Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Bits and Pieces of Catchup

I think one of my greatest ambitions is to write SHORT blog posts.

Didn't make it today. I did try. Really, I did!

I'm way behind on getting packed for Westercon which will be held in Tempe, AZ, right up the road from me over the July 4th weekend. I've just filled out the speaker questionnaire but don't have my schedule yet. Anyone reading this blog who's planning on Westercon? I didn't see any Alien Romance panels, but signed up for everything that might lead into such a discussion. Come help me open (warp?) some minds.


I hope you have had time to read my previous post and all the stuff linked to it. Could take you a week to wade through all that.


Waiting for everyone to catch up, here's some bits and pieces of followup on other open topics woven into a writing challenge.

I know there's a novelization of the Trek movie, and I haven't read it yet. (yet being the operative word -- I sooo want the DVD and book; I'll pass on the action figures.)

There's a wild and thriving ongoing set of posts on twitter about people seeing the new ST movie 4 and 5 times and more. Some posts saying "what's so great about ST?" and others in goshwow shock. Other long time fans of Trek are still seeing it FOR THE FIRST TIME.

Twitter is carrying some criticism of the actors, some snearing at the entire concept.

I saw one review that really lowered my opinion of both the reviewer and the publication, calling the ST movie melodramatic.

It isn't.

But I can see how someone assigned to review a movie set in a universe they think of as kiddie stuff or teen-action-stuff (SF has borne that perjorative all along) would find this script "melodramatic." That's a point of view that always happens when someone is not engaged in the fictional universe. If you're wholly engaged, the emotional tension does not seem overblown or out of proportion to the issue. But that works only if you really understand the issue.

If everyone is running for the exit in screaming panic, and you're just standing there, you should ask yourself, "What do they know that I don't know?"

Reviewers who slap the label "melodramatic" on a piece of fiction generally haven't asked themselves that question about the audience that does not see the story as melodramatic. In fact, the rest of the audience may be seeing the story as understated while "sophisticated" reviewers trash it as melodramatic. This is in general, not just about this particular Star Trek movie.

It's not the writer's fault usually. "Melodrama" is not a property of the text or script. It exists only in the reader/viewer's mind. (You won't likely find anyone else who holds such an opinion).

There is one flaw a writer might introduce that could give some viewers the impression of melodrama, and that's failing to display in show-don't-tell the character motivations, sensitivities, hot-button issues, loyalties, friendships, and relationships, all clearly derived from the theme.

The JJ Abram's Star Trek movie is written to give you as much of these character and situation traits as possible in the time alotted (and fit in all the commercially requisite action). Anyone have an opinion on what the envelope theme of this film is? Perhaps it's "The Challenges Temper The Character Strengths?" I.e. what character strengths are there already get made stronger by challenges.

When a reviewer sees a movie as "melodramatic" it may not be the reviewer's fault for being unobservant, disinterested, or prejudiced. It might be the "fault" of the review publication for assigning the wrong person to do the review. If someone has a strong emotional reaction to a piece of fiction, a reaction which embarrasses them deep inside, they might slap a distancing label on the fiction -- as if the fiction is at fault for their own refusal to confront their own emotions. You can't tell if that's the case just be reading a review of a film you have seen.

Or the negative reaction might possibly be the fault of the professional reviewer for choosing to review a product because it's popular so that the review will get read rather than reviewing something else that's less popular.

When I read that accusation of "melodrama" against Star Trek (in the context of "it's not a good enough movie for this much hype and people who are enchanted with it have something wrong with them") it brought up questions about how people interact with fiction, fictional universes, and with their own expectations and anticipations.

There's a lot of hype for the Trek movie, and as usual fans are divided into various camps regarding how well or poorly this or that favorite aspect was handled. In general, and overall, there's a consensus of approval and wait-and-see from the old fans, and some astonished interest from new or younger people. To them, it's just a good action movie without a lot of subtext. To veteran fans, it's ALL subtext.

So public discussion makes non-fans (or even non-viewers of Star Trek) curious, and they go see the movie, and express their reactions in public (on twitter maybe).

That's how you sell a lot of movie tickets, you see. Word of mouth (or tweets) motivates people better than any amount of paid commercial time on TV.

All these thoughts are related to some very abstract thinking I've been doing lately, about how fiction strikes a person at different stages of maturity. (I've been reading a number of children's books for my review column.)

And there are subjects flickering in the back of my mind about how the USA used to have so much of a common language and experience, and how that's all been destroyed.

The base cohesiveness of our society has been shattered. That lack of imagery and trivia in common is taking a huge toll, and most people don't realize why these horrific things are happening. New stuff will arise to take its place, because humans need stuff in common with each other, but meanwhile we've got a generation without a cultural connection to anyone other than those with interests in common. The wireless web is changing THAT, too, but it hasn't taken hold yet.

Not everyone paid attention to the Presidential Election! Those that did formed cliques, as usual in politics. But we can't even say "everyone" heard Obama's speeches other than snippets on news shows. You can read his words on the web, but it's not the same as watching his delivery.

Recently, I met someone who had worshipful, shining, beatific eyes every time she mentioned (often) how much she TRUSTS Obama to do the "right thing." She was absolutely pro-Israel, and seemed totally unaware of Hillary Clinton's declaration that none of the USA's verbal agreements with Israel will be kept, period.

I was thinking, as I watched her speaking to other pro-Israel and not-so-pro-Israel people, that if I put her conversation into a story as dialogue, the editor would X it all out because it's implausible the way she ignored everything everyone else said and insisted on how much she TRUSTS Obama, and that trust solves all problems. (talk about melodrama -- her conversation dripped melodrama -- I could hardly believe I was watching a real person not a character).

Other people listened to her politely, but didn't CHALLENGE her thinking (remember the idea the Star Trek movie is about character tempered by challenge). People just expressed their own opinions, without pointing out the fallacies in hers -- they could see she would explode emotionally if challenged, and that would be disruptive to the group. So she left without having her certainties questioned, as one would expect in DIALOGUE. Her "story" and "plot" did not progress because of this group conversation.

Which of course leads into a point I've made on this blog before, that:



Somone who prefers to read non-fiction, but has to watch the Star Trek movie ( because maybe their wife dragged them?) might take the film's dialogue as "melodramatic" because it tries, in a very short time, to lay out for you a set of comprehensible motives.

Also consider this is a feature film. The series was designed to be an ensemble show, and each of the characters got a 50 minute (back when there were fewer commercial minutes per hour - maybe 49 minutes) show in which to be introduced. But JJ Abrams was starting from scratch to introduce these (NEW) characters to a new audience, all in one movie.

The script actually does that introduction fairly well within the time alotted. The characters of course come off shallow if all you know is what you see in this new movie, shallow and perhaps overly impressed with themselves.

One of the requirements for good feature film script writing is that there is ONE star character, and maybe a co-star, and all the rest are SUPPORTING characters. Kirk is of course nominally assigned the "starring role" -- but the truth from the POV of many viewers is that Spock is the star. (yep, I'm one of those). Because this show was (will be again?) a TV show (already another movie is in the works), the ENSEMBLE CAST requires fudging the "star-co-star-supporting" paradigm.

If, in your mind, you're superimposing these characters on the old TV characters, you see disparities and are so busy thinking what the old characters would do that you don't totally engage in and thus BELIEVE the current characters.

The result is that you see melodrama instead of drama because you think the characters are OVER reacting.

Well, is this woman who "trusts" Obama "overreacting?" She doesn't think so, and most of you don't either. She thinks she has good reason to trust him, but can't say what those reasons are. She's just bewildered that anyone might squint sideways at Obama and wonder if WYSIWYG.

It all has to do with how we "judge" people and how we "judge" characters -- how we evaluate the values of another person.

And that brings us to the question of whether politicians (and say, actors?) whose "images" have been professionally built by spin-doctors are "characters" or "people."

And what has this all to do with creating that blockbuster TV show with Alien Romance that will change the world?

That woman was in love with Obama, even though she'd never met him. She couldn't separate the image from the man - the character from the person (as often happens with fans of a TV character who can't separate the actor from the character.)

The adoration I saw in her eyes was soooo totally "romance" -- it was Neptune at it's best, worshipful adoration. I'd seen fans of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Chekov, Uhura, and Scotty with that same beatific expression when discussing the lives of the characters as if they were the lives of the actors, or vice-versa.

I saw in her eyes the experience of JOY in being UNDERSTOOD and being SAFE AT LAST. (I'm not kidding; I saw that, but it may not actually have been there. I am always researching this Alien Romance problem even when wandering around the social fabric of my mundane existence!)

She was not an SF fan. She was ever so mundane. She was an older woman, well and securely married. Her husband was there and totally agreed with her assessment of Obama and apparently had no inkling that there could be a jealousy issue going on there.

Here was a woman so infatuated with a public image that is a "character" more than a "person" that she totally believes she's assessed him correctly.

That's what falling in love does. It cuts the critical faculties out of the circuit and allows you to believe the image you are projecting onto someone is the actual, real person and not a reflection of your own aspirations.

And that's exactly the state of mind you must have in order to "fall in love with" a real Alien From Outer Space.

Here's the thing about Neptune, though. What you see in another person through Neptune's veil is sometimes more TRUE than what you see through your critical faculties.

Sometimes, your critical faculties have been honed by training in very logical, practical ways. And because of that, sometimes your critical faculties will reject information that is actually pertinent simply because the information seems implausible.

That's how a professional reviewer could conclude that the JJ Abram's ST movie is "melodramatic." A reviewer often is trained as a critic (they aren't supposed to be the same function), and an art critic has to view art through his/her critical faculties.

But art, by its very nature, speaks to the subconscious, subverting all critical analysis. Even the art of the spin-doctor creating a politician's image for the media speaks to the subconscious. Spin-doctors work with the fabric of symbolism to get you to believe what they tell you in ways that mere words could never achieve.

The subconscious does not view the world through the conscious mind's critical faculties.

When the subconscious becomes convinced, it over-rules the conscious mind and asserts its opinion as the TRUTH. And subconscious can't be swayed by facts.

So, if we're going to create a TV show, an Alien Romance, that will argue our case the way Star Trek argues the case for SF, we have to include one character like the woman I met with the starry-eyes for Obama. This character has to speak for the human capacity to see past the obvious surface and into the true heart -- as McCoy does in Star Trek, and as this woman believes she has with Obama (which she may have; we'll see).

------and one more bit-------or maybe a piece?------

I've been talking a lot about social networking, the cure for the shattering of our culture as mentioned above.

Found this link on twitter

and on that page it says:

Interesting information from Compete.com that shows Facebook surging past MySpace in Monthly Unique Visitors and that Twitter has moved from #22 to #3 in the rankings of the top 25 social networking sites by monthly visits.

And another link on that social-media-optimization page is to an article on the "graying of facebook"




Last week I was at a meeting at Facebook and as Facebook was talking about their demographics, one of the statistics that struck me was facebook’s demographics is starting to mirror those of the U.S. of A.


Nevermind reading these whole articles (hey, I'm not the only long-winded person on the web!), just those two facts juxtaposed with the snatches on ST from Twitter and various reviews is telling us so much about where to find a lever long enough and where to stand to move the world toward respecting Alien Romance.

Here's another bit of the puzzle.


quotes my blog entry at

and reasons to the conclusion:

---------- THEGALAXYEXPRESS.NET ---------------
These days, authors aren’t just writers—they’re entrepreneurs.
----------END THEGALAXYEXPRESS.NET ----------

And that is what Jean Lorrah and I have been discussing with an ever increasing intensity.

Jean Lorrah is researching (she's a professor, you know? Research is her bag.) how to employ the techniques used by web based entrepreneurs to the needs of writers. Basically, it's not really a compatible set of techniques. A writer can't just take what these (big buck$ maker$) do and use it to sell books. Readers would run away in droves. But, as you can learn a lot by watching Mission: Impossible or McGiver or Burn Notice or Royal Pains, you can stoke your creative fires by subscribing to free things around the web.

Jean has found a Free Offer from one of the best teachers in the web-entrepreneur business which will open June 15, 2009 and run for a very short while.

See? That's one of their techniques -- short, quick opportunities that ignite your greed to get something others can't get! But to put our culture back together, everyone has to be able to get some specific thing that that everyone else has. We need things in common, not divisiveness.

Here's a link where you will be able to get the free offer (as of June 15th which is next Monday and I don't know how long it'll run). Jean says this is a good place to learn web marketing from Jim Daniels, who has been doing and teaching since 1996.


Now to the writing lesson.

If you want to write a BURN NOTICE type TV program to pitch to TV producers, but using (say) a web entrepreneur ( tall, blond, built, and HOT!) as the male lead, and perhaps the actress who stars in (and probably writes and produces and creates the music for) his YouTube videos, getting this free subscription would be a good start in scoping out the character of these people and finding some of the web-entrepreneur tricks that are like the spy-tricks used on BURN NOTICE.

The web entrepreneur tricks can be used as plot devices as High School Chemistry often served McGiver (and now Royal Pains).

Remember how I discussed the use of SETTING in telling a story when a Producer, J. Neil Schulman, mentioned how a Psychic Cruise could be the setting for a Monk or Murder She Wrote episode?


Here's a chance to do an exercise like that "USA Characters Welcome" pitch.

"Wagon Train To The Stars" became Star Trek because Wagon Train was the most popular, longest running, iconic TV show at the time (maybe other than Gunsmoke, but Gunsmoke took place mostly in one town).

What is the most popular TV show today? Or web-show? What is iconic in the USA? What is topping the ratings? What is the longest running or has the widest demographic? How do you pitch an Alien Romance to the general audience? What do kids and parents watch together?

Iconic Current Show into A New Setting.

We have to transpose that woman I met into the setting we need, and build a springboard into a CHEAP TO MAKE TV series. (Star Trek was cheap for its day, considering the state-of-the-art FX; and it looks it!)

A Web Entrepreneur's life would be a great SETTING, (mostly shot on a standing set of an office with lots of electronics; plus some location shots of hotel ballrooms for speeches; stock shots of airports; standing set hotel rooms -- pretty cheap) and I'm sure a worshipful woman would "fall for" his spin-doctored character in each episode, pissing off his Soul Mate.

Are there any Web Entrepreneur TV series yet? Have I come up with something new here? THE APPRENTICE MEETS MY FAVORITE MARTIAN?

Now consider what an Alien stranded on Earth would do for a living? In BURN NOTICE, we have a guy with no visible means of support using his spy skills to help people and make a few bucks in fees. Why wouldn't an ALIEN gravitate to electronic salesmanship to make a living?

Yes, of course there would be obstacles -- which points to conflict.

Today's audiences are filled with people who have been ousted from salaried jobs and are applying their talents to becoming "consultants" or self-employed entrepreneurs.

Tell me the story as an Alien Romance. I do hope you've read Linnea Sinclair's DOWNHOME ZOMBIE BLUES!!!

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. Love DOWN HOME ZOMBIE BLUES,of course. Always recommend it to my starship-shy SFR friends.

    I've observed people like the woman you mentioned and it seems to me they are this way because of an unmet emotional need from childhood. As you mentioned, the need to be loved and understood. Someone comes along who is portrayed or portrays him or herself as such and the needy person is 'in love.' Such a person will disregard all evidence-based arguements to the contrary because she *needs to believe* someone loves and understands her.

    But, I do believe this is at one end of the spectrum. We all have unmet emotional needs from long ago, usually childhood.

    In the story I'm working on right now, the Heroine is very Vulcan-like, especially for a human teenage girl. So, I throw her into a situation where she must learn to step out on faith in order to survive and win the day.

    Was it you or someone else who suggested the protagonist has three strengths, one of which is a fatal flaw?

    Anyway, the same trait which gets her into trouble at the start saves her in the end after it's been seasoned by faith and love.

  2. About that reviewer, C. S. Lewis points out (I think in AN EXPERIMENT IN CRITICISM) that a reader who doesn't understand or like an entire genre has no business commenting on a particular example of it, because all stories in that genre look alike to that kind of reader, who therefore can't tell a good one from a bad one. Maybe that's part of the problem here.

    BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was a TV show focused on alien romance. What additional element would a new series have to include, beyond what B&theB had, in order to "change the world"?

  3. Great post, and thanks for the link to my article which riffed on yours. Now I've got an idea based on *this* post...and so the saga will continue...!