Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Ace of Swords


First, I have to say that at Nasfic, Linnea Sinclair provided me an advance copy of THE DOWN HOME ZOMBIE BLUES. I just started reading it (it's a 516 page pb and I'm on p 10) and it's so good I'm recommending it to you now. NOTE: I'm reading an ARC so changes might have been made in the version you buy now.

Remember I teach writing, and (even at Nasfic on panels about writing) students say it's not possible for editors to reject a book on the first 5 or 10 pages.

Well, it IS possible because those pages have to contain the bits and pieces that form the foundation for the novel, all arranged in the right order. Linnea's done that first 10 pages perfectly except for one parag I (as editor) would have deleted (but as writer, I'd have wanted to save) -- so I'm watching to see what it foreshadows.

The paragraph on p 7 starts "Unless you were a pilot taken prisoner by the Tresh." and ends with the POV character deciding she couldn't afford to think about that now. This is a classic "abort" -- starting the reader down a path then pulling them out for no obvious reason.

That parag. would have worked better later. Or perhaps the last sentence might have been deleted.

But it's on p 7 -- and it's only one small paragraph! It does have a purpose (starting the internal conflict, giving the character a haunting past and the sense you've read about this woman before). Then everything moves straight forward again, so I anticipate a smooth, good read here.

It had to be a difficult decision - that paragraph! Which brings me to the topic I want to address. Decisions, habits and actions.

I've found myself writing little essays for this blog each week, and I feel guilty because it's time I should spend writing. So instead of writing, I'm writing! Well, that's what writers do -- they write!

So I'm going to try an experiment that may not work because there are so many interesting things happening in life all the time that I'd like to discuss here.

Let's see how many little essays I can write (I have 20 on my list of must-write essays) essentially about the core topic here, alien-romance, yet still also about the Tarot Minor Arcana Swords (decisions and actions) and Cups (love, character, relationship).

As many of you know I teach writing via Tarot and Astrology - those disciplines are very fruitful sources of plot-twists and characters with recognizable dilemmas. I've been invited to teach at Ecumenicon 2008, March 27-30, 2008 at the Best Western Convention Center in Baltimore, MD. And I would dearly love to finish these 20 essays before that.

These next 10 essays will be a book in the series begun with my book  THE NOT SO MINOR ARCANA (available on amazon.com) - a short introduction to how to go about learning Tarot. The Wands and Cups Volumes and  the Swords and Pentacles Volumes, are now all available separately on Kindle.  The 5 Volumes combined are also available on Kindle as one book, cheaper than buying them individually.
The Not So Minor Arcana: Never Cross A Palm With Silver Aug 30, 2015 99 cents

The Not So Minor Arcana: Wands Sept. 1, 2015  99 cents

The Not So Minor Arcana: Cups Sept. 11, 2015 99 cents

The Not So Minor Arcana: Swords  Sept. 17, 2015 99 cents

The Not So Minor Arcana: Pentacles  Sept. 21, 2015 99 cents

The Not So Minor Arcana: Books 1-5 combined Sept. 24, 2015 $3.25

This series is designed not for the beginner or the advanced student, but for the intermediate student and specifically for writers doing worldbuilding..



I use the paradigm where Wands is Fire, Cups is Water, Swords is Air, Pentacles is Earth and Tarot is structured on the Kabbalah's Tree Of Life diagram, or more specifically Jacob's Ladder.
The Aces are beginnings, origins, the number ONE -- the unity behind all reality.
Aces exist at the level of reality where all things are just one thing, and haven't yet been divided into many things.

The moment just before the Big Bang began to fling all the matter of the Universe out from that tiny, collapsed central point is an "Ace" moment. All human activity replicates or recapitulates that moment, over and over on many levels.

Thus the Ace of Swords represents the very beginning point of an action sequence, or course of action, such as writing a book, fixing a leaky faucet, going to college, buying a house.

The Ace of Wands is the point where you wake up at 2AM, grab a notepad and scribble down the IDEA (Ideas are Wands) for a story. The Ace of Cups is the emotion from which the story arose, usually subconscious. The Ace of Pentacles is the moment when you hold the first printed copy in your hands (Pentacles are materialization of Ideas.). The Ten of Pentacles is where you bank the Nobel Prize money. The Ace of Swords is TYPING THE FIRST WORD.

The Ace of Swords isn't "I am writing a book" -- it's "I'm going to write this book."

The Ace of Swords is, "I'm going to fix that leaky faucet." The Two of Swords all the way to the Ten describe the comedy of errors up to the point where you get the next IDEA -- call the plumber. (and the water-damage cleanup company) (and the insurance company)
The Suit of Swords is often thought of as misfortunate. I don't think so.

Swords represent force in motion.

The four "Worlds" of the Kabbalah are expansions of the 4 letters in the Divine Name -- Yod, Heh, Vav, Heh.

The letter Vav is a Yod (a little fillip like a comma or a spark suspended in mid-air near the top of the writing line) with a staff under it, reaching down to the bottom of the writing line.

The Vav is a Yod that has GENERATED downward like a tornado touching down. It is a nail that connects things together. The Yod has expressed itself in the Vav. So the "World" represented by Swords is the expression of the Idea represented by the original Yod, a spark of fire.

Thus "Swords" is Divine Power Expressed -- or in motion.

A human being is the visible end of a connecting channel (a kind of "worm hole") that reaches all the way up through all the Worlds of Kabballah and brings down the cyclone of Divine energy.
Think of the Indian concept of the Chakras, or Marion Zimmer Bradley's Keepers who have to have their "channels" cleared.

The human being is a complicated bit of circuitry, and endowed with Free Will (that's a Kabbalah given -- humans have Free Will at all times).

The human being can be like the Sorcerer's Apprentice and reach up to channel down more power than they can handle. The human being can have more ambition than skill and not know it. The human being can have more imagination than judgement and not believe it.

The human being has to make choices and take action by balancing a myriad factors. Losing that balance doesn't make the energy stop flowing -- thus the cards in the Suit of Swords that follow the Ace, the next stages in the project of fixing the leaky faucet or writing the novel often don't manifest smoothly. That cyclone tip of downrushing Divine energy can touch your life and rip it to shreds. Thus the Suit of Swords has a bad rep.

The Suit of Swords, the 3rd World "down" the Tree of Life, is represented by the "Element" Air which we learn in Astrology symbolizes Thought, the Intellect. Gemini, Libra and Aquarius are Air Signs.

And so we learn that a Thought is an action -- as is speech. How we think, what we think, affects our reality, our world. What we say affects even those who never hear it. Thoughts and deeds are one and the same.

We learn this from the power of positive thinking, and how imagining success often brings success. Your thoughts infuse your deeds with exceptional power when both thought and deed are alligned. (think golf swing)

Decisions (de-cision -- to cut in half) are represented by Swords.

A story or novel (your evereyday life is a story you are writing) usually starts where the two elements which will conflict to generate the plot first come together. At that single (ACE of SWORDS) point, the author and by extension, the main character, must DECIDE what to DO when CONFRONTED by the antagonist element.

The antagonist might not be a person -- it could be a storm, a planet to be explored, a disease to be beaten. Whatever it is, at that moment of confrontation, a THOUGHT has to become a DE-CISION, a dividing point.

It can be nothing more than the recognition of an adversary, or perhaps worse, the recognition of one's True Love. Or a failure to recognize, and thus failure to act. The failure to act is also an action, and thus symbolized by Swords.

Human beings have an analogue brain, so we make decisions based on "experience" -- in other words, we are lazy. What's worked before, we do again - until it becomes a habit. And with age, we become so hidebound we can't do anything but what we've made our habit.

We tend to take that kind of habit from lifetime to lifetime (yes, in Kabbalah, reincarnation is real).

So confronted with a unique situation, we boggle. Confounded, we think slowly, or in non-logical sequences, or by free association. Then we hunt frantically for elements in the situation that remind us of something else we already know the answer to.

Wands represent the kind of original thinking we apply to a unique situation without trying to find a similarity to some other known situation.

Swords represent the kind of habitual thinking we prefer where memorized solutions apply to new situations.

Thus the Ace of Swords can represent the origin of a new habit -- or the groping for a memorized solution that almost applies to the new situation.

More accurately, the Ace of Swords is the moment when you decide if this situation can be handled by a memorized solution or needs something entirely new and different.

The moment right after that is the committment to the course of action, the point of no return. "Now you've done it!"

And the Two of Swords is the moment when you think over what you've done, hoping nothing will happen until you figure it all out!

The ACE OF SWORDS reversed is that exact same moment of tension at the threshold of action -- but without enough tension, without enough potential energy to get the project all the way to the 10 of Swords -- the ultimate consequence of the begun action.

Often, actions begun this way -- ill considered decisions and actions -- take hold of a person because the person is striving mightily to avoid doing something else, or to avoid "feeling" (i.e. Cups) something, or is simply doing too many things at once.

It isn't a particular amount of energy that you must accumulate before you act that makes the Ace of Swords come right side up and a project take off with a bang big enough to reach its necessary end.

Each project requires a different amount of energy, a different amount of committment.

And yes, the Swords represent "committment" -- in relationships, paying off a loan, showing up at work every morning, not drinking too much at night so you can show up alert in the morning, getting through school, staying married to the same person even when things go bad.

So whether the Ace of Swords comes up right side up or upside down in a reading depends a lot on what is going on within the person on the levels of Wands and Cups -- ideas, and emotions -- Fire(wands) and Water(cups) make steam, and steam drives the turbine of life. Working at the level of Swords, remember you are still way above the level of Pentacles which is our everyday 4-dimensional reality, material reality. So we're talking about psychological and psychic energies here in Swords.

The fuel for actions is intentions and the totality of understanding of the universe (what E. E. Smith called, in the Lensman Series, the Visualization of the Macrocosmic All). How well you manage your life will show up in how well matched your selected project is to the amount of "committment" you put behind that Ace of Swords. But it also depends on how shrewdly chosen your projects are -- on whether you've done your homework before selecting a project.

Take the fury of Al Queda for example. It is fueled by religious conviction and the perfectly human sense of right and justice. That fuel is not Swords but Wands and Cups -- and the steam that combination makes drives their swift sword with the full might of human belief.
What will it take to thwart such conviction driven actions?

Now translate that question into the story you've decided to write at the moment when you face the blank page in the Ace of Swords. That question is the conflict which is the essence of story. What it will cost the Hero to thwart the Villain is what your readers want to discover.

In a Romance, the two destined lovers can be each others' enemies (as Linnea's DOWNHOME ZOMBIE BLUES points out) and allies at the same time, against something bigger than both of them -- until they combine forces.

And by the way -- "plot" is Swords. Plot is the sequence of actions the characters take. A deep study of the Suit of Swords might improve your plotting ability by an amount even you would notice.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. The first two to ten pages certainly are the most difficult to write! And I do believe an agent or editor can know if the story's a bust in just those short pages. After all, that's how long it takes me as a reader to figure it out!

    I'm nearly through the Final Polish of 'Quest for the Holy Bennu.' Once complete, I'm going to let it sit for two weeks to make certain I nailed those first two to ten pages!

  2. Jacqueline,

    Fascinating! As you know, I use the Tarot in my alien romances, and I was rather proud of the climactic Tarot scene in Insufficient Mating Material.

    Fiery Wands were important there.

    Well, Knights' Fork begins with a Tarot reading (this one for fun)! I submitted it to my editor yesterday. How's that for a coincidence?

    Best wishes,
    Rowena Cherry

  3. Anonymous9:31 PM EDT

    "students say it's not possible for editors to reject a book on the first 5 or 10 pages."

    Ah hah! So that's why those first-five-pages excerpts are usually so lousy - because the authors think they have longer to capture readers. As a reader, I've declined to buy many an ebook because of bland and generic first-pages excerpts.

  4. MaryK

    Oh, yes, you are absolutely correct. Many (not ALL!) e-book publishers either don't edit, or don't know how (or why) certain types of editing are necessary.

    Some e-book writers (not ALL) don't understand WHY that type of editing of their "precious prose" is necessary and don't understand that their refusal to accept editing is what prevents them from selling to Mass Market.

    And you know what? Many a Mass Market book does indeed have that innate flaw (bland expository lump at the beginning, wandering off the conflict line in the middle because "the characters took over" and an ending that doesn't resolve any of the conflicts indicated in the beginning.

    Right now, though, we are seeing a renewed energy in Mass Market -- we're seeing experimental books that wouldn't have made it into print even a few years ago.

    This, I think, is a good thing.

    But the real reason editors are casting about for "something different" is that book sales are still trending down in fiction of all kinds (though Romance hangs in there). Nonfiction is doing OK -- but OK doesn't keep a company going.

    So watch those e-book publishers very carefully. As soon as they get crackerjack editors on board who reject 90% of the submissions, and heavily edit the rest -- you can expect e-book sales to soar.


  5. Many e-book publishers (including at least one of mine) DO reject over 90% of submissions. And goodness knows I've had some detailed line-editing on my e-published novels. But, yes, it's really HARD to get that opening scene right.