Thursday, September 30, 2010

Robot Skin

Artificial skin to make it possible for robots to sense pressure may be produced soon:

Artificial Skin

It also shows promise for helping people with prosthetic limbs regain sensation.

Would a robot that can process several kinds of sensory input, including touch, and can pass the Turing test (carrying on a conversation that can't be distinguished from talking to a human being) -- a big step we haven't reached yet -- deserve to be classified as "human"? What would it take for an artificial intelligence to become entitled to "human rights"?

In one of Isaac Asimov's stories, a robot challenges the concept of "human being" in the Three Laws of Robotics. "He" decides that one of his fellow robots, having full sentience and superior intelligence, counts as "human." Therefore he is justified in obeying his robot comrade's orders in preference to those of flesh-type people.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Failure of Imagination Part III: Education

We're going to look at an article that surfaced in July 2010 in Newsweek Magazine, of all places, that unintentionally reveals a lot about the fiction marketplace and how that fiction market is morphing as we begin this new decade.

Who would think Newsweek would give writing lessons?

The overall general topic I've been tackling in these posts on is how to improve the general reader/viewer's opinion of the Romance Genre - particularly SFR and PNR.

Part I of this sequence on Failure of Imagination is not labeled Part I because I had no idea the topic would spread so far:
Part I is about professional romance writers unable to imagine the HEA is actually a real part of everyday mundane life.

Part II is here:
Part II looks at our failure as a society to imagine solutions to some problems -- and therefore we must suspect we fail to imagine and actualize solutions to other problems. It's not a failure to solve A problem - it's a failure at problem-solving-methodology. I wrote this before the Newsweek article came out.

Part III is this post where we will look at why Americans are wearing such blinders on the Imagination.

We put blinders (those leather cups around the outside of the eyes) on race horses to help them concentrate on running where the jockey points them and not spook at every movement close by, especially when being put into the starting gate stall. They also protect the horse's eyes from flying mud kicked up by a horse next to them.

It's a kindness to the horse, and a way of getting the horse's best out of him/her.

But should humans be treated that way?

When some of our data-input channels (mental and emotional bandwidth?) are blocked by "blinders" do we perform "better?"

Well, if you prevent certain sorts of human behavior before the behavior is even conceptualized, the human might become more tractable, more easily directed into certain group coordinated activities like running in a herd.

How can you put blinders on a MIND???

I don't mean how can you get up the nerve, the gumption, the chutzpah to do that -- but rather how can a mind be "blinded?"

Well, it's psychological of course.

And isn't psychology what fiction is about -- while Romance genre specializes in microscopic examination of the psychological?

You know me and cliches. Here's another old one I haven't harped on before. "As The Twig Is Bent, So Grows The Tree."

People can be bent psychologically if you can get at them early enough in life. The rule of thumb is give me a child until he's 7 years old, and you can do anything you want with him after that. (Is that from the Jesuits?)

We know this from child-abuse studies. A person abused in childhood turns out to be an adult with "issues" -- if overcome, those issues can be a strength, but if not overcome then they can cut swaths out of the individual's total potential.

People are bendable. Thus humans can "adjust" culturally, physically, psychologically, to almost any environment and circumstance.

Humans inhabit this world from the Arctic to the Tropics, on tundra and in deep forest. Humans live packed into cities, and spread onto prairie. Humans live under dictators and alone in single families or tribes. Humans can do anything if they start young enough.

This is what gives us the scope to postulate human-alien Romances, galactic civilizations, lost human colonies on worlds peopled primarily by Aliens (Examples: C. J. Cherryh's fabulous FOREIGNER series and my own Molt Brother and City of a Million Legends. Find free chapters of my novels at )

This bendable trait of human beings gives fiction writers much fodder for character development, story arc, plot and worldbuilding.

There's the story of overcoming childhood trauma -- the story of frigidity being overcome by Love -- the story of a weakness becoming a strength as someone takes their trauma and say, founds an organization to fight that issue in the general public.

Say a kid witnesses their elder sibling being killed by a drunk driver and grows up to found a National Chain of Bar & Grill joints which fight alcoholism and drunk driving, hiring real Psychologists to be bartenders?

There's no such thing as a life-event that is inherently ALL BAD. But there is trauma that changes people in ways they would rather not be changed.

As I've detailed in my series of posts here on Tarot and Astrology, all these life-events are just made of ENERGY - and it's how we bring that energy into manifestation and make choices which put the energy to use that determines whether the energy does more damage than good.

That's the essence of the "Beat Sheet" -- a "beat" is a BANG made by ENERGY - kinetic energy turned into sound. Or in the case of a story: emotional energy turned into action. It all has rhythm. The energy builds, the energy is released in a BEAT.

The rhythms of the world these fiction-beats are derived from are well depicted in Tarot and Astrology (and dozens of other fields of psychology) in a way that writers can use them to create characters, life stories, and plots.

Find the series of posts on Tarot and Astrology listed in these posts: (this one lists a group of very esoteric essays I did for my professional Review column on Snyder's Beat Sheet - and Snyder agreed).

So people (humans and most of the aliens we write about) can be "bent" as children, and very often, without warning and at great inconvenience to the "benders" they can, as adults, "snap back."

And those snaps can be used by writers as beats for fiction -- beats that mirror the rhythmic drumbeats of real life.

So what has all this to do with Newsweek Magazine?

Well, Newsweek featured a story which came out of scientific research.

The importance of this article is largely in the fact that it is a subject taken up by Newsweek. People will read this who would not read the peer reviewed articles in a Journal.

Read this article on Creativity Quotient if you missed it in your dentist's office:

----Quote From Newsweek--------
Yet there is one crucial difference between IQ and CQ scores. With intelligence, there is a phenomenon called the Flynn effect—each generation, scores go up about 10 points. Enriched environments are making kids smarter. With creativity, a reverse trend has just been identified and is being reported for the first time here: American creativity scores are falling.
----End Quote From Newsweek------

Go read that article.

Creativity Quotients had been steadily rising, just like IQ, until 1990 when among American children, the CQ scores suddenly bent down, and kept dropping.

For this CQ test, they target 8 year olds, 3rd graders.

Kids who were 8 in 1990 were born in 1982.

See my blog entry on the character of generations as described by the position of Pluto in their Natal Chart, and what that means for writers looking to target an audience.
followed by

I just got an advertising email for a seminar on screenwriting about how to pitch your screenplay to producers. The pitch for the pitch-course asks, "Do you know how to answer the most common first question producers will ask in a pitch session?" If you can't answer it, you won't even be considered.

Q: What demographic does your screenplay target?

See my series on WHAT EXACTLY IS EDITING -- 7 posts in a row, Tuesdays starting August 3, 2010.

This Producer-pitch question is the editor's and agent's primary question.

Several tweets from Agents on twitter have pinpointed the first sentence of the query letter as crucial, and the information in that sentence has to be WHAT this novel is, meaning the demographic it's aimed at.

That doesn't mean you should write "This Novel is aimed at girls 8-14 years old" -- but it does mean that whatever you say has to IMPLY STRONGLY that you have a direct bead on a specific demographic and what that demographic is.

In fact, the first sentence of your pitch or query letter is an opportunity to show-don't-tell that you have the ability to "show don't tell" as well as that you know the demographic, can hit the demographic, and can specify that demographic.

Marketing is all about demographics, and today everything is so advertising supported that demographics is the be all and end all of saleability.

So in 1982 where was Pluto?

PLUTO IN LIBRA generation (assimilating out of justice?) Late 1971 - 1984 (Gen Y? sort of)

PLUTO IN SCORPIO generation 1985-1995 or so (video game generation?)

Those born in 1995 were 8 years old in 2003.

The Newsweek article points at video gaming and the TV as babysitter (a 1970's 80's phenomenon) as possible culprits in blunting American creativity.

But then it looks at the various attempts to "reform" our education system, and the current "teaching to the National Tests" format.

People born in 1984 are raising kids now. In fact many may have 6 year olds now. That critical first 7 years of bending the twig is in its second generation.

The Newsweek article makes some assumptions that writers working in Contemporary settings need to take into account.

The most glaring to me is the assumption that kids are the product of the school system, and how school is taught determines how the kids turn out.

Well, it's a big part, to be sure.

And perhaps in today's world, the current 20-somethings raising kids with both parents working 40 hour weeks (they should be so lucky these days), perhaps the school and daycare center is in fact the biggest influence on a child's direction of growth.

How many parents teach their kids to stand up to the teachers and show the teachers where the teachers are just plain wrong to teach "what to think" rather than "how to think" -- and just how far would the poor kid get with that? In fact, would it do the teachers any good? Teachers must do exactly what the Principle and Board and so on tell them to, not what they believe is right. Kids don't understand "the system."

How much face-time do you have with your 8 year old (and younger).

Will that sparsity of face-time with their parents make them turn out to have different "issues" than you do when they grow up?

Cruising the web, I saw an article about education advancements. Kids in K-8 grades are using handheld devices to interface with classroom servers. Teaching is high tech because the jobs these kids will eventually need to do will be even higher tech.

Even car mechanics work with "chips" now -- and if they don't do it right, your car stalls or accelerates out of control.

With all of these factors shifting in less than the span of a mere 20 years or so during which a person can go from being a child to being a parent, which way should we bend our children to give them the best chance in the world we can't even imagine?

Because our imagination fails, we don't know how to bend and blinder our children for their success - or even survival.

With the torrential information explosion, overload, blasting at us all from every direction, do our kids need to have "blinders" installed to protect them from the flying mud kicked up by the kid next door inventing something in their garage that will change the world?

Do we need more information, or less, or someone "up there" in authority controlling our information?

Do we need totally free access to anything anyone wants to put up on the Web (including things we'd rather our pre-adolescents not be exposed to?)

Do we need blinders so we don't see those things that would spook us and distract us from our job?

Or would such blinders "bend" our imaginations so that we can't even imagine that we might imagine a solution to a problem that nobody has ever imagined existed?

What if we imagine a solution to a problem that nobody has ever solved before?

Isn't that the beginning of a Ph.D. thesis?

Those questions each can be morphed into a Theme and used to generate incredible fiction very relevant to today's demographics.

But the writer needs to look at that Newsweek article from another perspective, the demographics of the writer's intended audience.

Pitch a "concept" at a producer who was 8 years old somewhere between 1990 and 2000, and if that "concept" is in the youngster's imagination-blindspot he/she won't be able to see it as a commercially viable concept.

You might have the best idea ever for a High Concept novel-film-TV show, a potential multi-media empire seething through the worldbuilding you've done. If the producer, agent, editor can't "see" it because their imagination has failed - then they won't buy it from you.

And that producer would be correct to pass over your property.


Because your property would fall into the imagination blindspot of the audience demographic that producer is aiming for. It would mean nothing to that audience, certainly not what it means to you.

So a writer must know what blinders her audience is wearing, blinders the audience is not aware exist. The writer must know the limits of the audience's imagination.

What happened when Star Trek first went on the air - say 1967?

It set off an explosion of imagination among young college students - 20 year olds born in the baby-boomer years.

PLUTO IN LEO 1939 - 1957 (Became The Flower Children of 1960's and '70's)

Pluto in Leo folks have a magnified emphasis on being leaders, commanders, examples that others follow. Pluto is a magnifier and Leo represents "The King" - the chief. Gene Roddenberry had Sun in Leo.

And Leo rules the natural 5th House, so it's associated with entertainment, and children and siblings, with personal CREATIVITY in general.

Star Trek dropped into the minds of 20-somethings who already had an excess of creativity. That generation, fans and non-fans, produced the Internet, the Web, home computers, satellite, GPS navigation, genetic engineering, even matter-transmission and the discovery of planets around other stars, all in the last 40 years or so.

That didn't happen worldwide. It happened in the USA. But then it started, and is now continuing to happen in other countries where Star Trek has reached. It's slacking off in the USA, and many patents corporations have filed are actually in the names of folks born and raised, even educated elsewhere.

Star Trek may not be the "cause" -- but its popularity, its appeal, is to the imagination. It energizes imagination that already exists. It can't be popular where that imagination fails.

But now the USA is not producing such imaginative people though other countries are.

So the position of Pluto in natal charts and other factors that exist worldwide doesn't account for the change the Newsweek article notes in creativity in the USA as opposed to creativity in other countries.

So where are these blinders on the imagination of USA youth being implanted? In school, by daycare, in sports and other group activities, or in the home, in TV, Internet, and gaming hours?

And what will happen when this generation, or two generations, snap back, rip off the blinders and look at the world again?

Did we implant these blinders on our children to protect them from the excess amount of change the information age has created?

Again, each of these (unimaginable) questions could lead to blockbuster novel sales, films, TV series. Who knows? Can you imagine that?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Cover Art

I'm definitely shooting from the hip this morning, so please forgive me. I've had an incredibly exciting flurry of activity, and I'd like to share a glimpse.

It's probably no secret that I am a bit of a copyright hawk. In fact, I'm engaged in a debate with a self-avowed pirate named Jap on Richard Curtis's blog at the moment.... but that's not what I wish to discuss today, and that's not where the URL in the title goes.

I've just contracted to license some new cover art and backgrounds from Mitchel Gray, and if anyone is looking for some terrific images at realistic prices to use on covers (much of the Royalty Free stuff is for non-commercial use) you should at least take a look at Mitchel's work, and follow him on Facebook.

This image is copyrighted by Mitchel Gray.

If you have read my books, who do you think this is? (Or could be?)

My first reaction to this amazing image was that I love the colors and the lighting but the guy does not look like a hero. He looks rather sinister.

Overnight, it came to me. His armpits are shaven. His head should be shaven, too. If I construct a war-hand, and remove his trousers, this could be Viz-Igerd!

He likes sex doggy-style. I think it was the position of this gentleman's hands that caught my imagination, although that gesture is also classically Wizard, and a fighter's come-on.

Call it serendipity, but sometimes, for me, a new story doesn't really fall into place until I have something --someone, I should say-- to look at.

My friend, Mia Marlowe, likes to create a soundtrack of mood music for her heroes. I prefer visuals. To some extent, I do know what music my heroes like... I haven't got that far with His Potency, Viz-Igerd, the Gravenclaw, yet.

Is cover art important to you? It's critical for me. The cover has to show someone or something that is in the book, and it has to be accurate. I'm struggling with new covers for Insufficient Mating Material, and an improved cover for Knight's Fork. It's a busy time!

My next struggle is to decide whether it would be cool to use the same cover hunk (I have to negotiate a contract for each new use) for each book in the series, but with a different background and a different chess piece in his fisted grip.

In the case of Mating Net, the King is an obvious choice, because the protagonist seized a kingdom. Well, an Empire.

My Facebook correspondents, by and large, opine that the Djetth character on the deserted tropical island ought to be holding a knife.
Since he is the victim of a shotgun wedding to a political pawn, he could equally well be squeezing the neck of a bishop, or holding a pawn. is working on something for me right now, as I need to get any cover into the Realms Of Fantasy ad copy and today is the deadline set by the iwofa group.

More anon. Maybe.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Case Against Adolescence

Some time ago I read a book called THE CASE AGAINST ADOLESCENCE, by Robert Epstein. Glancing through my old newsletters looking for something else, I came across my review of the book and decided to share it with this blog. Here's essentially what I said about this very iconoclastic work:

Epstein, a psychologist, advances the premise that teenagers are *not* typically lazy, incompetent, immature, and impulsive as popular belief has it. He deconstructs the notorious "teen brain" hypothesis widely reported in the media. To my astonishment, the best-known experiment on which that conclusion rests involved only 24 subjects (!) and, as described by Epstein, doesn't even necessarily prove what the reports claimed it proved. (Furthermore, Epstein reminds us that observed changes in brain wiring can be the result rather than the cause of behavioral changes.) Well, inaccuracy and sensationalism in news stories about science don't surprise me, but this author goes far beyond debunking the "immature teenage brain" theory. He maintains that "adolescence" as we know it is a cultural, not a biological, phenomenon, pointing out that it didn't exist as a concept in most of the world's societies throughout history. He quite rightly reminds us that in preindustrial cultures teenagers were considered young men and women, not overgrown children. Rather than rebelling against adults, they were in the process of becoming adults and worked alongside their elders in productive occupations. Even today, many societies don't suffer from the teenage rebellion, angst, and turmoil we think of as normal and inevitable. However, when these cultures become saturated with Western products and ideas, their young people often begin to think and act like American adolescents.

I notice some weaknesses in the way he presents his background information. For instance, it would be easy to get the impression that he thinks the anti-child-labor laws of the late nineteenth century were altogether bad, which he surely isn't saying. On the whole, though, his premises appear sound to me. Epstein attributes our teenagers' problems to their "infantilization" resulting from the "artificial extension of childhood." American teenagers are subject to more restrictions on their freedom than the average incarcerated felon. (I've read somewhere else the idea that our treatment of children, in terms of freedoms and responsibilities, is exactly backwards. We expect too much maturity of little kids, such as making them sleep alone in a dark room from birth and placing them in a highly structured school environment in kindergarten with a curriculum that used to be postponed to first grade or later. Yet we bar our teenagers from meaningful work, criminalize much of their behavior with mindless "zero tolerance" rules, and stifle their free expression in speech, clothing, etc.) So far, my reaction to THE CASE AGAINST ADOLESCENCE is "right on, preach it, brother!"

His proposed solution, however, is more controversial. He would like to see young people of any age (though he hints that, in practice, the decision-making competence he considers the potential of most kids probably doesn't begin much before age thirteen) who can pass standard "competency tests" given adult status in whatever area they've passed the test for. Yes, even drinking, sex, and marriage (as was the case in most cultures throughout history—remember, Juliet wasn't quite fourteen). He proposes a drinking license or cigarette-buying license, similar to a driver's license and revocable if the holder breaks the rules associated with this privilege. The permissible school-leaving age would be lowered, with education spread out over a lifetime and tailored to the individual's needs. In lots of ways, his utopian vision of integrating teenagers into the adult world, with as much responsibility they can prove themselves ready for, appeals to me. But it won't happen, given the vehement opposition even the most modest of his proposals would incite if anyone tried to translate them into practical social policy. The biggest problem with his plan, to me, is that we'd still have the intractable economic realities that underlie the "artificial extension of childhood": Very few people can support themselves independently without those 22 or more years of schooling we've come to accept as the norm. And it's hard to work at a self-supporting job while attending school full-time. Our entire educational system would have to be re-structured. Which is one of Epstein's proposals, but it's even less likely to come to pass than a drinking license for high school students. At age eighteen, I would have wholeheartedly endorsed Epstein's program. (I got married at eighteen, and we're still married; in fact, we had our 44th anniversary earlier this week.) Now, having survived the teen years of our four sons, I have a more ambivalent reaction; I find some of his suggestions more than disturbing. Still, they comprise a serious attempt to tackle a grave social problem. Try to find a copy of this book at your public or college library. It will stir up some uncomfortable thinking.

And for a similar take on the subject of adolescence, read "Why Nerds Are Unpopular." Why DOES intelligence often cause teenagers to be ostracized by their peers? This mind-blowing essay gives a very convincing explanation, which relates to the "infantilizing" practices discussed by Epstein:


Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Do Your Lovers Live The HEA

I'm blatantly borrowing John Rosenman's excellent blog post title, "Do Your Lovers Live The HEA?"

You all know, if you've read my novels, that my answer is yes, but it's not so easy as all that.

Heather Massey at The Galaxy Express, on July 6 reviewed John Rosenman's novel Beyond Those Distant Stars

He gave the discussion another spin in his blog post

And then Heather pointed me to his post and I commented, he answered, others commented, Heather is brewing another comment, and I commented back on John's comments -- you gotta read this thing.

Here's his thesis reduced to a sound-byte:

-------Quote John Rosenman--------
My point is that romances need to be less restrictive and more open to possibilities in order to explore more fully the often painful and difficult realities of life. Romances can be complex. They can be literature.
-------End Quote---------

We, at Alien Romance, of course agree that Romance genre not only "can be" but actually is "Literature" upon occasion. Many occasions, in fact. Many more occasions when combined into SFR or PNR.

In the comments on John Rosenman's post, Heather pointed out that I had explained how "the ending" is defined not by the content of the event (resolution of the conflict) but by where in the character's story-arc you stop writing.

Heather quoted me in her comment:
Jacqueline Lichtenberg said it best, noting that “There’s HEA potential in every other genre, even or especially Horror.” ( )

In this post ( ), Ms. Lichtenberg notes that

“Why does Romance genre absolutely require it? And SF also has an ending-point formula — called “upbeat.”

These are actually identical requirements. It’s all about where you start telling the story, and where (in time) you end it. Life is a sine-wave. It has high points and low points and neutral points but never stops waving. Storytellers just CUT a section out of that sine-wave to structure a plot.

The publisher’s end-point requirement determines the starting point.”
-----End Quote---

There are a couple more points I want to bring to the surface here because we've been discussing the Editing process for the previous 7 posts which relate to this "ending" issue, and why we have defined endings. This series was posted on:

Aug 3, 10, 17, 24, 31, Sept 7 & 14, 2010

The HEA is an editorial requirement when the editor is filling a publishing line with consistent, identical product under the Romance Genre label.  

The HEA is not an editorial requirement for lines that do not advertise the "Romance" genre label, but they may have other requirements.  

Why is the HEA ever a requirement?

John points out that the fun, enjoyment, and fascination inherent in reading a story that pivots on a Relationship is the uncertainty of how that relationship will be at "The End."

To generate that uncertainty, some novels must end differently than the HEA.

Otherwise, you have something like a TV Series episode where you know the main characters won't get killed. So the threat to their lives is not piercingly immanent to the viewer.

John points out that the HEA itself is not unbelievable, but in reality it doesn't always happen. It does happen sometimes, so it's plausible in fiction but should not be inevitable because if it's inevitable, there's no suspense, and thus no ultimate payoff.  His underlying thesis seems to be that inevitability itself is unrealistic enough to destroy reader enjoyment, and an inevitable HEA is worse than other sorts of inevitabilities. 

And I think that's the core of the issue. Inevitability. Realism.

We are attracted to fiction that discusses "life the universe and everything" in terms of a philosophy (theme) that we either have internalized or wish we had internalized.

Fiction reading either reinforces our assumptions about the world, or holds forth an ideal that we want to assume and shows us how it is possible the ideal could really be true.

Good fiction does both while at the same time calling both assumptions and ideals into question. That's called "depth" and you usually find it in "Literature."

You seldom find it in films because of the nature of the visual medium. But the classics, the films that last for generations and still speak intriguingly of our dearly held ideas, do reveal "depth" on re-viewing. That kind of screenwriting is very difficult. I think it happens very much by "accident."

See my blog post on what you can do in a novel that you can't do in a film:

I have been contending that the essence of the Romance Genre - the essence that we extract and combine with the essence of the SF Genre or Fantasy Genre (or both) - actually is the essence of "Literature" in its highest form.


where I discussed how

Romance Genre embodies two core principles:

a) Love Conquers All
b) The Soul Is Real

The HEA is a "requirement" because HEA is what results once Love has Conquered All. If all is conquered by love, there's nothing left that can sunder the couple, not even death.  

If the HEA is not the "ending" of the novel, the theme that distinguishes Romance from all other art forms is not present in the novel and it is therefore not a genre romance novel.

Love Conquers All might be a sub-theme, but it would be there to be disproved so that a larger theme "life is nothing but misery" -or- "happiness comes in bright sparks that fade quickly" -- can be fully presented.

Here's one of many of my discussions of the uses of theme in novel structure:

Those readers looking for reinforcement of their belief that Love Conquers All and/or The Soul Is Real, and those looking to indulge in a few hours of hope that these things are true, will be bitterly disappointed by an ending that is not an HEA -- and they will want their money back.

You can work with either core premise of Romance in a non-romance. You can construct a non-Romance genre novel to culminate in an HEA and that will not make the novel a Romance.

As I said in the comments discussion to:

Romance Genre is distinguished by specific choices for the elements that a novelist can fill in with a number of different choices when writing other genres.

Those choices for a Romance are:

A)In a Romance the Relationships IS the plot, and all else is commentary on that relationship.

B)The conflict is the Relationship, what creates the attraction and what blocks the attraction.

C)The story is all about how each person is changed by the need for the Relationship.

D)The beginning is where the couple first become conscious of each other.

E)The ending is where the Relationship roadblocks are removed and it's full speed ahead into a Happily Ever After life for the couple.

Any given reader may, at whim, prefer to sink into a novel where they know what the rhythm and theme will be - a Mystery, Western, Action, Intrigue, Suspense, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Adventure, any genre. At other times, they may want "general fiction" -- which also has a very strict, set formula.

See my post on the reasons why we have such a thing as genre fiction.

The Romance genre, and all its hyrbids -- SFR, PNR, Action Romance, whatever criss-crossed mixture -- if the "R" comes last in the nickname, it means the plot-structure follows the 5 elements I listed above.

Sometimes we read fiction for a realistic view of our real world. We want contemporary maybe urban settings like where we live with people who are up against the same problems we are (TV sets as babysitters, cell phones always on, carpooling nightmares), and sometimes we want to get away to impossible places with other problems.

If you go for the kind of Romance where not only does love conquer all, but also The Soul Is Real (where lovers find their Soul Mate and there's something spiritual, transcendent, bigger than "reality" that enters their lives because of that mating) then you are in the set of Themes where the HEA is not only inevitable but also realistic.

If you combine both Love Conquers All and The Soul Is Real, you walk into a world where there is no other possible ending than the HEA.

The story isn't over until the Soul Mates have ignited Love so bright that it illuminates and dissipates all darkness - and the world is revealed to be truthfully what it seems to be under the blurring veil of "falling in love."

The illusion of perfection is torn aside to reveal the truth that perfection already exists - and continuous, solid, strong, pervasive happiness is the stable foundation of life, not a wish-fulfillment fantasy.

It's not that the couple will face no further challenges, but that those challenges will only strengthen their love and their ability to make life better for all those around them.

This is the thematic statement about the true nature of reality that the Romance Genre focuses on.

The story can only end where the couple (and the reader) understand the inevitability and realistic condition of life, the HEA.

If the writer quits writing before that point, the reader feels as if she has read a story-fragment, three chapters without the outline! It's incomplete because happiness is the goal and it has not been achieved.

Achieving that goal of steady-state happiness though, isn't easy. It isn't realistic enough even for a Fantasy if the goal is achieved easily.

If the Soul Is Real - then all sorts of PNR genre stories are possible where soul mates try and fail and die and are reborn and try and fail and die and are reborn and grow painfully until they finally succeed. That can take lifetimes and a whole series of novels strewn across all of human history and possibly to the stars and beyond.

When the Immortal Soul is involved, the story possibilities for Romance Genre then truly do verge on the immense vistas that John sketched in his blog post.

From John's description of the kinds of stories he likes to write, I deduced that what he (and many others who feel as he does about the HEA) is writing is the "backstory" of a Romance, the "try and fail" lifetimes before the Soul Mates can achieve the HEA.  He seems to be writing the growing pains of Souls.

For some readers "The Soul Is Real" is a fantasy premise. For others it's a pragmatic fact of everyday life. In either case, the novels produced by combining that premise with Love Conquers All have the potential of reaching the kinds of audiences that Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet has been proven to reach.

In my comments on the TOYSTORY 3 post linked above, I raised one question we should address at some point.

---quote of myself----
Westerns reached a level of respect during the years they dominated TV. Why shouldn't SFR (science-fiction-romance blended) reach the same level of popularity?

How would that change the world? Would that change be for the better? Is it the writer's responsibility or role to effectuate such change, or do we wait with folded hands for others to decide?
----end quote of myself----

Why is the inevitable HEA such an imperative element in defining "Romance Genre?"

Why do so many people feel the HEA is not realistic? Why do they feel that pain, parting, sorrow, frustration and loneliness are the hallmarks of a realistic fantasy that draw readers in to a built world?

And then turn the question around and look at it this way:

Why does John think the Romance Genre should relax it's stricture about the HEA being necessary?

Consider other possible ways to solve the (very real and important) problem his post points out.

He looks at Romance Genre and says it should change its formula and that would solve the problem of dull boring books with a predictable ending.

But maybe there's another (better????) solution.

Maybe people should change?

Maybe people should change their ideas about what reality really is?

Well, if that's the solution, then what ideas should be changed from what to what? And how?

Oh, this is one huge topic, the HEA!

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Intelligent Houses

The fully computerized house of Ray Bradbury's "There Will Come Soft Rains" is getting closer to reality:

Smart Gadgets

A house that could notice when you haven't moved in a long time and checks to make sure you aren't dead could be useful, especially for older people living alone. Do I really want my refrigerator nagging me to lose weight, though? (And how would it know who's eating the food? Maybe I've had a lot of guests lately.) And I definitely know I don't want the car's navigation system trying to cheer me up by telling jokes.

However, I wouldn't mind an intelligent vehicle like the one in KNIGHT RIDER that could do the driving for me. On a crowded freeway, a smart car would probably be a more confident and safer driver than I am on my own.

If a computerized dwelling got much smarter than the one described in the article, Sarah, the sentient house on the TV series EUREKA, might eventually evolve. A household computer with a friendly voice might be pleasant and welcoming—but would I want to go further and live in a house that has emotions and a personality? Knowing "she" could see and hear everything that happens would feel too much like having a human observer watching me every minute of the day and night. Nevertheless, Sarah-the-house is one of my favorite characters on the show. Lately she's established a romantic relationship with Andy, the robot law enforcement deputy. Now, there's an intriguing subject for fanfic.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What Exactly Is Editing Part VII - How Do You Know If You Are A Writer Or Editor?

The previous 6 parts of this series explored the world from the point of view of an Editor.

The Editor archetype has made great POV characters for Romance, blockbuster films, Intrigue, Mystery/Suspense, and even Adventure, so as a writer, editor or reader of fiction you may find these posts illuminating.

Part One of this series was posted on August 3, 2010,

followed by Part II on Aug 10

and Part III on Aug 17,

Part IV on Aug. 24, 2010

Part V on Aug. 31, 2010

Part VI on September 7, 2010

Having described the pressure-cooker corporate politics, bottom-rung-of-the-ladder position of most of the editors with whom the beginning writer might deal, I've also sketched in how the writer can fit into the Editor's world by understanding what the editor is actually faced with. This understanding allows the writer to revise to editorial requirements with speed and efficiency.

And we've looked at what the writer can do to cope with the sudden, often cryptic, mostly unexpected editorial rewrite orders.

Oh, yes, the professional writer expects rewrite orders -- but the particular ones that arrive are always either unexpected or monstrously disappointing.

The Writer-Editor relationship is multifaceted and complex. Few writers, especially beginning writers, feel comfortable with that relationship.

It always seems (regardless of whether it's true or not) that the editor wants to insert their own voice into the Art.

The writer faced with rewrite orders feels trampled upon.

It's usually the parts that the writer treasures, feels best about, felt triumphant writing, or were the actual core of the whole concept, that need changing or even deleting.

That's crushing. It's mind-numbing. And it's always done in haste beyond belief.

Later, fans will complain about this or that glitch -- the writer knows the source was either the haste or perhaps the editor's demand. How do you defend the work without whining and pointing the blaming finger at someone the reader has never met and barely knows exists (especially after the glowing thank-you placed in the Acknowledgments?)

Worse, how do you defend the flaw the reader has found when you know it was actually an improvement? When you know what the editor was trying to achieve, and how you had failed, and you did the best fix you could in the time allotted?

You don't. That's how.

After a novel is published, suddenly the writer's world has changed. The EDITOR is no longer the customer.

Remember, The customer is always right was one of the maxims we focused on in Part II and kept returning to in subsequent parts of this series.

The editor was the writer's customer - but now the reader is the customer.

And the customer is always right.

Listen carefully. Find what's bugging the customer. Don't make that mistake again. Figure out a way to get what the reader wants past the editor. That's the professional commercial fiction writer's job.

So, as a writer you've had your ultimate customer, the reader/viewer, complain about errors, mistakes, that were actually introduced in the editing/producing process.

How do you feel about that?

How do you feel about "being edited?" Did it destroy the work in such a way that the very reason you write at all was erased?

Did getting your novel published dissipate your drive to write more novels?

Was it too horrible? To painful for words?

Maybe you're not a commercial fiction writer. There are other fields of professional writing and other ways to make a living from a writer's skill sets.

How long did it take you to produce that first sale? I mean how long did it take to write that particular novel, not to do your practice for the circular file? The one you sell might be the 5th or 10th you've written - and that's OK. Eventually, you might even sell those prior novels when you have a reputation to exploit.

My point here is, how FAST did you write the words that you put out to license with this publisher?

I hope you kept a record of how many hours you worked on those words before you got the contract and entered the editing process.

Add to that the time spent on the editing process, which should be a minor percentage of the total and keep calculating.

You now know the advance payment. Wait 2 years. See if there are any royalty checks - watch for when the royalties dwindle to a trickle from e-book sales, or the novel is remaindered and taken off the publisher's books.

OK, now you know how many hours it took you to produce those words, and how much money the book made. You also know what you, yourself, spent out of pocket on publicity, convention tours, fan mail, etc.

Calculate the $/hour.

Did you make minimum wage? Did you make what you expected to make? Did you make enough to make the whole effort worth your while (which isn't a number of dollars; very often writers don't work for money). Many times, if you do the figures honestly not the way the IRS demands, you will find you've poured more money into the publication than you got out.

Professional commercial fiction writing can be an expensive hobby.

Here's a valuable blog post to consider on the full time writer's life:

On facebook, I posted the following link:

Which is a professional SF writer who includes a love-story in most novels talking about the HEA - Happily Ever After - ending as "restrictive." I commented on that post and it's given me an idea for what has to come next on this Alien Romances blog.

I posted a link to that HEA ending discussion on facebook, and Jonathan Vos Post (a nuts-n-bolts SF writer with a very real, real-science background) commented thusly:

Jonathan Vos Post
My father, as editor, published some Romance novels when I was a child, which did not much interest me. But I have friends in RWA (Romance Writers of America) which is 10 times the size of SFWA or MWA. Supply exceeds demand, driving down average book advances, but sales are huge, amounting to roughly 1/6 of ALL books sold in the USA. In that ... See Moreflood, there are both the competent but forgettable works, and also enduring works of imagination and sparking language about human beings. So -- happily ever after to WHOM?

And that "TO WHOM" has been a core issue with the discussion on Twitter's #scifichat of "Utopia" -- everyone's idea of Utopia is different.

The HEA is a variety of specifically tailored Utopia-for-two (at least).

Now take those 3 posts together.

a) There's never been a high percentage of writers making a full time living from writing, and those that do live fairly low on the economic scale (or in a cheap place) The percentage is shrinking these days.

b) Genre fields have more would-be writers pushing more product at publishers than there are publishing slots. Publishing slots will not become more numerous until there are more readers demanding that genre. The Romance field has more would-be writers who are competent, even excellent, than SF genre does because SF demands an education very few people have, want, or can absorb and entertains like-minded folks.  Romance is for everyone, BUT can be written well only by those who have a real feel for human nature and spirit.  More people believe they have Romance writing talent (even when they don't) than believe they have SF writing talent.  Romance genre writing looks easier than SF writing.  It's not.  

The $/hour you make as a professional commercial fiction writer is peanuts compared to, say, a grocery store manager (not clerk; manager).  Many professional writers are grocery clerks in their spare time. 

But the education required of a Romance Writer (or SF writer; Mystery, Western, International Intrigue - any genre, including general Literature) is far higher than the education required to manage a retail outlet.

Librarians and Teachers make a lot more than writers, on average, and the education is maybe equivalent -- but over time, a writer needs far more ongoing education than a Librarian or Teacher.

Librarians and Teachers can pay for ongoing education and deduct it from taxes.

Writers can't do that. It's not "educational expense" to go to three movies a week, or more.

Take the resource you have within you, figure its market value, then figure the return on investment you are making as a writer.

Do the figures work out for you?

Robert A. Heinlein and Marion Zimmer Bradley agreed that if you can do anything else but write for a living - do that instead.

Most full time writers do it because they are physically unable to do the job their education qualifies them for, or because they really can't do anything but write.

Now think about the economics of "being a professional writer."

There is one way to increase your income despite the over-supply of your product in the marketplace and your extremely high overhead expenses (continuing education, market research, self-promotion).

Decrease the time it takes to produce saleable word strings.

Yep, there's that corporate buzzword every employee hates -- productivity.

You have to increase productivity to make a living.

Isaac Asimov made a great living (lived in New York; very high overhead). He did it by selling FIRST DRAFT.

The man was a certified genius with an eidetic memory. Research was a breeze for him, and writing was simply typing as fast as he could. He had his own editor at Doubleday (hardcover publishing house) and kept that editor constantly busy, too busy to deal with any other writer (I was a Doubleday writer: I was in Asimov's editor's office).  Asimov produced a constant stream of fiction and non-fiction best sellers that paid an editor's salary, and enough profit to live on nicely. (constant being the operative word)

And in the process, he shaped the SF field from its earliest days.

The man was a WRITER - a professional writer. That was his identity. (Yes, I knew him, sometimes introduced him at Star Trek conventions, too).

Is that the nature of you?

Take Marion Zimmer Bradley as another example. She lived on writing proceeds, but not so well until she hit the big time, which took decades since SF was at that time an all-male field, and Fantasy didn't exist in the modern form.

She wrote mixed-genre. Can you classify the Darkover universe? ESP was an element forbidden in SF (James Blish introduced it after a fashion in Jack of Eagles, but not using the fantasy elements MZB did). Yet Darkover is a lost colony of Earth, with natives and human-Terran hybrids, so it's SF.  Well, no, it's neither.  It's cross-genre where one of the genres didn't exist yet. 

MZB's novels sold steadily - but not in high volume until much later in her career when she finally sold some mainstream novels and one of them was made-for-TV miniseries Mists of Avalon. She edited an Astrology magazine, wrote true confession stories, and anything else her agent could glean for her, even horror and romance under various bylines. She wrote anything and everything she could get paid for, and the training she got from that improved her SF to best-seller and Hugo Nominee status.

She turned out voluminous words-per-day on a steady basis. 20-30 manuscript pages a day that needed only a light rewrite and touch-up was her usual pace (I know because she took me on as a student and demanded the same pace from me - we exchanged chapters on our current WIPs - wrote a chapter a day, mailed it, picked up the arriving chapter of the other's WIP, and sent back a letter of comment on that work, then read the incoming comment on our own WIP and made whatever rewrites suggested - and that was 1 day's work, 6 days a week for me).

That's a professional working writer's day unless you're Isaac Asimov in which case you write it and send it in. (he did articles and short stories too along with novel chapters, and non-fiction chapters; there was nobody else like him!)

A professional writer produces words-per-day. That's the job.

Words aren't worth much. So to make a living you must produce a lot of them, very quickly and to market -- i.e. not needing much rewrite.

Just as a publisher's overhead expenses are increased by accepting manuscripts that need rewrite orders -- (then need arguments with writers who don't want to conform their product to the market's requirements), so too are the professional writer's overhead expenses increased by having to do rewrites, before or after contract.  Fewer rewrites equals increased income.

Maxim mentioned in previous posts in this series; TIME IS MONEY

Here's another glimpse of a professional writer's life.

TV Screenwriters.

When you're working on a weekly series as one of a stable of contracted writers, you write the stories given to you at the story-conference.

The season is planned out by story-arc, and various episode concepts are created and assigned along with deadlines. The 1 hour slot has to be filled by a 40-45 page script - usually shorter than that, or cut-able.

The first draft deadline is inflexible. Miss it, you're fired.  Rewrite deadlines are even more inflexible. 

The script always comes back with rewrites that conform it to stuff done by other writers working on different scripts of the season and stuff rewritten on the fly by the actors and director on the set. The rewrite usually has to be done over the weekend or turnaround in 24-48 hours. During production you can be working 16 hour days 7 days a week - and more. 

Speed and accuracy are of the essence. Do it or you're fired.

You have only days to write that script, hours to do the rewrite - and several of these scripts to juggle through the pipeline every production season.

I had the privelege of having two of the writers for a Canadian TV series ask to meet me at a convention one time. I therefore made it a point to hear their presentation at the convention before meeting them. They collaborated on a production routine like that and had many (many) annecdotes of near-disaster, quick rewrites, mid-night phone consultations, and hair-raising reasons to have good art changed to mediocre or bad art, some reasons expense related, sometimes because an actor was ill, sometimes an effect was in-budget but just not attainable.  Commercial writing in TV or any field is not about art. It's about deadlines, production schedules, and union workers standing around idle burning clock time.

And that wasn't the first time I'd had an inside look at TV production writing, so I know their lives weren't unusual. Their ability to explain the kind of pressure the job puts on the writer though was unusual. I wish the presentaton were posted online as a video.

If you can't turn out the sheer volume of publishable (produce-able) words on deadline - TV isn't the field for you.

I grew up in the News Game - I know journalism from so many sides you wouldn't believe they all exist.

I currently know one working print journalist working full time to support just herself - not even a whole family. I know how many hours of research she does, and how fast she has to bat out the stories to very specific lengths no matter the complexity of the subject. It's good training for novel writing, and it is just like TV production writing. No matter what, you make the deadline, you produce the words to order without much need for editing. Take up too much editing time, you're fired. Journalists make better money than novelists - steadier money - but still it isn't a living anyone could envy, especially today with print media disappearing and the Web based journalism not lucrative enough to compete with print.

So in determining whether you are a writer or an editor, there is a short list of attributes about yourself that you should inventory:

a) monetary income requirements - how poor do you want to live?

b) personal attributes of intelligence, memory (are you Isaac Asimov?)

c) alternative places to apply your inventory of skills and knowledge and what they pay. Are you physically able to do something else?

d) supply and demand - if you're going to be a supplier of words, how much competition do you have?

e) how reliable and uniform is your word-production? Can you improve it in time to prevent starvation?

f) do you have a backup plan? What if the publisher's check bounces? (they do) Are you willing and able to write just about anything that pays?

What's the difference between a writer and an editor (other than the steady paycheck, however paltry?)

Basically, any editor is actually a writer.

Any writer has to learn to be an editor to turn professional.

Both writers and editors have consider the 6 attributes listed above.

Both are in the same economically sensitive business - some more advertising supported parts of the industry have bigger swings, but demand is closely tied to the economy, jobs, leisure time available per person.

There is only one point upon which I've seen writers and editors differ markedly as personality types.

It's e) above -- word production pace and volume.

Writers produce torrents and tides and tsunamies of words, every day all day, and aren't happy doing anything else. A lot of those words are typo'd because of haste to get it all down. A lot are parts of wordy-constructions and need rephrasing, and many just plain don't say anything and need deleting. But the torrent of words just never lets up, good, bad, indifferent, and brilliant they just keep pouring out to be shaped to professional standards on the first rewrite.

Editors produce a few words - maybe half a sentence - and spend a month or a year pondering those few, searching for just the right single word.  Nothing is ever good enough for an editor. 

Editors produce a story idea, and spend five years writing character sketches.

Editors produce a lot of poetry, but slowly and with multiple grinding polishings until all the words just sparkle.

Editors don't produce words at commercial rates.

Editors polish and polish and ponder and choose and re-choose, and grind away wanting everything just so perfect.

I know only one hugely best selling, widely read, greatly admired, critically acclaimed writer who worked like an editor - polishing and polishing for 10 or 15 years to produce a book that was maybe 40,000 words long.

Theodore Sturgeon (a very good friend, keenly missed now that he's gone) worked like that. He was invited by Gene Roddenberry to contribute to Star Trek in the season where they drew upon seasoned professional SF writers (so was Marion Zimmer Bradley but she declined because she didn't like TV as a story-medium and had never seen Star Trek).

Theodore Sturgeon wrote the original script for Amok Time that introduced Pon Farr, the Vulcan mating drive, to Star Trek and by that changed the world.

The final broadcast version was different from the version Sturgeon wrote (I have copies of both scripts), but the concept of the mating drive survived and shaped our notion of Vulcan culture and Spock's place in it.

But unlike Harlan Ellison, a natural screenwriter, prolific SF novelist and editor, wildly best selling shaper of the middle-history of the SF field, Sturgeon didn't go on to work in television. He kept on working, perfecting a novel titled Godbody which was finally published in 1986. A jewel.

I've known many editors and agents (interchangeable roles; they both try to fit an artistic product into a commercial market), and all of them do write, or want to write, but don't produce enough words/day to make a living at writing.

Some editors and agents just give up, acknowledging their tropism toward stories but knowing they can't make it as professional writers for lack of the word-volume production.

As far as I know, that's the only difference. Librarians and Teachers likewise may have a book in them - one. They may write on the side. But they stop to polish and grind and end up condensing everything to near poetry. It's just not enough words to make a living when you get paid by the word.

So, turn your eye inward and judge yourself.

Do you have what it takes to attain and sustain a words/day volume rate that can bring an income large enough to satisfy your lifestyle requirements?

If so, you then have to consider the competition. What if you don't make it? What's your backup plan? What are the odds that you will succeed where thousands of others have not?

Are you willing to take that chance?

And it's the same problem for editors. For every person who has the talent and training, the ability and determination to make it in editing -- there are 10,000 more just as good. But only 1 job that pays steady.

Today the number of paying jobs in publishing is shrinking, and the corporations are again playing the game of firing the senior staff because their salaries are too high, combining the positions so 1 person does the work 3 did before, then hiring kids just out of college to fill the 1 vacancy and paying them entry-level salaries.  They then tell the shareholders and Wall Street they've increased "productivity." 

You can't live in Manhattan on a Manhattan editor's salary. That's economics. Check it out.

Why are you even thinking of getting into this game?

If you're not an editor or a writer, then maybe you're actually born to be an AGENT?

Here's a blog entry by an agent on the role of the agent.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Next Tuesday we'll look at a blog post by a writer who asks, "Do Your Lovers Live The HEA" (the Happily Ever After ending)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Saturday, September 11, 2010


In case you aren't familiar with it, here are the lyrics to the best 9-11 song I've ever heard, Alan Jackson's "Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning":

Where Were You

This song acknowledges all the conflicting emotions of that day but in the end focuses on hope and reconciliation. Remember how, just for a while, we all came together and recognized the matters we usually fight over as trivial by comparison? (As Miss Manners sardonically wrote some months later, we knew the terrorists hadn't won when we stopped being nice to each other.) Too bad our fallen human nature is such that it often takes a major disaster to remind us to love our neighbors.


Thursday, September 09, 2010

Language and Thought

Here's a recent article on whether language shapes thought. The hard-line theory that grammar and vocabulary rigidly constrain a culture's perception of reality has been overturned. Yet the structure of our language does obviously influence our world-view, and it does so in more nuanced ways than simply preventing certain types of thought:

New York Times

Fortunately, Newspeak as designed in the dictatorship of George Orwell's 1984 probably wouldn't work the way its inventors hoped, to ensure that "heretical thought. . . should be literally unthinkable." In Orwell's afterword to the novel, he wisely adds, "so far as thought is dependent on words." The lack of precise terms may make a thought harder to shape, but the human mind is creative enough to get around that problem. We speak in parables and metaphors or invent new words.

What interested me most about that article cited above was the point that our languages force us to *notice* certain things. For example, a French speaker can't refer to a generic cousin, as we can in English. The gendered ending of the word forces the speaker to specify a male or female cousin. Some languages have different words for grandparents, aunts, or uncles depending on whether they belong to the maternal or paternal side of the family. And some languages have a very useful feature that requires every statement to indicate the source of the speaker's knowledge—eyewitness, hearsay, opinion, etc.

Although many people mock what's sometimes called "political correctness" in speech and writing, being careful about the terms used to refer to other people has a valid point. When "man" could mean either "human being" or specifically "adult male," it wasn't hard for phrases such as "the rights of man" to blur with ambiguity at the edges. Latin could avoid the ambiguity with "homo" for the former and "vir" for the latter; English doesn't have that distinction. Changing language doesn't magically change attitudes, but who could deny that language does help to shape attitudes?

And then there's the ever-shifting quality of euphemisms. "Retarded" (implying that the child is just developing a bit slower than others) began as a polite substitute for harsher terms such as "feeble-minded." Nowadays "retarded" has become perceived as an insult, to be replaced by phrases such as "developmentally disabled." The trouble with euphemisms, as the history of "retarded" illustrates, is that new ones eventually pick up the taint, so to speak, of the old ones, so yet another replacement has to be invented. The change in Maryland law from "disabled persons" to the subtly different "persons with disabilities" is an example of this trend.

Metaphors shape thought more powerfully than vocabulary and sentence structure. Consider the implications tucked inside metaphors such as "war on drugs," "war on poverty," and "war on terror." In war, violence is justified, and absolute victory is the only acceptable goal. In fighting against poverty or drugs, who are the enemy combatants?

Here's Orwell's essay about Newspeak:

Principles of Newspeak

He mentions that Newspeak aims to diminish rather than extend the range of thought and, as far as possible, make speech independent of conscious thought. Notice Orwell's sly references to the ways twentieth-century political discourse was already tending in that direction. Just the opposite of what we, as writers, aspire to do with language!

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

What Exactly Is Editing - Part VI

Part One of this series was posted on August 3, 2010,

followed by Part II on Aug 10

and Part III on Aug 17,

Part IV on Aug. 24, 2010

Part V on Aug. 31, 2010

OK, so now down to the very nitty part of the nitty-gritty of rewriting to editorial requirements and getting it done within the deadline (which was probably yesterday).

What do you do first?

Some editors scribble in margins, some write long detailed notes page and paragraph references followed by an explanation of the problem they are having at that point.

It doesn't matter how they present the problem set to you. If you've done the original work solidly, you'll have no problem.

But how do you do that original work "solidly?"

Here is where I discussed "what to do first" when you start out to write a novel.

That blog essentially says write the jacket copy FIRST, then explains why that's necessary in terms of the eventual reviews, buzz, and publicity, and adds some clout by "who" agrees with me.

It gives a formula created by an Agent to tell you exactly how to create the jacket copy which you then use to create the novel beat by beat.

I keep raving about Blake Snyder's SAVE THE CAT! series on how to create a screenplay from scratch. He didn't invent the concept "beat sheet" but he reverse-engineered hundreds of blockbuster screenplays to discover what they had in common and formulated the universal beat sheet for the 110 page screenplay.

One of his students reduced that beat sheet to a formula for creating the "pitch" (i.e. what a book would use as flap copy or back-copy to sell the book to a reader). (and scroll up to the post)

And now here is another excellent summary of how to concoct that all important STARTING POINT for telling a story - the POINT which will, if you use it meticulously, allow you to rewrite to editorial specification successfully no matter how tight the deadline:

Now there it is - the entire SECRET of this whole editorial thing.

These 3 posts enumerate the moving parts of your "vehicle" as referred to in the previous 5 parts of this series. And it's the vehicle that is being edited -- not your story, and not your art, but the packaging around it.

So, parts 1-5 of this series are explaining to you what an editor is, what an editor does, and why.

Most of you probably already knew everything in parts 1-5 of this series, but you lose sight of that when confronted with rewrite orders. Everything you "know" goes out the window and all you can think about is what's important to you. All you feel is your own feelings.

The editing process is about putting your personal investment, your feelings, aside and focusing on your customer, your audience, not yourself. The "professional" part of writing is the PERFORMING part, and that's what the editing process is about.

Creating the submission draft is like the dress-rehearsal. The editorial process is like the actual performance with the whole crew standing behind the camera and the director seeing $$$$ flowing across the set by the second. You are on stage before a live audience that paid for the show, and THE SHOW MUST GO ON. One take. That's all you have (publishing is very low-budget stuff).

The objective of the first 5 posts in "What Exactly Is Editing" is to get you to use your writerly instincts to walk a mile in your editor's shoes, to see her job from her eyes, to feel her feelings and share her objectives. She's your customer, and at this point, your audience waiting for that opening night performance.

Your final edit to editorial specification may require a whole lot of changes, but you should not take that fact to mean that you wrote it wrong to begin with (unless of course you wrote it after selling this editor at this publishing house a novel on the basis of a 1 parag description and not even a sample chapter).

If you sold on the basis of a paragraph (yes, I've done that a few times) and then got a torrent of editorial tweaks (thankfully that never happened to me), it does mean you weren't paying enough attention to that Line's specific requirements, or the requirements changed between contract and delivery.

But if you wrote it on spec, for a general market, you should expect any editor or producer to need some tailoring nips and tucks to make your story fit into her vehicle, her packaging.

If your story won't fit into her standard shaped packaging, then it will snag in the publishing channel, the tube that runs between you and your ultimate reader. The thing will just STICK in place, (clogging up the channel and preventing other more smoothly tailored books behind it from getting to their readers). In other words, it won't sell well.

To minimize the need to re-shape your story to any particular editor or producer's market channels, take that market's characteristics into account.

Study the market, internalize the beat-sheet that market prefers, make it part of your subconscious. Here are two posts that may help. (this is a different post than the one above - just mis-numbered)

Writing is a performing art. Remember learning to dance? Or drive? At first your attention is on your feet, or you get dizzy juggling all the information approaching a stop sign for a left turn. After a while, some other part of your brain takes over, and you can dance or drive while talking, singing, flirting with your dancer partner, or thinking about your grocery list and yelling at the kids in the back seat. (but not while on a cell phone or texting).

Writing stories is the same way. Once the subconscious is trained, it will organize all the bits of the story into a beat sheet based on a concept and pitch that fits a very specific market. Then it will toss that up into your conscious mind and compel you to write it.

Amateur or beginning writers will "get" an idea before it's been collimated into a beat sheet that fits a specific market. That's why they struggle so much. You can't do all this stuff consciously. You have to drill the moves in deeply, memorize your lines like an actor, memorize your sheet-music like a pianist, then PERFORM that piece.

A particular structure for a particular market is like a specific Shakespearian play, or a Brahms symphony -- it is exactly what it is, but it is made anew, fresh and different by each artist who performs it, by each time that artist performs it.

If you know your business, your submission draft will need only a few tweaks and a clean-up of typos and inconsistencies.

If you do get a torrent of editorial comments that need action, then you start methodically.

#1) Put yourself in your editor's shoes, at her desk, answering her phone, attending her committee meetings.

#2) Pick out two or three novels your editor edited for that line and stack them on the desk before you. (presumably you've reread them a number of times to drive the beat-sheet into your hind-brain). For a screenplay, it's the same drill - study the product of that producer.

#3) Go to the END of your MS. Make sure the climax is RIGHT AT the very end, nothing left over but a nice, sweet denoument if that.

#4) Go to the BEGINNING of your MS. Make sure the beginning contains everything that's at the ending and nothing much else. Delete what does not pertain to the ending.

#5) Go to the MIDDLE of your MS. Make sure that the tension level is correct - low-point for an HEA and high-point for a tragedy.

#6) Go to the 1/4 and 3/4 points for a novel (the act breaks for a screenplay) - check that the plot-development necessary to lead to the ending is exactly at those points and not one page off.

#7) Review the editor's problem points and use those notes to smooth and smooth, to simplify, emphasize, showcase, and show-don't-tell the LINE (that artistic line we talked about in this series on editing) that leads from Beginning to Ending through the Middle.

#8) After entering all the changes the editor wants, check again to make sure the EMOTIONAL LINE and the artistic line, and the plot-line and the story-line and thematic statement all move with the beats.

Make sure no scene goes too long (most writers linger at a scene a few parags or events too long). Make sure all that you originally intended is there for the reader. Make sure your changes don't "show" - don't cause discontinuity or emotional jerking around. Make sure the interna-climax pattern is correct for the length of the novel.

Here are checklists for how to analyze your structure.

#9) One more read-through if you have time, one more spell-check and make sure your POV shifts "work." Check for the elements cited in the following posts:

And you're done.

With experience, it shouldn't take more than 2 or 3 workdays to polish up a 400 page novel MS. That's a target. It could take years and buckets of sweat to get that experienced.

In Part VII on September 14, 2010, find out if you're a writer or an editor.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Monday, September 06, 2010

Peter's Evil Overlord List

Peter's Evil Overlord List

With apologies to Linnea, whose "day" it is, but I couldn't resist sharing this link.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Immigration and Alien Romances

From time to time, I blog about how much there is in our everyday news to inspire speculative thinking, idea-based fiction, and world-building for all types of science fiction/fantasy romance, and especially for one of the "punk" genres. (Steampunk. Cyberpunk. Etc)

In recent posts, I've looked at pollution and man-made disasters, volcanic eruptions, and the potential for disastrous mistakes if we become unreasonably dependent on the products or services of pharmaceutical companies (or any other enterprise, whether for our physical comfort -- the power companies-- or for our spiritual comfort.)

Immigration seems to be a hot topic from the Antipodes, almost to the Arctic. In fact, one eHow Contributor opines that Iceland's Immigration laws are among the most rigorous of all the Western Democracies. I expect that some of my colleagues will pay greater attention to immigration and the treatment of "illegal aliens" in their future alien romances.

I've always been fascinated by the local treatment of foreign royal spouses throughout European history. "Alien" wives haven't always been well received, and I had a little of that sort of thing as a sub-subplot in my alien romance "Knight's Fork" (no longer available unless through private vendors or second-hand).

However the wives of the rich, powerful and influential are probably not put through the frustrations, humiliations and stresses to which GI brides, mail-order brides, and ISP wives are subjected.... to say nothing of the hurdles facing regular good folks who wish to adopt a orphan child from overseas.

King Henry VIII's blind date with Ann of Cleves worked out pretty well for Ann, considering the fate of his other wives, and what the Princess's life might be like if she'd been sent home, rejected.

But... back to the futuristic fiction. I seem to recall that there was some sort of quarantine policy on Babylon 5, but Babylon 5 was more of a way station than a permanent destination for most of the characters who passed through its ports.

Much of the alien romance fiction that I've read hinges upon either conquest, colonization, or the forced importation of desirable captives who possess an ability, talent, skill or gift that is in demand in the aliens' world. If there is a shortage of breeding stock, for instance, local immigration policy is likely to be accommodating.

Lawbreakers and smugglers find themselves in trouble. There's a practical difficulty in terms of cost and logistics in deporting or repatriating inter-stellar stowaways and illegal immigrants. The local authorities' solution in Maria Doria Russell's The Sparrow to the problem of an unwelcome missionary was to use and abuse him for entertainment.

Jack Vance had an interesting and plausible mix of border controls and air traffic control in The Demon Princes.

What immigration policies have you seen in action in your science fiction and fantasy travels?

Rowena Cherry

Footnotes and Links

German Immigration Law

Japanese Immigration Law

Russia's Immigration Laws

Iceland's Immigration Laws

Pakistan's Immigration Laws

Current Controversy in Australia about Australian Immigration

An anonymous correspondent's summary of Mexican immigration laws:
1 There will be no special bilingual programs in the schools.
2. All ballots will be in this nation's language.
3. All government business will be conducted in our language.
4. Non-residents will NOT have the right to vote no matter how long they are here.
5. Non-citizens will NEVER be able to hold political office.
6 Foreigners will not be a burden to the taxpayers. No welfare, no food stamps, no health care, or other government assistance programs. Any burden will be deported.
7. Foreigners can invest in this country, but it must be an amount at least equal to 40,000 times the daily minimum wage.
8. If foreigners come here and buy land.... options will be restricted. Certain parcels including waterfront property are reserved for citizens naturally born into this country.
9. Foreigners may have no protests; no demonstrations, no waving of a foreign flag, no political organizing, no bad-mouthing our president or his policies. These will lead to deportation.
10. If you do come to this country illegally, you will be actively hunted &, when caught, sent to jail until your deportation can be arranged. All assets will be taken from you.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The above laws are the current immigration laws of Mexico
American Immigration Laws
"In order to become a citizen, a person must be able to speak English, pass a United States Citizen test, and have a favorable opinion of America, among other qualifications." 
American immigration information: