Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Assumption of Ever After

What differentiates a romance-genre book from, say, a woman’s fiction novel or a mystery novel is—according to industry pundits—the requirement in a romance-genre novel of the HEA. The Happily Ever After. This, like a lot of terms in publishing, is shorthand for a style and a series of events that will leave the reader with a positive feeling a book’s end, rather than puzzlement, depression, horror or whatever you’d like to tack on.

That’s why strictly speaking neither Gone With The Wind nor Romeo and Juliet qualify as romance-genre fiction. They don’t end with a positive (happy) commitment between the two lead characters.

Interestingly, what seems to twist the anti-grav panties of the SF set is this very same thing: the HEA. The Happily Ever After. This seems to be a kicking-point when speculative fiction is combined with romance.

What I’ve found interesting, though, is that the non-romance reading set in SF seems to layer a deeper assumption of EVER AFTER on to that HAPPILY than many of the authors—myself included—intend.

A month or so back, in a shameless and blatant effort to get a buzz going for my February 24, 2009 release, Hope’s Folly, I offered electronic ARCS (Advance Reader Copies) to a handful of book bloggers. Most had read me before. Most were chosen because they’d read me before. Stacking the deck, Linnea? Sure. But Folly is book three in the Gabriel’s Ghost/Dock Five universe (both monikers are floating around out there.) I’m not out there to get bloggers to go WTF? as they try to catch up with the storyline.

But as happens with electronic copies, they get passed around to other bloggers (and I’m fine with that). So I was interested to find a blog comment on Hope’s Folly on a blog (Oct. 16, 2008) I’d not specifically sent the ARC to. The comment was decently positive except it raised the issue I’ve started to raise above. The assumption of EVER AFTER.

To wit: “I'm not a romance reader; I'm very much a sf/f reader. Perhaps it's not so surprising, then, that I really enjoyed the sf parts and was mildly appalled at the romance parts. I can't buy True Love between characters who've known each other a week. That's infatuation. That is not a good foundation for a lasting relationship. *sigh*”

Things like this make me want to pound my head on my desk, more than I usually do.


Here’s a direct quote from the Folly manuscript where the main character is giving some very realistic appraisal to his impromptu and admittedly foolish marriage to the other main character:

“So, how’s our second week of dating going so far?” he asked. Most people dated first, then got married, but that wasn’t how their life had worked out. Marrying her had been an impulsive move. But it was a move he wanted to be permanent.

So did Rya. The fact that she now had her M-R-S degree, as she called it, was no guarantee of permanency. A real marriage took work. Commitment. Patience and respect.

And that took time.

So now they were dating. Married but dating. Philip rather liked the idea.

Am I—via the character—not saying exactly that? People in real life and in books get married for all sorts of reasons, many of them not the wisest or best. They either make it or they don’t but they do—in fiction and in real life—have the option of trying.

At book’s end—and this is really the last two pages—that’s all my characters are doing: realizing the situation they’re in is not the easiest and asserting that they’re willing to at least try.

Since when does TRY equate LASTING?

In the minds of SF readers who read romance, that’s when. I’ve seen this corollary far too often in blogs and reviews from SF-ers dabbling into SFR.

They assume—ASSUME—that because the two main characters are in a compatible situation on the last page that it’s white picket fence and roses forever.

None of my books promise that. None.

It’s an OPTION. It’s never a GIVEN.

My books end—as most of my readers know—at a point where the two main characters in the romantic relationship have either overcome or ignored whatever major conflicts separated them and are willing now to give their relationship the biggest, bestest try they can. That’s all. It’s a potential of a future together but it is not a guarantee of a future together.

Now, for romance readers who want to envision a FOREVER for my characters, that’s fine. Again, it’s an option. Not a given. But at least the romance readers aren’t damning me for it. Or—to take what I would see to be the opposite side of the coin—they don’t write in blogs that I haven’t shown the two main characters breathing their lasts breaths together at age ninety-nine and then going on to be buried side-by-side in graveyard plots marked Mr. and Mrs.. That, to me, is as much of an off-base interpretation of a science fiction romance novel as it is to assume that the characters have, at book’s end, a perfect and forever after relationship simply because they’ve decided to HAVE a relationship.

Let’s parse that blogger’s comment:

“I can't buy True Love between characters who've known each other a week. That's infatuation. “

Of course it’s infatuation. Every relationship one week in is highly based on infatuation. Physical (and other) attraction. But without infatuation, without physical (and other) attraction, the relationship would never start. That is where relationships start and from there the infatuation matures and the physical attraction matures and the relationship matures.

Moreover, in Folly, both character are very aware this attraction is nuts, too soon and at the wrong time. And they spend a lot of book-time realizing that:

Rya stayed by the ladderway, alternately damning herself and calling herself an idiot. She now had a ridiculous, full-blown crush going on Admiral Philip Guthrie, and every time she thought she’d managed to get hold of her emotions and shake some sense into her head, he’d lean against her or look at her with those damned magnificent eyes, and her toes would curl and she was lost.


This was just so very much not like Rya Taylor Bennton. She did not get crushes on guys—not since she was ten years old, anyway. Rya Taylor Bennton found hard-bodies who amused her and bedded them. Sex was fun, great exercise, super stress relief. Nothing more.

Then Philip had walked—well, limped—back into her life, amid guns blazing and punches flying. And in two, three short hours her life changed.

Further, I never said it was True Love. The characters never say it’s True Love. Rya sees it as a ridiculous crush.

As for Philip:

He was certifiably insane. He was sure of it. These past few months, the physical damage his body had taken, the stresses of losing one command and gaining another, the deaths of friends and crew—it had all taken a toll. That was the only explanation he could come up with as to why he was so emotionally vulnerable to—and fixated on—Cory Bennton’s twenty-nine year old daughter.

This had to stop. But when the lights had failed again and he’d almost found her in his lap, and then when all means to escape the ready room were exhausted and she was again those few tantalizing inches away from him, and he had the damned stupidity to make the flippant comment that if he’d been ten years younger...

Hell’s fat ass. He was certifiably insane.

She was twenty-nine. She was Cory’s daughter. She had some young buck named Matt hot for her back on Calth 9. She was not for Philip Guthrie, divorced, jaded, and limping around like some ancient—yeah, Welford had deemed him so—relic.

Plus, he had a ship to refit and a war to get under way.

But when he was around Rya... he just wanted to keep being around Rya.

This was not good.

Both realize AND TELL THE READER they’re not at the point to experience True Love. They can, however, experience the beginnings of an attraction that can lead to love and can, legitimately, share that they feel that way. Just like in real life.

What I feel I’m seeing here and in other blog comments like this is an unwitting-or-otherwise filling in of the blanks: This is a romance so this must be about True Love. (Side Note: I don’t think one can define True Love and I wouldn’t attempt to.) There is an assumption that an HEA ending also means Perfection. No more problems, ever. (Tell that to Dallas and Roarke in JD Robb’s IN DEATH series.)

Maybe at one time in romance novels, the Ever After in the HEA acronym did mean an unequivocal forever. But looking at romance fiction today, I don’t think that’s true anymore. I don’t think romance readers buy into “Perfect.” I think romance readers do relate to and respect characters who TRY. Who care enough to TRY.

Moreso in SFR, where there are so many other variables, I think a white-lace-and-roses perfect romance ending would be unrealistic. I don’t write them. That’s why I’m so surprised when some readers take it upon themselves to insert them—and then damn me for it.

I don’t see the same SF readers assuming every one of the antagonists or every one of the political problems is completely vanquished at the end of an Honor Harrington book or the end of a Cherryh book. Cherryh’s FOREIGNER series is, what, eight, ten+ books in? And Bren Cameron still has a lot of work to do. I can’t think of one SF or Fantasy novel I’ve ever read where I felt that Life Was Perfect from thereon in for the characters. Even if the bad guy was shredded, the princess rescued the prince, and the evil empire was in disarray.

I don’t know why some readers cement the assumption of an unequivocal Ever After onto many romance novel endings when they clearly don’t depict that. They DO detail it is possible. They do NOT detail it is absolute.

One more note on the “one week” comment and “That is not a good foundation for a lasting relationship.”

I know this gal who picked up this guy in a bar in New Jersey back in February of 1979. End of February, to be exact. It was strictly on physical attraction: he was a 6’4”, green-eyed, blonde-haired hunk. They didn’t see each other nearly as much as Rya and Philip do. There was no daily basis thing. There also wasn’t the chance to see each other under fire, working, striving and surviving, which I think adds a different dimension to how and when a relationship progresses. But even given the normal weekend dating kind of thing, and the nightly telephone calls, this guy moved in with this gal after three weeks. He gave her an engagement ring shortly thereafter.

This guy and this gal will hit their 29th wedding anniversary in October of 2009.

Okay, this guy and this gal didn’t know True Love in one week. It took three weeks. And almost thirty years later, it’s still there.

I love you, Robert.


HOPE’S FOLLY, Book 3 in the Gabriel’s Ghost universe, coming Feb. 2009 from RITA award-winning author, Linnea Sinclair, and Bantam Books:

It's an impossible mission on a derelict ship called HOPE'S FOLLY. A man who feels he can't love. A woman who believes she's unlovable. And an enemy who will stop at nothing to crush them both.

The Cost Of Magic

Magic costs the user. Every writer of speculative fiction or fantasy knows that.

Don't they?

Industrial Light and Magic (TM) has its cost. So does technology. I wonder what the long term cost of being "beamed up" was? I know that NASA astronauts suffer for their science. They may not be beamed up, but weightlessness causes their bones to lose calcium, and guess where the calcium goes?

Kidney stones! There are some doozies of kidney stones on display at the Johnson Space Center.

Which brings me to another cost of modern magical conveniences. Privacy.

George Orwell was right about Big Brother!

You can hardly make a Medicare election, reserve a plane ticket, collect your Office Max reward for recycling HP toner cartridges without having to supply your phone number, complete home address, name, date of birth and so much more! Moreover, banks, utilities, my child's school, and everyone else attempts to force me to use the internet for all my business and pleasure. I've even received reproachful letters informing me that (Fidelity "Private" Group) unsuccessfully tried to email (whatever private info I didn't want emailed to me). Instead of wasting valuable ink on the info they weren't able to email me, they direct me to go on the internet to find it and print it myself!

Yes, I may save a copse of trees, and I want to do that. But I know that spammers and hackers are reading my email and tracking my treks around the internet. I can tell (not always) by the sudden deluge of emails from names very similar to those of my friends, offering me cleverly disguised products to enlarge private parts I do not possess.

A few years ago, we were all outraged by Zabasearch, and wanted our names removed from their system. Now, dozens of pop up Big Brothers make names, addresses, phone numbers, maps to guide perverts to your basement window, and even credit reports available to every potential terrorist who wants to know.

Personally, I don't think the credit reports are accurate. I've been getting a lot of threatening telephone calls from the implausibly named "Credit Services" telling me that this is positively my final notice that I may borrow money from them. I've started to press button One, because pressing button Two to be removed from their calling list (I thought it was my final notice???) only encourages them. So, I am very nice to the telemarkers, until I get their names, phone numbers and so forth.

Then I go to the National Do Not Call Registry (now bookmarked on my toolbar) and report them.

I wonder whether the National Do Not Call Registry is as much of a misnomer and George Orwell's Ministry of Truth!

How do I relate all the above (kidney stones, telephone directory searches, phone spam etc) to futuristic, alien romance fiction?

Well, almost anyone can be virtually omniscient these days, if they know where to look. A self-styled "god" could be a high level hacker and an eavesdropper. The difficulty and the challenge (and therefore the fun) would be making him romantic and heroic, wouldn't it?

That's what I'm working on with the god-Emperor Djohn-Kronos.

Best wishes,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate it! While this holiday has one drawback, the crushing amount of clean-up duty afterward, in general I think its unifying character raises it to a high level among celebrations. It's a cultural (not strictly religious) holiday in which all can participate. Almost everyone can enjoy a feast, and anyone can be thankful. Even atheists have things to be grateful for and people to be grateful to.

This year we don't have to face the clean-up; we're visiting one of our sons for the feast. Perfectly fine weather for the one-hour drive, so it should be an altogether great day. Best wishes to all!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Linguistics For Writers

Those who haven't read past posts on this blog should take a look at the post and comments by Rowena Cherry

And the other post she put up on Sunday Nov 23rd and its comments.

All this is about the publishing industry's disarray, especially in Oct. 2008, due to the economy -- and as I noted, the even more destructive wave of events yet to happen to publishing due to the freezing in the credit markets.

Worldbuilders note: there is a vast distinction between "the economy" and "the financial system" -- a distinction many people don't make because they are linked. Our economy is still in fine shape (healthy economies hold recessions periodically) but it is vulnerable to the heart-attack stoppage in the financial system which is in horrid shape. No industry, not even autos, is as vulnerable as publishing to an interruption in financial flows.

Publishing (on paper) is undergoing a crisis at least as great as that of the US auto industry, maybe more jarring than that of the credit markets, at a moment of fragility perhaps more critical than ever for the storytellers of the world.

The Fiction Delivery System and the Fact-Delivery-System are in melt-down and re-organization. There is still a market for fiction and fact -- some opportunistic businessman will see a way to serve that market at a profit. Meanwhile, grocery clerking is probably better paying than writing.

As I noted in my comments, this is the greatest opportunity for new writers, and seasoned professionals, to swarm forward with solutions that will elevate the prestige level of genre fiction in general, but most especially of the multi-faceted Romance genre.

So now is the time to aggressively train to write fast, to write with precision, to create worlds in profusion but with verisimilitude that will shock every reader into memorizing your byline. Now is the time to learn and to do.

So my post this week is reaching far out into the very foundations of story idea generation, into the very source of ideas -- worldbuilding. "What if...? If Only ...? If This Goes On ...?" At what level would a change in our real world produce a world so different, it would be incomprehensible and thus interesting to readers living in an incomprehensible world?

Comprehension is facilitated by language, and language forms the foundation of our own subjective world, and thus of all our fictional worlds.

Slip into the skin of your alien character who lives with magical perceptions of reality, or to whom the plasma surface of a sun is a pleasant atmosphere. Now feel what it's like for him or her to converse with others of their kind in front of a mundane human of Earth. The language your character needs to use is rooted in his/her perceptual reality -- and that language would have words for things no Earth language has words for. A teleport would have syntax no Earth language would have for position.

You wouldn't think that the dry, objective, confusing field of Linguistics would be a prime source of unique, new ideas for Romance novels - or would you?

It is definitely the primary field to study if you want to write about an Alien From Outer Space -- or an Elf From Cross-Space.

I want to toss you an idea that came to me as I was trying to figure out how to explain another idea that follows from my post of Tuesday November 18 on GIFT: GIVER: RECIPIENT

I was going to use the analogy of phoneme, which I assume everyone reading this blog understands. I have long been familiar with the way the human brain, ear, and tongue combine to narrow the possibilities of all the sounds a human can make into those that have "meaning" in the linguistic sense not the animal sense, and those that don't carry meaning.

As a result, if you learn a language or dialect at an age above 3 years -- or 7 years in some cases -- you will always have an accent that is detectable if not by native speakers then by machine reading the speech sounds you make.

EXAMPLE: some oriental languages don't have the r sound, so learners of English substitute the l sound and can't hear the difference.

EXAMPLE: Mary, Marry, Merry sound the same in some English dialects. Likewise Pen and Pan and Pin sound the same in some English dialects.

Unless you are strongly talented in languages - or have learned many languages "natively" at age 2-4 so you have the whole phoneme set that humans can make, you can never learn to hear and produce those kinds of differences reliably. Think about the clicks used by various African languages. Think about the difference between Aleph and Ayin in Hebrew (two glottal stops, one higher in the throat than the other) -- it was preserved in the Sephardic phonemes but not the Ashkenazic. Americans never learn it right.

In my Nov 18, 2008 post,

I talked about the blank spot in our culture's way of looking at life, the spot which should be filled with the mystique, mechanism, proprieties, privileges, taboos, and magical power of RECEIVING.

We think we know what it means, but for most people it's just a word. That blankness in perceptual space regarding RECEIVING produces a blank spot in the perceptual space occupied by GIVING.

So this morning I was trying to figure out how to explain that. Yes, I know, most readers of this blog don't understand at all what I'm going on about or why -- or what it all has to do with Romance, nevermind Love. Trust me, it's all connected, mystically and practically.

So I'm washing dishes (where a lot of my best ideas occur) and suddenly I know how to convey the concept I have in my mind that has no words for it.

Being an SF writer, I boldly go where no one has gone before -- I invent language.

So I invented a word that would explain everything I have to say in one simple word, and then we can get on with the discussion of what the blank part of our Giving/Receiving paradigm has has to do with writing SF/F Romance.

My word?


OK, now on with the important part of the discussion.


What if someone else has used this word to mean something different from what I mean by it? Uh-oh. Google quick!

AUSTRALIAN LANGUAGES?????!!!!! (sorry Linnea)

Google-google-google. Aha! Some people called "Language Typologists" have coined this word before me -- in the 1980's it seems, so it is possible I've run across it before and it soaked into my subconscious. But their definition is not the one I need to explain my point about what writers who invent Elves, talking Unicorns, and Vulcans (nevermind Simes) need to understand before the Elf falls in love with the Vulcan.

Here's a pdf file I found on the web and a quote from one of its 58 panels -- I think it's a slide presentation that goes with a lecture.

Here's the quote from slide 41:

More comparative concepts (3):
• generalization: Wh-movement is always to the left.
• definition: Wh-movement is a syntactic construction in which a
wh-word occurs in a special position in which its non-whcounterpart
would not normally occur.
• definition 2: A wh-word is a word that can be used as a
question pronoun, i.e. to represent the questioned content in a
content question.
• comparative concept vs. descriptive category: In many
languages, wh-words are also used as indefinite pronouns and/or
as relative pronouns. Alternative terms such as epistememe
(Durie 1985) and ignorative (Wierzbicka 1980) have therefore
been proposed. Still, these fall under the above definition.


Now I didn't go look up Durie's 1985 work -- likely it's not on the web. Someone with a university library access might locate it, but it's probably the same approach as used by Martin Haspelmath in this lecture.

Haspelmath demonstrates the purely linguistic approach -- which is very limiting from the point of view of a writer trying to people a world he/she has built.

Linguists take the whole bunch of languages humans use (or have used if they can crack them) and analyze the bits and pieces of speech. Linguists study language, not communication (though most of them would argue that point vociferously since they talk a lot about sememes in semantics.)

Writers of fiction are wholly focused on COMMUNICATION among our characters. Or we resort to the Universal Translator and forget all the problems.

Haspelmath's academic slide presentation demonstrates one of the reasons that it is impossible to TRANSLATE anything accurately. It gives some examples of the use of prepositions and pronouns across language families and within a language family.

It does not discuss WHY the typology doesn't correspond exactly from one language to another, but the "why" is the interesting thing to a writer building a world.

Psychology, brain development studies, magic or maybe even genes might figure in, though I doubt genes have anything to do with it. I think the diversity among our languages is a reflection of the origin of human COMMUNICATION.

When inventing aliens that human readers will accept, you need to know how the aliens came to be able to communicate with one another, the stepwise origin for them, and what drove that necessity, but you don't necessarily have to know this consciously.

Thus understanding the root origin of language at the philosophical level can allow your subconscious to create in an instant what your conscious mind could never achieve - an alien language with dramatic potential.

We've learned recently that the human brain, even in older folks, can rewire itself, recircuit around stroke damage, restructure the neurons. People who use computers a lot, even if they start when older, show distinctive brain structure changes. (I read that in an article on the web and don't have the reference handy.) If you dig up any of these references, please post them to the comments.

But our Language Centers don't change so easily in adulthood.

Song birds (mocking birds and I think Canaries?) have a few weeks in infancy where they learn their SONG(s), and then they sing that song the rest of their lives. Humans too, have a "song" (i.e. languages) that a part of our brain circuits itself to handle, and then that's IT for life. When you learn languages later in life, the brain handles the knowledge differently.

Teens learn the cant -- or SONG or TUNE or ACCENT -- (the Valley Girl) -- they absorb from those they associate with. There is such a thing as a Harvard Accent, and you can tell those who learned it from their parents from those who just learned it when they arrived on campus.

Human language is BIRD SONG.

Bird song is used much for MATING.

Isn't that interesting?

But humans don't just repeat mating song. We communicate abstract ideas and describe concrete things and events.

What is it that binds a bunch of individuals into a community?

I saw an interesting National Geographic TV feature on Monkeys the other day -- chimps -- social structure. I've seen lots of those over the years -- but I watched a good 15 minutes of this one, enraptured.

The origin of communication among primates. Food, reproduction, survival. Primal basics which Blake Snyder recommends as the driving force behind a plot. He says make it so simple a cave man could understand it.

So I had this idea. What binds a group of individuals is an AGREEMENT on the nature of reality. An epistemology, or a paradigm that explains existence and how to keep on existing.

The important element is the agreement part - social sanction - that which is unquestioned.

Individuals all live in their own subjective realities, bubbles of assumptions. In an unbound group, just about every "epistememe" (my definition) would exist, just as an infant babbles every phoneme the human can make.

In order to bind into a tribe, a co-bonded survival structure, SOME assumptions have to be thrown out, excised, declared not to exist, ignored to death. Membership in the group, and thus survival itself, is rooted in one's absolute rejection of the forbidden, taboo assumptions about reality.

Groups don't bind on what they have in common.

They bind on what they have commonly rejected.

I don't think I've ever seen that idea examined academically, but I think it doesn't have to be true to be useful in building a fictional world.

Though I can't COIN the term "epistememe," I can add a definition, make it a technical term, jargon just for writers whose job under World Building and Plot-Conflict Integration is to imagine the languages of non-humans.


The definition of epistememe for writers then is the smallest indivisible segment of a philosophical idea, of an epistemology.

Phoneme is defined as the smallest indivisible unit of sound in a language.

Atom is defined (but in reality isn't) the smallest indivisible unit of matter.

Defining and studying the smallest indivisible units is one of the most powerful tools of science, and we are writing Science Fiction (even Fantasy writers are -- but their science is philosophy.)

So I think we need this concept of Epistememe to discuss the field of Science Fiction and Fantasy writing.

The origin of "language" is the need to survive and reproduce, which for us weaklings means forming groups that can cooperate in food gathering and defense. "No Man Is An Island."

Group formation depends on excluding certain ideas, focusing on the ones which carry meaning that cause the group to survive.

Audible Language depends on excluding certain sounds to lend meaning to other sounds (phonemes) -- to sort the sound-spectrum and assign meaning which can be transmitted. This is a group-agreement necessary for survival. When you cry HELP, someone has to be able to know what you mean.

Groups that have the "word" DUCK! survive better than those whose only Song is 'EEEKKKK!'

But that verbal sorting of our Song probably has to happen AFTER a general agreement on the structure of reality (an epistemology) is reached. (Linguists don't think so.)

But from a writer's perspective, I see the "unthinkable" embedded so deep in language that it is an unexamined premise behind what vocabulary and syntax exists.

For an interesting example and discussion see my series of posts on this blog on the Swords and Pentacles of the Tarot -- discussing the philosophy that describes the shape of existence which lies outside existence. That magical view of the universe is an example of those unconscious "agreements" that bind a community. The content of the agreement doesn't matter nearly as much as that it is agreed, that it is a Pact.

The Pact Agreement on the concept "is" disallows conceptualizing non-existence as existing. We are trapped by our language in a reality that lacks a structure and function for non-existence. Look at how dependent English syntax is on the verb "to be" in all its conjugations. Not all languages are that dependent.

Language puts epistemological blinders on us. Or (as I suspect) it's the other way around -- first come the blinders, then comes the language that functions in the space defined by the blinders.

EXAMPLE: biggest, meanest male is BOSS. His females get fed first. He can take any female he wants.

This paradigm excludes romance, chivalry etc. Such ideas are literally unthinkable because they have no thinkable epistememe behind them. Like "r" is unpronounceable and un-hearable, chivalry is unthinkable. It's in a blank spot. Chivalry is not an epistememe of this Pact.

If you can see the structural concept I'm playing with here, you can then see how to construct an alien who would have a bunch of trouble communicating with a human in any matter (Honor, Peace Treaty, Defense Alliance, Trade Agreement, Friendship, Love).

Poul Anderson did this repeatedly in developing his aliens. C. J. Cherryh's FOREIGNER series has it nailed.

20th Century American Culture seems to lack a major portion of the "epistememe" RECEIVING.

What trouble would an American Woman have with an Elf (or other magical being; or Bug Eyed Monster) whose cultural Pact originated in RECEIVING, and all of whose cultures and languages lacked some portion of the epistememe for GIVING?

And yes, I said "epistememe" means smallest indivisible unit, but so does Atom. We have to look within the indivisible to discern the structure and to see what happens when the epistememe or the atom is split.

If you've been following what I'm developing here, you should be skipping ahead to think of the whole GOOD Vs. EVIL paradigm blithely assumed as common by Fantasy writers today.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Monday, November 24, 2008

Writing Tip #2: Smiling, We Wrote This…

Like Tip #1 last week, this bit of writing craft experience comes from teaching two back-to-back weekends of writing workshops. And in between all that, reading three ARCs (Advanced Review Copies or Advance Reader Copies, whichever floats your boat) for quotes. ARCs are often only slightly tidier than first draft manuscripts. So at times it’s heartening to see that other authors do the same stupid mistakes I do in their first drafts, and have the same brain farts.

That’s what crit partners (fresh eyes) and copy editors are eventually for.

But if you’re not yet published or if you’d like to earn the gratitude of your copy editor, you can use these tips to ferret out some of the clunkier parts of your prose.

My smiling blog deals with the (over)use of the gerund. The “ing” form of the verb. Smiling. Thinking. Reaching. Turning. Rising. Sitting…

Browne and King, in their excellent Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (yep, I’m mentioning the book again—I must think it’s good) files the overuse of the gerund under their chapter entitled “Sophistication.” As in—NOT. That is, overuse of the gerund form in commercial genre fiction (well, it would annoy the hell out of me in news copy too but you don’t usually see it there) is an alarm that the writer still suffers from amateurish constructs. So Browne and King say. I tend to agree because when I come across this particular problem, it grates on my ear like the ubiquitous fingernail and blackboard.

Noted SF author CJ Cherryh files the overuse of “ing” words into a different category: simultaneity errors.

We’ll tackle both here.

Good prose, like good music, has a tune, a cadence—a definite rise and fall, push and pull, lull and surge. Sentence length should vary. All long sentences in a piece are a boring as all short. Sentence beginnings should vary.

She walked into the room. She picked up a book. She opened the book. She read the page. She, she, she, she.


How beginning writers (and some published pros!) attempt to avoid this is through use of the gerund. Unfortunately, they simply end up committing a different error:

She walked into the room. Reaching, she picked up the book. Turning the page, she read it. Glancing over her shoulder, she looked back to the hallway. Sighing, the looked back at the book.

Okay, not that bad but close. I’ve seen pages where every paragraph on the page starting with the “ing” version of the verb…plus some additional gerund thrown in mid-paragraph.

Browne and King note: “[The] ing construction…[is] grammatically correct and express[es] the action clearly and unambiguously. But notice that [this] construction takes a bit of action and tucks it away into a dependent clause. This tends to place some of your action at one remove from your reader, to make the actions seem incidental, unimportant. And so if you use these constructions often, you weaken your writing.”

I couldn’t have said it better. Plain fact: it’s weak writing.

“The participle construction has a particularly amateurish flavor when placed at the beginning of the sentence.” (Browne and King, pg 157).

I couldn’t have said it better. (As an aside, yes, Renni Browne and Dave King do have the street creds as former senior editors for major NY publishing houses to make such statements with authority.)

Oh, they also point out rewriting the gerund participle phrase to us “as” is equally as problematic:

She walked into the room. As she reached for the book, she picked it up. As she turned the page, she read the words…

I just seem to see a lot less “as” phrases than I do “ing” phrases.

The other problem with the participle phrase is simultaneity.

From Cherryh’s Writerisms:

-ing. 'Shouldering his pack and setting forth, he crossed the river...' No, he didn't. Not unless his pack was in the river. Implies simultaneity. The participles are just like any other verbal form. They aren't a substitute legal everywhere, or a quick fix for a complex sequence of motions. Write them on the fly if you like, but once imbedded in text they're hard to search out when you want to get rid of their repetitive cadence, because -ing is part of so many fully constructed verbs {am going, etc.}

Logic errors like this are so easy to create and so easy to overlook. Your mind (at least, my mind) knows what it wrote. It knows what it wants to say. So when it reads the page, it often fills in logic that’s not there.

Trust me. I’ve done it.

Setting the cup on the table, she ran for the door.

Unless she had a really really long arm, no, she didn’t. She did not set and run at the same time.

Rubbing her nose, she turned toward the window.

Yes, she did. Those are legit simultaneous actions. Placing and running aren’t.

A quick check I use—if I’m not sure I’ve created a logic error—is to turn the two verbs around:

Running for the door, she set the cup on the table. Threw the cup, maybe, but not set.

Turning toward the window, she rubbed her nose.

Perfectly fine.

Take Cherryh’s example above and turn it around:

Crossing the river, he shouldered his pack…

Okay, sensible but that’s not likely what the writer meant to say. The writer wanted to show two actions. First, he put his pack over his shoulder. Second, he crossed the river. Crossing the river, he shouldered his pack…doesn’t say that.

But it’s just a minor difference in meaning, you wail!

Yes, it is. And that’s what being an author of a story is all about. The usage and meanings of words that clearly and definitively create the experience known as the story. The novel. If “good enough” is good enough for you, keep writing. But don’t set your sights at being a published author. Words as are much an author’s tools as spices are a chef’s. The wrong spice, too much of a spice, and the dish is unpalatable.

The same is true for writing.

Mark Twain said "The difference between the right word and the nearly right word is the same as that between the lightning and the lightning bug."

Smiling happily, she ended the blog.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Editorial Ass: C[r]ash Flow (Or What Went Wrong in October in Book Publishing)

Editorial Ass: C[r]ash Flow (Or What Went Wrong in October in Book Publishing)

Problem-Solving Sundays .... the future of Chain Bookstores

Who better than speculative fiction authors and a few romantics with their heads in the stars (and the warp drive) to set the world to rights?

So, I thought I'd float a trial balloon here.

Have you ever seen a problem, and had an idea for a fix, but no one to tell? Moreover, your idea wouldn't fit into any science fiction or fantasy work you have in progress? If so, please comment. I'm looking for some guest blogs to put up over December/January.

Bricks and Mortar Chain Bookstores

I'd like to sort out the bricks and mortar book chain stores, such as Barnes and Noble, Borders. They've become glorified warehouses with a few comfy chairs, a coffeeshop, and soft toys and confectionery. While it isn't impossible to find any book that ought to be in stock, many books might as well not be there. They're at ankle level, or you get a crick in your neck looking up; they're spine out and jammed together. If they're autographed, no one can tell.

Honestly, my local Borders Books is like a really bad website. A booklover has to know what he or she wants before he or she goes there, and the chances of being distracted or frustrated and leaving without buying are quite high.

My local library is much more welcoming. At least, I'm allowed to use the computers to help me find what I'm looking for.


Barnes and Noble,, Amazon (not that Amazon counts), Borders. Books-A-Million all have websites and online stores. Some offer book clubs. Some offer discussions and forums and book-related social networking. Some are well done, and some are not very easy to navigate.

The only problem with buying a book on the internet is that you have to wait until and while it ships, and you may have to pay postage (and even tax). The advantage of your local chain bookstore is that you don't pay postage, you get your book immediately as long as it is in stock, and you can read as much of it as you wish to make sure you've a good chance of enjoying it.

So here is what I envisage as the future of chain bookstores:

Barnes and Noble (et alia) as a book-related internet cafe! (Warehouse attached).

I foresee lots of chained-down, but free-to-use computers all around the perimeter, and in a central reservation, too. I mean LOTS!

Booklovers would go to a comfy captain's chair, log in with their Barnes and Noble card number (or not), check their own emails (because we all do, don't we?), then migrate to the B&N bookclub and bookstore online...

Or, they'd simply type in the name of their favorite author, or the title of the book they want, and call up covers, back cover blurb, first chapter, last page, author's blog, author's website, author's booklist, book-trailers, reviews... all that useful stuff.

Of course, this could be done from home, too, in the same way that we can buy a flash drive at a compelling price online from Circuit City, then drive fifteen miles to the nearest participating store to pick it up.

Books could be sorted by subgenre. Award-winning, humorous futuristic Romances with plus-size psychic heroines (such as Insufficient Mating Material) could be virtually "shelved" in all six categories.

Book store patrons would choose, click, discover where the book was shelved (or else, they'd order it from the comfort of where they were sitting and a bookseller would fetch it from the stacks and have it waiting at checkout), pay online, then maybe finish their beverage, check their email again; pick up their purchase, and leave.

Local authors might take advantage of the facilities and actually write in the bookstores. (And be available to autograph books on site). Virtual signings could be a snap.

Anyone with a power outage or ISP downtime (or unpaid cable bill) could use the bookstore computers. What a service!

It could take book related social networking to a new level. Hey, the bookstore might replace the bar, though nothing could ever replace Linnea Sinclair's Intergalactic Bar and Grille.

What do you think?
What's your beef? And what's your solution?

Rowena Cherry

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Work with Boundaries

I thought about Linnea's remark on the neat-o, peachy things about writing after raking three bags' worth of leaves Monday. I don't normally rake the yard or hire somebody to do so, although I'll accept the work if anyone wants to volunteer. (Our oldest son sometimes does when he drops by, oddly; maybe he thinks his aging parents are decrepit and need the help.) Raking seems to me a waste of time and energy. Leaves biodegrade and fertilize the lawn, and while they're on the ground, I think they look prettier than dried-up fall and winter grass. Also, raking is one of those jobs that have no limits. There are always more leaves. So I imposed an arbitrary limit of three bags, mainly to remove the leaves from the driveway, because they get slippery after rain.

I was reminded of a housecleaning advice book I had years ago, called NOBODY SAID YOU HAD TO EAT OFF THE FLOOR, blurbed as the psychiatrist's wife's guide to housekeeping. I used to read lots of guidebooks about housekeeping in search of the magic formula that would enable me to keep the place clean with no work. Likewise, I find it hard to resist buying yet another instruction manual for writers, in hope that one of them will contain the secret of writing a bestseller with minimal effort. Anyway, one of the first principles this author propounded about cleaning the house was, "You will never get it all done, because it is infinite." After 42 years of marriage, I've learned to put that principle into practice along the same lines as my approach to raking the leaves. I've decided which elements of housecleaning are really important to me and how many hours a week I'm willing to spend on those activities. (Not many.)

One thing I like about my day job as a legislative editor is that the work is not infinite (although sometimes it looks that way during the January crunch of the General Assembly session). Eventually a bill gets printed and either advances to the next stage in its life cycle or gets killed. The work has a limit. Similarly, that's one of the things I like most about the craft of writing. The work has boundaries. It is not infinite. More leaves will fall. The dog tracks up the kitchen floor several times a day. The bathroom gets dirty every week. A book, though, reaches a point where I can declare it finished. It gets printed (or formatted into an e-book) and offered to readers. To show for my effort, I have a concrete object I have created. While the creation of order, even on a domestic scale, is a wonderful thing, the product is inevitably ephemeral. The order produced by means of the words in a book lasts somewhat longer. In my case, it may not be the Great American Novel (which my father once asked me when I was going to write), but it's a visible and tangible accomplishment. Within the past week I finished—for the present—two short pieces of fiction and submitted them to editors, one of whom has already sent an encouragingly worded revision request. Now, that's a welcome ray of warmth in a cold season!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Gift: Giver: Recipient

There has been a fascinating discussion in the comments on Linnea Sinclair's post:

That's the link to the comments page. If it doesn't work, try this:

There are 12 astute comments, so far, on Linnea Sinclair's THE BUDDY SYSTEM.

The basic subject of Linnea's post is how does an unknown, beginning fiction writer "break in" or make the contacts, get the advice, find the KEY to getting into the fiction publishing market. She gives very practical advice, all of which I heartily endorse - but being of the "brief is better" school of writing, she only tickles the surface of the real subject and never actually names that subject.

That tiptoe around the core of the matter has left some readers feeling bewildered about how to apply her advice. Of course, now I'm going to make everyone even more bewildered.

The philosophical or magical or even maybe religious category that The Buddy System discussion belongs to is all about the epistemological place of Giving and Receiving in your own life, and what that "place" has to do with your Art and how you "See" the Universe. All this philosophical fol-der-ol is just way too abstract to discuss.

Let's try Linnea Sinclair's advice in her post WE WAS HAPPY!


So OK, let's get concrete instead of philosophical and abstract about "how to break in" to whatever field of Artistic Endeavor you aspire to.

My life has indeed been surpassing strange in this regard, which set my analytical mind off on an endless trek through Tarot and Astrology and Ancient Wisdom from a dozen or more cultures (a lot of which I've used as worldbuilding fodder for my novels).

Nobody could do it the way I did it. You can not follow in my footsteps. You can NOT do the actions I did and have your action produce the same result my action produced.

To readers of my series of posts on Tarot on this blog, that statement should immediately explain the point I'm trying to make with this post. If you "get it" you need not read any further.

This is the story of "how I did it" -- or no! It is the story of HOW IT HAPPENED TO ME.

And that's a key point I need to get across to any reader of this column trying to "break in" to any profession, but especially those involving The Arts.

Our scientific, Aristotelian Logic based, Hellenistically influenced, culture puts blinders on children early in life, to parse the universe ONLY in terms of cause and effect.

The ARTIST must throw off those blinders to understand the world via a different paradigm and explain that paradigm in their Art.

For my entire rant on Hellenistic traces in modern American culture, see my non-fiction book NEVER CROSS A PALM WITH SILVER, #1 in the NOT SO MINOR ARCANA series -- or subscribe to the rss feed for this blog for notification of when it will become newly available. (I hope.)

This rant is about a principle underlying the process of breaking into a commercial art field -- it applies to all the Arts, but it also applies to many other kinds of fields of endeavor because Art subsumes all human life. (because Art is the language of Magic).

I could start the story of HOW I MET MARION ZIMMER BRADLEY AND SHE BECAME MY CRITIQUE PARTNER AND MENTOR -- of how I attracted the attention of that Great Writer -- with the point at which I graduated from the University of California at Berkley in the middle of a recession that hit my prospective profession harder than this recession is hitting the financial sector.

The class before mine was snapped up by industry at top salaries. Mine - nada. And I was a mis-fit, just about the only woman in my graduating class in my major because it was a man's field - no women allowed.

There's karma in the timing of my graduation. Because a professor got sick and couldn't give a particular class during a particular semester, my graduation was delayed an entire semester.

After nine months and well over 120 resumes, dozens of interviews, I got a phone call from a person (male) whose company I had not applied to and was offered the job on the phone -- landed it at the first interview. (FIRST!!! (yes, Linnea I read your post about multiple punctuation marks)) It was a job rated BELOW my degree level. I pondered. I took it.

That job gave me the contact that saved my life and put me in the job where I met my husband (the same one I'm still married to). He had just returned to his job after a year away -- my delay of a year put me right where I had to be.

Because I had that husband, I ended up living in the only place where I could make direct contact with an active fan who knew Marion Zimmer Bradley's address. (sans Relationship, I was headed for a TA job in Iowa, but HE changed the destination to New York.)

I had been an MZB fan since SWORD OF ALDONES was first published. WORLD WRECKERS had now just come out a year or so before.

I used the address (on Staten Island) and the intro of the fan-friend's name to write MZB a 12 page, typed, single space, letter detailing everything that was "right" and "wrong" with WORLD WRECKERS and how it should have been written.

She wrote back detailing how all that happened. I wrote back and apologized for excoriating her work and explaining that it's because I love it and read every book until I've about memorized every comma because I'm trying to replicate the effect she creates on me. I told her about HOUSE OF ZEOR in MS being my first attempt to generate the MZB EFFECT.

She wrote back and said to send her the MS and she'd see if she could suggest anything. I did. She said it needed a tweak here and there (details), and if I did that she'd show it to her editor. I did. She did. It was turned down (after a year or so), but the editor told me which editor in Manhattan was in the market for that kind of book. I subsequently submitted it everywhere else but there. Finally, I tried his suggestion and a year later, HOUSE OF ZEOR was bought by Doubleday for library distribution. I started writing that book in, I think 1969 and it made it into print in 1974.

WRITING the book is something I DID. Had I not done it, nothing would have "happened." But every direct, pro-active, planned, sensible, logical thing I did to market the book failed.

Because I graduated during a recession and couldn't get a job in 1965, I sold my first novel in 1973 -- and the events that "caused" that to happen were not LUCK and had nothing to do with my goal. They were not the result of what I did or intended. They were things that "happened to me" which at the time I considered real BAD. (not getting a job meant having to live in my parents' house - rrrealll bad.)

THUS I can "see" in my epistemology how it is that LOVE CONQUERS ALL. Because I fell in love, I sold my first novel. And nobody but me can see the because-line behind that. Nobody can do the deeds I did and get that same result. (no, you can't have my husband. He's MINE!)

Now let's really get mystical. (you can stop reading now - this is the boring part, but it's a secret)

In our culture, a marriage is symbolized by the giving of something of intrinsic value - a diamond ring, gold, platinum. Today, people exchange rings, though it used to be just the woman who would be given the token.

Giving and Receiving -- the pair making a concrete transaction on the material plane which is mirrored Above on the non-material planes -- has a mystical significance. That completed transaction actually changes the Universe, leaves an indelible scratch in the Akashic Record.

Among the varieties of human cultures, there have arisen a number of diverse customs, and many SF novels have been built around Alien cultures that impute odd significances to the exchange of gifts.

A case in point is how in some cultures, if you save someone's life, you are thereafter responsible for them -- hence it isn't a good idea to pull someone out of a flooding river.

The transmission of ownership is felt by all human cultures to require ceremony and to have lasting significance.

BUYING (giving something of value in exchange for something of value) is not at all the same thing as GIFTING.

But note that in our society, the distinction has become blurred. Man and Wife exchange rings, instead of the Gifting going only one way to make the magical connection valid. We have a "List" to buy holiday gifts for -- and Heaven Forfend that you GET a gift from someone you didn't GIVE one to -- and what a gaffe if the values don't match!

In some cultures. brides were owned. Or grooms. There was a Bride Price. Men would buy a bride, and hence own their wives and her children. We want to destroy that symbolism, and so reciprocate items of value so ownership is mutual.

Thus the marriage transaction becomes a purchase, not a gifting. There's a big difference magically speaking.

Giving means nothing without Receiving. The transaction is not complete without both actions.

In order for a Gift to be Received, there must be no reciprocation. Nothing GOES DIRECTLY BACK to the giver. Otherwise, magical receiving hasn't happened. After receiving happens, yes, the receiver can (and should) GIVE something, but not BACK. It has to go ON and around the Circle of Life -- then it comes back three-fold as the saying goes.

Yet we say it is more blessed to give than to receive.

How can that be?

Giving is enabled (in the co-dependent sense of the word) by receiving.

When the transaction is complete, the world has changed significantly. Ownership has been transferred. A connection of some sort, sometimes only mystical, has been established between the two parties.

Marion Zimmer Bradley "gave" me all those books she had written and I had read-to-death before I connected with her on the material plane.

But I had not "received" them until I connected and wrote back to her explaining (by praise and criticism) exactly what had come to me via her writing.

That fan letter (not mentioning House of Zeor or my aspirations, but just explaining what I see in her writing) completed the giving transaction. I did not give a gift back. I did not give her something NEW (i.e. my own writing). I ACCEPTED HER GIFT, which I PASS ON with everything I write. Not "back" but "on."

My acceptance made a VESSEL that was finally able to hold the Blessing I was asking for - selling the Sime~Gen Universe novels.

A GIFT that is not being ACCEPTED (i.e. RECEIVED) is not a GIFT.

Charity is a form of gift-giving - though not all gifts are charity.

But there is a magical principle behind all this - writers of fantasy universes where magic is real need to understand this principle to replicate it in a made-up universe. When properly replicated, this single principle behind giving and receiving can make any crazy nonsense seem real enough for a reader to "get into" the story.

We are Commanded (a Mitzvah) to GIVE CHARITY.

That means that those who RECEIVE CHARITY are doing a Commandment, a Mitzvah.

You can give forever and not achieve the mitzvah of giving. Someone, somehow, has to RECEIVE to complete the transaction.

The mystical concept is that Blessings are raining down on us all the time, omnidirectionally, like a monsoon deluge. The Creator of the Universe is Giving - always, constantly, incessantly, and asks of us only that we Receive.

But the monsoon hits and runs off and disappears into material reality without a visible trace unless we MAKE A VESSEL to catch it -- do something concrete in the material world that can "hold" that blessing. Nothing happens until we, ourselves RECEIVE but to do that we must make a Vessel.

And Receiving is much, much harder than Giving.

Just think of a panel discussion at a convention, or a town Council meeting, or any committee meeting you've been at. Everyone wants to GIVE their opinion, point of view, or ideas. The Chair asks for questions and gets polemics instead. There is a feverish desperation in the American population to express their opinions. It's EASY to grab the floor and regale the captive audience with your opinions. How many of them fall asleep? How many can follow your arguments? How many of those who started to read this blog entry are still reading?

LISTENING and HEARING are way harder than yammering out your own opinion. Giving is so much easier than receiving.

When was the last time you made the effort to Receive?

Writing the actual manuscript comes from the place inside you that needs to GIVE. You have something to say, and you pour it out. But then you prepare the manuscript for market by rewriting and crafting it to market specs, and that's another process that is hard work. Do re-read all my Tarot posts to this blog because I explain this principle as best I can in those posts.

The entire process of crafting an object you can offer for sale (well, the rights to which you offer to license) is creating a Vessel. The actions of marketing it also "create a vessel" -- but so does everything else you do in life.

Creating Vessels requires Action in the real, material world.

Now at the time I graduated and sold my first story and then my first novel, I had no idea about any of this mystical stuff. It was MZB and another Star Trek friend of mine who introduced me to Astrology and Tarot and that led to other things. (I had already been into Kabbalah since college, but didn't understand it.)

You don't need to know what you're doing to do it. In fact, it probably helps to be ignorant, unlike in the scientific view of the universe where the more you know the more likely you are to succeed.

But look closely at the outline of my story above. I DO one thing -- over here -- and something I want comes to me -- not back along my line of action, but from OVER THERE -- from another direction.

The cause-effect scientific model of the universe simply can't handle that, can't parse it. And in fact, readers reading novels can't parse it either because of the way our schools teach about the universe. Readers need to have it explained up to the point where they can see the "poetic justice" but not beyond that point (not to belabor it).

In the magical view of the universe, the universe responds to WHO YOU ARE, not to WHAT YOU DO.

Or, put into the model of Giving and Receiving -- when what you Give over here is Received over here -- you have made a Vessel that can hold what is pouring onto you from over there. Your challenge is to be ready with a Vessel strong enough to hold that blessing raining down on you.

When the Give/Receive paradigm is completed, the completion creates a Vessel which can then fill up with the largess raining down upon you. Truly, your cup runneth over, always. Just sometimes your cup has a hole in it or just isn't big enough to hold what you want.

Your "cup" is the Deeds you have done, especially the Commandments. If almost all your Deeds are Gifts, or giving, then try Receiving half the time. Listen inside yourself for the anxious little voice that gets antsy when you Receive and impels you to try to get even by Giving something.

For example, we're all taught to say "Thank You" when we receive a compliment. But if, inside you feel you don't deserve it (or deserve even more) then you didn't Receive.

EXERCISE: Read Marion Zimmer Bradley's novel of the Circus during World War II, CATCH TRAP. Understand the Flying Santellis and what makes their act so special.

If someone comes along and tells you what's wrong with you, your inner impulse is to defend yourself -- it's not so, or there's a mitigating circumstance - etc. You squirm.

When you've practiced the easy stuff, try practising Receiving ill-meant criticism.

Receiving is really, really hard! I can't say that often enough. I been there. Done that. Have the T-shirt. It is really REALLY hard.

But practice and you may find you suddenly have something you really wanted.

Now what about the "giving" of Love? It's not a material object, yet it is a component of our Identity, a component which can be given.

"Unrequited Love" is defined as love that isn't "returned" -- that is, the loved person doesn't also love the lover.

But is that actually the source of pain in unrequited love?

Perhaps the real anguish in unrequited love is that the LOVE that is given is not received?

A person who has received Love is forever changed by the event.

This is clear from examining all the psychological documentation on those who have never received Love. Even if they were in fact loved, they didn't manage to Receive it.

And then there are those humans who are being offered Love and who reflexively refuse it, fend it off, duck, run, laugh it off.

For a really deep examination of this personality trait and its possible resolution in RECEIVING, see the incredibly complex fantasy universe background by Jessica Andersen, showcased in her FINAL PROPHECY series, NIGHTKEEPERS and soon forthcoming DAWNKEEPERS.

I just finished reading and reviewing DAWNKEEPERS (for my June 2009 column) and have not read NIGHTKEEPERS, so I can say you can easily read the second book without the first.

REVIEW to be posted at:

DAWNKEEPERS on Amazon at:

In DAWNKEEPERS we get deep into the mind of a man who is refusing the knowledge of his magical powers, and with that also refusing true Love. Jessica Andersen takes us through the harrowing lessons that teach him what he's doing wrong.

Yes, it's fiction -- and really wild, far-out urban fantasy-Romance -- but there's a life-lesson in it. The harder you fend it off, the bigger the hammer that hits you until you learn to Receive. Why not skip the bludgeoning (we're talking Pluto Transit here) and just learn the lesson?

This is prime fodder for the conflict line of Romance Novels of all sub-genres, not just urban fantasy-Romance.

A giver must pair up with a recipient or the gift can't be transferred and so it isn't yet a gift.

It sounds obvious, but it's a principle like the Laws of Thermodynamics, which can be applied to the mystical world as well as the physical.

Now consider a human woman (who lives in a reality where givers need recipients) and an alien (non-human) male who does not live in such a mystically based universe.

How could a human woman explain the "blessing" -- the mystical dimension -- of giving or receiving to such a male?

If, for him, there existed no mystical dimension, how would he view her antics? How could he learn what a gift meant? How would he learn that she was validating him by receiving him?

Suppose the fate of two planets depended on it. How could she open him to this mystical dimension? And if she found a way to do that -- should she? What "unforeseen consequences" might be generated by forcibly changing the way he sees the world?

The curious should also see my March 2009 Review Column when it's posted in March where I discuss the Karma of World Prominence via Noel Tyl's astrological discovery of the signature of prominence in a natal chart.

Study the natal chart of George Lucas, (see his biography published years ago). Notice how the plot of Star Wars is mirrored in his Natal Chart but not his Life? Note Noel Tyl's comments on World Prominence coming with the "fulfillment" of the promise in the Natal Chart. Look at your Natal Chart and find what promise you have fulfilled and what you are really "about."

And remember, in the scientific view of the universe, if you do "the right thing" you will succeed. But in the magical view of the universe, if you "are who you really are" you will be fulfilled. Which is the "right" view? Which is your view? How do you apply that philosophy to the practical necessity of life?

Now, I bet nobody read this far. This post is just way too long and too abstract for a blog. And it's barely a tenth of what I have to say on Giving and Receiving!

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Monday, November 17, 2008

We was happy!!!!! (writing tip #1)

I’ve spent the past two weekends, back-to-back, teaching writing workshops out of town for two different writer groups. (Yes, that is me on the bridge of my starship--the only way to travel these days. And Daq cat agrees.) One Saturday I was in Tampa with the local RWA (Romance Writers of America) chapter. This past weekend I was in Ft Myers with the Gulf Coast Writers Association. One of the neat-o peachy keen things about teaching writing is that it forces me to again study the craft of writing.

Not that that’s something I don’t do a lot. I’m an admitted research junkie (I’m also a word slut but we’ll get to that at another time). I have an unending curiosity of why things work (or don’t). So I have an entire bookshelf devoted to craft of writing tomes.

I used just about every one of them for my last Saturday’s three-hour workshop. (I also quoted a lot of Jacqueline Lichtenberg but then you all know I worship at the Great JL’s feet.)

One of the easiest and yet often overlooked tips I shared was one I found in Browne & King’s Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (a totally excellent book). It’s so simple yet it addresses one of the problems I frequently see in unpublished stories. That problem is an emotion is NAMED rather than SHOWN.

Let me give you an example:
Lois was happy to see Clark at her front door.

WAS HAPPY is not only use of the passive (was) but it’s naming the emotion (ie: telling the reader) rather than showing the emotion in action. And good fiction writing is all about showing (in action) rather than telling (in narrative and in passive voice).

Why is that not good writing? Well, honestly, it’s not bad writing. It’s grammatically correct. It gets the point across. But it’s not engaging writing and it’s not effective writing, and to compete in today’s commercial genre fiction market, you need to be engaging and effective. Writing guru Dwight Swain penned years ago that “it’s the author’s job to manipulate the emotions of the reader.” The lovely Jacqueline Lichtenberg reminds us on her Worldcrafter’s site that “fiction is drama.” Well, it’s rather hard to manipulate emotions and create drama in the passive voice, and without action.

So while Lois was happy to see Clark at her front door, the editor, agent or reader will not be happy reading that sentence. They won’t be feeling Lois’ happiness as much as they could because that kind of sentence doesn’t manipulate reader emotions.

What does? Showing. Action.

So we take “Lois was happy” and we give the reader (and agent and editor who are going to read those lines long before any reader does) the visual. “Vividness outranks brevity,” Swain says.

Lois peeked through the small heart-shaped beveled-glass window set in her front door and her breath caught in delight. Could it be…? Could that actually be…? Yes, it was, it was Clark. She let out a little squeal, a girlish and joyful sound…

Okay, supremely overwritten but I hope you get the idea. Instead of naming the emotion for the reader (happiness), the writer describes the sensations and thoughts and actions that most humans (since we assume humans are your readers) recognize as indications of happiness.

I know. You’re saying, yeah, that’s obvious. But you know what? I bet you dollars to doughnuts that if you go through your current work-in-progress, you’ll find at least three instances where you cheap-out and name an emotion instead of showing it, instead of letting the reader experience it.

I did. And I’m supposed to know what I’m doing.

Obviously, you can overdo this. You don’t detail every emotion every character feels in a story. The story would feel cartoonish. But you should at least be aware of whether or not you’re doing as much as you should in key scenes that have (or should have) a strong emotional element.

By the way, I did a handout (actually, I did about ten handouts) in that class with a SHOW THE EMOTION exercise. And it was interesting (and fun) to see the variations people created from:

Janet was unhappy that Roger walked by her desk without mentioning her birthday.

From sobs to slumping shoulders, from narrow-eyed glares to hurling of iPods, Janet showed her unhappiness (SHOWED) with Roger in an interesting variety of ways. Without ever TELLING the reader that she was unhappy.

One more writing tip—do not use multiple punctuation marks. Ever!!!! Do you hear me?!?!?!? Ever. Multiple punctuation marks make editors and agents very unhappy.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Gunk punk (Looking back on America's auto industry)

I'm a Science-fiction Romance writer. I look at History (which repeats itself) also current events, and I wonder What If...?

Not that I write it, yet, but Steampunk is where the writer changes one invention from the time of the industrial revolution, such as H.G. Wells's "The Time Machine". That was the "age of steam", hence steam punk.

More recently, there is "cyber punk" which I suppose relates to choices made in Silicon Valley in the 1980s. One of the hallmarks of punk writing is that it explores the road not traveled and the consequences of a different decision whether made by a scientist, a businessman, or a politician (I assume).

I'm using "gunk" punk because if steam is what the Nineteenth Century machines are remembered for, then gunk might be what petroleum-driven cars leave behind. Or maybe I've been watching too many STP commercials.

Gratuitous decoration

This is a car made by my husband, with his own hands and the help of a few people he contracted with privately. He burned his hands on hot clay, he came home with his eyebrows covered in dust from sanding... he lost 10lbs from all the exercise. This photo was taken at SEMA by Jonathon Ramsey for

So, what if... in the 1940s American didn't have a manufacturing industry and depended on Germany and Japan? I'd probably be blogging in German, right?

History is being made right now, that's why I'm laying claim to "gunk punk" (unless someone has already thought of it, or someone has a better name). Peter M DeLorenzo of may have done so, but he doesn't write fiction as far as I know. He has a jaw dropping rant going on.

Peter is also selling an alarming book (non-fiction) titled "The United States of Toyota."

Alarming cover art.

I am now imagining myself as a writer in, say 2020 (hindsight pun!) looking back on the third week of November 2008 when Congress made a catastrophic vote NOT to make a loan to the last American car companies.

It's a "Mad Max" world now. Or perhaps it's Mary Doria Russell's "The Sparrow" world with a touch of "1984". The Jesuits and the Japanese rule. We have an Emperor. And a Pope. And a third Minister of some sort, because good things come in threes.

Onstar speaks to us in Japanese in our cars. We cannot turn it off. They got Murdoch, too. And Comcast. All our Direct TV has Japanese subtitles. We cannot turn it off. Big Brother looks a lot like Vladimir Putin with Botox to get rid of the ugly Western crease in his eyelids. He tells us what to think.

America is bankrupt. When the world bank foreclosed, one of the creditors took Hawaii, another took the island of Manhattan, another took the Great Lakes for the water. No one wanted Detroit... I could go on. In a grim way, this is rather fun.

Maybe my imagination is overactive. I hope so! I was having trouble fitting any kind of Romance into my budding novel of milieu.

My point is, pay attention to the information that is available, and store it up for future reference. (Thank goodness for flashdrive!). There's a massive dissonance right now between the truth and what people are saying in the media.

If interested in GM's version of car myth vs fact visit

Best wishes,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Machines Are Taking Over

In this week's "Dilbert" comic strip the company's spam filter has attained self-awareness and taken over the company. It has assumed control of all e-mail, decreed the creation of killer robots, and restructured the organization chart. One character informs another, "Apparently you now report to the microwave." That's how I feel this week.

Tuesday afternoon my editor informed me that two RTF files I'd sent her arrived as unreadable computer garbage. When I checked the same files myself, that's what I found, too—even though they were transmitted FROM this computer TO the same computer. I tried converting them to DOC files and sent them in that form. They opened all right for me, but they were marked "read only." She said they came to her as text files. My theory is that AOL either has developed a grudge against me or is engaged in a feud with this computer. Or maybe a gremlin has possessed my word processing program, and it needs an exorcist. Another RTF file I mailed to myself a few days ago, by the way, transmits fine, just as they always did before. I haven't downloaded a new word processor or browser or anything of the kind in the past week. Clearly I am cursed. I resorted to mailing the files through gmail instead, solving the immediate problem.

If it weren't for the fact that two of our sons are computer wizards (one of them a professional web designer), my husband and I would be doomed to a Luddite existence. When the youngest eventually moves out, we'll be in deep trouble. He offered a plausible explanation for this file problem, that AOL has recently made behind-the-scenes changes in its web mail system.

Which leads to my perennial lament: Why can’t anybody leave well enough alone? The rulers of the commercial realm seem to think customers want perpetual novelty. I don’t! I want the merchants, products, and services I depend on to reach an optimal point and STAY there. (For instance, my life would be much improved if our local Giant would stop discontinuing grocery items as soon as we get used to regarding them as indispensable staples.) Newest, latest, and greatest—bah, humbug.

Margaret L. Carter (

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I Love Web 2.0

I just read Linnea Sinclair's note in the comments on her post The Buddy System.

Linnea wrote:
If one person has survived it, you can survive it.

One person.

Rarely have I heard a summation of the basic theme of "our" kind of literature, the binding theme between SF, Paranormal and the general Romance field.

Heroic Fiction belongs to the "Romantic" category -- in the literary sense of "larger than life" -- and that's how most people view stories about those first, or only, "one person"s Linnea is referring to.

This is a point I neglected to make in my blog post here about why we have such a perception problem with Romance.

And you'll notice that blog post also starts with a comment Linnea Sinclair made!

And that point is that the reason we read these stories, and the reason we prefer characters we can identify with, is that we, ourselves are tasked, perhaps karmically, with being one of those "one persons" who do "it" to demonstrate that it is possible.

We need to break through the barrier around the possible -- mostly because it's a barrier. As people climb mountains because they are there, we hurl ourselves into impossible tasks (such as finding a soul-mate and raising his kids "right") because the task is there.

Yes, SF and Romance are both genres that are about doing the impossible -- finding a Soul Mate or inventing a gadget like the Universal Translator (rumored to have been invented by Spock's human mother, Amanda Grayson) or the Internet or the Web, invented by groups of people desperate to communicate in an "impossible" way.

They did it. Now we do it without even thinking about it.

When I first heard the term e-mail, I had to ask what that meant. The explanation didn't thrill me. It sounded cumbersome and awkward. Today, there's an insurmountable barrier between me and envelopes & stamps!

I remember the wonderful Romantic Comedy, YOU'VE GOT MAIL.

WATCH OUT at that link above for pop-ups and pop-unders circumventing your anti-popup software.

Two people meet via chat online, fall in love, and later discover they already know each other but don't "like" each other all that much in the real world. At the time that movie came out, it was thought "impossible" for real love relationships to begin online.

That movie is a "show don't tell" for a lot of truths about internet socializing that non-netizens deny vigorously.

Text-only communication can reveal the true depths of personality never visible in "live" contact situations. The "sub-text" of Relationship becomes undeniable in text-only. Great movie! Powerful truth. I actually know a couple happily married for more than 10 years who met in an online fandom chat!

And that was chat by text-only! Not even video conferencing. Just text.

I think another such huge chasm as we saw between those just getting online and those who would not or could not attain internet access is opening. It is opening between e-mail and social networking online. Between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0.

Social networking got its start as mostly a kiddie thing for wasting time. MySpace and so forth provided the youngest web users a way to communicate with their peers and play online.

There's nothing wrong with playing -- it's what kids have to do to become effective adults. Note Luke Skywalker's jetting around pot-shotting local vermin -- eventually, he used the same skill to take out a Deathstar. How you play and at what affects what you are able to do, and how you can do it as an adult.

So we have a generation-gap chasm opening between those who played their way to adulthood online and those who got online in adulthood. And yes, a chasm between adults who did take the plunge and adults who just have not.

Watching over their kids shoulders, the adults who dabbled online or perhaps used a computer only at work soon saw that this social networking thing is the work-around, the dodge, the cure for SPAM!

If you use, say, (professionals only; no kids, no playing) to send a message to a friend, it works just like email except that it lands in their inbox without a ton of e-spam stuck to it.

If you need to tell a few friends something quick, you can twitter or plurk or use one of the other microblog services. I'm sure three more started while I've been typing this.

Texting by simple phone connection is good, too. I worked the election Nov 4th with 7 older people and a 17 year old (Arizona program to allow youngsters to learn to work the Polls).

The 17 year old spent the intervals between voters texting with her hands under the table, looking attentive to her job. The older folks were bemused. One told a story of her college age kid who racked up a couple thousand text messages a month - until he broke up with his girlfriend, and it dropped to hundreds. Texting-romances no doubt abound!

The world is abandoning e-mail and Lists and Newsletters as fast as it can because of the spam load. Life is too short and that stuff is too putrid.

Meanwhile, personal communication has gone multi-media. Sound, images, animation -- it's all at our fingertips. Skype is very popular for international families. And I'm sure it's supporting a lot of romances.

Websites that sell things for a profit are fully interactive, some with a live-chat feature. This personalizing, multi-media, interactive approach to web applications is what they loosely term Web 2.0. Much of it functions as "plug-ins" to a browser.

The lexicon gurus still disagree about the exact definition of Web 2.0 -- but they agree that it takes a broadband connection to get the most benefit out of it.

The internet evolved into the Web which became a personal communication tool swamped by toxic waste, and cleaned up by -- SOCIAL NETWORKING.

Now I've been getting dozens (if not hundreds) of e-mail pitches from people who want to sell me lessons (webinars) in how to use social media to promote products -- some even specifically for how to promote your books if you're a writer.

First the kids, then the adults, now the merchants invade social network spaces.

Where will folks go to get away from the sales pitches?

Or the world might change in even more drastic ways as the online generation takes the helm.

I saw a TV News item where the reporters were discussing how Obama's administration can use Information Technology and the Web to create a more "transparent" government -- and one younger reporter went a step farther, pointing out that with the interactivity available online now we can have a government that we not only look in on but actually interact with.

Whether that's a good idea or not -- the public micromanaging government -- is a subject for another Worldbuilding post about Aliens and Hive Minds.

Where will people go to get away from government issues invading their private communications? I can just see pop-up ads from the government soliciting your opinion on this or that! "Help your Congressman; take this two minute survey!"

Maybe it would be illegal to block those popups!

Well, just as I couldn't resist the lure of email once I got online (my first service was called Prodigy - anybody remember that?) -- now I can't resist the social networking craze.

I'm on a whole lot of them, YouTube etc., so many I can't remember them all until I get an email that someone new wants to be my friend or link with me or whatever that service calls it. I'm active on several social networks, while lurking on a whole bunch.

Meanwhile, in addition to social networks, I've discovered ancillary Web 2.0 services that help you sort out the information blitz of the internet, especially the blogosphere. Joining this blog has led me to explorations of RSS FEEDS, bookmarking sites like Digg, StumbleUpon, slashdot, -- there are more than 48 very popular ones, each with a specialty.

If you missed the step-wise development of the Feed services, you might be as overwhelmed and bewildered as I was when I started investigating RSS FEEDS. At first I thought I understood when I first saw the little orange icon. But when I asked myself how does it work and tried to do it myself -- I discovered I was totally clueless.

So I asked on LinkedIn what the best "feed reader" is and got back that Google's reader is good. Meanwhile, one of the "build a successful business online" Newsletters I get sent a file to install on the Google Reader that I could configure to track my own name as it gets mentioned on various blogs and web pages. Wow, I had no idea!

Someone on LinkedIn who is very knowledgeable recommended FeedDemon. So I went to and downloaded their feed reader -- and I think it's better than google or yahoo, but each one has its strengths. So I use all 3!

Eventually, one or two of these services will emerge as dominant and providing all the tools we need to live online.

Simultaneously, via one of the e-mail Lists for professional writers that I'm on, I discovered an online interview on a blog with a woman who gives webinars on how to use social networking to promote books and other products. I learned about another service that helps consolidate all your services. It's called

So I signed up for friendfeed, (where I'm JLichtenberg) and discovered that you can put a swatch of javascript on your homepage (see the bottom of for an example) or blog site like this one that will list at least some of the icons for some of the better known services that you use to post notes, messages, and even blog articles.

You'll see the new friendfeed icons for Jacqueline Lichtenberg and Rowena Cherry lower down on the right side of this blog, so you can see what I'm talking about.

This blog also has atom and RSS enabled -- you just need to put our URL into the appropriate field on your Feed Reader (click search for or add feeds -- this blog is a "feed").

If you click "subscribe to me" in the friendfeed icon you can see every time I post on facebook, amazon blog, this blog, microblog or whatever I've put into my list of places where I post things. I don't have all my places in friendfeed yet. When I do, you don't have to chase all over looking for what I'm doing, and you don't have to subscribe to a Newsletter and hope it doesn't get caught in the spam trap.

And once you've subscribed to someone via friendfeed, it's very easy to subscribe to someone ELSE -- thus consolidating the scattered postings of all your friends, or just people you want to follow.

This blog is registered with which I've seen links to all over the place, but didn't understand what it is until I went there and poked around. It's huge. But the most valuable thing I've found there so far is a long article on the shape and development direction of the blogosphere.

A graphic image of what "blogosphere" means is posted at:

And the technorati article on how things change (they survey once a year) is posted at:

As Linnea Sinclair said, there are dozens, maybe thousands, of valuable "get started" tools available to new writers today that didn't exist when we started. But there are even more tools available for those who have started and now need to progress up the vertical learning curve. Those tools come effortlessly to the hands of those who grew up online, but we have to work at it.

Also from LinkedIn I discovered a website called which lets you list your blog and then auto-updates a number of Feed services (there are more services than readers and like search engines, feed services don't all return the same results for the same query). does something similar with blogs.

I still haven't mastered astrogating around Web 2.0 -- things don't work as I expect them to, and I can't tell if that's because I did it wrong, don't understand what it should do, or it really didn't work right. I sometimes feel very much like the first time I wrote a novel on a computer: spikes of I LOVE THIS embedded in a sea of confusion and bewilderment.

Still, I posted a tweet on twitter and saw it come up immediately on my page. But I had to click the link labeled "ME" that I see on the left of my page (I don't think you would see my ME link, but rather your own ME link). However, the Diggs I did yesterday don't seem to be on friendfeed -- but older diggs of mine are there.

Social Networking and "feeds" are the work-around we need until the internet infrastructure can be totally redesigned (from the hardware level) to wall out "spam." The resistance will come not just from the cost of doing that, but from the commercial interests that don't want to be walled away from your inbox.

Nevertheless, I am thrilled to discover this Web 2.0 level of the new world we're building and appalled at how I'm about 4 or 5 years behind leaping the chasm (again)!

As writers, we find social networking just the thing to promote our books and keep the wheels of imagination greased. However, I don't think it will last long. With the invasion of commercial interests, people will flee again or just turn off awareness of any kind of promotional material.

As writers, we need to think about YOU'VE GOT MAIL, and how to use the platform of Web 2.0 to tell a whopping good Romance that reveals some hidden truths people would prefer weren't true. Such as the one I discussed in my post

As SF-Romance writers, we need to think about YOU'VE GOT MAIL as it might have been written before the word e-mail was first coined and get a grip on the sociological implications of communication advances such as maybe Web 4.0.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg