Thursday, July 31, 2008

Romance Changes Lives

A few days ago I read an article about a Turkish soap opera called NOOR, wildly popular in the Middle East. The hero is the romantic idol of female viewers. Although set in a Muslim cultural context, the program portrays liberal, secular values and a relationship of equal partners within marriage. Here’s a link to the article (or go to and search for “Noor”):,0,3743960.story

Notice the 24-year-old Jordanian housewife who advised her husband to learn from the way the hero of the show treats his wife—“how he loves her, how he cares about her.” This example illustrates the fact that romance isn’t just frivolous entertainment; it can change lives. This soap opera, a genre disdained by many people, models respect and romantic love between men and women. The example can inspire us to pause and think about the effect of our work on readers, an impact that may be stronger than we realize. Our writing inevitably reflects our values and may transmit those values to our audience.

Of course, that doesn’t imply we should go out of our way to insert a “moral” into our novels. As was famously said, if you want to send a message, call Western Union. However, as C. S. Lewis (among others) points out, honest fiction can’t help incorporating the author’s world view; the “moral” grows out of the total framework of his or her mind. (That’s how the Christian resonance got into the Narnia series. Lewis didn’t start with the conscious plan of writing children’s books to illustrate Christian doctrines; he started with the image of a faun carrying packages in a snowy forest.) Hence the vital importance of theme, as Jacqueline has explained to us in such depth.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Admin notice

To Anyone Who May Have Commented... and their comment didn't post....

Rowena apologizes sincerely for the inconvenience. Her email overflowed during the night.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

TITLE as Marketing Tool - Part One

I think Margaret Carter, in her Thursday July 24th post, has missed an important point about MARKETING. The Newspaper she sites was of course writing to readers and the reporter was probably unaware of the Point Of View differences.

I've been studying "Marketing" a bit lately, so I may be doing what the reporter did -- failing to connect with you, the book-buyer. But I'm going to try to explain how it looks from the Publisher's point of view.

Here's the point that's overlooked in Margaret Carter's last Thursday post on Titles.

Titles don't sell books to READERS.

Now go back and read her post and the comments once again, understanding that Titles have nothing at all to do with manipulating book-buyer's behavior.

So stipulate that the point and purpose of the TITLE in the Book Publishing Business Model is not to sell books to READERS.

The question then becomes what is a title and what is it for?

Titles are vital -- the correct choice of title is vital -- and makes or breaks sales. All the time.

Absolutely. Without exception. Proven by computer analysis. THE correct title is absolutely necessary to make sales figures soar.

Now how can that be if book-buying readers like Margaret ignore it? And after reading the book, forget the title!

We as readers mostly forget or ignore titles -- rarely does an intriguing title result in an impulse buy. Why is that?

Because intriguing titles attract the eye and mind to the book cover, but when you flip it over or look at the inside blurb, or first 3 paragraphs -- the book is not about what you imagined it might be or wanted it to be about.

WRITERS take that experience and go write the book that "belongs" under that title. Writers find great titles inspiring.

READERS just pass on, feeling frustrated, cheated and disappointed, and buy a guaranteed good read.

So why are titles so ultimately make-or-break for a book's sales? Don't they sell books to readers?

Well, no, "they" don't. Readers aren't actually part of the Publishing Business Model, any more than "voters" are part of the Political Machinery Business Model.

The PUBLIC (i.e. the Book Buyer) responds to advertising, regardless of their personal opinion.

That's the assumption behind much of the Marketing Paradigm, and more than 50% of the time, that assumption is proved accurate. (Personally, I think readers are harder to influence which is why "publishing" is the poor stepchild in every corporation that owns a Publishing House. We just don't respond in predictable ways to promotional advertising in the same way that people over 40 years old just don't respond to advertising. )

So where in the Publishing Business Model does the TITLE go? Who is it supposed to SELL TO if not the book-buyer/reader? If not the end-user, then who?

The answer is THE SALES FORCE. Titles exist to bait, intrigue, energize, jazz, inspire, and awaken greed in -- THE SALES FORCE. The Marketers.

The TITLE sells books not to the READER but to the SALES FORCE, the Marketing Department, The BUZZ MILL (editor, agent, publisher execs over lunch talking about it).

The TITLE sells not to those who will read the book (none of those professional sales people will read the book!), but to those who MARKET THE BOOK.

So the title is crucial to sales because if the title is not RIGHT, the book will never (ever!) make it to the shelf before reader's eyeballs to give book-buyers a chance to choose it. It might be "published" but won't be in the Book Chain Stores. Since the Independent Book Stores are totally vanished from the scene -- that failure to make the Chains is a deathnell even if the book is "published."

Books get chosen to be on Chain Store shelves in a number of ways. One way is at the annual Book Expo -- the TRADE SHOWS. The INSIDERS, the BUZZ NETWORK, -- what people are saying to each other while walking the aisles of that trade show -- determines if a book gets picked up for stocking in the chain stores.

Even on amazon which doesn't have "shelves," this has become true.

Why even on Amazon?

Because as Amazon has grown from a big reader-fan organization to a powerhouse marketer, they've started taking those standard bribes from publishers that book chains invented.

The Publisher PAYS to have your book in front of the store -- in the window -- in the "NEW" section, or shelved cover-out instead of spine-out -- or shelved in two places (SF and Romance).

The publisher pays? Well, no, the publisher's MARKETING DEPARTMENT (not one person inside which has ever or will ever read any of these books) decide which books to pay to put in front of the store or in the window.

On Amazon "up front" means it turns up in your Recommended section when you log in -- the more the publisher pays the higher in your Recommendeds it will appear. Or even be promoted in an email. Or now given away to amazon reviewers in the Vine program. (yeah, some chosen amazon reviewers get offered free books now! But only books publishers throw into the Vine program which is NOT all the publisher's titles. The select few get promoted.)

How does the Marketing Department decide which books to pay to have put in front of book-buyers eyeballs and which to leave out (so nobody can choose to buy it -- thus determining the sales figures.)

BY THE TITLE. And only by the title. That's what affects sales volumes -- despite what you and I, the inveterate reader actually do when looking at the book.

What does MARKETING look for in a title?

It's called HIGH CONCEPT, and I've been harping on this topic -- BOOKS AND MOVIES ARE NOW THE SAME -- on this blog for quite a while.

There's a vital point to consider here. This connection between books and movies and Marketing isn't something I just somehow missed learning as I grew up.

IT IS NEW. It has never before in the history of the world existed. OK, all right, PUBLISHING is relatively new -- few hundred years if you don't count hand-copying.

But let's take a long look at the history of publishing over the last few decades -- just decades.

When Margaret is discussing TITLE -- she's discussing it from the point of view of about 30 years ago.

In the 1970's and 1980's Publishing underwent a huge, big, monstrous, paradigm shift.

The really frightening thing about that change is that, though it was discussed in various newspapers (there weren't blogs then) and magazines -- the general book-buying public and people growing up with the ambition to "become writers" didn't get it -- didn't understand the nature of the change and its implications.

To this day, the real significance of this change hasn't sunk in.

There's a whole generation of new writers (and editors, too) who have grown up in the modern paradigm and don't really know there ever was anything different. They just know they don't like reading old books.

And there are those readers who are still forlornly searching for new novels written for the old paradigm.

What is the shift? What is this vital, earth shattering, vastly significance CHANGE?

I bet you already know and are bored that I'm saying this again.

Publishing went from a business that barely broke even, and was actually designed to LOSE MONEY as a tax write-off for the corporations which owned the Houses, to a business designed to MAKE MONEY.

It went from non-profit, or anti-profit, to profit making.

It sounds so simple. Who could miss that or not realize the full significance of it? Corporate America invaded our space. So?

Well, novels used to be written to communicate about interesting points, about emotions, philosophy, love, politics, religion -- incendiary topics. To be a "novelist" meant to be a THINKER -- no more, a LEADER OF THINKERS. Not really an "Intellectual" because "we" write for the "pulps" and Mass Market, but novelists were saying things that went way over the heads of most of the population.

That was proved out by sales and surveys. I recall the published figures in Publisher's Weekly from decades ago. It went from about 5% of the population of the USA buying books to read to maybe as much as 10% of the population in the 1960's and 1970's.

What changed?

Movies in the early part of the 20th Century didn't drive people to reading novels. They did however sell Movie Magazines. Mostly pictures. Those pictures changed how women dressed. Did you know that Max Factor makeup was at first ONLY for Hollywood stars when they were on screen -- and via the Movie Magazines, became known, and started making a beauty-parlour version and then went to Mass Market? Women adopted the bra, and other tricks of the stars, because of Magazines. Pin-ups. What guys wanted, girls provided.

Movies pitted us normal girls against "stars" -- and Movie Magazines changed the world.

Films reached a much bigger audience than books ever had. But it was much later that the NOVELIZATION was invented.

The big revolution of the 1960's was just a slow continuation of the 1950's which was a gradual, creeping revolution started in the 1930's and 40's. What was that revolution that affected publishing?


From a few stations in New York, Networks exploded. In the late 1950's the three big radio networks went coast to coast with TV networks of the same names (ABC, CBS, NBC). Remember Kinescope? No? Now you see my point.

Kinescope was the big revolution that allowed recording a TV show and showing it in California 3 hours later than the original broadcast in New York -- a technological miracle that unified this country. At 8PM everyone watched Milton Berle, even if you had to go over to the neighbor's house who had the only TV on the block. (about 7 inches across diagonally).

What happened to Television in the 1960's? Color TV, yes, big screens, and one more really significant thing I don't think any historians ever paid attention to.


Oh, you knew I was going to say that, didn't you?

So I'll give you a week to think about it. Really think - put the pieces together. If you can understand what happened, you will begin to understand what is happening now in such a way that you can take advantage of it and make yourself a profit.

Part II of this post next week, but I'll be on my way to WorldCon (see and choose this year from the list) so I'll have to ask Rowena once again to post for me.

After I get through with the Historical Review on titles in publishing, though, please someone remind me to discuss how to choose a title for your book that will propel it into the top of the list from which salesforces choose which books to promote. I can't claim to be really good at it, but I think I do have some ideas that will help.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Cock down

That's my alien romance "craft" thought for the day, and you can bet that I'm going to give it to Prince Thor-quentin when I write his book.

Why are we so perky when we do wrong?

Everything is "up". Cock up, screw up, foul up, snafu, mess up...

OK. So "cock up" is an esoteric term from the gentlemanly sport of cricket, nothing to do with barnyard poultry, or romantic enthusiasm.

Best wishes,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Book Titles

Last Sunday’s paper contained an article about the effect of titles on book sales. The premise seemed to be that the right or wrong title can make or break a book’s market performance. I have some doubts on that point, from my own practices as a reader. I do my book buying from a list (organized by release months) that I carry in my purse all the time. The list comes mainly from two sources: (1) scheduled releases from authors I regularly read—by far the greatest number; (2) books whose reviews have sparked my interest. The third main source is other readers’ recommendations. Titles affect my choices only in case of the very rare impulse purchases. If a provocative title or cover illustration catches my eye, I might pick up the book and read the blurb.

Assuming many buyers are more impulse-oriented than I am, though, what makes a title attract them? I favor titles that give useful information or at least a strong hint of the book’s content. I have a hard time choosing titles for my own work— I seldom come up with one until the book is at least outlined in detail. I struggle with the attempt to balance the three ideal elements—an intriguing phrase, a clue to the story, and an indication of the book’s genre. The last two elements can clash; e.g., a clearly vampire-related title is apt to sound a lot like many of the other vampire novels on the shelf. A thought-provoking title, perhaps containing a literary allusion, may not give the reader any idea what the book is about. (Maybe that’s why the U.S. publisher of Agatha Christie’s murder mystery THE MIRROR CRACK’D changed the title.)

SILENCE OF THE LAMBS—would that phrase normally bring serial killers to mind? GONE WITH THE WIND incorporates a powerful metaphor but doesn’t instantly suggest the Civil War. HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER is both evocative and informative. DRACULA sounds suitably ominous, much creepier than Stoker’s original choice, THE UN-DEAD, but on first publication nobody could have deduced vampirism from the villain’s name. Diana Gabaldon’s time travel epic OUTLANDER was called CROSS STITCH in its British edition. While the British title is a nice metaphor for time travel, I think OUTLANDER is both more resonant and more informative. Michele Bardsley’s I’M THE VAMPIRE, THAT’S WHY, especially in the context of the book’s cheerful cartoon-style cover, suggests that the novel will (1) focus on a suburban mother’s adjustment to vampire existence, and (2) be funny. In fact, the “motherhood” dimension of the story soon becomes subordinated to other plot elements, and while there are some humorous moments, “funny” isn’t the dominant tone. (I can’t help wondering whether the publisher dictated the title as well as the cover art.)

How much do titles influence your reading choices? Can a title really “make or break” a book? Does this dynamic work differently for fiction and nonfiction?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Astrology Just For Writers - Part 2

Linnea has posted on Beauty, the standards of Beauty and what causes us to be attracted to percieved Beauty. Of course all the poets, philosophers and even scientists studying animal mating habits have gnawed on this problem of beauty and attraction longer than Romance Writers! (??? maybe???)

Honest, folks, we didn't put our heads together and concoct these two Astrology posts to come between her posts. But once again, the post I'd prepared before seeing Linnea's comments actually is connected to what she's thinking about.

Many of you who know some superficial Astrology have seen how Sun-Moon-Rising Sign combinations blend into certain types of physiognomies. People really LOOK LIKE their natal charts. The more people you know -- from first sight all the way to an understanding of what makes them tick -- the better you get at guessing Natal Signs. People really are (at some level) "what" they look like. People who look similar to others you've known, really MAY (operative word, MAY) - have similar personal characteristics.

But astrology isn't just 3 parameters blended -- it's 10 variables in 360 degrees, each degree casting a different shadow on the variable occupying it. Then each variable is shaded and nuanced by the positions and relationships of the other variables. Then comes the "wild card" of the Soul activating the pattern -- each Soul casts an individualized, totally original, one of a kind, twist on the entire pattern. So two people who look absolutely identical will be absolutely nothing alike.

So our eyeball impressions, our subconscious analogue mind, draws incorrect conclusions about people based on how they look.

Still, there are patterns. Aries emphasis lends a shade of impulsiveness -- but the person may be an impulsive lover, or an impulsive driver, or an impulsive speaker, but likely not all of the above. A person who looks like the other impulsive person you know won't necessarily manifest impulsiveness in the same life-area.

You can't judge a person by their chart -- or their appearance.. But nevertheless, we do -- especially where Beauty is concerned. Is Beauty skin deep - or deeper? Will your soul-mate appear repulsive to you at first glance?

Learning a bit about Astrology can help a writer create verisimilitude in characters' reactions to each other and to Beauty, and to distinguish between Beauty, Attractiveness, and Sexiness. Certain surface physical characteristics GO WITH certain personality traits (such as impulsiveness -- Aries shapes the head.) If you describe a certain physical appearance, then show the reader opposite personality traits and don't know what you're doing -- nobody will believe your characters are real. That's fatal in a fantasy worldbuilding situation.

The reader must believe the characters are real -- because everything else isn't. There's an art to mixing appearance with personality traits -- but there's a science to it, also. That science is Astrology.

So now to Astrology Just For Writers - Part 2. You may want to read last Tuesday's post to pick up the thread.

Ancient Wisdom says "the stars don't compel; they impel."

Here is where the writer must choose some of the elements of the THEME of the work. Here is where the universe building begins.

In order to build a character which is unique -- yet comprehensible to the reader in terms of what the reader already knows about human nature and life-patterns -- the writer must select (and then stick with) a philosophical answer to the question about the relationship between the bodies in the sky and the life of a person. The nature of the relationship you choose will reveal much about the universe you build -- and perhaps more about the universe you live in than even you know.

Everything else in your THEME -- which dictates every event, every character trait, and mostly the resolution of the conflict -- must be totally consistent with the answer you choose to the question of how the Heavens are connected to human life and personality. This answer must reflect where you stand on the existence of God, The Soul, Immortality after Death, maybe even The Resurrection. Well, at least where you stand for the purpose of this story.

What is our Universe? What is the purpose of life? What is the purpose of your life? What is the purpose of your characters' lives?

All of those answers are dictated by your answer to the question of the coincidental connection between Life and The Planets. (even transposed to other solar systems).

Is the connection mere accident? Is the Universe an accident? Is the Universe a mechanism? Was it "created" to be a mechanism and left to run unattended? Or is the universe and all life the direct, ongoing, result of the conscious attention of the Creator?

If the Universe and Life have a meaning -- then maybe The Planets are a clue to that meaning left for us to puzzle out?

Or maybe there is no meaning - and the search for meaning is a waste of time?

Or maybe there is no meaning - and the search for meaning can actually CREATE meaning?

Any of these postulates will generate a vast, rich, wonderful and fertile imaginary universe to tell stories in. Each answer (and all the ones I haven't mentioned) defines the specific audience for your fiction.

Your fiction will make sense only to those readers who share your answer, or can stipulate it for the sake of argument (believe 6 impossible things before breakfast). To extend the "reach" of your fiction to the widest possible audience, you need to find the answer shared by the largest number of people even if they've never asked themselves the question.

Subconsciously, each of us harbors a philosophy which contains answers to all these questions.

Most of us do not harbor a uniform and consistent philosophy - thus our actions often seem irratic to outside observers. Characters humans can believe in must share that inconsistency, but to gather a large audience for your fiction, you must use inconsistencies shared by large numbers of people.

The most recent poll of the population of the USA indicates that while most people don't bother with Church or other organized worship, they do by and large believe in a Creator who takes a personal interest in the universe and our lives.

Many people who study the Western Esoteric Traditions often start with Astrology and eventually delve into Tarot and end up studying Kaballah.

I have my own, personal answer (not used necessarily in all my novels, but visible in some). You don't have to look at the universe the same way I do -- but to write coherent fiction, you must look at the universe some ever which way! And each novel you write must adhere to a consistent view of the universe and try to impart that view to the readers.

The adventure of reading is to walk a mile in the main character's moccasins -- that means to learn to see the Universe from a philosophical view different from your own. To accomplish that, being human, we need an anchor -- an axiom of the invented Universe that is the same as our own innermost cherished assumptions -- our UNCONSCIOUS assumptions. Art speaks from subconscious to subconscious.

The view of the novel's universe does not have to be your own - but if it differs from yours, it must differ in an internally consistent way.

So, by way of an example, here is my own current (ever changing) take on this problem of the relationship between the placement and movement of the planets in the heavens and the placement and movement of us people below.

Astrology and Tarot are really two heads for the same sonic screw driver.

Astrology is all about this life (that started when you were born) with this personality (described by but not caused by the Natal Chart's organization). Life has its peaks and valleys and the personality of this life just struggles along coping as best it can.

The personality of this life is a sub-set of the Soul's Personality -- of "who" you really are behind it all, unknown to anyone but yourself and God.

The Tarot is all about the Soul's Personality and what it can achieve in this life, what it can learn, what procedures and techniques it can master in this life, what talents it can lend to the personality.

The Tarot deck has the structure of the Kaballah's Tree of Life - 4 repeating patterns of 10 numbered cards. (10 planets to track - 10 numbered cards per suit).

4 is the minimum number of variables necessary to form a Boolean Algebra. 4-ness is a very salient property of our 4-square reality (3 dimensions and Time).

There are 4 letters in the Ineffable Name of God.

I could go on and on -- but you get the idea. Numbers are the basis of reality, physical and psychological and spiritual. God is creating (present progressive tense) our entire reality via NUMBERS - via vibration, cyclicity. We are solidified spiritual speech.

The human being's Eternal Soul is one of God's creations.

The Soul enters manifest reality through the dimension of Time.

I learned that in a Chabad course on the nature of Time. For all the references and what I learned, see the first 6 review columns of 2007. They're all titled the Soul-Time Hypothesis: something.

It took me a few years to understand what it means that the Soul enters manifestation through Time.

My original education is in Chemistry with minors in Physics and Math. I think like a Physical Chemist. Mysticism bewilders me.

But I'm a born mystic. So I couldn't let go of this idea until I'd rearranged everything I know around it to see what this would do to my philsophy.

It changed my personal philosophy in subtle ways and gave me a new understanding of how it can be that we can take our birth time and place and mathematically describe our personality (not Personality, mind you) and the TIMING OF the challenges we must face in life, but not the nature of those challenges.

This solar system existed long before we were born (even before the Internet, believe it or not).
The solar system has changed over all that time -- we argue that our Moon may be a captive because it's so large, and we see that maybe Mars has a totally different northern hemisphere than southern because of a huge, gigantic, meteor strike long-long-long ago. We theorize that Pluto may be a captive and not a planet at all. Earth's periodicity - year and day length - have changed. The solar system has evolved. Galaxies likewise. All of space-time constantly changes.

It all spins. All the galaxies, our galaxy, our sun, the planets around our sun (planets around other suns) -- it's all MOVING THROUGH TIME.

At some given moment, our Soul injects into this giant physical reality and we are BORN. The Soul penetrates TIME generating a personality to deal with Time. From that moment on, the personality is subject to the linear sequence we call time.

(yes, I know about string theory, and M theory, and that there is no such thing as simultaneity, and how gravity and time interact and so on.)

Science spends most of its time studying Time -- measuring it, theorizing about the speed of light which is a component of so many of the formulas physics uses to build useful things.

We live inside a giant clock - and we spend our lives studying that clock, trying to hear it tick.

The clock ticks whether we're here or not. It doesn't cause us to be here. It doesn't waft us away. It doesn't limit us. It doesn't do anything except KEEP TIME.

We are Souls - we are swimmers in this ocean of Time. And we're trying to learn to swim. The ocean of Time doesn't cause us to learn to swim - we dove in ourselves. The waves of Time don't dictate which swimming stroke we'll choose to use.

The stars do not compel -- nor do they impel. They simply keep going -- and we are learning to walk to their beat, to jump double-dutch, or write a screenplay to the beat. I had barely managed to swallow this concept - the Soul enters manifesation through the dimension of Time - than these Chabad people taught me something else.

The purpose of human life is to make this material reality into a dwelling place for the Creator of it. Everything we are and everything we do (whether we know it or not) is targeted toward that very clearly visualized goal.

We didn't dive into Time just to play in the ocean waves (or at least not all of us or not every time we dive in). We are here to complete a task.

It just explains so much! The pervasive imagining of utopia, for example. So many really popular novels have been written about "the perfect world." And so many people feel that would be so boring they can't imagine it. Everyone has an opinion on utopia. Why? Because actually that's what we're here to do - to make the world easy, beautiful, loving, kind, generous, perfect. Everyone will be sane. (imagine that - I'm not sure I could stand it!)

Consider the Hero's Journey. Consider all the archetypes - King, Warrior, on and on -- each archetype is an imagining of something perfected, pure of its type. And these archetypes are real - they have power, they subsume so much of our existence. How is it we're able to imagine such things? Imagining is a kind of creating. Archetypes organize existence into categories by defining the pure form of the category.

Well, that's the kind of thing you can learn from Astrology. Astrology defines the archetype behind a life-pattern. People go to an astrologer in the grip of angst about their own personal, unique, individual life and identity -- but all Astrology can discuss is the archetypes behind their life and personality.

How those archetypes manifest within the time-frame of a given Life is entirely a matter of the human being's Free Will.

Of course, we do our best to avoid using our Free Will. We let parental conditioning, subconscious compulsions, other people's values, genuine childhood trauma, etc command our existence -- and to the extent that we abjure our Free Will, the fortune-tellers can "predict" our future just by applying the laws of Inertia. All the fortune-teller has to do is extrapolate along a straight line from the client's birth moment and "predict" what will happen next.

Real astrologers and Tarot readers don't do that. They are genuine spiritual counselors who attempt to explain the client's "now" (which can be plus or minus a few years) in such a way that the client becomes motivated to engage their Free Will and craft life anew.

Real astrologers and Tarot readers (and those who use other methods, too - runes work!) use these tools just as a psychological counsellor would use say the latest research on compulsive behavior to discern whether the client is suffering from compulsive behavior or something that mimics it. Some of the best astrologers and Tarot readers are actually psychic and can use that kind of sensory input to interpret a Natal Chart or card spread (or both).

When all the information is fully blended, it is very difficult for anyone, least of all the practitioner, to say where any given piece came from.

And it's the same with a writer. No way can a writer tell you where a particular character came from -- or why this or that trait of that character can't be changed no matter how the editor demands it.

Fictional characters are no more random collections of traits than human beings are. To be engaging, entertaining and comprehensible, a fictional character must be formulated exactly the way a human being is (only maybe not so complex). The writer achieves this creation of a fictional character the same way an Astrologer or Tarot reader achieves a comprehension of a client -- a gestalt of a thousand little things.

Astrology is all about Time and how our Free Will uses it to create our Life. Tarot is all about the Soul and how the Soul struggles to manifest some part of itself into Time, to learn to surf the ocean of time, big waves and all.

Astrology can clue you in to what you're doing - Tarot to how you're doing.

Look hard at your Tarot reading for a week, then study the transits to your natal chart for that week - keep notes while you live out the week - and eventually you will comprehend how these two tools are reading out the same forces and how you, yourself as an individual are creating something unique out of the grand archetypes.

Armed with this non-verbal level comprehension of the structure of the universe, you may be able to portray a character who will walk off your pages into the dreams of your readers.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Monday, July 21, 2008

Beauty is in the eye of...

Talking about technology and world building prodded this thought: how did (or would) people judge beauty if there was no mass media (or access to mass media) dictating what's beautiful and what's not?

I'm sure most of you are familiar with the fact that actress Marilyn Monroe--once touted as a hallmark a female beauty--would be too fat for today's "standards." She was a size 12, I believe. Death knell for a Hollywood actress in 2008. Size 2? Better.

But it's better because we've been conditioned to believe so in the past thirty years--by the media.

I don't want to get in a discussion here of zoftig versus waif. I do want to get in a discussion of world building in which you have a vast collection of cultures and civilizations in a "galactic empire" that may include worlds (or pockets on worlds) of various level of technology and hence various levels of "shared" cultural icons. Like beauty.

I remember reading National Geographics as a child and marvelling at the natives in other countries who used tatoos or piercings as beautification. Obviously their issues of GQ or Cosmopolitan were different from mine. Which shows, of course, that we don't need a galactic empire to examine this issue of "what is beauty?"

How did villagers in 1325 Scotland or 1810 Sweden decide who was the most beautiful village lass without having an issue of People magazine's 100 Most Beautiful to compare them to?

I know there are studies done that define what humans innately find as "attractive" and why: large eyes (better to see predators and escape), full hips (childbearing), long legs (run from predators). These were attributes the insured the survival of the species. But when survival is no longer a crushing problem, these hallmarks can change.

But would they change if they weren't paraded across a mass medium? Would they change of their own accord simply because situations change?

Let's go from low tech 1325 Scotland (assuming you're still pondering that answer) to high tech other star system. Let's posit an active space-faring culture. Would smaller and lighter-weight beings be "more attractive" as they fit better in the confined spaces of starships? Longer fingers to reach more keypads? Or would extra padding and extra weight actually be more desirable in a zero-g environment (if your ships are structured so) because it helps with the bumps and lumps that happen in bouncing off bulkheads? Since weight is a factor of gravity, if your environment has no gravity, does anyone care what you weigh?

What if species are not human as we know it but humanoid? I love CJ Cherryh's felinoid Hani in her Chanur series and how ears are an element of beauty (being own by two felines myself, I can attest to the amount of time spent grooming ears to perfection). But love of ears (Ferengi, anyone?) can go beyond the physical--good hearing in a precarious environment such as a starship would certainly be a plus.

The how and why of the definition of beauty in cultures other than my own intrigues me.

I certainly know what readers would consider the most beautiful traits on an author: ten arms with which to type more novels, and ten heads with which to think up more plots and characters.


PS: If you're in the Orlando area this weekend, please come by see authors Dara Edmondson, Traci Hall, Catherine Kean and myself at our book signing:

July 26th--Waldenbooks, 1-3 PM, the Mall at Millenia, 4200 Conroy Road, Orlando FL

I'll have PRE RELEASE copies of SHADES OF DARK!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Lost knowledge -- the paradox of technology

It's hard being an alien.

Really, I'm not, but my perspective is that of someone transplanted, and I'm acutely aware of the potential for giving offense. On the other hand, I hope it's good fertilizer for my alien romances.

It would probably be a splendid idea if Prince Thor-quentin were to visit America in a future book.

Take rain.

Where I grew up (an island that relies on collected rainwater, a reservoir, a few artesian bores, and a desalination plant for its water) we've been directing the downpipes from our homes' gutters into series of rain barrels for generations. Each barrel is at a different height, and by a simple but clever mechanism, the full one "overflows" to fill the next, and so on, and a simple tap near the base of a barrel can be opened to release water into a watering can.

Yet, I saw a documentary on The Weather Channel the other day that seemed to treat such a system in America as one man's genius invention.

Last month, a prize was awarded to an environmentally conscious youngster (all kudos to her) for inventing a small hydro-electric system to take advantage of the flow of rainwater inside a downpipe and produce enough electricity to power a battery.

A few years ago on the radio, some local builder in Michigan claimed to have invented the dormer window.

I should think a lot of "reinventing the wheel" goes on, because even with Google, it is impossible to know everything that has already been done somewhere in the world, and I daresay there is no invention that is so perfect that it couldn't be improved if a very smart person started from scratch and was open to the best materials and the best thinking, no matter where in the world it came from.

So, even if my alien empires and communicating worlds have the materials, resources and technology to map wormholes, and travel vast distances at unbelievable speeds, I don't think it impossible that they could have lost --or never encountered-- some "backward" knowledge or capabilities along the way.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


I've been reading UNDEAD AND UNWORTHY, MaryJanice Davidson's latest novel in her Betsy, Vampire Queen series. The book made me think about that elusive quality called "voice." All writers have a unique voice, we're told, and we should strive to let our own shine. Some authors have highly recognizable (and easily parodied) voices: Hemingway's spare, short sentences; Lovecraft's elaborate prose, eldritch adjectives, and horror-stricken italics; Damon Runyon's New York underworld slang. Some others, equally unique, can't be described so easily. Stephen King's fiction has a characteristic sound and feel, but I don't think it’s so easily imitated as the others I mentioned.

The first-person narrative of Davidson's vampire novels falls into what I think of as the typical "chick lit" verbal register. Indeed, she was probably one of the pioneers of this subgenre in paranormal fiction. When Betsy emerged from her premature grave in UNDEAD AND UNWED, she came across as snarky, self-observed, obsessed with fashion accessories, and prone to overuse profanity. In fact, in some of the dialogue in this series, every other word out of the narrator’s mouth seems taken from the short list of terms that, thirty years ago, were commonly classified as “unprintable.” (Maybe it isn’t literally every other word, but to me, with my verging-on-zero tolerance for “those words,” it often feels like it. I mean, REALLY, how many people do you know in real life who talk that way in polite company ALL the time?) The first book of Davidson’s newer series, starring a mermaid named Fred, contained an author’s note declaring her intention of making Fred a different type of character from Betsy. Didn’t work for me, because their style and diction are so similar. Fred, too, impressed me mainly as flippant and foul-mouthed.

As an aside, why do I keep reading the adventures of Betsy the Vampire Queen if I feel that way about her? Well, she gets into intriguing predicaments, and it’s fun to watch how the plots unwind. The world-building of Davidson’s vampire and werewolf subcultures has its points of interest. And Betsy, to be fair, has grown as a character from the shallow young woman who emerged from that grave wearing (horrors) un-stylish shoes. She’s developed a genuine love for her husband, Vampire King Sinclair, and a deep sense of responsibility for the people, human and otherwise, who have gathered around to place themselves under her protection. I just grit my teeth and mentally “bleep” over the dialogue that rubs me the wrong way, not to mention all that silliness about shoes. (Sorry, I just don’t GET fashion.)

With UNDEAD AND UNWORTHY, however, I perceive a potential mismatch between tone and plot, or maybe even between tone and theme. Readers were warned that the series would take a darker turn starting with this novel. The publisher even changed the cover style. (I much prefer the cartoony cover illustrations of the earlier books, but admittedly they would mislead new readers if attached to darker stories. Cover art pitfalls comprise a whole different topic—the reprints of Laurell K. Hamilton’s earlier Anita Blake novels have the same cover style as the newer books, darkly erotic and therefore VERY misleading as far as the first few books in the series are concerned; those aren’t remotely erotic.) Previously, blood was spilled and villains died, but things generally turned out well for the good guys. When Betsy’s father and stepmother died in a car crash, her estrangement from them kept us from feeling sorrow over the loss, especially since Antonia, her stepmother, aka the Ant, has been consistently portrayed as a caricature rather than a rounded character. (Will she change now that she’s a ghost trapped into haunting Betsy? Hard to tell.) Therefore, the narrator’s voice has been able to keep the tone breezy, verging on humorous, even in the midst of what would, if described in cooler prose, sound like unmitigated horror. At the climax of UNDEAD AND UNWORTHY, however, Very Bad Things happen. Suddenly, Betsy’s characteristic voice doesn’t seem to fit so well. True, in the final chapter and epilogue, the author tones down the snark considerably. Still, I feel the mismatch may become a problem, if the “darker” trend continues as advertised. Will the author gradually change Betsy’s voice, thereby possibly disappointing readers who like the character the way she is, or try to maintain the familiar tone and diction amid a chain of events that may turn out to be too serious for that tone?

If you’re a fan of the series and have read the latest novel, what do you think about this issue? In general, what about the question of harmony among voice, plot, and theme? Have other authors (you or someone whose work you’ve read) encountered this problem because of shifting the focus of a series, and how do they deal with it? The only other example I can think of is rather remote in applicability, because it’s a TV series: MASH. In later seasons, the program shifted focus from the silliness (which became less obtrusive) to more serious plot premises and themes (which were always present but less prominent). A TV show can’t have a “voice” in the same sense a prose narrative does; what would be the analogous factor on TV? The way I remember MASH, its shift to more rounded characters and emotionally engaging storylines (in my opinion, much improved thereby) coincided with the departure of Col. Blake, Trapper, and above all Frank Burns. Frank, in particular, not only irritated me but constantly undermined my suspension of disbelief. I couldn’t accept that such a buffoon could have been admitted to medical school, let alone graduated. Maj. Winchester had his quirks, but he was a believable character with intelligence and depth. I was also fond of B.J., who foregrounded the issue of separation from family, such a large part of the military experience. Col. Potter, of course, was wonderful. And Frank’s disappearance freed “Hot Lips” to develop from a caricature into a real character. So what do you think? Voice, plotlines, and theme—how do they fit together, and if you want to change the latter two, must you alter your voice, also?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Astrology Just For Writers

Geps Morris, a writer on LinkedIn asked:
Can anyone who believes in Astrology offer any hypothesis for how it might 'work'?

I'm going to post the answer here because this does relate to writing about relationships - especially relationships across vast cultural gulfs.

To get an "alien" mindset across to human readers, you must first establish a connection between the alien and the human.

The comments posted on Amazon's page for my novel (under the Daniel R. Kerns byline) Border Dispute, show that these 2 novels demonstrate this technique - making the alien accessible to humans. Border Dispute is the sequel to Hero. Both Ace mass market paperbacks.

The method is discussed below - "the same but different."

I answered the question about Astrology on LinkedIn two ways -- a very brief answer and a very long one -- I'm posting the brief answer here first, followed by the long answer.

“I don't "believe in" Astrology -- I just use it, as I use Science without "believing in" it.

The topic is very hard to summarize because understanding what Astrology is and how it works requires a totally different model of the universe than we usually rely on.

It's easier to understand what Astrology is not.

Two key ideas to ponder:

1) "The" future and "your own" future can not be predicted by any tool because you have Free Will. So does everyone else. What can be predicted with very good certainty is that you won't use your Free Will. Nor will they.

2) Astrology can tell you WHEN but not WHAT. We live inside a giant clock - the solar system. It's not an appointment book. It's a clock. It can tell you that it's 2PM in your Life -- it can't tell you that you have an appointment with the Dentist at 2PM or that you'll have to have all your teeth extracted because you didn't brush and floss enough when it was 10AM in your Life.

An Astrological Natal Chart is a flash photograph of the moment your Soul became bound to your Body. The Soul chooses that moment as best it can, according to what the Soul seeks to master or address in this Life.

The starting moment of a life or a sequence of events (such as a novel plot) has coded into it all kinds of challenges and opportunities that will unfold in a specified order.

But these aren't specific events -- they are categories of raw materials available for shaping by Free Will into the events which become the story of your life.

You don't have a "destiny" -- you have a Microsoft Dropdown Menu Bar where some choices are grayed out.

I talk a lot about how a writer can use Tarot, Astrology in my review column which is printed in the paper magazine, The Monthly Aspectarian, then posted to their website ( ) then archived here. It's been monthly since 1993.

On Amazon you will find the first in a five book series on the Tarot, Never Cross a Palm With Silver .

Two more volumes in that series, Swords and Pentacles, have been posted a chapter at a time on Tuesdays the last half of last year where I co-blog with 6 other writers.

To find the 20 posts on Swords and Pentacles, search the blog on Tuesday or Tarot, or Swords, Pentacles. There are several newsletters or discussion Lists where the announcement of publication of all volumes will be carried. They are available on -- Newsletter-L -- Lifeforce-l -- Rereadable-l

As noted on the first page of this section, Tarot and Astrology are really one topic. To learn Tarot, study Astrology. To learn Astrology, study Tarot. They are inextricably intertwined because one deals with the Soul's choices the other with the Body's opportunities.

As learning a language teaches you about another culture, learning these mathematically based tools teaches you about another universe structure. (yes, Tarot is Mathematically based)

Most people don't know they have a view of the universe, a philosophy. It's a shock to discover one hiding inside you. Finding out what is in your philosophy can be a shattering epiphany, even deranging.

Thus this study is not for everyone. Read Never Cross a Palm With Silver for how to discover whether you really want to know any of this -- or not. It's a very short book.”


Here's the long version of the answer.

The truth is nobody knows how any of this esoteric stuff works.

Astrology and Tarot are both empirical sciences. Way back when "science" was invented (Ancient Greece; Aristotle; fast-forward to Bacon in England), humanity discovered we got much faster and easier, better and more profitable results from science than from magic. So magic was abandoned.

Magic just never got any research grants, government programs, PH.D. thesis writers, or Pharmaceutical Company investments.

So nobody really knows how Magic does what it does. Worse yet, nobody really knows whether Magic actually does anything -- because it hasn't been researched properly.

Not understanding the square root of minus 1 does not keep people from turning on the lights with a switch. Not understanding how Astrology works doesn't keep people from using it to shed light on a murky topic either.

Understanding "how" astrology works requires developing a theory of "what" astrology is.

Where did astrology come from? It came from crude empirical observations of coincidences between what was visible in the heavens and what happened on Earth. The lore accumulated generation after generation.

Today, these observations of mere coincidence are codified with computers which do the number crunching ever so much faster. And research has revealed many new mathematical tools with which to compare what is happening in the heavens with what is happening to a particular person. What's happening in the heavens is as predictable as clockwork. What's happening to a person is not.

Thus we have ways to understand what is happening to a person who is battling through a series of challenges no science can delineate or comprehend. We can look at what happened to other people "like" this person "when" certain indicators appear in the heavens.

Astrology is being turned into a "real" science by the data handling of computers -- but it hasn't happened yet. So we can talk here about how this compendium of accumulated historical observation called Astrology can be used by a fiction writer.

Astrology is really a branch of psychology. Every writer has to delve into psychology at least to the point where an understanding of human behavior -- of MOTIVATION -- can be articulated.

Character depth, Relationships and motivations are the pure substance of story. In conflicting motivations, writers find their richest material.

But it isn't enough to have your own view of what motivates people. You have to develop an awareness of what "readers" think motivates people, and then explain your view to the readers in terms of their own concept of motivation.

You have to translate your own understanding of what motivates real people into what motivates your characters so that you can write the the characters in a way readers will understand and thus believe. So you need a language in common with your readers. And you need to know more about human motivation than your readers do.

A wide and deep study of all the schools of psychology can produce that kind of understanding in a writer. A brutal education in the school of hard knocks can do it too.

Easier and faster - especially for the mathematically inclined - is to get a good astrology program (such as WinStar from Matrix Software which is the one I use also favored by Noel Tyl.) And start doing charts for people you know, using interpretive books to puzzle it all out. I recommend the "Planets In" series of interpretive books and all the books by Grant Lewi.

The world tends to use Astrology and Tarot to try to predict the future. Individuals want to know what is going to HAPPEN TO THEM, or how to achieve specific goals.

The anxiety that drives people to Astrology is often most deeply rooted in a frantic need to connect with themselves -- to experience their own uniqueness.

People want to know their OWN future. Is it right to marry this person? Should I get a divorce? What will happen if I quit my job now? Do I have to go back to school? When will my mother die? Why does everyone hate me? How can I ditch this loser!

People want to know what makes them so different from everyone else. They want specifics about who they are and how to subdue the world around them.

That screaming anxiety, the need to know the future, is the exact moment a writer has to capture in a story's main character. X-ray that moment of screaming anxiety for what drives a person to that moment, what they do to resolve that anxiety, and how all the loose pieces of the person's world then fall into a pattern which reveals the meaning of that person's life and you reveal your theme -- what the story says about the meaning of Life.

The story character's "story" begins with the drive toward that moment, climaxes at the action taken by the character because of the anxiety, and concludes with the resolution of the character's need to know.

That anxiety will drive a real person to an astrologer. And some astrologers are good enough psychologists that they can counsel such a frantic individual.

But that counsel does not originate in the compendium of Ancient Wisdom called Astrology.

Astrology can not tell anyone about their individuality. It can't describe unique individuality. It can't describe HOW YOU ARE DIFFERENT from everyone else.

Astrology can tell you how you are JUST EXACTLY LIKE every other human who has ever walked this planet. (and maybe some other planets too).

Astrology has amassed data about millions of people, and crunched that data down into trends, generalizations, categories of behavior, areas of interest, times of challenge and times of rest -- times of building and times of disintegrating.

Astrology is a lot like actuarial statistics. We know the average lifespan is about 74 years -- but that doesn't tell you how long you will live.

Astrology is statistics distilled to a pure essence over more than a thousand years of record keeping. (OK on crumbling parchment, hand calculated, but it's amazing what humans can do with pen and paper!)

The secret to powerful fiction writing is vivid, individual, quirky, unique characters. But astrology is not about individuality. So what good is Astrology to a writer?

With a sound understanding of Astrology, a writer can craft a unique character who can be understood by, recognized by, the reader as someone they know -- because whether they know anything about astrology or not, every single breathing human being understands astrology intuitively.

We all recognize the life Passages. At 7 years old, kids become very self-directed individualistic people. At 14 - they know it all. At 21 they're gone off into the world, have the world by the tail and nothing can deter them from their folly. Ah, but at 28-29, all the chickens come home to roost for better or ill.

What is that 7 year cycle? It's the quartering of the natal chart by Saturn. The age of 28-29 is the most visible, most shared of all challenges -- people recognize the time between turning 27 and turning 30 as a big cliff. The 31 year old looks back over a chasm at the 25 year old and sees a child.

Every one of the 10 cyclical objects Astrology tracks (SUN, MOON, MERCURY, VENUS, MARS, JUPITER, SATURN, URANUS, NEPTUNE, PLUTO) has a periodicity that is recognizable like that. In addition to making aspects to their own birth position, all these objects make aspects to each other creating "cross terms" in the equation that is a Life.

As in an engineer's force diagram, two forces operating on an object at an angle produce a third -- a "resultant" -- and the force will move the object along the resultant path.

So the "aspects" that one of these 10 celestial objects make with a Natal Chart work like that - producing a "resultant" effect.

When you think about it like that, you see how complicated it can be to discern what a given moment in a given person's (or character's) life might be like. The moment in a life is an amalgam of 10 or more major forces. Once it's amalgamated, it's very hard to separate out the individual effects.

But with all the millions of lifetimes astrologers have documented, broad categories of "resultants" have been identified and named.

Certain celestial conditions are reliably associated (empirically) with certain kinds of human challenges or results. Grant Lewi's books HEAVEN KNOWS WHAT and ASTROLOGY FOR THE MILLIONS synthesize combinations of effects with cycles to show you how to discern how combinations will work in real life.

You don't have to learn astrology to see these associations. You already know them because you've seen them operating in lives around you -- or even on the 6 O'clock News.

Recently, Noel Tyl identified a complicated Natal Chart formation type that results in the life pattern you have seen again and again in the Rich and Famous. He calls it extreme Prominence.

See his book Synthesis and Counselling in Astrology, the Professional Manual (but this is NOT suitable for beginners, trust me!).

So the question comes down to how can it be that life-patterns are so common, so repetitive, that even people who don't know astrology can identify those patterns?

The superstitious are likely to assume that because a certain aspect and transit combination always results in a certain type of life-incident (car accidents, for example) - the transit CAUSES the incident.

But science teaches us that the mere coupling of events in time does not indicate a cause-effect relationship between them.

To muddy the picture further, in astrology, the CAUSE can PRECEDE the EFFECT. (this is referred to as the "orb of influence" -- a symbolism can materialize any time plus or minus 6 months of the zone of highest probability).

-------------------END PART ONE------------------

More on how a writer can apply these ideas to creating characters next time I post.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Monday, July 14, 2008

If Authors could Interview Readers...

Interviews, as Rowena noted, can either be interesting or snoozers. Having spent several years as a news reporter, working in the print and electronic media, I've seen both kinds of interviews. The one that I would want the most today, though, would be the one where I get the scoop from my readers.

I think that's something all authors want. Sure, we get fan mail. Heaven knows, I adore fan mail and it honestly brightens my day, encouraging me when deadlines are howling, my brain has frozen and my muse has taken a hike. "I love your books, they're so much fun to read" are words that soothe my writerly soul.

But they don't tell me why you--the reader--feel that way.

There are times, many times, where I desperately wish I could interview my readers.

Why did that particular character tug at your heartstrings? I'd ask. Was it his appearance, his gestures, his expressions...what was the turning point where you really felt him to be the hero you wanted? And what was it about the heroine that made you cheer for her, root for her? Was it because she was somewhat similar to yourself, or because she was different?

The thing is, most of us--at least, the authors I know and reguarly drink with a cons and such--really have no idea of what we're doing right. We can study books on conflict and characterization. We play with the concept of rising action. But they're just that: concepts and theories. Each time we sit down to write a book, the situation is new. We've either never met the characters before or they've grown since the previous book. We throw them into situations and then pound our brains for exactly the right words in which to bring you, reader, into that same situation. With as much intensity and passion as we can.

And we hope, no, we PRAY you like it.

Because we really don't know. We're really not sure. As I was explaining to a trio of my delightful beta-readers this weekend, authors probably read each chapter over easily ten times as they progress through the book: we read it for continuity, we read it to make sure we're on track, we read it when we've made changes to it, we read it because we've been away from the computer for a day or three and can't remember where we left off. By the time a book is finished first draft (FIRST draft), it's not unusual for an author to have read the entire book twenty times. Fifty times. By the time the book is through second draft, one hundred times of reading those damned words is not at all unlikely.

You become numb to what you've written. You can no longer discern if the funny parts are funny, the scary parts, scary. You KNOW what's going to happen on the next page so you're no longer able to gauge the flow of tension.

You can damned near quote the damned book by heart.

Then the book comes out and you get a glowing fan mail: "I loved the book!"

And in your heart of hearts, you want to yell: "But WHY?"

And in your heart of heart of hearts, you fear that since you have no idea of what you did right to make the reader love the book, you'll never be able to duplicate it and do it again.

Honest, we really feel that.

So I think the next time a reporter or blogger asks me for an interview, I'm going to strike a deal. Sure, you can interview me. But then I get to interview you.

Happy reading! And don't forget SHADES OF DARK hits the shelves July 29th at a bookstore near you--IN the romance section!

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.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

What makes a good interview?

Since this is a craft blog, I'm probably not asking in the right place!

However, I'm wondering whether there is a "one size fits all" interview, or whether interview questions and answers ought to be carefully tailored according to whether the majority of those likely to read the interview are readers who want to know more about the author, and some insider secrets behind the writing of the book, or writers who want to know what works for other writers in the sfr genre.

I've just had the privilege of being interviewed by our Heather of Galaxy Express, who asks the best and most insightful questions ever! Also by Mandy Roth and Michelle Pillow, who ask a mean (in a good way) question or six.

Almost every interviewer, whether for a craft site or a review site, asks which authors I believe have influenced me. My answer to that never changes. Now, I don't mind in the least being asked a question I can answer on autopilot.

However, I cannot help wondering whether readers are interested. If so, why?

Another question which I completely understand for writers' groups and craft blogs is which How-To-Write-Science-Fiction books I recommend. But, do you think readers who are not writers are interested?

How much of a list is appropriate before a bibliography becomes boring?

Don't we all list the same --mostly Writers' Digest published-- books and authors? The Physics of Star Trek - L. Krauss
How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy - Orson Scott Card
Conceiving the Heavens- M. Scott
The Science of Star Wars- J. Cavelos
World Building - Stephen L. Gillett
Aliens and Alien Societies - Stanley Schmidt
Writers Guide to Creating a Science Fiction Universe--George Ochoa and Jeffrey Osier

If I have overlooked some superb resources, please do add other recommendations as Comments, and a brief word why they are tops in your opinion. I'll add them to a Listmania and give commentators credit.

By the way, last evening, I made a Listmania list on because it is so much more fun to show cover art, and I did the same thing with a Top Ten list on

(If anyone takes a look and likes my list or lists, a "Helpful" click would be much appreciated!)

Moreover, if the authors on this list would like to put a "being interviewed tip" in the comments, maybe I could assemble a Listmania with their cover and their tip, and we'd have something helpful and promotional on Amazon etc.

This is the cover of the ARCs for Knight's Fork that I'm doing privately. It's astonishing to me that it is cheaper to put together a POD, than it is to photocopy and spiral bind galleys! Moreover, it's tidier, and a lot more special looking.

For the next few days, there's an ARC being given away to one of the people who comments on the Rowena Cherry Author Feature at:

I believe that I'm also giving away another ARC in one of the contests being run from my newsletter on my website.

Best wishes,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, July 10, 2008

What Writers Should Avoid—or Not?

From the Writer's Digest Book Club, I recently bought a book called DON'T MURDER YOUR MYSTERY, by Chris Roerden. The author discusses twenty-four categories of mistakes and overused devices that can induce the "screener-outer" (first reader) to reject a manuscript. Most of Roerden's advice isn't actually peculiar to mystery novels, but applies to any kind of fiction. The missteps discussed include many of the usual suspects, such as over-reliance on adverbs, aimless chatter instead of dialogue that advances the story, character descriptions consisting of indiscriminate catalogues of physical features, wobbly POV, cliches, misuse of prologues and dream sequences, too-obtrusive dialogue tags, etc. Many of Roerden's points strike me as right on target, and the many examples he provides from best-selling mystery authors give texture and depth to his counsel. The book reminded me of areas where I tend to get lazy if I don't watch myself. Goodness knows, it's all too easy to describe a character on first appearance with a list of traits rather than remembering to weave description into the action.

Some of this author's advice, though, works against the grain of my preferences as a reader, as well as a writer. For example, he comes down hard on excessive backstory. Now, I realize I'd probably lose the reader quickly if I dropped into an extended flashback after the first page of the first chapter (as I did in more than one unpublished work, before I learned better). And I acknowledge the wisdom of working the characters' past into the ongoing action little by little, as the reader's appetite becomes whetted for it. But Roerden's antipathy to long flashbacks of any kind doesn't fit my tastes. I love backstory, whether narrated as a straightforward flashback, contained in a document the protagonist reads, or told to one character by another. My favorite parts of Stephen King's IT, PET SEMATARY, and BAG OF BONES are the episodes from years or generations past that enhance the horror of these novels by lending them layers of depth. I'm very fond of "club stories," the device of framing the tale within the context of people sitting around telling stories to each other. Speaking of methods of presenting backstory, DON'T MURDER YOUR MYSTERY contains a whole chapter on "Toxic Transcripts." What's so deadly about giving the protagonist a document to read? Roerden says it's not a good thing to expect your reader to read a long section that consists of a character sitting and reading. I understand this contention in principle, and I admire the techniques he recommends to break up the sitting-and-reading with action and suspense—if the information wanted can in fact be adequately conveyed by disconnected snatches from the document in question. As a reader, however, I don't in the least mind reading many consecutive pages of whatever the protagonist is supposed to be reading, if the journal, letter, etc., is interesting in itself. I imagine Roerden doesn't approve of Dorothy Sayers' CLOUDS OF WITNESS, in which Lord Peter reads a letter several pages long to the House of Lords to exonerate his brother of a murder charge. (To make matters worse, the letter is printed first in French, then in English.) And how about Roerden's prohibition against having a technical expert lecture the detective on the expert's area of specialization? I love that kind of thing. I had trouble following the plot of the brilliantly conceived first-contact SF novel BLINDSIGHT, but I eagerly devoured the appendix in which the author explains his vampires' biology and psychology. While watching the TV series NCIS, I get irked whenever the head of the team cuts off medical examiner Duckie or forensic scientist Abby in the middle of explaining the technical minutiae of their latest discoveries. I want to hear those explanations! I realize the 45 minutes of a TV show don't leave time for them, but there's no reason, from my viewpoint, to shorten them in a book.

Am I so atypical of the modern genre fiction reader? Doesn't anybody else love reading backstory and watching characters explain things to each other in lengthy detail?

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Westercon 2008 Report

I flew to Las Vegas with my husband for Westercon the day before programming started. We had bought tickets in January, so our fare was reasonable.

We were on Southwest, and they are not charging extra for checked bags -- but have reduced the weight limit to 50 lb and enforce that. Because I was carrying books for "show and tell" on the panels -- plus flyers to give away -- my bag weighed in at 49.5 lbs. When we picked up the luggage in Las Vegas, I found the handle on my rolling suitcase had ripped off. I've got to travel much lighter if I do that again.

We got settled in the hotel, picked up badges and learned the way around this huge, spread out hotel. It's a sprawling, multi-building golfing resort/casino that usually charges $399 for the room we got for $150 (which is still way high by convention standards).

Thursday morning we went wandering through the convention area and started meeting people. I met The Wombat (Jan Howard Finder) and we had a good 2 hour talk, then wandered around talking to other people.

I found the Green Room just opening up and sat down for a while.

I got to talking with some people, and it turned out two of them were a reporter-photographer pair looking for a story. I gave them several. They took my name, but I forgot to find out who they were.

Back near Registration, I ran into Jan Howard Finder (The Wombat) again and he introduced me to the fellow who was running the hotel's "business office" where you can get stuff copied for an exhorbitant fee. Turns out he's an aspiring SF writer. I gave him a flyer or three and a pep talk.

Programming started at 2:30 and I had my first panel. I was surprised we had 6 people listening to this panel. I did an autographing and Kaires turned up while I was introducing someone to the Sime~Gen universe. Kaires was wearing her S~G T-shirt and silver starred cross -- so she became my "show and tell."

The Convention's party maven had not answered Kaires' emails asking for party-space at the con. (room parties were not allowed; you had to use the designated rooms) By the time Kaires got an answer from the party maven, it was "sorry, all booked" even though she'd requested space months in advance. Kaires had come all set to throw a whopper of a Sime~Gen party Friday night, but we just couldn't make it happen.

Friday I did another bunch of panels -- a few more people in the audience at each successive one as people arrived. I didn't have so much energy as I usually do, and wondered why. The topics were interesting and the audience awake -- the panelists clever and full of things to say. I wasn't. (got some laughs and a compliment or two anyway).

After a short discussion in the dealer's room with another panelist (Tony N. Todaro I think it was) someone came up to me in the hallway and gave me the most surprising compliment of my life -- that I exhibited great body language during that exchange in the dealer's room! I didn't know anyone was listening or watching. That made my day.

I woke up Saturday morning with a stuffy head and by 11AM I knew I had a cold, not just allergies. I'd have given everyone at the S~G party a cold -- so it's a good thing we didn't have the party!

My husband ran all over and finally found someone in the Con Suite who gave him some ephedrin for me. Saved my life. Later, the hotel gift shop produced NyQuil and DayQuil which I lived on until I got home to my more usual remedies. That's the first time in decades that I've gotten sick at a convention. Usually, it's after I get home!

Despite laryngitis and stuffiness, I did my remaining 3 panels on Sunday and garnered a number of compliments, gave out some newsletters, and had another unique experience.

I often carry around several books of mine and offer them for sale at the end of a panel especially if that title isn't in the Dealer's Room. And I often get some takers. This time I wasn't doing that at all, but did have a couple of books to wave around that I commented on during the panels.

At my second to last panel, someone came up to me and asked if I had any books of mine for sale because someone told her that I usually carry some around to sell. So I sold one of the books that threatened to make my suitcase over-weight.

I'd given out flyers too, so I went home a lot lighter than I'd come because I refused to buy anything in the Dealer's Room (that was hard). Good thing I went home light, though, without the suitcase handle.

I made a DIARY ENTRY: Don't Fly With A Headcold.

But I wouldn't have missed this convention for anything. Due largely to the oil crisis and that the venue was more expensive than usual, there were barely more than 300 people at this convention -- more like a pre-Star Trek con. Next year, when Westercon is in the Phoenix suburb Tempe, we might have as many as a thousand attend. I've already been invited to be on programming there, and since it's a 20 minute drive up the road from me, I definitely plan to be there.

But frankly, with the cost of air fare soaring, I'm not planning as many trips as usual next year.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Monday, July 07, 2008

A CHALLENGE: So, why do you write this crazy genre?

Romance novels are one of the top two best sellling genres out there, coming in at about forty-five to fifty-five per cent of all books sold. Science fiction, it's often noted, accounts for about seven to ten per cent of sales. So here we are, combining the best and--well, okay, not the worst but certainly not a front-runner.

So why do we do it? What drives reasonably-minded authors to spend the time penning novels that have such a funky and often precarious market? The old adage is that writers write because they can't NOT write. But certainly, we could (and some of us do) write other genres.

What is the appeal of the unknown, the odd, the inexplicable? What's the appeal of writing a novel where a reader asks, "What's is about?" and when you answer, their eyes start to glaze over (starships? wormholes? vampires? shape shifters? interstellar military? aliens?)?

So here's my challenge to published authors:

Your name:
Your website:

Post your answer in ONE sentence:

I write [fill in your genre] because [fill in one short reason why--your best reason, your strongest reason].

Then answer this:

If readers could read only one book of mine, I think it should be: [title] because [one short reason why.]

I'll start.

Name: Linnea Sinclair

I write science fiction romance because I love the vast possiblities, conflicts and love stories that can be explored in cultures and worlds that may not be like our own.

If readers could read only one book of mine, I think it should be FINDERS KEEPERS because it's an accurate melding of SF and romance in a light, fast-paced and fun way.

(Wow, that last one was tough and I invented the dang question!)

So authors--post your answers! And readers, feel free to comment and tell the authors if you feel they're on-point.

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

"Four and 1/2 Stars! Chaz and Sully are back, and their lives haven't gotten any easier! Picking up after Gabriel's Ghost, the singularly impressive Sinclair thrusts her dynamic lovers into a maelstrom of trouble. The first-person, high-octane action is exhilarating. When it comes to futuristic romance, it doesn't get better than Sinclair! " --Romantic Times BOOKreviews magazine

Sunday, July 06, 2008

A dog eating contest

When a headline makes me blink, I make a note of it. An alien would be forgiven for taking "a dog eating contest" literally.

There are parts of the world where dog meat is eaten. There is at least one video on you-tube that shows a small, sleeping puppy inside a hot dog bun. Competitive eating is popular enough to be televised occasionally.

Talking of which, have you seen the new TV reality series "I Survived A Japanese Game Show"? In one game, team members ran against the flow up a treadmill, with a seed tray strapped to their heads. In the seed tray was a mealy, sticky food item that the "Eater" had to grab without using hands, and consume completely. An umpire was responsible for looking in the Eater's mouth to be sure it was empty before the next runner was dispatched.

Would anyone like to contribute a headline that jarred them?

Newspapers and paper money don't make sense to one of my alien god-Princes of Tigron.

Excerpt from KNIGHT'S FORK

North London
Hampstead High Street

“Read all abaaaht it!” an evening boy of papers shouted, by a strange, half-tented cart from which passersby could exchange very small pieces of folded paper for very large, folded stacks of dirty paper, which they would then unfold and look at.

Prince Thor-quentin was fascinated. He loitered to observe the folly of mankind. His attention was captivated by more-efficiently folded papers. They were colored, and individually sealed in tight, clear wrappings to stop them flipping in the London street wind. Many of these colored papers showed bare-chested males, proudly displaying their favorite exercise equipment, or modest females in heat, bending over conveniently placed vehicles.

The boy of papers varied his cries of what was interesting. “Antipodean alarm!” he wailed. “Australian Air Force authorities allay anxiety over alleged alien…”

So many big A-words! Thor-quentin thought.

Then, he caught sight of the grainy, blurry, black-and-white photograph. The boy of papers might call the object diving into the sea a twisted, distorted weather balloon, but Prince Thor-quentin knew it for what it was. A Volnoth water-capable shuttle.

He’d practiced Djinncraft before on impressionable, sacrificial virgins. He’d never imagined that he’d use it to obtain something as worthless as a pile of dirty papers.

Approaching the boy of papers at a suitable lull in the passing trade, Thor-quentin murmured, “I will take. You will not cry out.”

The boy of papers promptly turned aside, folded from the midsection, and vomited into the slightly lower level of the trafficway.

Slack damn! Less force is required in this lesser gravity, Thor-quentin noted. He helped himself to a selection of the folded stacks of papers and passed a hand over the wad of small, purplish papers, as if he might be making a fair exchage like everyone else. In addition, since he could, he took one catalog of the local females in heat.

Best wishes,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, July 03, 2008


SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN MIND includes a column called "We're Only Human." Its June-July essay is headlined, "Got an Original Idea? Not Likely." The author refers to the fact that ideas spring from "complex patterns of collective behavior, many spontaneously organized and most entirely outside our understanding or awareness." That premise makes me think of jokes and urban legends. New ones do spring up from time to time, yet it's hardly ever possible to trace them back to their originators. These memes (to use another popular term for conceptualizing how ideas spread) just seem to pop into existence, with no way of knowing who first told the joke or disseminated the rumor. How does the collective mind generate ideas, and how can people strike a balance between too much connectivity -- resulting in a homogeneous social group whose individual members lack any originality -- and the peril of being too much of a "rogue explorer"? The author of this essay uses the metaphor of "foraging" for ideas in the social environment. He wants us to think of ideas as "really just abstract resources, food for the brain." Maybe the Jungian collective unconscious really does exist.

One interesting result of research into the hunter-gatherer model of generating ideas is that huge, global networks do best in conceiving solutions to easy problems. But for trickier problems, small, local networks function better. The more complex the problem, the greater advantage a small network has.

The author, Wray Herbert, has a blog called "We're Only Human," where he muses on these and many other psychology-related topics:

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Dancing With Fire

I know I'm a bad blogger because every time I come here I have to recover my password again. And they keep changing how e blogger works. sigh. However, if i wait until the computer can simply do it for me on voice command, it might be a long wait. But I did want to stop in and tell you about my new romantic suspense which should be hitting the stores right now.

Tor Romantic Suspense—July 2008

Accident or Murder?

Dance instructor Kaylin Danner has sacrificed her opportunity on Broadway to help her father raise her younger sisters in Florida. When her father's laboratory blows sky high and his priceless formula for a revolutionary new fuel disappears, Kaylin is left with nothing but her father's business partner Sawyer Scott and a cache of deadly trouble.

Life or Death?

When the Danner home is vandalized and her sisters threatened, Sawyer and Kaylin team up to unmask the killer terrorizing her family. Sawyer's bent on pursuing both Kaylin and the missing formula, but Kaylin fights the attraction, believing Sawyer's a dreamer like her father-and in her experience dreamers end up dead.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Indiana Jones 4

WEDNESDAY JULY 2 I'll be going to Las Vegas for Westercon. So before we discuss Indiana Jones, here is my program item schedule:

Here is your Westercon 61 Las Vegas Programming Schedule. All of the programming rooms are on the first floor of the Convention Center and very near one another. Each item is scheduled for 60 minutes in 90 minute intervals.

7/3 2:30 pm Grand Ballroom C
Fantasy: Is the Magic Gone?
Has the genre been overdone? Or can you use traditional themes to tell wonderful new stories? Can there be new fantasy without overused archetypes?
Kage Baker (M), Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Kevin Andrew Murphy, Tony N. Todaro

7/3 4:00 pm Galicia
Autographing: Jacqueline Lichtenberg
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

7/4 10:00 am Grand Ballroom A
Little Known SF Television
Someday while flipping channels you saw an episode of Supernatural or Smallville or Torchwood. There are dozens of these shows on cable or available on DVDs. Which ones are worth watching? Are there even some canceled ones that you should hunt down on DVD?
Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Milt Stevens, Lee Whiteside (M)

7/4 11:30 am Sevilla
The Flip of a Card, The Toss of the Dice
There are a lot of way to lose (or win) large sums of money. Here are some of the betting situations found in SF and Fantasy novels and movies.
Kevin Andrew Murphy, Jacqueline Lichtenberg (M), Barry Short

7/4 4:00 pm Andalucia
Classic Science Fiction Literature
Most people who read SF start reading science fiction by the age of twelve. But there was a lot written before you were born. What are the classics of science fiction?
Bradford Lyau, Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Milt Stevens (M), Ben Yalow

7/6 10:00 am Sevilla
Vampires - Much More than Buffy
Although Buffy created a huge following for modern vampire tales, there are many more vampires out there than the ones found in Sunnydale.
Catherine Cheek, Jacqueline Lichtenberg (M), Kevin Andrew Murphy

7/6 11:30 am Andalucia
How to Break an Editor's Spirit
Editors and writers gather together and reveal secret methods for destroying markets and driving editors crazy!
Beth Meacham (M), Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Deirdre Saoirse Moen, Tony N. Todaro

check out -- choose this year's Westercon and get all the details.

So now to Indiana Jones 4 --

A while ago, I did an email interview for a blog about Alien Romance. It's now been posted at

If I'd done the interview after seeing The Crystal Skull (Indy 4), I'd have woven that movie into the interview discussion because Indie4 does represent a high point in Science Fiction Romance, and I think that's something Blake Snyder missed.

Here below are my comments (slightly rewritten) in answer to Blake Snyder's post on Indiana Jones -- and don't read it if you are sensitive to spoilers.


Answer to Blake's post & some of the comments
Why 1 and 3 Beat 2 and 4
Today's Blog — 2:44 pm on June 16, 2008


I think we're all missing something vital here. Story Arc.

I totally agree with Blake about how perfectly the beats were reticulated in 1 and 3, and just blurred a bit in 2 and 4. But that may not be due to flaws in those films but rather due to the planting of a clue.

Take 1,2,3,4 in order and let's first consider what we learn by looking at all 4 as an entire WHOLE story, not 4 different stories. Define the beats for this envelope arc.

Indy starts by not believing in the mystical -- has his nose rubbed in it -- tries to live in his old world with one toe on the mystical line -- gets roundly trounced (fun and games) by more mysticism (the Nazi side of the Force), and now discovers (science again) aliens from outer space, and mysticism (true love). True Love = Soul Mate = Applied Mysticism.

Indy's discovery of Aliens messing with our History (crystal skull evidence) after his lifetime of "fun and games" is the rude awakening of a story-mid-point.

4 doesn't have the feel of a "final chapter" but rather of a springboard into a whole new adventure in a whole new world. It's a midpoint. It needs 4 more episodes to complete.

Indy's "Universe" has been touched and perhaps altered by alien mysticism which could throw some light on humanity's mixed up ideas of mysticism.

In other words, 4 has the mid-way beat and BAD GUYS CLOSE IN beat -- the real threat invisible in 1,2,3, now becomes central and clear.

Aliens have messed with Earth History, and History is Indy's territory. You just don't mess with Indy.

His rude awakening is a story-mid-point. You think Nazi's are bad guys? Wait till you meet the Skulls. (that is, if I were writing this). But Indy's OLD (like his father was). We need the story of Indy's death and how the son figures into all that.

So instead of looking at these 4 films as individual stories, maybe we should run the "beats?" Set the end of 4 as the Mid-point in the beat sheet and see what comes next.

To do that, we have to reinterpret the first 3 movies in terms of the existence of that crystal skull and the effects it had -- especially on Indy who "just knew." What did discovering the Arc and the Challace have to do with that "just knew?" in Indie4? (that would be the plot of #5 if I were writing it.)

Those skulls have/had power.

What does that say about the Arc of the Covenant and the Challice that Indy found and all the rest (even objects we haven't seen in films)? When exactly was the kid conceived? Born? Indy's "just know" comes from channeling mystical power -- what was he channeling when the kid was concieved? Power like that can change genes. Is that kid entirely human? Is his mother human? Is this marriage a soul-mating? Or was it engineered by the Skulls way back in Indie#1?

Match up the year those skulls were entombed with what else was going on all over the world in that year -- in the Indy Universe.

I don't think we're looking at two films, Indie2 and Indie4, that miss the beats. I think we're looking at some masterful worldbuilding going on in the feature film arena rather than the weekly TV series arena.

Also, as far as mysticism goes, you realize that we now have 3 generations of men marching through history revealing ultimate truths. We should keep count of the number of "wives".

Jacqueline Lichtenberg