Thursday, April 30, 2009

Books That Made Us What We Are

At some time in your early life, did you discover a particular book that shaped your response to literature and helped to make you a writer? For me, the transformative literary work was DRACULA, which I read at age twelve. It lured me into the whole realm of horror, fantasy, and "soft" science fiction. This teenage enthusiasm inspired me to become a writer and major in English lit (NOT the guaranteed path to fame and fortune, by the way!). My love for speculative fiction also led to a devotion to C. S. Lewis, whose works changed my life in profound ways.

In addition to DRACULA, three anthologies enlightened and inspired me: THE OMNIBUS OF CRIME, edited by Dorothy Sayers (long before I met Lord Peter Wimsey), which, despite its title, is about half composed of horror stories; GREAT TALES OF TERROR AND THE SUPERNATURAL, edited by Herbert A. Wise and Phyllis Fraser, a comprehensive volume of classic tales; and THE SUPERNATURAL READER, edited by Groff Conklin (one of the great spec fic anthologists of the mid-twentieth century), a mix of classic and more recent stories. Conklin's book contains the first "sympathetic vampire" story I'd ever read aside from the ones I'd written myself. It was a great thrill recently to be able to buy online a first edition of the Wise and Fraser anthology, and I've just ordered a copy of THE OMNIBUS OF CRIME to complete the "set." I absorbed all this literature before I saw a single horror movie. Thanks to this broad background in seminal horror fiction, much of my juvenilia—beginning with my first ghost and vampire stories at age thirteen—reads like a pastiche of Victorian and Edwardian fiction. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. I later developed a more contemporary mode of storytelling, and meanwhile my vocabulary and style gained dimensions they might otherwise have lacked.

What book or books made you a writer?

Margaret L. Carter (

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Puzzle of Romance

First I want to mention that the survey insertion I put in the blog text a few weeks ago actually worked!

That survey was made on google documents (which you can find if you make a google account and search their menus -- I find mine on my google email page).

Once you folks had entered data, I was able to go to the google documents page where it displays the results as a bar code. It doesn't say who said what, only how many clicked this or that option.

This service is part of the newest wave of innovation called Cloud Computing and I've been seeing more and more articles on it. Businesses are adopting this concept very fast, pushed by the recession, because it's a cheaper way of running computers than having your own IT department.

The concept is that one team of IT experts can run the servers, update and debug the software, run security, etc at a central location. Then when a business needs to do research, needs computing power, needs collaborative documents -- the desk folk all log onto the Internet and work on the distant server just as if that server were in the basement of the building the business is using. Pretty soon, businesses won't need offices!

At any rate, word is that Microsoft is getting very nervous and trying to cut off a piece of that pie for themselves. It totally changes their business model. And that's what we need to do with Alien Romance - change the underlying business model.

Thank you for participating in my little experiment.

I have a list of topics rattling around in my head that I should talk about on this blog, (I'm making quick comments on them at )

But today I can't seem to get any of those topics to assemble into a point I can actually make in this limited space.

So let's talk a little more about how and why it happens that the Romance field in general (perhaps the Alien Romance, Paranormal Romance field in particular) just can't get the public respect it deserves.

I've said before, and I believe some of the others posting here have also noticed, that Science Fiction became much more publicly acceptable, more accessible, and attracted feature film money and even won Emmy and Oscars where SF never did before, after Star Trek hit the TV screen. Today, when I say, "I'm a science fiction writer," I get a totally different reaction than I did even right after Star Trek.

Daily Variety has a RAVE (and I mean RAVE!!!) review of the new Star Trek movie.

What Alien Romance needs, then is a TV show.

MAYBE WE HAVE ONE! Maybe there's something in these 2 TV shows that we can build on. If you don't watch TV, you can browse through these shows online.

Reaper TV Series

Supernatural TV Series

Neilsen Ratings for Reaper and Supernatural for mid-April indicate (if I'm reading this page right) about 2 million people watch it live or immediately after on their recording device. I watch them several weeks after on my DVR. Keep in mind there are about 310 million people in the USA, (2010 is a census year). CW is a broadcast network and it may not be on all cable systems. Scifi channel is cable, but not on all cable channels.

Still, statistics are showing that with all the different ways to spend your evenings, a lower percentage of the population is watching TV. The general demographic of TV watchers is growing older (i.e. young people prefer games and their computers). So 2 million is a fairly respectable audience, given the venue. I'm looking at this not for popularity, but for taste.

Reaper and Supernatural seem to be doing better than Smallville which I also love (but not as much as I loved Lois and Clark). is one of my sources.

REAPER is the one about the young guy whose father sold his soul to the Devil. The Devil now is billing himself as the young man's father, and has entrapped him into collecting souls that "escaped" from Hell. (the whole game could be rigged -- conspiracies within conspiracies).

Choosing Setting is one of the topics rattling in my mind: all about how a writer chooses a setting, how the plot adjusts when you shift the setting, and what commercial advantages you get from settings. Reaper's Setting is a do-it-yourself chain store, and most of the main characters work there.

The show is about the relationships these young people develop, and what all that has to do with Evil, and how Evil weasels its way into lives.

We've had some very interesting entries on this blog about how titillating the BAD BOY image is. Tough guys, bad boys and the alpha male seem to be attractive in a visceral way. None of the human characters on REAPER are alpha male or female. The Devil is the alpha in the show. And the ongoing demon characters are all non-alpha and not very Evil either.

The recent episode of REAPER that brought the Romance aspect to mind was about a demon lurking in an old silver mine, a soul that Son of the Devil had to collect in a "vessel" shaped this time like a hand grenade. (each week, the vessel he collects a soul in has a different form -- they go for the funniest thing they can think of.)

A character they are developing is an escaped renegade demon who takes the form of a nice tall blond girl in love with the Hispanic lead character (short, dark, handsome guy).

In this episode, the 3 boys and 2 of the 3 girls (sans female demon who wanted to be alone to consume a Llama, but later comes to the town flying in her demon shape) went to this deserted silver mining town (in excellent repair) to collect the soul that lurks in the old mine and kills people.


In the end, the boy whose father is The Devil has to decide if a human who has been protecting the demon lives or dies.

He tells the human that he doesn't have to die. He can live a new, full, satisfying life. BUT - when arguing with the demon who wants to kill the human because the human has killed her lover (but that didn't really happen), the son of the Devil says to the demon that she should let him live because he'll have to live with the knowledge of all the horrible things he's done, and that will be torture.

Later, the demon says she found the Son of the Devil sexy because he's turning Evil! (but this demon isn't supposed to be Evil anymore)

At the end, (which my DVR cut off at a strategic spot), the Son of the Devil and his girlfriend are talking over what happened. She breaks off her relationship with him because Evil has invaded every part of his life.

She realized this because of the events in the ghost town. The ghost town excursion was orchestrated by the Devil, who is now proud of his Son who can take any blow no matter how severe.

The scripts for this show have been getting better written! You can actually see the point, understand them and discuss them instead of just laughing.

As they go season to season, the ensemble cast of REAPER has begun the pairing-off dance that we saw done so well on Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

As idiotic as the premise and most of the execution of this teen-comedy has seemed to me, I actually have some hope for this show. The impact will be seen as the audience that loves this show grows up and looks for the kind of thing we would call Romance. But I suspect a lot of married adults are watching this show just for the laughs.

Supernatural is likewise popular with just under 2 million viewers, involves two brothers, and The Devil complete with demons, minions and characters who say they are Angels. But the plot requires these (handsome) brothers to break off every Relationship they get into except perhaps with demons.

The existence and survival of these two shows tells us a lot about the forming and flowing of audiences, and the appetite for Relationship which will eventually bespeak the issues of Romance and the HEA ending.

I'm perpetually puzzling over the "Soul Mate" aspect of Romance, and this particular episode of REAPER brought in the sexual attractiveness of Evil, which we play with as the Bad Boy.

And these two shows -- which I thought would surely be cancelled halfway through their first seasons -- are expressing a philosophy of life that resonates with a broad swatch of the TV viewing audience. I have a lot to say about what this popularity says about the present and the future as shaped by viewers of these shows.

There's a whole lot going on in this world, yet Romance survives. Perhaps the question is, "Does humanity need Romance to survive?" I'd say it's our only hope.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Friday, April 24, 2009

Who's got a Long Tail?

I came to "" by way of my spam filter, and my curious streak. I'd like to say that I followed Jacqueline Lichtenberg's link from her most recent blog on Wired for Romance, but it wouldn't be true.

Not that I took the lowest of the low roads. I did not read the correspondence from the very persistent salesperson who emails me regularly and apparently wishes to show me his "long tail", and to advise me how I can grow a comparable one.

I did do a Google search. I was sure that "Long Tail" must have a respectable meaning. And it does! It's not dissimilar to riding someone's coat-tails.... for the purposes of marketing a novel.

Chris Anderson is Wired's editor in chief and writes the blog Long

He has given me permission --"quote away" are his exact words-- to quote from a blog he wrote in December 2004, which I find utterly fascinating, and which touches on the business of selling and marketing and stocking books, music, and much more.

This blog was expanded into a book: The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

The Long Tail 12/10/2004
Forget squeezing millions from a few megahits at the top of the charts. The future of entertainment is in the millions of niche markets at the shallow end of the bitstream.

1988, a British mountain climber named Joe Simpson wrote a book called Touching the Void, a harrowing account of near death in the Peruvian Andes. It got good reviews but, only a modest success, it was soon forgotten. Then, a decade later, a strange thing happened. Jon Krakauer wrote Into Thin Air, another book about a mountain-climbing tragedy, which became a publishing sensation. Suddenly Touching the Void started to sell again.

Random House rushed out a new edition to keep up with demand. Booksellers began to promote it next to their Into Thin Air displays, and sales rose further. A revised paperback edition, which came out in January, spent 14 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. That same month, IFC Films released a docudrama of the story to critical acclaim. Now Touching the Void outsells Into Thin Air more than two to one.

What happened? In short, recommendations. The online bookseller's software noted patterns in buying behavior and suggested that readers who liked Into Thin Air would also like Touching the Void. People took the suggestion, agreed wholeheartedly, wrote rhapsodic reviews. More sales, more algorithm-fueled recommendations, and the positive feedback loop kicked in.

Particularly notable is that when Krakauer's book hit shelves, Simpson's was nearly out of print. A few years ago, readers of Krakauer would never even have learned about Simpson's book - and if they had, they wouldn't have been able to find it. Amazon changed that. It created the Touching the Void phenomenon by combining infinite shelf space with real-time information about buying trends and public opinion. The result: rising demand for an obscure book.

This is not just a virtue of online booksellers; it is an example of an entirely new economic model for the media and entertainment industries....

There are four or five more blog pages of riveting analysis not only of music, books, Amazon, and copyright piracy. The title of this blog is a link to it.

Chris's book The Long Tail was ranked around #3,000 when I took a look.

The Look Inside feature is available.
Over 90% of those who visit the book page end up buying his book.

Since this is a Craft and Opinion blog, I'd like to offer an opinion and potential discussion starter for authors and readers.

What use should an author make of this Long Tail information?


My personal inclination is to do nothing with it. That's just me. I know that some authors tag their books using the names of more famous authors as tag words or search recommendations in hopes of giving the Amazon bots a nudge. Maybe they're smart. I'd rather leave any such comparisons of my alien romances to my publisher, or to readers... or to search results by genre and subject matter.

Do you have any "Long Tail" thoughts, or stories, or opinions to share?

Rowena Cherry

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Invisible Women

You've probably heard about Susan Boyle, a middle-aged, "frumpy" woman from a small Scottish village who astonished everyone by her singing performance on a British talent-search TV show. Susan Reimer, a Baltimore SUN columnist, wrote this about Boyle’s achievement and the "invisibility" of middle-aged and elderly women:,0,7224091.column

Here's an essay by Suzette Haden Elgin, "Why Old Women Are Older Than Old Men," which concludes, "We're being taught that the appearance of age is okay for men but not for women."

Isaac Asimov once wrote a column in which he proposed that a reason for the persecution of women as witches in late medieval and early modern Europe was that old women, before the advent of modern obstetrics, were rarer than old men; furthermore, the facial characteristics of advanced age were more obvious on women than on men when almost all adult males wore beards. Therefore, old women were perceived as sinister. Doubtless their expertise in the arts of midwifery and herbal healing added to this perception.

Supposedly, in preindustrial societies old people (presumably including both sexes) were revered for their "wisdom." Since the rapid acceleration of technology began in the twentieth century, accelerating faster with each decade, the younger generation (in Western culture, at least) has become more apt to regard elders as hopelessly out-of-date and irrelevant. Why should "the appearance of age," though, make "invisibility" more characteristic of old women than men of the same age, now that women theoretically have equal opportunity for education and professional advancement? Shouldn't achievement outweigh "beauty" or lack thereof in both sexes? Or are we still influenced by perceptual triggers evolved hundreds of thousands of years ago, to the effect that a female lacking the outward marks of fertility (an appearance of beauty, youth, and health) seems less valuable on some instinctive level?

I hope not, but what cultural changes would have to happen to make old women as attractive and respected in our culture as old men of the same level of achievement? Would civilization have to be destroyed by a cataclysm that would render the "wisdom" of a long memory obviously valuable again? Or do the two columns cited above exaggerate the problem?

Margaret L. Carter

Do you like your sci fi Hard, or Soft?

Excuse the interruption.

I thought some of you might like a quick headsup on this discussion on

The header is also a link to the discussion.

Normal discourse will now resume....

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Wired Magazine for Romance?

BUT FIRST: My March and April Book Review columns are now posted at

NOW: You'd think this would be the last blog in the blogosphere to discuss Wired.

You'd think I'd be the last person in the world to read Wired.

So would I.

Guess what? The totally "random" Force behind the Universe has a different opinion. How novel.

Because I had airline miles expiring, the airline pretty much forced me to take subscriptions instead of a trip -- and the magazines they offered were even less of interest to me than Wired.

So I took a bunch of financial items like Fortune and Barron's -- and Wired. If you want to solve a real-world puzzle, "follow the money." If you want to create a plausible plot - "follow the money."

The website is and they have SOME articles from previous issues posted.

The first issue of Wired arrived before any of the others and guess who the guest editor for the May 2009 issue is? The co-creator of LOST and the director of the new STAR TREK MOVIE, J. J. Abrams. Yes, THE "J. J. Abrams" !!! is the database entry with all his credits. I'm sure you'll recognize more than a few.

Yeah. STAR TREK THE IMAX EXPERIENCE is on that database.

So I read Wired last night. Now I'm not recommending you go buy this issue. It's expensive. But do rush to the newsstand and LOOK at the pages I'm going to discuss -- especially if you're writing SFR or love to read it or find out how writers find these crazy ideas. Or maybe you just find the philosophy of love, romance, and pair-bonding fascinating? Why do people come in pairs? Why is achieving pair-dom an HEA experience?

Rowena Cherry pointed out in her blog post of Sunday April 19, 2009 that there is a declining fertility among humans -- (not mentioning the concerns some scientists have about the fertility of many other species on this planet) -- and her observations actually pertain to this discussion.

As Guest Editor, J. J. Abrams focused the May 2009 issue of Wired (you all know the STAR TREK IMAX movie will be out in May -- we all have to see that!) all around PUZZLES, which is exemplified in everything from video games to the puzzle of declining fertility.

J. J. Abrams avoided doing any articles on the techniques and craft of writing, but this issue is the meat-and-potatoes of the writer's craft.

Writing a story is identical to the act of solving a puzzle. Just as with a jigsaw puzzle, for example, you start with a pile of pieces, maybe some assembled chunks, maybe some pieces that don't belong to THIS puzzle, and try to put a frame around it and fill in the images to make sense.

The writer's task is to communicate a pattern to the story-consumer that makes sense to the consumer (not the writer, necessarily), and delivers a magical emotional whammy, which in Romance is the HEA ending, clinched pair-bond.

And frankly, SOLVING PUZZLES has been a subject I've been puzzling about recently. The whole universe is a puzzle. Each novel that uses "world building" such as Jess Granger mentioned in her guest blog is a puzzle solved, with pieces left over for a sequel or maybe a new series.

Jess says the universe itself is "complicated" and therefore the universes she constructs are also complicated to reflect the real world and seem realistic to the reader. That complicated aspect makes telling a story hard.

As I see it, the universe we live our everyday lives in is COMPLICATED (this is the opposite of the view of most truly High Souls, Gurus, Great Teachers, Prophets, etc. (people who really know the answers to the puzzle).

So as Rowena points out, we have a complex puzzle to solve within the complicated universe we live in (or seem to live in), if we're going to keep living in it.

J. J. Abrams' issue of Wired focuses all the feature articles on and around solving the complex puzzle he calls THE MAGIC OF MYSTERY, and I'm saving the best for last here. This issue is replete with fascinating tidbits about the human interest in puzzles (Romance is obviously more than half mystery, isn't it?) even including stage magic tricks and the formula for WD-40 revealed!

Solving the puzzle of what another person is - that's always a driving force behind every Romance, and even behind human sexuality! Sometimes the urgency of solving the puzzle of the OTHER comes from our own, inner need to solve the puzzle of "who" we are - really. A true mate will reflect your identity. If you don't like yourself, you'll never fall in love by solving the puzzle of another person's being.

So on page 32 of Wired, there's a feature called DEAR MR. KNOW-IT-ALL where a reader asks, "My brother swears that the twin towers were felled by explosives planted there by the FBI. I've presented him with reams of evidence to the contrary, but he hasn't wavered. Will he ever see the light?"

And the psychologist answers, NO. Not only will he never see the light, but it isn't the brother's responsibility to force him to. And the article explains why so many cling so stubbornly to ANY conspiracy theory that comes along. "The human brain has evolved to find patterns, which is useful when avoiding saber-toothed tigers but less so when confronted with opaque and complex events."

We solve puzzles by finding PATTERNS. We're hard-wired pattern-finders.

The next question to the psychologist is by someone who "helped" finish his mother's crossword puzzle -- and a later article revisits this issue, concluding that it isn't HELP when you solve a puzzle FOR someone. Crossword puzzle workers in particular find it distressing when someone "helps" without being asked. Maybe it's like coitus interruptus?

Another article points out how bitterly ungrateful humans would be to aliens who dropped down and GAVE US the answers to the puzzle of the universe. It occurs to me to wonder if maybe that's why G-d didn't give us all the answers at Mount Sinai, but rather just more puzzles.

There is some seriously artistic thematic structuring behind this issue of Wired which consists of apparently random tidbits. If you look it over at the newsstand, prepare to stand there quite a while flipping pages. The index is pretty worthless, and the slick pages are full of huge pictures and ittsy-teensy print you can't read on the glossy paper in a fluorescent light.

On page 122 there's a photo-spread of THE AMERICAN STONEHENGE along with a lot of very small words about the monument. The standing stones were built recently and designed to be a mystery. The builder is kept secret too. It's supposed to contain a clue to how to recreate civilization after everything collapses. It's called THE GEORGIA GUIDESTONES. The first photo shows Hebrew words -- there are many other languages on there, too.

Right before the item on the American Stonehenge is a 3 double-page Star Trek comic book spread where Spock is marooned on a deserted planet and musing on how he got there. It's rather good.

Before the Comic is a spread on solving the puzzle of protein structure. Among the little items on how to do stage magic you'll find an editorial quote of Arthur C. Clark about any sufficiently advanced science appears to be magic.

The whole issue is about magic and mystery, solving the puzzle of how magic is DONE. There are gamers puzzles, and an item on why video game players shun cheating by asking someone who has beaten the game what the trick is. This relates back to the Q&A on solving your Mom's crossword puzzle for her, and to the theme that humans are puzzle-solvers, and that the magic is in the mystery.

The conclusion editorial points out that it isn't HAVING the solution that's important -- it's the experience of solving the puzzle - of living through it all step by step, of doing the conquering yourself. It is the PROCESS that is fascinating to humans -- the process of discovering or assembling or imposing an order on what we perceive. It might almost serve as an answer to the riddle of "what is the purpose of life?" -- to solve puzzles, to revel in mystery.

That's why writers work so hard to arrange a plot into a pattern that will induce the reader to walk through the protagonist's experience, step by step, a mile in their moccasins. That's why "spoilers" don't spoil a novel. That's why some readers read the ENDING first. HEA, Happily Ever After, isn't what the story is about. The story is about the process of getting there.

LIFE IS PROCESS, and the process is apperceiving PATTERNS. Even if the pattern actually does not exist! (as with the conspiracy theorists -- but just because they might be wrong about the pattern doesn't mean they're wrong in their conclusion!)

So LIFE IS PROCESS -- this May 2009 issue of Wired is full of very concrete items, lots of photographs, very visual and very concrete things -- all showing not telling the huge, deep, vast complexity of the universe we live in. The articles are short and single-pointed, not the rambling musings I post here.

Reading the May 2009 Wired is in itself a PROCESS. As with all SHOW DON'T TELL successes, it delivers the reader to a process which lets the reader figure out the puzzle of what the magazine is about. Having arrived at the conclusion themselves, the readers then learn something for themselves, a far more powerful and life-affirming way of acquiring a lesson than merely being told.

But now turn to page 82 (it doesn't have a number - count from page 79) for the one item that might be worth the price of the magazine to you if they don't post this graphic to the web.

The magazine has posted the image to the web here:

It's a double-page spread of 10 circles with words on spokes around them (like sunshine rays), an image inside each circle, and a label on the circle. Lines of words connect all the circles to each other in a crisscrossing pattern.

There is a row of three circles across the top of the double page, a row of 4 circles across the middle of the page, and a row of three circles across the bottom. It's dazzling and dizzying with all the tiny words on the shiny paper.

The title of the article (and this one graphic 2 page spread is the whole article) is THE ENIGMATRIX, "In the universe of puzzles, codes, and games, everything is connected. Here's how." The article is by Steven Lockart, and I wish I knew him! Though he's got me out-classed by a parsec or three. I'm certain Jess Granger would appreciate this complicated diagram!

In Lockart's diagram, the circle on the far left of the middle row is labeled MATH. The circle on the far right of the middle row is labeled MAGIC. It lays out like this (with large numbers of tiny words spread all around).


MATH ----- GAMES ----- PUZZLES ---------------------MAGIC


Now take that array and turn it 90 degrees counter clockwise.

And what do you see?


And the connecting Pathways of Lockart's diagram contain labels pertaining to real-life processes very closely expressing the essences of the Major Arcana that are usually laid along those pathways -- and it all makes sense if you stare at it long enough.

For a simple example the Path from MYSTERIES down to PLOT says DETECTIVE.

The words are concepts humans have assembled with which we attack the primordial soup and create PATTERNS. Or discern patterns. Or perhaps there is no verb for what we do with patterns. The words represent patterns of smaller concepts that we scoop together into that word -- all very abstract ideas, all graphically presented in SHOW DON'T TELL, the hardest concept a writer must master when assembling the bits of a story idea into a pattern someone else can recognize in their own life.

Perception of PATTERNS is the core of what every "soul-mate" attraction is all about. And in fact, it may be the core of what raw sexual attraction is about -- genes needing other genes to create the whole pattern of a new person.

We "see" another person's genes in their appearance (Astrology reveals these patterns in facial structure, body structure, all associated with personality, too.) And we're attracted to the bits that are missing in ourselves, so we can become "whole." One.

So the genres of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery, and Romance are all based on or contain or pivot around this side-wise TREE OF LIFE diagram connecting MAGIC as the source with MATH as the result, all through puzzles and games, ricocheting off of CODE, GAME THEORY, BOARD GAMES, CARD GAMES, PLOT, AND MYSTERY.

You gotta see this diagram.

Then drop a comment here telling me what you'd like to discuss next. How to choose a protagonist? The Creationist's view of Dinosaurs? Why the HEA ending is such an ironclad requirement of the Romance form? How to make a recognizable pattern out of a story idea when the whole universe builds itself in your mind?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Fertility: food for thought

Business guru Chet Holmes has an advertisement running on the CNBC channel of XM Satellite radio.

In making a point about the importance of making your marketing pitch interesting, topical, and relevant, Mr. Holmes informs businessmen (and women) that our grandfathers' sperm count used to be something impressive... 100,000,000 per whatever the standard liquid measurement is for semen. Now, it is allegedly 50,000,000.

I was especially struck by this because suddenly my alien superimpregnators didn't looks quite so super. I'd done my research in a modern fertility clinic.

According to :
World Health Organization guidelines say a normal sperm count consists of 20 million sperm per ejaculate, with 50 percent motility and 60 percent normal morphology (form). The amount of semen in the ejaculation matters, too. If the concentration is less than 20 million sperm per milliliter of ejaculate, it may impair fertility. Still, if the sperm show adequate forward motility -- the ability to swim -- concentrations as low as 5 to 10 million can produce a pregnancy.

It's interesting to note that only 25 years ago, counts of 100 million sperm per ejaculate were the norm. With time, the effects of our toxic environment and/or lifestyle seem to be gradually degrading male sperm counts.

Last January 2008, editor and columnist Mark Alpert in Scientific American discussed declining female fertility with particular reference to bisphenol A, which is a component of plastics used in many consumer products including baby bottles and bottled water bottles.

Apparently, bisphenol A can cause miscarriages, birth defects, and can interfere with the growth of egg cells not only in the bottled water drinker, but also in her daughters and grand-daughters.

Another problem for all of us is what is in our tap water, because of all the prescriptions (used, or discarded unused) that are flushed down the toilet. I remember being appalled at the hospice staff's standard procedure when my mother in law passed away in our home a few years ago. All manner of laxatives, diuretics, heart medicine, narcotics, stimulants went down the toilet. It was the law.


Alien-human romances are wonderful fodder for Romance authors. One of the favorite premises for an alien romance is that the hero's race needs fertile women because their own have either all died out, or are no longer fertile, and so the heroes have to kidnap suitable candidates from Earth.


Maybe in a few hundred years, we Earthwomen will go off and kidnap alien males for similar reasons. That, also, is a popular premise, I'm sure.

My thought for the day is that science is following art. We have several eminently plausible explanations why the premise for alien abduction romances could be utterly convincing and topical.

By the way... not every nation on Earth is challenged.

Rowena Cherry
If it's April 19th, my interview is still running on

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Guest blogger, Jess Granger. The Universe, It's Complicated

The Universe, It’s Complicated
By: Jess Granger

Why does the universe have to be so complicated? Because I say so, that’s why.

Sometimes I wish world building weren’t such an intricate challenge, yet every time I approach my dealings with intergalactic politics within my books, I feel this urge to make things complex. I feel like they have to be complex. Nothing else would make any sense. I have a hard time believing that the entire universe would boil itself down to us vs. them.

Now I’m all for intergalactic war, but would it ever really be the good guys vs. the bad guys? What about those other guys who claim they don’t have a hand in the battle but are facilitating smuggling of one side’s resources to a third party that is looking to build their military strength so they can eventually overrun the losing side of the first war in a second war, that is if they can break their treaty with yet another party who has intergalactic trade agreements with both sides.

While it might seem hard to follow, it seems a much more plausible to me. Things are hardly ever black and white. Even on our single insignificant little planet, we’ve got myriads of languages, cultures, foods, animals, climates, clothing styles, etc.

So the universe as an intergalactic community needs to be at least that complex.

But that’s where actually writing the story gets a little crazy. I love world building details, but I don’t want the story to get lost in them. My focus is on two people and their struggle to survive and fall in love within the universe I’ve created.

My focus has to be on them, and so I can’t let myself overwhelm the story with too much detail, even though the detail exists. It’s a delicate balance, complexity and simplicity, they have to go hand in hand. Complexity makes the universe feel real, and simplicity helps us understand it.

I could get caught up in the world building and lose the story. Story is everything.

So everything in writing becomes a decision. Should I explain this, do I leave out that? What is really important to the story?

A lot of details end up implied, some of the explanation has to wait until later, but hopefully keeping the focus on the story allows the pace of the novel to remain a wild adventure ride. At the same time, I look for that complexity to give the story scope, depth, twists, turns and complications.

And so the universe isn’t simple, unfortunately neither is writing a book.

But I wouldn’t do it any other way.

Jess Granger
Debut Berkley Author
Beyond the Rain Aug ‘09

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Spectral Lovers

I’m working on a short, erotic ghost romance, which is intended to be more lighthearted than “Heart Diamond” (now available in print in the anthology DEMANDING DIAMONDS from Ellora’s Cave), my ghost Quickie from last year. Any romance with a ghostly hero presents the problem of how to consummate love between corporeal and incorporeal characters. THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR unites the pair after the heroine’s death, but most contemporary romance authors won’t want to follow that path. (I’ve read only a couple of books that have.) In the film GHOST, the deceased hero possesses a medium’s body to share a farewell embrace with his widow, but that’s only a temporary arrangement. To possess a living person permanently (unless some motive could be contrived for the host to give willing consent) would be evil. True reincarnation, rebirth as a baby, would take too long for romance purposes; hero and heroine would end up at least a generation apart in age.

One solution is to have the ghost take over the body of someone who has just died. Melinda’s husband in the TV series GHOST WHISPERER recently returned to life that way. At first he had amnesia, remembering neither his own life nor his host body’s pre-death experiences. I used this device in “Heart Diamond,” although in my story the hero’s memory remains intact throughout. Of course, the narrative must make it perfectly clear that the body’s original owner is gone for good. If the process is that easy, after all, why can’t any spirit jump right back in and reanimate its corpse? (Which, by the way, is what folkloric precautions against vampirism are designed to prevent.)

That last question brings up the issue of the theology of spectral apparitions. If a ghost is the actual spirit of the dead person rather than a sort of psychic recording on the atmosphere of a haunted location, why don’t all dead people hang around as ghosts? J. K. Rowling’s readers wondered about this point for the first five or six books of the Harry Potter series, until one of the Hogwarts ghosts answered it. On GHOST WHISPERER the familiar “unfinished business” theory seems to explain why some of the dead linger on Earth. They can’t “go into the light” until Melinda helps them resolve their problems. My fictional theory of ghostly persistence combines this explanation with the idea that surviving as an earthbound ghost is analogous to Purgatory; the spirits have either a task to complete or misdeeds to atone for (or both). I’ve always thought Marley’s ghost in Dickens’ CHRISTMAS CAROL is undergoing a purgatorial ordeal and will be redeemed in the course of facilitating Scrooge’s redemption.

Back to the topic of spectral romance, suppose the ghost can interact with the living person in a tangible way? Some legendary and fictional phantoms can produce poltergeist activity, after all. The ghost in “Heart Diamond” frolics sexually with his still-living fiancĂ©e but must draw on her life energy to get the power to become semi-solid for brief periods. In the current work in progress, the ghost will remain incorporeal and use his poltergeist-like powers to enable the heroine to feel his touch. There’s literary precedent for erotic dalliance between the living and the incorporeal dead; in “The Nature of the Evidence” (1923) by May Sinclair, the deceased first wife literally comes between her widower and his second wife. The “climactic” scene occurs behind a closed door. The husband, however, later testifies that passion is much more intense when not impeded by the body.

Then again, if you have your heart set on a lover with a body, alchemy or some form of futuristic science could be used to construct an artificial body for him to inhabit. For a benign ghost, as opposed to the malicious or predatory specter of horror fiction, there are many viable (if that’s the right word when speaking of the restless dead) possibilities.

Margaret L. Carter (

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Guest blogger, Susan Kelley, On Vampires

Is it me or is the vampire craze out control?

First there were an invasion of the cold, blood suckers into in the adult romance market. Then most recently they've moved into the young adult market. My own daughter was crazy waiting for Stephanie Meyer's latest. Yes, I did read them and I too found the main character vampire to be indeed heroic, sensitive and even sexy. But enough already. I want a warm body in my romances. A warm body with a beating heart and blood in his veins. I want a hero that's very much alive, not undead. The vampire is historically the enemy of mankind, of humans, so how did we get to this point of seeing him as attractive and desirable?

My two fantasy series have plenty of both. I can only tell you about one of them. I don't want to jinx that other series before I sell it. In my upcoming fantasy novel, The Keepers of Sulbreth, the hero is a bastard swordsman living in a medieval world and fighting demons and prejudice. He's handsome, arrogant and angry at the privileged nobility including his king. All that can only land him in trouble.

In my current romance series consisting of the books, The Greater Good, The Lesser Evil and the recently released third book, A Ruthless Good, my heroes have hot bodies and absolutely no paranormal powers. They don't drink blood either. If you too want like your men and women to have those thudding hearts in their chests so they can be broken and healed, there are many books out there.

If you're like my daughter, there's always 'Twilight' to watch over and over again now that it's available on dvd.

Read excerpts of my novels and previews of upcoming releases on my website and blog.

Admin note:
Thanks to Susan Kelley for sharing a guest blog.
Thanks to Jacqueline Lichtenberg for offering her regular day to a guest in her absence this week.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Vid Interview: Fans and the Writing Process

Linnea Sinclair - Fans and the Writing Process from Romantic Times BOOKreviews on Vimeo.

Games of Command by Linnea Sinclair—SF Romance from Bantam Spectra—Excerpts and more at

She tossed a light parting comment over her shoulder as she headed back to the hatchway. “When we land, you get to buy me a beer, Kel-Paten. And if we don’t make it,” she stopped at the hatchway and turned, “you still get to buy me a beer. In the hell of your choice.”

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Worldbuilding: You have to suffer to be a beautiful being

A lot of the most creative worldbuilding in speculative or science fiction borrows heavily from our own, obscure human cultures. Reading publications like National Geographic, Scientific American, The Prehistory of Sex, Coming of Age In Samoa, Manwatching... for example are a great source of inspiration.

If Ronald Tobias is correct that there are only twenty or so "Master Plots", it could well be true that there are a finite number of ways in which a being can suffer in order to improve his or her attractiveness to other members of the species.

I started a list. My list is in no particular order.

Chinese foot binding.
Head binding (Pharoahs did, I believe, so those distinctive crowns would fit).
Brazilian waxing.
Pudenda plucking.
Various piercings...from feminine ear lobes to bolts through male members.
Elongation by means of piercing and the introduction of "spacers" in earlobes, lower lips.
Neck elongation, as with the "giraffe" women.
Labia elongation.
Tooth filing, and other forms of dental intervention.
Botox injections.
Plastic surgery including nose jobs, face lifts, chin and cheek implants, breast reduction, breast augmentation, liposuction, ear pinning.
Leg elongation.
Toe breaking and straightening.
Permanent make up (more tattooing).
Extreme corset wearing.

I'm sure there are many, many more. So, what I am pondering is, would any alien species most likely go to similar lengths? Or would they think that we are out of our minds?

Best wishes,
Rowena Cherry

This is absolutely nothing to do with beauty, but I'd like to thank everyone who supported the New Covey Trailer Awards last month.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Power of Metaphor

It was recently announced that the new administration would discard the term “war on terror.” I cheered aloud when I read that news. Shortly thereafter, two letters to the Baltimore SUN scoffed at the idea that “renaming a war” has any “merit.” Those people are ignoring (or ignorant of?) the power of metaphor. Words shape as well as express thoughts. The metaphorical frames we construct for raw experience shape our real-world responses. The “war on terror” concept grants criminals and outlaws a legitimacy they don’t deserve. It also produces a “hammer and nail” mindset (if your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail). Furthermore, the totalizing image of “war” can be used to justify extraordinary measures that citizens ordinarily wouldn’t tolerate.

Next I’d like to see the abolition of the even more pernicious “war on drugs” metaphor. “Drugs,” like “terrorism,” don’t constitute a nation or group of people against whom we can wage combat. In the case of drugs, we run into more problematic extensions of the metaphor than with terrorism. In a “war on drugs,” it’s not hard to identify the soldiers; law enforcement officers fill that role. But who’s the enemy? Drug dealers only, or all users and addicts? And what would constitute “victory”? A “war on drugs,” like a “war on poverty” (and who’s the enemy there? poor people?), has no end. It’s a potentially infinite devourer of funds and energy, not to mention a justification for ill-considered, extreme policies. (After all, we’re at war and therefore in a perpetual state of crisis, right?) A medical rather than belligerent model of the drug problem could re-frame it in terms that might lead to productive solutions.

As writers, we should be mindful of the power of language and urge others to handle this dynamic resource with care.

Margaret L. Carter (

Tuesday, April 07, 2009


Here's wishing everyone who celebrates some Spring holiday or another a good, healthy, and happy year.

I'll be offline for Passover, and my next post will likely be April 21.

Meanwhile, here below is a form I made up with (google documents). It has a page where I should be able to see a graph of the answers. I have no idea if this will work, but another blogger used it and it worked for h im. It's worth a try.

So choose your favorite type of blog entry -- or drop a comment explaining what we do right, and what we shouldn't be doing at all here.

Tell us what you'd like to see more of.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

BOTTOM LINE - I can't make this survey field fit our blog window. Use the scroll bars and see if you can make it work anyway.

If you want surveys, we'll find a better way to do this.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Vid Interview: World Building and Personalities

Linnea Sinclair - World Building and Personalities from Romantic Times BOOKreviews on Vimeo.


AN ACCIDENTAL GODDESS by Linnea Sinclair, A Romantic Times Gold Medal Top Pick!

That thought jolted her. What if… what if she spent the rest of her life here, being just Gillie? Not the Kiasidira. Not a Raheiran Sorceress. Not anyone’s Goddess or consort. Not even a captain in the Raheiran Special Forces. But just… Gillie. Just Gillie and Mack. -

Sunday, April 05, 2009

A Pirate's Rant

"it's only stealing if you take something away from someone - so if i wasn't going to pay to see the movie if even if i couldn't watch it for free, then it would be ok if watched it for nothing - cos i wouldn't have paid to see it even if i couldn't get it for free - right?
if you are working in movies and you can't support yourself perhaps you should give up on a dream you're never going to achieve and step back into the real world."

To read the rest of this proud freeloader's remarks (I only lifted what I thought might be a Fair Use amount) you may find the discussion of Wolverine and some lovely shots of Hugh Jackman in action here:

It's been an interesting week.

J K Rowling and other bestselling authors took on SCRIBD, and the Times of London Online reported sympathetically.

On a Copyright Alliance blog, a commentator suggested that President Obama's gift to The Queen of England may have set an unfortunate example of piratical behaviour.
How about the Queen? Should she have to give her Ipod back? Technically what she did is infringement!

Another interesting discussion of infringement

Apparently, there is a report that someone at the prestigious TED conference has analyzed morality and petty theft, and the conclusions may tend to be rather depressing.

If I read the argument correctly, humans are hardwired to cheat and steal if they think they can get away with it, especially if they know someone else who does so.

Editorializing now:
When I started teaching, it wasn't easy to steal copyrighted material. Those were the days of carbon copies and the Banda machine which you rolled to press out glorified and very messy copies one at a time, and before you could do that, you had to use an old fashioned typewriter, and type every character. Your time had to be worth very little for piracy to make economic sense!

Now, photocopiers are everywhere, and they probably do not come with the same warnings that are stuck on FedEx Kinkos machines for the public to use. "Copying Is Illegal" is printed large on materials intended for school use, and teachers copy the materials, warnings and all, and give them to children. A generation has grown up honestly believing that, if you don't have the budget, it is fine to copy and share, and nothing bad will happen.

What a difference 25 years make! Where will we be (morally) in another 25 years, assuming that Nostradamus was mistaken, and the world doesn't end in 2012.

Will there be an entertainment industry? Will it be like ancient Rome again, with the Emperors responsible for putting on mass entertainment (free) to pacify the masses and deciding --based on brutal popularity polls and Imperial whim-- whether we are paid and how much, or whether we are put to death for not being appropriately amusing?

Also, what will happen with regard to the law, and theft? If Robin Hood were King of England, would he tolerate several million lesser Robin Hoods all over the merry realm, making up their own minds who had more than their fair share? If theft becomes a matter of interpretation... some sorts of stealing are acceptable... well, it won't be like feudal England.

Bring back the pillory and the stocks! (And the rotten, soft vegetables. I wouldn't want to hurt anyone).

PS. For those artists and writers and musicians who want their copyrighted work taken down from "file-sharing" sites, look at the Footer of the site in question for words such as "Copyright". That's the text link to find out what their requirements are for a "Take Down Notice". Usually, you will need a screen capture, and dual processor so you can have two windows open at the same time. You also need an ISBN. Not all works have ISBNs.

You also need an email account that suggests that you are the copyright holder. This, too, is a problem these days.

Here's the form of words that one site requires:

Pursuant to 17 USC 512(c)(3)(A), this communication serves as a statement that:

1. I am the exclusive rights holder for [TITLE OF WORK] ISBN [OF WORK], the titles of copyrighted material being infringed upon, which were published [DATE OF COPYRIGHT/DATE OF PUBLISHING];

2. These exclusive rights are being violated by material available upon your site at the following URL(s): [GIVE THE URLS TO THE DOWNLOADS AND TO THE PAGES OFFERING YOUR WORKS]

3. I have a good faith belief that the use of this material in such a fashion is not authorized by [YOUR NAME] the copyright holder, the copyright holder's agent, or the law;

4. Under penalty of perjury in a United States court of law, I state that the information contained in this notification is accurate, and that I am authorized to act on the behalf of the exclusive rights holder for the material in question;

5. I may be contacted by the following methods

I hereby request that you remove or disable access to this material as it appears on your service in as expedient a fashion as possible. Thank you.

Please be aware that if you send a take down notice, the site is likely to post a note telling the world that you were the person who requested that the download be removed.

Thursday, April 02, 2009


The 2008 book AMERICAN NERD: THE STORY OF MY PEOPLE, by Benjamin Nugent, was recommended to me during a session on fan fiction at the recent International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts. The following paragraph is the mini-review of it from my April newsletter:

Part 1, "The History of the Nerd," contains a definition of the term and an exploration of its historical background; Mary Bennet in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and Victor Frankenstein are among the prototypes of the stereotype. I was especially intrigued by the chapter on the rise of formal physical education and the "jock" as the standard against which the "nerd" evolved as less desirable. At the same time, ethnic stereotypes became entangled with the distinction between the two types: Anglos and Nordics—manly and therefore good; Jews and Asians—effete intellectuals and therefore not so good. The discussion of the link between nerdism and Asperger's syndrome also interested me. Nugent uses an overarching metaphor of nerds perceived by others as machine-like. Before the nineteenth century, human beings were defined by their rationality, as opposed to animals; since the Romantic movement, human beings are more likely to be defined by their emotion and intuition, as opposed to machines. Statements and implications in the chapters on nerd subcultures, however, impressed me less positively. Although Nugent claims adolescent absorption in video games, science fiction, and role-playing games, his knowledge of those fields appears shallow—or, more charitably, what he got out of those pursuits is extremely different from what I and the people I know get out of them. He writes of these and other "nerd" activities in what comes across as a condescending tone toward a phase he eventually grew out of. And the book's final chapter, "My Credentials," reveals that to be precisely the case. Moreover, his implication that teenage nerds need to be saved from a terrible fate of lifelong social and sexual isolation is not only insulting but inaccurate. High school is not the world. For a corrective, read the long, complex essay "Why Nerds Are Unpopular," easily found by googling the title; its premise is that nerds don't fit into the dominant high school culture (which has "no function for its form to follow") because they're already absorbed in real-world interests such as learning substantive material and making things work Not only that, many of us manage to find our own kind and mate, reproduce, and lead productive lives without giving up our specialized interests. Nugent's book contains lots of solid information and provocative ideas, but read it as deeply colored by the author's personal history. When he claims “self-loathing” as a typical nerdish trait, he’s apparently speaking for his own younger self.

In this review I didn’t mention my autobiographical experience, that at the age of sixteen I first noticed my future husband because he was the only person my age (actually, the only person, period) I’d met who, like me, read and wrote speculative fiction. We’ve been married for over forty years, and we still read and write SF and fantasy. Not only that, we took up D&D in First Edition and introduced all four of our sons to it as soon as they grew literate enough. We’ve also had a “normal” life that’s successful by middle-class American standards. Navy Captains and their wives can be nerds, too! The label hadn’t yet become widespread in my teen years, but I clearly recognize myself in the profile.

Although Nugent mentions at least one positive portrayal of the stereotype, REVENGE OF THE NERDS (which I confess I haven’t watched), I wish he had discussed others. Lisa on the SIMPSONS is one of the few approximately non-dysfunctional characters in the series. Willow in BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER helps to save the world several times (in addition to almost destroying it once), as does Hermione in the Harry Potter series. Gunther in the “Luann” comic strip has revealed himself to be creative and compassionate as well as intelligent and awkward.

Nugent brings up his youthful conviction that nerds are superior to jocks (okay, a bit of compensatory defensiveness, maybe, but the point has some validity). He backs off from that topic, though, leaving the fundamental question unexamined: Why should an obsessive preoccupation with and exhaustive knowledge of football, basketball, or reality TV be more socially acceptable and valued than a similar interaction with role-playing games, speculative fiction, or Japanese culture? The difference seems to be that the latter interests are embraced by statistical minorities (probably of higher than average intelligence, I still maintain—look at the educational demographics of LOCUS subscribers or, for that matter, members of the Romance Writers of America). In my youth I felt like an alien, as if I were the “only one of my kind.” Today, thanks to the Internet, aliens among us can find each other. That’s mostly a Good Thing.

Margaret L. Carter (