Thursday, March 29, 2012

ICFA 2012

Last week I attended the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts in Orlando. As usual, I spent time with Jacqueline's co-author Jean Lorrah, who is one of the founding members. She has never missed even one year since the beginning of the con!

Author guests of honor were China Mieville and Kelly Link. At one of the luncheons Mieville gave a speech focused on the "uncanny," proposing a new category of horror, the "abcanny." He then, with illustrative slides, riffed on other potential categories, getting ever wilder with the surcanny, subcanny, supercanny, and almost any prefix you could think of. The guest scholar, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, spoke at the other luncheon on "The Undead," with many zombie-related slides.

The theme of the conference was "The Monstrous Fantastic." Distinctions were made between "monsters" and people or entities that perform monstrous actions. Panel discussions often developed the concept of the monster as a reflection of us -- the familiar "when you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back" idea.

Our vampire-and-revenant division, the Lord Ruthven Assembly, presented its fiction award to THE LAST WEREWOLF, by Glen Duncan (which does include vampires as prominent secondary characters), and its nonfiction award to THE VAMPIRE DEFANGED, by Susannah Clements.

To give you another glimpse of what this conference is like, one poetry reading session had the theme of Monstrous Pets and was titled, "It Might Kill You, But It's So Cute."

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Dialogue Part 3 - Romance Erotica vs. Porn

I was in a Romance writing discussion on Google+ and somehow the subject of porn came up. 

The question distilled from the discussion was: "How can a writer confront sexuality as a component of Romance with pure honesty, and still avoid writing porn?"

It seems obvious to me, and probably seems obvious to you as well -- but I've read a lot of Romance in various genre-mixtures, and I've only seen this done full-out, no holds barred, once -- and that was in a fanfic! 

But that's where I learned to look for this subtle but extremely distinctive signature that divides erotica from porn.  I believe the writer was a professional fiction writer who was writing fanfic because the story was organic to the TV show universe it was derived from.  But maybe she (or he? who can tell?) was simply a good writer who had never felt like writing professionally (I've known many fanfic writers who work that way).

The technique is very simple to say but very difficult to do.  In that, it's like the rule "Show Don't Tell" -- every writer presenting their work for evaluation and expecting praise believes with absolute conviction that they have indeed shown not told their story!  Even when they have not.

And this simple distinction between erotica and porn is just exactly like that.  Erotica writers believe they have in fact done this, when they have not.

The reader may not even notice the failing! 

That's because it's a technique which combines most of the craft techniques we've explored in these Tuesday posts on this blog.

You've seen an accomplished portrait artist doing an oil painting, comparing the painting to the subject, putting down one brush, picking up another, dousing the brush with this and that, daubing on a bit of color, putting that brush down and selecting another -- considering, and selecting another, daubing, etc. 

Writing a great sex scene is like that, at least the first few times you do it because you have to train yourself to the technique mixture.  In that, writing sex scenes is just exactly like writing "action" or "chase" scenes -- an artform within a precisely defined structure. 

Writing a great sex scene that isn't porn is just like painting a portrait.

A portrait isn't a photograph of reality; an erotic sex scene isn't REAL sex. 

Exactly the same thing is said of dialogue -- good dialogue is not transcribed real speech. 

Exactly the same thing is said of action  -- good fight scenes are not REAL fighting. 

Like a good portrait, a good sex scene is a selective representation of reality. 

But above that and more than that, a good sex scene is a SCENE. 

A "scene" is a clearly defined unit, a building block of story. 

Like a "chapter" a scene does not start in an arbitrary place nor does it end in an arbitrary place.  The "middle" point of a scene is not arbitrarily determined by dividing the number of words in half.

Like a novel, or a story of any length, a scene has a beginning, middle and end defined by what happens. 

Here's part 2 of an entry here on scene structure with a link to the previous part.
Here's a post with links to Verisimilitude vs. Reality series:

Here's Plot vs. Story

Shifting Point of View

And what you can do in a Novel that you can't do in a Film:

All of these blog posts introduce  concepts and techniques that must be orchestrated when you construct a sex scene that is not porn.

But we're talking here about the sex scene.

First and foremost, it must be a SCENE -- with all the components of a scene in their proper places and proportions as delineated in those previous posts.

Secondly, this peculiar scene, the sex scene, usually (not always) delineates an encounter between two people. 

These two people do certain things to, with, beside, and for each other -- they interact.

Read that last sentence again, carefully and think about it hard.  What does it really say about what the two people in the sex scene are DOING? 

One acts, the other reacts by doing something, to which the first reacts by doing something, to which the second reacts by DOING something. 

Read that last sentence again and think about it.  What does it describe?

Does it describe a fight scene?

Does it describe a conversation?  High Tea?  A waltz?  A chase scene? 

It describes any and all of the above -- including a red-hot-steaming sex scene.

Just like a conversation, a sex scene can be in total private, in complete public (such as on a stage before an audience), in private but overheard or peeped at, etc. 

So what exactly is a sex scene?  What distinguishes it from other scenes in a story? 

Is the distinguishing characteristic that the two people have, mimic, or approach and retreat from intercourse? 

If that's the case, what exactly is intercourse that distinguishes it from a) violence b) chase c) conversation? 

From the dramatist's point of view, strictly speaking, nothing distinguishes the sex scene from any of these other kinds of scenes. 

All of these types of "scenes" (violence, chase, conversation, dance, -- anything two people do) is fundamentally sexual in nature.

The key to good drama of all kinds (mystery, suspense, wargames, strategy-and-tactics of say, Napoleon, Civil War, Helen of Troy, King Arthur)  -- all of these kinds of drama are fundamentally sexual in nature, and the dramatic component takes its power, its fuel, from the basic human sex drive.

Watch some Indiana Jones movies with your finger on pause, and note down what happens in sequence in the chase scenes.  Strip that out into RISING and FALLING tension -- look at the pattern.  Use that pattern in a sex scene.  DYNAMITE.  Because that's what it is.

Or at least that's one way of looking at the world, or perhaps just the human world. 

Personally, it's not my way of looking at the human world, but it is a way that I learned to look -- as a portrait artist has to learn to see light and shadow instead of a person.  For me, it's an optical illusion, but a very useful one to a dramatist. 

So if all dramatic art is essentially just a sex scene, what's the difference between eroticism and pornography?

It must be a very fine line because most people don't see it and don't really care.  They either throw out all eroticism as porn or imbibe all porn as if it were mere eroticism. 

To me, that's like saying a novel that has a Vampire as a character must be a horror novel. 

That's actually a pretty good analogy because one easy way to get a handle on the difference between porn and eroticism is to understand the difference between "dark" and "light" in drama.

What is the difference between Romance and Horror? 

In publishing jargon, Romance is a genre and Horror is a genre, and you can't mix them because their formulas are opposite.

All good Romance has to have an HEA - a Happily Ever After ending. 

Romance may dip a tiny bit into the dark side of life, just for dramatic contrast, but the fundamental assumption of the nature of reality behind the Romance is the existence of the HEA, that it's real, permanent, attainable, and a final ending.  You get to win. 

All good Horror has to have an Equivocal Ending -- the nature of the universe is such that Evil can not be conquered by Good, nor can Good ever permanently be separated from Evil.  All happiness is "just for now" -- and Evil Will Rise Again.  Virtue, Honor, Good Deeds, etc do not exempt anyone from being wontonly destroyed by Evil.  Horror lurks in the basement of reality.  You can't win.

Which is true?  Probably neither.  These are marketing requirements, genres, not livable philosophies. 

But understanding these two views of reality can give you a start at grasping the difference between erotica and porn.

Erotica is of the Light.  Porn is of the Dark. (genre wise; not reality-wise).

To make the HEA possible, the couple involved in the sex scene has to achieve communication.  That two-way flow of emotional understanding is the essence of Love and of Happiness.  "When I tell him how I feel, he knows what I mean."  That's erotica.  It arouses the hope of fulfillment on a soul-level. 

In a reality where the HEA is not possible, nobody can achieve communication with anyone else.  Communication on an emotional level as well as a spiritual level is a thing of the Light - it makes us one with each other.  Porn is a thing of the dark.  It is self-gratification using another person without understanding that person's humanity or respecting the divine essence within the other human.   

Humans, possessing an animal body, can have sex without communicating with each other.  The exercise can go on and on, or repeat, without achieving an HEA, just as all animals do.  Humans can go through the gymnastics of sexual intercourse without communicating.  It even results in procreation!  Or not. 

And here's the shocker.

Humans can say words at each other without communicating, too. 

Think of a punch-and-judy-puppet show.  Round and round and round, with no resolution, no progress in the RELATIONSHIP, no change at the soul level.  That's porn personified.

Now think of one of those scenes where the feuding couple get trapped in a collapsed mine in the dark, or imprisoned in adjacent cells with only a hole to talk to each other through -- the raw, defenses-down-communication with rock-bottom confessions, self-admissions, etc, -- true honesty.  The relationship changes -- even if later, they deny it. 

Now here's the secret I learned from a fanfic writer about sex scenes.

A Non-Porn Sex scene is a DIALOGUE SCENE, even when no word is spoken.  

Caresses, movements, positions, shifts, touches of this part to that part, pauses for sensation to rise, fall, rise again -- it's DIALOGUE.

It's like sign language, a dialogue in movements. 

And like dialogue in spoken words, it's not transcribed reality. 

The rules for constructing such a conversation of caresses are the same as for constructing dialogue.

It's a discussion of problems.  If it's just hitting, venting, yelling and using the other person as your emotional garbage pail, then it's porn.  If it's a two-way dialogue, a problem solving session that results in a CHANGE IN THE SITUATION (as every scene must in a story) then it's erotica.

A sex scene is a scene first, sex later. 

It must advance the story, and must do so in a limited number of words (based on a percentage of the total number of words in the piece) or it will distort the pacing.

The same is true of a dialogue scene where the characters only pace the room and talk, exchange information, duel innuendo, threaten, plan together, whatever they're doing -- if it's done in dialogue, it is still a scene first, dialogue second, and must conform to the structural requirements of a scene. 

So there's the definition in a nutshell:

A sex scene is erotica if the participants communicate (albeit silently) to advance the plot and the story at a well-paced scene length toward a definitive resolution of the initial conflict.

A sex scene is pornography if the participants fail to communicate, and/or fail to advance the plot AND the story at a well-paced scene length and the activity does not lead to a definitive resolution of the initial conflict. 

I saw this video series on YouTube which crystallizes these notions precisely.

The screenwriting teacher (famous for his screenwriting) says a writer doesn't write dialogue, a writer writes STORY.

And that's it.  A writer doing a sex scene isn't writing sex, but STORY. 

Now go analyze the movie DIRTY DANCING -- the older versions are better for this exercise.  It's erotica, but by the standards of a culture long gone and buried, so you should be able to see the silent conversation with an alien's eye.  By the older cultural standards, this film was "edgy" -- i.e. on the edge of what is publicly acceptable.  Compare the older and newer versions for another lesson.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Thursday, March 22, 2012


This week I'm in Orlando at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, the annual gathering of the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts. Since many authors and editors attend in addition to scholars, this event combines the best features of academic conferences and SF cons (well, except for costumes, which we don't have). I'll report on it next week.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Marketing Fiction In A Changing World Part 2

Part 1 of this series was posted May 26, 2009.

Since then, Google invented Google+ which I was sucked into via the hostess of a twitter chat #litchat (which I adore).  That connected me on Google+ with a huge number of writers, and that number has grown to thousands now.

On Google+ a post flew by me (and I didn't snag the name of the poster) which pointed to this website:

This is an online business staffed by people who will, for a fee, edit your manuscript.  I don't know them, and I have no idea what exactly they do for how much of a fee, or what the value of that might be.  I hope they'll turn up and comment on this post. 

I know a number of freelance editors who do good work with copyediting detail, and with finding continuity errors, factual errors, and even pacing and structural errors (getting a climax in the wrong spot in the word-count). 

But they don't work for publishing houses.  And getting an edit from such a freelance editor doesn't lead to publication.

Last week I introduced you to Azure Boone who had a lot to say about rejection letters:

So after that exchange, Azure and I got to talking about how writers 'break into print' -- and what the real role of an editor is.  She read my 7 part series on "What Is An Editor" and re-evaluated and sharpened her business model for marketing her fiction.   -- has links to previous 6 parts.

So when I saw the post about this business offering editing for a fee -- not entirely a new concept at all -- I thought about the things we've discussed here in previous posts on the changing business model for writers.

It's the entire fiction delivery system that's shifting and changing under the impact of three factors:

a) the Supreme Court decision discussed here: (which I've pointed you to previously)

b) E-books and mostly the screen technology that makes e-readers like Kindle and Nook - iPhone, iPad, etc - feasible.

c) Accessibility of software that allows individual writers to become publishers, and the hosting of their efforts at websites like smashwords and

I keep seeing older people -- often in ophthalmologist's offices and other waiting rooms -- reading Kindle with print set to extra-large, and happily "swiping" to turn the page.  This is very significant - especially when you factor in that you can plug in an earphone and LISTEN to the book being read to you, or buy an audiobook with the book performed by an actor.

In fact, two of my own novels, MOLT BROTHER (the sequel, CITY OF A MILLION LEGENDS is being recorded) and HOUSE OF ZEOR, SIME~GEN #1 (the sequel, UNTO ZEOR, FOREVER, SIME~GEN #2) is being recorded:

So the world changed -- and is still changing.  There's an even bigger impact brewing from internet-delivered TV style video programs, as most young people getting their own apartments are not subscribing to cable at all. 

That's a change in the structure of the delivery system that's been visible to many for 10 years at least. 

What's new between 2009 and today is the way WRITERS are changing to adapt to this new world's fiction delivery system.

Maybe it's the turning of a generation, but I haven't seen that.  I am seeing many writers in their 40's and 50's adapting and changing their business model as fast (sometimes faster) than the world is changing.

And many are just getting into publishing for the first time.

That is remarkable, but because the world has changed so fast, it's possible for someone who is barely 40 to trip over their assumptions about publishing that are obsolete.

There are two separate issues to address: story-craft itself, and marketing. 

These two issues intersect on the editor's desk. 

At that point, the imaginative ramblings of a fertile mind have to be targeted toward a specific market, a readership, a group with something in common.

All the readers who've gotten a Kindle and madly downloaded "free" books over Christmas or some other holiday promotion have learned that self-publishing has two kinds of writers -- those the reader wants to invest their scarce reading time in, and those the reader does not want to pay for, even at FREE as the price.

And it isn't just spelling, punctuation, grammar, and story-continuity errors that repel potential readers. 

All of those corrections go in at the level of the copyediting -- which takes place after EDITING itself.

I just finished editing an anthology titled VAMPIRE'S DILEMMA (doesn't have any story by me in it).  So I have this experience fresh in mind.

I recently read a blog on screenwriting about "coverage" -- a screenwriting term for what novel publishers call editing.

The screenwriting blog said what new self-publishing writers who have decided to self-publish because of the "dreaded rejection letters" they have gotten need to know.

"Coverage" you pay for, even from someone who has worked doing "coverage" for a major production company, isn't necessarily worth what you must pay for it.

"Coverage" differs from 'editing' in that it consists mostly of a form that the script-reader fills out, identifying how well certain mechanical parts of the script are done (such as dialogue, climax placement, A story characters face-time, B story, etc).  "Coverage" doesn't tell the writer what to do to fix the problems, it simply categorizes the problems.  An Editor at a major publishing house will say how to fix the problems to suit the publishing house.

What many beginning writers don't know is that Editors aren't Writing Teachers.

"Coverage" isn't for the writer, either.  "Coverage" is designed to inform a producer if this script is within X number of rewrites of the specific property the producer needs to create the film his backers (putting up money in a gamble to make money) expect.

"Coverage" is designed to sift the slush pile for a particular property that fits exacting -- pre-set -- requirements. 

So, in effect, there is no such thing as "freelance" coverage.  You can pay someone who knows basically what producers they have worked for need, and they can tell you if your script meets such needs -- and finger the points that would have to be rewritten to fit such needs.  They can't assess whether your script CONCEPT will sell.

And it's the same with freelance EDITORS.  They can copyedit -- and if you find you have a lot of copyediting errors, you should use a copyeditor before you send your manuscript for editing.  But the freelance editor can't conform your manuscript to SELL.

The freelance editor works for the writer, not a publisher.

If you can tell the freelance editor that this property is to be submitted to a particular line at a particular publishing house, and that editor has read, studied (or worked for) that line -- they can conform your work to the publisher's requirements.

If you are self-publishing, creating a "line" -- you may be able to give an accomplished and skilled freelance editor a list of your requirements and have them conform your product to your own requirements.

If you know your market and can create a set of requirements, you may find yourself founding a publishing company.

Or, as a freelance writer, you may write, then hire a company like

to do the editing, possibly another freelance editor to do the copyediting, then pay a techie to conform the manuscript to the requirements at smashwords (pretty simple these days, but still a technical challenge if you're including artwork, charts, graphs, colors, etc), and pay someone to make a cover that will look right at Kindle's thumbnail size, AND pay a publicist who will try to get your product reviewed while you write the next item.

What's happened today, though, is that the sales breakpoint above "free" is 99Cents.  People are buying books that have been through professional editors at the big publishing houses, and are "clean" of most errors for a dollar!  How will they view your product against that quality assurance item? 

Yes, 99cents is the hot-sales price for a reprint.  You'll find a lot of such books on  -- along with some higher priced ones like $2.99 for longer works.

I'm a member of Backlist e-Books, but have no idea who these people at the editing shop are.

How many copies of your novel do you have to sell to make back all those costs before you make a single cent?

How many dollars per your work-hour are you going to make from your book after you've paid all these costs and fees? 

Trust me, you'd make more packing grocery bags at the supermarket or collecting grocery carts from the parking lott.

Envision this carefully, then think it all through.

The bottom line is that publishers, agents, editors, etc are worth what you pay them. 

But to pay them, to make your business model function at a profit (albeit a thin margin) you must perfect the writing craft to the point where you do not have to do much rewriting.

To achieve that, you must learn to lay out the piece (story, novel, article) in your mind before you begin to create the words.  The functional components of the story must lock into place (i.e. follow a trope of some sort, even if it's one you invented) before you start typing words.

When you're finished, you have Microsoft's spellcheck and grammar check to find most of your typos, and then a copyediting run for which you need experienced professional input, maybe two or three of those, with no more work required than to tweak some words. 

If you can write 4 books a year -- say 80,000 to 100,000 words apiece -- and make them all appeal to the same readership who will keep coming back for more, after 5 years of sustained effort, you might gross $30,000/year in a good year.

But this world isn't up to supporting that yet.

We are generating the freelance self-publishing writers, and the mechanism for distributing books via smashwords,, etc.  We're getting the companies that provide just editing (such as the one I'm featuring here which could be gone tomorrow, or be successful and get bought up).

And we're getting the freelance cover art creators, such as Penny Ash, who did the cover for VAMPIRE'S DILEMMA.

We've had freelance publicists working by email for a while -- but as a professional reviewer, I have to say that there are very few of them that I accept books from because of discovering discrepancies between the "pitch" for the book and the book itself.

We have a growing industry of freelance bloggers who do reviews, and many readerships have flocked to them for help in sorting the avalanche of novels pouring out of the e-publishing business. 

What are we missing to make this re-construction of the publishing industry around a new business model actually work?

We're missing the agents.

A writer needs to be able to put her head into her stories and just write -- to produce those 4 books a year (which is a common workload for working writers).  To focus like that, the writer needs an agent to manage this entire circus of other skilled professionals that waft the writer's product to the reader.

And the other thing that exists but isn't yet notched into place in the mechanism in text storytelling is the professional level writing school, or writing teacher.

From the website, I do not see how  distinguishes itself from a writing school.

In my experience, beginning writers think they need an editor's attention when in fact they need a writing teacher.

That's where the bewilderment over the "The Dreaded Rejection Letter" we talked about last week comes from.  The beginner in this industry expects the editor to say what's wrong with the manuscript, not just reject it.

The screenwriting industry seems to have generated a school that is successfully doing this polish coat on the craft of screenwriters.  In fact, I know of three such --

And the Supermentors round table project of 

And and the SAVE THE CAT! seminars and books.

These are the serious, and very expensive, entrees to screenwriting (there are others of this type using similar business models).

In screenwriting, though, because there are more ambitious people trying to get into what amounts to a necessarily limited number of working slots, there are a number of very predatory organizations that purport to teach screenwriting or to provide entree to the industry, but who use a business model based on fleecing the innocent by soothing their egos rather than whipping them into shape.

On another front, we have YouTube growing us a generation of skilled videographers and storytellers exhibiting worldclass skills.  Watch the top-hit producers on YouTube and study what you're looking at.  THERE is the generation of a new industry. 

But all these writers create more than any one person could read in a lifetime. 

The next functional component of this business model has to be a replacement for what many call "the gatekeepers" -- the people who decide what will be bought, what will be invested in with the expectation of making a profit, and what will not be invested in.

These "gatekeepers" are the folks who the reader, the person who lays down their money and invests their time, depends on to narrow the choices, and spot the one item that the reader actually wants to spend their evening with.

There is, perhaps, a misconception on the part of the marketers when it comes to marketing fiction. 

If you look at the shifts in the TV cable industry, and how internet delivered TV and video are chopping up the TV market, you will see it.

There are those who market a delivery service (such as Netflix or Amazon Prime, Apple TV) by boasting "we have X hundred thousand films and TV episodes."

They are marketing to people who have free time to kill and just want a distraction.

But most of the readers I know don't read just to fill up time that's heavy on their hands.

People go after a particular product to read because of the payload they expect that specific thing to deliver.

People imbibe fiction for a personal reward -- not to waste away time.

The pace of life has picked up today to the point where people don't have time to read, or watch TV regularly.  We're just too busy and too frantic.  Movies are too expensive (Christmas weekend boxoffice was off this year).

So we see advertisements on TV for the big expensive movies (like WARHORSE), and we go "I want to see that." 

What we see advertised, what comes to us, we "want" and go after.

But what about all the rest of the stuff that we might actually like better -- but don't know exists?

Google is working on tailoring the advertising that appears beside the website you're on or beside your gmail mailbox to have some relevance to what else has captured your interest.  They haven't nailed it yet, but they're making progress.

This political season may see more progress.  I've noticed how political polls have gotten better at predicting winners -- or at least losers.

What we're seeing with advertising and polling is a technical application that may allow self-publishing or small-publishers to target readerships accurately enough to make a real living with the fiction delivery system.

Yes, I know political ads are odious in the extreme, but hold your nose and study them.

They are "romancing" the voter!  It's very aggressive stuff.  But if you penetrate that surface, you will find the "gatekeeper" model behind it all -- the very thing that new writers get so resentful of. 

There is a mathematics behind all this, predicting the behavior of large numbers of people.  It's called Public Relations now, but that's a euphemism.  The mathematics is based on games theory.  (Google "The Overton Window").

There are two sides to this.  A) doing what large numbers of people want from you B) making large numbers of people do what you want from them.

Sound familiar?  Change "large numbers" to "one person" and you could write that sex scene from a pickup in a bar to the morning after.

That's the marketing business, and it's product independent.  It doesn't matter if it's a novel or a politician, marketing works the same.

And they use social networking now -- a tool that's accessible to writers (if only they had time).

What the mathematicians doing "game theory" and the tech companies like Google are trying to figure out is how to be an agent. 

Google apparently wants to be the Agent between product producers (such as writers) and product marketers -- such as the fiction delivery system components I've been discussing here.

But there are some missing pieces to this puzzle of Marketing fiction in a changing world. 

Two things I see missing (that may turn up in 2012 or 2013) are:
A) Ultra-cheap ways of "routing" (or agenting) the right story to the right reader
B) Ultra-accurate ways of determining what will give you want you want or need  so it can be routed to you.

Right now the fiction delivery system is in chaos and thrashing around delivering product at random, trying this, trying that.

The high-budget risk takers are sticking to the old tried-and-true "remakes" and sequels to films that have been hits.  I've already heard folks on twitter complaining about that lack of originality.

Watch YouTube -- there is a new arbiter of taste emerging from the applications of "hit counters" and that Google +1 button -- by counting the responses of people at random, "they" are going to try to replicate what the author's agent has traditionally done.

If you want an image of that task in your mind -- think of what your household "router" does for your computer connection to the internet -- putting several householding devices onto the internet from your single account.

If you don't know how that works, you should learn because I suspect it will be the dominent piece of the puzzle for the next "build" of the fiction delivery system. 

Google is not fooling around here.  It's making money from a) predicting behavior and b) creating behavior  -- and interacting these two processes to "correct" behavior.  (check out Google Chrome and its battle against Windows Explorer)

The highest level tech applications and the smartest people are participating in this remake of the world. 

Every move Google makes changes the Writer's Business Model, and how you market your fiction depends on how "they" change the world. 

If you think that publishing's "gatekeepers" have been an onerous burden, you need to think about the drummers hammering out the beat that the "gatekeepers" dance to. 

Figure out what dance (fictional tropes are just like dances) comes next on the playlist, and get the right shoes (editor) for that dance.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Thursday, March 15, 2012

EPICCon 2012

EPIC (the Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition) is holding its annual EPICCon in San Antonio this week. My erotic, Lovecraft-inspired paranormal romance "Song from the Abyss" is a finalist in the Novella category of the annual e-book competition. Here's the list of finalists:

This is the first year novellas have had their own category instead of competing with novels in their respective genres (a change about which I have reservations, because it seems to me that novellas have more in common with novels in the same genre than with dissimilar works of their same length, but we'll have to wait and see how it turns out). Since I couldn't make it to the conference this year, I'll be eagerly watching the EPIC lists this weekend to find out how "Song from the Abyss" stacks up.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Dreaded Rejection Letter

This may turn out to be Part 1 of a series.  

Among my "circles" on Google+ I met a Paranormal Romance Writer (what a co-incidence!).  Her name is Azure Boone, and I haven't read any of her romance stories yet, but her Google+ profile says (irresistibly) "Writer of paranormal romance involving demons and angels."

So I saw her note about a blog post she'd written: 

That's a Wordpress blog so you don't see the title in the link.  It's "Rejection is not my color."  It's a suggestion that editors use a color code with rejection letters, pointing to a set of "reasons for rejection" posted online, so the rejected writer can know why their manuscript wasn't suitable.  I have way too much to say about that, but I've said most of it previously on this blog. 

I let the post pass by me, then went back and dropped a comment, and pointed Azure to another item I'd just dropped on Google+.

It went like this:

I posted about
---------- QUOTE--------
Now this is an intriguing concept, but it's expensive to join in.
-----------END QUOTE------ is a new online screenwriting community connecting aspiring writers with Hollywood Insiders, created by Final Draft co-founder and creator Ben Cahan.  It charges an annual fee, and is for very serious screenwriters investing in their education.

I found mentioned on a Facebook Group of screenwriters I belong to, and Final Draft is my software-of-choice for screenwriting. 

Then I saw Azure Boone's post about rejection -- and "click" went my mind.

So I posted to Azure using her "handle" so she'd see it, on the post, and flagged a Screenwriter ( +Randall Oelerich )who had just noted how much fun Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak had starting out at the beginning of the PC revolution. 

------------ Here's what I said ---------
+azure boone Saw your note on rejection letters. I've gotten my share, and my share of acceptance letters, and my share of queries. Professionals ahead of me on the career track always said don't listen to others who are at your level of development as a writer. "If you listen to the dogs barking, you'll go deaf before you learn anything." -- But I found that adage to be dwindling into the middens of history.

With fan-fiction writing and now with organizations like (there are a number of these things around), peer-review is beginning to be the training ground. Screenwriters are getting "audience-review" on YouTube when they hook up with short-film makers. Some enterprising folks are monetizing these efforts, so participants have to think "business model" when deciding to join.

We are creating an entirely new world. As +Randall Oelerich noted about Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, they had fun in "the early days." THESE are our early days. We have to learn to use language accurately, and not call it "rejection" when an outlet takes a pass on a project.

Azure responded very quickly with this:


Hello, and thanks for the wisdom. I was thinking that no rejection letters come with the word rejection written anywhere on it, but a writer doesn't need it to, a rejection is a rejection, or a pass, is a pass.

The issue I addressed isn't about the word or term as we have come to understand the process of "rejection" but the manner in which the pass/rejection is made. I think the publishing industry would further the entire cause for writers and publishers if they worked together on meeting needs, not at a feel good word level, but at a functional level. The solution I presented in my blog was literally a solution, even though I made it fun.

Did I misunderstand you?

Well, no, she didn't misunderstand me, but even though it was only a few minutes later, I'd already thought a thousand thoughts.  Well, you know me, I think and my fingers fly over the keyboard, and before I knew it, I had a whole blog post in my answer to her.  Here's what I answered.

+Azure Boone Before I drop the link I have for you, I need to say this.  Yes, I do in fact love your basic thinking behind suggesting quick-color-code answers -- and yes, I got it that the suggestions were laced with humor.  This is the kind of thinking that we need to keep doing, not just stop right there where you ended off.  Your post should be a springboard into this knotty topic.

And it is knotty, because it's a whole "point of view" thing, and it is the BIG point of view/business-model thing that new writers (in text and image industries both) come acropper on over and over.  There's "art" and there's "craft" and there's "social networking" and there's "audience building" and there's far-out nebulous philosophy stuff of which thematic statements are made.  AND THEN THERE'S BUSINESS.

But ultimately, delivering the artist's view on a theme to a consumer who's in the mood to be enchanted by participating in a game of ideas, is a business.  At least in this world we currently live in, it is a business.  Note how quickly media promotion folks grabbed onto social networking, and are busy twisting "social" into a tool to warp behavior.

When you present your art-product to an "editor" (producer, first reader, whatever), when you take your product to market you are crossing the line from creation of a product to the marketing of that product.  You are not talking to a "partner" but to an "exploiter" whose living depends on taking your product and putting it on a store shelf.

Think about those drum-pounding people who try to sucker "inventors" into patenting something through their business.  Or think about that "seen on TV" website where these handy inventions are marketed - think about the catalogs that market gadgets.

That's the realm you venture into when you first send your manuscript out the door.

And right outside your door, the path to your audience takes a right-angle bend!

You and the editor are actually working at cross purposes.

If you ever studied vector analysis, you know that I'm describing the straight line that goes up the graph at a 45 degree angle -- that's the path that leads to the audience, or market.

The editor is looking for a product that can be shoved along that 45degree angle path directly to the market that editor has been hired to reach.

It is not the editor's JOB to educate writers in the business.  Nor is it the Agent's job to teach writing.

(truth is, that's become my job these days!)

If the editor spends even one second trying to determine how to explain (to a total stranger who might be an amateur writer with their heart on their sleeve) what exactly disqualifies this manuscript from this publication line, that will probably mean the editor will get fired for not performing the job they were hired to do.

That job is to provide a steady stream of product for a conveyor belt that CAN NOT BE STOPPED OR PAUSED -- it is a relentless, timed, mechanism that only makes a profit if it moves at that steady pace.

Editors rarely last long in any job.  And long-working editors are getting rarer and rarer.  They run panic-stricken most of the time, when the sales numbers come back.  Sales tracking is a whole new world too!

Editors can't stop to tell you why your product doesn't fit their requirements. 

Mostly they don't know, and don't have the time to care, nevermind figure out how to explain it.  

Their job isn't explaining.  Their job is picking, and picking correctly.  Then picking again, and again.  FAST. 

But they can (and do) tell you what they need.  And your color-code system has potential to streamline the editor's direct call for a particular product.  Only they won't call to writers.  They will call to Agents.

Used to be that was done over the Power Lunch (I've been at many such Manhattan lunches).  Agents and editors hang out, make friends, and the agent scopes out the editor's "buttons" -- what they really like, and what they are madly searching for.  Then the agent lets certain writers in their stable know what there's a market for -- the agent chooses those writers by what the writer has already produced along that line.  (I've been on all sides of this process.)  The Agent's profit margin depends on generating the right product for the right editor. 

The reason it works this way is simply, "TIME IS MONEY."  Nobody has any time to waste, training writers to write.  This is even more true in the screenwriting biz.

Agents have the same biz model.  Time is money.  They must supply product to the editors in a form the editor can use to fill their conveyor belt.  The product must FIT that pre-built conveyor belt.  It's a pipeline from the publisher to the reader who will pay for that product.  The pipeline is built by business, and it's as fixed and solid as an oil pipeline.  Like an oil pipeline traversing thousands of miles, it carries product that's hot and under pressure, and must arrive at the destination exactly, thusly, so! 

The pipeline costs a lot to build and maintain, so it must deliver enough product to make back that cost plus the salaries of everyone who shoves product into that pipeline -- and these days, it must also make a profit for the shareholders of big corporations that own publishers (or film companies). 

The commercial art delivery system is a relentless business model.  If the pressure ever slackens, the razor-thin margins collapse bringing the company down with it. 

If you find that you, as a writer, can't or don't want to produce for pre-built pipelines, then maybe you don't want to write commercial fiction.  Today there's a market for "handmade" (no two alike) novels.

Manhattan, the Big Six, and Hollywood are mass producers.  That's why it's called "Mass Market Paperback" -- because it's a product designed to be mass produced, like the Model T Ford and all its successors.  Thousands of identical items produced and moving through that delivery system fulfill the voracious needs of a "mass" market -- i.e. lowest common denominator taste.  Many novels, different authors and titles, the same words arranged differently, identical product that gets assembled along the conveyor belt and then fits the pipeline.  Model T's were all black.  Today we get cars in different colors, but the production principle is the same.  Mass produced cars; mass produced entertainment. 

Maybe you, as a writer, would prefer the "Tailor Made" or "Hand Made" business model, of original art pieces, no two alike, no duplications -- paintings such as you see in an upper class Art Gallery, not prints you find in Target. 

It's something to think about before you launch a career.  You can do both.  That's what Pen Names are for!

You might want to read my blog post on whether you should create a pen name.

So now I've accidentally written a whole blog post, I'll insert the link to my 7-part series on EDITING, which is aimed at trying to give writers insight into the editor's point of view, so the writer can make a smoother approach and carry on the business of selling art to the commercial market.

That link leads to Part 7, which has links to the previous parts at the top of the post.  (yes, I write humongous-long-insanely-abstract blog posts).

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Thursday, March 08, 2012

The Wolf Gift

Anne Rice has just released her first werewolf novel, THE WOLF GIFT. The protagonist, Reuben, at first looks like a typical movie werewolf. In fact, the text makes explicit comparisons to the Lon Chaney film. Reuben gets transformed by a bite, and he looks like a bipedal beast man, not a wolf. He thinks of himself as the Man Wolf, which is what the media call him. The first transformations come over him involuntarily; he gradually develops some control. Since the author is Anne Rice, naturally the apparent movie-pastiche simplicity of the premise soon grows more complicated.

Reuben is a difficult character for me to identify with. Although working as a reporter in San Francisco, he’s so independently rich (family money) that he can consider buying a five-million-dollar mansion on a whim. He’s repeatedly described as “beautiful,” of which he’s fully aware (though, to be fair, not conceited about his attractiveness). He cheats on his fiancee, twice, with women he has just met—though the narrative does make the second lapse understandable, since he’s in beast form at the time. Nevertheless, the plot premise and the metaphysical and spiritual threads woven into the story kept me interested in Reuben’s plight.

Whether the word “gift” is meant ironically remains in question for most of the book. Would you think of the power to become a beast—if you could control it somewhat—as a gift or a curse? In the terms of Rice’s story, the transformation has many pluses: Reuben heals supernaturally fast. He has preternatural sensory perception. He’s super-strong. Even in human form, he keeps his enhanced senses. His kind, the “Morphenkind,” can be killed only by decapitation or equally drastic means. Eventually he discovers he has acquired a lifespan of centuries (an odd detail that makes a werewolf almost equivalent to a vampire with flesh-craving instead of blood-craving, but lots of contemporary fictional lycanthropes seem to share that trait of near-immortality).

On the minus side, resisting the change remains hard. Still harder is fighting the Morphengift’s compulsion to destroy evil. Reuben’s change includes the ability to sense, almost to smell, people’s evil intentions. When a person about to commit a vile deed comes within Reuben’s range, the beast is irresistibly compelled to slay and devour the evildoer. By saving victims of muggers and rapists, he becomes famed as a mysterious superhero. On the other hand, of course, he is wanted by the law and in danger of being either jailed, killed, or locked in a research lab.

So—gift or curse? Would you want this power? If not, under what conditions, if any, would you want the “gift” of animal transformation?

Personally, I wouldn’t mind being able to turn into a cat. An occasional interlude of having to do nothing but eat, sleep, and get petted sounds good to me.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Soul Mate Characters: Heroic, Villainous, Mystical And Romantic

Before we get started on this huge, deep topic, let me just note I've put up an experimental blog listing the characters (one character per "post") in my most recent Sime~Gen Novel, The Farris Channel, Sime~Gen #12, with a quick reference about "who" they are in the story.  It's a blog so that people who are reading the (very large, character-rich) novel have a place to note things about the characters for themselves, and for potential fanfic writers who might want to explore the complex, offstage lives of the ancillary characters (as other Sime~Gen characters have been explored in fanfic).

The blog is: 

Sometime next week (March 12-16, 2012) the audiobook of the first novel in Sime~Gen, House of Zeor, is slated to be released as audiobook from (on Amazon and iTunes etc) and so far the fans who have heard samples of Michael Spence's reading are absolutely thrilled with his rendition of the main characters in that novel, Heroic, Villainous and Mystical alike. 

While I've been working on the audiobook project (Molt Brother is out, City of a Million Legends is being recorded, and Michael is getting ready to start Unto Zeor, Forever), and thinking about characters and actor's renditions of characters, on Google+ I found the following link to a newspaper article being shared that made a big impression on me:

It's about brain research chasing a link between violent video games and the behavior of children who grow up playing them.  It doesn't site conclusive evidence, but it's "hot pursuit" time in this area.

We all know the link between sexuality and violence, and how "dark" sex-based fiction can get especially when the Romance is left completely in the dust by mechanical sex scenes. 

I'm all for really good sex scenes, mind you, but they have to be essential to the theme, make a clear statement, and advance the plot swiftly while deepening the flow of story.  Good sex scenes are harder to write than good combat and violence scenes. Good sex is a form of communication, a language of love.  Substituting anatomy for announcements is weak writing. 

MY OPINION ON THAT ARTICLE: It's not "sports" or "videogames" that cause "violence" -- it's the enactment of the "zero sum game" model of reality.

A sex scene that's a "zero-sum-game" will be an announcement of aggression that will be an act of dominance and maybe violence. Do you only love and treasure what you dominate? ("Dominate" means to be able to "take away" (I have/ you don't zero-sum-game model) anything from possessions to self-esteem from another human being.) 

"Sportsmanship" used to include celebration that the other guy won, not you, and you didn't have less of anything because the other guy scored more points:  not less prestige, strutting rights, joy, or anything.  It wasn't a zero sum game even with rules and scores.

"It doesn't matter if you win or lose, it's how you play the game that counts." (Honor, integrity, fairness).  As society has evolved over the last few decades, we can see in our films and novels how that concept of sportsmanship became ironic, then ridiculous, and now isn't even said. 

Sports is about honor and heroism, about helping the fallen get up and go at it again, about breaking through your own inner, personal barriers and becoming a better person (and not on drugs) -- not better than some other person you "beat" but better than you, yourself were.  Sports is about excellence (as is Sime~Gen's House of Zeor) - it's about excelling your own personal-best, not about excelling someone else's personal best. 

It's not "sports" that's the problem in our current society; it's sanctioned viciousness.  Sports used to be an exercise in character development.  Now it's more like politics, an exercise in character debasement.  What you practice, you get better at. 

But that's the world we live in, isn't it?  The world of raising children by debasing their characters to where they only know how to "win" by debasing the character of others.

How many mothers out there ever even notice their kids staring at political ads?  How much do the kids understand?  What do they model from that?  How does that affect what they look for in a Soul Mate -- someone they can easily debase, or someone they will allow to debase them? 

MY OPINION: No, no, no! 

This world is made out of love for love, and because of love.  That's not my opinion.  It's my perception.  It's what I see when I look out of my eyes and assemble all the little pixel-dots and the black space around them (an image I used in a previous discussion here of a trilogy of historical romance novels set around 1050 C. E.)

Character is one of the "filters" you use to "select" what is signal and what is noise in your life around you.  Your character is what selects what lights up the pixels that form your image of your life, and what you suppress or ignore.  These bits of information form a picture of the world around you that you can work with and within.

It's your character, and the assessment of the character of others that creates that picture of the world, your life, and your potential.

Ask most readers of Romance stories and you'll find that' it's character they respond to most.  If they can't relate to the main character, they just won't finish the book.  Romance books need "strong" characters -- characters with character.

You know, USA NETWORK's "characters welcome!" 

One of the things writers use to add "color" to characters is the techniques used to "reveal" their character strengths, weaknesses, and the identifying, individual quirks. 

When you weave all those character traits together, strength, weakness, quirks, you get a "strong" character, a character who doesn't change behavior or values in an emergency -- a character that's been built from childhood in a non-zero-sum-game world.  That's a character who has the "strength" to "give" himself - to sacrifice for the good of others.

The "strong" character will create a good cause, not just find one.  The "strong" character is the one who loses a child to a drunk-driver accident, and founds Alcoholics Anonymous or Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

The "weak" character is the one who loudly and publicly proclaims his "values" and "moral compass" and "leadership" and then, in any little emergency (unexpected event) throws all those values away in order to respond to the emergency.

Consider the classic "lifeboat" situation where say, 6 skinny people are huddled on a lifeboat tossed by high seas and a 7th very fat person is sinking the boat.  It's an emergency, so the 6 skinny people are therefore morally required to throw away the "Thou Shalt Not Commit Murder" commandment and toss the fat person overboard for the good of the majority. 

Those are 6  people of very weak character. 

If they were of strong character and normally held that murder was not something they would ever participate in, they would never consider tossing anyone overboard merely for their own survival. 

Those of strong character who believe that murder is wrong would never even consider murder in large groups like a mob.  The force of "mob psychology" and destructive frenzy explosively released in resentment simply leaves such a "strong character" cold.  A strong character standing in the midst of a mob that bursts into frenzy will simply edge to the rear and drift off down a side street.  She may then circle back, get help, and confront the mob's head end and try to stop the destruction.  But not with violence. 

We're not talking "army" here; the army does not murder, but can and does "kill" for the good of the group, which is completely sanctioned by the 10 Commandments.  Translations usually say "kill" but the actual text says "murder."  That's killing for personal gain, not self defense.  Soldiers don't set out to kill people, just to "neutralize" them -- make them stop destroying the soldier's own family and nation. 

That "Kill"/"Murder" distinction is one I use in the Sime~Gen novels because I thought about it very carefully and studied and learned.

Now why is it relevant to a writer creating a Romance story?  I mean most Romance doesn't involve killing or murder (though I do love a good detective novel with a hot romance driving the plot.)

It's relevant because "Values" has everything to do with "character strength" which is the lynchpin in the whole Soul Mate concept. 

Character is the connecting link because it is the one thing that you can "take with you" beyond this life.  What character strength you develop in this life will be there for you to retrieve (by repeating some experiences, sometimes vicariously by just reading a Romance story) once you reincarnate.  That's the theory anyway, and it turns up in so many theories of karma and reincarnation that I suspect it's real.  It certainly resonates with a majority of readers and forms the foundation of most fiction that doesn't even deal with the supernatural.

I use the idea of murder to measure character strength just as an illustration of the principle of what makes a "strong" character in the eyes of an editor. 

A strong character is one who stands up for what he/she believes in (whatever it is) and will put their life on the line, their life savings, or even the lives of their children. A strong character will risk the dangers of other people despising them because they hold to their Values even in an emergency. 

Values that have to be discarded in order to deal effectively with an emergency were never held to begin with, only espoused or given lip-service.  In emergencies, the real character becomes visible -- which is why most novels hurl the main character right into an emergency (trust me, a first date is an Emgergency!) 

Strong characters contain the potential for becoming Heroes and thus tend to die young or survive to ridiculously old ages. 

For you astrologers, that's a placement of Pluto in the natal chart signifying a life of having strength of character tested.  Usually that "test" is one period of 3-5 years of sheer-bloody-hell -- and then either a dramatic death or smooth sailing into really old age.  Many don't survive that test, but that doesn't mean they "failed" -- because the strength built in the testing period will still be there in their next life.

For MOTHERS - consider what that means in your infant, toddler, especially a venturesome son.  Strength of character from previous lives turns up in those fearless lunges into dangers the baby does not perceive.  The cowardice of the terrible-twos (and the fearless lunges into wild self-assertion) may be decoded into some idea of "who" this person you're raising really is, was, and will be.

Note, today Romance stories with second-marriages, and including young children, abound for a reason.  Sometimes a marriage happens for past-life reasons, and to bring to birth certain individuals who need different parenting than the birth parent can provide.  (not always, though).

So, considering brain research that is chasing the link between how the brain develops and violent videogames, what are the chances a modern teen will find fun activities among peers to develop social interactions that build character strength, solutions to social problems that don't involve "beating" or "winning" or out-maneuvering other people?  How many teens see life not as a contest to win but as an arena in which to build a structure that need have no limits?  

Will teens raised on solving problems by killing to "score" even recognize "strong characters" in their Romance stories?

What video games award double-points for avoiding harm to the 'bad guys?'

By what criteria do we judge character?  And by what criteria should we judge character? 

Remember the research article -- I think I pointed it out to you here some years ago -- that shows how the whole human species millions of years ago was twice reduced to nearly below species survival numbers?  Two bottlenecks in our evolution stripped out entire genetic characteristics. 

That is similar to the Biblical history that indicates how Adam and Eve arrived in our reality out of "The Garden of Eden" and proceeded to have children -- and later, The Flood reduced us to just Noah and his family with the Rainbow as the promise that the world would not be destroyed by flood again (didn't eliminate other means.)

The Bible indicates Seven Laws were given to Noah.  That's all the moral code humanity as a whole is responsible for, not all 10 Commandments (or 613 given in the Desert) -- just 7 catch-all principles.

With Free Will, each individual human must personally choose to accept these 7 rules of behavior and implement them in their life.

Those who choose to do that, and don't toss those 7 away just because there's an "emergency" are considered of "strong character" (not just by readers, but by editors, too).

In fact, these 7 Noachide Laws are the most effective ways to handle "emergencies" -- and what the person searching for a Soul Mate looks for is that behavior in emergency (great plot fodder there!  The third date can be a major emergency!) which applies those 7 Laws rigorously to generate a solution.

That kind of "strong character" who bends the world to his values is usually looked up to as a Leader.  "Leadership" means not just getting people to follow you (like Captain Kirk on ST: ToS ) but living a life which spurs others to become leaders.  The character to inspire and nurture Leadership in others is what any woman would look for in a potential father for her half-orphaned children. Then her children would become leaders with strong character. 

Leadership is (as any trained actor will point out) entirely described not just in the tone of voice (as we find in audiobooks) but evidenced in the GAIT -- the way a person walks, at least if he/she is young and not arthritic.  Consider that as a subliminal element in the "Love At First Sight" syndrome. 

You might want to study the British import TV show Masterpiece: Downton Abbey for the character of the new Valet who shows up in the first episode of the first season and is summarily rejected by the other servants because he's a "cripple" (i.e. has a leg injury from military service - class society rejects cripples just as a flock of ducks would).  The master of the House hired him as the new Valet because he's an old friend, but didn't know he had an unhealed injury and couldn't carry trays and so forth.  The Butler urges the Master to fire the fellow, and the Master does that.  The new Valet accepts the decree with a very civil, quiet objection to the Master's face saying only that he has nowhere else to go and it's unlikely anyone would hire him, and then he has a private cry because he has nowhere else to go.  But at the last second, as the new Valet is leaving, the Master rescinds his edict, and with embarrassment says "We'll say no more about it."   

The discovery that the new Valet's performance is impaired is (for the Master) an "emergency" - and at first he tosses his personal rules of honor away in order to conform to the "standards" of the house's servants.  This is what a weak character does.  Then he reasserts himself, thus "showing" us rather than "telling" us that the Master of this house is a man of "strong character."  Thus the entire issue of who will inherit the estate becomes much more important because we care about strong characters -- but not weak ones.  

The Master and the new Valet, of all the characters introduced in the first episode, pop out of the screen as "strong characters." 

Meanwhile, another one of the servants, displaced by the new Valet from promotion to "Valet to the Master," turns out to be a blackmailer trying to blackmail a Duke about a gay affair (in that time and society a blackmail issue).  So we are shown rather than told by stark contrast what the character of the new Valet is compared to that of the former Valet who is dominated by jealousy and manipulates with force.  

The former Valet is shown to be of weak character, not a leader.  The camera work on the new Valet focuses mainly on the eyes, and the steady gazes of pure Heroism he gives the Master of the House (who obviously was a superior officer to the new Valet in service in South Africa.)  They are men of different ranks, different stations in life, but they are both Heroes, strong characters.  One is appointed Leader by his born station in life, the other has attained leadership qualities by sheer determination.  But he starts out at the very bottom of the pecking order in this household's staff.   

Even the crippled Leader (Wounded Warrior) has a way of moving, holding the head, using the eyes steadily, an expression engraved in wrinkles, that bespeaks confidence that can only come from having forged a path through emergency after emergency without tossing out their core Values.

You see that exact thing in both the Villain and the Hero -- but it is most visible in the Mystical Leader, the Gandalf or Yoda of the Romance story.  That, to me, seems to be the kind of character the new Valet is set up to play - advisor. 

Any one of the 7 Noachide Laws will provide you with enough theme and plot to support the steamiest Romance story of Love At First Sight leading to a Soul Mate bond that creates a Happily Ever After. 

These are core thematic principles that subsume all human cultures all around the world -- translation may be a bit more difficult. 

What are these catch-all principles of such powerful use to Romance writers? 

THE 7 LAWS  (see wikipedia
The seven laws listed by the Tosefta and the Talmud are[7]
  1. Prohibition of Idolatry
  2. Prohibition of Murder
  3. Prohibition of Theft
  4. Prohibition of Sexual immorality
  5. Prohibition of Blasphemy
  6. Prohibition of eating flesh taken from an animal while it is still alive
  7. Establishment of courts of law
The Noachide Laws comprise the six laws which were given to Adam in the Garden of Eden, according to the Talmud's interpretation of Gen 2:16,[8] and a seventh one, which was added after the Flood of Noah. Later, at the Revelation at Sinai, the Seven Laws of Noah were re-given to humanity and embedded in the 613 Laws given to the Children of Israel along with the Ten Commandments, which are part of, and not separate from, the 613 mitzvot. These laws are derived from the Torah. According to religious Judaism, the 613 mitzvot or "commandments" given in the written Torah, as well as their reasonings in the oral Torah, were only issued to the Jews and are therefore binding only upon them, having inherited the obligation from their ancestors. At the same time, at Mount Sinai, the Children of Israel were given the obligation to teach other nations the embedded Noachide Laws.[citation needed] These laws also affect Jewish law in a number of ways.
These 7 rules are the "Rules of the Game" and apply to all human relationships, but especially to the sexual one.

"Sportsmanship" is essential and teaches good sexual relationships if the sport is played to develop your style of human interaction rather than to demolish the opposition.  In real sportsmanship that models real life, you see opposing interests cooperating to develop each others' strength of character.  In youthful sports, children can re-possess themselves of the lessons driven home by previous life challenges and set off to live a much more productive life this time, one with a genuine Happily Ever After.

You can set up innate conflicts within each one of these (don't try to tackle all of them in one novel; you'll create a mishmosh).  A Hero, a Villain and a Mystic will each interpret these 7 concepts in different ways and apply them in different ways.  They will work at cross purposes, then toss their tools aside and go at one another to make the other stop interfering.  And in the end, both "win."

You can't stick with these 7 Noachide Laws through emergencies and not win because these rules do not apply to a zero-sum-game reality model.  They are predicated on the assumption that there is a Creator who is limitless and is creating our reality to be limitless, or at least sufficiently elastic to seem so. 

Read Rule #5 again and you'll see what I mean.  Land, Water, Oil, Herds, Money, Wealth, physical resources of all sorts are not to be fought over even if the apparent consequence is a loss.  Strength of character means proceeding through a conflict over material wealth (such as a divorce?) without deviating from the path you would have taken had the challenge not appeared.

In the zero-sum-game of reality, if one person is wealthy, then that means many others will be poor because there is only so much wealth to go around.  And if we look at our world in a certain way, that is a clear and obvious truth.  "If those people control that water, then I don't control it and therefore they will not let me water my animals and I will die and so will my children.  Therefore I have to kill those people." 

In the Noachide model of reality, thinking like that violates both Rule #5 and Rule #1 because you have made an "idol" (a source of the solutions to your problems) out of your own actions.  You assume that you and only you can solve the problem and that if you don't do this, then necessarily that will happen.  Same problem as the lifeboat problem, a classic philosophical conundrum. 

The Hero with a strong character will put his life, and his family's life, on the line in order to avoid violating either (nevermind both) of those rules.  The Villain with a strong character will do exactly the same, but upholding different rules, or the same rules with different interpretation. 

The strong character would rather die than violate a rule of that level.  The weak character will toss the rules of his or her life overboard because it's an emergency.  The real Villain will use one of the set of 7 rules to prove that a behavior violating another one of the rules is "right."  The real Hero does it more like Spock did in ST:ToS -- if it's deemed necessary to do something dishonorable, then willingly accept the consequences which are determined by others.

"Values" are the prioritized lists of individual applications of these 7 principles.  "Maturation" is the process of organizing your listed priorities -- what would you do to avoid doing whatever? 

Understanding how your opponent is another version of yourself with a different prioritized list of Values, how each of us is a unique individual muddling through "Life" as best we can, helps you sort out Heroes, Villains, Adversaries, and Opponents.  Any one, with any oddball list of priorities, can be a Strong Character or a Weak Character.  The biggest fiction market is for "Strong" characters -- in Hero, Villain, and Mystic.

If the Hero and the Villain are Soul Mates, you have got a winner, what they call in Hollywood a "four-bagger" that appeals to all ages at all levels of affluence.  In my novels, especially The Farris Channel, the Mystic is the Leader trying to make leaders out of the Hero and the Villain.  It's a multi-lifetime endeavor.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Fairy Tales Among Us

Has anyone been watching the new TV programs GRIMM and ONCE UPON A TIME? Two series debuting in the same season about fairy tale characters living in the modern world, but very different in tone and in their development of the premise. The "Grimms" are people who can recognize supernatural creatures for what they are and, if the creatures are evil, fight them. The hero, a homicide detective, has recently discovered he's a Grimm and encounters situations reminiscent of different classic legends every week.

I gave up on GRIMM after a few episodes, but I'm faithfully following ONCE UPON A TIME. The Evil Queen from "Snow White" has put a curse on the fairy tale folk by transporting them to a world where happy endings can't happen—ours! They're trapped in a town where the Queen rules as mayor, and they don't remember their true identities. The only characters who do remember the fairy tale world are the Queen and Rumpelstiltskin. Similar to FOREVER KNIGHT and HIGHLANDER, this series intersperses present-day action with flashbacks. In ONCE UPON A TIME the flashbacks reveal what happened in the fairy tale realm before the evil spell was cast, experiences that the characters have forgotten but that nevertheless shape their relationships in our world.

If you want to catch up on either series, the Innsmouth Free Press reviews and analyzes every episode of both in detail:

Innsmouth Free Press

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt