Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Astrology Just For Writers, Part 10, Pluto The School Of Hard Knocks

Last week we talked about expository lumps, and how a writer's job is to chop them up into small pieces, to make salad out of grocery bags of ingredients.  Here's one of the tools for chopping up your expository lumps: Pluto.

I've done  9 previous posts on Astrology Just For Writers, which I suspect many of you skipped.

Here's a post listing the URLs of my posts on Astrology:


And here are a few mentioning those posts and elaborating on the content and showing how powerful an understanding of Astrology can be for writers:





And particularly this one on Greed which mentions how writers (who don't actually know astrology) can use Astrology to create compelling effects in their writing:


That last one is about character motivation, Romance, screenwriting, and Gordon Gekko.

Astrology Just For Writers Part 9 focuses on Pluto:


 It's titled High Drama and is about Pluto and how to use those transits in writing by listening to the "drumbeat" of the world of finance.   It references Tiger Woods and his fight with his wife.  Subsequently, we've seen his struggles to get his golf game back into shape, and now health issues (Pluto is related to that kind of bodily breakdown) keeping him off the circuit.  Part 9 traces world trends over long decades of time, even centuries, showing how that High Drama has peaks and valleys in a rhythm that writers can use to create plots.

When you talk about Astrology used in fiction, people think immediately of creating a Natal Chart for characters, or using some cookbook on transits to plot.

That doesn't work.  You don't get "realistic" effects, and you end up with expository lumps because you have to "explain" the astrology which is just plain Greek to your readers.

And the truth is, you don't understand it either, so don't try to explain it.  Just use Astrology to understand the world around you in ways that are not your own ways.

That's right, learning just a little about what Astrology is and does can let you see the world through the eyes of your readers whom you've never met and maybe never will.

I saw recently how everyone views the world through Astrology, consciously or unconsciously.

I caught a comment on twitter flying by me about the rhythm of the world that seemed to the tweeter to go in 30 year cycles.

I tweeted back that was the period of Saturn (which is 29 years or so).

The tweeter answered that was just the natural way the world goes.

Well, yes, it is, which is why Astrology is still with us after millenia.  It isn't a theory people invented to explain things.  It's empirical.  People observed that when such-and-so kind of life event was afoot, if you look up at night, you will see this-and-that for sure.  They tabulated those observations over generations and compiled a set of reliable coincidences.  And it works backwards.  When you look up and see this, look down and you'll find that, sure enough.

Since we now live long enough to see a couple or three cycles of Saturn, people are more aware of it than ever.  We now have TV clips from 30 years ago, film from 60 years ago, a library of the past which reveals how it is that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

It's that cycle, that drumbeat of general public moods which you can sort out by using astrology, then write to the mood that will prevail in a few years, or 10 years or more.

The sledge hammer of the zodiac is Pluto (which got demoted from planetary status because it's small and very likely a "capture" not a piece of matter native to this star).

Pluto is a "foreign influence."

People who don't study Astrology often pick up the charlatan's rant about how they can predict what will happen in your life, or how the stars "rule" (we still use that language, rulerships, but it has nothing to do with having power over you.)

Astrologers know the planets are just a giant clock, and we live to the rhythm of that clock.

A planet transiting a position in your natal chart does not MAKE YOU do or feel a certain way.  It does not make anything happen.  It merely signifies the time in your life when such a thing might be more probable than at other times.  But what can happen, what will happen, what might happen and how probable each is depends on the free will choices and actions the character has taken up to that point.

Understanding astrology can help a writer avoid having the plot events in a novel seem "contrived" and the characters who get hammered by events (to the good or to the bad) seem undeserving.  Of course, there are many other disciplines and studies that can supply that craft dimension, but Astrology being a mathematical analysis of human personality, is peculiarly suited to Science Fiction and therefore to SFRomance.  (oh, yes, scientists will argue against that idea.  Controversy makes good drama!)

The key the writer needs to grasp is how a character's free will choices combine with the prevailing influence in her life to produce events which, though decades apart in time and place, nevertheless are related poetically.

Astrology maps the heavens with the Earth at the center, making it useful as a timer giving you information on the shape of your life.

The timer may say you have an appointment with the dentist, but it doesn't say whether you'll be there or whether he'll be there, or whether you'll have a cavity.

Even if Pluto is a capture, a "stranger," its effects are still linked to the period of its orbit which is no accident but a property of it's mass, the Sun's mass, the angle at which it approached, and the speed it had at the time.

One might say humanity needed that "hand" on our clock, so G-d provided it.

A clock hand doesn't cause things to happen.  It signifies the probability that such a type of event might happen.  If free will actions have set up the conditions for a Pluto-style Event, that Event will most likely occur at the point in time signified by a transit of Pluto to some point in the Natal Chart -- or the starting event in the sequence which is culminating.  Remember how I discuss novel plotting as a "because-line" -- where because this happened, that happens, which causes something else, which leads to whatever.



Those are two posts related to "because line" plotting.

Pluto style Events hit with sledge hammer force, but usually they're not "unpredictable" (as Uranus style events can be).  Pluto brings consequences, usually from actions taken decades previously.

Pluto does have certain kinds of Events linked to it (it rules the 8th House, Scorpio, hidden things, other people's resources including money and money used as power, inheritance, public values, taxes imposed by a government, especially death taxes).  But it's main property is FORCE.  Hence, if you want to understand the hidden power behind world events, "follow the money."

Whatever is happening, whatever has been earned, whatever train of events is in motion, when Pluto gets involved that pattern signified by other planets will become bigger, larger, more exaggerated, larger than life, dramatic, and will hit not with jeweler's hammer force but sledge-hammer force.

Noel Tyl  (http://noeltyl.com) attributes the timing of major illness to transits of Pluto.

Other transits - you catch a cold.  A Pluto transit, and it's pneumonia.

Other transits, the mole on your leg is just cancerous, they take it off, and it's gone.  A Pluto transit and the mole turns out to be melanoma and then, as Pluto swings back and forth over the sensitive Natal point, they find the melanoma is of the most virulent sort -- maybe you survive, maybe not.

If a character's life is constructed strong, with plan-B, C, D in place, with cross-bracing of many friends, people willing to go to the mat for that person, a grand paper trail of accomplishments, and assets stockpiled against trouble, that sledge hammer will change but not destroy that life.  He'll pay the hospital bills, and walk away into bigger and better things.  But because of the expense, maybe he can't move to the larger house, or has to buy a used car again, or doesn't dare try to change jobs to get a promotion.  He becomes entrenched, having been hammered down by the blow.

A life of sandcastles built on hopes and dreams is likely to be smashed to smithereens and scattered to the winds.  Because of lack of money, caused by a lack of a college education maybe (though not in today's world), he won't have gone to the doctor in time, will be relegated to the least expensive treatment paid for by public funds, maybe not be educated enough to follow instructions, -- too little, too late, and the character dies of melanoma.

But Pluto can have another effect.  It can magnify the fame, glory and fortune of a character beyond recognition.  The cancerous plight becomes the News Story of the Day, experts consult all over the world, a new experimental treatment gets authorized, the whole world waits for the results.  Huge drama.

That in itself can be extraordinarily destructive.  Fame can become notoriety, and the character never gets another job requiring security clearance.  The character might be the spy who gets outed, gets captured, escapes, and gets fired (yes I watch Burn Notice!)

When you grasp how both horrendous disaster and grandiose success are exactly the same thing in life, and how both can be toxic to your characters' peace of mind, mental stability, or love life, you can begin to slice-n-dice your characters' backstories into "salad" as I discussed last week. 

Feed it to your reader a bite-size at a time, it's delicious.  Hand them the whole head of lettuce with sand still on it, and it's not delicious.

When you understand the periodicity of "life" in the same terms that your readers understand it, you can center the plot around those specific life-changing events that are signified by Pluto.

Pluto, as I said, hits like a sledge hammer, but you can see it coming if you know where to look.

You can start your opening scene with the Pluto sledge-hammer landing a hard blow ( melanoma is diagnosed) and you have one story -- how to cope with the diagnosis, what treatment to get, where, when, paid for how, who will help during recovery, etc.

Or you can showcase the Pluto blow as the middle Event of your novel's plot -- the main character makes a long chain of really bad decisions leading to Melanoma, and then has to cope.  For example, you open on the college kid taking a lifeguard position during summers to work his way through school, drops out of school to become a beach-bum running drugs, melts down on drugs, gets diagnosed with melanoma and deserted by all friends, gets through it, goes back to school and gets an MD degree.

Or Pluto's blow may destroy the villain at the very end of your story with Poetic Justice which the Hero has been trying to avert by getting the Villain to repent and mend his ways -- maybe the Villain was a Tanning Bed mogul getting rich off giving others melanoma, and the Hero is campaigning to get laws against tanning salons, and they battle in the media and YouTube and the mogul tans himself charcoal -- gets melanoma.  End villain, weepy funeral, great wedding for the Hero.

One prominent characteristic of Pluto transits is that when they hit (usually 3 times as Pluto transits retrograde back over the sensitive Natal point, then again over that point) with humongous force, and HAMMER YOU DOWN into the ground.

If your character's life is built strongly, the character will be hammered down hard, harder, hardest, and with each blow sink deeper into his life's position.  But once the 3 blows have landed, the character is firmly entrenched in his life and no subsequent event can dislodge him -- because Pluto moves so slowly it won't hit like that again in 100 year lifespan.

The Pluto transit is actually the source of the realistic, and real life, Happily Ever After.  Terrible things happen, and after that it's smooth going.

Of course Vampires, that's another story.  Pluto again and again 4 times during every 248 years or so (it's the squares and oppositions that get you).

For example: a character with a strongly built life might 1)Get a girl pregnant 2) shotgun wedding, not really liking this woman very much 3) she has a Down's Syndrome kid.  3 Pluto type blows.

Now what?  The woman turns out to have the Love to accept and nurture that child, the guy reaches down inside and finds the strength to go to school and become a therapist for the learning disabled, together the couple creates, invents, politically motivates groups, spreads the word on the internet, gets the help they need, raises the child who actually grows up to be self-sufficient and perhaps even a valuable contributor to the world in some way.

The same character with a weakly built life 1) Gets a girl pregnant 2) shotgun abortion 3) gets murdered by the girl when she realizes what he did to her.  Maybe the novel is her trial for murder, and the Romance is with her lawyer, they win and live happily ever after.  Her life has become entrenched because of the blows of Pluto, and she will never again be dislodged by a blow that any other transit can deliver.

That's the pattern you can use to break up your expository lumps.  Take your lump of explanation, divide it into 3 BIG BLOWS then play out the logical consequences.  Don't explain it, do it.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Roots of Spec-Fic Genres

The Summer 2011 issue of WEIRD TALES includes an essay on Weird Cinema, titled "Through the Lens Darkly." A large percentage of the article, however, discusses the theory of the "weird" in general and the conditions that stimulated the rise of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. The author, Robert W. Kowal, quotes Vivian Sobchack that "all three [genres] 'realize' the imagination," i.e., they make the products of imagination real. Sobchack is further quoted as saying, "Horror is the appalling idea given sudden flesh; science fiction is the improbable made possible within the confines of a technological age; and fantasy adventure and romance is the appealing and the impossible personal wish concretely and objectively fulfilled." Each one has roots in mythology and folklore, but the genres as they achieved their separate identities in the nineteenth century, according to Kowal, possessed the "unifying characteristic of the 'weird'." He further says the "weird" could not have existed before this period because that concept "is predicated on a common and corroborated understanding of reality."

I don't fully buy the implication that fantasy literature equals wish fulfillment. Surely there is plenty of fiction legitimately defined as fantasy that portrays grim, dystopian, or even frightening imaginary worlds without slipping over into horror. The rest of Kowal's thesis, however, strikes me as fascinatingly plausible. He maintains that the "weird" dimension of speculative fiction couldn't have developed before the rise of science in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries established "a uniform reference of reality." Imaginative fiction flourishes at the boundary between consensus reality and the impossible phenomena excluded by it.

I'm not sure I accept his premise that through most of human history, "One could sincerely believe almost anything." Even though a formal system of natural laws wasn't constructed before the emergence of science as we know it, that doesn't mean people had no notion of how the natural world customarily behaved. The very idea of a miracle implies that NOT "almost anything" can normally happen. As C. S. Lewis points out, St. Joseph didn't know about sperm cells and ova, but he certainly knew women didn't become pregnant without sexual intercourse and intended to repudiate Mary accordingly. A man walking on water wouldn't impress any spectator who didn't know human bodies usually sink when stepping onto the surface of a lake.

Aside from that reservation, though, I think Kowal has an excellent point. Strangeness can't exist without a concept of the normal to measure it against. Moreover, he seems to me right on the mark when he discusses what literary theorists would call the "liminal" (threshold) quality of the weird: The "familiar tropes" of the weird tale typically "reside in a limbo state between the real and the unreal," e.g. the living dead, such as zombies, ghosts, and vampires, or beast-human hybrids, such as werewolves. He also remarks that Robbie the Robot has dated in a way the horrifying images in NOSFERATU haven't. That observation agrees with my memory of numerous TWILIGHT ZONE episodes. The futuristic SF programs in the series suffer from the "technology marches on" effect. Episodes such as the vignette of a woman waking up from a nightmare only to find she's still asleep—over and over and over—remain permanently disturbing.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Source of the Expository Lump Part 2

 Last week we discussed two urban fantasy PNR writers, Amber Benson and Kathryn Leigh Scott, both from the acting profession, and both possessing a writing "voice" that is enchanting at least to me.

We'll have to discuss "voice" in detail at some point, but it is a quality composed of the mastery-levels of a plethora of skills we are exploring in these Tuesday posts on aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com.  Learning them one at a time, then practicing them by orchestrating all the skills, adding one at a time with each practice piece, will develop your unique "Voice."

Here's a post from Blake Snyder's blog from a screenwriter, Anne Lower, who is "making it" using the Beat Sheet Snyder outlined, but who has found her "voice" over and above those craft skills.


the % symbols in that link arise because of the dashes used in the title.  Don't use dashes in URLs or blog titles!

The link is http://www.blakesnyder.com/2011/07/01/voice---a-writer's-journey/ 

You will note that this writer mentions both a long journey of skills acquisition, and a period of working hard without her "voice."  Part of the process of finding your Voice is working without your own voice, imitating others' voices. 

But you can't stop there.  You must then re-engage your own personal voice.

Those who've read my posts on Tarot for writers may remember the 5 of Pentacles, the Dark Night Of The Soul concept. 


That's the process Anne Lower describes in her post on Voice. 

"Voice" is a great analog for this combination skills-set because a singer must "train" the "voice" to be strong.  Voice is made up of muscles, vocal cords, that must be exercised to become strong enough to produce the exacting tones with enough volume to fill an opera hall.

Likewise a writer must practice exercises that aren't actually stories in order to strengthen that part of the mind that synthesizes "Voice."  It has to do with combining all the components of a story just like a musical chord, each note in the right volume relative to the other notes in the chord, the chord then juxtaposed to other chords in the right duration and relative loudness to create a composition that is pleasing. 

Eliminating the expository lump is one of those practice exercises like a pianist's scales that is no fun to do and not any fun at all to watch someone else do -- the result is not immediately entertaining either.

So why is it that beginning writers, and even those currently being published in Mass Market produce a "novel" that is laced with expository lumps?  What happens inside that writer's mind as they are worldbuilding and story-plotting?

An Expository Lump is a series of facts about the world in which the story occurs or about the characters.  It is what the writer knows that seems interesting and exciting to the writer, and the writer desperately wants the reader to understand it all BEFORE reading the story.  The writer feels "you need to know this in order to understand what happens next and get a kick out of the event."

Very often with beginning writers, those facts in the Lump are the real reason the writer wants to write the story, or wants you to read and understand it emotionally. 

Now let's switch to a Culinary Analogy -- salad.

What's a Chef's Salad?  It's a special concoction of ingredients which blend nicely as a meal in itself or prelude to a meal.

Think of a reader who wants desperately to write her own story for all to enjoy.  Now she's going to make a story of her very own.  Making a novel is just like making a salad for a dinner party. 

She has been to the store (i.e. read a lot of books, done some hard living) and now she arrives home with a couple of grocery bags filled to the brim with lovely ingredients for her salad. 

She has a head of lettuce (a world she's built), gorgeous colored green, yellow, orange, red bell peppers (characters with seeds inside), a fabulous ripe Tomato (villain?) and a great Cucumber (hero?),  lovely red onions, green onions, and carefully chosen virgin olive oil, apple cider vinegar, fresh basil and other fresh herbs etc with which to make the dressing (theme) that will bring the whole composition together. 

She's planning a dinner party (i.e. writing a book, maybe a series, for others to enjoy).  Oh, it's going to be wonderful and garner her great praise and admiration because she's chosen her ingredients with such knowledge and careful research.

With great pride and a broad smile, she plonks the two grocery bags on the linen draped table among the sparkling wine glasses, cloth napkins, polished sterling silver flatware, exquisite china (the publisher is the table setting, the presentation of the work of art, and those who come to dine are the readers.)

And there the two brown grocery bags sit in the middle of this exquisite setting (the publisher provides top drawer artwork for the cover, perfect printing, vast publicity budget), and the dinner guests arrive.

The dinner guests are all dressed up formally, hungry in anticipation of a great meal.  They swirl into the dining room and stop dead in their tracks staring at the brown grocery bags amidst the sparkling table setting.

Where did those grocery bags come from?

They came from the same place that many Great Writers have found their material -- Life.

But they aren't a meal.  They aren't a salad.  They aren't what the hungry people came for.

The new writer looks at her bags of magnificent ingredients and at the dinner guests and has no clue WHY they are dismayed and gathering their coats to leave.

Her writing is as good as anybody else's!  She has done all her research and globe-trotting for experience.  She's garnered the wisdom of the ages and the very best -- in fact better than most writers' -- ingredients.

Why don't they want to read her story, to eat her meal? 

This is the plight of many self-publishing writers.  They have truly great stuff, in fact better than most of what the big publishers spew out, fare not unlike what you might find at a typical McDonald's. 

But new writers have no clue why they can't gather an audience, why their dinner guests leave talking about McDonald's and settle on Chinese.

What is it they teach in Culinary school that makes the difference between a chef, a cook, or a great shopper?

They teach sharpening knives, good chopping blocks, fine-chopping -- these onions very fine, those in rings.  They teach the use of blenders to make dressing out of ingredients, how much of this, how little of that.  They teach the patience to put in the hard work in the hot kitchen.  They make you apprentice and clean up other people's messes, scrub vegetables for others to chop with finesse.  They make your hands strong, your ability to stand long hours and  heave heavy things reliable, and gradually you absorb the art of combining ingredients. 

Fresh ground pepper lightly sprinkled on top makes the dinner guests cling to the table.  A box of peppercorns does not, no matter if the peppercorns are of higher quality than the ground pepper.

So, to stretch my analogy out to a thin crust, the salad ingredients are expository lumps.  Because they are ingredients, in wrappers in a brown shopping bag, they aren't dinner yet.

The reader/ dinner guest expects the writer/chef to chop fine, mix thoroughly, dress perfectly, and create something unique from the same-old-same-old ingredients. 

It's the writer's job to stand at the sink and wash, core, chop, proportion, food-processor the carrots, just so but not too much.  The dinner guests don't come to work, they come to dine elegantly.  You sweat; they laugh. 

If you present your story to your reader still in the shopping bag, they won't appreciate it no matter how good the story is.  They're hungry, not ambitious. 

This is what is meant when Hollywood says they want "the same, but different" -- "the same" part is the ingredients, the same old bell peppers and lettuce, and the "but different" part is the chopping, proportioning, creating a chef's salad. 

And it is in the creative proportioning and combining spices into dressing that is the work of the writer. 

A writer isn't the farmer that grows the stuff, or the retailer who brings it to town from across the world, or the maker of the crystal and china on the table.  The writer is the chef in the kitchen making up new recipes to present the same old ingredients in new and unique ways, or at request in the same-old-same-old ways (Waldorf Salad is Waldorf Salad and when you want that, you don't want chopped egg and dill pickles).

The reason many readers have been disappointed in "self-published" books is not because they're "self-published" but because someone planning to self-publish may chintz on the chopping.  Someone who has chintzed on the chopping will not be hired (sell their novel) to work at McDonald's (big publishing.) 

But people buy self-published books because they want something different -- it's just it's got to be 'the same' too. 

The writer's job is to chop ideas up into bite-size pieces and toss the salad good to mix up all the chopped ingredients in appetizing proportions.  New writers, like kids learning their way around a kitchen, just don't have the knack of chopping fine enough, tossing two more minutes, or adding that last dash of oregano to the dressing.

"Is this small enough, Mommy?"  Ask your readers if your Big Ideas are Small Enough Now.

And remember, if you're fighting expository lumps, you're only learning to make the salad.  Entree and Dessert are even more work, and you don't have a meal until you've got all the parts chosen to go with the correct Wine Of Life.  Your "Voice as a Writer" is that whole, balanced, meal.  All the parts and components from nutrition to flavor and texture, combined in artistic proportions unique to you, create your Voice. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Importance Of Being.... Allergic?

I'm on vacation, so will have to rely on memory (which may or may not be fuzzy).

On my Facebook page today, I've had a wide ranging conversation with Elysa and Erin that started with the discrimination, bullying, exclusion, and contempt that children with very serious allergies face in school and in society today.


From there, we touched on the possible effects on fantasy novel Vampires if they had the bad taste to
bite a person with allergies. Elysa's thoughts turned to a self-medicated allergy sufferer.

I did some research on the internet, and discovered that it might be very amusing to afflict the Vamp with uncontrollable itching. Unusual levels of histamine can do that, I read (I hasten to add).

Now, here's my fuzzy bit. I know that I remember seeing somewhere that just as anti-histamines dull the brain, histamines sharpen it. 

Off topic thought, more suitable to be put into the minds of one of my arrogant aliens. Maybe there would be less AD if there were less self-medicating, and less use of Benadryl and its like by parents for their own social convenience.

I've also read that allergies happen when the body's defenses make a mistake, and preemptively attack something that is not a threat.

And, I'm sure I remember reading, probably in DISCOVER magazine, that we are constantly evolving and mutating, but not all mutations are timely or successful. However, there might come a time when a small group of people who have suffered and been sigmatized all their lives for one allergy or another might save the human race.

Maybe, like the appendix in our guts (which used to be cavaliery removed because doctors did not know what it was for) the allergic among us will be the source of a serum or antibody or antidote.

Meanwhile, it would be really nice to know that while FEMA is stockpiling supplies in the expectation of another disaster, that they have catered (literally) for the one in one hundred citizens who suffer serious, life-threatening food allergies.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Writing Addiction

I've just finished the draft and revision of a new paranormal erotic romance novella. Soon I'll send it to one of my regular publishers, who I hope will accept it. What a great feeling.

To me, writing behaves almost literally like an addiction. I feel anxious and depressed if I'm unable to do it for too long. Yet I don't enjoy doing it. I like brainstorming and outlining a new project. I like reading the galley file of a book almost ready for publication. But not the process of first-draft composition. When I finish it, though, I feel euphoric (a lot of which probably comes from relief that the thing IS finished and off my mind).

However, the high doesn't last long. The allure of a new project beckons, this time a story that really WILL turn out as a faithful realization of the idealized, though vague, image in my head—unlike all my previous works. Each "fix" promises total fulfillment that none of the earlier ones delivered.

I wish I enjoyed the act of writing, like a few authors I've heard about, such as Isaac Asimov, who never willingly stopped even on vacations. When I started creating fiction, as a teenager, I couldn't wait to pour out my (mostly dreadful) tales onto the page. The typewriter (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth) barely kept up with the sentences in my brain. I wish that fluency would return, but I think knowing too much about what I'm doing impedes the flow, like the centipede stuck pondering which leg to move first. Do most of you enjoy writing? Or mainly enjoy having written?

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Amber Benson and Kathryn Leigh Scott Actresses and Writers

You may remember I discussed Amber Benson's first Calliope Reaper-Jones novel, Death's Daughter in August 2009.


Amber Benson played Tara on Buffy, a character who stole the show as layers of her background were peeled away to reveal startling and unexpected truths.

I met her on Twitter -- @Amber_Benson  -- check her out!

Since then she has had a second novel in her series published titled Cat's Claw-- and they're GOOD.

There are few writers whose novels pass all my technical craft tests (even Mass Market published writers), the attributes I talk about here in my posts about craft.  Amber Benson does. 

She has some prior books she's contributed to, which I haven't read yet, so take a look here:

Amber Benson

Amber Benson has a very distinctive writer's "voice" that is pleasant even when speaking (in the first person) for a tough-as-nails woman, or a woman who is soon to become as tough as nails.

See next week's entry here "Source of the Expository Lump Part 2" for more on Voice and how to find yours.

Benson handles the ugly truth of the world straight, with no compromises, but reading these stories doesn't make you feel ugly.  She makes her readers feel good about themselves.  It's an odd and very valuable talent, and to me that effect creates a dimension of realism indispensable in a Fantasy novel.

But it's also a rare talent.  Now I've found someone else who writes with that kind of a pleasant "voice" that is very easy to read even when confronting the ugliest aspects of the world.

She is, like Benson, also an actress with a TV series that has to be a favorite among readers of this blog, Dark Shadows.

Kathryn Leigh Scott played Barnabus Collins' bride on Dark Shadows.

Now Kathryn has done something unique that you should take note of if you are at all interested in PNR.

Kathryn created a new, original Urban Fantasy universe, a parallel world perhaps, where a young would-be actress (very different from herself) goes to New York to seek her fame and glory.

And she does two things Kathryn actually did.  She works as a Playboy Bunny serving drinks (giving us a glimpse of a real world as it was decades ago), and she lands a minor part in a startup afternoon soap opera TV show to be broadcast live.

This is both urban fantasy and historical novel, as the detail depicted of that era of live-TV afternoon soaps distributed by kinescope is extremely accurate but written without any expository lumps.

I will talk a bit about expository lumps again next week because it has a lot to do with Voice.

For now I want to point you to Dark Passages, this treasure of a novel about a parallel universe "Dark Shadows" TV show, and a young woman with Vampiric type supernatural powers she is determined not to use to 'get ahead' in The Industry.

Here is a link to a group of books by Kathryn Leigh Scott.  One is titled DARK SHADOWS.

Dark Passages leads to a list of some of her books.

But the one I'd like you to pay attention to is Dark Passages:

Dark Passages  this link leads to a single novel. 

Dark Passages is billed as a Romance, but it's not strictly speaking, PNR.  The plot is driven by personal Relationship, and it's definitely what I call Intimate Adventure Genre, but I think the real Romance part will develop in what I hope will be a number of sequels.

I found @Dark_Passages on twitter -- I think when they followed me ( @jlichtenberg ) and I looked at the little bio and followed back.  Or I may have gotten an email from the publicist.  I did get a two-page promo for the novel done as a pdf file which I read on my iPod Touch and wrote back and asked for the full novel.

You will note I've been blogging here about the place of social networking in a writer's modern life.

 Before I wrote this blog entry, I asked @Amber_Benson (whose byline is Amber Benson ) via public twitter post  if she knew Kathryn Leigh Scott personally.  Amber answered publicly that she knew someone who does know Kathryn and has a very high opinion of her work.  I hope this post will introduce these two extraordinary women.  They really should collaborate! 
You might also want to follow the twitter account @Dark_Passages which is how I encountered Kathryn Leigh Scott and ended up with her publisher sending me a review copy of this novel -- which I couldn't wait to read.  They sent me an ARC, I devoured it, and this post is only a few weeks after the publication date.

Dark Passages is written in that very pleasant "voice" that makes you feel good about yourself.  The characters are totally absorbing, the historical background sketched with elegantly chosen detail.

There are no boring sections to this novel.  But it's not an action novel.  It's a story about a very realistic supernatural person, young Meg, on a relentlessly logical karmic path to stardom.  It has one tiny gliche at the end which I won't discuss here because it would be a "spoiler."  But here's a clue -- one scene should have been moved to occur after another scene which should have been much longer and more complex.  Read this book and find that tiny glitch if you can.

Study Dark Passages, find the scenes that should have been in reverse order, and contrast/compare it to the Calliope Reaper-Jones novels which don't have a glitch like that.

Read my series on What's An Editor, and you will see that asking a writer to reverse two scenes is what Editors do for a living.


is the final post in that sequence on Editing and has links to the prior ones in the series.

Here's what an editor would see comparing the Calliope Reaper-Jones novels to Dark Passages.

The Reaper-Jones novels have a stronger "action" structure and the action itself provides the plot-driving energy.

Dark Passages has a plot driven by the Relationships, the suspense provided by an enemy stalking the main character because of a generations long vendetta against her family, and by the main character's ability to evoke caring from those she meets.

The flinty, hardened, actors and seasoned Playboy Bunnies, care about Meg, even though they don't know she drinks blood from animals in the park and would suck them dry in a moment were her self-control to fail.

And it seemed to me Meg had no clue how much the people she meets care about her.

She comes from a small-town, growing up on an isolated farm with a warm, caring family.  In fact, her background profile is pretty much like Clark Kent's!

Dark Passages is a heart-melting historical Vampire novel.  You don't want to miss this one.

And if you've missed the Reaper-Jones novels, pick up a copy.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Robot Companions

Speaking of cyborgs, the August NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC contains an article on robots, with pictures:


The article explores robots designed for flexible behavior in uncontrolled environments, as opposed to the kind of factory robot that performs one job in a circumscribed, changeless setting. People are trying to teach machines to do things that are easy for us but hard for them, such as walk across a room or pick up a glass (or, as Steven Pinker discusses in THE LANGUAGE INSTINCT, carry on a natural conversation). A perfected robot of this kind would be able to serve as an aide to an infirm person, for example. In Japan a "cuddly baby seal" machine is already being used to entertain elderly nursing home residents.

Should humanoid robots try to pass for human? Do we want true androids, or would a housekeeping robot (for example) be more acceptable if purely functional instead of resembling an advanced version of the maid in THE JETSONS? The article introduces Yume (also built in Japan, not surprisingly), a feminine robot being developed for realism in both appearance and behavior. She's not there yet. The "uncanny valley," the visual space where a robot or a CGI character looks almost real but not quite and therefore inspires uneasiness in most people, hasn't been leaped over yet.

Years ago I saw a TV movie about a future in which childbearing has been banned for thirty years as a population-control measure. Couples can buy robot infants in baby stores. The artificial "babies" in this film look blatantly like talking dolls. I'm sure today's technology could do better, but how many people would want a robot child, even as a last resort? I haven't seen that movie about the robot boy rejected by his adopted parents, but from the reviews I gather the experience was traumatic. Robot pets, on the other hand—they already exist as toys, and even with today's technology a fairly convincing cybernetic dog or cat could be constructed. Compared to letting our St. Bernard out in the rain or snow and cleaning him up when he comes in, the idea of a walking-optional dog has its appeal. Still, I wouldn't want to live in a world like that of DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP?, with all natural animals replaced by artificial ones.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Big Love Sci-Fi Part VIII Unconditional Love and Science Fiction - c

This is the third part, part c,  of "Unconditional Love and Science Fiction" which is part of the Big Love Sci-Fi series of posts I've been doing. This one is #8 in the Big Love Sci-Fi series.

Here's the list of links to the previous posts in this Big Love Sci-Fi series:

Here's the first post in this series:

And here's Part II in this series:

Part III in this series:

Part IV in the series:

Part V in the series:

Part VI in the series:

Part VII

Today is Tisha B'av, a day that has lived in infamy for thousands of years. Many severe calamities that have befallen the Jewish People have happened on this date (by the Lunar Calendar -- by odd coincidence this year the Ninth of Av falls on the 9th of August!). Some great sages have thought that the Messiah will come on this day, and G-d's Love will become instantly evident to all the nations. It's a day for settling up scores, for taking consequences. 

So today is a great day to study Kaballah, Jewish mysticism, and see what we can learn about Love.

This time consider a famous work by a man known as The Rebbe, titled Tanya.

In Tanya, Chapter 33, The Rebbe wrote about happiness, about joy.

Two quotes from that chapter are in the list of 12 short sayings or paragraphs (The 12 Pesukim) that The Rebbe recommended every child should memorize (they've been made into little songs you can hear them all over the web if you google 12 Pesukim).

#10 of the twelve is the quote from Rabbi Akiva "To love your fellow as yourself, "is a great basic principle of the Torah. Rabbi Akiva taught (he had thousands of students) that we should love our fellow just like ourselves. So every good thing you do, share it with your friends, and help them do it too! This is an important part of keeping the Torah.

#11 of the twelve is a quote from The Rebbe's book on Kaballah, Tanya, Chapter 33. "The purpose of the creation of every Jew and of all the worlds is to make a dwelling place for G-d in this world." (the "worlds" referred to are the worlds of the Kaballah.)

The principle message I get from #11 is that each and every person is unique, created for a unique purpose, just like each level of reality is created for a unique purpose, and that purpose is to make this whole world into a dwelling place for G-d, just as the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was built to be a dwelling place for G-d, a place where humans could get close to the divine.

And that individual uniqueness is the bedrock principle behind the concept of Unconditional Love.

Each individual human being is unique. And each human has a unique purpose in this pattern we call "reality."

If you can't grasp that concept of uniqueness, there will always be something a person can do to become undeserving of your love, thus your love is not unconditional.

Because each individual is unique, there's no way to compare one person to another, or one person's achievements or behaviors to another's.

This is the essence of the concept "Soul Mate" -- you are unique, and your irregular edges fit exactly into the irregular edges of 1 other person. No other person is going to fit into your edges that exact way.

So when you find that one, unique, person that person is irreplaceable. You each help the other to fulfill the individual unique purpose for which you were created.

That awareness of the special precision in the way you "fit" into each other eliminates all thought of divorce, and there simply is nothing that can ever tempt either party to stray.

Nobody else is attractive once that unique bond is in place. That unique bond is your happiness, and it is a happiness which celebrates your Creator. Through that celebration you spread Joy into the world. That bond, that Love, truly can conquer all, and have a blast doing it, too!

If you haven't met your soul mate, and don't know anyone who has met one, and if you also have no confidence in the concept of a Creator who makes Souls, there's no way the idea of Happily Ever After can make any sense to you. It's fantasy, not reality. Happily For Now is the best you can hope for, and even that is probably an illusion.

That kind of perfect marriage and perfect family has always been rare, but it seems to me only recently has the very idea of the possibility been scoffed and scorned out of existence. It's still possible to re-ignite the vision, and with that to bring examples and role models to general attention. There is a lot of real-life material out there to work with, it's just that a lot of people don't believe it's real.

So the Science Fiction Romance writer's job becomes to re-create the icons of Unconditional Love based on the concept of unique individuals.

Remember the post I did here on this new icon of Romance.

Scroll down that piece and look at the two images which are iconic.

Let's now ponder how the Creator of Souls, who leaves some of us without a Soul Mate in this life, can command us to Love.

This comes under the heading of Worldbuilding. There are a lot of different postulates that could form the foundation of a vision of Reality as Created by a Creator. Some of those visions might be brought to Earth by non-Humans from "out-there." For such non-humans to be a useful ingredient in an SFR novel, their notion of Reality needs to have some basis in our common assumptions.

So let's blend Kaballah with Quantum Mechanics.

What if the Creator of Souls doesn't stop creating? What if all of our Reality (all the galaxies like grains of sand) is actually re-created from scratch every nano-second?

That's actually a notion from Kaballah. But physics has found how, at ultra-small particle size, our universe is actually discontinuous. That's at the level of the particle/wave argument -- are electrons particles or waves? The answer is probably.

An electron doesn't "orbit" a nucleus, as once taught in the Bohr Atom model. An electron in an "orbital" is here and then sometimes probably there, and the zones of highest probability form a cloud around the nucleus.

This concept is the basis of Star Trek's transporter, or matter transmitter, which is now an actual laboratory toy that can transport an electron (sometimes.)

So if we visualize "reality" as a porous froth of probability being recreated in pulses, we can describe the fabric of "reality" as pure energy that appears crystalized from our point of view, but is really sizzling.

Or put another way, we can conceptualize the truth of Reality as a Song the Creator is singing -- all of reality is just energy vibrating, and isn't that what Music is?

So what is this energy of which matter is formed? We could postulate that the basic energy that forms all Reality is Love, the Creator's Love, Unconditional Love.

Our Free Will, harmonized with the Creator's Love, would then definitely conquer all.

How do we harmonize with the song of creation? By loving the Creator with all our heart, as Commanded.

If you love the Creator, then you love the creation -- all those unique humans, each with some problematic traits and deeds to their credit, are nevertheless miracles. The very existence of reality is a miracle.

So the "Icon" of Unconditional Love could be musical or based on color tones which are also vibrations.

So if the Action Genre has reached its peak of popularity through the Superhero (Superman first appearing in conjunction with World War II and today the Superhero is 3-D big screen fare) -- then perhaps the Superhero of the SFR genre will be someone who is capable of Big Love?

This new Icon would probably be a couple, Soul Mates who become role models of Love and Acceptance among those who can't conceptualize the Unique Human.

This Supercouple might be, say, be a human/non-human pair would have to deal with people involved in horrendously terrible things, and that would be the source of "conflict" for their story -- not conflict between them, but conflict among those they deal with.

But they would succeed (not without difficulty) in igniting unconditional love in those whose Souls had become dark and ashen.

Where they walk, miracles follow, because their love is Big Love Sci-Fi.

OK, you don't like using Kaballah, pick another mysticism -- Hinduism, Sufi, Zen, whatever provides you with a way to show readers that the Happily Ever After ending is real and possible, even if rare.  Do this exercise over with as many philosophies as you can. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Cyborg Love?

A few nights ago I had a dream about carrying on a long conversation with Darth Vader. In the dream he'd had his life support suit removed for maintenance and could survive for some time without it, given occasional hits from an oxygen mask. Wondering whether Vader ever did function without his advanced armor (given the conversation in RETURN OF THE JEDI when Luke protests that removing the mask would kill him), I checked the STAR WARS Wiki, Wookipedia. I was also wondering whether Darth Vader eats. The answers are here:

Vader's Armor

The details on Vader's suit and the interface between the equipment and what's left of his organic body are fascinating. Anakin Skywalker became a true cyborg, with very little functional human flesh remaining.

Could a man in that condition be used as the hero of a romance? Human-computer love stories have often been written, but the ones I've seen achieve their resolution by having the computer's mind transferred into a lifelike android body, as in Robert Heinlein's TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE and THE SHIP WHO SEARCHED, by Anne McCaffrey and Mercedes Lackey. (Of course, a ship's brain in McCaffrey's series is organic, not a computer, but functionally she's similar to a cybernetic brain.) A cyborg like Vader has presumably already been given as much of a new body as he's going to get.

The wiki entry on his life support suit highlighted for me how much physical as well as emotional pain he endures. If not completely lost to the Dark Side, a character like that could become an enthralling "wounded hero" for a romance. But what about the physical dimension of love?

It would be fascinating to read a story whose author has taken up this challenge.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Big Love Sci-Fi Part VII Unconditional Love and Science Fiction - b

This is Part b of a discussion of the nature of Love, continued from July 26th post.

This is Part VII in Big Love Sci-Fi.

So here we are, trying again to probe the general audience psyche for where the rejection of the Soul Mate concept leading to a real HEA and the Love Conquers All theme originates.

Here's the list of links to the previous posts in this Big Love Sci-Fi series:

Here's the first post in this series:

And here's Part II in this series:

Part III in this series:

Part IV in the series:

Part V in the series:

Part VI in the series:
As I've noted before, the Soul Mate Hypothesis requires some kind of notion that Soul is a real thing, over and above and beyond the physical body.

Soul is the word we use to refer to the part of the Self that survives after death.

The notion of Soul doesn't necessarily require the notion that "God Is Real."  It might be possible to believe we generate our Soul from the material level somehow. 

But generally, in the USA today, people associate the word "Soul" with some kind of notion of God. 

So let's work from that assumption and see what we can find to solve our problem.

By going back to the 1st Century C.E. we might find one of the tap-roots that feeds the green-leaves of today's common heritage in our society. 

In the ancient literature, Rabbi Akiva, a great teacher who lived around the 1st Century, C.E., is quoted as having said the big thing in the Torah (the Five Books of Moses) is the Commandment Love Your Neighbor As Yourself. 

This is much easier said than done, and one wonders how it can be that the creator of Souls can then "Command" those Souls (imbued with Free Will to disobey that Commandment) to love one another.

Another famous Commandment is to Love The Lord Your God With All Your Heart

Here from Judaism:
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

And accepted by Christianity - I'd suppose in most versions:
The most vital commandment in the Old Testament is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. We should examine ourselves: Do we love God indeed? Do we love him with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our strength?

I don't know, but I wouldn't be surprised if Islam has something similar. 

So the creator of Souls commands us to use our Soul to Love -- to love Him and to love each other, but leaves us free to disobey (with consequences, but it's a free will choice we have).  And, according to Rabbi Akiva, one of the greatest teachers we've had, that Commandment to Love is the most important message He gave us at Mount Sinai! 

Yeah, right, and have you flipped on the TV lately?  What's to love?

How can any sane person think that such an endeavor is possible?  Or that such an order makes any sense?  You can't just decide to have an emotion then have it.  How can you go about doing this?  No wonder the general public scoffs at Romance Genre novels!  How can Love of anyone, least of all God, be possible in this pea-soup of horror we live in?

Well, Kaballah comes up with an answer that plays right into the basic requirements of a Romance Novel, especially one rooted in Science Fiction.

Science is a process of organizing knowledge obtained by empirical experience (experiment).  Science is the process of processing ideas from Hypothesis to Theory to Fact then organizing them neatly so others can learn them - and so they can be updated and revised.

Once accepted as a proven fact, a scientific fact can be tossed out with the next fact that comes to light.

Check out this interesting news item on revising the "facts" of static electricity:

That article will probably disappear soon.  The headline says
What You Learned About Static Electricity Is Wrong -- published June 25, 2011

And the article references a paper recently published:
What You Learned About Static Electricity Is Wrong

    By Ars Technica Email Author
    June 25, 2011  |
    7:00 am  |
    Categories: Physics

By John Timmer, Ars Technica

For many of us, static electricity is one of the earliest encounters we have with electromagnetism, and it’s a staple of high school physics. Typically, it’s explained as a product of electrons transferred in one direction between unlike substances, like glass and wool, or a balloon and a cotton T-shirt (depending on whether the demo is in a high school class or a kids’ party). Different substances have a tendency to pick up either positive or negative charges, we’re often told, and the process doesn’t transfer a lot of charge, but it’s enough to cause a balloon to stick to the ceiling, or to give someone a shock on a cold, dry day.

Nearly all of that is wrong, according to a paper published in today’s issue of Science. Charges can be transferred between identical materials, all materials behave roughly the same, the charges are the product of chemical reactions, and each surface becomes a patchwork of positive and negative charges, which reach levels a thousand times higher than the surfaces’ average charge.

Where to begin? The authors start about 2,500 years ago, noting that the study of static began with a Greek named Thales of Miletus, who generated it using amber and wool. But it wasn’t until last year that some of the authors of the new paper published a surprising result: contact electrification (as this phenomenon is known among its technically oriented fans) can occur between two sheets of the same substance, even when they’re simply allowed to lie flat against each other. “According to the conventional view of contact electrification,” they note, “this should not happen since the chemical potentials of the two surfaces/materials are identical and there is apparently no thermodynamic force to drive charge transfer.”
--------END QUOTE--------- (read the article if you can reach it)

So if that's what Science does (toss out centuries old knowledge at the drop of a fact), isn't that what a Science Fiction Romance novel should do?

Pick a "fact" everyone knows, and toss it out.  Start over with a new hypothesis.

Pick a known fact about Love and treat it as science fiction treats a scientific fact.  Toss it out.  Start over.

Well, "everyone" who rejects the Romance Genre, "knows" perfectly well that Love is just chemistry of the physical body.  Most of the drama on TV and in film today reflects the general public's notion of what Love is -- and that portrait is a portrait of "Conditional Love."

People fall in love -- and then out of it at discovering something they don't like about their partner.

People get married, and divorced -- or just live together and move out anytime.  The percentages of breakups is up sharply since say, the 1940's.

Since everyone either has an "ex" or knows people who have an "ex" -- the fact is quite clear, proven and positive.  Love doesn't last.  There's no such thing as unconditional love.

But wait!  Even today, most parents love their children unconditionally.

Well, maybe that's actually not the case.  How many mass murderers or serial killers have turned up on the news with parents who don't believe their kid could ever do such a thing?

Do they love their child unconditionally -- or are they simply too self-centered to have noticed they love only the imaginary image of their child, not the person.  In fact, the miscreant's behavior might be explained as the result of the parents never getting to know that person, and thus never having loved their child.

Is there a generally accepted notion of "Unconditional Love" in our society any more (or was there ever?)
(google "unconditional love" -- that's an adventure.)

Do we have a role model for unconditional love among families?  We used to.  Just off the top of my head I can think of a number of TV shows that depicted families bonded with unconditional love.

The Waltons, The Brady Bunch, Leave It To Beaver, Little House On The Prairie.

What shows on TV depict such an ideal family now?  What brand new TV series depicts unconditional love bonding a family among generations? 

But just yesterday I was in a gossip session with some women who were talking about a family with 12 children who just adopted a Down's Syndrome child, in an "open adoption" because the family that had the special needs child literally could not handle a problem that size but loved that child.  For a couple of years, the birth parents have been involved as the adoptive parents nurtured this special child who is doing well.

Doesn't that sound like the concept for a TV Series - or at least a film?  Could it get made?  Hmmm, probably not.

We live in a world surrounded by people who love unconditionally -- but the cultural assumptions insist no such thing ever can happen! 

This is not a stable situation, and it might be possible for fiction writers to influence which way this cookie crumbles.

So next week we'll look for sources of dramatic material that might have that influence.  We need a "new fact" to replace the one we tossed out. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg