Sunday, August 30, 2009

Alternative Science

The wordsmith in me cannot get beyond the apparent oxymoron of a "Quantum Leap". Leap connotes a major effort or expenditure of energy, not necessarily with legs flying. I think of leap years, salmon leaping over waterfalls, leaping to conclusions, growing by leaps and bounds, taking a leap of faith/in the dark.

On the other hand, I am very comfortable with "A Quantum of Solace". That is nice understatement, given that a quantum is a very small portion (quantity or amount) of something.

Last week, I visited the Ontario Science Centre, and my bedtime reading was the September 2009 issue of Discover Magazine. In the former, what piqued my alien-romance-writing interest was the exhibition about truth, perception, and science. There was a great deal of thought-provoking material about alienation, and also about "bad" science.

In the latter, there is an in-depth interview with Roger Penrose, which touches upon the "fundamental failings of quantum theory". One absolute grabber of a headline is "When you accept the weirdness of quantum mechanics, you have to give up the idea of space-time as we know it from Einstein..."


Back to the exhibit sprawling through Hall D in the bowels of the Ontario Science Centre where I could also test my potential as a spy --and I did-- and discover what my IQ would be if a Hip-Hopper were in charge of testing. There was a small wave machine. Apparently, South Sea islanders can tell where unseen islands are by recognizing patterns in waves. Apparently (also) South Sea Islanders sailing from one island to another believe that the stars are fixed, and their boats are fixed, and the islands move.

The exhibit asks the question, "If the science works well for the limited purpose for which it was developed, who are we to say that it is wrong?"

Another fascinating question was, "Does our Sun move?" It must, of course, if our entire galaxy rotates around a black hole. Yet, if it does, why does Orion's Belt look much the same to us today as it did to the Pharaohs? And why is Deneb still at the back end of Cygnus?

Meanwhile, a disturbing news item that might make many of us question what we think we know is It reminds me of novels I've read by Jeffrey Archer, and by Dan Brown!

All the best,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Business Model of E-Publishing

If you belong to the Romance Writers of America, you’re aware of the ongoing controversy over the validity of e-publishing and whether RWA treats e-pubbed authors unfairly. Many of us e-published authors get frustrated with the impression that detractors don’t understand how the e-book industry works and insist on confusing all e-publishing and Print on Demand with vanity publishing. A letter in the latest RWR (RWA’s membership magazine) approaches the issue from an angle I haven’t seen before. The writer says, “Publishers who do not pay advances use a profit-sharing model without any base compensation.” After repeating the frequently stated argument that absence of an advance signifies the publisher’s unwillingness to accept risk (paying for website space, editing, cover art, and online distribution doesn’t constitute an investment in the work?), she further says, “Unions have always fought against profit-sharing models of compensation because they provide no guarantee the worker will actually be paid for her work.”

This argument does seem, at first sight, to make some sense. It occurred to me, though, that the parallel may not be completely valid. Authors aren’t employees of their publishers (except in specialized “work for hire” situations). Authors are independent contractors. Moreover, aren’t there a few jobs in which even employees’ incomes depend directly on sales volume (I think—isn’t that the way car salesmen and real estate agents work?)? Personally, I don’t feel my e-publishers are taking avaricious advantage of me by paying much higher royalty percentages at more frequent intervals in lieu of up-front advances.

Over a period of almost forty years, I’ve had books released by academic publishers, print small presses, e-publishers, and mass market publishers. Each type has advantages and disadvantages. Large traditional publishers pay advances and get books into national distribution. The writer gets the benefit of the “impulse purchase” factor by having her work on the shelves of chain bookstores where readers who haven’t heard of her before may stumble across it. So a traditionally published book from a major publisher (as opposed to a small press, which may have trouble getting its books widely distributed) will probably sell lots more copies than an e-book. On the other hand, the book may not “earn out” for years after publication (if ever), producing a long wait for royalty payments over the advance. And mass market publishers tend to be painfully slow in evaluating submissions and putting books into print after acceptance. From initial submission to actual publication could easily take three years.

Most e-publishers work a lot faster, both in replying to submissions and in getting books on the market. They typically pay royalty rates of 35% or more, and payments come quarterly (or in some cases, monthly) instead of semiannually. Communication from the publisher is likely to be much more frequent and prompt. Authors are allowed input into decisions on cover art, blurbs, etc. The only drawback of e-publishing, actually, is that unless you’re already famous or have stellar promotional skills, you probably won’t achieve nearly the level of sales you would with a mass market publisher. While it’s true that most independent e-publishers embrace the best of both worlds by publishing their products in trade paperback as well as electronically, there’s still a distribution problem.

Another wonderful thing about e-publishing, however, is the flexibility. You can publish short stories and novellas as stand-alone works rather than part of a magazine or anthology. If you write novels of epic length, an e-publisher can afford to take a risk with that size of book because a large file doesn’t cost any more to upload than a small one. Also, you can mix genres and write about quirky topics, because e-publishers are more willing to cross boundaries. And with no inventory costs to worry about, they can keep your backlist on sale forever. New readers can always find your earlier books.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Theodore Sturgeon "Ask The Next Question."

Before you read this, you really should read the wonderful post right before this one by Cindy Holby and maybe read my comment on that post. It's amazing how the posts on this blog interweave so well when we don't hold a "Green Room" discussion before hand to agree on the Month's topics!

Theodore Sturgeon was known for his powerful sex scenes but not at all for Romance or even Relationship.

He was the original author who invented Pon Farr for Star Trek and drafted the episode AMOK TIME where we learn Vulcan males go into heat (a reversal of the usual pattern on Earth). So in a way he's the father of SF-Romance as a genre!

Sturgeon's SF held many reversals and twists on Earth's version of sex and reproduction just like Amok Time's male heat. In other instances he explored the darkest side of pure nightmare. You may remember some of his exquisite titles (he was exceptional at titling and it's well worth studying how he did it!)

Works by Theodore Sturgeon Available on Amazon

Theodore Sturgeon's wife was an accomplished Tarot reader and he admired her for that. I'll never forget when she read for me at his request and then asked me to read for her!

He was master of the dimensions of reality beyond the material, and his in-person personality was very different from the impression I got from reading his work. Yet, I had studied his work carefully. I didn't want to write like him, but I wanted to write about what he was writing about, using the ingenious thinking methods that would eventually produce the concept of Pon Farr (and you all know how many billions of fanzine words have been written on that subject).

At the time he first impressed me with a book called THE DREAMING JEWELS, nobody in that world believed a serious SF show would make it to TV. SF on TV was only kiddie shows and clones of The Lone Ranger In Space (which I loved, but it's not SFR!)

I wanted to probe into areas he left totally blank (Relationship as a plot-driving mechanism), but apply some of his techniques in turning the story. I stole techniques and issues from more than a dozen writers, often using many of them in one story.

I have this ongoing project of writing about those people whose work influenced mine, and in 1997 I wrote the following about Theodore Sturgeon.

This little essay is posted on the List of those who have influenced me

If I were better at keeping notes, this list would double in size.


The first short story of Ted Sturgeon's that engraved his byline on my mind was titled "Bianca's Hands."

That short story contained a penetrating image that, for me, defined both the genre of horror and the reasons why people are so fascinated by this genre. The image was of detached hands chasing the protagonist around her house. It gave me nightmares.

It also defined for me why I don't like horror, but that's another story. Having taken notice of Theodore Sturgeon's writing, I studied it, because even then I wanted to be a professional science fiction writer. And so I came to understand how Ted handled various themes, most particularly alien reproduction.

In the course of this, I ran across some interview or article, I forget now, where Ted's concept of the Q with the arrow through it, which represents his own personal, primary philosophical stance on how to live the best possible life, was explained in some detail. In brief, it is simply, "Ask The Next Question". That's harder than it sounds, for it requires that you be able to penetrate the walls that your cultural conditioning builds inside your mind, compartmentalizing it.

Formulating the next question is very hard. It means you must never stop thinking, never take things at face value, never accept the illusion that you really understand everthing about a subject, never accept any theory as final.

The Q with the Arrow means "Life is Process" -- a dynamic, ongoing, neverending search over the rainbow, beyond morning, into the Unknown. It is an attitude which is almost exactly like Gene Roddenberry's "Infinite Diversity In Infinite Combinations" -- and Gene's idea that "When We Are Wise" we won't be xenophobic. Ted and Gene had a lot in common, not least of which was a deep, inner, gentleness of being.

Many many years after reading "Bianca's Hands," when I had become a devoted fan of the first Star Trek Series, I read in The Making of Star Trek that the upcoming season of the show would include a story about Spock's mating drive and that it had been written by Theodore Sturgeon. I spent the ensuing weeks imagining what that script would include. I had it in my mind, long before seeing it (or hearing rumors on the ST grapevine on what it would include) a sequence of scenes that had to be there, the basic premise of the Vulcan mating drive, and long sequences of dialogue. I knew that script word-for-word before I ever saw the show.

The most stunning thing about this was that, when I saw the show in first broadcast -- I was proved correct in every surmise. Knowing Ted's writing, I knew exactly what he'd do with the Trek premise.

For me, this validated my ambition to become a professional in this genre. I can do this kind of work. It was a very gratifying experience. "Amok Time" became my all-time favorite Trek episode.

But that's not all.

Years and years after that, at a Star Trek Convention in Great Gorge, New Jersey, I met Theodore Sturgeon for the first time.

I went into the room for my first panel, and he was the speaker on stage right before my panel. I sat in the audience, enthralled. And I asked a question which, today, I don't even recall. It started an audience discussion and I suppose brought me to his attention.

Later, I saw him sitting alone in the bar, and I went over to introduce myself. At that point, I was already well known as the primary author of the Bantam paperback, Star Trek Lives! I can't now recall if this was before or after I became the Chairman of the Science Fiction Writers of America Speaker's Bureau.

He taught me to drink Compari properly (no water, one ice cube) as he was famous for doing with all his acquaintances, and we talked for 3 hours or more, until one of us had another panel to do. During the course of this discussion, he personally explained the silver Q with an arrow through it that he always wore around his neck. I had forgotten all about it. I learned it the second time, in depth and detail during that weekend, and recognized in it one of the core elements in my own personal philosophy. (possibly I had absorbed this in my earliest reading years partly from his work)

Later that weekend, we were assigned to the same autographing table, and between customers, we sat and talked and talked -- and I finally got up nerve to tell him he was the author of the one story in all SF/F that I really HATED ("Bianca's Hands") and the one story in all televised SF that I thought was the best thing ever written in SF/F -- "Amok Time" -- and I told him how I had anticipated every element in it, scene for scene and word for word, based only on knowing he was the author and that it was television. As Trek aficionados know, the script Ted turned in is quite different from what was broadcast, and what I constructed in my mind at the time was the broadcast version.

At any rate, this started another marathon talkathon between us.

Years and years after that, at a World Science Fiction Convention in San Francisco, I ran across Ted with his wife Jane, and they invited me out to dinner. We got to talking about the Occult, and one thing led to another, and I admitted I was running the Tarot Workshop at the Worldcon. so we talked Tarot. Turned out Ted's wife Jane reads cards too, and during this discussion, she read for me. Afterwards, she was rather surprised at herself for it was the first time she'd ever eaten an entire meal in trance. She could barely remember what she'd eaten. And the reading was exceptionally good.

When Ted, May He Rest In Peace, left this world, I grieved seriously.

Lately, I haven't seen anyone carrying on the Q/Arrow philosophy, and I think it's time to create this little memorial to a great man.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Zombies as heroes? I don't think so.

It seems that the publishers are jumping on the band wagon of a new genre trend. Zombies. My response is "Ewwww" I just really don't get it. Now while I wouldn't mind reading a story about a couple fighting Zombies ala Resident Evil I'm pretty sure I don't want to know anything about loving a Zombie, even if they originally were the love of my life. Yet some publishers are asking for stories involving humans and zombies. The following is an editor request that's been going around the writer loops
"is looking for "love amongst the undead, between zombies
and the living, and (we hope) many stories about the hot, alpha male and
female zombie killers." She's interested in short stories from 1500 to 5000
words and novellas, 20,000 to 30,000 words."

Meanwhile Zombies are now the subject of research. Scientists say "If zombies actually existed, an attack by them would lead to the collapse of civilisation unless dealt with quickly and aggressively." Even researchers are jumping on the trend. Publishers Weekly also mentioned a book deal featuring a Zombie professor who is now trying to find the meaning of life while fighting off humans that are trying to kill him. Well yeah, I'm pretty sure I would want to kill something that wants to eat my brains.
So what do you think? Is there a future with Zombies? Do you find them sexy? Would you lay down your money for a Zombie love story? Do you think Zombies will take over the shelves in the same way vampires have? I'd love to know what you think of this new trend in publishing. And no, I am not even considering writing a Zombie love story. As I said early, ewwww.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Living with a Fatal Flaw


Here is a GUEST POST by a djinn-romance writer worthy of your attention, posted by Jacqueline Lichtenberg but written by K. F. Zuzulo

K. F. Zuzulo is the author of A Genie in the House of Saud: Zubis Rises. This supernatural thriller was a winner in the 2008 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Her genie romance novella, The Third Wish, was published by Sapphire Blue Publishing in June 2009. You can find out more information about the author, her writing, and the djinn at


We want our heroes to be heroic. We want them to have skills and abilities beyond your typical protagonist. Since The Epic of Gilgamesh was first told more than 5,000 years ago (the first historic romance in history), readers have looked to a main character’s strength or insight, virtue or tenacity to place them above the average. To be nearly perfect…but not totally perfect. In which case, we as the readers would have to dismiss that character as totally unbelievable.

Whether human or alien, djinni or elemental, the protagonist must have nobility of heroic enterprise served up with a soup├žon of vulnerability. The fatal flaw is the quintessential element for bringing the protagonist to life. In The Epic of Gilgamesh, our hero Gilgamesh could not reconcile his abilities and strength and all the power he commanded with the death of his companion Enkidu. Gilgamesh exhibits the vanity of the hero's quest and the folly of the pursuit of immortality. His fatal flaw.

As described by Aristotle, the fatal flaw is most assuredly fatal. The protagonist must possess goodness, superiority, a tragic flaw, and a realization of both his flaw and that his tragic demise is inevitable. Well, in this day and age, that sort of fatalist angst isn’t going to sell a lot of books. Yes, we want our heroes to be sympathetic in some manner, but we don’t want them to die. We want them to struggle and to triumph over the antagonist and themselves. And we want to read the next book in the series.

When your characters are super-normal or supernatural to begin with—such as aliens who hail from distant solar systems or creatures of flame and air who travel parallel dimensions, or humans who possess uncanny, superhuman skills—the task of inserting that fatal flaw can be more difficult. However, it also can be more fun. As long as the worldbuilding foundation that the author creates can support it, your hero can do and say anything he or she wants. You want your reader to be on the edge of his or her seat, waiting for the behavior of the hero to be his undoing. In this manner, too, our hero encounters the depths of despair (loss of love, misunderstood communication, pride leading to separation, etc.) and must struggle all the more to redeem him/herself.

When we talk about the supernatural hero, magical skills and idiosyncrasies must be established early on and closely followed. A reader wants to get the sense that the character is someone they can understand. The only way for that to happen would be if the author knows their character as well as or better than she knows herself. Additionally, that character must be limited in a way that the reader is privy to and understands. The fatal flaw again. So if, for instance, our hero Shazam has a fiery temper that can erupt without warning, the reader needs to be given glimpses of that before the actual eruption. It builds tension, as well as an affinity for what Shazam is thinking and feeling.

The fatal flaw is an internal trigger that threatens the hero. Also exciting and equally fun to write is the external trigger or an Achilles Heel. Think Superman and Kyptonite. Established superstitions can be a great place to start when trying to identify a cogent Achilles Heel.

I happen to write fiction about the djinn.

It is well established in djinn lore that they are repelled by iron or by the hairs of a black-and-white cat that are burned in a bowl to smudge a room with scent. When the author places such items as these in conspicuous settings, the suspense is heightened.

Again, however, the worldbuilding is essential in these cases to support the delivery of these items in a scene. The author must establish the validity of that piece of iron being beneath the feather-down mattress of our hero djinni who is about lay upon it. And the author also needs to build in a believable exit route. Ultimately, we want our hero to stumble far from the Kryptonite, regain his vigor and live to be a part of another tale—perhaps damaged, definitely changed and, most assuredly, alive.

Aristotle may not mind killing off his heroes. But the smart, modern author keeps them alive to live another scene – fatal flaws and all.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Print to Film

I enjoyed the novel THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE very much for its ingenious premise and the emotionally wrenching relationship between the characters. I haven’t seen the movie yet (I’ll wait for the DVD), but I wasn’t surprised that, judging from reviews, the story didn’t seem to translate well to the screen. What did surprise me was that every review I’ve read so far calls it “creepy” because of the scene in which the time traveler, Henry, first meets his future wife as a child. As you probably know, Henry involuntarily and unpredictably leaps through time. Therefore, he and his wife encounter each other at different ages and at different points on their personal timelines. When he leaps, he can’t take anything with him that isn’t part of his body (not even teeth fillings). All the reviewers fixate on the “creepy” image of a naked man introducing himself to a six-year-old girl. This negative reaction never occurred to me when I read the book. Partly I think that’s because in the novel we’ve already met Henry and his wife as adults and experienced the depth of their love, before we witness their first meeting in her timeline. (They first meet in his timeline while he’s in his twenties, when she has known his older self for years and already had a chance to fall in love with him.) More important, though, I believe is the fact that while reading the book we don’t literally *see* a naked man talking to a six-year-old girl. The printed page doesn’t “rub our face in it” the way a scene on film does.

We've all had the occasional experience of finding a book cover illustration or an actor's appearance on film jarringly unlike our image of the character in the story. Often that reaction springs simply from the difference between our personal vision of the character and the vision of the filmmakers. I think my negative reaction to the character of Edward in the movie adaptation of TWILIGHT, however, stems from a more basic problem. On the page, I can believe in the allure of a ravishing vampire with alabaster (and sparkly in sunlight) skin and blood-tinged lips, who looks like a teenage boy but projects the persona of someone much older, having experienced more than one lifetime. In the movie, though, when one of the girls whispered that Edward was “gorgeous,” my immediate reaction was, “No, he isn’t.” On screen, Edward looks to me like a teenage boy with grotesquely pale makeup and too much lipstick.

Some characters who can be credibly described in prose are extremely hard to portray convincingly in a visual medium. Remember the STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION episode when the Enterprise visited a planet of hermaphrodites? That premise would have posed no problem in a printed work of fiction. But on TV, despite my enjoyment of the story and appreciation for its attempt to handle a genuine SF idea, nothing could keep me from seeing the aliens as flat-chested women with short hair. Animation would avoid that problem, but in live action, hermaphrodites have to be played by either men or women; finding enough real-life intersex actors to fill the cast would, I’d think, be an insurmountable problem. Makes me wonder how Theodore Sturgeon’s story of a similar society, VENUS PLUS X, or Ursula LeGuin’s LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS would translate to the screen.

Somewhere C. S. Lewis says the scene in the ILIAD when Hector's body gets dragged around the walls of Troy, while horrifying as narrated in the epic, would look absurd in a dramatic presentation. Yet that sequence is dramatized very convincingly in the Vincent Price movie THEATRE OF BLOOD. So I wouldn't dare to say any fictional scene would be impossible to film effectively, especially with the techniques available nowadays. (Consider how much more realistic the animals and mythical creatures in the new Narnia movies look than the ones in the live-action BBC videos of many years ago.) Still, some would have to be much harder to translate between media than others.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Want to see an awesome video from one of my favorite authors Diana Peterfreund? And if you like what you see you can read more at her website

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Amber Benson: Tara on Buffy The Vampire Slayer

And my point here is that Amber Benson is also a screenwriter, director, producer, webisode involved, AND an on-paper novelist too. This is a woman to study (Google her up). She has a lot to teach. So let's see if we can learn.

The last few entries I've done here have been long and full of abstract advice and arcane demands on writers to do the impossible (sometime before breakfast at least if not before coffee).

Now once again, lets get back to the practical by looking at a writer, her novel and the background she brings to the craft.

How does a writer actually WRITE? Where does the flowing poetry of images and words come from? What level of an Urban Fantasy needs poetry, or poetic justice, and where do you put the dense philosophy of the theme? Do you dare touch Religion?

Where do ideas come from and how do you organize them into fictional formats that can be understood by readers?

As I keep telling you, it's the writer's subconscious that does most of the work. And as I learned from Red Skelton and Jack Benny, the best material is stolen. The trick is to steal only from the best.

But after you've stolen your ideas from say, The Bible, or Isaac Asimov, what do you do with them?

You put them into your subconscious. You've watched me say that a lot.

Amber Benson's novel Death's Daughter is a flawless amalgam of her background, her life, and her career coming to high focus in a blazing burst of artistic freedom. It's just not so easy to see that art that comes from a well stocked and disciplined subconscious. But if you can see it, how do you do it?

I have no clue how she did it other than her public biography, but I do know how others have done it. Each person has to store stuff in their subconscious via a different mechanism. Writing (un-storing the stuff in your subconscious) is the opposite of the storing procedure, but they are related.

So HOW do you store stuff in your subconscious? How do you train your subconscious to regurgitate these marvelous classic ideas all wrapped up and organized to be just like something famous, but different.

What is the mechanism within the human mind that can achieve this feat?

If you can explain how you do it, please drop a comment on this post.

Meanwhile, I want to talk a little bit about the various ways I've seen accomplished writers do it, how I was taught, and how I find it works best for me.

This process of programming the subconscious to produce Art you can sell is a "feat" -- like an athletic feat, or like an adagio dance exhibition, a Chopin concert at Carnegie Hall, or recording a perfect operatic aria. It is a feat you must train for. And even so you might not equal or break a world record ever in your lifetime.

First you must establish a regimen in communicating with your subconscious.

The relationship between conscious and subconscious is, as I see it, best described by THE STRENGTH CARD, of the Tarot. It's usually a picture of some kind of beast (a lion or mythic creature known for ferocity) being petted and gentled (and dominated quietly) by a "defenseless" Maiden figure.

The beast represents the subconscious. The Maiden represents some part of the conscious mind -- perhaps the level of CUPS or perhaps WANDS. (or both)

There was an article recently on research into dog intelligence.

A dog may be as smart as a 2.5 year old, but the dog will be socially mature and still be only that smart.

Studies have shown that if a dog's owner is aggressive, the dog will become aggressive.

Dogs are copy-cats. (oy)

My dog learned the household routine. Even though I was never aware of how very routinely identical my daily procedures had become (I've since changed to inject variety) until my dog showed me by EXPECTING what would ordinarily come next.

Dogs recognize patterns and get disturbed if the pattern is broken.

Art is all about patterns. Poetry is about patterns. Poetic justice is all about patterns. If there isn't poetry inside your novel, the novel is missing an important ingredient because our real, normal world runs on poetry.

Dogs maybe can't "learn" in the way humans do but they can be trained, just like your toddler can be trained but not really "taught" (yet).

A toddler is not going to respond to all these magnificent abstractions I love to indulge in. The reasons for holding your hand crossing a parking lot don't mean a thing to a toddler. The statistics about toddlers killed in parking lots, the statistics about toddlers kidnapped, the stats on those maimed for life, zilch, nada, nothing.

But insist the first time, and never miss insisting on that little hand in yours, and next thing you know the 3 year old will force his hand into yours. The 5 year old - not so much - but dogs don't get to the 5 year old level (though some primates do!).

And your subconscious is about 2-3 years old, give or take. Forever.

Your subconscious doesn't CARE about all my beloved abstractions and meta-cognition and subtle value system comparisons. Subconscious is totally primal (which is why Blake Snyder kept saying make it PRIMAL).

The subconscious is where the "helpless" nightmare comes from, and why horror novels are so popular! We all have a scared little 2 year old inside somewhere who doesn't understand the world and still nurses lingering echoes of infancy's true helplessness. Adults still have some of that, which is why dark- mysterious- incomprehensible- insurmountable makes such a great movie!

So subconscious can be trained but not taught.

How do you train subconscious to produce poetry, art, music and stories complete with theme and structure?

It's that pattern recognition function built in as a survival mechanism!

Dogs have pattern recognition, even through time. (this comes after that) And people do too, on just that same very primal level where "reason" is not a factor.

That's another reason Blake Snyder was always saying get down to the PRIMAL level even a caveman could understand, before technology, before international trade, before Wall Street cartels.

Inside our sophisticated world wise behaviors, we are driven by the most primal issues of love, loyalty, reproduction, life, death, protection, possessing, command of power.

The story comes from the subconscious of the writer, and must be presented in such a way that the subconscious of the reader can recognize the pattern, the primal pattern.

Not SIMPLE pattern. PRIMAL pattern.

Life and Death are very primal, and not at all simple, but still very much what our subconscious is designed to handle magnificently.

That's why life and death are the subject of so many novels, and the stakes in so many plots. You don't have to explain what's so important about it. Using something that primal is almost a cop-out because it's so easy to grab for Life, Death, and Devil archetypes to drape your story on.

But Amber Benson has gotten away with it gracefully in HER NEW NOVEL "Death's Daughter" -

and thereby hangs the tale of a lesson in writing.

And the lesson in writing is READ.

As you train your toddler to hold your hand in a parking lot (pattern recognition triggers habitual action), so you can train your subconscious to steal IDEAS when reading a good PRIMAL novel (pattern recognition triggers habitual action).

The first step in training your subconscious is to sort your to-be-read stack into Good, Better, Best. (some of these will be re-reading projects)

You should pick writers and books that you want to emulate, or that have sales statistics you want to achieve. Most likely, the ones with the sales statistics you want to achieve will contain elements you seriously dislike or balk at. Those elements are very possibly the source of the sales statistics, so study them and reinvent them in new guises that you do like.

There are two kinds of fiction you should read to train your subconscious.

One is the really slick, highly professional, so well synthesized you can't reverse-engineer it to see how it was done.

Another is the awkward, not-quite-right, fumbling, jerky neo-pro product you most often see these days in the e-book form because Manhattan isn't publishing midlist and beginner writers as much as they used to.

That's not casting aspersions on e-books! I've reviewed a number of e-books that are better constructed than you generally find from Manhattan! The e-book has stolen from Manhattan the right to be the home of the mid-list as well as the beginner, launching what will soon be stellar careers.

Manhattan will soon be in financial trouble because they are not fostering the new beginners and will not have their loyalty (loyalty is primal, remember?)

Reading to train your subconscious to write is very different from reading to enjoy a good read.

As you start doing this exercise, your ability to enjoy any novel will falter and may disappear. If you persist, a new and very intense pleasure will emerge as you read interesting novels that also tickle your pattern-recognition nerve.

You start by reverse engineering a number of your most favorite novels until you can see their moving parts as detailed here in previous posts.

One tried and true technique is to take colored highlighters or pens and highlight or underline words, phrases and sentences. Don't do it just mentally. The physical act of marking is what communicates to the subconscious. Just thinking about it won't achieve the same communication level.

Mark DESCRIPTION, DIALOGUE, EXPOSITION, NARRATIVE in separate colors. A really top flight writer like Andre Norton will use all 4 in almost every sentence. Some words will carry both exposition and narrative in one word.


Later flipping through those pages, you'll see the proportions of words allotted to each character. It's important to get that proportion right.

Mark the BEGINNING, MIDDLE and END of each scene, and note in the margin the SITUATION CHANGE for PLOT and for STORY.

See my two entries on SCENE STRUCTURE at

And note that my "definition" of scene is echoed in this web page on stage vocabulary.

Note particularly where it says BLOCK A SCENE because we haven't discussed that yet, here, but we have covered the components of blocking. Blocking a scene is very VERY important in action narrative, and when you read DEATH'S DAUGHTER, you should watch for the techniques so smoothly and subtly applied.

Color code 2 or 3 of your favorite novels in each of the categories

1)very advanced that you want to emulate, and

2)beginner's work that you COULD emulate.

DO THE SAME THING watching television. Take a notepad, note down the scenes and how each changes the situation. Capture the plot outline as you watch. (this is where you wish you knew shorthand).

If you need to know what a "plot outline" is, I gave you a couple of examples in WHAT DOES SHE SEE IN HIM

Now, after this intense exercise, never let yourself read anything without mentally coloring in the components as DESCRIPTION, DIALOGUE, EXPOSITION, NARRATIVE, scene blocks etc. After you've done the actual coloring, subconscious will begin to spot them for you, and train your conscious not to miss them! (like the 3 year old who will insert a hand into yours crossing a parking lot)

Once subconscious has started to do that, and you can't read anything without being aware of the components, go to sleep assigning your subconscious the task of having AN IDEA when you wake up.

The first few IDEAS it produces will be like a puppy piddling in the corner. Think of the STRENGTH CARD, and remember how you tame the fractious, spoiled, savage beast of the subconscious with kindness, repetition, firmness, consistency, just as you train a toddler. Reward good behavior. Ignore the bad. Make friends.

When an idea comes pre-formulated to the pattern you are training into your subconscious, write it down (that's the reward for subconscious, getting written down). Do the plot outline for the novel, just as we've covered in these posts such as WHAT DOES SHE SEE IN HIM. With practice it shouldn't take more than half an hour, maybe 20 minutes, to jot down the outline (my examples came out as fast as I could type; it just takes practice) and they don't have to be consecutive minutes.

Let subconscious do the part that's "the same" and you do the part that's "different."

Now, where to start training?

AMBER BENSON!!! I just wrote my January 2010 column (that's another lesson in publishing - it's August and I'm late turning in the January column.) And except for a quick Noel Tyl astrology mention, the January column is all about DEATH'S DAUGHTER and why it's an "important" novel in the guise of just another Urban Fantasy.

But one little 1500 word column couldn't begin to scratch the surface of "all about" Death's Daughter. There's so much more to say. We shouldn't get to that until after you've read it and reverse engineered it.

Amber Benson's novel DEATH'S DAUGHTER is a perfectly structured, breezy-easy read targeting the most primal archetypes, Death, Devil, God, normal human woman who just wants a normal life.

The world Benson has built for this novel is soooo Buffy and sooooo Different from Buffy. The world's mechanisms, the tone, the brightness, the attitudes, the philosophy behind everything is all different from that famous TV show, but awakens soothing echoes of the Buffyverse pattern. And yes, there's the constant thrum of a Romance in there too! "What does she see in him" is handled gorgeously.

If you're familiar with the Buffyverse, you will pick this up right away. And you'll see how Benson's universe is unique. You'll also find a purely cinematic structure articulating the skeleton of this novel. And you'll find the poetry, the art, a musical rhythm to the pacing, and so many tightly and smoothly integrated patterns even I couldn't count them all.

DEATH'S DAUGHTER is a leap-for-joy FIND for the writer looking for a really tough nut to crack on reverse-engineering.

But it didn't just spring full grown out of nowhere. Here's Benson's bio from the back of the novel.

“Amber Benson cocreated, cowrote and directed the animated supernatural Web series Ghosts of Albion with Christopher Golden, which they followed with a series of novels, including Witchery and Accursed, and the novella Astray. Benson and Golden also coauthored the novella The Seven Whistlers. As an actress, she has appeared in dozens of roles in feature films, TV movies, and television series, including the fan-favorite role of Tara Maclay on three seasons of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Benson wrote, produced, and directed the feature films Chance and Lovers, Liars and Lunatics.”

TV, Web production, feature film, print media. And all that experience is neatly, tightly integrated into DEATH'S DAUGHTER.

Christopher Golden once taught me a lot about this structure stuff, and how the subconscious needs to be disciplined to separate material into distinct stories. I don't know that's where Benson learned it, or if she came to Golden already knowing it. Or maybe she was born knowing it (some people are just talented that way).

I highly recommend making DEATH'S DAUGHTER one of your novels to reverse engineer to see what it's made of and how its moving parts are joined by the theme. Yes, it'll be as hard as if it were written by Andre Norton or A. E. Van Vogt because it's so well integrated. But your subconscious may pick up the patterning for the multi-media creation, which could make your fortune.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, August 16, 2009

N3F for fantasy lovers

This is a tip for Fantasy Lovers.

On Facebook, the N3F group is without many fans (could be because of their fiendishly clever and geeky name) but are apparently very receptive to Fantasy fans.

The url is

It's not my group (btw) I'm merely a fan, but one of the admins asked me to spread the word.

For authors of Fantasy, Futuristic, or Paranormal Romance, you should check out the FFandP website!

Liz Pelletier the webdiva has made it possible for members of the FFandP subgenre chapter to post their book covers, blurbs, widgets, excerpts and much, much more. For the $15 a year membership (in addition to the $85 RWA membership) it is a great showcase, and arguably the best value any RWA chapter offers.

Linnea Sinclair's books are up

Best wishes,

Rowena Cherry
Please vote for my cover/title/blurb (social networking contest for authors)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The proposal, final installment

This is the last chapter in my proposal. This is where the steam punk elements come in. It was a blast coming up with the inventions. I did not plan on Von Swaim being OCD, it just kind of happened. I worked with someone who had the condition and it was not fun, believe me.

Chapter Four

The big clock in the foyer chimed seven times as Dr. Edmond Von Swaim, who also held the title of Baron, walked into his breakfast room. The room was located on the second floor of his manse and overlooked the street. He preferred to eat in the smaller room instead of using the expansive table located in the formal dining room on the first floor.
There were those who would say it made more work for his servants, as they would have to carry things from the first floor kitchen located on the back of the house, to the second floor. Those who would say such things did not know of the steam powered lift that was installed off the kitchen just for this very purpose. His servants merely had to enter the small room; turn the wheel and they were carried up to the floors above. It worked in warehouses and hotels, why not put the same technology to use in homes? It made for less waste and more efficiency upon the part of his servants.
Von Swaim had his breakfast in the room upstairs because it was smaller and therefore less wasteful. If there was anything the Doctor could not tolerate it was waste of anything. Time, money, resources and inventions; all were things that should be used to their utmost potential. Even his title was carefully chosen. He much preferred to be called Doctor, since it was something he had earned, than Baron, which was something that had been passed down generation after generation, because of something one of his ancestors had done. Just as the Queen was Queen because of something her ancestors had done. She was Queen because the royal blood ran in her veins. The same royal blood that was in Von Swaim's
A maid wearing white gloves placed his meal on the table as he waited by the window. The street below was just springing to life. The vendor carts were in place along the way and young boys held up newspapers on the corner, their cries of headlines lost against the panes of glass.
Von Swaim noticed a bright array of flowers at the cart on the corner. Roses, lilies, carnations and daisies swirled in a kaleidoscope of color against the grays and browns of the cobblestones. They would have to be from a greenhouse since spring was just upon them. The snow from a few days past was gone now and there was a definite feel of warmth to the air. Perhaps he should invest in a bouquet and have it sent around to the girl. It would not hurt to extend some sort of token to Pemberton after the near disaster of their visit.
Von Swaim turned when he heard the teapot placed and examined the table as the maid curtseyed her way from the room. Everything was placed to his exact specifications; still his practiced eyes scanned the table, just to make sure. His utensils were placed exactly one inch apart, his glass containing his special health mixture was precisely five inches above his spoon and at the correct angle from his plate. His meal, which was the same meal that he had every morning, was arranged exactly as he desired it on the plate and cooked to his taste. The teapot emitted enough steam to let him know that it would be the appropriate temperature when he poured his first cup. The only thing left was the morning newspaper and it lay beside his plate, folded once in the middle.
His staff worked hard to please him. They had learned what happened when he was not pleased. Heinz, his butler, was an excellent and demanding instructor and Mrs. Shultz, his head housekeeper, had a sharp eye. Their ways produced results, one of which was a secure position in the Von Swaim household. For the most part, his staff was grateful to be employed during these trying times. While life was pleasant for the titled and rich, it was not so for the common folk. Whitechapel was full of people who would give anything to have steady employment, even if it meant dealing with the strange idiosyncrasies of Dr. Von Swaim.
Satisfied that all was at is should be, Von Swaim sat down and ate his meal, cutting each morsel into the same size and eating it in the same order. Eggs, sausage, toast. Eggs, sausage, toast. He treated himself to a spoonful of orange marmalade on his last bite of toast and then quickly drank his special mixture in one long steady gulp. He poured his tea, added lemon and a half-teaspoon of sugar and stirred it five times, counting as he stirred. He took one sip and picked up the paper.
As was his custom, he started on page one and read each article, working his way from left to right across and down the page. If an article was continued on another page he did not turn to it, instead, he finished page one, then went on to page two and so on until he had read everything worthy of his notice. Despite the ineptitude of Parliament and the Queen's frustrating retreat from society, it wasn't until he got to the social pages and read about the reception for the entertainers from the Wild West show that his temper flared.
The girl had been there. Merritt Chadwyke. Lord Pemberton's daughter. He assumed that after the incident in his study that they would go into hiding or at least spirit her away to a sanatorium. He never expected them to take her to a party or that she would be a willing participant in part of the exhibition. Or course he must take into account the columnist's need to embellish things. He had been the subject of such embellishments himself after performing some of his “party tricks” for English society. The buffoons did not realize that most of what he did with hypnotism was trickery. It was easy to lead the willing down such a path. But the girl…Merritt…she was the real thing.
Unlike other mornings, Von Swaim dropped the paper onto the table and walked to the window. He'd been strangely unsettled since the incident. She had surprised him. It was not often than he was surprised.
The canary's release had been most bewildering. He knew the mind was a powerful instrument but in his studies the most he'd ever seen done was spoon bending and a saucer moved across a table. His pet's cage was utterly destroyed and it wasn't even the center of her concentration. What could she do if she really focused on something? What was she capable of? It was a question that he desperately needed the answer too.
He studied the sky as he stood at the window, hoping that perchance he would see a flash of yellow against the pale cloudless blue of the morning. Von Swaim was quite annoyed at the canary's escape. It seemed ungrateful to him. It appeared disrespectful and that was something else he had no patience for. Did he not care for it? Feed it? Give it plenty of water and a safe secure place to live along with a view of the sky from its gilded cage? The creature should have been grateful to him instead of flying away in haste.
“Your loss my little friend. I am certain you missed your warm cage the past few nights when you were out in the cold air.” He drew some satisfaction from thinking of the tiny bird, shivering upon a barren tree branch or perhaps becoming the breakfast of a cat or a hawk. It was nothing more than the traitorous bird deserved.
He would think upon it no more. The girl however, deserved more thought. If she thought she could prance about London and go to parties as if nothing had happened then she was wrong. Something had happened. Something strange and wonderful. Something that was totally unexpected.
She was the one. She was something that he'd hoped to find but wasn't sure of its existence. Logic dictated that she could exist and that she should exist but his hopes of finding it…her…
Von Swaim turned from the window. Merritt Chadwyke did not know it yet, but she was the culmination of his life's work. She was the instrument that would lead to his greatest victory. She was the embodiment of a powerful weapon that he intended to use.
He would be the next King of England and she was the means by which he would achieve it.
His breakfast was over. The maid, who always waited in the hallway just in case something was amiss, nearly fell in her haste to curtsey when he burst from the room.
“Sir? Should I keep your tea warm?” she asked. Her fear of making a mistake was greater than her fear of speaking to her employer directly.
Von Swaim stopped and looked the young woman over as if seeing her for the first time. “No. I am done.” He went to the back staircase instead of his office. “See that I am not disturbed.”
“Did he say anything about the noonday meal?” the cook asked when the maid carried in the tray and told the cook and housekeeper, Mrs. Shultz, about the strange happenings of the morning.
“He did not,” she confessed. They both looked in confusion at Mrs. Shultz. She, along with Heinz and Simon, the mysterious Englishman with the strange hands were the only ones on the staff who had come to England with Von Swaim. The cook, maids, and footmen had all been hired on as staff after he purchased the houses that backed up to each other.
“Proceed as you would normally,” she instructed in her strange accent and left them to figure out the mysterious ways of the Doctor on their own. She went to the window that faced the courtyard behind the house and watched as Von Swaim went into the building behind. Something was troubling him and she was certain it had something to do with the visit from the English Lord and his daughter. He had offered no explanation beyond asking her to dispose of the twisted and ruined remnants of the cage and procure another one for the tiny yellow canary's return. The new cage still sat empty on the balcony outside his office with its door open and food and water inside. Was it just the missing bird that upset him or did it have something to do with the Lord's daughter and the tests he'd performed on her?
She felt his strange disquiet as if it were eddies beneath the surface of the river. To everyone else he appeared calm and serene as always, but to one who knew him as she did…Mrs. Shultz turned from the window and went back to her work. She needed to make sure nothing disturbed the Doctor when he was troubled or they would all suffer for it.

The door was locked from the inside as he knew it would be. No trouble there. He possessed a key. He found Simon coming toward him in the dim light of the long hallway.
“Sir?” It was obvious that his man was surprised to see him here at this strange hour. He usually did not make his rounds until the late afternoon. “Is something amiss?”
He held his hands behind his back as if he were afraid to show them.
Von Swaim looked pointedly at Simon's arms and raised an eyebrow. “Why don't you tell me,” he said. “Is something amiss?”
Simon brought his hands around and held the clenched fists before Von Swaim.
“They have locked up sir,” he said. “Dr. Macmillan was examining them when we saw your approach.”
“Have you been keeping them lubricated as I instructed?” Von Swaim held his hand out to indicate Simon should precede him down the hallway to the Doctor's Office.
“Yes sir.” Simon said. “Macmillan seems to think it is the dampness that is having an affect on them.”
Von Swaim saw the strain around Simon's eyes and mouth, still he voiced no complaint. Simon had lost his hands with the swing of a blade in the Boer War. If not for Von Swaim's generosity he would be dead, or worse, a beggar. Fortunately Von Swaim had discovered him during his travels in South Africa before it was too late to help him. He'd recognized the brilliance and desperation in his pain filled eyes, but something more, he'd seen a man who would do anything to be made whole again. The trip had been most satisfactory. He'd returned with the diamonds he needed and as a bonus he was able to enlist Simon into his cause.
Macmillan barely looked up when the two men entered. He simply motioned for Simon to sit upon a stool and place his two fists upon the table beneath a powerful magnifying class.
The hands were larger than normal but that was to be expected since they were made of brass with each finger joint made up of intricate gears. The wrists were hinged so that they moved up and down and rotated side to side. Both appendages were attached by heavy cuffs that were screwed into the actual bone of the arm. It was quite painful, of course, since the bones had to be drilled and the gears attached to the muscles and tendons of the forearms with thick strands of catgut. In addition, Simon's upper arms and shoulders were thick with muscle because of the weight of the brass hands. He functioned quite well and kept the pain at bay with small doses of opium that was carefully doled out by Macmillan.
Von Swaim watched patiently as Macmillan carefully lubricated each joint with small drops of oil after taking out the miniature screws and reinserting them. It would be quite painful to remove the bands that attached the hands to Simon's body so both men endured the tedious nature of the intricate work.
Macmillan was another discovery that he'd come across quite be accident. The man was a genius and had studied extensively the anatomy of the human body. Unfortunately his quest for knowledge had led him to engage in the crime of grave robbing, and that, in addition to his great love of whiskey led to him barely escaping the shores of England with his life. Both men were great admirers of DaVinci and thus a partnership was born in the Lourve when they realized that between the two of them it was quite possible to bring some of DaVinci's ideas into existence.
“Release the fist,” Macmillan instructed.
Simon looked intently at his hand. For it to function, he had to move the muscles in his forearms. Sweat beaded on his forehead as he concentrated upon the task. Finally, the fingers relaxed and the hand lay, palm up upon the table.
“Keep moving it.”
Simon flexed the fingers, back and forth, fisting his hand, and then relaxing it until he was able to do so with ease. There was a distinct release of tension as all three men realized that the problem was now solved.
“I suggest two more treatments with oil each day,” Macmillan said. “I will see if I can concoct a lighter mixture since this damp weather seems to be leading to coagulation.” He went to work on the other fist while Simon exercised the first.
“That sounds like a responsible explanation and treatment,” Von Swaim agreed.
“What brings you to visit this hour of the day?” Macmillan asked. Unlike the rest of his staff, Macmillan held no fear of Von Swaim. Both men were geniuses in their own fields and both had no problems with using any means possible to come to the end they desired. Von Swaim had no doubt in his mind that Macmillan stayed with him because Von Swaim turned a blind eye to his experiments and had an unlimited source of funds and a well stocked bar. In return Von Swaim kept him on because the man did not hesitate, no matter how outlandish his requests.
“It appears that things may be happening quicker than I anticipated.”
Both men stopped what they were doing and looked intently at Von Swaim. It pleased him to see that they were waiting for his next words.
“I believe I have found what we were hoping for.”
“You found the Prism?” Simon's voice held a hint of disbelief.
“Further testing will be required,” Von Swaim said. “But I have high hopes that I have indeed found her.”
“Her?” Macmillan asked. A sly grin spread over his face. “That's a bonus we did not plan on.”
The man's tastes were perverse, another reason why he'd been run out of England. His crimes, besides grave robbing and desecrating the dead also included several acts of sexual perversion and whether or not the participant was agreeable or breathing did not matter to him in the least.
Simon looked nervously between the two men.
“As I said, further testing is required.” Von Swaim looked around the laboratory. In one corner a completed suit of armor stood, made completely of brass and steel with hinges and joints. Various weapons were scattered about on tables along with a collection of large gems cut to exact specifications. Another table held several large sheets of paper, all covered with detailed drawings. Von Swaim lifted the top sheet to look at a sketch beneath it.
“Should we step up the manufacturing?” Simon asked.
“Yes.” Von Swaim's finger trailed over the notes made on the page. “The warehouse is secure?”
“Yes sir,” Simon replied. “The adaptations you asked for have been put into place and are ready for your inspection.”
“We can have the weapons ready,” Macmillan said. “But the army. That's another thing entirely. The men you have are not ready and Whitechapel has been picked over for viable candidates.”
Von Swaim looked at Simon. “Go to Ireland,” he said. “I am certain you can find several worthy recruits there.”
“Shall I take the airship?”
“Yes. Take it. I want things in place as soon as possible.” He walked to the window that overlooked the courtyard. Bars covered it as it did all the windows. The recruits needed to know that compliance was their only recourse. That there was no chance of escape. Unless they turn into a canary…His eyes darted back and forth, hoping to see the flash of yellow that would say his pet had come home.
“The Wild West show has come to town gentlemen. I believe it might be just the thing to get the queen out of hiding. We must be ready when and if the time comes.”
He left without another word.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Spectral Affairs

In July Ellora’s Cave published my erotic paranormal romance novelette "Sweeter Than Wine", with a ghost hero from the early nineteenth century haunting a bed-and-breakfast. A sexual affair with a disembodied spirit presents logistical problems that require decisions to be made—mainly, how do they make love, and how can we arrange a happy ending? Ghosts, by common assumption, can pass through solid objects. So how can a ghost touch a living person? In what circumstances can spirits influence the material world? Poltergeists supply a precedent for physical effects, but how does the process work? We need rules to bolster suspension of disbelief.

In my earlier Ellora’s Cave ghost romance "Heart Diamond", I decided the ghost could have a phantom effect on the world around him anytime but would become more nearly corporeal the more he was infused with psychic energy. He absorbs energy from his mortal lover’s sexual excitement, and the more he arouses her, the more solid he becomes; each of her climaxes makes him more "present." In "Sweeter Than Wine," the ghost gets the power to become solid and feel physical sensations by tasting a drop of the heroine’s blood. (There’s a precedent in classical Greek mythology—shades in the underworld gaining the temporary ability to speak when allowed to drink blood.) There’s a romantic comedy film in which ghosts get the privilege of interacting physically with their human lovers one night a year and are incorporeal the rest of the time. (I can’t remember the title.) Charles de Lint’s recent novel THE MYSTERY OF GRACE uses a similar concept; the dead can return to the mortal plane in physical bodies on the nights of Beltane and Samhain.

Next comes the problem of how to arrange a permanent happy ending for a ghost and a living woman. Three possibilities: (1) give him a body so they’re both mortal; (2) postpone their union until she dies, so they’re both spirits (this happens at the end of THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR); (3) let them carry on their romance indefinitely as ghost and mortal, which is how I ended "Sweeter Than Wine."

In "Heart Diamond," in which the hero “haunts” a diamond ring made from his cremated remains (there’s actually a company that makes these), I decided the method of becoming solid by draining his lover’s psychic energy could be only temporary, because drawing on her too often might harm her. So the status quo couldn’t go on forever, as I allowed to happen in "Sweeter Than Wine," which is intended to be much lighter in tone. In "Heart Diamond" waiting for possible reincarnation—one way of embodying a ghost—wasn’t an option. The source of a "new" body and the ethics of taking over a body pose problems for an author and the characters. It’s not unusual for a ghost to slip into a recently vacated corpse, as happened in the TV series GHOST WHISPERER. This was the solution I chose in "Heart Diamond." For ethical reasons, I tried to make it very clear that the body’s original soul was gone and not coming back.

Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches series features a disembodied spirit that becomes an embryo in the heroine’s womb, develops abnormally fast, and after birth grows into an adult male in a supernaturally short time. Yet another solution to the need for a physical body would be to create a robot, android, or golem for the ghost to possess (depending on whether you’re writing SF or fantasy). I haven’t used either of these devices yet.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


It's almost that time of year again. Over Labor Day weekend 40,ooo fans of science fiction and fantasy will descend on Atlanta for Dragoncon--a conference that goes 24/7. This year I'll be doing seminars and autographing my new release Lucan at the booth where a group of authors will be giving away fabulous prizes. (And if you'd like to help out at the booth we are looking for volunteers--who we thank with autograpghed goodies-- so contact me through my web site. I can't post the addy here or the bots pick it up and I get spammed)

And to whet your appetite, I thought I'd post some pictures from last year. If you get a chance come and say hello.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What Does She See In Him?

This is going to be an oddly rambling post, especially juxtaposed to the 2 on Scene structure and the Plot Vs. Story one on walking and chewing gum.

But trust me, all these rambling bits and pieces will eventually come together into something you might use to generate that elusive Mega-Alien Romance Movie-TV Series.

First I have to acknowledge that August 6th was a sad day for us as writers and as movie goers. Several of the Titans of The Biz passed away during that week, including the young and vibrant genius I keep quoting here, Blake Snyder.

Go to his website and drop a note on the blog at

His third book is due out this fall. I'm sure I'll be quoting it.

See a shortened list of those who've passed on at

I hope I don't have to add any more any time soon.

As I've said before, what I'm attempting to convey with these posts on writing craft and the internal dynamics of the PNRomance, is just the essence our common heritage of campfire storytelling art and craft passed down through the generations.

These losses just make our task more formidable but also more urgent. Techniques must be passed on, taken up, carried on, and passed on again. This is our legacy for the far, far future of humankind. Our job here is to infuse that legacy with love.

Don't think that because you haven't heard of or memorized some director's or writer's byline that they haven't been contributing to our success with this task of illuminating a genre.

We are regarding Alien Romance as a genre or a crossed-genre. Some people are using the term "Speculative Romance" but SF never succeeded under the title "Speculative Fiction." It makes dictionary sense, but somehow not commercial sense. But this post isn't about what we call what we do. It's about the components that will eventually generate a label that will carry the genre to prominence. In this case "What Does She See In Him?"

See my comment on Margaret Carter's August 6th entry on this blog about Lovecraft and Romance that somehow lacks a title and thus a specific URL.

So once again let's revisit several of the craft techniques we've been discussing and synthesize them, doing several at once, finding the connecting links among all these apparently different writing processes.

In this effort, we may be able to resolve some of the conflicts we see between ways of teaching and ways of learning the fictioneer's trade.

So, what the heck DOES "she" see in "him?"

The reason that obvious question (that every Romance editor reads MS's looking for the answer to) is so hard to answer (in a writing lesson, in life, and when writing a novel) is that it is incredibly poorly phrased.

A good half, maybe 90%, of the answer to any math problem lies within the statement of the problem.

This key question to the Romance Genre Signature is poorly phrased for the same reason I discussed in Plot Vs. Story

Writers who set out to teach writing all seem to use different words to refer to the same moving parts of stories because writers are mostly readers who are self-taught to become writers (since it's unskilled work, a hobby anyone can do, who would deign to teach it?) and have to make up their own vocabulary for what their artist's eye sees.

Yeah, it's not just the Romance or Alien Romance genres that are disregarded. It's WRITING that bears a stigma (not the stories produced but the craft itself). Ask any wife with a contract to deliver a book on deadline. Editors get more respect.

I have yet to cover in this blog the difference between an Editor and a Writer. These two skills require two totally separate brain functions which produce individuals with completely distinctive traits.

Producers and Writers likewise are distinctively different, which you'll see after you know a bunch.

But sometimes you get both in one package. Fred Pohl leaps instantly to mind. It will be a long post when I tackle that personality difference, but for the moment, let's focus on this nagging question that you, as a writer, must answer for the editor to decipher well enough to buy your MS.

What does she see in him?

To answer that question in your fiction convincingly, you must have an answer that makes sense to you, then you need to orchestrate a large number of these individual writing craft skills we've been illuminating, and you must do that orchestrating not with the conscious mind but with the subconscious.

That means "walk and chew gum," Or drive and sing along with your iPod, or cook and watch soap opera. Yeah, now you've got it. You must multi-task when you write.

You learn the procedures individually, then you combine them, doing two at once, then three at once, etc. until you're doing everything at once and don't even know it.

The typical daily 5PM routine of a Mother of small children comes to mind. You can do that; you can write a novel.

So using all these skills you have to convince an editor or producer that "She" does indeed see something in "Him," something that the READER/VIEWER will actually understand without having to think too hard, and that something explains why "She" does wacky things to be with "Him."

And you have to convince an editor your characters' actions make sense when the editor herself (himself sometimes) has no clue that the question is indeed poorly phrased.

What a tall order. (yeah, I love cliches)

So where to start figuring this out?

We discussed the construction of the HEA, the Happily Ever After ending that is so much a signature element of the Romance Genre that it must be the target ending for the Alien Romance, nevermind that not all SF ends happily.

The HEA ending has to evoke a certain feeling in a reader.

More, it has to ping that bell for a huge readership composed of a lot of different kinds of people who maybe have at most one or two things in common.

An ENDING can be factored into its component parts to create a BEGINNING, which is why some writers start by writing the ending first.

The ENDING (HEA or not) contains all the elements within the story. All. No exceptions unless it's a series, in which case the Story Arc overarching all the volumes is the DRAMATIC UNIT that contains all the smaller ones, and each volume is a dramatic unit holding up that arch.

The structure-within-a-structure motif applies to every genre. Nothing can be in the composition that does not figure into understanding the ending. That's what it means "end." It won't feel like an ending at all if there are pieces in the drama that are left out of the ending (of the novel or the series, whichever, but everything drives toward that ENDING). It has to be an ending to be satisfying to the consumer who paid you to do this. And "ending" by definition contains ALL the elements that went before it.

The HEA is an ending.

But the HEA is not the ending of the Plot. It's not the ending of the Story. It's the ending of a DRAMATIC UNIT.

We discussed The Scene as a DRAMATIC UNIT, but I don't think I pointed out strongly enough that the entire story is a DRAMATIC UNIT, and if the story is in a series, then the whole series is likewise a DRAMATIC UNIT. (I'm putting these moving-parts tech terms in CAPS for a reason. I'm not shouting at you. I want you to be able to find the section of this discussion that answers questions that will arise later.)

Think about what that "entire story is a dramatic unit composed of smaller but identical dramatic units" concept means in terms of this poorly stated question, "What Does She See In Him?"

A Dramatic Unit starts with a feeling -- ANTICIPATION -- and ends with a feeling -- SATISFACTION.

The little dramatic units all string together in a rising arc of tension, driving toward that ultimate satisfaction, but to get there, to "rise" in emotional tension, each small unit must deliver something, a teaser, a hint of how that ending will feel. (sound familiar? It is, pretty much, like sex.)

HEA is a type of satisfaction. It is primarily the reader's satisfaction. Readers pay the bills, and have to get what they thought they paid for or they won't buy again.

So something has to be satisfied.

Before you can deliver an emotion driven by anticipated satisfaction, you (as any salesman knows) must first awaken curiosity, desire, need, an awareness of the lack of something. But more than an awareness of a lack (at a friend's wedding, crying because you don't have anyone to marry), the salesman (i.e. the writer, in this case) must first awaken ANTICIPATION that the lack, whatever it is, will be SATISFIED at the end.

In general, the novel can deliver any sort of satisfaction.

A mystery delivers the solution, satisfying the need to know (and the best is when the reader gets their guess about the solution ratified, but it can't be too easy.) A Western or Action Drama delivers dead bad buys and righteous good guys surviving.

The Romance and all genres crossed into Romance (Vampire, Lovecraft Horror, SF, Paranormal, Action, etc) has to deliver the HEA. The HEA is an extrapolation into a SECURE and PREDICTABLE future.

So if the HEA is the defining element in Romance, why does "she" have to see anything at all in "him?"

Take for example the woman on the hunt for a man, let's title this story STALKING WOMAN.

She cries at a friend's wedding, bereft with loneliness. She spies a guy. She sets her sights. She executes her plan. She hooks him. She preens at her wedding. She has achieved her goal, totally triumphant.

Is that an HEA?

No, it's an Action Adventure ending, goal achieved. War won. Captivity escaped or survived. Or as a romance reader might assess that ending, it's trouble in the making. Therefore, in a Romance, that wedding would be the MIDDLE (down-point) of the novel, where her real troubles begin, with the stakes raised, maybe Mr. Right appears as a waiter at her wedding to Mr. Wrong? Or it might make a decent opening to something like MR. AND MRS. SMITH which I discussed at some length in

What's the connection (walk and chew gum) between the CAUSE OF THE ATTRACTION and the EXTRAPOLATION INTO THE FUTURE ending? Think again of STALKING WOMAN.

Where is the error in phrasing the question, "What Does She See In Him?" And vice-versa of course.

Your objective is to deliver an HEA to a reader you've never met and probably won't. How do you know what will satisfy that reader, what their idea of HAPPY might be? How do you know that your reader will be enthralled by a woman who sees heroism in a truck driver? They might be repelled by heroism in a truck driver. What kind of HEA can a truck driver's wife expect?

Does it matter "what" causes the attraction in "What Does She See In Him?" Will any human trait work as "attractive" enough for any reader you might reach to anticipate the satisfaction of a permanent relationship?

Next think about "See." What does she SEE in him (& Vice-Versa).

Does the character have to "see" something in another character in order to have their romance genes activated?

That is, "see" in the sense of be consciously aware.

Is it indeed the CHARACTER who has to understand why she is attracted to this guy, in order for the READER to experience anticipation satisfied?

Do people in real life know why they marry a particular person? Are they always right about that?

Does a reader have to know the exact and true REASON that one character is attracted to another? And does the reader have to agree with the character about "what" the attracting trait is? Might not the reader "see" a different attracting attribute than the attracted character THINKS is causing the attraction?

Who among us understands themselves deeply enough to articulate what it is about our spouse that attracted or attracts us?

Do you know why you dislike certain people? Or do you just make up excuses, rationalizations for a feeling you feel, but somehow need to explain because our culture demands that we explain ourselves?

Can a reader attain satisfaction and an HEA sensation if all you offer is a rationalization about why one character is attracted to another, knowing that what one person sees in another may not always actually be there?

Thus the dual-POV Romance lets the reader see what he sees in her, what she sees in him, and maybe that neither one is seeing correctly.

But then does everyone reading this know what is REALLY going on inside their own subconscious mind? As the writer, you need to do most of your writing work subconsciously, outside your own awareness, and you need to trust your subconscious to produce usable material. How much do you really need to understand about your own subconscious in order to achieve that? (Well, as everyone knows, writing is unskilled labor, you see. So easy anyone can do it.)

Remember, we're talking about SF or SF Romance, or Paranormal Romance, where the two characters involved might not be of the same species. There may be no "she" or "him" involved at all.

For me, that's what makes it interesting. (see my Dushau Trilogy - and if you can't find it at a reasonable price, I'm expecting it'll be available again in a new edition. Subscribe to this blog, or see my FriendFeed box for other ways to get announcements.)

So this discussion of such a simple question is getting really confusing. Such a mess.

"What does "She" see in "Him?"

When answering a question that is so apparently simple leads to a mess like this, it's reasonable to suspect the question was not phrased well, and so can't be answered directly.

We're juggling a lot of parameters here, all moving parts in the fiction delivery system.

A) The Editor
B) The Reader
C) The Characters
D) The Reviewer
E) The Writer

All of these have to achieve satisfaction at the end of your dramatic unit. Yes, you get to be satisfied, too.

All these people are all different. Three of them you'll never really know well, or at least don't know now. (even if you write a book on contract for a given editor, that editor may move before your book is turned in)

How do you figure out what all these people are anticipating and what will satisfy their anticipation and give them a sense of a secure future? And what has the answer to that question got to do with the problem of what one character sees in another?

I have an answer to that. It may not be your answer.

Some writers maybe shouldn't even know their own answer to that! Too much conscious input can ruin a story, which is another reason I use for analyzing THROW AWAY exercises at writing craft techniques. If you workshop a story you want to sell, focusing conscious critical attention on every moving part, you end up producing an unsellable mess that looks like an assignment for a writing course, not a story for publication. So you need to make up toss-off stuff to workshop and practice techniques, (doing scales at home) then PERFORM your actual story for sale and send it to an editor (dress rehearsal) THEN finally perform the rewrite to editorial specs for publication.

Now that you've gnawed on this problem set a bit, I'll show you my answer if you show me yours (that's what the comments section here is for).

If you've been reading my posts here for the last two years or so, you probably know my answer.


Philosophy is the carrier wave that you impress your information on, and it carries that information to your editor, reader, reviewer (me), and back to yourself, delivering satisfaction.

The carrier wave of the universe.

I hope you all understand radio and broadcast TV well enough to understand how a carrier wave works. It's like the dial tone you hear when you open your telephone and it's ready for a call. (but a dial tone isn't a carrier wave)

A carrier wave is a plain, simple, smooth, regular ripple, a hum underneath the universe. In STAR WARS terms, The Force which can carry A DISTURBANCE to those sensitive to the carrier wave.

In the case of humans and culture (yours, your reader's, your editor's), the carrier wave is our ambient culture's values. Our philosophy.

The USA is an amalgam of dozens of disparate and often conflicting cultural heritages, which is one reason some of our artistic products such as films do well in other countries. Most individuals in the USA partake of several conflicting philosophies. It's a wonder we're even a little bit functional!

The writer is a performing artist who selectively recreates the reader's reality (which is the carrier wave that connects writer and reader).

Your philosophy (you have one even if you don't know it) shapes what you "see" as reality. No two of us see the same reality. We filter whatever objective reality may be out there into a shape and color that fits our philosophy.

Philosophy comes first. Emotions are shaped by philosophy. Actions are powered by emotion. Results proceed to manifest - and this is the spooky part - to express in concrete, everyday reality, the exact philosophy the subconscious holds as that philosophy flows down through the lower 3 levels. The universe is all of one piece.

In previous posts here, I showed you how that works with the level of Actions and Material results, in the 20 posts on the Tarot. -- has an index of the previous posts

The levels of Philosophy and Emotion, Wands and Cups, are covered in two as yet unpublished volumes, but I'm hoping to have those available soon. Delays keep happening.

The artist selects carefully among all the bits of philosophy that she knows, to highlight and explicate those bits of philosophy that the writer, editor, reviewer and reader have in common. That's why a writer must know more philosophy than almost any other profession, philosophers included.

To create the bonding force between two characters, a romance writer selects bits of reality and leaves out other bits, to bring a picture, an image, a pattern to the foreground, a pattern the reader (and editor) will recognize only subconsciously.

When a reader recognizes some pattern in a story subconsciously, they "buy into" the premise of the fiction (believe six impossible things before breakfast). The World the writer has Built becomes real to the reader even if it mostly doesn't resemble their ambient reality.

The congruence between the reader's perceived ambient reality and the fictional built world becomes the CARRIER WAVE, the philosophical juncture between the subconscious of the writer and the subconscious of the reader.


The question, "What does she see in him" becomes utterly meaningless.

What she is consciously aware of, uses as an excuse, or rationalizes about him is NOT the source of the attraction, and satisfying that rationalization would produce no more pleasure than satisfying any other neurotic need ever does.

Neurotic need: take for example someone whose neurotic need is to be rich. Goes to school, gets degrees, works hard, workaholic trait busts up the family, gets HUGE fortune amassed, commits suicide leaving a note about misery. (notice that I told a story here in PLOT OUTLINE form)

A neurotic need is one that can't be satisfied by the apparent target of that need.

"What she sees in him" is that kind of illusion or twist. No amount of "him" will satisfy her need for him.

That's how it is in the real world. Our subconscious, true needs, bind us to each other, not our conscious rationalized needs (which often drive us apart - hey, guys, CONFLICT IS THE ESSENCE OF STORY).

Depict that subconscious binding force via your selective recreation of reality, i.e. worldbuilding, in your fiction, and your characters walk off the page into your readers' dreams.

Trying to answer the question "What does she see in him" creates what Hollywood calls "on the nose" dialogue and plotting. It just fails to communicate, or amuse, or to mean anything because it says what it means rather than placing the real meaning in subtext.

"On the nose" dialogue gets instant rejection in Hollywood. "On the nose" plotting gets instant rejection in Manhattan.

So "What does she see in him" becomes a totally new question. You should restate it for yourself, because your restatement may not be mine, and the stating is an artform in itself.

But mine is, "What subconscious element binds writer, reader, editor, reviewer, and CHARACTER together? What is the carrier wave?"

The carrier wave will be found in the philosophy.

Once you've sorted the carrier wave out of the background noise of our ambient culture, you can use it to carry your information (emotion is information). Then you will have the tone or wavelength that becomes your THEME.

How do you find themes? How do you figure out what themes will work for this or that story, plot or drama?

This subject is a big, amorphous mass of sticky stuff. How can you train your subconscious to sort through it all and find ART you can use to convey your ideas?

Remember, readers live in a big amorphous mass of sticky stuff that doesn't make any sense to them. They read novels to be shown patterns which they can later see hidden in the stuff of life. That's what artists do, find and display patterns that art consumers won't discover on their own.

So how do you train yourself to look at your world, the same world your readers live in, and re-sort the amorphous mass of reality into a pattern your readers will enjoy because you can make life make sense to them? (i.e. deliver to them an HEA that is plausible enough to feel in their bones)

Back again to PHILOSOPHY (my answer to most questions).

That big amorphous mass we call reality sorts itself very neatly into patterns of 10 compartments, and once sorted neatly enough, every living person on this earth will find something in it to recognize, and something to respond to emotionally because it communicates directly to the subconscious.

That pattern of 10 is most commonly and easily available as the Tarot.

One of the first things you learn when you start to study Tarot is that it pretty much pre-dates most religions and contains the recognizable basics of all religions. The understructure is the structure of the universe, and all religions are derived from ways that Avatars have used to explain what they saw when then ascended on High and viewed All Reality from the perspective of the Throne.

Thus, internalizing the structure of The Tarot, and using that structure as your carrier wave, can let you communicate with readers of vastly disparate religions, and even atheists and agnostics.

The Tarot is particularly well suited to communicating Love.

That's why, when this blog posed the question of why it is that Alien Romance is not a highly respected genre, and the question of what we can do to change that arose, I decided to finish my series of volumes on The Tarot and make them available.

The way of looking at the world through the structure of Tarot shows reality as iterations of a unified pattern of 10. It is just one of the many (MANY) philosophies extant in the USA nevermind the rest of the world. It's not a question of "right" or "wrong." It's a question of what we have in common, and of all those elements in common, what can be used in Worldbuilding.

This pattern of 10 method, and subsets of it, subsume religious and philosophical barriers, and can be accessed by any artist (you don't need a mathematical mind).

From explaining Tarot for writers, I went to giving a primer on Astrology in a series of posts starting 7/15/2008

There are 5 posts so far directly on astrology and a few other posts mentioning it in passing.

Astrology is also mentioned in the posts on Tarot because they are really the same subject, and if you know one, it's easy to explain the other in terms of the one. It doesn't matter which you start with.

These two esoteric disciplines, Tarot and Astrology, address the SYMBOLISM we all share as human beings. I've barely touched on how the writer can use symbolism in fiction. Academics write papers on it. I'm sure you've all studied it in college.

Tarot and Astrology are not separate and apart from Psychology, Sociology, Archeology, Anthropology, Linguistics, or even bio-physics.

If you know any of those academic disciplines, you will immediately pick up on the repetitive echoes of them in Tarot and Astrology. You may discover there's nothing left for you to learn from Tarot and Astrology. Most of your readers won't know these disciplines either, and you should never let your knowledge show through "on the nose" in your fiction.

As with the terminology of the difference between plot and story and drama, it doesn't matter what you call this carrier wave element of humanity that binds us all, and binds us into pairs, and then families. I call it philosophy. Invent your own term.

You don't have to be gnostic or agnostic or atheist or a follower of any religion to "get it" on the level an artist needs to have it in order to create with philosophy.

It doesn't matter what you CALL the human soul, or the way our souls connect.

It does matter that you have a clean, clear, operational, precise and accurate personal internal grasp of the moving parts and working components of the amorphous sticky-ball we are embedded in.

The ARTIST's job is to peel away the layers of sticky and amorphous slop in our universe and reveal the pattern underneath it.

That is what those who formulated the question "What Does She See In Him?" were groping toward without knowing it.

The question that the artist must answer for the reader in metaphorical visual terms, though the characters are ignorant and should remain ignorant, is "Which universal elements do "She" and "Him" share?"

Do they live in the same universe or different universes?

What two lovers believe doesn't matter. Look how many mixed marriages work just fine!

The binding force of the universe that rivets us into pairs is not affected by belief or rationalizations. It is a product of the carrier wave subsuming our reality.

The easiest and quickest way I have found for understanding the relationship between Philosophy, Emotion, Thought, and Deed is this Tarot Structure study that I walked you through on this blog.

But I only explored a single pathway connecting the 10 different states of mind. There are ever so many other ways to connect Her this to His that.

The interconnecting pathways between the 10 different states of consciousness sort the impossibly complex mess of reality into something even the human mind can handle and the human heart can respond to. All readers subconsciously know this pattern, and exult to see it depicted in art.

Tarot is the artist's filing system. It clarifies the subconscious and makes it accessible to your art.

It's not what one person "sees" in another. It's what one person responds to in another (CUPS - Romance is all about CUPS, EMOTION), and why that response happens.

Once you can parse the universe of your everyday reality into this ten-fold filing system, the binding forces among souls becomes clear. If you can show that clarity to your readers, they will respond with joy and relief and satisfaction of understanding that love is not mysterious nor bewildering nor crippling.

This 10-unit model of the universe explicated by Tarot corresponds to what the old time mystics called The Music Of The Spheres, and yes there is a relationship to the planets of our solar system. And you can learn it well enough to play that Music - writing is a performing art. Love, Romance and even Sex all have an analogue in Music.

So you take my 25 blog posts and amalgamate them, infuse the result with your OWN philosophy (not mine, for crying out loud!), select from that amalgam, and extract a theme you can build a world to showcase.

Then answer the question in your fiction: What note is "She" tuned to? What scale is "She" singing on?

She will bond with a lover who can play her as if she were the Stradivarius among women. He will bond with a lover who can play him as if he were a Steinway among men.

See? It's not "what" or conscious awareness of a trait. It's recognition of that 10-fold pattern underlying the Tarot, and the 10-fold variable model of human personality inherent in Astrology (9 planets, Sun and Moon make 11 just like Tarot's shadowy 11th Sepherah). Isn't it odd that Pluto was demoted from planet status, a shadowy 11th element in our Astrology?

Western music uses an 8 tone based musical scale. But that's not an intrinsic property of sound. It's a convention. Ever listened to Japanese music?

Analogy, archetype, meta-cognition, fuzzy math. Meat and potatoes for the writer.

Go listen to the Music of the Spheres and determine what scale you will perform your masterpiece in. Listen to some Opera duets between male and female singers. There's no "what" and no "see" involved. It's soul level attunement.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg