Thursday, April 29, 2010

Technology and the Writing Biz

Here’s an op-ed article from the Baltimore SUN contrasting traditional books with e-books, with special reference to reading WINNIE THE POOH aloud to a child:

Reading and Computers

And here’s a piece from the same day’s editorial page about writing on the computer versus the old-fashioned way:

Writing and Computers

And last, a long article from the NEW YORKER about whether the iPad can “save books.” This one is mainly about the BUSINESS of publishing:

iPad and Kindle

The first piece listed above skirts annoyingly close to the fallacious contrast often made between e-books and “real books.” Once and for all, media folks, e-books are BOOKS. I can remember similar scorn for paperbacks as “not real books” (“trashy paperback” in some circles was one word, like “damnyankee”). E-books serve better than paper books for some functions and not so well for others. I agree with the writer of that article about children’s picture books; even a full-color electronic display would be only a second-choice substitute for the traditional format. On the other hand, children’s material composed specifically for the electronic format could take advantage of features unavailable to old-fashioned books, such as interactivity.

The editorial about writing on the computer makes one assertion I heartily disagree with—that a word processor never improved anyone’s writing. It has certainly improved, if not revolutionized, mine! Back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, I was reluctant to rewrite because every change meant retyping a page, and a major rewrite would require weeks of repetitious work. I tended to think long and hard about whether replacing a not-quite-there phrase with a better alternative was worth the time and manual labor. (Not to mention the risk of introducing new typos with each iteration.) Now I can keep revising until the work is as close to perfect as it’s likely to get. And responding to editors’ revision requests may not be exactly a pleasure, but it’s no longer a nightmare. Viva technology!

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

7 Pursuits To Teach Yourself Writing Part II

This is Part II, continued from Tuesday April 20.

3) What Is Your Favorite Story

Of all the stories you have floating around inside you, which one(s) are your real favorites?

Which universe have you created that you really live in, while just visiting our shared reality occasionally?

Which character pops up leading your stories most often?

Oh, yes, you have dozens, right?

Probably not. Probably, if you are like most writers, for long stretches of your life you will actually write only one story, about one character, with one problem.

Those Literary Criticism writers I discussed above actually do produce some useful information as they compare works from a given writer over a lifetime.

One thing that turns up among many prolific writers is very similar to what movie critics find about Lead Actors -- there is a single character or "type" and a single story-theme that the writer or actor does with exceptional audience "reach" (breadth of appeal).

And as I have said that I learned from my first writing teacher, Alma Hill, Writing Is A Performing Art.

Writing and Acting are really the same profession.

The skills of one apply to the other.

Very likely, your favorite story will be the story you can craft with the broadest possible "reach."

In Hollywood marketing, "reach" is the measure of how many different demographics will pay to see a work. Does it appeal to 15 year old boys AND 30 year old women, AND 25 year old men and women, and Parents taking their kids, AND 20 year olds taking a date? Can you get them all into the theater? Then you have "reach."

Or you might be in a "niche" market, and not have a very broad reach but really, really REALLY hit that single demographic, 15 year old boys who will drag their date into the theater whether she likes it or not.

And woe betide her if she says she doesn't.

If you read enough biographies, you'll find a lot of very popular writers have been shocked and surprised by the explosion in popularity of a particular thing they've written. Some can duplicate that success, and some can't. I think mostly those who can't are those who have written something very well indeed, but it isn't a favorite inner story of their own.

Why are we talking about this? Because one pursuit you can't stray from is the pursuit of the right mentor for you at this particular time in your development.

That mentor will be someone who is currently selling your favorite character in your favorite story.

If you pursued the study of archetypes, you will be able to see why you resonate to that author's work. Your story, inside of you, is somehow also the same as this author's. But the similarity will be on the highest abstract level, and the differences will mask that similarity in every way possible.

It's the differences that you have to sell. That's your stock in trade.

But what makes your stuff sell is the "vehicle" - the archetype behind it all.

Well mastered craftsmanship lets you showcase the differences and hide the similarities. And that's what gives you penetrating power into an existing market.

If you can't find books on writing by a writer whose work tells you that you belong in his orchestra, in his classroom, among his peers, playing his song, then you must learn by studying how and why you respond to his stories.

A "pantser" learns best by studying what others have externalized. A plotter learns best by studying what's inside themselves. I do both.

4) What Is Your Natural Trope?

One of the pursuits of a writer who wants to reach a broad and deep market, to extract money out of her audience, is the formal education in "literature."

Since the printing press is much older than the moving-picture, there's a lot more written about story-craft in reference to text-based stories than about films.

A film, though, is a story. It's a story in pictures. It's images and iconography, and in many ways far more powerful than the written word. But in other ways, pictures are less powerful than the written word.

But if you have studied the Shamanistic story telling, the Bardic tale, the living oral traditions that led to the Ancient Greek theater, to Rome, to Shakespeare, etc., you surely have noted that the genres created in each medium bear a haunting similarity to each other.

The Adventure, The War Story, The Costume Drama, The Coming Of Age Tale, The Hero's Journey.

Each prototype is adaptable to each medium we've invented so far.

Now, it seems 3-D is the next big thing, but it's so expensive that only the simplest, most visual stories (AVATAR) can be distributed in that medium.

So for the next few decades, I would suggest new writers perfect ways of crating their stories to blend both text and images. In time, distribution costs may come down to where a select few "classics" written for future media will reach future generations.

So, search the inventory of stories floating around in your mind, then learn the popular tropes, the genres, the rule-bound formulaic stories, and study how old genres evolve into new genres.

Consider the "Dime Novel Western," Hard Boiled Detective novel, the Bodice Ripper, the Gothic Romance, the Kickass Heroine SF-Romance, the time-travel Romance, the adventure, the soap opera, the sourcerer's apprentice and all the ever morphing forms.

Then contrast-compare those extant forms with the classic, eternal "storytelling" tropes.

Learn the forms that make classics, then search through the stories inside you and find out what you have in those forms.

Now, it may happen that almost all the stories inside you are of one or another classic form. That could make life easy because you already have inventory to sell. Or it could make life hard because you don't know which one to work up into selling form or where to market it.

But more likely, you will find your own stories are the same as the extant forms you imbibe a lot of. Your favorite entertainment shapes your inner dialogue, but you also gravitate to the extant form that most resonates with your own personal story.

I've discussed how and why this matching happens in several posts on Astrology Just For Writers, with a list of links to them here:

And in a discussion of Blake Snyder's SAVE THE CAT! series on screenwriting, is a discussion of what you can achieve with the knowledge of how your internal stories match (or don't) with the tropes that are most popular now, and classically.

If it happens that your internal stories just don't match any of the commercial genres, then you have at least three possibilities.

a) You can found a genre with a blockbuster they'll name the genre after.

b) You can whittle, craft, rearrange, develope, unfold, and morph your internal dialogue to match one of the currently extant genres.

c) You can develope a whole new internal dialogue.

Or you can do all of the above. None of this is a betrayal of your personal artistic nature or the gift you bring to the world. It's just mastering a craft, no more complex than learning to talk at age 2.

Storycraft is a language you can acquire as a native speaker -- without knowing grammar, spelling or punctuation. Or it's a language you can learn as an adult, a second language meticulously learned through grammar, vocabulary drill,and ennuciation.

If you speak story as a native, you become a pantser whose stories sell because your internal stories are already in the language everyone else speaks.

If you learn it as an adult, you become a plotter who tells only part of their internal story - the part that can be translated.

So when you've sifted the seething mass of stories inside you down to a set of those that match the external market.

So discovering your natural trope is the 4th pursuit in teaching yourself to write. If your natural trope isn't popular right now, that's a problem to solve by taking up the 5th pursuit, the study of your natural audience.

5) Who Is In Your Natural Audience?

You might think of this pursuit as "Where did everybody go?"

Or perhaps, when everyone is stampeding in the opposite direction from where you're going, you might ask, "What do they know that I don't know?"

As I noted above, actors and writers are really doing the same thing, and so spend a lot of time people watching, especially stampeding herds of people (i.e. trends in reading tastes).

Studying your audience, finding out what amuses them, what they laugh at, what they think about, what they worry about, is very likely the biggest life-long pursuit of a writer.

The commercial fiction writing craft is all about audience "reach" -- how broad an audience can you entertain? How little do they have to have in common with one another to enjoy your product?

But you don't have to be a commercial fiction writer to slice out a demographic of your own and entertain them fully and deeply.

Today, you have self-publishing options, and ebook publishers who are developing famous imprints in very narrow niche audiences.

Today you have many more choices for what to do with your internal story dialogue than ever before.

Find your natural audience, then ask yourself if you want to do what it takes to reach beyond that natural audience.

Very often, that might mean reducing the emotional impact on your natural audience in order to stir and fascinate a broader audience.

Once you've made that decision, you can choose a medium of delivery.

Today, there is a thriving independent film market beginning to develop niche audiences.

In any delivery medium, though, reaching your audience is all about cost, investment, up-front expense.

Part of your expenses as a writer include your education (not tax deductible yet), and the time spent on your day-job.

Who you want to write for, and what mechanism you want to use to reach that audience will shape and empower the fiction you produce.

For example, there was a time you couldn't write a sex scene in a YA novel. That world has changed. But the rules for YA sex and general audience sex scenes, and "Adult" sex scenes are still different.

So you will find yourself re-evaluating what audience you want to write for, and what medium to write in, for each individual work you tackle. Thus studying your natural audience, and audiences around the fringes of your natural audience will become a lifelong pursuit, not a single career decision graven in stone.

When you write a story, you are just like the oldest of old time storytellers. You are standing up before an audience, and what you say, how you say it, when you pause, and when you shout, all depends on how well you know the people behind the faces looking up at you from across the campfire.

Writers are just like actors, singers or dancers. It's the same craft performed in different media.

Writing is a performing art. To master it, you must perform.

And that doesn't mean just write a 1,000 words a day.

The story is not told until someone hears it.

The story is not written until someone reads it.

How well you can get your story to "go over" with your natural audience depends on practice - incessant practice.

But how well you can reach beyond your natural audience also depends on practice. A lot of that practice is practice at getting rejection slips and figuring out what to do about any comments on them.

Learning to reach beyond your natural audience, to reach enough people to justify book publication expenses, to justify a stage production or film production, takes persistent practice.

The more expensive the medium of production, the farther beyond your natural audience you must "reach." And so the more practice it takes.

Finding your natural audience is the first step in a long, involved pursuit. Once you identify your natural audience, you must figure out what they have in common with other audience-fragments you might reach with only tiny adjustments in your internal story's tropes.

And you have to do this over and over again for each story you want to tell. So again and again, it becomes a lifelong pursuit in teaching yourself to write.

However, just as telling your story can't happen until there is someone to tell it TO -- likewise, teaching yourself can't be done in total isolation.

6) Who Is Your Natural Mentor?

When you have done all you can do by yourself, when you have produced several works you have polished until you can't see a difference between your work and the other similar works in your genre, then you need a mentor.

Again, a mentor is not a teacher. A mentor is more like a drill instructor, a martial arts sensei, or a dance teacher or orchestra leader.

Before a mentor can help you at all, you must have the basics down pat, but not to the point where you believe you know it all, or where you've practiced your errors to be habits you can't change.

A mentor does something. You copy it. The mentor tells you what you did wrong, kicks your feet into allignment for the posture, drills you in the forms, tells you your note is flat, sets the tempo. You do it again and again and again until you conform your output to standard.

Who will you accept that kind of discipline from? How do you find that person? How will that person recognize you?

In teaching yourself to write, you will adopt many lifelong pursuits. Searching for your mentor -- and your next mentor and the next -- becomes a lifelong pursuit.

A mentor can't teach you. You can use a mentor to teach yourself, but only if you have defined what you must master and what you're willing to suffer through to master it.

The other 5 pursuits listed here help you define what you must master.

Only you can set limits on what you will suffer to achieve mastery.

Generally speaking, searching for a mentor will most likely not prove successful.

Mentors find you.

A potential mentor is someone who has just recently mastered what you now need to master.

People who are ready and willing to "pay it forward" - to pass on what they have internalized to a non-verbal understanding, will not generally go around looking for someone to mentor.

But they will be working in the field, demonstrating their mastery, cutting a swath through all the competition.

In the course of that, they may stumble upon your output, and recognize that the one thing it lacks is this newly mastered technique.

And they will offer a clue, a comment, a crumb, to help you recognize what's missing.

If you respond by accepting that casual input and putting it to use, incorporating it easily and quickly, and producing something ELSE to show them (not saying, "I made these changes. Is it right now?" but creating something new that does demonstrate an attempt at the technique) -- then perhaps you will capture this mentor's attention.

Once captured, you may not be able to shake that attention off so be careful who you respond to.

The flip side of the coin is that once you accept input from a mentor, you then must "pay it forward." You can't fail to offer that crumb to someone else who is lacking it.

Accepting a mentor doesn't cost money. It's much more expensive than that.

"By your students you'll be taught."

When you offer to mentor someone, you have to be vulnerable to what comes back at you because of it.

From that experience, though, will come your next great work.

Ultimately, that's where all our ideas come from -- other people.

Today, you can accept mentoring after a fashion via printed or ebooks on the craft.

But as with living, hands-on mentors, no one single source will inculcate everything you must master.

As I mentioned above, there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of books on screenwriting and on novel writing.

They all pretty much say the same thing, over and over, in different ways, just as living mentors impart their craft in different ways.

Which book is good for you will depend on who you are and where you are in the learning curve at the moment you pick it up.

You can read the same advice 6 times and think you have it -- then read a 7th book and WHAM finally get it.

It all boils down to little sayings all professional writers know -- such as "show don't tell" "conflict, resolution" "characters must arc" -- but exactly how you personally implement these sigils of the craft depends on who you are.

If you go to

Sign up, and then look for JLichtenberg, you will find about 19 in depth analyses that I have done of screenplays others have written (some of the screenplays are still available there for free reading - some subsequently rewritten).

Quickly look through the screenplays and what I singled out as the main problem, and you will find that the same thing happens with screenplays as with novels -- over and over, the real and only problem with beginning writers (and seasoned pros, too) is CONFLICT.

Identifying, developing, and resolving a single main conflict, a thread that runs right through the work as the backbone of the work, is the one thing necessary to sell a work, and the last thing writers master.

Really. All these books on writing try to convey ways, means and methods of getting your mind to grapple with a conflict in such a way that a reader/viewer can grasp that conflict and experience its resolution as the personal payoff to sitting through the storytelling.

Every trope and genre has a specific conflict, and a pattern of events that leads to a resolution of that conflict.

All our lives have a main conflict (the story of your life) -- read my posts on Astrology and Tarot for more specifics.

We resonate to fiction that discusses our main life conflict "off the nose" - subconsciously, or by distancing the issue.

It's CONFLICT that connects your internal stories to your audience's internal stories.

Showing rather than telling CONFLICT is the main technique all books on writing try to mentor new writers into realizing in their drama.

Here are some books that do a fine job of it - books recommended by Rowena Cherry. In my opinion, you would do just fine picking a book off the library shelves or out of the discard bin at a used book store.

7)Books others use or recommend.

Three suggestions from Rowena Cherry - the writer who started this co-blog:
Laughing at myself. Some would say that I did not do a very good job of teaching myself to write... so my list might not be a good recommendation.
Ronald B Tobias's "20 Master Plots" is always close at hand when I draft a new book, but I tend to take two of his master plots at a time, and mix them, one for the hero, the other for the heroine.

"I rely heavily on "The Joy Of Writing Sex" by Elizabeth Benedict (I think), because I don't naturally enjoy writing about sex."

"Al Zuckerman's "Writing The Blockbuster Novel" has some excellent recommendations of blockbusters to read (Thorn birds, The Godfather, Gone With The Wind..." However, I have yet to write a blockbuster, so either the advice left too much to extrapolation, or I am a lousy student.

Probably the latter!"

"Orson Scott Card's "Characterization" book is excellent, but if you read "How To Write Science Fiction and Fantasy" you find the same great advice, pretty much."

I would agree with all three of those.

Pray hard, close your eyes, pick a book, start reading in the middle of the book. You'll find the mentoring advice you need to get started on this pursuit.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Monday, April 26, 2010

Meridian Magazine:: Ideas and Society: Orson Scott Card on the Dismantling of America

Meridian Magazine:: Ideas and Society: Orson Scott Card on the Dismantling of America

Maybe this article by Orson Scott Card doesn't paint the picture of cause and effect, the relationship between culture and storytelling, just exactly right, but it's a clear statement.

And I have definitely seen this shift happen, as he describes it. I also think something Good has been discarded along with Old Culture quirks that weren't working well.

So if you intend to publish your storytelling, I'd definitely recommend you read this article, save it, and maybe re-read it in 20 more years.

Research your genre's books published in the 1960's, and write contrast/compare essays between them and books being published today. See if you can nail the difference, and use that as the core conflict to generate yourself an original universe to tell stories about.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Stephen Hawking Says Aliens Exist - AOL News

Stephen Hawking Says Aliens Exist - AOL News

Sunday, April 25, 2010


What do people do for a living in our science fiction romance and alien romance worlds?

I see farmer-colonists, teachers (magical and religious), healers, a plethora of law enforcers, also law makers, nightclub owners and bar tenders, entertainers (and pleasure-givers) and athletes, explorers, warriors, rulers, traders, doctors, newsmen, pilots and other functionaries necessary for the running of a military or civilian space station or space ark. Also the pirates, bounty hunters, assassins, smugglers, freedom fighters.

Maybe that's a comprehensive list, after all. Are there any glaring omissions that strike you?

If so, what gets glossed over, and why?

Have you read a small stack of books and been left with a niggling feeling that some of today's (and yesterday's) worldbuilding is rather superficial?

On the other hand, the submission guidelines for mid-list books seem to be calling for shorter manuscripts. Few debut authors could write a rich, sprawling Dickensian work.

I watch Mike Rowe's "Dirty Jobs" with great interest, and wonder how much of civilization's truly nasty jobs could be presumed to be done by robots in the future.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Limited Editions and E-Books

Cemetery Dance Publications will soon put out a limited edition of a new novella called “Blockade Billy” by Stephen King. Judging from the blurb, the story combines baseball and horror. This news even got a big article in the Baltimore SUN:

Baltimore Sun

This isn’t the first King title Cemetery Dance has published, but it’s the first time they’ve had an “exclusive” on a limited first edition by him. Although I subscribe to CEMETERY DANCE magazine, I’ve never bought one of their books. They produce deluxe, short-run products that are too expensive for me. I’m not a collector; I buy books strictly to read the words, and the idea of spending $25 for a novella makes me go “eek!” and run the other way. Even if it does include extras such as collectible baseball cards. (Thanks to online bookstore discounts, I never spend that much for NOVELS.) But I really, really wanted this novella now instead of many months later when it may get included in a King story collection at standard hardcover prices. To my delight, offered copies of the Cemetery Dance release at a deep discount of $13 and change. So I ordered it.

A few days later, it was announced that Cemetery Dance would not have enough copies (it’s a 10,000-copy run) to fill outside orders. Amazon canceled the availability of the book. Bummer. Then, happily, King’s regular publisher stepped up to the plate (to draw upon the baseball theme). They will release a non-limited edition in May at the reasonable price of about $14. Yay! I put that product in my Amazon shopping cart but did not pre-order. When I discovered today that the Kindle edition, still cheaper, has just been released, I bought it. Instant gratification, no waiting until nearly the end of May.

You may have figured out that I’m chintzy when it comes to shopping. I buy too many books not to seek bargains wherever available. (If my husband ever looked at the statements for the credit card I use at Amazon, he would doubtless say I buy too many books, period.) If I simply must read a new book right now, I buy the hardcover at the Amazon or Barnes and Noble online discount. If there’s a cheaper Kindle edition and it’s not one of the authors I feel I need to have in hard copy, I buy that. If I can wait, I either request the book from the library or buy the paperback later (or both). With older books, I often buy used copies from the online sites, especially if it’s something I’m not sure I’ll be enthusiastic about. As for highly overpriced items such as academic books, in most cases I couldn’t own them at all if not for cheap used copies.

The point of all this rambling—aside from “new Stephen King horror novella, yay!”—is to applaud what a wealth of format and price choices readers have nowadays and what innovative things some publishers and retailers are doing in the book distribution business. Well, some of them; some are trying to expect exorbitant prices for e-books and claiming that $9.99 Kindle editions are underpriced! If major publishers start charging near-hardcover prices for e-books and then act surprised when readers won’t buy them—well, they would be shooting themselves in the foot. The argument that e-books need just as much editing, formatting, etc. as print books, coming from mass market publishers, is disingenuous. When an e-book comes into existence as an additional format of a book that has already been released in print, all that work has already been done. Profits from the e-book should be mainly gravy. Our independent e-publishers (Hard Shell, Amber Quill, Ellora’s Cave, Mundania, etc.) seem to get along just fine pricing e-books at or below mass market paperback rates. Granted, they probably pay their editors a lot less than New York publishers pay theirs. But that difference couldn’t justify pricing e-books equal to (or even near) the print edition of the same book.

On the whole, though, there’s much going on to celebrate. In DIFFERENT SEASONS Stephen King labeled the novella the “banana republic” of fiction, the format nobody wanted. (As in, “Senor, your story is going to be here a long, long time.”) Now, thanks to the Internet, fiction of that length can be published and profitably sold to readers as a stand-alone unit. No longer do we have to hunt for a magazine or anthology willing to give the poor thing a home.

Speaking of anthologies, there’s a new one called WARRIORS that includes stories by three of my SF and fantasy favorite authors. The topic in general, though, doesn’t interest me a bit. I’d love to read those stories, but I’m not willing to pay the cost of a whole hardcover for them. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could buy electronic versions of individual stories out of an anthology, like individual songs off a music album? Actually, the Marion Zimmer Bradley estate is doing that very thing with items from the Darkover and SWORD AND SORCERESS volumes. They’re offering the individual tales separately on, with a generous cut to the authors. I wish more anthology editors would think of doing that.

So many potential opportunities for readers and writers. Truly, we live in frabjous times.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

7 Pursuits To Teach Yourself Writing Part I

My posts are always too long, so this time I'll try an experiment. I'm going to post this one in 2 parts, Part I and Part II, posted a week apart, even though it's a single long piece. How many of you who want to read Part II will forget to?

Is a comment on a review I wrote of SAVE THE CAT!

The review I wrote has drawn 3 marvelous compliments from readers (and from Blake Snyder when he first published the book). This third comment though asks for a list of (currently available) books on screenwriting that would teach what you need to know before SAVE THE CAT!

Any list I could give you would probably be useless in a year or so because many of the titles would be out of print unless they were e-books. And even then, they would likely be out of date in some way because the entire field of "commercial entertainment" is always morphing. I will put a list though at the end of Part II.

And the truth is, though I've read countless books "on screenwriting" (started in grammar school and High School too, reading every book on playwriting the library would stock - inter-library loan books too) I've never read a screenwriting craft book that actually taught how to write a STORY.

Writing a script (stage play or screenplay) is a secondary skill.

You've seen any number of screenplays "based on a story by" -- screenplays have to be based on a story! Before you can write the screenplay, you must craft the story itself or find one already crafted.

Creating that story is actually a separate craft from screenwriting, and it is best learned by studying books on novel craft.

Yet a novel is structured differently than a play.

You have to learn that difference in order to write a story that would be useful to a screenwriter, yourself or someone else.

There is a way to teach yourself that difference and how to leverage that difference into a blockbuster screenplay based on a story by you.

So I'm going to give some examples of where to look, and how to identify a writing textbook that can help you -- but with a focus on what to do with those texts and how to do it.

The reason there are so many books on screenwriting is twofold.

a) there is no "one thing" to master and then you can do it. No two writers are alike, no two people master any performing art the same way, or in the same order. The ones who will sell scripts generally go this route, selecting a few courses, reading a lot of books because multitudes of approaches are needed.

b) there are multitudes of people who want to "become" screenwriters and will read books to dream about it, but will likely never finish any script. They keep buying books and paying for courses so the field grows. The ones who will sell scripts generally don't do it via this route, taking lots and lots of courses and buying lots and lots of books.

How do you teach yourself writing craft for storytelling in any medium?

Story craft is a huge subject. To master it, you must understand that the subject is bigger than you are.

Marion Zimmer Bradley had a 3X5 card tacked over her desk saying nobody ever told you not to be a plumber.

There are more efficient ways of making a living. Writing is the hardest work and the most underpaid except maybe ballet dancing.

Except for the top 1 to 5% of writers, the best paid working writers make less than minimum wage if you add up all the hours spent at it over a lifetime.

Writing is a vocation not an occupation.

It's a Calling.

You must dedicate your whole life to it and be willing to sacrifice everything else (sometimes your sacrifice isn't accepted and your family will miraculously stick by you no matter how you neglect them; but you must be willing, often savagely willing).

Read a lot of biographies. You'll see every really famous writer's biography includes a myriad occupations, all apparently disconnected. The career of writing is composed of odd jobs and a life of study.

So I'm going to list some of the pursuits that might lead through that myriad occupations to a career in writing. And from all this you may discover how to find the books on writing craft and screenwriting craft that will synthesize these pursuits into a sellable screenplay or novel (or both).

1) What is storytelling?

The first pursuit is to define what you are pursuing.

There is a craft called "storytelling" which is a theatrical discipline, and a folk-art.

Storytelling specifically refers to a person who stands up before a live audience and creates with words and dramatic delivery a story usually with a moral or lesson. It is perhaps the most ancient form, and most respected. The original objective may have been cultural continuity, bringing the young into the community.

It isn't exactly what I'm referring to as "storytelling," but all of its craft disciplines are very specifically relevant to learning to teach yourself the craft of commercial fiction writing for text or dramatization.

The most important lesson you can learn from storytellers is audience awareness.

A person who simply mouths off about their own internal fantasies is not story-telling. The "telling" part involves connecting emotionally to the audience and that means being aware of the audience's main fantasies. More about that later.

So the first "pursuit" on our list is to study storytelling from shamanistic origins through Broadway stageplay, even perhaps including folk music performances and today's popular rap forms until you understand exactly what you are aiming to master.

Storytelling is the core origin of "entertainment" - the kissing cousin of the Bardic Craft (traveling living newspaper and history book all wrapped in poetry and a rousing well lubricated singalong).

And all of these living person delivery systems are bundled up today in the "Classroom Teacher" from Kindergarten through 16th Grade. The school librarian or public children's librarian is another manifestation of this. Some even play guitar and sing to the tots!

These teachers are usually our first contact with live entertainment, the first ignition of the desire to share our fantasies, our inner lives, with others.

Teaching is entertainment at its best.

So to teach yourself, you must entertain yourself.

Learning is something else altogether.

I have held elsewhere that there is no such thing as "teaching" -- that one person can not convey either information or a world-view by force into an unwilling or disinterested mind. Even indoctrination doesn't work very well without an entertainment aspect.

But there is "learning" -- and "learning together" as a group activity.

As in "The King And I" -- "by your students you'll be taught" -- if you don't open yourself to absorbing lore from your students, they can not and will not absorb anything from you. So be careful who you set out to teach.

The English words "teaching" and "learning" imply one-sided activity, each disconnected from the other, each able to exist in isolation.

This is a property of the English language, a way of dividing the world into compartments that is distinct from the way languages from other Language Families divide the world.

The formal study of Linguistics, especially neurolinguistic programming, is highly recommended as a pursuit under this first category of pursuits. If you are to use language to tell a story, you might be more successful if you know how language works and why it works that way.

Screenplays are "a story in pictures" - and pictures are also language. See my blog entry on the new iconography:


It's about a new Iconography of the modern action-romance, images reveal theme: TOUCHED BY AN ALIEN DAW Books Cover image vs. a still from the movie FACE OFF. 
So if the concepts teaching and learning are actually just artifacts of the English language, what really does happen in a classroom or when you read a book about how to do something? How are skills transmitted in real life?

A real life transmission situation is better described in terms of music and resonance.

A classroom is more like an orchestra than it is like a mother bird feeding chicks.

I think those who participated in Blake Snyder's screenwriting workshops got that impression of playing in an orchestra he was directing. And orchestral directing is, like writing, a performing art.

In the transmission of an artform from generation to generation, the vast majority of what is transmitted is non-verbal, even sometimes spiritual. And that's true of a verbal artform, so transmission is best done in person.

My own hands-on, in person, orchestra leader was Marion Zimmer Bradley.

No two writers could possibly be more opposite in nature and function than Marion Zimmer Bradley and Jacqueline Lichtenberg, but I absorbed things from her that can not be put into words.

I was recently reminded of all she ignited within me by a query that came to me on twitter after a #scifichat,

(for how to participate in twitter online chats see )

@All_Day_SCIfi asked me if I knew of any good books on literary analysis.

Since High School, I've had many encounters with "literary criticism" and none have been informative or useful - perhaps because I'm an originator of the "literary" that others "criticise."

The query did say "analysis" which is what I do to stories, but not just to "literary" stories -- I devour stories delivered in any medium and analyze what makes them work, or not work, and what I would choose to do to the story to make it work or work better.

Many years ago, I was a Guest at The Conference On The Fantastic that Margaret Carter reported on this year:

I attended several memorable panels, talks and paper readings at that event, met Stephen King, and had other remarkable experiences all in the space of a few days.

One of them was a paper on Marion Zimmer Bradley - of course I couldn't miss hearing that so I was one of the first to arrive, and got a front seat and listened with absolute attention.

At that time, the Conference was new, and Professors didn't write papers on mass market original novels, nevermind SF or Fantasy. The Conference on the Fantastic has changed my world in that regard.

This particular paper drew some very deep and searching conclusions about Marion, her work, her worldbuilding, and the substance of the themes she was working with. Almost all the conclusions and assumptions in the paper were based on the final paragraph of one Darkover novel.

As it happened, I knew something the writer of the paper did not know, and according to the rules of literary criticism was forbidden to research and discover. What I knew, invalidated everything in the paper resoundingly.

I knew that the final few lines of that novel were not written by Marion, but by an editor. I knew because I'd seen the original and Marion told me how the ending got changed, not because she was incensed about it but because she was illustrating a point about how to work with themes, how to craft a beginning and an ending that match (just as in a symphony -- she was a student of opera, another pursuit I'd recommend).

The change in wording of the final sentence changed the theme drastically. It changed it to a theme she personally did not want her byline associated with but which the editor thought would sell better, and which the editor thought was what she really meant anyway.

She discussed it with me also to illustrate what it means to be a professional fiction writer working in the mass market paperback medium, as opposed to hardcover original where writers have more authority.

It was, at that time, very common for a mass market paperback editor to change a writer's words (legally, it was in the contracts that they could do so) without the writer's knowledge or consent and then print the book. Even when that wasn't in the contract, it was career death to object publically.

The reason for this is simply deadlines. Mass Market moves production faster and on a lower budget with less time and fewer people, and little or no cross-checking at every step. That makes it oddly like film production where, though there is much checking and changing, the writer is simply out of the loop after delivering the script. The pace is frantic for time is money, and decisions are made not on the basis of the art but on the basis of cost.

Objecting to such routine practices in production is the difference between an "artist" and a "commercial fiction writer."

An artist's work depends on every punctuation point and even misspelling - every paragraphing choice and every word choice. Nothing can be changed without destroying the artistic effect.

A commercial fiction writer buries the important stuff, the art, so deep these commercial changes made by many hands along the production channel don't matter.

In this particular case Marion ran into, the change in the ending mattered a lot -- but Marion settled it privately and never had that happen to her again by that editor.

The professor writing a paper about Marion based on that ending could have discovered the origin of those words by asking Marion (she was still alive then and easily reached).

But that's against professor rules. You can't ask an author what they meant to say, even if the author is still alive, and derive a point of "literary criticism" from what the author says they meant to say. You have to work from the printed text.

My personal opinion of literary criticism and scholarship in general reached an all time low at that point, and has stayed there.

Maybe I should change my opinion now that the Conference on the Fantastic has changed my world. It's possible that analyzing mass market work has caused professors to change their rules of evidence, and that would change my opinion.

But I did learn the lesson Marion was demonstrating. Master the layered construction of a story and learn what "they" will change during production, and what you can sneak past them. But also learn how to react professionally when something turns out differently than you intended.

And that's what "storytelling" really is.

The story you have inside you to tell will stay inside you unless you can master the craft of delivering that story to an audience, and Marion's experience with having her ending changed demonstrates what the writer goes through to deliver a story to an audience.

StoryTELLING - delivering - is a mechanical craft that anyone can learn.

But I've never seen anything like this lesson written down in books on writing, or screenwriting.

Many books on screenwriting are only annecdotes about personal experiences and cheerleading to inspire dreams of success. One book like that, more storytelling than instruction, is WRITING THE KILLER TREATMENT (selling your story without a script) by Michael Halperin.

From the title, you'd think it was about how to extract the working parts of your story into an outline that a skilled screenwriter could use to craft a completed script "based on a story by."

But no. It doesn't tell you how to do it. It tells you that you must do it and how much fun and profit there is when you do. It's a $15 book I found to be a total waste of time and money - not because it's a badly written book. No, it's a very entertaining, lively, and zestful bit of inspirational writing. It's the title that's misleading (to me). Others might construe it to mean something more like what's actually inside the book.

Marion's lesson to me in telling me about how the last lines of a novel got changed without her having a chance to object or negotiate was tossed at me in response to something I had said or done -- and in the context of my learning curve, because the lesson was chosen and tailored for me at that time, I learned a thousand things from it.

If you pick up WRITING THE KILLER TREATMENT at the right point in your learning curve, you may learn a thousand lessons and sell screenplay because of it.

A good book on writing craft is one you are ready for.

A bad book on writing craft is one you are beyond - or one you aren't ready for.

If you run into a "bad book" on writing craft, put it on your shelf. There may come a day you need it -- or a day you will refer a student to it because it's just what they need at that point in their learning curve.

Marion also said many times, anyone who can write a literate English sentence can write and sell fiction.

You can teach yourself. You don't need to pay thousands of dollars for classes, or hundreds of dollars for books on writing (libraries are full of craft books for free reading and the internet is replete with hints, tips, and blogs like this one, even online courses that aren't very expensive.)

So where do you start teaching yourself?

Well, once you are well launched on pursuit #1, "What is Storytelling?" you are ready to ask yourself a group of questions that will launch you into more pursuits, some of which may turn into occupations.

Question-asking is the major technique of the storyteller, and I don't just mean the Socratic Method.

The answer to any question lies in the formulation of the question. Get the formulation wrong, and you will never find the answer.

The best place I know of to learn questioning is in the pursuit of an education in the sciences.

Philosophy is another subject area, especially religious philosophy, that trains the mind in questioning.

See my blog entry on Theodore Sturgeon's motto, Ask The Next Question for more on that:

So "What is Storytelling?" naturally leads me to ask:

2) What Stories Are You Telling Yourself?

I know of 3 kinds of writers: Deliberate Plotters, Pantsers, and Hybrids.

Deliberate plotters need to know consciously, exactly what they're doing, why and how all laid out in an outline before they do it. They make great formula mystery writers.

Pantsers (the majority, I think) write "by the seat of their pants" -- just make it up as they go along, do what the characters dictate, follow the character's nose through the story. Marion was that kind of writer; completely subconscious.

Hybrids, like me, do it both ways at once, and vacilate back and forth without rhyme or reason. But I've trained myself to be more of a plotter, and Marion often said how she admired my ability to plot.

But what is it that you are doing when you write a story? Is it just plotting?

Most writers (commercial and otherwise) have thousands of stories bursting inside their heads, dream bits in different universes every night, and have a hard time choosing one story to write and finish.

In fact, that's one way to tell if a young child is going to "be a writer."

Marion often said, perhaps quoting Robert A. Heinlein, the only reason to be a writer is that you can't do anything else.

Writers write. And if they can't write, they stare at a blank wall and tell themselves stories. Incessantly.

It is the nature of a writer to glance at a cereal package and leap off into a whole story.

Writers, like actors, sit on shopping mall benches and people-watch, guessing what soap opera each passer-by is wound up in.

Writers don't strain for story ideas. They don't hunt for them. They don't go somewhere else to "get an idea." They have to beat the ideas off with a stick.

For commercial fiction writers, that stick is made of the filter question, "Can I Sell This Story?" "What's the market for this story?"

For the screenwriter, the filter is not about the story at all -- nor even about the idea. The screenwriter searches for "High Concept" which is a wholly different animal than a novelist tames.

Here is one place I discussed the High Concept in screenwriting:

And here I discuss how concept distinguishes a novel from a screenplay

So before you can choose a filter, you have to know which kind of story your mind keeps generating. You have to inventory, contrast, compare, examine, slice and dice, what's floating around inside your mind.

Unless, of course, you're a "pantser" by nature, and looking too closely at the content of your internal stories would be like asking a centipede how it walks.

In that case, you need to focus more externally and examine closely what you do for relaxation, for entertainment. What do you do when you're doing nothing? What carrot do you put on a stick and chase through your daily chores so you can get it for a reward?

Is it a TV show, a movie, a book, all of the above multi-tasked?

Since you are selling FUN, you need to have some in stock to sell. Go have some fun. Acquire that fun, intellectually, emotionally, and/or non-verbally. Repackage it and sell it.

The pursuit of the contents of your internal stories will, most likely, lead you to the pursuit of the study of archetypes, of  THE HERO'S JOURNEY and similar insightful works.

Psychology, socialogy, and every kind of -ology listed in any university catalogue can be applied to sorting, categorizing, and warehousing your inventory of internal stories.

One or another of those thousands will have commercial potential.

Why? Because one or another of your stories actually also resides within thousands and thousands of other people.

Those stories that reside in thousands, millions, or everyone are either based in archetypes or they are pure archetypes.

That's why so very often we hear the cries of, "They Stole My Idea!"

They didn't steal it, they got it the same place you did -- "up there somewhere."

I've done twenty posts on Tarot Minor Arcana which discuss slicing and dicing archetypes and how a writer can employ these principles in the process of writing. The posts are listed in these posts: lists Suit of Swords lists Suit of Pentacles

All of this came out of my own examination of my internal stories.

My external stories, what's been professionally published, are very different - but not unrecognizable.

See next week, Tuesday, on this blog for part II.

This is short, right?  *sigh*

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Monday, April 19, 2010

Silly Season: Time for the BookLovers Convention

Yep, it's spring, so yep, it's time for the start of the silly season: the gi-normous Romantic Times BOOKlovers Convention, this year held in Columbus, OH. We're talking two or more thousand readers, writers, booksellers, librarians and other industry professionals, plus four hundred or more (I lose count at these things) published authors. Oh, and a handful of male cover models.

Do you now see why it's the silly season?

It's great fun, a super time for readers and authors to meet, a super time for authors to connect with other authors, a super time for librarians and booksellers...and I think the male cover models endure the best they can.

Here's my schedule for those so inclined:

PRE-CON Aspiring and Advanced Writer Workshops

Monday 4/26
10:15-12:00: FINDING MR. GOODWRITE: Linnea Sinclair and Stacey Kade
1:30-2:45: POINT of VIEW: Linnea Sinclair & Stacey Kade
4-5 PM RESEARCH: Linnea Sinclair & Stacey Kade

Tuesday 4/27
TUES 10 – 11AM: STAYING INSPIRED - : Linnea Sinclair & Stacey Kade
3:00-3:45: ASK US ANYTHING/Smith/Parmley/Sinclair/Groe/Lee/Kade

Yeah, Stacey and I do the dog & pony together a lot. We write from different philosophies but we end up at the same place. We're also crit partners, so it's fun for students to see how authors who don't agree on the philosophies of the craft still work together.


Wednesday 4/28
2:30 PM - 3:30 PM
Panelists: Cathy Clamp aka Cat Adams, Lynne Connolly, Donna MacMeans, Karen Miller aka KE Mills, Linnea Sinclair

6:15 PM - 7:15 PM
READER: INTERGALACTIC BAR AND GRILLE PARTY (This is THE big party for this genre, kids!)
Hosted by: Catherine Asaro, Jess Granger, Cindy Holby aka Colby Hodge, Stacey Klemstein aka Stacey Kade, Isabo Kelly, Janet Miller aka Cricket Starr, Karin Shah and Linnea Sinclair

Friday 4/30
11:15 AM - 12:15 PM
Panelists: Gwynne Forster, Stacey Klemstein aka Stacey Kade, Jackie Kessler, Linnea Sinclair

Panelists: Leanna Renee Hieber, Isabo Kelly, Stacey Klemstein aka Stacey Kade, and Linnea Sinclair

2:45 PM - 3:45 PM
Panelists: Karen Miller aka KE Mills, Linnea Sinclair, Jeri Smith-Ready

Saturday 5/1
BOOKFAIR 11am-2pm OPEN TO THE PUBLIC! This is a phenomenal time--all your authors in one place.

Next year the con's in Los Angeles, CA. FYI.

Hope to see you all in OH for this one! ~Linnea

Linnea Sinclair
// Interstellar Adventure Infused with Romance//
Available Now from Bantam: Rebels and Lovers (Book 4)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Gaia's Zits -- or Of Lice and Men

Suppose we live on a sentient being?

It's not a new idea. There's James Lovelock's and William Golding's Gaia Theory (Earth as a single organism), and books by Asimov, Orson Scott Card, the Helliconia trilogy, and many more. That doesn't mean that "it" cannot be "done" again.

We've all spoken of "Mother Earth", or "Mother Nature" but, I wonder, would a planet be male or female or hermaphrodite or a barren neuter?

The Earth breathes. It breaks out. Its skin crawls and wrinkles and shifts. It has warm flashes and cold spells. Frozen, liquid filled, life bearing comets might or might not be compared to spermatozoa... should I compare planets to giant clams in the oceans? A star's life cycle might be compared to that of the mythical phoenix.

Before the eruption, I was developing a thought about the arrogance of mankind, not merely politicians at Kyoto or Copenhagen, but of all of us to think that we have changed or could change the climate. It is true that a sufficient overpopulation of fleas can kill a dog. I accept that. But, I think we're more of the order of lice.

Entertaining gateway page to information about headlice

Fascinating piece on how volcanoes have shaped human history

If you look at the cross-section of an animated volcano, you may be struck by its similarity to a pustule

I've no idea if a host's acne outbreak is disastrous for headlice, but volcanic eruptions are potentially very serious for humans.

In Europe it is feared that the eruption of Eyjafjallajoekull will set off one of the Earth's most dangerous volcano systems: Katla, and perhaps Hekla. It sounds counter intuitive, but if the weight of a glacier keeps an icy lid on a volcano, and that glacier is melted, then there could be a chain reaction.

 "Eyjafjallajokull has blown three times in the past thousand years," Dr McGarvie told The Times, "in 920AD, in 1612 and between 1821 and 1823. Each time it set off Katla." The likelihood of Katla blowing could become clear "in a few weeks or a few months", he said.

Lovelock's initial hypothesis 

James Lovelock defined Gaia as:

a complex entity involving the Earth's biosphere, atmosphere, oceans, and soil; the totality constituting a feedback or cybernetic system which seeks an optimal physical and chemical environment for life on this planet.
FictionA number of works of fiction use the Gaia hypothesis as a central part of the plot. In two of his science fiction novels, Foundation's Edge (1982) and Foundation and Earth (1984), Isaac Asimov describes the planet Gaia as one on which all things, living and inanimate, are taking part in a planetary consciousness to an appropriate measure. In Asimov's story Gaia strives for an even greater superorganism that it calls Galaxia, and that comprises the whole galaxy.

See more at Wikipedia

PS, Rusty's link to his tongue-in-cheek blog on a similar topic is

All the best,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Technology Nostalgia

Lately FORWARD DAY BY DAY, an Anglican daily devotional guide, has been reprinting meditations selected from issues throughout its 75-year run. This past Sunday a meditation from 1936 began with: “After driving a motor car all day, you are tired partly because so many pictures, so many things, come before you in a very short time. In twelve hours you see miles and miles of countryside, cities, people, gas stations, other cars. Then at night you arrive home and you are at peace.” (What would this writer think if he or she could experience the pace of a typical day in our time?)

The point of the meditation is the need to rest and “refuel” (spiritually) at frequent intervals during life’s journey. What it brought to my mind, though, was the quaint image of a long trip in a “motor car”—a novel activity in that era when reliable cars, good highways, and convenient gas stations were still relatively new—as a daring, challenging experience. It also reminded me of a book I recently read about the history of the Burma Shave signs (remember those?—the last one was officially taken down in the early 1960s). When first invented, this mode of advertising was a daring new experiment. Now it’s material for reminiscence about the “olden days.”

The reading reminded me, too, of a poem by Kipling with the refrain, “Farewell, Romance!” The old ways and artifacts appear “romantic” in the sense of adventurous and exotic. The caveman complains that the displacement of flint spear heads by metal ones will mean the death of romance. Likewise, the replacement of crossbows by firearms. The stagecoach is romantic; the noisy, smoke-spewing train isn’t. Thoreau, too, associates trains with the soulless pace of modern life; “the railroad rides on us,” he says. Nowadays, though, trains feel quaint and romantic to us, a subject for folk songs. Whatever has faded into the past takes on a glow of nostalgia. Kipling’s poem ends, “He [Romance] taught his chosen bards to say, Our king was with us yesterday.”

We Boomers idealize old black-and-white TV programs. Our parents lamented the disappearance of radio dramas. The country song, “I Miss Back Then,” celebrating the alleged innocent simplicity of what sounds like the 1950s, lists a plethora of material and social phenomena the singer misses. (Many of which I happily do without. Baloney sandwiches on white bread with mayonnaise? They nauseated me then, and I wouldn’t eat one now except as an alternative to starvation in the wilderness.) What cutting-edge technology of today will our grandchildren, when they reach retirement age, look back on as symbolic of a simpler, happier time? Will they walk around with miniature computer links in their ears, Bluetooth style, viewing data on a holographic upload that floats in front of their eyes, and sigh for the good old days of laptops, notepads, and iPods? Will they reminisce to their kids about gathering around the game console with friends? When e-books become ubiquitous, will old fogies regret the passing of paper books, magazines, and newspapers? Will they sigh over the replacement of paper Christmas and birthday cards by e-cards? (Some people think newspapers are going that way already. As for me, you’ll deprive me of my daily papers in the driveway, not to mention tangible mail in the mailbox, when you pry them from my cold, dead fingers.)

If you’re around my age, does it ever give you a bit of a chill to stop and think that, to our grandchildren, the 1960s are HISTORY? Even for our two youngest children, in their childhood the Vietnam conflict lay farther in the past for them than World War II (which was, to me, HISTORY—after all, it ended three years before I was born) did for me at that age.

I’ve definitely entered the geezin’ stage of life. Cars today are far safer (and mostly more fuel-economical) than the vehicles of my childhood and teens, but when was the last time you rode in one (other than a van or SUV) that could seat more than five people in roomy comfort? The available selection of TV programming may be better than ever, but they certainly don't make movies the way they used to, do they?

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Turning Action Into Romance

You all know that I'm an SF writer and professional reviewer - if not, please look at this post on the inside of a reviewer's life.

The subject I've been pursuing here for the last few years is the converging of the SF/F fields and the Romance field, and the problem of how Romance can gain the high regard of the general public that it so richly deserves.

Recently we've seen the release of yet another Romantic Comedy film, SHE'S OUT OF MY LEAGUE, March 12, 2010:

And we ask why is "Romance" only acceptable in Hollywood as a "Comedy?"

OK, there was ROMANCING THE STONE and THE AFRICAN QUEEN, but think about Romance-hybrids and box-office respect. Almost all the recent romance films are hybrid genre.

So we note the commentary on IMDB for SHE'S OUT OF MY LEAGUE, and the whole focus on "it's funny" rather than "it's romantic."

The hybrid genre labels as I've pointed out in previous posts are formulated as DECORATION + PLOT-STYLE. SHE'S OUT OF MY LEAGUE is a ROMANTIC COMEDY - a plot structured as a comedy with romance as the decoration. And rom-com is a big seller in Hollywood now, especially in indie films.

Look at the film AVATAR. It's action with relationship as a decoration. At most, Romance is a complication to the action-plot.

But are we seeing a trend gathering toward merging the plot and the decoration into a single, united whole?

What would it take to accomplish that merger?

In a word, CHARACTER.

The essential core of the main character's character has to shift in order to merge the two elements of a hybridized genre. What is considered admirable in a person of solid character has to change. That is, the value, or the standard of admirability has to change from being entirely of one of the genres to being a balance of both genres.

When this kind of shift happens in a culture, new icons emerge, new IMAGES that "tell the story."

Remember what Blake Snyder taught us in SAVE THE CAT! which he learned from his elder mentors - a screenplay is a story in pictures. And remember what I noted about the film AVATAR

The requirement for a broad "reach" needed for a high budget film is that the whole story is pictures, not dialogue, and the pictures have to translate across cultural boundaries -- the pictures have to be exportable because the USA market can't support high budget films by itself.

Text-fiction writers have to evoke images with words, and so must choose images just as deliberately as a high budget film writer would.

The audience has become fragmented in the USA because our culture has shattered and is reforming around new icons, new images. The hybrid-genre fiction we're seeing now is a result of the search for new icons as change accelerates.

Here are two images to ponder deeply because they say "it all." These might be blended into a new icon if we can find the common meaning.

The cover of TOUCHED BY AN ALIEN by Gini Koch (DAW Books April 2010)
Gini Koch is a pen name of Jeanne Cook

Note he's holding a gun in his left hand while she's holding a gun in her right.  It's two people turned toward each other, guns in hand but neglected.

Now look at this still from a movie titled FACE/OFF.

Pay off ... John Travolta and Nicolas Cage in Face/Off. Photograph: Allstar/Cinetext/Paramount

Two men stand almost arm's length from each other, each holding a gun out straight into the other's face, faced-off.

I ran across this image in an article referenced on twitter:

The subtitle of the article:
Summer means action at the cinema, so here's Shane Black, the master of the art, giving Sam Delaney a masterclass in thrills

THRILLS???? Romance isn't thrill packed?

Notice the stance in the FACE/OFF photo - the distance - and how the guns are held. The IMAGE is all, the COMPOSITION carries the theme non-verbally.

Now just ponder and ponder that.

TOUCHED BY AN ALIEN (an excellent novel!) back cover copy reads thusly:



Marketing manager Katherine "Kitty" Katt had just finished a day on jury duty. When she stepped out of the Pueblo Caliente courthouse, all she was thinking about was the work she had to get caught up on. Then her attention was caught by a fight between a couple - a domestic dispute that looked like it was about to turn ugly. But ugly didn't even begin to cover it when the "man" suddenly transformed into a huge, winged monster right out of a grade Z science fiction movie and went on a deadly killing spree. In hindsight, Kitty realized she probably should have panicked and run screaming the way everyone around her was doing. Instead she got mad, searched her purse for a weapon, and, armed with a Mont Blanc pen, sprinted into action to take down the alien.

In the middle of all the screeching and the ensuing chaos, a tall handsome hunk of a guy in an Armani suit suddenly appeared beside her, examined the body, introduced himself as Jeff Martini with "the agency," called out to an Armani-clad colleague to perform crowd control, and then insisted on leading her to a nearby limo to talk to his "boss."

And that was how Kitty's new life among the aliens began ...


TOUCHED BY AN ALIEN delivers as promised, luscious hunk, complex and progressively sexual relationship, cognitive dissonance, and a heroine modeled after "Mrs. King" of "Scarecrow And Mrs. King" the TV show. Solidly crafted writing with the complex backgrounding handled with a minimum of expository lumping. Highly recommended.

But not recommended just as a good read. This is a book that explains a lot about what's going on in this real world of publishing.

Notice this "science so advanced it seems like magic" novel is published by DAW as Science Fiction, not fantasy - and is styled with all the relationship and sexuality you see in modern Paranormal Romance. The science is only science because we are told it is science not magic, but there are strong "magical" elements there too.

Now study those two images again and think ICON.

Think of the writing styling emerging from the cross-genre trends, especially hybrid-Romance styles, and now holding those images in mind, let's look at the entire field from the point of view of a literary agent.

There's a wonderful blog I've been following for some time by a really good agent who also seems to be a very good hearted person (not an odd combination among agents, mind you, but Rachelle Gardner here is an excellent example of that hybrid combination. Just read some of her other blog entries to see that.)

I found the following blog entry where Rachelle presents a query from a new author seeking representation that grabbed her attention and prompted her to ask to see the manuscript.

I read the query and the 30 or so responses already posted with great attention, noting it was fraught with passive verbs and passive sentence constructs indicating passive plotting or wrong choice of POV character that would disqualify it from consideration as a screenplay pitch, or as a novel query in SF or Fantasy genres.

I thought about the two iconic images posted above, and about TOUCHED BY AN ALIEN, and about everything marketers, book publicists, agents, editors and most of all film producers have gone to such great lengths to teach me about how to project professionalism into concise pitches.

TOUCHED BY AN ALIEN is almost the same novel as the one described in this query Rachelle Gardner posted, except for Kitt's attitude, which is anything but passive. Kitt is not "drawn into" this conflict; she plunges into it bare-fisted!

Note the only passive construction in the back cover copy of TOUCHED BY AN ALIEN is "her attention was caught." I would have rewritten that to "when she saw" and would have tweaked a lot of the other wording in that copy to sharpen it according to the rules another literary agent, Kristen Nelson illustrated with Linnea Sinclair's back cover copy at Denvention III:

But the TOUCHED BY AN ALIEN cover copy gets the point across about this very interesting woman, Kitty, a MANAGER heading toward the peak of her formidable career, who reacts out of the core of her personality to take charge and exercise her innate sense of responsibility and thereby plunges herself into a whole new reality and a new life.

That "reacts out of the core" and "plunges into" phrasing comes from Blake Snyder's SAVE THE CAT! series which explains why these attitudes are required in a POV character and this construction is an absolute requirement for a feature film screenplay.

I thought about all the kick-ass heroines leading the charge in Paranormal Romance acceptability to the general audiences and especially about the size of the world-audience for AVATAR.

One of the signatures of the Fantasy-SF-kick-ass-heroine novel is that the male and female leads have to be equals, whether they both know it or not. Very often the conflict is about establishing that equality as a prerequisite for a blazing-hot-romance.

If they are not equals, then any sexual relationship smacks of abuse to some (not all) of our modern sensibilities.

Part of our culture has already adopted this icon of equality as the ideal in relationship, and part has rejected it resoundingly. The interesting thing is that sometimes both parts reside in the same reader. The question then becomes, "Are the proportions of these parts that accept or reject equality still changing? If so, in which direction?"

Remember the 1983 film SCARECROW & MRS. KING, and the 2005 film MR.& MRS. SMITH which I discussed:

Compare the plot of MR.& MRS. SMITH which starts and ends in a marriage counselor's office with the query chosen by Rachelle Gardner.

We're in the midst of a churning harrowing of our cultural values. The pivot point may have been signified by the film WHAT'S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT, the story of Tina Turner's emergence from abused and neglected child to towering icon of the music scene.


Compare that with the film of same title about modernizing the dating game

Notice the 10 and 20 year intervals and correlate with the generational tastes issues I discussed with respect to Pluto transits:

And now, something new is happening.

Look again at the images above - the two with guns drawn, facing one another vs. guns hanging neglected in lax hands and the two embracing one another.

I look at that and I see two images of relationship based on equality of power, authority, efficaciousness, fearlessness, self-respect and mutual respect.

What do you see?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, April 11, 2010

SFR Community On Amazon

I happened to be doing something or other public-spirited in nature on my personal Amazon Communities home page (Your Communities) when "Linnea Sinclair" popped up.

I thought that I saw that Linnea Sinclair had just tagged Rebels and Lovers  However, now I poke around on the SFR community, I think it must have been Laurie G who did the tagging. It is quite alarming how little privacy one enjoys on Amazon.

Laurie G, Jacqueline Lichtenberg and this author are currently the top ranked "Contributors" in the SFR Community on Amazon. This simply means that we have taken the trouble to add "sfr" as a tag to other authors' books in order to help readers find SFR works if they happen to search by "SFR".

Once a "Community" is created on Amazon, through "tags" anyone can vote on the tags, start a discussion (which one hopes will be relevant), add images and more. At the moment, the SFR community is thinly populated.

If you have a book, or a friend, or a stake in the future of SFR to promote, please take a look.
Find the SFR Community.

Rowena Cherry
Friend of ePublishing 2009 Award winner

Please tag Mating Net as SFR for me

Thursday, April 08, 2010

New Fantasy Novel

Amber Quill Press has just published ROGUE MAGESS, the third (and, at present, the chronologically latest planned) novel in a sword-and-sorcery series by my husband, Leslie Roy Carter, and me. Since a lot of back story has accumulated by now, we faced the problem of bringing readers up to speed after a lapse of a couple of years since the release of the last book, BESIEGED ADEPT. At first I thought we should start the novel with a straightforward “the story so far” prologue, as I’ve seen in numerous published series. I wrote one in the voice of the protagonist, sorceress Aetria. My husband didn’t care for the result, so he wrote a conversation between two secondary characters, one of them filling in the other on significant past events before they get ready to serve as escorts and guards for Aetria and her twin sister.

After a critique from our live-in first reader and a discussion among ourselves, we decided that scene was too static; it would probably bore readers who remembered the first two installments and only confuse those who’d forgotten or hadn’t read them. So we reverted to the original plan of sprinkling in bits of back story as snippets of dialogue and brief exposition, as needed to make the present events clear. That technique allowed us to start the story with tension and action—but at the risk of having new readers feel lost.

Now, realistically, because this trilogy is a true series, with each book following directly from the last, few readers are likely to buy it unless they’ve read the first two. In a case like this, is the author justified in proceeding as if she expects readers to be familiar with the previous stories and just need reminding? Should she treat events from earlier volumes like any other kind of back story—supply them on a “need to know” basis?

Or are there times when an old-fashioned, frankly expository “the story so far” introduction works best?

Margaret L. Carter
Carter’s Crypt

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Pausing For You To Catch Up With Me Part IV

The last 3 Tuesdays, I've left you lists of 9 or 10 posts to read during the week. The first two lists were on Tarot, the Suits of Swords and Pentacles. Last week the list included 9 posts on how writers can use Astrology (without overtly mentioning it!).

All of these lists are about posts that open the topic of how to craft a Magic Realism genre story and make it realistic without the cliche ridden tools of modern Fantasy's version of "magic." PNR writers really need to absorb the import of these posts.

This week you can relax. There's only 6 to this series.

And these 6 posts grow out of two works on the craft of screenwriting by Blake Snyder (May He Rest In Peace). See for more on him and by him.

His first two books are titled SAVE THE CAT! and SAVE THE CAT GOES TO THE MOVIES and they took Hollywood by storm.

These two interwoven works show you what a Beat Sheet is, and how to use it to craft a story whether it's a screenplay or a novel. They touch on why you should use a beat sheet, and give you the particular beat sheet Blake discovered by reverse engineering the biggest box-office hits.

When I read his books, I had recently taken a course in Kaballah (one of my all-time favorite topics!) and when I told Blake about the connection I saw, he was enthusiastically accepting of my view.

His discovery of this underlying skeleton behind the biggest hit movies is actually the real secret behind the best selling novels of our genre.

The reason his Beat Sheet works for film, TV, and novels indicates the reason these formats are on a converging path. And that same reason defines "Magic Realism" and why it works as a story genre.

You'd think, considering all my posts on this blog on Web 2.0 and Social networking, I'd say it was technology forcing the media of the fiction delivery system to converge.

But if you've read the posts in my Lists of Posts, you can see how it might be interpreted differently.

It is entirely possible, from the magical view of the universe, that technology exists to facilitate the convergence of these storytelling formats. Film, TV, Webisodes, books, e-books, animated, illustrated. To us readers, it is the story that's important, and the medium is just the vehicle to convey the story to us. We create vehicles suited to conveying the story we want. Do you think?

My 6 part discussion of Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet is posted as part of my professional Review column, ReReadable Books. Each part recommends several novels that illustrate the points made.

Compare the dates to the dates on the posts in the Lists of posts from Tuesdays March 16, 23, and 30th on

On the left side of the page you can find a link to a list of all my columns archived on since 1993.

Most of the later Review column entries are much shorter than my usual entries on this blog. So these 6 review columns taken together are probably no more than 2 blog entries worth of discussion. There's a good chance you've already read most of the books discussed, so you should have no trouble following the points I make.

If not, have fun finding interesting books to read!

Jacqueline Lichtenberg (current titles) (full index)