Thursday, October 30, 2008

Love at First Sight

The November-December issue of SKEPTICAL INQUIRER contains an article called "Love at First Sight," asking the age-old question (as the song puts it), "Who can explain it? Who can tell you why?" New research finds a possible explanation for instantaneous attraction in the discovery that the partners in a couple tend to look like each other "more so than chance would allow." Double-blind studies reveal that observers can correctly match up randomly selected pairs with a significant rate of accuracy. This phenomenon applies to new relationships, not just older couples who grow to look alike over the years. It seems that a dominant factor in the process of falling in love is the face, and people unconsciously identify the "right" face as one with a certain resemblance to their own.

This hypothesis undercuts the folk wisdom that "opposites attract." Also, what does it do to one of my favorite concepts, the exogamy hypothesis—that human beings are hard-wired to be drawn to the exotic and therefore would be attracted to aliens, should we ever meet any? I've think I've previously mentioned James Tiptree's poignant story propounding that theory, "And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill's Side." I've just finished rereading a novel on that theme, James Michener's tragic SAYONARA, about American servicemen falling in love with local women in postwar Japan, when both cultures regarded such romances with deep hostility. Maybe the song from WEST SIDE STORY, "Stick to your own kind," has a point. And yet happy cross-cultural and interracial marriages do exist, more so nowadays with tolerance for diversity becoming a core value in, at least, Western society. I'd like to believe fulfilling interplanetary relationships can exist, too, when we finally meet the aliens. Spock, the product of such a relationship, was always my favorite STAR TREK character.

Margaret L. Carter

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Astrology Just For Writers Part 3 - Genre Ghetto

Part 1 of this series is at:

Part 2 of this series is at:

Part 4 will probably appear at:

From time to time, contributors have kicked around the question of why the Romance Genre doesn't command the respect it deserves. I've commented on some of these discussions, all of which have been powerful presentations by very knowledgeable people. As far as I can tell, all of them are absolutely correct.

In some instances, comparisons were made to the change in the public attitude toward Science Fiction over the last few decades. Westerns have come in for their share of sneers, especially Romance with a Western Setting, and that market has changed drastically.

Mystery Genre seems to command a bit more general respect, but it's still a "genre" in the eyes of publishers. And "genre" per se seems to be a stigma.

If "Romance" -- especially, SF Romance, Paranormal, Time Travel, etc -- is going to break out of the ghetto walls that appear to be built by publishers and even TV and Film producers, professionals in the field of Romance need to find a new way of thinking about the problem.

All the solutions that have been posed on this blog should have worked. They're all good, targeted, reasonable. So why hasn't that great new blockbuster Romance appeared -- the work that would be equivalent to Star Trek and its impact on Science Fiction as a genre?

Buffy The Vampire Slayer certainly put a few cracks in the walls around Paranormal Romance. Many fantasy-romance novels are now pouring out of the Manhattan publishers demonstrating the Buffy style of universe building and how it can support a Romance plot. But they don't win the Nobel Prize. In 2008 (30+ years after Star Trek), an SF novel won the Hugo and Nebula and was by a Nobel Prize winner. SF films have won Oscars. Where are the Romance Genre big general Award Winners?

What would it take to make a Romance internationally "significant" enough to win the Nobel Prize for Literature?

What are we missing here? If our solutions don't change things - maybe we're not parsing the problem correctly?

What is it that people who don't read Romance sneer at in the genre?

A lot of people don't read Romance because others sneer at it -- so they wouldn't be caught dead anywhere near the label. On the other hand, some such embarrassed people often read under the covers with a flashlight -- just as people often read Star Trek fanzines under the covers, very late at night.

Public opinion does put a limit on the popularity of a genre -- but the appeal of strong content, controversial content, outrageous content, can eventually overwhelm or undermine the levees. Star Trek created that "hurricane" for SF by being the first real SF on TV.

Prior to Star Trek, everything on TV that they called SF was either comedy or horror (also genres). Even today, very little of what's on the SciFi Channel is actually Science Fiction.

But genres are slippery to define because they are defined by reader taste (and today, by computer sales reports) which changes faster than you can surf the web. What is published under the SF label today would not have been acceptable in the 1940's as SF. The same kind of evolution in the definition of Romance is currently under way.

I have noticed lately that many novels published as SF or Fantasy have the pacing, content, and plot structure of some of the most popular Star Trek fanzines. Sometimes, I really can't tell the difference! And many of those early Star Trek fanzines had the structure of a Romance. One, now posted at: is, I believe, the first Inspirational SF Romance.

It's taken decades, but the relationship driven SF story has emerged. That story is as much at home in Fantasy as SF -- because in Fantasy, the "aliens" are just from another dimension or have mixed heritage with Elves or Demons, or are humans born with Powers.

So already the genre labels are being redefined. That has always been the process with genre.

By the way, my definition of "genre" is the opposite of that used by Mass Market publishing. I have discovered that the real operational definition of genre used by readers, rather than editors, is based on what is LEFT OUT of the story, worldbuilding, background, and plot rather than what is put in.

For example, if a story had an Alien From Outer Space in it, it automatically could not be published as anything but SF by the publisher's definition. Thus THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (a classic film you can get on DVD) is classed as SF even though it's really a Romance with an Alien in it. Likewise, STARMAN, the film not Andre Norton's novel, is a Romance. Both these films are SF Romance and genre defining. Neither won the Nobel Prize.

There was a time when a writer could not sell a Vampire Romance to a Mass Market publisher -- because Vampires "are horror genre" and "our Romance readers won't touch anything with Horror in it." Romance genre was defined by what you put in -- not by what you leave out.

Laugh if you want, but there really was such a time when you couldn't sell a Romance with a Vampire in it.

If you use my definition of exclusion, "Vampire Romance" makes sense and can be seen in advance to be a sure hit -- and very possibly the Nobel Prize winning material we're looking for.

What do you leave out of a Vampire Romance to make it a Romance?

Well, you leave out everything that you normally leave out of a Romance.

How do you know what to "leave out" to make it a Romance?

Aha, now we come to the Astrology part as noted in the title of this piece, then we'll get to the brain research part, and finally put them together.

Do you remember, I said Romance field professionals need a new way to think about this problem in order to generate a solution that will work?

In order to "think" one must have not only something to think about, but some tools to think with.

What we're thinking about is the prestige problem of the Romance Genre.

Any reasonable person can instantly see that a fiction genre based on a universally acknowledged truism should be held in high regard.

The Romance Genre is based on the truism that "Love Conquers All." Vampires, for example, fall into the "All" category, hence they are a natural part of the Romance Genre.

Most people know that Love is divine -- the archetype behind Love is actually God. When humans Love each other as God Loves us, miracles happen. All religions I know of, and even atheists, have acknowledged the existence of these unique, highly improbable Events we call Miracles when Love is in the vicinity.

It makes no sense that such a Literature and its fans should not command high prestige.

We on this blog have been thinking about this problem using the tools of Publishing, Publicity, Promotion, Marketing, Sociology, Criminology, maybe Anthropology and Psychology too. The authors on this blog have brought to bear some of the biggest guns known to the intellectual world. And still we need a new approach.

So here let's think with the tools provided by Astrology.

When you set out to think about a problem, you have two tasks ahead of you. First you must define the problem. Then you must solve the problem.

90% of the solution to any problem lies within the definition of the problem. The other 10% is usually perspiration, but sometimes inspiration.

If you find you can't solve a problem you're working on, then restate the problem.

For a bit more on the concept of restating the problem to solve it, see my blog entry about a thought problem posing an ethical dilemma:

In that example, the only reason there was a dilemma is that the problem was not correctly stated.

I believe the only reason we still have a prestige problem with the Romance Genre is that the problem is not correctly stated.

So I'm going to try a restatement, and maybe that will lead someone else to restate, and another to try a restatement using different thinking tools -- and maybe we can get somewhere with this and finally win one of those international prizes.

So let's start with a statement of the Romance Genre Problem using Astrology.

"Love Conquers All" is the central theme and major plot resolution mechanism of Romance.

What is Love?

In Astrology, "Love" is divided. Venus, Mars, Pluto and Neptune all have something to say about it. The Moon and all the other elements add nuances.

The Romance Genre as a whole is the analog of Science Fiction's "First Contact Story" where humanity meets a new alien species. The driving dynamic of the First Contact plot is all about discovering "Who" that "Other" really is. Most First Contact stories pivot on a misunderstanding, an idealism psychologically projected, or an alliance forged in improbable ways.

There have been hugely popular, widely respected novels and movies that are "Love Stories" -- in fact, there is one called Love Story. Helen of Troy comes to mind. The "Love Story" is not a Romance. The Love Story can involve Venus, Mars and sometimes Pluto symbolism, but usually excludes (remember my genre defining principle) Neptune.

The Romance Genre story often excludes Venus, Mars, and Pluto -- but always includes Neptune. Or, using my principle for defining genre, The Romance Genre is defined by the exclusion of everything BUT Neptune. Put another way, though Venus, Mars, Pluto and all other symbolisms may be in a Romance, Neptune trumps them all except sometimes Pluto.

The dominance of Neptune automatically blurs, dissolves, or renders unimportant the influences of all other planets (except sometimes Pluto). That's its nature by Astrological definition.

So using my "exclusion" definition, the presence of Romance automatically excludes everything else. Romance wipes out the world around you leaving only the one person you have become totally focused on.

The sub-division of Love that the Romance Genre focuses on is the process of "falling in love" or being "swept off your feet" and that is ruled by Neptune.

So we start our restatement of the Problem by examining the characteristics of Neptune-ruled processes.

Neptune rules Pisces, the natural 12th House, the End Of Matters -- matters of ultimate concern such as Life, Death, God, Bereavement, Self-Destruction, Idealism, Dreams. Neptune rules the stuff you can't get ahold of. Neptune, the god of the sea, rules the DEEPS, the unseen.

Oddly, Neptune is intimately connected with modern technology. On Star Trek, Scotty was the purely Pisces technician. Many of our geeks and techies have strong Pisces emphasis, though electricity is ruled by Uranus. Pisces provides focus on the unseen, spiritual and even psychic.

Barak Obama's natal chart is actually unknown, but some astrology websites have given him an Ascendant of 23 degrees of Aquarius and that would mean Neptune transits his Ascendant at the time of the Presidential Election. (Obama's Sun is in Leo.)

If that Ascendant is correct, then for ten years or so prior to the Presidential Election, Neptune transited Obama's 12th House.

Because Neptune rules the Natural 12th House, Pisces, Neptune's effect is magnified when it transits your personal natal 12th House.

Barak Obama has apparently mastered the purely spiritual energy of Neptune. This has bestowed upon him a larger than life glamour, and a huge popularity. Crowds "fall in love with" him -- study that effect and you'll come to understand the essence of Neptune's effect.

That's not the way it ordinarily works for ordinary people.

Neptune transiting the 12th House is famous for being a time of life when major changes in the foundation of life are tested and often dissolve. People go from job to job never seeming to stay long enough to be 'vested' in the Pension Fund. People change their major in college three or four times. People undergo religious conversions or fall into an endless tangle of unclear situations where they simply can't get ahead no matter how well they do. Records get lost or altered. Friends, family, and strangers come to think of the person undergoing a Neptune transit of the 12th House as rudderless, not in command of their life, a flake, a drop out, a burden or a patsy. Drug addiction is common under this transit if it is indicated elsewhere in the Natal Chart.

But Neptune is also known as the Santa Claus of the zodiac -- bestowing grand gifts. Even ordinary people may win the lottery, land the dream job of a lifetime, or get swept off their feet by Prince(ess) Charmings, be catapulted to fame and glory under some Neptune influences.

Neptune transits to various points in a Natal Chart can make you gullible, easily fooled by shysters, confidence men, fortune tellers etc. You really think that what you believe ought to be true, actually is or can be if only you do this one simple thing.

Neptune rules Hollywood, scintillating glamour, rock star status, everything to do with the stage and screen, with entertainment by illusion, or the delusion that the world really is your Ideal. Neptune also rules mind-altering drugs such as LSD -- mushrooms that give you Visions.

Neptune is hard to define -- because it is hard to define!

Yet, once you notice an example of it working in a situation you are familiar with, you will be able to identify its influence in various other situations.

For those new to Astrology, remember Neptune is just one of 8 planets (Earth doesn't count) plus the Moon and Sun, all variables (but not independent variables) that move against the fixed pattern of the moment when you were born (Natal Chart) bestowing challenges and opportunities.

Neptune will have a different effect for each person who experiences it in a specific sector of their Natal Chart such as the 12th House. That's why there are so many Romance Novels already published and we've hardly scratched the surface yet!

So, most romances are ruled by Neptune. Neptune rules the sign Pisces.

In Astrology, "rule" means "associated with" or maybe "proxy for" or possibly "avatar of" -- "rule" means that the two things share the same symbolism or archetypes, not that one is superior to the other.

Pisces is the 12th sign of the Zodiac. The Zodiac is the band of 12 constellations that encircle the Earth. There's lots of other constellations, but we don't try to calculate with them, only the 12 that delineate human psychology.

As the zodiac is imagined, each constellation occupies 30 degrees of the circle, and each constellation is a "House" -- i.e. a House is 30 degrees of the 360. The Houses are numbered; the Signs are named. House and Sign and planet ruling the Sign all share a set of symbols or archetypes.

So lets start to draw a diagram of the basic outline of human personality.

Take a piece of paper and draw a big circle. Draw a vertical diameter and a horizontal diameter at right angles to it. Slice each quadrant into 3 equal pie slices. Now you have 4 groups of 3 Houses each. 4 X 3 = 12

The point on your left where the horizontal diameter meets the circle is called The Ascendant. It's the point where the Sun rises. The 12th House is the slice of pie right above the Ascendant. That's the home of the constellation Pisces.

In the Natural Zodiac -- the Houses and Signs are exactly aligned. So the 12th Sign, Pisces, is the 12th House.

Astrology divides these 12 pie slices or Houses or Signs into 2 different groups called the Quadruplicities and the Triplicities. (the 4's and the 3's)

The first group is Cardinal, Fixed and Mutable, 3 modes of functioning.

The second group is the Elements (alchemical Elements, or psychological states, not Periodic Table elements). Earth. Air. Fire. Water.

Every constellation and every House has 2 properties, an element and a mode of functioning within that element. It goes like this (trust me, this is important for understanding Romance plotting!).

1st - Aries - Cardinal - Fire
2nd - Taurus - Fixed - Earth
3rd - Gemini - Mutable - Air
4th - Cancer - Cardinal - Water
5th - Leo - Fixed - Fire
6th - Virgo - Mutable - Earth
7th - Libra - Cardinal - Air
8th - Scorpio - Fixed - Water
9th - Sagittarius - Mutable - Fire
10th - Capricorn - Cardinal - Earth
11th - Aquarius - Fixed - Air
12th - Pisces - Mutable - Water

This is easiest to understand if you actually draw yourself a sliced pie diagram and label each slice with all 4 of the labels in the table above - number, name, triplicity and quadruplicity. You'll refer to your drawing at the end of this article, so do it now and it'll save you paging back to find this table.

Put Aries on your left, in the slice right under the horizontal diameter. Down from Aires, put Taurus with its properties. Then keep going around the circle until you put Pisces on your left right above the horizontal diameter line.

Notice that Pisces, ruled by Neptune, is a WATER SIGN, and there are 3 Water Signs, Cardinal, Fixed and Mutable; a Triplicity.

The "element" Water (not actual water) is associated with emotion, feelings.

The other Water Signs are Cancer and Scorpio.

If Pisces ruled by Neptune is the heart and core of all Romance, what do the other 2 Water Signs have to do with the Romance Genre?

Pisces is MUTABLE WATER -- it's Emotion that is Changeable (i.e. Mutable = morphable = changeable)

Pisces and Neptune rule (or describe) psychic experiences -- telepathy, empathy, prophecy, psychometry.

Pisces deforms on impact -- i.e. takes an impression. Neptune rules things that don't have a shape, that can't be defined by space and time borders. Mutable Emotion.

Mutable Water is the state of mind in which one is open to emotional change -- able to Receive in the mystical or Qabalistic sense. When those 12th House, Pisces or Neptune associated bits of your psyche are activated and influencing your perceptions, things about yourself that have previously defined YOU -- things which delineate your identity and things about yourself that you take pride in (such as your ethical sense) -- can CHANGE.

The essence of your Identity can change. Who you feel you are can change.

Mutable is change; Water is Emotion -- emotions change only when the very foundation of Identity Definition changes.

And that's what happens when 2 people become 1 -- when Love Binds. "We" becomes "I."

Impact with a Soul Mate boots you one more step toward becoming your Ideal Self. (Neptune is Idealism, remember?)

So, if the nature of Pisces and its Ruler Neptune is Mutable Water, Romance Incarnate, what is the nature of Cancer?

Cancer is Cardinal Water. What do you mean, Cardinal?

"Cardinal" in astrology generally refers to the "active principle" or the "male principle." The Cardinal signs represent taking the initiative, being pro-active, aggressive, getting projects started (but not necessarily finishing).

Water is Emotion, Cardinal is a spark, an initiating start of something. So Cancer and its ruler The Moon, represent the Emotion that Initiates -- and is best understood by associating Cancer with Motherhood, the nurturer, the roots of your personality.

Note that Cancer is the 4th House and appears on the diagram at the very bottom. It's the FOUNDATION of your Life. It's where your feet stand. In this diagram, the point where the bottom of the verticle diameter meets the circle is called the 4th House Cusp or I.C. and represents the point where the Sun is at mid-night (on the other side of the Earth from you).

Cancer is the Home Maker. Cardinal is the MAKER. 4th House is HOME. Ask yourself why husbands hesitate before doing something they know their wives will not like? Wife is Cardinal. Wife is in Command. Wife Builds. Wife Raises Kids. Wife sends you out to chop wood and you jolly well better bring back an armload! Wife's main weapon in the battle of the sexes is emotion. Mother controls by poking your Guilt Button. Cardinal Water.

The 3rd Water Sign is Scorpio. Fixed Water.

Scorpio is the Natural 8th House, Inheritance (The King Is Dead, Long Live The King), Public Finance (current economic crisis coincides with a transit of Pluto over the USA Natal Chart's 8th House cusp), Spouse's Resources (an insurance policy? Alimony?) Death and Taxes are 8th House matters.

Fixed Water -- now that's a contradiction in terms (i.e. contradiction = CONFLICT which is the Essence of Story). Water flows, deforms its shape to the shape of its container, water evaporates and condenses. Fixed means just that -- doesn't change. Fixed doesn't start things. Fixed FINISHES THINGS. The Cardinal Signs are starters and leaders, Mutable Signs control the course adjustment rockets, Fixed signs just keep going the way something started them going.

Fixed signs are about momentum. It takes a lot to get them going -- but once started, they can't be stopped.

Remember, everyone has all the signs and all the planets -- everyone has everything somewhere. The differences between us are in the way it's all arranged. So everyone has Scorpio and its ruler Pluto somewhere -- everyone has something at which they can not be stopped.

Scorpio is the Juggernaut. It just rolls right over you and you are no more.

Water is strong. Think about torture by drops of water. Think about caves with stalagmites and stalactites - drip drip drip - even rock gives way after thousands of years.

Scorpio is ruled by Pluto, god of the Underworld. The force is unseen but unstoppable.

That's why Scorpio-ruled people have such a reputation. They can use emotion (Water) in such a way that they can't be stopped (fixed on course) and you'll never see it coming.

Scorpio then is fixed purpose of emotion. Pluto, the ruler of Scorpio, rules the gonads. Pure, raw, animal sexuality, untempered by the intellect, the heart, the mind.

When it's a Pluto fueled Romance, you don't ask "what does she see in him?" because she doesn't SEE and she doesn't care that she doesn't see. "He" doesn't really matter. Only getting off matters - BAM, explosive FINISH.

Fixed is about finishing, Pluto is all about power, explosive power (Uranium is the associated symbol). When manifesting as sexuality, it's all about getting off for the sheer power of it. And yes, it can edge over into S&M, Bondage, and even rape. It's all about POWER unleashed explosively -- to a CONCLUSION. Finishing. Fixed is about finishing, getting to the finish-line, nothing stopping that force that drives to a fixed target. BAM!

Scorpio, Pluto and the 8th House are all about the end of life, inheritance, -- that's the goal of all life, to reproduce and pass on the survival traits, and die.

These 3 water signs give you all the emotional parameters that drive the Romance plot elements, and they even provide the template for the Worldbuilding that supports the Romance.

April in Paris -- walking along the river (water, inexorable snowmelt runoff), an artist colony focused entirely on Fantasy Entertainment (Neptune), an Incident that requires one to rescue another, bind wounds, nurse through a dire fever, (Moon rules Cancer). An adventure forges a lifelong Bond.

These 3 Water Signs are usually present in a wide variety of stories.

When Cancer leads, you have Little House On The Prairie and The Waltons. When Scorpio leads, you have James Bond, Terminator, The Borne Identity. When Pisces leads, you have the whole Romance Genre with all its sub-genres -- a moment outside of time and space when ALL THAT MATTERS to the two people in love is each other and their vision of their future together.

Stories where Cancer leads are respected family fare. Stories where Scorpio leads are respected by men who love action stories and anything men like is respected (and the guy always gets the girl; not vice-versa).

But stories where the three Water Signs are led by Pisces are NOT respected. Why?????

I found an article that gives a clue - from science, no less!

This article, a Health for Life article titled Sad Brain, Happy Brain by Michael Craig Miller, M.D., was published in NEWSWEEK MAGAZINE, September 22, 2008.
But you have to sign in to get access to the article. I think it's free though.

Some people respect NEWSWEEK as a factual source. But I see a bias in this article. There might be an "agenda" behind this article in that many readers of Newsweek want very much to believe that everything there is in human experience can in fact be explained by brain chemistry (which might be true). The idea is that you never, ever, need to postulate an immortal soul to explain any part of human experience - not even love.

Other surveys contend that most Americans do feel a spiritual connection to a Creator -- though again, most Americans would rather not associate too closely with any organized Religion!

So Newsweek has presented this straight science report on brain research which is very factual, and coincidentally very reassuring to those who want to delete God without deleting Love. You can have Love without God in your philosophy -- you just don't automatically get the "miracles" effect that I mentioned above. You have to come up with another postulate to explain miracles.

The subtitle of the article is "What cognitive neuroscience is uncovering about the fascinating biology behind our most complex feelings. As it turns out, love really is blind."

Now doesn't that explain it all? Here is a national publication using science to lay the foundation for disregarding the Romance Genre. "Love Is Blind" as "Love Conquers All" is a legitimate theme. And "Love Is Blind" can even be used to write a Romance.

It's a fairly long and involved article. Near the end, in the section titled Faith, Love and Understanding, there's a quote I want to draw to your attention:

NEWSWEEK: "... And there's scientific evidence that love really is blind; romantic love turns down or shuts off activity in the reasoning part of the brain and the amygdala. In the context of passion, the brain's judgment and fear centers are on leave. Love also shuts down the centers necessary to mentalize or sustain a theory of mind. Lovers stop differentiating you from me."

Well, yes, isn't that the whole point?

Most people who search the spiritual realms for some meaning to Life other than grubbing in the dirt till you die generally find theories, avatars, gurus, Initiators, etc who try to explain how it is that, though we are all separate and alone, we are also nevertheless connected to each other and to something out there that is Ineffable.

Experiencing personal Love with a Soul Mate is just about as close as you can get to a personal experience of that Ineffable.

So there are two philosophies here.

One philosophy says that the experience of the Ineffable, especially through love, is an illusion (Neptune rules Illusion). All experience is just brain chemistry.

The other philosophy says that the experience of the Ineffable, especially through love, rips away the illusion and exposes the Idealistic Truth (Neptune) -- that we are all One.

Maybe love is blind -- but blind to what? To the Illusion or to The Truth?

There you are on a street corner, and you step out into traffic and jump back, narrowly missing being hit by a car. The driver yells, "What's the matter with you? You blind?" and drives on. It's not his fault he didn't see you -- it's your fault. You are defective.

Blindness is something you accuse someone of. Blindness disqualifies you from being respected in normal society.

We all have our opinions of that opinion, but the truth is, it still prevails. Blindness is a stigma, a disqualification.

If you are blind, you will make mistakes that could be fatal to yourself or others. If you are blind you CAN NOT do things "right." You can't "see" what's right in front of you -- what is obvious to everyone else.

Physical blindness is a metaphor for the kind of blindness that Neptune transits bring.

When Neptune transits certain points in a natal chart, the person loses the ability to see other people's faults (even obvious ones). The person loses the ability to assess their own faults or limitations. The person loses the kind of critical judgment this society values, the judgment that lets you tell the good guys from the bad guys.

We become "non-judgmental" -- and thus able to accept what we would reject at any other time.

This society sees that loss of critical judgment as a flaw, a weakness, a danger to ourselves and others. This society (as any writer or practitioner of the Arts will tell you) sees imagination and idealism (two Neptune traits) as worthless unless tempered with critical judgment.

Now, think about this very hard.

If you live in a universe where there is no God taking a personal interest in us, and you think this article on brain research is correct, and everything in human experience can be explained by brain chemistry -- and that "love is blind" as I've quoted above -- then you must force yourself to believe that the Romance Genre is a bunch of crap that no worthwhile person could possible associate with.

Why must you convince yourself of that? Because Romance Genre's core theme is "Love Conquers All" -- that the goal of life is to suspend that critical faculty that builds a psychic barrier between individuals and really see no difference between Self and Other - to JOIN.

When you manage to suspend that much-prized critical judgement -- and only when you can vanquish it totally -- then you can touch Truth and cause miracles to happen. "And they lived happily ever after." The Prince marries the housemaid and they live happily ever after. (Princess Di notwithstanding.)

Whatever threat has been barreling down on them is averted by Love. True Love overcomes all obstacles, vanquishes every challenge, dissolves all social barriers (My Fair Lady) makes everything come out right in the end (even if it costs an arm, a leg and maybe your native accent.)

That core theme - "Love Conquers All" - is utter, blithering nonsense without the "miracles" attached. And its the miracles they sneer at. They know about Princess Di.

If, however, (even unbeknownst to yourself) you live in a universe where The Ineffable can be accessed through Love, and when accessed, can be argued into producing a miracle or two, you know that in the harsh light of reality, only Love matters. And so Romance Genre stories make sense, match your perception of reality, and define a goal to shoot for.

Now, humans, being human, don't always know what they believe, think or feel about the Universe. Many aren't old enough to have an epistemology -- others developed one haphazardly and have no idea what they believe or believe contradictory things about everything.

Those bewildered (Neptune rules the bewildered and perplexed) folks are the primary readership of Romance novels. They deem Romance an important part of life and want to figure out how to inject some into their own everyday existence.

The novel or film that can show them how to do that will break the ghetto walls around the Romance Genre.

That book or film has to explain the mechanism by which Love causes miracles to happen so that indeed Love does conquer all.

That book or film has to explain how it can be that, blinded and without critical judgment or a modicum of fear (the amygdala, the article explains, is activated when you feel fear), you actually make better decisions and do "right" things rather than "wrong" things to steer your life.

That book or film has to explain how it can be that, blinded by Love, you are less of a danger to yourself or others.

That book or film has to explain how this world is illusion and the world of Love is the truth. (which it is, in my opinion)

The book or film we need to see out there has to challenge the thematic thesis that "Love Conquers All" and show the harmonious connection between Pisces (the Ideal, the Illusion, the Dream), Cancer (the Home), and Scorpio (Sexual Power).

It has to be fascinating and entertaining to the people who are scared of the Ineffable, so they'll listen to the explanation of how Love works and why it conquers all.

Remember my definition of Genre rests on what is excluded?

Well, the definitive work that will bring Romance Genre the prestige it deserves has to INCLUDE All. Thus, it wouldn't actually be a Romance Genre work, but a wider work that has the scope to define not just the one genre, but the concept "genre" itself.

Let's go back to the Astrology table associating the 12 signs of the Zodiac with their properties.

The driving power of the Romance Genre is entirely Neptune /Pisces /12th House.

The Romance Genre formula takes that one essential ingredient in Life (everyone has Pisces somewhere; everyone has Neptune somewhere) and isolates it from most of the others. Neptune is hard enough to make sense of in context nevermind out of context! So let's put it in context.

The essence of story is conflict. What conflicts with Neptune? In Astrology, Squares and Oppositions give "conflict" as challenges and opportunities, as pressure to develop and mature in personality and spirit. "Story" is about a character changing under pressure of life's patterns and we've drawn a diagram of life's patterns.

Look at the pie slices you've drawn and find the natural conflicts that generate plots.

Opposite Pisces is Virgo - Mutable Earth. Virgo is ruled by Mercury (thought, travel). Virgo is organized, defined, practical, the Accountant, the bean-counter personality, all about DETAILS. You know the kind of person who packs a suitcase with everything in ziplock bags and shaped into rectangles laid in precise rows? That's a kind of Virgo -- not necessarily Sun in Virgo, but an emphasis in Virgo and/or the 6th House (Virgo is the Natural 6th House of Service). John McCain has Sun and 3 planets in Virgo, all about Service and balancing the budget.

6th House is your "work" -- what you do to make money, not your vocation. So Neptune transiting your 12th House opposite your 6th House tends to dissolve away your job(s) but not your vocation.

Square Pisces is Gemini, Mutable Air, also ruled by Mercury, but usually a messy housekeeper who thinks fast, communicates faster, and just can't be still. Barak Obama probably (his exact chart is unknown) has Moon in Gemini, and oddly when asked what his worst fault is, he responded by noting he keeps a messy desk and has trouble finding things. So maybe the websites have his chart nailed.

Square Pisces in the other direction, opposite Gemini, is Sagittarius, Mutable Fire -- ruled by Jupiter, (the inclusion principle). Sagittarius is all about Truth. Sagittarius can't tell a lie, not even a "white lie" and in fact is apt to blurt out the truth at inopportune moments.

Notice what conflicts most with Pisces/Neptune are the other Mutables. Like repels like.

Pisces is Sacrifice -- Virgo is Service. Same thing? Or opposites?

Gemini is communication -- Sagittarius is honesty. Same thing? Or opposites?

Now take Cancer - opposite is Capricorn, squaring are Aries and Libra.

Now take Scorpio - opposite is Taurus, squaring are Leo and Aquarius.

Look up the associated traits of the opposition and squares of any sign, and presto, you have a theme, a plot, and the elements of the World you must Build to display them, and all the elements will automatically be in harmony -- AND ordinary readers who know nothing of Astrology will recognize the conglomeration you've created as a coherent set of things that reflects "reality" and lets them suspend disbelief. Using these sets defined by Astrology, the writer can create "plausibility" without seeming "contrived."

Pisces, Cancer and Scorpio form the Grand Water Trine -- three elements that work easily together without conflict. They advance each others' causes, progress smoothly. Whichever one you're working in, the other two are supportive. Each of the three is opposed and squared by the signs that give it the most trouble -- and incidentally the most opportunity for growth and self actualization, the most opportunity for a writer to demonstrate character growth.

Aries, Leo and Sagitarrius are the Fire Trine. Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn are the Earth Trine. Each is opposed and squared by a naturally conflicting sign.

Think about that and you should see the conflicts, themes, and Worlds which could present the argument for the Romance Genre thesis, Love Conquers All.

The trick here is to put Romance, and the Neptune effect of stripping away judgment, into context and argue that without our normal fears and judgments, without the barriers between us that define us as individuals, we function more in tune with the world, and get more accurate, profitable and usable results.

Astrology, with this neat pie-slice layout of Triplicities and Quadruplicities provides writers with a uniquely compact paradigm for all the available Archetypes and their natural conflicts -- plus the natural resolutions that most people would be able to see as "Poetic Justice."

To me, Astrology graphically shows us that "life" isn't about conflict, war, strife, dominance, submission, angst, grief, or competition. The Wheel of Life shows graphically that Life is really about balance, combinations, resolution and above all Peace.

So what do you leave out to make a story a genre Romance?

From Astrology and modern brain research together, we learn that you leave out "critical judgment" factors, the ones that rely on the difference between Self and Other and the ones that rely on the amygdala which is actived when fear is triggered. These are the factors which keep you from blending with the Ineffable by bonding with a Soul Mate.

So, using "Love Conquers All" as your main theme means that you may include things which are monstrously fearsome, horrible beyond all imagining, repulsive (one mythical frog/prince comes to mine), Vampire, Alien From Another Planet, or terrifying in some primal way (Simes come to my mind instantly).

To make a story pure Romance Genre, you leave out the POV character's response of FEAR! Love is fearless. Romance is the state in which one is capable of overcoming barriers to reach out and Love. So to make it a story, you must start with the part where there are barriers -- impossible barriers -- then show how they dissolve as Love grows.

The point that would win The Nobel Prize in Literature might be, as I said above, that in the state of not-fearing and not-distinguishing between Self and Other, one makes the best of all possible decisions - not the worst, as common wisdom currently holds.

For a glimpse of a real world model of how this dissolving (Neptune) of barriers (Saturn) between people is currently in progress, read this article on surfing the web affecting brain circuitry and social skills:
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sex and the place-holder

I'm at a loss for something truly "Crafty" to say. On the other hand, I was very interested in Margaret's post, particularly since the idea of doing a NaNoWriMo intrigues and horrifies me, so talking about Karen's techniques for writing a book in a month was timely.

My first reaction to Margaret's post was dismay. How many sex scenes are they talking about? I think it makes a difference, don't you? Some genres require sex in every chapter. I should think there would be a practical difficulty in trying to write...what? thirty?? sex scenes all in one go for later insertion. One might just as well draft the entire book.

It hadn't occurred to me that having sex is particularly character-building.

I can imagine. Chapter One is a quickie. He is selfish. Chapter Two, another quickie, but afterwards he asks if it was good for her. And so forth.

For those of us who have disastrously bad sex once or twice.... (by which I mean, well-written, but interrupted) in our books there is something to be said for writing such scenes together, so you can have echoes and refrains (opera metaphor) when it comes to the satisfactory climactic scene.

In Forced Mate, I had a bad kiss (nothing more harrowing than that) early in the book, a long-lasting consensual love scene around Chapter 15-through-16, but didn't see the need to repeat good sex to indicate that the hero and heroine would have a happy ever after together.

I'm all in favor of place holders. I assume that Karen's advice could apply equally well to fight scenes, or diagnosis scenes, or entering-orbit scenes, or chess playing scenes.

Yes, I will draft all my chess scenes at once. I'll chose a couple of games that demonstrate the title of the book, and play them on a real chess board a few times, and also on the internet to check out well-known variations.

In a Romance, the chess moves have to be easy to explain, and I need to make the point as economically as possible. The actions aren't the point of the scene. It's the dialogue that matters. Moving the chess pieces and pawns is busy-ness, although nuances of character and mood can be conveyed depending on whether the actions are decisive or hesitant, whether captures are accompanied by a taunt or a lifted eyebrow or am emphatic clicking of wood on wood.

Of course, I want to include a double entendre around "You're forked!" or "I'm ready to force a Mate," or "Neither of us can get to Mate... we've insufficient mating material." That will dictate my choice of a suitable order of play.

It's the same with fight scenes. Once I've immersed myself in the moves, and the way young swordsmen talk to each other around the strip, and how they boast afterwards, and watched movies (which probably shoot all the fight scenes one after the other... otherwise, they'd have to keep the swordmaster-choreographer kicking his heels while they shot love scenes), I want to at least draft several fights.

If you've got the moves down, you can always change who is fighting whom, and what they say to each other, and add or subtract fancy footwork. However, if one of the duelists is your hero, you do have to be careful, because you can legally do things with a saber, for instance, that no hero would dream of doing with an epee.


Portal to Realms On Our Bookshelves -

Realms On Our Bookshelves Mini-Interview with: Rowena Cherry

Thursday, October 23, 2008

New Book by Karen Wiesner

I want to draw your attention to a new writing manual recently published by Writer’s Digest, FROM FIRST DRAFT TO FINISHED NOVEL, by Karen S. Wiesner. It’s a “sequel” to her FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS, which I immediately came to rely on for plotting my novels. Here’s the review that will appear in the next issue of my monthly newsletter:

Although this writing manual is a companion book to FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS, one can work with it independently of the earlier book. FROM FIRST DRAFT... begins with a lucid summary of the method in FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS so that a writer can adopt that method and go on to integrate it with the techniques recommended in the new book. Using the metaphor of building a house from a blueprint and a solid foundation, Wiesner lays out a step-by-step plan for developing a polished novel from the "formatted outline" produced by the FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS method. She gives an abundance of examples from published novels so that the reader has no trouble grasping exactly what she means by each of her recommendations. This book introduces two very helpful concepts new to me, "story sparks" and the "punch list." It also includes a large quantity of useful checklists and worksheets. For writers like me, to whom outlining and pre-planning come naturally, FROM FIRST DRAFT TO FINISHED NOVEL will definitely be of great value. Many of its suggestions are bound to benefit "pantsers," too, however. If you already have FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS, be sure to add this "sequel" to your collection. If not, consider buying it anyway; the new book, as I mentioned, can stand on its own. (end of review)

One of Karen’s suggestions surprised me by directly addressing a habit I often follow in writing erotic romance—leaving place-holders for erotic scenes and composing them all at once after finishing the rest of the story. My reasoning has been that this method makes it easier to avoid falling into the trap of having all the sex scenes look alike. She recommends against this practice on the grounds that writing the love scenes along with the rest of the story, in order, facilitates integrating those scenes into the flow of character development. Good point. What do you think? And how does this recommendation apply to writers who regularly write out of order and stitch the plot sequence together later in the process (something I found I couldn’t do, because I’d write the “best parts” first and then lose interest in the rest)?

Margaret L. Carter

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Future is Now

Rowena’s post about chastity, abstinence and time periods brought up an interesting issue that I’ve dealt with since I’ve been writing SFR professionally. From time to time I get emails from readings telling me that the militaries portrayed in my books aren’t structured properly because “that’s not the way the USAF or USN” functions (or RAF or whatever other military you want to include).

And I have to reply, “Yes, I know. But my books aren’t about any Earth-based military.” (The Down Home Zombie Blues being the notable exception).

But, but, you write science fiction romance! It’s about the future!

No, it’s not. It’s about my character’s present day.

FINDERS KEEPERS is not Trilby Elliot’s future. It’s her present day. Granted, AN ACCIDENTAL GODDESS throws Gillie almost four hundred years into the future but it’s not four hundred years into Earth’s future, but hers. She’s Raheiran. She’s never heard of Earth, Florida, France, Malaysia, Ohio, Moscow, London, South Africa or Canada. Honest. She hasn’t.

The same is true for the rest of my books (other than ZOMBIE). The same is true for a lot of science fiction and science fiction romance.

One of the reasons to read SF and SFR is to move your mind out of the usual and the known. It’s to set the “givens” aside and open up to what else just might be. Our characters’ stories often aren’t ones you can plug into your home calendar—your can’t fast forward to 2075 and think you’ll find Trilby Elliot. Or Tasha Sebastian.

The cultures, the mores, the beliefs our characters have often are not Earth-In-The-Future but right here, right now for those characters. So chastity or abstinence, if it exists in that character’s life, is because of the current beliefs or life’s structure (as it was for Branden Kel-Paten in GAMES OF COMMAND). And what god or gods they worship, how they’re educated, what they eat, how they run their militaries—these are all things unique to their current time and place.

Which isn’t here.
Except when you’re reading my books.
Then the future is now.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Everyone needs a good fork (sexual emancipation in outer space)

Never in my tamest dreams did I ever imagine that I'd see one of my covers on the same page as a quote by Barbara Cartland.

It happened.

Thank you, Just Jinny. You've got me thinking.

“A historical romance is the only kind of book where chastity really counts.” ~ Barbara Cartland quotes

Does chastity count?

In my debut futuristic romance, Forced Mate, chastity counted. Technically. Royal males tended tended to cheat, but an heir to the Tigron Imperial throne was legally required to take his Princess Consort's virginity at their Mating ceremony.

However, Forced Mate was an affectionate spoof of a historical romance, so Djinni-vera's story isn't particularly interesting as an example.

My next heroine was a widow, and reasonably sexually continent (my editor abhors that expression) more for lack of opportunity than anything else. When opportunity knocked in the buff and ripped form of Commander Jason, whom she took to be a lesser being, totally unsuitable, sexually safe, and deliciously beneath her, she took him to bed, made a video the occasion, and got herself into trouble. A Royal shotgun wedding was the result.

Again, Insufficient Mating Material could have been an historical romance if it hadn't been in outer space.

The heroine of Knight's Fork is an Imperial Princess. She is also a Queen because she is married to a King. Her King is an alien and a lesser being, so he cannot impregnate her. She requires a sperm donor. No chastity there!

However, her choice for a potential stud has sworn a vow of chastity. Sexual chastity. (During poverty awareness week, I learned that chastity doesn't necessarily refer to sexual abstinence. Chastity can refer to absolute respect for oneself and others.)

Carnal chastity matters very much to 'Rhett, hero of Knight's Fork.

What about other authors' fantasies, futuristics, science fiction romances, spec roms, space operas and even paranormals?

Where do we stand? Does chastity count for some of our heroes and heroines? In other words, does Barbara Cartland's quote still apply?

I think editors of pulp fiction assume that in the future, human scientists will have solved all the problems the fear of which keep us chaste: social diseases, unplanned pregnancies, disapproving parents/pastors/presidents... Is there anything else?

Therefore, and rather conveniently (given that sex sells) our heroines of the future can have as much--if not more--zipless fun as the bad boys of history.

I wonder, though. If there's no risk, no danger, no love, no reason--as we understand it--for chastity to matter, will it?

Interjection: they're just playing Viva Viagra on the TV. Why is this issue (is it an issue?) so normal and socially acceptable? What effect will Viagra in our drinking water (you know it is getting there after it's been passed by our water inspectors) have on future generations? Why is there such a burning need for these products (or is there?)

Possibly, it is more likely that in the future there will be new reasons for chastity. I'm thinking of Dune. What a hassle to get in and out of those suits! What a waste of water! What happens if in the future, we are rationed to one bath a month (whether we want it or not)? Perhaps we'd spray ourselves with futuristic Febreeze, and rub ourselves with minty fresh hand-sanitizer.

On that happy thought, I will leave you.

Rowena Cherry

Thursday, October 16, 2008

How Rich Are You?

Because yesterday was Blog Action Day 2008: Poverty, I want to draw your attention to the Global Rich List page: It's maintained by an organization based in London, with the purpose of encouraging visitors to give out of their abundance to help the poorest of the Earth. Enter your annual income in the box and discover where you stand in terms of wealth compared to the total population of the world. All major religions teach that the rich have a duty to relieve the sufferings of those less fortunate. All of us who live in North America and belong to the working class, middle class, or above are among the rich! Even my college-age son who works only part time falls into the upper 13.7 percent. Something positive to think about while contemplating the current economic crisis!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Long Time Ago, in a Galaxy Far, Far Away... (guest blog)

Jacqueline Lichtenberg is observing Sukkot today, and we are delighted to welcome a guest author, Nathalie Gray, today.

A Long Time Ago, in a Galaxy Far, Far Away...MY ASS!

By: Nathalie Gray (

That's how Rob Sawyer, He Who Rules Canadian Science Fiction, starts his speech about his favorite genre and how Star Wars ruined it.

I have to admit, I'm a fan of Star Wars for the villains. They're much more interesting than the heroes. Darth Vader? I'm there, baby. Darth Maul? Rawr! Hans Solo, meh, sure, he's cute only because it's Harrison Ford.

But I digress.

Sawyer looks at Star Wars and recent science fiction movies from a whole new angle. It shocked me so much, in fact, that I *had* to come share it with the lovelies at Alien Romances. The speech is broken into three portions of about 5 minutes each (see link below). So you're looking at a quarter of an hour. But I promise you, it's not wasted time. Especially the bit about the androids.

Oh, and because he rocks and rules and does it simultaneously, he also reminds people that the first true science fiction novel was written by a...


Yes. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was the first story that hinged entirely on science. It was the science, the experiment, that drove the characters, triggered the conflict and registered so high on the Massively Addictive Index. When you start reading that story, you can't put it down.
Next time someone tells you scifi is for guys, you whip out your machete, erm, I mean, your copy of Frankenstein and tell them, "Dude, that chick was writing scifi before H.G. Wells was even BORN. Now kiss my feet."

To read Rob's comment about woman writers and science fiction, follow this link:

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Serendipity and Convergence (Poverty and futuristic world-building)

Sometimes, things come together, no pun intended. This week, the world is recognizing the issue of Poverty on several days. Wednesday 15th is global Blog Action Day, and millions (well, we hope millions) of bloggers will take a moment to show their support in writing, or on the airwaves, or however they can for Poverty.

For a while, I was stumped as to what I could do, aside from a "mee too" (which works… if you register your blog. One point is to make newsworthy numbers, not for everyone to be substantive.) The more blogs sign up, the more potential sponsors are impressed and included to support the cause.

I decided to interview a Capuchin brother about his vows of Poverty (I also learned something I didn't know about chastity and obedience) and his work with the poor in Detroit.

On Facebook, I was searching for groups involved in the blog action day, and learned that October 17th is another day of Poverty awareness.

Meanwhile, today on the Fantasy Futuristic and Paranormal loop (for members of Romance Writers of America), there is a craft discussion on world-building, and Lizzie Newell has shared some insights that I think are brilliant. For Lizzie, "SCARCITY" is an essential ingredient in her world-building, because scarcity creates conflict.

As I mused about how ideas converge, my mind skipped to my two favorite biological concepts (as regards evolution of unrelated but similar-looking species, and the potential for alien romance): convergence and parallelism.

This brought to mind The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, in which a Jesuit missionary is sent to another world (great use is made of the "twin paradox") to make contact with a new, intelligent civilization. In Mary Doria Russell's world of 2019-2060 Poverty is rampant. The Japanese and the Jesuits are powerful.

Given the global financial crisis taking place right now, I'm sure writers of the future will look back to this time for whatever our grandchildren's equivalent of "Steampunk" is and write alternate speculative fiction for what might have happened next in 2008/2009.

Conserve water, people. Drinking water could well be our next Scarcity. (Pun not intended)

This is my interview with Brother Jerry Smith.

I'm embarrassed, but I'm not familiar with the correct way to address a member of the Capuchin order (or any other monk). Are you Father, Frater, Brother….? And is it polite to call you a monk?

The vision of our founder, St. Francis of Assisi, was that we would be brothers to the world—first of all, to other human beings, of course, but also to all of creation—the birds, the animals, the fish of the sea. He spoke of “Brother Sun” and “Sister Moon”, and taught us that we must deal respectfully with all of creation. This was eight hundred years ago—he was “into” ecology way back then! I say all this to arrive at the point that since we strive to be brothers to the world, it is never incorrect to address any Capuchin as “brother”, even if he happens to be a priest. (Some of us are priests and some are not, but the bottom line is that we are all brothers.) And technically we are not monks, as monks are “attached” to a certain monastery for a lifetime whereas we are much more mobile. So it is more correct to call Capuchins “friars” (which comes from the Latin word for “brother”, though we are similar to monks and even call some of our residences monasteries.

I've seen The Sound of Music, and I've read some of Ellis Peters's Brother Cadfael mysteries, and I saw Richard Chamberlain in The Thorn Birds.

What is the difference between a monk and a Catholic priest, in terms of job description, career expectations, pecking order, contact with members of the public?

As I stated above, a monk is attached to a particular monastery for a life time; that does not mean that he can never leave the premises, but that he is “connected” to that monastery for his entire life. Most priests in this country are diocesan priests, meaning that they are “attached” to a particular diocese for a lifetime. A diocese is a geographic area of the country, of which a bishop is the leader or shepherd. He is the leader of all the Catholics in that area, and the diocese is organized into local parishes or churches. Those churches are served by priests who in most cases have been ordained to serve within that diocese.

However, within the Catholic Church there are also religious orders, such as the Capuchins, who are groups of men or women who feel called to live the vowed life (poverty, chastity and obedience) in the spirit of their founder. In our case, that was St. Francis of Assisi; in the case of the Dominicans, it was St. Dominic; in the case of the Jesuits, it was St. Ignatius of Loyola. The bottom line for us in religious life is that we feel called to live that vowed life within a community of like-minded individuals. Thus, living that life faithfully and authentically is our bottom line. Now, within those religious orders of men, some members are priests and some are not priests. Our common life; our charism and spirituality are the same; it is just that the way we live it out is different: the priests do so as administrators of the sacraments and by celebrating the mass, those who are not priests work as teachers or social workers or nurses, etc. Those who are priests “report” to the leaders of their order, whereas priests of the diocese are under the leadership of the bishop.

This is getting to be a very long answer, but in response to another part of the question, within the Capuchin Order we try to live without a “pecking order.” We proclaim ourselves a fraternity of equals, with no special privileges for anyone, whether ordained or not ordained. Members of some monastic orders live quite contemplatively without much contact with the world beyond the monastery walls., we Capuchins are very involved in the world. However, although we Capuchins try to be contemplative as well, (spending a significant portion of each day in prayer and contemplation), we are very involved in the world. In fact, our mission is no less than to “transform the world through reverence!”

Is it true that nuns, monks, and Catholic priests all take vows of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience? If not, who takes what vow?

Men and women members of religious orders (ordained and non-ordained) take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Some take a vow of stability as well, meaning that they are attached to a particular monastery for life. Diocesan priests take vows of chastity and obedience.

I'm sure that there's a very good reason why there are three vows, and they are "Poverty". "Chastity" and "Obedience"? Would you liken those three vows to the three legs on a stool?

My understanding of the vows is that all people are called to live poverty, chastity and obedience, but that vowed religious are called to live them more intently. To me the vow of poverty means to use respectfully the goods of the earth, to share those goods with others, and to use no more than we need. Chastity means that I view others as magnificent creations of God, who are to always be treated respectfully. And obedience means “careful listening”—to God, to life, to others, to those in authority. And it seems to me that living poorly, respectfully and with a “listening spirit” is fundamental for anyone--vowed religious or not--to living life fully and harmoniously with others and with all creation.

What is it like to take a vow of poverty, and to live a life of poverty within a monastic order?

Once again, I do not technically belong to a “monastic order”—but I did take a vow of poverty. Throughout the centuries (and the vowed religious life goes back for centuries and centuries) there has been great discussion and debate about what the vow of poverty “means.” My understanding is that the vow calls us to a respectful use of all things material, to hold in common what we have, and to share what we have. On a practical level that means that the car I drive belongs to the community, not to me personally. It means that I have no bank or checking account in my name, and that the salary I earn is turned over to the community and placed in the general fund to cover the needs of all. It means that I must respond to those in need and share what I have with a wider world. And it means that I live simply, without accumulating a lot of “things,” or chasing after a lot of money.

Could you compare and contrast monastic poverty with the poverty you see in Detroit? (Or any other inner city)

The most obvious difference is the fact that those of us who have taken a vow of poverty almost always have what we need in order to live with dignity and comfort, whereas many others who live in Detroit do not. Again, my understanding of the vow of poverty does not mean that I am to live in destitution—there is nothing blessed about that. Rather, it means that I live simply, using only what I need, and sharing what I have with others. The difference is that while most of us who have taken a vow of poverty do not have a great deal of “things”, drive modest cars, dress and eat simply, we do it out of choice and conviction. Many others, however, are forced to do so—there is no choice about it.

Is it true that in Brother Cadfael's time, impoverished and unwanted young people were sent to a convent or monastery? If so, why wouldn't that work in modern times?

I am not certain about the social conditions specifically during Brother Cadfael’s time, but I do know that throughout the centuries entrance into a convent or monastery was sometimes a viable option to a life of poverty when there were few other escape routes. I guess the key thing here is choice—a choice to enter the vowed life must be made freely, without coercion. The life style must fit one’s temperament and “spirit”; otherwise, I suspect the person involved would not enjoy much happiness in trying to live a lifestyle that does not “fit.”

How is a Capuchin Soup Kitchen different from a Salvation Army soup kitchen?

Although I have had little experience with a Salvation Army soup kitchen, I suspect that we would have much in common. I believe that our motivators are basically the same—the idea that we are all sons and daughters of a common God, and that we must care for each other. I am certain that we share a belief in the goodness and dignity of all human beings. One possible difference is that –and I’m not sure about this—is that the Salvation Army perhaps uses their facilities as places to proselytize—preach—whereas we do not. Our founder, St. Francis of Assisi, said, “Preach the gospel. If necessary, use words.” In other words, we try to preach by the way we live our lives. We feed hungry people because it is the right thing to do, not because we want to preach to and convert them.

Why is there so much poverty in Detroit? Would there be less poverty if there was more chastity and obedience in our society?

Another Capuchin brother once said to me that what we have in Detroit is ”economic apartheid”, that when most of the white people moved out beyond Eight Mile Road, they took with them most of the jobs and the financial resources of the city. While I believe that that analysis is somewhat simplistic, I do believe that there is a great correlation between racism and poverty. But the decline of manufacturing in these cities is also a huge factor, as well as limited educational opportunities and poor transportation systems for the people left in the city. And while I have not thought a whole lot about this, I suppose a case could be made that if everyone treated everyone else respectfully (chastity), and everyone really listened to their inner voice and the voice of God speaking to us (obedience), there would be less poverty in the world because we would conclude that it is unconscionable that some of us enjoy such excess, while millions have not the basic necessities of life. And we would do something about it.

I was very impressed with your organic vegetable gardens on the abandoned lots of Detroit. I've also heard that lots in Detroit are unsold (owing to the debts and back taxes) for $1 each.

I also hear the saying "Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish…" What would happen if the Capuchin monks taught Detroiters to grow their own vegetables?

What would happen if the Capuchins organized allotments (tiny communal market gardens) ? Like Habitat for Humanity, only for vegetable gardens instead of dwellings?

There is a strong movement underway in the city right now to encourage people to grow a portion of their own food. The Greening of Detroit is very active in this endeavor, and the Capuchin Soup Kitchen works in collaboration with that organization. In fact, the Soup Kitchen has a greenhouse where each year approximately 100,000 vegetable seedlings are grown for distribution to individual gardeners and community gardens throughout the city. Each year the program grows in number of participants and levels of enthusiasm, and some of the gardeners are now selling some of their produce. Here at the Soup Kitchen some of our guests have tiny plots where they grow vegetables of their choice, and it is gratifying to observe the care with which the gardens are tended. Working with the earth is also very calming and healing, and I really believe that gardening can help heal the wounds so prevalent among the people of our city.


I see you do "Teach a Man to bake…" Tell me why the Capuchins chose baking as a new career for men who have been incarcerated. Can a man "bake" his way out of poverty and destitution?

Or, is the baking a way of providing the bread to accompany the vegetable soups?

Our ROPE program (Reaching Our Potential Every day) teaches baking techniques and life skills to formerly homeless or incarcerated men. The idea is not simply to learn a skill or trade, but to simultaneously address the issues that brought the men to homelessness or incarceration in the first place. Thus, participants do receive training in baking, but at the same time deal with their addiction problems, or work on obtaining their GED or other educational pursuits, or receive professional counseling to come to peace with issues that have caused them turmoil in their lives up until now. The hope is that after they have been in the program a year they will have saved enough money and resolved enough of their personal issues that they can successfully “re-enter” society and become assets to their community. Some might choose to continue working in the field of baking; others may pursue truck driving or whatever other career might interest them.

How does donating clothing, furniture, and appliances to the Capuchins for distribution differ (if at all) from donating to the Red Cross or Salvation Army, or Purple Heart?

I've never received a postcard or a phone call from the Capuchins telling me that their truck will be in my neighborhood, and asking if I have anything to donate.

I’m not sure about all the other organizations named, but one possible difference is that items that are donated to us are distributed free of charge to people in need—we do not sell them. And while in the past we were able to send trucks out into the neighborhoods to pick up donations, the costs of fuel and labor now make that prohibitive.

What have I not asked about Poverty that I ought to have asked?

Entire books have been written about poverty. I could go on and on—but I think we have a good overview here at least.

Are the Capuchins only in Detroit? If not, where else are your Soup Kitchens, Gardens, Art Therapy Programs, Food package donation outlets, and shower facilities?

What have I not asked about The Capuchin Order and the Capuchin Soup Kitchen service sites that you'd like to mention?

The Capuchins are an international order of brothers, found all over the world. In the United States (and internationally as well) we are divided into geographic provinces. There are six provinces in this country, and this Province of St. Joseph is headquartered here in Detroit. We are about two hundred members, and are separate from the other provinces in terms of finances and personnel. The Province of St. Joseph sponsors a similar food program in Milwaukee, though not of this magnitude. I am not familiar with much of the work of other provinces, although I do know that the friars in Denver operate a homeless shelter, as do friars of the Pittsburg province stationed in Washington, DC. Traditionally throughout the world we have been known to minister among the very poor.

I would like to close this by acknowledging that the work we do is made possible only through the generosity of the people of this community. Our annual budget is seven million dollars, and most of that money comes from fundraising activities and donations from generous benefactors. It is very humbling to me that people trust us so. I also extend to anyone interested, an invitation to come and visit us. We are very proud of what we do, and love to show it off!

Useful Contact Information for the Capuchin Soup Kitchen in Detroit

To volunteer
313-822-8606 ext 10

To donate
313-579-2100 ext 173

Thank you very much!
Rowena Cherry

Friday, October 10, 2008

PRISM winners announced by FFandP chapter

Congratulations to the 2008 PRISM Winners.

Light Paranormal
1. Dead Girls are Easy by Terri Garey
2. More Than Fiends by Maureen Child
3. Highland Guardian by Melissa Mayhue

Time Travel
1. Wired by Liz Maverick
2. Thirty Nights with a Highland Husband by Melissa Mayhue
3. Forgiveness by JL Wilson.

1. Mona Lisa Blossoming by Sunny
2. Pleasures of the Night by Sylvia Day
3. Double Dating with the Dead by Karen Kelly

1. My Favorite Earthling by Susan Grant
2. How to Lose an Extraterrestrial in 10 days by Susan Grant
3. Insufficient Mating Material by Rowena Cherry

1. Over the Moon by Sunny
2. Street Corners and Halos by Catherine Spangler
3. Wild Hearts in Atlantis by Alyssa Day

Dark Paranormal
1. Immortals: The Awakening by Joy Nash
2. Betrayed: A House of Night Novel by PC Cast
3. Touched by Darkness by catherine Spangler

1. The Eternal Rose by Gail Dayton
2. Lucinda, Darkly by Sunny
3. Voice of Crow by Jeri Smith-Ready

Best of the Best
Wired by Liz Maverick

Best First Book
1. Grave Illusions by Lina Gardiner
2. She Wolf by Teresa D'Amario
3. Thirty Nights with a Highland Husband by Melissa Mayhue

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Value of Stories

The August-September issue of SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN MIND contains an article on the importance of storytelling. Benefits of stories for human beings include expanding the capacity for empathy and learning how to function in social groups. One psychologist suggests that stories "may act as 'flight simulators' for social life."

Among the traits of people with a strong appreciation for stories, one study "found that students who had more exposure to fiction tended to perform better on social ability and empathy tests." This finding surprised me. One authority quoted in the article acknowledges that the way "stories can enhance social skills by acting as simulators for the brain. . . may turn the idea of the socially crippled bookworm on its head." This finding is indeed counter-intuitive to the popular conception of writers and avid readers as introverted and (given a choice) solitary, a stereotype that certainly applies to me. I've always considered myself socially awkward, also, as we daydreaming writer types are generally assumed to be. In fact, I read somewhere that writers are, paradoxically, similar to dancers in that both kinds of artists compensate for lack of skill in communicating directly with people by communicating through our creative endeavors instead.

Of course, there's the old-fashioned oral tradition type of storyteller, spinning tales around a campfire. But that, too, seems to me different from free-flowing, everyday interpersonal interaction—definitely more structured. (I’m reminded of a character in the cartoon series ARTHUR who’s shy in his own persona but outspoken and fluent through the voice of his ventriloquist dummy.) Does the image of the socially adept storyteller, or story appreciator, ring true for you?

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Heart of Light by Sarah A. Hoyt

This is not a review. I've only read two chapters so far.

However, for those who have been following my Worldbuilding posts, and are interested in what I call "information feed" -- you will find in HEART OF LIGHT an opening which is a perfect example of how to draw readers into a complex world full of twists, turns and surprises.

The first 27 of 502 pages of fairly small print contain no errors of form or technique and no expository lumps. The plot zips along at a good pace, and the surprises abound (if you didn't read the back cover first).

This is an alternate history universe with subtle cultural similarities and differences from our own. The intricacies of the universe far over shadow the characters at the beginning -- and yet, the author sticks right close inside the 2 main characters and gives us the world through their eyes (which are accustomed to their world).

Unfortunately, Amazon does not have a LOOK INSIDE feature for this book so you can see the first few pages without buying the $6.99 (US) book. It's from Bantam Spectra so you may find it in B&N bricks-n-mortar store to look at.

I've already read and will review another Sarah A. Hoyt title, DRAW ONE IN THE DARK, and have a stack more to go through. She seems to write Intimate Adventure against fantasy universe backdrops, and she writes in a firm, high-velocity Romance genre style, taking you through the formation of a "couple" from two individuals. This is good stuff.

There is one caveat though, for writers studying the Sarah A. Hoyt titles, please note that both DRAW ONE IN THE DARK and HEART OF LIGHT contain a classic problem.

In both these novels, Hoyt inserts scenes from other points of view where the entire scene exists only so that the reader knows that one character has informed another character of some plot development that the reader already knows about.

Hoyt does not resort to the "and she told him" ploy, but does not show the character mis-representing what happened, mis-understanding what happened, or just plain lying to twist another character's motivations. Those are reasons to narrate in detail what one character tells another about something the reader already knows about.

Occasionally, there's a bit of two characters telling each other things they already know -- and often the reader already knows all that. Sometimes, though, she uses the dialogue to deposit some exposition -- but rarely to the extent that it becomes a "Lump."

For the most part, these dialogue interludes do not constitute an Expository Lump. All they do is slow up the plot -- which is usually zipping right along.

Hoyt is really good at breaking down a complex universe and feeding it to the reader a bit at a time. Most of the dialogue scenes that should be cut pertain entirely to plot developments. If you're looking for a writer to model your far-out magic-using fantasy universe building on, investigate Hoyt's works. Amazon lists a number of her titles and I've begun posting some of them into the bookstore

I haven't forgotten I have some requests for a discussion of why Romance and Paranormal Romance is rather disparaged by many who don't read the genre. Next week and the week after (Oct. 14 and Oct 21, 2008) I will again be away from my desk. Maybe I can get to a new topic after that.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Monday, October 06, 2008

This just rocks...

I'm such a fighter jet slut (we can discuss word usage another time). Someone (got this off YouTube--no clue who the original producer was) did an excellent job of matching video to music (Crystal Method, if you don't recognize it).

This is the F-35B STOVL fighter jet. It. Just. Rocks.

SFR is all about love and technology, isn't it? I lurve me this technology bigtime.

//Interstellar Adventure Infused with Romance//

Sunday, October 05, 2008

For the use of Erotic Language

Margaret L Carter wrote a scholarly blog a few days ago about the use of shocking language in literature. Margaret's bottom line, as I understood it, was that for her, the use of certain carnal words is less than a turn-on.

I'll confess, I'm not in Margaret's camp. At least, not in print.

Words are my tools and my arsenal. To extend the war-like imagery begun with "the pen is mightier than the sword", I'm not going to sign on to a literary nuclear non-proliferation treaty. I like to have a dirty bomb or two at my disposal.

Almost any word, used with skill and precision, can accomplish the author's purpose. I've read uses of the f-word where I could not imagine a more effective or arousing word for the context.

Almost any word for male genitalia is fair game as far as I am concerned. Apart from "body". That one is too ridiculous. The only exception would be if I were writing a romance about a species of shark (or is it a Hackfish?) that dwells in the deepest parts of the oceean, and the tiny male attaches himself to a passing female and becomes a trailing part of her body.

I don't use g**h or c**t or sl** . Mostly, I keep female genitalia off the table. (By the way, for those who don't know me, I mix metaphors deliberately.)

Come to think of it (groan) the F- word is quite special, isn't it? The acronym WTF is widely texted (is that a word?). So far, I've never seen WTC.

In Insufficient Mating Material I used the F- word in several ways. The hero said it a lot, both when he was swearing, and because he was furious at being forced into a royal shotgun wedding, and then rejected by the ungrateful bride.

My favorite scene involving this word was when the hero's mealy mouthed, oh-so-proper grandmother used it. She was using Tarot cards to tell the fortune of, and incidentally to interrogate, a particularly heinous villain.

The Tower turned up. It can be a sinister card, suggesting that the questor is in deep trouble. Having already gloated about crimes he'd gotten away with, the villain asked what it meant. The Empress Helispeta replied, "You are f***d!"

It was immensely satisfying to write that.

Insufficient Mating Material is, I think, the only book I've written that qualified for a review by JERR. Like the publisher Margaret mentioned, a book only qualifies for a review by JERR if it contains graphic four letter words.

For some reason, I wanted Forced Mate reviewed by JERR. I wanted Forced Mate reviewed by everyone, regardless of how appropriate it was. I remember objecting to their criteria because even the Muppets use a four letter word for female genitalia. (Mrs Thistletwat).

Moving on....

Knight's Fork has no graphic language in intimate settings. In fact, there's very little graphic action in intimate settings, either. On choice occasions, the villains do use the f- word both as an expletive and as a verb, but only in conversations with other males.

I own several How To books, including a Scoundrel's Dictionary, a dictionary of slang, and a book titled The F-word. It's interesting how and why people insult and annoy each other.

Best wishes,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Erotic Language

I've been rereading a very hard-to-find collection by my idol, C. S. Lewis, SELECTED LITERARY ESSAYS, which includes a piece called "Four-Letter Words." Lewis was responding to remarks by D. H. Lawrence, who asserted, in connection with LADY CHATTERLEY'S LOVER, that the twentieth-century had "evolved. . . beyond" earlier ages' attitudes toward "so-called obscene words" (Lawrence's words). Lewis takes issue with the implied claim that the bluntness of language in Lawrence's erotic scenes represented a wholesome return to nature. Lewis examines a wide selection of passages from classical, medieval, and Renaissance literature in which "four-letter words" for sexual subjects appear. He can't find even one instance of such language being used to arouse erotic appetite. Instead, they are always found in contexts of "farce or of vituperation"—bawdy humor or bitter insult. Several writers, in fact, condemn those words as anti-aphrodisiacs that ought to be avoided in sensual writing. "Lawrence's usage," Lewis concludes, "is not to be reckoned a return to nature from some local or recent inhibition"; it is, rather, "artificial."

I tend to land on the side of those authorities who consider formerly "unprintable" words as anti-aphrodisiacs, some of them anyway. Graphic or explicit erotica can mean either of two things—detailed, specific descriptions of body parts and sexual activities or very blunt (some people might say coarse or obscene) language. The two need not coexist. FANNY HILL, my favorite purely erotic novel of all time, goes into copious detail about Fanny's sexual techniques but never once uses a "four-letter word." An author could indulge in any amount of crude language and still keep the bedroom door shut. One of my publishers rates its erotic romances on the basis of both components. A story can't get a rating above what this publisher used to call "Sensual" (the mildest) without including "those words," no matter how graphic and explicit (in my definition of those terms) the action is. Some of the formerly unprintable terms have a decidedly anti-erotic effect on me; in fact, a couple of them strike me as implying contempt or violence rather than passion. Yet other words that I consider fun and spicy are banned by this publisher as too crude. There's no accounting for taste!

From comments by editors and on this publisher's e-mail lists, I know there are quite a few female readers who like and demand explicit language (in the four-letter word sense). I also know from occasional exposure to male-oriented pornography, both print and video, that lots of men like "those words" in sexual contexts; if the audience didn't like it, the producers of the material wouldn't supply it. So Lewis's conclusion that "obscene" words are never used to stimulate desire isn't universally true. The tastes of both writers and readers vary on this point. Do most writers of steamy romance assume that graphic sex scenes must include at least some "graphic" language? And if so, how much? Are there any words that should always be avoided if the writer's aim is to arouse the reader's passion as well as describe the characters' reactions?

Which leads to an unspoken assumption I'd almost overlooked—that part of the writer's aim in creating such scenes is to stimulate certain reactions in the reader. If the writer wants the reader to imaginatively share the characters' anger, fear, love, pain, etc., why not their sexual passion? I'm far from believing that using fiction to arouse sexual appetite is evil in itself. If it's okay for a couple in love to use wine, candles, soft music, lingerie, etc., to enhance desire, why not art and stories as well? (And, for the record, I’m a practicing Christian.)