressperson's internet hygiene is --or was-- substandard.  Maybe if your trusted Congressperson sends you an attachment or link, you should not open it or click through.

On that happy note...

All the best,

Rowena Cherry   

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Plotting and Discovery

In the June issue of LOCUS, Kameron Hurley writes about how she gets from the beginning of a story to the end:

Endings and Beginnings

I'm always interested in the techniques used by other writers, and Hurley's current procedure isn't quite like any I've come across before. She describes how her method changed from free-writing in a process of discovery all the way through a piece of fiction to a hybrid of freeform and outlining. Early in her career, she "began every story with a scene, an inciting incident, a mood, a situation, and wrote until [she] figured out what happened next." She ended up with "dozens and dozens of beginnings, a few middles, and not a lot of endings." As she points out, it's hard to sell beginnings and middles to publishers.

Now she free-writes the beginning, works on it until the characters and their motivations become clear, and then plots the rest of the book. She needs to write a story opening that establishes all the vital ""problems, relationships, tensions, and setups" before she can move forward. Judging from the rest of the essay, Hurley seems to be very much a character-driven rather than plot-driven writer. She finds that, for her, it's "impossible to write an ending unless the beginning works." She concludes the essay with the principle, "Get the first part right, and you'll find the ending was staring at you all along."

This method runs contrary to the common advice to write the ending first and then work out what needs to happen to get there. Even if a writer doesn't literally compose the final scene first, it's generally assumed that for effective fiction writing the author has to know the culmination all along. On the other hand, Nora Roberts, in answer to a question at a conference session where I heard her speak, claimed she didn't outline her Eve Dallas mysteries (published under the name "J. D. Robb"). She was as surprised by the twists and turns of the murder investigations as Lt. Dallas was. The notion of writing a detective story that way boggled my mind. Imagine the backtracking and revision that must be required to make all the clues fit the solution. Yet clearly this method works for Roberts, who dependably releases two Lt. Dallas "In Death" mysteries every year in addition to the Nora Roberts romances.

I'm one of those dedicated outliners Hurley mentions, who would find her old process, if not exactly "horrifying" as she puts it, distressingly inefficient. As a novice writer, I surged forward through my narratives on waves of inspiration. In my teens, writing short pieces, I found that approach could work well enough, in the sense that I finished stories. (Whether they were any good is a different matter.) Holding a short-story or novelette plot in my head from beginning to end wasn't hard. When I started trying to create novels, though, starting at the beginning and charging forward to the end resulted in often not reaching the end because I'd get bogged down in the middle. I realized I needed to know where the plot was going and the steps along the road. For the same reason, although I used to occasionally write scenes out of order (as Diana Gabaldon, a bestselling "pantser," does), I've long since switched to linear scene-by-scene composition following my outline. With my early novel-writing attempts, if I yielded to the temptation of writing the most "exciting" incidents first, I tended to get bored with the necessary filling-in work. Some "pantsers" find an outline too limiting. I feel just the opposite; the outline liberates me from the fear of getting stuck in the middle and losing interest in the project.

Regardless of one's favorite method of composition, one of Hurley's discoveries has general application: Plot doesn't consist of "what happened to people"; it's "how people respond to and influence the world around them."

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Afterthoughts Part 2 Good and Evil


Part 2

Good and Evil

See? I told you there'd be more afterthoughts. 

Part 1 is:

Part 2 is in response to an observation on a Facebook writer's thread asking how you show a Good Character turning to the Dark Side. 

The discussion thread got all wrapped up in the writer's view of one specific character, but to solve the writing craft problem you need the underlying principle, not the surface decoration.  

Here's the basic PRINCIPLE: 

"Good" respects the Free Will and Personal Integrity of others, and will not use power of any sort to over-ride the Free Will choices of others (by lying or by withholding information). 

"Evil" is so focused on gaining (whatever - money, power, relief from fear, pain etc) that the Free Will (both the power of Will and the Freedom to choose to act differently than Evil wants) of others is not important enough to make Evil hold back on use of force, and tediously explain and teach and illuminate until the other changes their mind OF THEIR OWN FREE WILL.  

Evil has no patience. Good has nearly infinite patience. 

Evil has no recourse other than FORCE - while Good has a life-time-created stockpile of various options.  

So just show your GOOD character taking pain to avoid forcing another -- then in later scenes show that character oblivious to another's right to choose their own actions.  

For more clues, read Blake Snyder's 3 book screenwriting series SAVE THE CAT!  

Previous mentions of SAVE THE CAT! include:

"Saving the cat" is the description of how to formulate an opening scene establishing the main character as "good" -- someone who would take a risk to help an innocent. See the SUPERMAN movies. 

First establish the "good" -- then the imperative reason that "good" has to impose his "good-ness" on another despite the resistance of the other -- then redeem your MC by showing the epiphany where he internalizes the difference in when to use force and when NOT to.  

If you need more clues - read some books on Martial Arts and/or training to use a Gun.  Law Officer training manuals.  

In Tarot it's called THE LORD OF SHORTENED FORCE - 5-Swords.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg