Tuesday, April 29, 2008

"You've Got Mail" 1998 Award Winning film

First I have to thank (once again) Rowena Cherry for posting my entry of Tuesday April 22, 2008.

I was offline and in the midst of the Passover Holiday. We do a lot of "scratch cooking" for Passover -- though packaged everything is available many places.

So I spent a good amount of time thinking about "women's work is never done."

And I thought back to raising my daughters who were born in the late 1960's, almost before the women's movement got a name. Even teaching them to walk, to play with toys, to take the knocking when falling off the sofa, I tried to foster a kind of independent strength only boys were taught then because I knew (as an SF writer) what they'd face in the world as it was shaping up (and I was right).

Passover is about "freedom" -- it's the commemoration of leaving slavery for real freedom of choice, and about the consequences of making a choice, about Honor (the stuff of Alien Romance Adventures, of Heroism).

It occurred to me that you can look at spending a multiplicity of hours scratch-cooking and hassling around a kitchen BECAUSE YOU ARE FEMALE as a step back into slavery. And that's not what the holiday is about. That's not where it's "at" philosophically.

In what way is being chained to a kitchen sink freedom?

The story/parable of leaving Egypt is commemorated by eating matzah - unleavened bread -- (i.e. crackers made from flour and water only -- baked so quickly it can't rise even if some yeast lands on it from the air.)

This is a more primitive or basic form of bread. It takes away something you don't even know you have. It's kind of like Rowena's novel where the male and female leads get stranded on an island and don't have what they're used to and have to "relate" in that context.

Or like going on any vacation -- away from your ordinary haunts. Going on an Adventure. Take AWAY what you normally have, the normal way your kitchen is organized, and your mind can open up to receive new ideas.

This morning I heard President Bush chanting his usual line about liberty and freedom and democracy bringing peace. To me, he seems to chant this -- like a liturgy. It's so strange to really listen to that man without thinking about whether you agree or not.

I heard Bush right after watching a movie I'd recorded a couple weeks ago on The Family Channel -- YOU'VE GOT MAIL. The two items juxtaposed were illuminating.

YOU'VE GOT MAIL is a nice romantic comedy that was made in 1998. It depicts the difference between how we relate via chat and email and how we relate "in person" with an accuracy that holds true today. The only two anachronisms that will eventually make this film grate on our nerves are AOL dialup email and the lack of cell phones with internet service and texting.

Today they'd be texting buddies and it would be a more intimate relationship because they would interface during the day. I assume you all remember the film. If not -- well, if you like alien romance, you gotta see this film.


Also read Hal Clement's novel MISSION OF GRAVITY. Put the two together and you've got a springboard into a whole bunch more novels you could write. In MISSION OF GRAVITY we have an alien and a human boy making friends despite living in different atmospheres. Clement wrote a lot about friendship over impossible gulfs, which is what Star Trek is ultimately about.

The relationship between friendship and romance, the differences and similarities -- the question of whether there is a necessity for friendship underneath romance -- all that is discussed brilliantly in YOU'VE GOT MAIL.

What's this got to do with Passover and Bush and Freedom of choice?

Bush assumes that any human being would choose freedom, what he calls Liberty and his version of "democracy" (note he never discusses the concept Republic).

In YOU'VE GOT MAIL, Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) makes some whopping assumptions, too, and his assumptions and Bush's may actually be coming from the same place.

Joe Fox presents Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) with a choice at the end of the movie, or rather it seems to be a choice.

In the middle of the movie, she discovers that "Joe" is THE "Joe Fox" who is opening a book selling superstore around the corner from her children's bookshop. When he first met her, he didn't let on that he was "THE" Fox. But he didn't actually lie about it, just omitted this bit of information. She insists he was lying to her by that omission and is pissed. At the end of the movie, Joe reveals one more piece of information he's been withholding, and she is NOT pissed, doesn't call him down for it, and just totally accepts him as who he is.

The email relationship she's developed with this "stranger" (Joe) is rooted in "Psychological Visibility" (google that if you don't know what it is). The real world relationship is rooted in Mortal Combat between business owners (he puts her shop out of business and it's "nothing personal" but like me, she says everything is personal.)

So in the end of the movie, she gives up a certain FREEDOM or LIBERTY by surrendering to the controlling decisions of an information-withholder who manipulates her by keeping her ignorant and using what he's learned of her inner psyche as a weapon to get what he wants (and she doesn't seem to understand that's what happened).

It's a great movie, lots of awards attention, well made, stellar cast, GREAT script, addressing a hot topic of the day (the transition in relationships to electronic communication and how that changes "who" we are to others). But coming out of Passover, I found the ending very disappointing.

Must every pair-bonded relationship between humans have a dominant party?

Is manipulating by using information gained while looking into a person's soul an aggressive act?

It seemed to me in the movie that he knew more about what made her tick than she knew about what motivated him. She was responding to being seen -- and didn't notice that she wasn't seeing into him.

He used what he learned about her to get her to do what he wanted her to do. She didn't use what she learned about him to get him to do what she wanted him to do.

He dominated her. She joyfully submitted.

Now that made it a popular movie because that's what our society expects and lauds. But it's not what I tried to raise my daughters to be.

It was a good movie because it raises a lot of interesting questions about sexuality and social norms. There's an important bit of dialogue missing (from the televised version) in which he wonders if she's a he -- and she wonders if he's a she. By email you can't really tell and they don't ackowledge that at all.

I keep thinking of the e-mail relationship as a telepathic relationship, perhaps conducted across interstellar distances. Or perhaps two empaths kept in adjacent cells "for their own protection" and relating through empathic fields without words.

So what has that to do with Passover? Well, slavery to freedom. Right away as the people left Egypt, some of that rag-tag band were bemoaning the lack of water and meat and wanted to return to the cushy life in Egypt. Freedom is hard work, full of decisions.

Remember a generation had to live and die in the desert before the whole people was free enough of slavery to plunge in and govern a country.

Can a society have "freedom" at all if half the people willfully submit to the other half?

You don't think that's an Alien Romance question ripped from today's headlines? Go listen (really listen) to Bush carrying on then go learn something about the history of the people's he's talking about. Dominance and Submission - Sexuality and Religion -- Biology and Reproduction.
What kind of biology would an alien species have to have to avoid this submission-for-fun-and-reproduction dilemma humans face?

Would you give up your freedom for psychological visibility? Would you let yourself be "visible" to someone who would use that data about you to put you in a cage you couldn't even see was a cage?

Does aggression cause defensive action -- or does defensiveness cause aggression?

Even if you've seen YOU'VE GOT MAIL a few times, go watch it again.

Oh, and the other reason it really grabbed me - it's about my own bread and butter, the publishing and marketing of books. There's a line in that movie I'll bet most viewers don't notice -- that the big chain book sellers destroyed the mid-list, which they did.

If you're a mid-list reader like me, you might consider that all bad. But in truth, I'm wondering if the death of the mid-list just pushed a lot of mid-list writers and readers into the Romance field and started the proliferation of sub-genres of Romance?

So YOU'VE GOT MAIL is a movie that says a lot, very elegantly, so it's worth a writer's study.

Live Long and Prosper,
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Monday, April 28, 2008

Shades of Dark Video Teaser

SHADES OF DARK, the sequel to Gabriel’s Ghost, coming July 2008 from RITA award-winning author, Linnea Sinclair, and Bantam Books:


I love you beyond all measure, Chasidah. Sully’s voice in my mind was a husky whisper. The tightness in my chest began to abate. But I am concerned when I no longer know who or what I’m asking you to love in return.


SHADES OF DARK, the sequel to Gabriel’s Ghost, coming July 2008 from RITA award-winning author, Linnea Sinclair, and Bantam Books: www.linneasinclair.com

Don’t give up on me, angel-mine. No matter what you hear or see. Remember, please, this isn’t the only thing I am.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


OK, connoisseurs, would this inspire you to pick up or track down?

Rowena Cherry

Thursday, April 24, 2008

RT recap

Wow, so much happened it eight days that it is hard to even remember what the beginning was like. So I’ll just have to do it a day at a time.

I arrived in Pittsburgh on Sunday after driving six hours with the back of my car filled to the ceiling with promo stuff for the Intergalactic Bar and Grille Party. I met Linnea Sinclair and Stacey Klemstein at the airport and we left for the hotel after having a great laugh when we saw an exit for Moon Beaver PA. From that point on Isobo Kelly’s baby was referred to as Moon Beaver. I shortened it to Moon Beam. I like that better. The four of us had a fabulous dinner at a restaurant called the Palomino and had a great time catching up on things.

Monday I was privileged to have the chance to speak at Bobbi Smith’s advanced writers course. I talked about creating internal conflict and research in two different workshops. I loved seeing the excitement of these writers and especially loved catching up with them during the rest of the week. Good luck to all of you that were in those workshops.

Monday night my friend Chris Winters who was participating in the Mr. Romance pageant arrived and we talked for a long time. I really enjoyed having the hotel to a small group because I knew in twenty four hours all hell was going to break loose. I warned my favorite Bellhop Val what he was in for. I’m not sure he really believed me.

Tuesday taught another class and then got to go out on three photo shoots with Annette Batista of Between Your Sheets. I had walked around downtown Pittsburgh a bit that morning and have to say it is the most beautiful city. My room had a view of the two rivers, the Steelers stadium (I love NFL Football) and the ridge opposite with the most beautiful old church and houses. Wish I would have taken pics but kept forgetting too everyday.

Went on totally enjoyable photo shoot with Chris Winters. I told everyone I was his personal assistant since I was keeping track of all his stuff. It was a blast and I learned a lot. Photography has always been a hobby of mine and it was amazing to watch Annette to her magic. Plus Chris just lights up a camera.

Came back and had lunch with the amazing women of Between Your Sheets. Then got invited to do more shoots. Went out with John Fish of the amazing humongous muscles. We even got him to unbutton his shirt out on the street. Have to say women were tripping. Then went out for photos with the adorable Christopher Howell who is beyond sweet. I hope next year he shares some of his dance moves with us. He teased us a bit at the pageant. I want more more more!

The amazing and totally priceless J.C. Wilder arrived and a group of us went to Max and Irma’s for dinner. Have to say we closed the place down. J.C. decided it was her project to make me yeep. And she succeeded. I also spewed. Needless to say there was much laughter. The hotel was filling up fast and Val the bellhop gave me a ride on his amazing cart. He also made an amazing amount of money in tips. I saw Mark Johnson arrive and he gave me the sweetest hug. He truly is a great guy. So sweet. Also saw the totally vivacious Jade Lee whom I adore. A bunch of us went up to Linnea’s room to pack goodie bags for the Intergalactic Bar and Grille party. Came down to my room and ran into fellow Shadow Booty Clan member Liz Maverick where we proceeded to have the best reunion ever not caught on video tape. At some point we will reenact it for the public. Caught up with the last third of our terrible trio, Marianne. The two of them make up the Rebels of Romance. I just kind of hang around and terrorize them.

By Wednesday I was surviving on no sleep. I was practically staggering. That afternoon we had the Intergalactic Bar and Grille which was an absolute blast. We gave out lots of prizes. By the time it was over I was so desperate for sleep and so tired that I fell flat on my face in a packed elevator. (Luke Walsh has his own version of what happened. Don’t listen to him. It’s all lies.) Luckily for me there was a hero on board and I was rescued by a very gallant Mr. Romance contestant who saw me safely back to my room.

Wednesday night was the EC Hollywood Glam party. Since I didn’t pack a ballgown I wore my jeans and sneakers and had a blast dancing and making new friends. Finally got some sleep that night. Thursday morning I participated in a writing sci-fi panel and then my RT responsibilities were done. From then on I could just hang out and catch up and talk to people. Thursday night was the fairy ball which I love dressing up for and Lifetime TV interviewed me in my fairy costume. After that we went to Christine Feehan’s speakeasy. I adore Christine, she is truly amazing. Her entire family is wonderful.

Friday I went to club RT and talked to lots of fans of my Colby Hodge books. Caught up with my old friend Bill Freda and John DeSalvo who graced the cover of Stargazer. Then went to a workshop with my new friend Natalie Stenzel. Friday night was more dancing and talking with my wonderful editor Chris Keeslar and the rest of the Dorchester gang, Diane Stacey, Erin Galloway and Renee Yewdaev. Saturday was the wonderful book fair where I signed in between Cheryl Holt and Sandra Hill. Wow was I in good company. I also got to meet Roberta Gellis, who wrote the first romance novel I ever read, Alinor.

Then the Mr. Romance pageant where Jade Lee and I made a spectacle or ourselves on stage and my friend Chris Winters, who played the part of Zander from Star Shadows in the pageant won. Then there was an awesome bookseller mixer put on by the amazing Dorchester Staff and I met Christina Tanuadji and Veronika Kahrmadji from Australia and Sara Loftus from Huntington WV, which is where a lot of my Wind books take place. Then there was nothing left but the totally awesome Dorchester party where the Impalers, who were sponsored by my good friend Kathy Love and Erin McCarthy totally rocked the house.

I made so many new friends this week. Jennifer St. Giles and the gang at Between The Sheets. There there was Rose, Anthony and Lisa from Crossing Realms. The incredibly sweet and gallant cover guys, Brian, Steve, my boy Luke Walsh, Ryan, Jimi, and of course Fred and Christopher along with my dear friend Mr. Romance Chris Winters. It was great getting to know J.C. Wilder, and Isobo Kelly better and chowing down in J.C.’s room when the restaurants couldn’t serve us and laughing at stories. I adore my new friends, Leanna, Morgan and Stacey, the most amazing bookseller from Grand Central in NYC and I am coming up to NYC for a visit soon. Also have to mention Sue from Troy and yes Sue I am coming for a visit and bringing Luke with me. So many people it’s impossible to remember them all.

All in all it was the most awesome, busy and mind blowing week of my life. I can’t wait until next year.

Health Care of the Future

This week our workplace had a “health fair” to promote enrollment in health insurance plans. Not being in the market for coverage, I just went over to look around and pick up free trinkets (pens, pocket first aid kits, etc.). One lady was measuring body fat percentage and BMI with a handheld electronic gadget one holds out in front of one’s body. (Luckily it doesn’t sound an alarm or anything like that.) Undergoing that test made me think of Dr. McCoy’s tricorder. Today we do have devices such as MRI, ultrasound, and the currently popular full body scan. They’re expensive and sometimes inconvenient, though, not to mention (as some women report in connection with mammograms) occasionally uncomfortable to the point of pain. We’re still far from a small, computerized machine that can read out someone’s complete health profile in an instant, or even the Enterprise sick bay’s diagnostic beds (although I imagine the latter are within our technological capability).

Actually, what I want from my medical providers is the painless ray that can instantly, noninvasively repair a cracked tooth, broken bone, or malfunctioning internal organ. And when do we get the much-discussed nanobots that will clean toxins out of our system, kill harmful microbes, and maintain us at the perfect weight for our body type? Or those miraculous gene therapies that will nip congenital illnesses in the literal bud? Or replacement organs custom-grown for transplant into each individual? That is, if we ever manage to overcome the challenge of providing basic health care for all citizens, never mind extending the medical super-science of the future to everyone. Personally, my great fear of infirmity in old age isn’t the illnesses themselves, but the medical treatment. Too bad I won’t live to see those miraculous healing rays. Meanwhile, I’ll just have to go to the dentist later today and the primary care clinic tomorrow and accept the old-fashioned manual intrusion into my mouth and other body cavities.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

When Is A Writer Wrong

Linnea Sinclair wrote, Monday April 7th 2008:


Q - My critique partners tear apart and change everything I write. What am I doing wrong?
A - Possibly nothing. Possibly everything. My first concern is, who are your crit partners? Do they have books on the shelves of Barnes & Noble or Waldenbooks? Have they actively studied the craft of writing? Or are they just starting out, putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard?
Jack Bickham, a noted writing guru, states in his The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes, "Usually it's a mistake to seek advice from other amateurs at writers' clubs. I don't think it's a good idea to ask family or friends to read and 'criticize' your manuscript, either...for two reasons: they won't be honest; they usually don't know what they're doing anyway ...

This is really a very deep, wide ranging and intricate issue. Where can a new writer get reliable advice?

Some people shrug it off as, "Well, it's art, so there is no "wrong." It's all a matter of taste."

And that's true for Art. But it's not true for commercial art.

There is a part of novel writing that actually has that "there is no wrong" aspect to it, but that part can't be learned and can't be taught. It's talent.

Many beginning writers yearn to be told they have "talent" -- because they believe that affirms their self-image, that it means they can become famous for writing.

Not so.

Many of the really REAAALLLYYYY famous writers don't have much talent for writing (for other things, sure, but not the art behind storycraft).

Talent isn't an indispensable ingredient in commericial art. But a sense of what is or is not commercial definitely is indispensable.

Writers or other commercial artists who don't have that sense become victims of agents or business managers rather than fully independent, self-employed businesswomen themselves.

Also, writers who are burdened with talent are always bursting with stories to tell. The real art that a commercial writer needs is to tell the difference between those ideas and develop only the ones with commercial potential.

So, now you've selected an idea and written it out in full, and you take it to a local writer's critique group -- what happens? The different readers all tell you that there's this or that "wrong" with the words you have written.

Here is where you must leap across the dividing line between amateur and professional.

When a critique circle participant (even one who's sold stories already) says "this part really drags. It's so slow, I wanted to put the book down and never pick it up again" -- the amateur writer hears "You are a bad writer, this is all wrong" -- the professional hears "I wanted the story to be about A but in this section it's about B".
The amateur thinks "I have to change this into something that isn't my story."

The professional thinks, "Well, maybe it's not to this reader's taste." or "It's possible to tell not show this information and make it shorter -- maybe leave it out totally -- no, I have a better idea, I'll MOVE IT!" Then the professional thinks, "I wonder how many readers would react that way?" (commercial, remember? Mass audience.) Then the professional interrogates the test reader to find out what story thread they were following that seemed to disappear in the "slow" part.

With enough information about the test reader and enough details about the reader's response to the story, a professional can figure out whether to change anything -- and if so, what to change INTO WHAT.

Making random changes won't help the manuscript sell.

You must make charted changes calculated to take you to a WIDER audience. Your amateur or beginning writer (who is a writer, and a reader, not an EDITOR) can only tell you how their own responses vary. An editor (totally different type of person) can tell you where you have narrowed your potential audience.

So in response to the critique group comment "it drags here" the professional writer might well not change a word of the "dragging" section, but go back and add a character early on in the story -- involve the reader in that character's life and build it in such a way that the information revealed in the "dragging" section, piece by piece, puts that new character in ever growing jeapardy.

Then on rewrite, coming to the dragging section, other changes would get made (cuts most likely -- vivid language -- other tricks of the trade) that would speed up that section.

The beginning writers who put a manuscript before a "critique group" should do so in order to develop the attitude that they are using that group -- not that the group is using them.

If the group is using them to get stories the group finds entertaining, those stories very likely will not entertain the mass market. After all, few people spend their time in critique groups -- lots of people read books.

If the writers are using the group to widen the target audience for their story, then the comments will be viewed in a wholly different light.

And if the professional writer is using the group -- the group does not have to contain a single person who has ever written any fiction, nevermind sold it. After all, readers are the target audience, not writers.

Whether you are a professional or an amateur is not a matter of whether you've ever sold any writing. It is a matter of whether you write to sell.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Monday, April 21, 2008

I survived RT 2008

I'm fairly sure "where were you when the lights went out?" might be found on several T-shirts come next RT in Orlando (2009). For those of you not there, the lights literally did go out the last ten minutes or so of the ginormous book fair (think: 300+ authors and thousands of fans in an interior ballroom and...blackness. Not even the exit-signs lit up). Be that as it may, it was wild as usual. And enormously fun, as usual.

I tried to load pics but Blogger is failing to permit that today. Internal errors or such.

Some photos are here: http://www.linneasinclair.com/rt2008.htm

I'll be adding to that page as I can.

Back to laundry, ~Linnea

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Zero Sum (Opinion)

I never was very good at mathematics, which makes some aspects of writing alien romance a bit of a struggle for me.

However, if I understand the concept of Zero Sum, it means that there has to be a winner and a loser. There are only a fixed number of place or units (or sales).

If the book industry were a Zero Sum business, every author would achieve success, fame and fortune at the expense of other authors.

I don't believe this, but I think some people might.

In this last week I've seen fine examples of generosity and support from one author to another, but I've also seen things written that bother me, and issues that I think should interest all book-lovers apparently being shrugged off.

When I was very young, there was a movie (about a trade union) "I'm all right, Jack."

The title reminds me of a saying from a shipwreck context, where a rescued survivor would prefer that everyone still in the water is left to drown. "Pull the ladder up, Jack, I'm on."

Today, the attitude seems to be more, "She's all right... let her fend for herself." But, to mix salt and fresh water metaphors, if we do nothing when the piranhas attack the dolphins, who will help save us from the sharks?

In society and in the book industry there is pressure to compete. Sometimes the pressure is overwhelming. What is more, some contests field cheetahs versus foxes versus flying lizards and fairies. All in the same race.

If it's not apples on apples, it's not Zero Sum.

Rowena Cherry

If you think it is only fair that the government defends the book industry's copyrights with the same vigor that they protect the music and movie industries, please consider signing this petition, set up by former EPIC president, Brenna Lyons.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Writing Biz Then and Now

Over the years I’ve had a fair number of tales included in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover and “Sword and Sorceress” anthologies. Recently her estate (which is still publishing Sword and Sorceress volumes) sent me the pleasantly surprising news that they’re posting all the stories for sale individually as e-books on Fictionwise.com. Naturally, they requested electronic files of the stories if possible. The first lesson I learned from this offer is that one should, ideally, store all writing-related computer files permanently in currently readable formats. All I could find were the two latest Sword and Sorceress tales. Fortunately, the MZB editors are willing to scan the older pieces. They also offered to upload any previously published works I wanted included, even if they hadn’t appeared in an MZB book, so I sent them two stories that hadn’t been reprinted elsewhere. Now, I thought I still had at least the more recent Darkover stories in readable electronic form. I had doubts about the ones dating back to the days of WordPerfect 5.1 in DOS, but at least there was a chance MS Word could convert them. Because of a major rearrangement of our home office not too long ago, though, those old disks apparently vanished into a box, which I can’t find. Did it ever cross my mind that I could possibly need to revisit those archaic files? No, but now I’ve learned that one never knows when an old, almost forgotten piece of writing may become a potential source of fresh income. At least one of the Sword and Sorceress stories, “Late Blooming,” is posted on Fictionwise.com already; that and all my titles available from Fictionwise can be found by searching the site under “Margaret Carter.”

Another small project also reminded me of how writing for publication has changed since I started. The Horror Writers’ Association newsletter wants essays on the theme of “My First Book,” about the author’s introduction to the world of professional publication, so I’m thinking of writing one. My first book, when dinosaurs walked the Earth, was an anthology of vampire stories, intended to provide a chronological overview of the genre, starting with Polidori’s “The Vampyre” (early nineteenth century). I considered this project to be filling a need because I didn’t know of any other vampire anthologies, and in fact there weren’t many in print at that time. At age 22, I was completely ignorant of the publishing business. All I knew was that submissions had to be typed (double-spaced on one side of the paper) and include a SASE. Fawcett held the submission package for over a year without a reply. Sadly, in dealing with many mass market publishers, the typical wait time hasn’t changed much. I sent a follow-up query (in the form of a “why haven’t you written” funny greeting card, something I would never dare to do now). Fawcett immediately offered me a paperback contract for CURSE OF THE UNDEAD. One big difference between then and now is that today an unknown, unpublished editor could never sell an anthology to a mass market publisher. (As far as I’ve seen, it’s a hard sell for an editor WITH a track record, unless partnered with one of the major anthology packagers.)

Another difference is, of course, that home computers didn’t exist. If revisions were requested, one had to type the material over. Scanning texts or saving them electronically wasn’t an option. An anthologist sent photocopies of stories to be reprinted, which the publisher set in type from scratch the old-fashioned way, hard as that is to imagine now. That procedure had advantages for an editor who might want to reprint a long out-of-print work—no nonsense about having to scan the text into a file and clean up the resulting mess. Getting manuscripts into printable form was the PUBLISHER’S job. Nowadays, although e-publishing has been a wonderful boon for authors in many ways, it has the downside that almost every publisher requires its own house-approved format for book files, which the author is expected to provide. (When did the author become the designated typesetter, I sometimes silently fume while struggling with the arcane so-called “Help” provided by MS Word?) Unfortunately, one factor hasn’t changed much in all these decades—the pay rate. For my first two books, two anthologies from Fawcett, I received an advance of $2000 each (half of which was to be divided among contributors). Some paperback publishers still offer advances of only $4000 per book, merely doubled in over 30 years. Meanwhile, costs of books, gasoline, cars, and houses, just to name a few items for which I know the approximate prices, have risen tenfold.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Joan Winston - Without Whom . . .

As you can see from the image of Joan Winston's natal chart [ http://www.simegen.com/sgfandom/rimonslibrary/cz/cz24/JoanWinston.html ] -- she has Sagittarius rising. And boy is she typical Sag -- honest to a fault, with a huge, warm, inclusive welcome.

These traits are reflected in the title of her first book, The Trek Conventions, or How To Throw A Party For Twelve Thousand Of Your Closest Friends.

During the 1970's, she was nicknamed Mama Trek for a reason -- she organized and took care of things for the Committee that created and ran the first 5 huge Trek Conventions in New York City.

At the time, she was in charge of Contracts at one of the national broadcast TV networks. She had a knack for detail and never forgot a thing.

So it was natural that she came to handle the publicity for the conventions. As described in her first book, this job escalated from totally out of control to truly astronomical.

If you like any of the Star Treks -- TV, animated, comic, graphic novel, Internet New Voyages or film -- you have Joanie to thank.

The way Hollywood works, the only thing that counts is publicity. A nice, warm little convention with a few hundred (or even thousand) fans means nothing to Hollywood. No number of conventions would have gotten Star Trek revived, made into an animated, or made into films, or more series, no matter how many people attended or how many books were published and became "best sellers."

The only thing that matters in Hollywood is publicity. What mattered, what made a difference to the Powers That Be was the way the press covered these conventions, reviewed the books, focused on fans and their "real" lives, and interviewed those of us who had written books on or about Star Trek.

Star Trek, and its bumper stickers like "Beam Me Up, Scotty" became a pop-culture phenomenon -- became a total cultural phenomenon.

Remember, in those days there was no Internet, email, Lists, blogs, chat rooms, texting. The only way fans came to know other fans existed was through Media coverage and published books.

A lot of the impression the Media got from the huge Star Trek fan events came via Joanie Winston's sunny, warm, chatty, breezy, utterly SANE and NORMAL businesswoman with an insane job persona. Though coverage included a lot of derision, it also became permeated with Joanie's attitude of joyous fun, and that attracted more attention than the derision ever did.

During the 1970's when the New York conventions were attracting all this media attention and spawning other huge Star Trek conventions around the country, Joan suffered through the transit of Pluto over her MC and through her 10th House. She had breast cancer, twice, and gall bladder surgery (the old fashioned, "most painful surgery recovery there is" style) and several other major problems. In fact, she put off the gall bladder surgery until after one convention because the con was more important! And despite the pain, she charmed every reporter and Mothered all the frazzled committee and the Trek Stars who attended.

With the conventions over, and her health improving, she turned more to writing and speaking at many other conventions. In addition to Trek, she spoke about her experiences with breast cancer (in a day when such things were NOT discussed in public). I believe Joanie saved several lives because of her open Sagittarius-Rising honesty. And she'll still talk to you about it today more than thirty years later -- get those checkups!

The Making Of The Trek Conventions came out after David Gerrold's The Making Of Star Trek, and my book, the Bantam paperback Star Trek Lives! by Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Sondra Marshak, and Joan Winston. David Gerrold wrote the ST:TOS script The Trouble With Tribbles, and is still working in the film industry with a film in theaters now. He's had a number of very prominent and well written Science Fiction novels published as well.

Sondra introduced me to Joan as someone who could write us a chapter for Star Trek Lives! on how the conventions happened. Joan talks a blue streak, but her pencil can't keep up with her mind! It took a lot to get her to put the words she spoke so fluently down on paper, but once she did -- it was dynamite. So we included Joan in the byline of the book.

Joanie's chapter is the one most remembered from Star Trek Lives! For decades afterwards, she'd tell those tales to enthralled convention audiences. Her talks were always packed because she could add personal anecdotes about all the Stars. The chapter led to her being able to tell the whole story in her own book -- and then a couple more Trek books, too, one that she edited filled with cartoons.

Somewhere in between all this, Joanie contributed a story to my Star Trek fanzine universe, Kraith. http://www.simegen.com/fandom/startrek/kraith/kc003/kc03_01.html#OBLIGATION/

Much later, she went on to become a famous fanzine writer for her Riker/Star Trek: The Next Generation stories published in various 'zines.

Actually, I wasn't impressed with Riker at first -- Joanie opened my eyes to nuances of the character and Jonathan Frakes' wide ranging skills. In 1996 and 1998, Frakes directed the 8th and 9th Star Trek movies. I'm telling you, Joanie has an instinct for this stuff! Frakes launched into a totally stellar career using skills and talents I never saw in him at first. See his filmography at http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000408/ and goggle at what Joanie saw in this man from the first.

Meanwhile, Joanie tried her hand at novel writing and turned out two blockbusters in the best seller mode -- one of which even sold for good money, neither of which ever saw print! It was the most bewildering misfire of the publishing industry I have ever seen.

Our friendship went through many stages. Often, during the early Star Trek conventions I'd end up rooming with her and a couple other women. Once I slept on a lumpy bed because she'd hidden the Star Trek blooper reel under my mattress! Another time, she and some other friends dressed me up as T'Pring and entered me in the costume contest (my first and ONLY time in a costume!) -- I met a woman just last month who saw me as T'Pring and remembered it! I thought I'd lived that down.

My zany adventures with Joanie continued -- she lived in Manhattan and I lived in the northern suburbs of NYC. She dragged me into town as often as possible to take me clothes shopping at bargain shops with higher class clothing than I could find near me. She has a sense of classic style and value that is as unerring as her sense of high craftsmanship among entertainers.

I went to her apartment to watch Star Trek episodes -- she was one of the first to have a video recorder. Her first was a JVC with 3/4 inch tape -- a broadcast machine she picked up used when the studio discarded it. Through numerous upgrades to DVD's, she always has the best equipment.

During those years, we talked on the phone for hours, a couple times a month at least. Often she'd relate uproarious encounters with the stars of stage (she does live in Manhattan, you know) and screen. She dated a number of them and loved to go dancing. She was always the first to tell me about the best new TV shows, too. She had the inside scoop on everything to do with show business.

In the 1980's and 1990's she used to come up to my house on the bus, stay over, and then we'd drive to Maryland for Shore Leave together -- then I'd drive her home to Manhattan and circle on north to my own house -- a 7 or 8 hour drive home instead of 6. We'd blast along the highway singing with Theodore Bikel tapes (before cars had CD players). We discovered we had a lot of favorite movies in common -- Dirty Dancing being one.

Since I moved to Arizona, we only talk via telephone.

Which brings me to the reason for this web page. You see, despite being cutting edge on TV video equipment, Joanie has never gotten online!

The electric wiring in her incredibly old New York walk-up apartment just wouldn't (and she had several techs try different things) allow for running a computer or getting it online.

If you Google "Joan Winston" you'll find mention of her books, some casual references in con reports perhaps -- but you won't find her homepage, you won't find her blog, you won't find her on social networking -- you won't find HER. And, except for here, you won't find a reason for that, either. Joanie just doesn't do computers. Period.

So we wanted to create that online presence for Joanie, explain why you can't find her, and point out that without Joanie Winston -- (and 12,000 of her most intimate friends) -- there might very well not have been any more Trek than ST:TOS.

If Star Trek, the Conventions, the books, the additional novels, the online continuation by fans, http://www.startreknewvoyages.com/ which is now called PhaseII, have touched your life -- then you have been touched by Joan Winston.

Please contribute your thank-you Joanie's website. You'll find instructions at http://www.simegen.com/sgfandom/rimonslibrary/cz/cz24/JoanWinston.html

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Not with a moose... nor with a rabbit, I think

If you have a mind like mine, perhaps you are always wondering how far you'd want to push the romantic envelope in real life, and what you think your editor might swallow in your fiction.

Things happen. I'm sure a lot of us see and process random items in the news or on the net, and come up with similar ideas.

This week, I clicked a couple of different links that took me to YouTube. I lie. I clicked a lot, because friends on Facebook.com (do befriend me!) posted links to two of my favorite musician groups: Queen and The Doors.

I digress.

One link took me to Survivorman, Les Stroud (who was verisimilitude consultant for my alien romance, Insufficient Mating Material) talking about one of his most scary real life adventures. In the rutting season, he made the sounds of a romantic lady moose, and a very determined male moose pursued him relentlessly. I suppose moose operate on the "if it quacks like a duck" theory. Either that, or he was furious with Les Stroud for being a blatant moose teaser.


Another link took me to a pastiche of funny cats. (One image was not funny, so I'm not posting the link.) A male rabbit stalking, and then attempting to hump an outraged ginger cat was.

The cats I grew up loving were rabbit killers! That adds an extra element of piquancy, and I suppose that's why Vampire Killers falling in love with Vampires is such fun.

So... as I was chopping onions for dinner, I began to wonder (not for the first time) if I were a mythical Greek maiden, how would I really feel if the most powerful and over-sexed god in the Pantheon charged up to me in the guise of a bull, or as a really big swan, and was determined to have his way with me?

Having watched the latest Merrill Lynch ad. I have to think that a bull would have practical difficulties if the maiden didn't want to cooperate. I don't think it would make a good romance for me to write. Could be a comedy. Would not have a traditional happy ending.

By the way, Insufficient Mating Material is giveaway book of the day today (Sunday) at


Best wishes,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, April 10, 2008

New Release: Erotic Ghost Romance

Yesterday Ellora’s Cave (www.ellorascave.com) released my short erotic ghost romance “Heart Diamond” in their birthstone series of Quickies. I picked the diamond for April because this is my birth month. The premise of my story was inspired by an actual website, www.lifegem.com, of a company that purports to make artificial diamonds from cremated ashes. In my tale, the heroine inherits a ring made from her dead fiancĂ©’s ashes. I received an e-mail pointing out a fact I hadn’t known, that the cremation process drives off all carbon atoms; therefore, any carbon incorporated into the diamond actually comes from the surrounding atmosphere. Nevertheless, for fictional purposes the ring with its artificially formed gem makes a close enough fit to my premise about earthbound spirits—that they need an anchor and that a portion of their mortal remains works best for that purpose. In effect, the hero (who on his deathbed asked his parents to have the ring constructed from his cremains) uploads his personality into the diamond, as in some SF stories people preserve their consciousness after death by uploading their essential selves into computers. As for the larger question of why ghosts exist at all, when our culture’s prevalent beliefs postulate moving on to an afterlife, I take the conventional position that a life ended violently, prematurely, or with an unfinished task may result in the spirit’s lingering on Earth (a form of purgatory, which I imagine to be the case with Marley in “A Christmas Carol,” expiating his sins by trying to redeem Scrooge). Of course, I also had to make other decisions about the nature of ghosts, such as whether and under what conditions they can affect their physical surroundings.

Since “Heart Diamond” is an erotic romance, I can’t post much of it on this blog, but here’s an excerpt from the opening scene:

The door buzzer cut through the bleakness of yet another Saturday evening. Too late for a door-to-door solicitor. Who would visit at this hour without calling first? Roseanne switched off the black-and-white movie she’d been half watching and trudged to the door. Pausing with her hand on the chain, she said, “Who is it?”
“Just me.”
Ted, her late fiancĂ©’s brother. She sighed. I should have guessed. He was her only friend who never bothered to phone before dropping in. As little as she wanted to deal with him on a weekend night, she didn’t have the heart to tell him to get lost. “Yeah, what’s up?” she asked, unfastening the chain. Through the door, she heard the patter of a steady rain.
“I’ve got something important to tell you. Okay if I come in?” His voice sounded enough like his brother’s to give her a fresh twinge of sorrow, though they weren’t completely alike. Ted’s was pitched a little higher.
“You might as well, just for a minute. I was thinking about getting ready for bed.” Lucky she hadn’t changed into her nightgown yet. The way Ted’s eyes roamed over her even in a ratty T-shirt made her vaguely uncomfortable, though he’d never overtly hit on her.
His face always gave her an unwelcome shock. She hoped he didn’t notice the wince of pain she tried to suppress. It wasn’t his fault that he’d been in the car when his brother died or that the two of them looked so much alike. Strangers had often mistaken them for twins, despite the seventeen-month difference in their ages. They had the same honey-gold hair, which Tim had worn a bit longer and shaggier than Ted’s. The same height—six feet two—and they shared a trim, broad-shouldered but not muscle-bound build. Their eyes were different shades of blue—Tim’s closer to gray and Ted’s profile was a little sharper. Still, any unexpected glimpse of him pierced her breast with a pang of longing and sometimes ignited a flare of need between her thighs, chased by a shadow of guilt. She never considered pursuing that illusion. She knew the inner differences between the brothers too well. Friends with them since high school, she’d dated Ted only a few times before she’d discovered reasons to prefer Tim.
“Mom and Dad asked me to bring you this.” He strolled into the living room, lounged on the couch and took a small box out of his pocket. His hair and shirt were damp from the rain.
Roseanne sat down, careful to keep space between them. “What is it?”
“Something Tim left for you.” Ted opened the box. It held a silver ring with a blue-tinted, oval-cut diamond flanked by a pair of diamond chips.
She took it from him, her hand trembling and tears misting her eyes. “How—?”
“While the folks were visiting Tim in the ICU, he was conscious for a little while. He asked them to have this ring made for you if he didn’t survive. He said you’d talked about it once. Sounded kind of creepy to me.”
“Why?” Roseanne’s tears made a sparkling halo around the gems. During Tim’s lifetime, they hadn’t gotten around to buying an engagement ring. “What’s creepy about it?”
Ted visibly swallowed, as if working up the nerve to answer. “Because it’s made from his ashes. I tried to talk Mom and Dad out of it but they said that was his last wish and he’d been in his right mind when he made it. Personally, I wasn’t so sure.”
“He did show me the website when he happened to stumble on it. We thought it was cute and sentimental in a weird way. Heartdiamonds.com, it’s called.” After touching a fingernail to the central stone, she set the box on the coffee table.
“Morbid, if you ask me. Frankly, if I hadn’t known our parents would follow up on it with you, I wouldn’t have given you this thing. I’d have returned it for a refund and snuck the money back into their account.”
*After redirecting how much into your own account?* She squelched the thought. No matter how tactless he was, he didn’t deserve to be accused of greed. Making a profit off his brother’s remains, now that would be morbid. “You wouldn’t have any right to do that. Tim wanted me to have this ring and it’s none of your business.”
“How are you ever going to get over his death, staring at this every day?”
Anger flared in her. “Get over it? How can you say a terrible thing like that when it’s been less than six months?”
“Come on, Rosie, Tim would’ve wanted you to move on.”
“How do you know what he would’ve wanted?” She didn’t try to hide the irritation in her voice. How many times had she asked Ted not to call her Rosie?
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you.” He scooted over and draped an arm around her shoulders. “I just want to see you start living again. How about going to dinner with me tomorrow night?”
She shook her head and edged away from him. The arm of the couch didn’t leave her much space to retreat. “I don’t feel up to that. Thanks anyway.”
Inching over, he snaked his arm around her again and squeezed her shoulder. “Come on, hon, give me a chance. You must know how I feel about you.”
She stared at him in shock. “No, I don’t, and I don’t want to hear it.” She’d had no idea his repeated invitations, which she’d repeatedly turned down, meant anything other than brotherly concern. Had her passion for Tim and then her grief blinded her so completely that she hadn’t noticed Ted still had a thing for her? Had he felt this way the whole time she’d been dating his brother? She sprang to her feet before he could paw her anymore. “Thanks for delivering the ring. You’d better go now.”
He frowned, anger clouding his eyes. “You can’t leave your heart buried in his grave forever.”
“Well, if I ever dig it up, it won’t be for you.” She stalked to the front door and held it open. “We’re friends and that’s all. Please don’t bring this up again.”
He clutched her arm. “You don’t mean that. You can’t just throw me out.”
Roseanne shook him off. “I’m not throwing you out. I’m asking nicely.” She chilled her tone enough to hint that “nice” wouldn’t necessarily last.
His frown darkened to a scowl. “You’re a healthy woman. You need a man. You can’t go the rest of your life without getting laid.” He grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her against him. His mouth covered hers with suffocating force.
When she felt the hard muscles of his chest against her breasts and his erect cock pressing on her, a rush of heat dampened her underwear. Both ashamed and furious, she shoved him away. “That does it. Get out of here right now.”
Shaking his head, he stomped out. She bolted and chained the door, her stomach churning. She didn’t want to fight with any member of Tim’s family. Why was Ted suddenly acting like such a jerk?
*It must’ve been some crazy impulse of the moment. If I don’t encourage him, he’ll forget about it soon enough.*
Her cheeks burned with humiliation at the way she’d responded to him for that split second. The reaction was pure animal lust, she assured herself. She didn’t even like him that much. She collapsed on the couch and plucked the ring out of the box. The diamond shimmered through the fresh tears that welled up. Though she hadn’t come close to “getting over” her loss, she’d started to grow a protective shell. Now this unexpected gift had cracked the shell to let in the pain all over again.
When she slipped the ring onto her left hand, it fit perfectly. Not long before the accident, she and Tim had gotten measured at a jewelry shop and of course he’d remembered her size. She kept it on during her shower, unwilling to lose contact with it for even a few minutes.
With her eyes closed, she relaxed under the hot water spray and imagined Tim standing behind her and massaging her breasts with soapy hands. Yes, she needed to get laid but not by just any man. Definitely not by her dead lover’s brother. She’d never have the lovemaking she yearned for again.
As if that hopeless thought had conjured it, a shock like static electricity zapped through her. Had the bathroom wiring shorted out? If so, she couldn’t stay under the shower. Just as she reached for the faucet, something looped around her wrist.
-end of excerpt-

Tuesday, April 08, 2008



This below is essentially a convention report. Reading Sunday's blog entry, you'll note that Linnea Sinclair has been on the road, also. It's a seasonal thing, as she said. I think she's nailed all the right answers to the questions she's being asked, but I could hold forth for hours on "What is Voice."

I learned what "voice" is when I was about 10 years old and my Dad bought a manual typewriter to teach me to type. After I learned the keyboard, I copy-typed two novels for practice (he wanted me to copy newspapers; I rebelled). The novels were Andre Norton's STAR RANGERS and A. E. Van Vogt's SLAN. Two more different "voices" you won't find anywhere. But I don't think anyone can learn what "voice" is by just reading. You have to do what Marion Zimmer Bradley used to call "running the words through your fingers" -- just typing them as fast as you can with your brain out of gear. I recommend this method both to learn to keyboard and to learn what "voice" really is. After you've got this concept deep into the non-verbal part of your brain, you can then proceed to develope a "voice" of your own. No two writers have the same "voice." (I have a story in an anthology meant to demonstrate this. SPECULATIONS edited by Isaac Asimov and Alice Laurence. The table of contents does not give the author's name. You have to read the story and GUESS who wrote it. Answers are in the back.)

Denvention (World Science Fiction Convention for 2008) has posted my bio at http://www.denvention3.org/programming/bios2.php#lichtenberg

The last weekend in March, I was a guest at Ecumenicon http://www.ecumenicon.org where I taught an eight session "intensive" series of advanced classes using Tarot, Astrology and the Bible to explore propositions about the nature of life, reality, and the purpose of life.

To get academic credit, the class had to pass the following test (we went over the answers in the last session so everyone could pass even if they weren't listening during the presentation):

1. Name 4 points in TIME where the Creator changed the laws of reality.
2. Is a Jewish soul magically superior to a non-Jewish soul? Why?
3. How did the Creator create the world? With what tool? What does that Creator do now? 4. What is Time?
5. What has Time to do with Karma?
6. What is the difference between Good and Evil?
7. What is the purpose of life?
8. What is the physical world phenomenon most analogous to the Soul?

If you're sorry you missed the class, the substance of what I was presenting is discussed in my January to June 2007 SF/F Review columns at:

Also see my January 2008 Review column.

In addition, I made a number of printouts for the class which we discussed in a rapid fire, bullet-point, stay-on-your-talking-points style, skipping over hundreds of really deep supporting issues. The chairman of the convention sat in on this class and kept reminding me to stay on topic -- or I might not have.

So the group (limited to 12 students) worked hard, kept coming back for the next session, read the handouts for homework between sessions, and brought in many interesting questions and observations from many traditions to widen the discussion.

It was very hard work for me, too, taking many hours to organize and prepare the material.

Because of the scheduling and the exhaustion component, I didn't attend any of the other program tracks, and only saw the dealer's tables (fabulous stuff!) because they were set up in the broad hallway outside the classrooms. But that was fine because the convention paid me and was therefore entitled to all my time.

But around that core of committed hours, I had a number of really wonderful experiences.

I was astonished by how smoothly the trip from Phoenix to Baltimore went -- considering that this was the weekend when several airlines took hundreds of planes out of service for inspection, leaving passengers to crowd onto all the other flights. My flight left on time and arrived on time -- (totally astonishing considering my recent travel experiences).

The Phoenix airport was jammed to capacity when I left, and Baltimore was busy if not at capacity when I arrived.

I had a group of friends meeting me, friends I had not seen for years since I'd moved West. And despite the years, I recognized them!

Then the odds tilted sharply in my favor -- my checked luggage actually arrived, and intact. (I'd had broken suitcase issues the last few times I traveled.)

I can't tell you how thankful I am for these friends in my life, and how much effort they put into meeting me. They're shy or I'd throw names around. My bag was heavy with material for the class, and I needed some help though it could have been worse if the flight hadn't gone so smoothly. I came home much lighter and was able to manage.

At the hotel, I put in an appearance at the first evening's banquet event, and then met with the friends who had picked me up.

To my utter and complete surprise, they threw a little birthday party for me. I don't even remember how many years it's been since anyone put a candle on a cake for my birthday -- I wished mightily and blew hard! -- and they even gave me a present, and some room-food to eat during the con laden with an abundance of love in every molecule.

The next morning, at 9AM, the con's opening ceremonies went without a hitch (I think maybe because the con-suite had the coffee ready and a good breakfast to grab and go), and before you knew it, there we all were gathered for the first class.

As usually happens, I tended to just sit in the function room (or take a quick bio-break) and continue talking to individuals during the formal breaks in the schedule.

I remember it being 10:30 AM -- then about fifteen minutes later, it was 4PM. That happens all the time when I'm writing a novel or book. All I can say is, I think that means I had fun.

Friday night, I did the usual and went to sleep early. And I slept in. Luckily I remembered I was meeting the class at 10:30 AM to discuss their personal natal charts and how to apply the theory presented the previous day to an individual's personal life.

About half an hour later, it was 7PM. We got kicked out of the classroom on schedule, before 4PM -- but our discussion adjourned to a hotel room and was still going strong at 7PM. I don't exactly know what happened to all those hours. Miraculously, I didn't get laryngitis, as I usually do at talk-fests.

I collapsed, slept well, woke early, and did the last of the class sessions on Sunday.

One of the students in the class had never read any of my novels but mentioned a brand new interest in learning screenwriting and was bemused when she discovered I'd been diverted into screenwriting recently. She signed up for the Worldcrafters Guild (simegen.com writing school) even before classes were over for the weekend.

Then, before the closing ceremonies, I got a fabulous thank-you gift from one of the class members. There was a professional offering soft-tissue massages among the dealers, and my student bought me a great massage that wiped out most of the fatigue collected that weekend.

Considering that people paid convention membership plus an additional fee for my classes, that extra was totally unexpected.

After closing ceremonies, my friends who had met me at the airport took me out to dinner.

One more shock, and the convention was finished -- at dinner, they had the waitress sneak a candle onto my desert cake and sang me a great big public Happy Birthday. I can't recall that ever happened to me before. It was really kewl.

Monday, I had breakfast with my friends where we discussed the "real" world we were about to rejoin, and then the trip home was likewise uneventful, as travel should be and hasn't been in recent memory.

I felt that Baltimore's BWI airport was not filled to capacity. The plane took off on time. It landed on time. It was great to be home! My bag arrived (undamaged). And I had the shortest wait for my ride home that I ever have had at PHX.

It was a charmed weekend, a weekend outside of time, a weekend of beating the odds, and of truly appreciating friends. When a friend is involved, "out of sight" is not "out of mind."

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Monday, April 07, 2008

On the Road with Questions and Answers

I've spent the past two weekends on the road (yes, it's the silly season again), teaching writing workshops and doing book signings at a community college in Leesburg FL, a library in Mount Dora FL, an art center in Naples FL and a library in New Port Richey FL. Next weekend I leave for a week-long conference in Pittsburgh (the annual and wonderful Romantic Times BOOKlovers convention).

The questions asked me by writers at these events tend to range all over the lot. Some of the questions are very on-point--you can tell this person is serious about wanting to get published because they've done their homework. Other questions seem to be just fishing--the person really has no idea of how a book goes from an idea to sitting on the shelf in a bookstore.

I'll share some from both camps here as maybe you've had similar questions too:

Q - Why don't you tell your publisher to print your books in hardcover, not just paperback?

A - I don't tell Bantam anything. I have a contract with Bantam that delineates I will provide them the content but an author is not in a position to determine or demand (at least, not unless you're sooper oodley famous) how that content is presented. The decision on cover art, format (paperback, trade paper or hard cover, audio book, ebook) and the like is done by the corporate end/marketing departments of NY publishing houses (please note I'm not talking about self-published or small press published here). Of course, my agent (or I through my agent) can make suggestions. But Bantam is not obliged to follow them.

I personally like mass market paperback as the medium. It's small, priced well, easy to carry. Durability isn't the same has hardcover but mass market ppb (paperbacks) are a lot more affordable than hardcover: $6.99 versus $25 or so.

Q - Where does your agent place advertisements for your books?

A - I'm getting the feeling lately that there's a real misunderstanding out there as to the role of a literary agent. Literary agents are not publicists. A literary agent presents your book to publishing houses in an attempt to acquire a contract with the house to publish your book. The agent then negotiates the terms of the publishing contract. A literary agent doesn't book my signings, conventions or speaking engagements. She doesn't create or place ads in the media for my books. Mine does advise me on the status of my career and my brainstorm things like workshops and conferences and signings with me. But she doesn't handle the actual placement of ads.

The publisher--in my case, Bantam--has an advertising campaign for each of the books it publishes. Bantam will create and place ads in viable publications for my books. Bantam doesn't ask me what magazines to use. I find out about the ads after the fact.

The majority of the advertising, signings and workshops are up to each author. I handle that myself. Yes, writing is a business as well as an art and a craft.

Q - What is "voice?"

A - Gee, have two weeks? I probably should do an entire blog on the subject (actually, I'm going to be teaching Point Of View and Voice at the RT con next week...). Voice is not one thing. It's probably easiest to say I know it when I see it but that's really not helpful.

Voice is the unique combination of a number of elements in the art and craft of writing that a writer employs to tell his or her story in a way that is recognizable as his or her own.

Voice includes, but is not limited to, pacing, word choice, sentence structure and characterization.

Let me give you a visual example. If I say "fast food restaurant" you likely think of a long counter, menu overhead, cash registers staffed by people in identical uniforms, seats bolted to the floor, screaming children, no tablecloths, condiments in tiny packets. Brightly lit, lots of tile and/or formica.

Those images, that style is the "voice" of a fast food restaurant. It could be McDonald's. It could be Wendy's. It could be Chick-Fil-A. I could drop you into any one of those, blindfolded, whip off your blindfold and you'd immediately recognize the kind of experience available there.

In the same sense, I could pull out a dozen pages of a JD Robb "In Death" book, hand them to you and having read those pages, you'd know--even without the bookcover--that this was a JD Robb "In Death" book. La Nora has a unique "voice."

I'm told so do I because of my word choices, characters, pacing and so on. Voice is not just one thing and it's very hard to teach voice. I can tell you what comprises it but you still have to create your own.

Q - My critique partners tear apart and change everything I write. What am I doing wrong?

A - Possibly nothing. Possibly everything. My first concern is, who are your crit partners? Do they have books on the shelves of Barnes & Noble or Waldenbooks? Have they actively studied the craft of writing? Or are they just starting out, putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard?

Jack Bickham, a noted writing guru, states in his The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes, "Usually it's a mistake to seek advice from other amateurs at writers' clubs. I don't think it's a good idea to ask family or friends to read and 'criticize' your manuscript, either...for two reasons: they won't be honest; they usually don't know what they're doing anyway."

I risk being flamed here, but I agree with Jack. Unless your family member is Colby Hodge and your critique partner is Jacqueline Lichtenberg. But the amateur writer or hobby writer is not qualified to tell you if what you produced is publishable.

Please note my use of the word publishable. A book can be competently written but not publishable. (IE: you can build the most beautiful, fabulous, well constructed butter churn in the world but you'll have a tough time selling it because very few people use butter churns anymore.)

I'm not saying don't attend writers groups. They can be terrific places to make other writerly friends and listen to workshops given by published authors. But someone on the same level as you in writing may not be the most helpful crit partner.

I do encourage you to join professional author and writer groups. The reasons should be obvious but if not, ask. I also encourage you to take online writing classes presented by professional writing organizations and taught by published authors. You can find a (growing) list of those on my website under writing tips.

But even if a published author tells you your scene is wrong, remember it's still your story. Providing the error isn't one of craft (ie: spelling, grammar) then consider what the author recommends but change it only if you feel it's an improvement.

Two caveats:
1 - when I crit, I never tell a writer something is wrong unless I can tell them how to fix it. (IE: if I don't know the right way, how can I know that's the wrong way?)
2 - if your agent or editor tells you change it, do so unless you really really really have a reason for doing it the way you did. They are professionals in the business of producing publishable books.

And as always, I leave you with CJ Cherryh's superb advice: Follow no rule off a cliff.


Saturday, April 05, 2008

Characters come to life

A lot of times we are asked who we would cast if our books ever became movies. I think for most of us writers it usually goes beyond that. A lot of us have someone in mind when we first create our characters. Since I'm a visual type person I enjoy having that image fully formed in my mind when I sit down to write.

For Stargazer I had Tom Welling in mind for the role of Shaun. He plays a young Clark Kent on Smallville and I think he's much better when he's bad. Plus I would love to see him in a more grown up type role. John DeSalvo go the cover. In my mind he was a bit too mature in the face to be Shaun and I'm not a fan of all the skin but the cover sold a lot of books. I saw Tom Selleck as the Soverign Alexander and George Clooney as Michael. The women usually are not as distinct. Usually because I'm playing out my own foolish fantasies through them. But occasionally one comes to me.

In Shooting Star my inspiration for Tess was Evangeline Lilly from Lost. David Beckham was Ruben. I saw a picture of him on the cover of GC and he just clicked in my mind. Star Shadows had Ian Summerholder as Boone. Although Adam Levine from Maroon Five showed up occasionally after I watched the Makes Me Wonder video about a thousand times. In Twist Paul Walker became the Avatar for Shane after the guy on the cover came out with blonde hair. What can I say, I like dark hair on my heroes but I was more than happy to go with Paul. And it worked.

But now I actually get to see one of my heroes come to life. At the upcoming Romantic Times conference in Pittsburgh the Mr. Romance pageant is featuring my book, Star Shadows and Chris Winters, is playing the role of Zander. Chris is also a most awesome actor so he's reading the book to learn the dark side of Zander who is one of my most tortured heroes. To learn more about Chris go here.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Having Ideas and Getting Ideas

In MISERY, Stephen King's writer protagonist makes a distinction between "having an idea" and "getting an idea." In the novel the writer's "number one fan," enraged that he's killed off her favorite character, demands that he bring the character back to life—but she must be resurrected plausibly. The author has an idea: His heroine was mistakenly buried alive. Now he needs to "get an idea"—to build on the moment of inspiration by figuring out what put her into a death-like state. C. S. Lewis made a similar distinction between the story concepts that spontaneously flash into a writer's mind and the linking material that must be consciously invented. He said ideas usually came to him in the form of mental pictures (e.g., the Narnia series began with an image of a faun carrying an umbrella and an armful of packages in a snowy forest). When he had received a number of "pictures" that seemed to belong to the same story, he then had to do the deliberate work of constructing a plot to fill in the gaps.

My experience is similar, except that I don't have a very visual imagination. I "have ideas" in the form of concepts, sometimes with a protagonist and scraps of dialogue attached. Right now I'm trying to compose a paranormal romance novelette for the new Silhouette Nocturne Bites line of electronically published stories. Immediately I knew I wanted to set my story in a Lovecraftian background. The first idea that occurred to me was a young woman who possesses an artifact that allows the wearer to control certain creatures from an alien dimension (I imagined them as similar to the Hounds of Tindalos in the classic Frank Belknap Long tale). The villain will try to steal the artifact and will succeed in stealing another object she owns, one of those forbidden books ubiquitous in Lovecraftian horror. The heroine and hero will fall in love while tracking the villain. Then I had to start working out the details. Since I want the heroine to be ignorant of her potential power, I had to explain why she owns these objects in the first place. I decided she inherited them from her late uncle, an anthropology professor. She should also have untrained psychic power of some kind. The hero should also have power, but he would know the secret behind it and the artifacts. How did he get involved with her? Silhouette Nocturne wants "alpha" type heroes, so if the hero was an archaeologist who worked with her uncle, he'd have an adventurous, somewhat exotic background and personality to fit that requirement. Also, this back story explains how the heroine could be previously acquainted with and secretly attracted to him. Moreover, I decided their ancestors came from the same village many generations back, as an explanation for why they have similar powers and why the hero sought out her uncle as a mentor to begin with. What kinds of psychic talents should they have? I considered and discarded several possibilities before settling on telekinesis, a useful all-purpose gift. I also decided they would have an empathic and erotic bond activated when they both touch the artifact simultaneously. What kind of artifact? Rings and amulets (necklaces) are overused, yet it has to be something that can be conveniently worn by a person of either sex. I thought of a bracelet or armband, which sparked the image of a bronze armlet etched with arcane symbols, an object that could be of great antiquity.

Because I'm an outliner, not a pantser, prone to paralyzing anxiety if I face a blank screen with no idea of what happens next, I need to work out these details and many others before I start. My problem with brainstorming is to keep myself open to alternate ideas as far into the process as possible. I'm too inclined to let myself get locked into one particular sequence of events too early in the planning stage, thereby missing other fruitful plot potentialities.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Solar Heat Excerpt

Chapter One

Talk about unlucky missions. Everything that could go wrong had. One moment Azsla and her crew of four "fugitive" slaves had been on course for Zor, the next the starboard stabilizer had malfunctioned, damaging the hull. The spaceship had jolted, and engine failure had turned their systems inside out, and slammed her crew into unconsciousness. The cosmic whammy had dealt them one hell of a beating, and she thanked Holy Vigo for the lifelong supply of salt that had given her strength and enabled her to remain alert.

The ship was currently powerless and drifting toward the portal that was supposed to have transported them to Zor and freedom. The lights flickered. With a snap of a toggle, Azsla cut the blaring alarm. She didn't need a news flash to know that unless she altered her damaged ship's course, the forces sucking them into the black maw would squash them flatter than a neutron particle.

By now, the backup system should have come on line automatically. Azsla initiated emergency procedures and flipped open the auxiliary engine panel. Twisting the manual override, she thrust the handle to starboard. But the reboot mechanism was also on the fritz. When no lights or controls lit up, licks of alarm shot down Azsla's back. Mother of Salt--a double cosmic whammy.

Keep it together. She'd drilled for emergency situations. Only this was no drill. They were in trouble. Bad trouble. And fear ignited in the pit of her gut like a retro rocket on nitro.

She checked her watch, then estimated the triple threat of time, distance, and mass. At the inescapable result--certain death--her scalp broke into a sweat. As a First of Rama, Azsla had been entitled to a life of privilege and all the strength-building salt she could swallow. But what should have been a life of luxury on Rama had been destroyed by a slave rebellion that had led to hundreds of thousands of slaves escaping from Rama to Zor, a planet in another solar system. To prevent further uprisings and retaliation from the slaves, she'd agreed to go to Zor as a spy. She'd always known her mission would require sacrifice and she'd accepted the danger of pretending to be an underfirst, a lowly slave, in order to assess what kind of weapons Zor was developing against Rama. But to succeed, she had to get to Zor.

Right now, that didn't seem likely. Or even possible. She glanced around at her still unconscious crew. She'd always thought she'd understood the risk of covert operations. When her superiors had cooked up this mission, she'd volunteered. The decision hadn't been a hard one. Fifteen years ago when she'd been in her early teens, a slave uprising on Rama had killed her parents and ruined her home. Some 200,000 slaves had escaped her world and resettled on the planet Zor. Eventually the Firsts had regrouped and regained control, but life as Azsla had known it was over.

After losing everything, her existence had gone from street orphan to ward of the state. When the Corps offered to train her as a weapons specialist and promised her a shot at stopping any chance of another slave rebellion, they hadn't had to ask twice. As a First she'd understood, even as a teenager, that as long as Zor offered safe haven to slaves, all Ramans stood in peril, their way of life threatened.

However to become an effective spy, Azsla had been asked to accomplish what no other Raman had ever done, she'd undergone years of training to suppress her Quait, a First's ability to dominate. She'd accepted she might never succeed--but she had achieved the impossible. Sort of. As long as she kept her emotions in check, her Quait didn't take over and Azsla could prevent herself from overpowering the will of her crew and outing herself. Reining herself in tight, she could now pass as one of them.

If her crew sniffed out her real role, they'd sabotage the journey to Zor. Slaves might be weak, but they were fanatical. Dangerous. They placed little value on life, even their own. To find out what the Zorans were up to, Azsla had to be just as ruthless. Knowing any one of them would turn on a First to keep her away from Zor reminded her to keep up her guard. Always. While it had been surprisingly easy to leave behind her regimented existence where no one would miss her, she'd never considered that engine failure might kill her in this tin can before she'd even landed on Zor.

One by one, the systems went down. Getting to Zor, at this point, was secondary to staying alive. Artificial gravity failed. The air grew stale. It was freezing cold, as if the heat hadn't just turned off in the past few moments but hadn't been on since liftoff three days ago. Azsla gripped the command console to maintain her position at her station and ignored the white vapor puffing from her mouth, the prickly bumps rising over her flesh, her body-racking shivers. Her unconscious crewmen floated away from their stations as the ship lost gravity and she couldn't blow off a spark of sorrow over their plight. During the long months of training for this mission, she'd come to know her crew, and, to her surprise, respect them. Now, she couldn't remember when she'd stopped thinking of them as slaves and started thinking of them as people.

"Anyone awake?"

None of her crew answered, likely frozen, shocked, and possibly injured. Yet, they weren't dead. Rak, her second in command, drew in choked breaths. Kali, the copilot and chief engineer, flailed on the ceiling, seeking leverage to alter his altitude.

Knowing she had mere moments to divert the ship, Azsla stayed put. If she couldn't change their course, the wormhole would devour the ship, leaving nothing, not even scattered debris, to mark their passing.

"Report," she repeated, her voice lowering an octave as if ashes filled her mouth, her cold-numbed fingers flicking the damaged control toggles, frantic to restart the engines. Surely Jadlan or Micoo in the sleepers had been jarred awake? Or had they ditched protocol, abandoned their posts, and ejected in their escape pods? Azsla had no way of knowing, not with her instruments off line, but as always, she cut her crew some slack, all too aware that none of them had her superior intellect or physical strength. After all, they were slaves.

Taking stock, she assessed their predicament with as much presence of mind as she could summon. Instant depressurization had collapsed the aft stabilizer. Her damage-weakened ship now spiraled end over end--straight toward hull-crushing forces that would terminate her mission--unless she found some miraculous way to steer clear.

Azsla ripped open the panel's cover to examine the wiring. The reek of burning plastic singed her nostrils. Smoke filtered into the cabin and fear scratched along her skin like claws, ripping and shredding, threatening to tap out her last reserve of Quait control. Damn her crew. They should have responded by now.

Not that she was even close to normal. Her fingers trembled and she loathed her own weakness as much as that of the underfirsts who hadn't responded to her plea for information. With her gut doing a slow spin job, she battled fresh panic.

Easy. She was beginning to hate the empty brutality of space. Not that she was bitter. Sweet Vigo, people were supposed to live on planets where they didn't have to breathe recycled air, where every little mechanical failure wasn't life threatening, where a stray piece of dust didn't create lethal havoc with her ship's systems.

Trying to buy herself a little relief from pounding panic, Azsla attempted to dial down her emotion. She cornered it, squashed it. Beat it into submission. Pretend it's just another drill. After ten years of keeping her cool and suppressing her Quait, her spontaneous instinct to dominate should have been under control . . . yet, as the port fuel tank exploded, her natural inclinations to overpower kicked in. Hard. Every cell in her body ached to reach out and make the crew work as one. But if she reverted to instinct and used her Quait to save all their lives by forcing them to fix the ship, her crew would then learn that she wasn't one of them. If they didn't kill her, she would wind up returning home in defeat. Sure, mind scrubbers could erase her crew's memories, but the Corps didn't accept failure. Azsla would never get another shot at returning to Zor.

But the aching instinct to survive at any cost began to burn. Sizzle. Her blood boiled with the need to take charge . . . for the sake of self preservation.

She was about to lose it and take over the will of every underfirst on board. With no time to talk herself down slowly, she popped a tranq, swallowing the pill without water. Immediately, the fire eased. The seething boil cut to a manageable simmer. Of course, later, if she lived that long, she'd pay for relying on the tranq. If her superiors ever discovered she'd resorted to artificial tactics, it would put them off--enough to shut her down, boot her from the Corps. But with the metal hull groaning, official consequences were the least of her problems.

The portal was sucking them in. Thanks to the tranq, her Quait settled and the need to dominate abated. Finally, praying to save the ship from annihilation, she struggled to route the last remaining battery power into the bow thrusters.

Her fingers manually keyed in instructions, and she regained her normal tone of voice. "Kali. What's doing?"

Kali groaned, opened his eyes, shoved off the ceiling and buckled into the copilot's seat. He slapped his flickering monitor. "Navigation's a bust. Hyperdrive's non-operational. Engineering's off line. Life support's nonfunctional. Time to bail?"

Unless she could alter their direction, they'd have to abandon ship or be crushed four ways to summer solstice. However, the portal would draw in the sleeping pods, and, as long as the emergency batteries maintained the pods' shielding, they'd shoot straight through to Zor. Hopefully someone at the other end would pick up an automated distress signal--if not, they would drift in space, frozen. Forever. Not an appealing option, but neither was instant death.

Azsla jerked her thumb toward the safety pod. "Hit the air lock."

Although her crew often disappointed, not quite living up to her standards, they tried hard. And she wasn't cruel enough to dash their hopes and reveal they had little chance of survival, never mind escape. Of course, the Corps never intended for her crew to achieve the freedom they sought. On Zor, they'd be rounded up by other spies and sent back to Rama in chains as an example of what happened to slaves who attempted escape from the mother world.

Kali unsnapped his safety harness, snagged Rak off the ceiling, and swam toward the rear. "Captain, you coming?"

"Just messing with the bow thrusters." She didn't exactly lie. Although she had little hope of cranking out a course alteration with the bow thrusters, she used the excuse to stay at the helm to secretly shoot the logs and a report of the disaster back to Rama, a last-ditch effort to inform the Corps of their predicament. Notifying home was a calculated risk. Her crew believed they'd escaped Rama, when in actuality the government had allowed them to leave in order to insert Azsla into their midst. If any of them caught a whiff of what they'd consider betrayal, there was no telling if she could handle them after swallowing that tranq.


At Kali's sharp tone, Azsla stiffened. Had he seen her dispatch the log? Despite the tranq, she couldn't conceal the edge to her voice. "Yes?"

"Ship temperature's approaching freezing. The hull's breached. Shields are failing. We need to leave, now."

Relieved her cover remained intact, Azsla skimmed her hands over the keys, robbing the remaining power from every system except the pods. "I'm right behind you."

Kali soared through the control cabin into the ship's bowels. She heard him pop open the pods and the terrified voices of her crew. So the others had awakened. She shouldn't be thinking about them. Slaves were easily replaced. Weak. A waste of salt.

Yet . . . this crew had trained hard. Not as hard as she had. But then they didn't have her abilities. Still, they'd done what they could with what they had.

Finally, she shunted the last of the power into the boosters.

Done. She turned and shields began to go down. The injured hull squealed in agony, the tearing of metal a death knell. Diving for the escape pod, she overshot her mark. Kali snatched her by the ankle, saving her from a painful smack into the bulkhead.

"Thanks." She seized a handhold and righted herself. He'd already stuffed Jadlan, Micoo, and Rak into the pods and ejected them through the air lock.

"Ready to bounce?"

"Absolutely." Totally on board with the plan, she slapped the button to open her sleeper. Kali slid into the last remaining pod.

She tensed her muscles to do the same. Only her pod didn't open. "What the frip?" All hell was about to come down on the ship and she nailed the button mechanism again with her fist.

And got zip. Zero. Zilch. The canopy refused to budge. Her high-pitched gasp shamed her and she hoped Kali put it down to the cold that seemed to have frozen her bones.

This was insane. Surely every freaking system on the ship couldn't fail . . . unless someone had sabotaged the mission. But who? If the slaves had known about her subterfuge, they would have killed her, or died trying. Not even they would have vandalized the entire ship. And she had no other enemy. The Corps wanted her to succeed.

The delay didn't seem to faze Kali. Instead of ejecting, he moved smoothly, climbing from his pod. "Let me." Picking up a wrench, he slapped the release button.

"It's no good." She pointed to the hull that had caved, crushing her pod, the metal cross brace obstructing the release mechanism from firing properly.

The hull howled like a wild beast, the last of the shields failing. From the ship's bowels, the engines rumbled like a volcano about to erupt. Her ability to issue orders dulled by the tranq, she said nothing as Kali picked her up, slipped her into his pod, and closed the canopy with a click of finality. Hit the eject button.

Her last sight of him floored her. He seemed at peace. Eyes closed, his lips moved, and if she hadn't known better, he'd appeared to be praying. At peace with his death.

She shot into space, a rush of emotions flooding over her tranqed emotions. Relief. Hope. Astonishment.

Kali had given up his chance to live. For her.

She hadn't even used her Quait. She closed her fingers into fists. Kali had meant nothing to her. Slaves were easily replaceable. Unworthy. Yet, she'd spent enough time with her second in command to know Kali's life had meant everything to him. He'd planned to begin anew on Zor. Marry. Have children. His dreams would never have happened because of her mission . . . but Kali hadn't known that.

Turning, she watched the ship implode and vanish into the portal. Kali was dead, his body relegated to tactonic dust.

She shouldn't have cared. Cold from the sleep capsule spread over her skin like guilt. She told herself slaves died every day. So what?

But if Kali's selfless sacrifice didn't matter, then why was her vision blurred? Why were tears freezing on her cheeks?