Thursday, August 30, 2012

Ellora's Cave Anniversary Celebration

One of my publishers, erotic romance specialist Ellora’s Cave, is celebrating its twelfth anniversary this fall. They’re spotlighting the works of their “decade or more” authors. Since I’m a member of that group (imagine that!), one of my fellow veteran EC authors, Ann Jacobs, is interviewing me. Please visit her blog on September 1 to read my post about my first sale to Ellora’s Cave:

Ann Jacobs

“Night Flight,” the work I’m discussing, which will be on sale for a special promotion at the EC website the week of September 10, is an erotic vampire romance novella in my “Vanishing Breed” series. This universe features naturally evolved vampires, a nonhuman species living secretly among us. You can find a chronological list of the included stories and novels (except the latest, “Blood Hostage” from Amber Quill Press Amber Heat) here:

Vanishing Breed

I’ll be giving away a free Ellora’s Cavemen 2013 calendar to a randomly chosen commenter on Ann’s blog.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

How To Use Theme In Writing Romance

Since I'm about to leap into a series of posts on integrating two big writing skills, worldbuilding and theme, I'm listing here previous posts involving discussions of Theme from various angles.

Theme is one of the items usually listed in English course final exams, or required in various English course papers.  In these posts, we've discussed the use of "theme" in a very different (perhaps opposite) way than it is approached in English courses.

A writer does the exact opposite of what a reader or literary analyst does when creating a story from scratch.  And so "theme" means, mechanically, something just a little different, but also the same, as it does in English courses.

If you can't identify a "theme" in a novel read for an English (or any other language) course, then you probably won't be able to handle it well when you write.

But if you're very good at identifying and discussing "theme" for Enlgish classes, you probably will have a really hard time using it the way a writer must. 

Language classes teach you to understand story on a conscious level, but writers for the most part, (not everyone!) need a much more unconscious understanding of the working parts of a story -- theme being one of those components. 

Theme is considered boring because it's all about philosophy, but CONFLICTING PHILOSOPHIES is what generates the kind of conflicting characters who live for generations in the classics.

To write a story with conflicting philosophies, a writer must understand both those philosophies from the point of view of a true-believer in those philosophies. 

That means, to be a productive commercial writer, you must be fully conversant in more than your own philosophy - you must be spokesman for opposing philosophies.  If your work is not to become repetitive (and boring), you must have mastery of at least two philosophies that are not your own (total of three) -- and then as you go on through life, you must acquire facility in many more philosophies from all kinds of points of view.

The subject of the following posts, taken together, can be summed up as "How to acquire and bespeak the advocacy of all kinds of philosophies that are not your own." 

But of course, in the process of walking this trail into other people's philosophies, your own grip on your own philosophy may become dislodged, you may experience uncertainty.  Keep notes.  That's what your characters must go through in any Romance novel -- Romance is mostly signified by transits of Neptune which often brings confusion as well as burning idealism, and the espousal of new philosophies.

People do fall in love, and convert to another religion in order to marry the love of their life -- then have further adventures in uncertainty because of that conversion.

It is really all about philosophy, and philosophy is the material we mine to discover themes that fuel the conflicts that Love must Conquer.

So here is a list of links to explore on the use and abuse of THEME in Romance:

And Part 3 of a 3-part analysis of a failed historical/romance trilogy

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Thursday, August 23, 2012

What Do We Know and When Do We Know It?

The expanded version of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover novel THE BLOODY SUN has one conspicuous difference up front from the original edition—a prologue. Set in the time of the protagonist’s infancy, the prologue reveals the backstory behind the mysterious events that befall the hero, Jeff, when he returns to Darkover for the first time since childhood. A member of the Terran space service, Jeff spent his early years in a Terran orphanage on Darkover. When the novel opens, he knows little more about the native culture than a reader new to this universe does. I still consider THE BLOODY SUN one of the best novels in the series, and it’s an excellent introduction for a new fan, because the reader learns about Darkover and the secrets of Jeff’s own past at the same time he does. He acts as a surrogate for the audience in uncovering the hidden truths of the fictional world.

In the original edition, that is. In the later version, the prologue changes that perspective. The reader starts out knowing vital background information Jeff doesn’t discover until far into the story. For instance, the ominous pronouncement “the golden bell is avenged” means nothing to him, but the reader, with the benefit of the prologue, has knowledge superior to the hero’s. The relation of the audience to the narrative has altered in a vital way.

I wonder whether the prologue improves matters for a first-time reader. For an experienced Darkover fan, the references to Keepers, laran, and Towers make sense. A new reader gets plunged into an alien environment with little or no guidance. He or she might even find the footnote to the effect that “this story was told in THE FORBIDDEN TOWER” off-putting. That note might leave him or her with the impression, “Oh, I can’t read this book now because I was supposed to read that other story first.”

Which is preferable, for a reader to know the same amount as the protagonist or to know more? Considering the answer is surely, “it depends,” what does it depend on?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Dialogue Part 4 - The Legal-Weasel

Part 3  of Dialogue is here:

On the occasion of the New Moon in Gemini in June, 2012 -- 28 Deg. Gemini - I posted the following on several social networks:

I'm not so big on Biblical Quotes (too many differing "translations" so you can make it say what you want it to) -- but this is the New Moon in Gemini and today I saw this quote, all about SPEECH (ruled by Gemini/Mercury).
"That which issues from your lips you shall keep and perform"—Deuteronomy 23:24.
We are commanded to carry through that which we pledge to do (or not do).
CHALLENGE: just for today, keep your word. Make every word you speak your Word of Honor -- like Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's St. Germain. Your words are your Magic, your power to change the whole world. Guard them and keep them. Try it, just for one day and see what happens.


On Google+  I got the following comment from another writer Carrie K. Sorensen:
Just this morning I caught myself telling my son I would play puzzles with him later, though I had no real intention to do so. I remember my mom doing this and how much I grew to hate the word "maybe." So I made a point to finish what I was working on, then I went to play puzzles for a half hour. I had fun counting and matching, my son was learning and then happy to play on his own while I went back to my to-do list.

Since I started out so well even before I saw +Jacqueline Lichtenberg's post, I think I'll take up her challenge and keep the ball rolling.

What do you blow off with the word 'maybe?'

That usage of the word "maybe" (meaning "I'm blowing you off") is something writers should study and learn to replicate in dialogue.

Remember dialogue is not speech.  You can't just copy down what people SAY and put it in a script or narrative tale as something a character says.

Dialogue must carry the story forward, (advance the plot, too, in lockstep with the story), depict the character of the speaker, depict the speaker's opinion of the character being spoken to, reveal the surrounding culture, explain the character motivations, and evoke reader-sympathy with the character you want to appear sympathetic.  In addition to all that, dialogue must create for the reader the effect of "this world is real; I know this character in real life; he/she really would say that and mean this instead!"

There are many other functions heaped upon a single word of dialogue, too.

Writing dialogue by conscious intent will more than likely lead to either "writer's block" (not being able to think of the right words and thus writing nothing) or the production of completely useless words that say nothing and bore the reader.

The flow of character-speech has to be smooth as you type it.

Again and again, I keep telling you what I learned from my first writing teacher, Alma Hill, writing is a performing art.  When you sit down at a keyboard or to dictate, you are performing the act of writing, just as a pianist performs Chopin.  Chopin sheet music is to the pianist as the "trope" of your genre (even if you're inventing a genre) is to the writer. 

How do you get that "smooth as you type it" effect on dialogue? 

Same way a pianist gets to concert grade performance of Chopin: by practicing individual kinds of dialogue for specific purposes, thousands of words for the garbage pail.  You go around your daily tasks talking in your head like your character until you wear him like a glove. Actors do this too, in order to perform their art. 

When you perform "writing, " your characters will open their mouths and spew forth real DIALOGUE when you have set up a dynamic plot situation -- a "scene" which has a beginning, middle, and end just like a whole story -- and then pit them against each other.

Dialogue is a game, open combat between characters with opposing agendas (in conflict), and each line must CHANGE SOMETHING in a way the reader can understand.

So that "Legal-Weasel" practice of using the word "maybe" when you mean "no" is a perfect example of good dialogue that happens to appear often in real talk and thus is familiar to the reader.  The character's motivation when that word "maybe" comes up, and a narrative line is added that indicates there's no intention to carry through on that Word of Honor statement of "maybe" -- e.g. to seriously consider doing what you maybe might do -- becomes perfectly clear to the reader.

In Urban Fantasy or Paranormal Romance where the rules of magic apply, a character who says maybe and means no is in for a rough ride down the plot-line somewhere.

Using the word "maybe" to mean "no" is lying.  In magic, lying creates a 'disturbance in the Force' and the turbulence propagates until it hits something and comes back in a wave strong enough to knock the speaker of the lie off their feet.  The knock will not be from an event that would be logically a consequence of the character's action -- but it would be POETIC JUSTICE. 

Here's Part 3 of a series on Poetic Justice in Paranormal Romance stories (with links to other parts):

Another dialogue technique you can use to "manipulate" a character is the same trick that is used in most commercials: The Misleading Statement.

A misleading statement often relies for its trick on the part of speech known as the modals.


Are the modals.

In modern American English speech, the meanings have actually been altered, I suspect because of the usage in commercials (which is legal-eagles altering ordinary speech patterns by force of law).  Where once these words opened the possibility of something -- they now mean that it is highly unlikely or impossible.  We learn that first from our parents saying "maybe" and meaning "no,"  but somehow we keep HOPING and relying on the modal riddled statement to mean "probably will."  

But later, we begin learning "probably won't" would be more accurate.  If a commercial says "this product may reduce cholesterol" - it means "you can't sue us if it doesn't, which we really think it won't do anyway: we just want your money."  If it really would reduce cholesterol, then the commercial would say "will" not "may" and if it doesn't work, you can sue. 

If the company were willing to take that risk and assert "will", then the people who hear the commercial would accept that product.  They can't say "will" because it "might not" work.  But they want you to hear "it will work" when they say "may" -- and to that end, the actor speaking in the commercial uses the exact tone of voice of "will" not the tone in which we always say "may." 

Listen to commercials to learn dialogue.  The words in commercials are dialogue -- where you are one of the actors in the scene, and the scene is mortal combat with words.

That's what I mean by the "Legal Weasel" -- the twist of the meaning into a defensive strategy in verbal combat.

Dialogue is COMBAT (ordinary talking often is not combat) and the rules of gamesmanship apply to dialogue.  In combat, you get what you negotiate, not what you deserve.

Lying by misleading is a combat strategy.  It's just like distraction of the guards by a sexy approach with a wine bottle, so the accomplice can get the prisoner out of jail while the guard gets teased with the promise of sex, but there is no intention or desire to carry through on that promise of sex. 

So the Legal Weasel dialogue technique is to say the exact truth and make it seem like a lie, where the lie is actually what the speaker wants the other character to understand, accept, and act on.

And that kind of "sly manipulation" produces dialogue which is "off the nose" -- see the previous parts of this series on Dialogue for definition of "off the nose."

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Review of "ALL SPELL BREAKS LOOSE" by Lisa Shearin

You can't beat a bad goblin.

Lisa Shearin is my only auto-buy author at the moment. That's the trouble with a good series. One gets hooked. I don't plan to start another series, because it could end up a six-year commitment to purchase six or seven books. That's too long on tenterhooks.

Moreover, I feel faintly ridiculous when I find myself chanting myself to sleep, as if by repeating "Tamnais Nathrath" to myself I could summon him to my side!

Back cover blurb: "My name is Raine Benares--and it sucks to be me right now. I'm a seeker who managed to "find" the Saghred, a soul-stealing stone that gave me unlimited power I never asked for or wanted. Now I've managed to lose the rock--and the magic it gave me--to a power-hungry goblin dark mage whose main goals are my death and world domination."

Great hook! ln my opinion, Lisa Shearin is better even than J K Rowling in succinctly communicating what happened in the previous episode. Of course, Lisa's elven-and-goblin world has a smaller cast of characters, and the villain (and his henchfolk) isn't quite as complicated.

ALL SPELL BREAKS LOOSE is the much anticipated conclusion to the series which features one elven heroine and two male heroes; one a powerful elf, the other a powerful goblin. They are the core team and their continuing goal is to find/destroy one evil, indestructible magical rock. One would not think that, after six volumes, it would be possible to up the ante.

Along the way, Raine has battled black magic goblins (and briefly, magically, married one); thwarted evil goblin royalty; fought demons and their demon queen; eluded amorphous, Dementor-type dark amoeba-things that engulf people; bearded bad elven mages; scooped up escaped, wicked souls, killed and resurrected a love interest.... and more. Along the journey, of course, Raine acquired the tools with which to accomplish the impossible.

ALL SPELL BREAKS LOOSE reprises most of the former dangerous beings, leaves behind some old friends because all the action is through a looking glass, courtesy of a mirror mage, in Regor. There is at least one new peril, and the grandfather of all distractions saves the day... or perhaps it was the night.

There were a couple of minor problems that I had. One dead body didn't behave the way I thought it ought to do. I never got used to elves and goblins thinking of themselves as men and women.  One or two of the chapter propellers (aka grabbers) struck me as a tad forced. As I said, minor problems. Also, for every niggle, there was a dirty giggle. I laughed out loud at least twice.

The ending was perfect, at least lengthwise. Having waited five years for the grand conclusion, I appreciated the chance to luxuriate, and revel in the happiness of all the beloved, virtuous characters. I like fast openings and long endings.

Last word: well worth $7.99. Or $8.99 in Loonies. Buy it, or borrow it legally from a bricks and mortar library. Lisa deserves her royalties!

All the best,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, August 16, 2012


Re-watching WEST SIDE STORY reminded me of how innocent, in a sense, the world of the movie seems, and not only because the music and choreography elevate to romantic tragedy what would be a sordid gang war in real life. When the two combatants whip out knives during the rumble, which was supposed to be only a one-on-one fistfight, we get a real frisson of shock. And there’s only one gun in the entire story, viewed with horror by all concerned except the shooter himself. Nowadays, it’s sadly commonplace for urban gangs to use guns against each other and innocent bystanders. Also, we don’t see the Jets and Sharks stealing, mugging, vandalizing, using or much less selling drugs (although the “Sergeant Krupke” song contains allusions to drugs), or committing any crimes onstage except against each other.

The contrast between the shocking gun murder of Tony and today’s gang shootings presents an example of “defining deviance downward,” the trend for phenomena formerly condemned by society to become, if not accepted, regarded as routine. Some other examples include casual sex and public cursing. On the other hand, in a few areas our culture has defined deviance upward. Public smoking, for instance, which we see in WEST SIDE STORY presented without comment (as in most movies and TV shows of the time—in that respect, watching DVDs of the original TWILIGHT ZONE made me feel I’d entered an alternate universe even before the supernatural plot elements appeared), has become rude in most places and illegal in many. Although the racist attitudes alluded to in the sardonic song “America” still exist, openly endorsing them is no longer socially or politically acceptable. Our present-day concern for the environment leads us to define as unacceptable lots of behaviors that were routine in my youth.

To my embarrassment, I clearly remember eating popcorn in movie theaters in my teens and leaving the empty container on the floor for the staff to clean up, because that’s what you did with your trash in movies then. I wouldn’t think of doing that now. My parents kept our Boxer in the fenced yard because the residents of our recently built suburban tract housing adhered to a bizarre new custom called a “leash law.” In my grandmother’s neighborhood, though, dogs wandered free just like Lassie on TV and Lady and her friends in LADY AND THE TRAMP. That's what dogs were SUPPOSED to do, as far as I knew. Likewise, my future in-laws let their old, docile dog roam around during evenings and weekends, when animal control workers wouldn’t be randomly patrolling, because the neighbors knew Pilot and would never consider turning him in to the “dog catcher.” It came as a shock to me when the neighbors in our first Navy housing unit (Hawaii, 1972) objected to our new puppy’s running loose; they took that “leash law” stuff seriously. Nowadays, of course, we would never let a dog out unleashed except inside a fence, and our cats are strictly indoor pets. Likewise, people routinely spay and neuter pets unless intending to show and breed them. In my youth, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth (unneutered), some people spayed female dogs and cats, but I don’t think it occurred to anyone to bother “fixing” males. And can you imagine buying or riding in a car without seat belts?

What behavior patterns commonly accepted now will become illegal or immoral by the time our grandchildren reach middle age? Or vice versa—what actions that shock us today might undergo a shift as major as the change in attitudes toward unwed pregnancy between the 1950s and now?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Worldbuilding With Fire And Ice Part 7: Paranormal Romance

This blog entry is a direct sequel to last week's entry FINDING A GOOD PARANORMAL ROMANCE which was sparked by a twitter exchange.

This is Part 7 of a series of posts on Worldbuilding.  The previous parts are here:

And that Part 6 has a list of the links to the previous 5 parts of this discussion scattered over the last few years -- and there have been other series of posts on the art, science and craft of "worldbuilding" that is the single most major element behind writing in general -- but is far more difficult when done to cradle an Alien Romance, or any science fiction or fantasy story. 

This Part 7 is a worldbuilding entry sparked by a series of comments made on Twitter by Noah Murphy ‏@K23Detectives  -- someone to follow and pay attention to.

These tweets came to my attention as I was finishing last week's blog entry and thinking how Paranormal Romance stories and novels are one of the most natural, easy, and obvious blends of 2 genres.

The "Paranormal" usually infers "horror" -- stories about the creepy-awful menace that lurks just out of sight and awareness, the non-rational world of nightmare rather than dream.

Romance, on the other hand infers "pleasant satisfaction" - the uplifting, delightful, fulfilling promise of all that lurks just out of sight, the Happily Ever After, the non-rational world of dream rather than nightmare.

These two genres depict the exact same thing, but from different points of view, with different interpretations.  Ghost Hunters vs. The Ghost And Mrs. Muir.

So Paranormal and Romance fit together at the level of theme.

Last week I pointed out the parallel between what Glenn Beck has done and what Paranormal Romance has not done, but needs to do if we are to be able to find the good Paranormal Romance novels. 

And I ended off last week asking:
What topic lies within PNR that has the same relationship to PNR that the Mexican Border does to American History?  And where can we find someone to set on fire with that topic?

My thesis was that the PNRomance field needs an Oprah Winfrey or Glenn Beck to aggregate the audience so that audience can rely on the source to find the "good PNR" and not waste time and money on unsatisfying reads. 

And lo! like magic Noah Murphy's tweets pointed at a topic PNR probably hasn't delved deeply into, but which would form a solid foundation for Paranormal worldbuilding.

As I pointed out in previous posts, the biggest "weakness" I see in highly professional Romance writers who try their hand at mixing genres is in the worldbuilding. 

When you don't use the real world, contemporary or historical, as background for your story, you must invent the details of your background, (worldbuild) not look them up! 

But you must invent a set of details that go together, each arising from the other in a pattern that resembles the reader's perception of their real world (not the actuality, but the perception which is why Glenn Beck and Oprah Winfrey are folks to study, not because of their topics but because of the radically different worldviews of their respective audiences.)

So here's an example of a "topic" within Paranormal Romance which might be the igniting topic that could set the right spokesman on fire and create us a Glenn Beck of our own.


If you've read my blog entries on the use of THEME, you recognize that statement as a THEME.  And it is a natural theme for a Paranormal Romance. 

Here are the tweets that stopped my eye and ignited my brain:

Noah Murphy ‏@K23Detectives
There's also a very major full on Chasidic black-hat Jewish hero in the book. But since his job requires him to deal with immodest women

Noah Murphy ‏@K23Detectives
He puts his personal feeling aside and just does his job but he believes god cares more about him helping then seeing immodest women.

And there were more tweets on this topic, an exchange on nudity and clothing styles, as well as porn and religion.  You meet some fascinating people on twitter!!! 

Noah Murphy is a writer working on a story that includes this Chasidic detective.

I know nothing else about that story, but the exchange about clothing styles came to me right after seeing an entire Chasidic lecture on the various warnings in the Torah about "following your eyes."

Naturally, I sought ways of arguing various sides of this thesis on SEEING being the root of temptation.

The thesis was that the admonition not to follow your eyes was based on an inherent feature of the human being -- that when you SEE an image or a thing, you want it, you grab for it.

It's true infants will grab at colored shapes -- it's how we learn eye-hand-coordination.

It's possible this attribute persists into adulthood, morphed by the rise of sexual awareness.

And we're all familiar with how the sight of something that looks delicious makes our mouths water, makes us WANT that delicious thing regardless of whether we were wanting it before we saw it.

SEEING is powerful.

We know that the structure of the human eye gives us a survival advantage - we see in color and in three dimensions.  Some other species have other kinds of advantages -- eagles have sharp far-sight, insects have segmented eyes that see in many directions at once, etc.

But the human eye linked to the human brain works marvels.

When it comes to the Paranormal Romance, we usually have to write something about those who are aware of the Paranormal dimension as contrasted with those who have no awareness.  And the interesting hook into a Paranormal adventure is that moment when someone unaware SEES and believes for the first time that the world is different than they had ever thought.

All religions have something in them that requires belief in something you can't SEE.

That's why so many use statues or other symbols, so that which is believed-in can become tangible, real because it's seen.

The practitioners of a religion (any religion) are often the ones who know the least about that religion.  So the topic that could ignite interest in the Paranormal Romance could be something as simple as "What really goes on when you SEE something?"

That's like "What's really going on at the Mexican/USA border?"  Innocent little question with a million topics connected to it.  It opens like a rose.

Mystical practitioners often call those who can see the future Seers -- not prophets who are shown by God, but people who just look and See.

Seeing is believing.  See a ghost, and your concept of reality adjusts. (show-don't-tell, remember?)

In a near-death experience, seeing your own body from the outside adjusts your view of reality.

Seeing something you've never seen before, never believed existed, makes you sensitive in a certain way.  You are more likely to See it again.

So why do practitioners of many religions want to conceal the human form (mostly the female, but in many cases also the male)? 

Most people have a completely eroneous assumption about why religions rule to conceal the human form or flesh.  In the era of "Enlightenment" (or the era of science as our god), when a religion says "don't expose your (whatever part of the anatomy)" we hear that the physical eye must not see the physical flesh.

What if that's not the true origin of the decree? 

What if it isn't the physical eyeball that is the problem? 

What if it is some other part of the human that must be concealed, a part the Enlightened are so certain does not exist?

What if the signal from the human eyeball reaches the human brain and ignites something above and beyond the human physical body? 

What if repeated stimulation of that part of you causes you to be unable to sense the presence of  God? 

Think about how constant exposure to a certain smell makes you unable to smell it anymore.  Smokers, for example, have no idea how much they stink! 

There's a principle in Magic quoted as, "As Above; So Below" (and it works vice-versa -- when you understand what's Below (in our real world) you can more easily understand what's Above, (in the astral plane and higher).

The theory of Magic holds that the world is created in congruent layers, that there is a single underlying pattern that repeats and repeats.  Maybe that's not true, but some part of the basic human being operates as if it were true, so writers who worldbuild with those congruent layers make readers believe every (silly) word they write.

So it's not farfetched to postulate that the Soul or the immortal part of you, the part that reincarnates, or that "Goes To Heaven" after you die, (or gets trapped as a ghost?) has "senses" that work like our real-world senses do.

You know how you can lose something in a familiar room -- your car keys for example.  The keys are sitting there in plain sight where you always put them, but you search four or five times before you SEE them.  They become invisible against the familiar, just as the smell of nicotine is un-smellable against the miasma that surrounds a smoker. 

The constant din in a noisy room, even a workplace, can be filtered out to the point where you aren't aware of it until a newcomer winces! 

So if our material-body senses work like that, perhaps the Soul's senses work the same way? 

A Paranormal Romance (Soul Mates; Happily Ever After ending Romance) writer could easily postulate that the real reason (unknown even to the Authorities currently running a religion) for the necessity of "modest" dress (defined differently by each religion), is based on the responses of the Soul, not the eyeball or the body.

Here's one from Kabbalah.  There is a concept in the mystical studies that indicates the spirit of God envelopes a couple during copulation and orchestrates conception.  That this whole process is a process of Souls much more sensitive than the process involving the body is.

Done one way, the child that results turns out a certain way.  Done differently, the resulting child is different.  Acting to prevent conception can have far-reaching consequences that has little to do with what we think of as "my life." 

In other words, sexuality has a Paranormal dimension.  It's a fabulous Fantasy premise that hasn't been explored -- just as Glenn Beck's Mexican Border Situation hadn't been explored.

So, it's possible to worldbuild a Paranormal Romance around the SEEING IS BELIEVING theme element that the best way to sensitize the Soul so it can percieve the presence of the Divine in the material world (and thus get Life to work more smoothly around you, e.g. finding your Soul-Mate and Living Happily Ever After), is to avoid certain SIGHTS.

That is one grand paradox fraught with ripe conflict!  Paranormal conflict!  Ghosts, Warlocks, Witches, Spells, Incantations, Goblins, Trolls, Vampires -- it all takes on a totally different twist when seen through the eyes that avoid certain sights in order to see other sights.  It might be like avoiding looking at oncoming headlights at night in order to be able to see the road. 

If you could pull that off, you could be writing a very sexy Paranormal Romance targeted at Glenn Beck's 30-million-strong audience.  Somewhere among them (probably the most skeptical ones trained best in critical thinking) might be the Oprah Winfrey of the Paranormal Romance field.

BTW: the "fire and ice" of the series title here might be thought of as Religion and Science, or maybe it's Science and Religion?  Either way, to worldbuild a cradle for a convincing story, you must have both in your world because they are pillars of our world.   

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Rules for Fiction Writers

A collection of story “rules” from Pixar:

Pixar Story Rules

Here are a few of my favorite tips from this list:

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on - it’ll come back around to be useful later.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

No. 10 reminds me of some of Jacqueline’s exercises for aspiring fiction creators. I’ve always had trouble with No. 6. I don’t like to see my protagonists suffer too much, which is just the opposite of how an author is supposed to treat her imaginary people. As I once heard a successful writer say, if you do your job well, your characters will hate you.

Promotional note: This fall, erotic romance publisher Ellora’s Cave is celebrating its twelfth anniversary. I’m one of their “decade or more” authors, imagine that! EC author Kate Hill has recently interviewed me in connection with the anniversary:

Anniversary Blog

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Finding a Good Paranormal Romance

And once more twitter friends spark a subject we need to cover in Alien Romance:

I Retweeted this tweet from @dearauthor:
JLichtenberg: RT @dearauthor: I feel like my reading mojo is back. I've actually liked a few books in a row. 2 of them PNRs.

@freyasbower answered @dearauthor and tagged me in the answer thusly:

freyasbower: @dearauthor @JLichtenberg Perhaps it's not your mojo so much as the books. (g) 2:48pm, Jun 14 from Twitter for Mac

So I answered but forgot to tag @dearauthor

JLichtenberg: @freyasbower That's my thesis. I believe the creative torch has passed to the PNR field. Even non-PNR readers will find mojo there 3:00pm, Jun 14 from HootSuite

freyasbower: @JLichtenberg I have always been a fan of well-written PNR. It's finding it that can be challenging. 3:06pm, Jun 14 from Twitter for Mac

JLichtenberg: @freyasbower I need to blog about HOW TO FIND well-written PNR, why it's necessary, and why it's hard to find 8:07am, Jun 15 from HootSuite

freyasbower: @JLichtenberg you do. I am sure there are more authors out there who write it, but it gets buried .... 8:08am, Jun 15 from Twitter for iPhone

So let's tackle the issue of FINDING the "good" books among the undifferentiated flood of novels coming from a multitude of new small publishers, from the giant presses of mass market machines, and even more titles than both put together coming from self-publishing authors.

All these writers are trying to "stand out" or to get the readers' attention, to get "reviews" on Amazon or any blog that has traffic.

Even writers publishing via the mass market machines have to do their own "Me! LOOK AT ME! BUY MY BOOK!!!" publicity.

In most genre fiction, but especially Romance and Science Fiction/Fantasy it's always been that way, though in science fiction and Romance to a certain extent, a writer who said "buy my book" in any form lost credibility. With self-publishing, that's once more becoming a problem. 

Mass Market writers were supposed to step aside, fold hands, put their eyes down, and meekly let the professionals market their books. 

A mass market publisher generally does 4 to 10 titles a month, some of them reprints (though not in Romance usually).  The publisher has a monthly budget to promote the books, and decisions are made in committee which books to promote.  Usually the whole budget goes on the Lead title, with a little left for the second title, and the rest of the books fall where they may without promotion.

The most effective "promotion" done by publishers is not seen by readers.  These are not TV ads, magazine ads, newspaper ads that readers might see.  The magazine and newspapers that these ads go into are subscribed to book wholesalers and retailers, not consumers -- though some specialty magazines like LOCUS may be included and reach some readers of a genre.

Here's a typical list of targets for a heavily promoted major release:

National review and feature attention
Print advertising campaign to (whatever) interest groups
Advertising campaign at major general-interest sites like the New York Times book blast or
Pre-publication buzz campaign through Shelf Awareness, Goodreads, Library Thing, and Read it Forward
Major blogger outreach to literary, historical fiction, and (whatever special)interest blogs
Included in all launch promotions of that publisher's imprint
Extensive bookseller, library, and academic mailing
Outreach to (whatever special interest) organizations
Major book group outreach
Author tours and Events

Where it says New York Times, it mostly means getting them to review or discuss it, sometimes website ads.  A few titles get actual ads to readers printed on review pages. 

The promotion that costs the most money is done to get the books into stores, before readers eyes, into the front window of the store, into a "dump" (a box set up in the aisle), or splashed at you on amazon etc, and to get it sold at a discount at certain huge outlets (like Sam's Club, B&N, and Amazon).  Promotion money is also spent on getting super-spiffy art for the cover, and sending out review copies.  As mentioned on #scifichat in June, the cover is the foundation of the marketing campaign.  If there's no campaign, they don't spend much on the cover.  Big money these days is spent on YouTube book-trailers, but many of those are paid for by the author. 

Promotion money is spent and campaigns announced like that to force reviewers for major publication such as big city newspapers to review the book, interview the author, etc.  If you are major newspaper or magazine reviewer, you don't dare not-cover what everyone is talking about or pretty soon you aren't "major" anymore!  So shouting about the publicity budget for a book gets books into bookstores.  Note that item Pre-publication buzz -- that's for real, and it is what actually does the trick to sell lots of copies.  They put that list on the back cover of ADVANCE READING COPIES (the ARCs reviewers get before all the typos are fixed) to shame reviewers into reviewing the book that "everyone" is buzzing about.   

A title that is not #1 or #2 on the publisher's monthly List has NO REVIEW COPIES sent out to newspapers, magazines, and these days, bloggers.  None of the things on that list are financed by the publisher for books that aren't at the top of their monthly release list.  Publishers shout like that to try to "find the readership" for that particular book. 

They "shout" like that about books they think will sell enough copies to more than pay for the "shouting" budget.  It's all about perceptions and economics.  If they promote an author's book like that and it does not sell big enough, the author's next book is not bought or not promoted at all.  Sometimes shouting works and gathers the audience.  Sometimes, even with a worthy book, it doesn't gather enough of an audience to be worth the expense of the shout.  Paying for an author to tour some big cities and sign autographs is another item in the budget for an author whose previous promotions have more than paid off.   

If the publisher shouts about the book, or if the writer does (and finances) the shouting, it amounts to the same thing -- advertising.  It's a way of saying "I want you to pay me money."  Or "I want you to pay attention to me." 

The publisher lacks credibility because the publisher has an investment in the book they want to make back and then some.

The writer lacks credibility for that reason and the inherent lack of judgement the creator of a work has about their own work. 

Publicity is the publisher or the writer, the one who invests in creating the work, looking for an audience.  It's not working well these days, so maybe the process needs scrutiny and re-evaluation. 

Paper publishing is dying because of the economics of printing, warehousing, trucking, and returning unsold copies.  Amazon's marketing innovation helps a lot, but they don't warehouse a lot of books all at once.  You see that "only 2 copies left" sign on pages "more coming" and you know they don't stock what they sell.  That's killing paper publishing.

But now that there's a good reading screen technology, e-books are taking off.  Paper is moving to print on demand except for those books with a pre-assembled mass market.   Check out Glenn Beck's best-seller statistics -- every book he releases is a category killer on Amazon.  He is reaching an audience of about 30,000,000  per month, (yeah, thirty million) and most of them are voracious readers, just not in Paranormal Romance! 

That's the number Beck himself gives for his "reach" and it includes all his media outlets - radio, print books, email newsletters, the online newspaper The Blaze (drawing about 7,000 hits per day he says), and about 300,000 paying subscribers to his web-only TV network (which is viewable in full HD and has state-of-the-art color).  He's in the midst of combining The Blaze and putting more news shows on his network and building it to a 24-hour operation.  

By studying what Glenn Beck has done for books about his (hobbyhorse) topics, we can discover how to find PNR novels that please us as keenly as Beck pleases his audience.  Nevermind what his books are about, they please his specific readership so perfectly his readership is growing by leaps and bounds and you see his books in Sam's Club!  Want to see our books in Sam's Club?  Costco?  Study what he's done. 

Since he was a teen, Beck has been a radio broadcaster -- talk show host.  His original training is in humor, comedy, standup I think, and maybe clowning.  He reverts to that schtick often, and sounds a discordant note that destroys his credibility where he actually has a bit of fact that needs thinking about buried under his behavior.  It's almost as if talking about a real fact embarrasses him. 

But his target audience eats up the clowning about facts and begs for more. 

It seems that Glenn Beck has FOUND HIS AUDIENCE, just as publishers try to "find an audience" for a book they believe they can make money by selling. 

I am not at all sure (I don't study Beck closely enough to tell) if he understands what has happened to him, and what he has done that's resulted in having this audience, but studying the phenomenon can tell us how to winnow out the great PNR novels that we need to read from the background noise of millions of novels that should have gone through another 10 drafts before being published. 

Years ago, when Radio talk-show hosts began "breaking into" TV, Beck got jobs with Cable TV channels.

I'm not sure of his resume before he worked at CNN where I first saw him (or heard of him).  I think he had been at a broadcast network before that.  CNN was a trial and a half for him because they keep commentators on a short-leash as do the broadcast networks ABC, NBC and CBS. CNN is has hit its lowest ratings in Spring 2012 and subsequently changed a number of their anchor personalities, bringing onboard at least one "Conservative" commentator.  Watch how that works out -- it is just like publishing, searching for what the audience wants. 

A viewer of these commentators thinks she's looking at a person and hearing what that person thinks.  Nope, not what's happening, any more than when you pick up a book from a mass market publisher's imprint, you are reading the book the writer wanted to write! Those 10 drafts mentioned above that self-publishing writers tend to skip, and that "short leash" mentioned above that networks use on commentators are similar marketing/publicity mechanisms.  The catch-all term for the whole process is "packaging" -- news segments have to be "shot" and then "packaged."  It's a complex process aimed at "finding an audience." 

See my series on EDITING to get this into your head.  has links to previous 6 entries.

Writers who aren't able or willing to conform their output to the specifications of mass market publishers don't sell to mass market publishers.  It is very possible that those non-conformists are the writers who are writing what you want most to read - what you would enjoy most!  The content of Mass Market books has been "watered down" to reach a broader audience via mass market "packaging."  Even small publishers have to do "packaging" or go out of business.  Self publishers will give up after a while, if it's just not worth the effort, or they'll learn packaging. 

It's about effort/return ratio -- you've got to have a ratio that's considerably less than 1.00 or you'll quit. 

You can't write and self-publish on smashwords a 100,000 word novel and sell 1 copy and then do it again.  Very soon, you'll just stop publishing unless 1 becomes 2 becomes 4, 8, 16, etc. - positive feedback works. 

EDITING - (and with books, agenting) - all goes in between the reader, and the writer's imagination.

Being a "good writer" means being able to write what the editors and the publishers editors work for THINK will sell.  Agents are in the business of slush-pile-reading to find the exact books editors have been instructed by their publishers to package and send to the bookstores.  "Bookstores" are in the business of finding and presenting what their customers want.  Agents are the people who find or train the authors who consistently perform those novel styles that are selling best at bookstores at this moment.

Writing is a performing art, remember?  You don't write a book, you PERFORM a TROPE of a GENRE, just as a pianist performs Chopin.  We've covered that in many previous posts.  I learned it in 7th Grade from a professional writer, Alma Hill, who mentored me then!  And it's still true today. Writing is a performing art, just like standup comedy. 

So what Glenn Beck has done that's given him an audience of 30 million about 1 million of whom buy each book with his name on it (even if he didn't write it all by himself) is exactly what PNR writers need to do -- FIND THEIR AUDIENCE.

Publishers who invest in marketing as noted above are expecting to "target an audience" -- to find a pre-made, pre-assembled audience, a social-network, that's going to want to buy that book the instant they hear of it.  Successful self-publishing writers already have made an audience like that, just one too small or too scattered to be worth the kind of money big publishers spend promoting big titles. 

Authors running around looking for an audience for something they wrote rather than performed, have no more success than Glenn Beck did when he was just a radio broadcaster!  And they have even less credibility than Beck has now when they say "buy my book."   

Beck's stint at CNN let him shoot off a few arrows of his own opinions in various directions, and they struck home with a small segment of the CNN audience (which was much bigger then than it is now). 

I recall seeing Beck do a whole segment on the Mexican border and drug running issues, cartel wars, and the terrorist infiltration of the action at the border when he was on CNN.  The segment promised a lot more on that topic -- but every time I cruised through (I comparison shop news and don't believe ANY of it) he wasn't on that topic again.

Then he moved to Fox, and I caught most of his opening show there (totally by accident because I was cooking at the hour he was on, my hands too greasy to flip the channel) -- and he promised to do a whole, in depth, never let it drop expose of the Mexican border issues on successive shows.  He ranted on about being so happy to have moved to a network that would let him cover the Mexican border issues. 

He didn't go on to cover that topic, and because I know what "editing" means, I knew someone had shut him up.  They (networks) pay thousands of dollars for pollster tracking of audience not only after a show, but the pulse of tune-ins/tune-outs during a show.  Very complicated, very expensive stuff -- Beck's border presentation probably pulled really low interest.  Or it may have just discomforted someone high in the organization -- I'm guessing, here I don't know and I don't really care much.  They squashed him. 

My objective here is to solve the problem of getting GOOD PNR to the RIGHT readers who will actually glean something important from reading the novel.  Paranormal Romance Novels are where the fire is in our field right now, just as the border war and terrorism is where the "fire" of interest was in one segment of CNN's audience when Beck mentioned it. 

If PNR writers lose credibility (and audience share like Beck apparently did at CNN) when they go searching for an audience, then writers can't do what all editors and agents insist the writer must do herself, and FIND HER AUDIENCE.

I'm beginning to wonder about the standard interpretation of how publicity works. 

Maybe the writer can't find the audience.

Maybe the audience must find the writer.

BUT HOW???? 

What did Glenn Beck do?  By the end of his stint at Fox he was reaching maybe 35 million a month, through all his media -- website, email newsletters, books from his Mercury division, blogs, and while at Fox he founded the news organization that publishes the online newspaper THE BLAZE.

When he left Fox and began his own network,  he lost a lot of those people because is a network you can get only via the web, not on cable or broadcast.

But as his organization has produced some truly high-polish, slick, and informative (and serious, not comedy schtick ridden) SPECIALS on various news subjects, the web-tv-subscription audience has grown.  The one Special he said brought a substantial increase in his viewers was the third in a series, and it's topic is the Mexican border/drug cartel/terrorist wars issue he got squashed for talking about on cable news, twice. 

That one subject has let his audience FIND HIM AGAIN -- and he's up to 300,000 subscribers (which is more than watch some shows on CNN or Fox).  It's been less than 1 year since he left Fox and launched his web-network.  Audiences of Beck's size are not coalescing around broadcast network TV -- see my blog entry on TARGETING AN AUDIENCE part 5 on this blog, July 31, 2012.
Note Beck doesn't have just one show.  He's been adding shows fast, and has I think maybe 5 different shows and his daily radio show done with cameras and up in video on his website. And he's gaining advertisers, many who advertise on regular networks. 

Likewise note this news item that appeared Aug. 3, 2012:

Cord-never numbers are particularly hard to measure. A cable company, of course, can't report the amount of people who never subscribed to them in the first place, but we can do some piecing together to get an idea of the changing trends. U.S. census data found that 1.8 million new households were formed, but that only 16.9 percent of those signed up for pay-TV services, according to Ad Age's Dan Hirschorn. The TV industry has been flat for years; U.S. households continue to rise. Meanwhile, as cable subscription rates have stayed flat, Internet subscriptions are on the rise. Comcast added 156,000 net broadband subscribers, an 8.4% increase; Time Warner added 59,000 residential high-speed Internet subscribers. While something like 100 million U.S. households subscribe to TV services, the U.S. 2010 census data had 120 million households with Internet -- those numbers have only risen since then, with these companies reporting increased subscriptions. And what do people do on the Internet? Watch things. Though the most popular Internet activity, as of 2010, was social networking, video saw a 12 percent increase, according to a Neilsen report. Though, those numbers include people with cable.
-----------END QUOTE-----------

But also consider this item from June 2008, just 4 years ago:
-----------QUOTE from end of that article----
One Month Later
It's been over a month since I gave up cable TV and a lot has happened since my first week of Internet TV. Content-wise, Hulu continues to refine its service introducing full episodes of Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report. In addition, the site is running a Hulu Days of Summer promotion where new content is introduced every weekday. A nice way to bring people back to the site each day. Meanwhile, has launched a new portal and streamed its first, full-length, online concert by Latin Grammy winner, Fonseca. The micro site, which is called En Directo, is sponsored by Toyota (the ads are very aggressive) and will feature additional concerts, downloadable songs, backstage footage, and more. I'm not a fan of the artist, but I am impressed with the amount of online video you can find on It appears the site has even struck a deal with and is translating many of its tech reviews into Spanish (it'll be interesting to see how this relationship plays out once is owned by Although I speak Spanish fluently, I was never a heavy Univision watcher, but having more video options online never hurt.
On a more personal note, I'm back to my old TV-viewing habits, watching TV in the morning and in the evening when I get home from work. When I miss an episode I want to watch, I now turn to Hulu (when appropriate) instead of recording shows onto my DVR. I'm also more comfortable bringing my laptop into the kitchen and watching Internet TV from my kitchen counter — something I felt awkward doing before. Ironically, I also turn to the Internet for new shows (shows that I've never seen like "Dexter" or shows that are no longer shown on TV like "Arrested Development") and if I like them, I look for them on TV. Unfortunately, I didn't lose any weight during my cable-free month, and I have once again associated eating with watching TV.
But perhaps the biggest change in my everyday routine is the amount of time I spend online. Whereas before I would go online just to check e-mail, I'm now online the minute I get home. Most of the time I'm reading new blogs I discovered during my cable-free month, but the amount of time I spend online has spiked dramatically since the month of May.

----------END QUOTE---------

So compare 2008 to 2012 (Beck's web network started in 2011 and is about to expand again).  In fact, in 2008, Beck hadn't even moved to Fox and rocked the world with his ideas.  That's how fast this world is changing - the world of connectivity, of fiction at your fingertips, and thousands of other ways to spend/waste your time.

The potential and possibilities for living without cable or broadcast TV are expanding just that fast.

Glenn Beck's audience wanted his product and searched him out.  They found him; he didn't find them.

No matter what you think of Glenn Beck's message, study the process by which he's come to have the means to deliver that message to the target audience.   

Many of his audience are older people who owned old TV sets that couldn't connect to the internet.  Many don't have computers, though most do.  I haven't seen smartphone distribution figures among seniors either, but according to the Verizonwireless website's offer of a $20/month discount to seniors for a low-call, charge per text, very low data amount plan, Seniors can be relied on to NOT use the features of their smartphones.

So Verizon is offering seniors that discount on all the phones they sell.  And their stock is up over the last four years. 

That tech-reluctance of seniors may change quickly as a new generation becomes senior.  Apparently many older seniors have upgraded their technology this year to get at the one product they wanted, Glenn Beck's opinions. 

Nevermind that you don't want Beck's opinions.  The PNR novels you write are your opinions, and they are of as marginal an appeal as Beck's opinions on the Mexican border were when he was at Fox. 

Speaking of the Mexican border, here's another article from Aug. 2, 2012 on that subject, asserting that what Beck predicted several years ago, actually is happening now.  The Mexican border topic is one of Beck's hobby horses that has gotten him a lot of attention because nobody wanted his opinion on it.

Nobody wants your opinions right now either.  And as a reader or writer of PNR, you are searching for the opinions of someone as marginalized as Beck is!  Your problem is really the same problem that he had, and he's solved it.  Figure out how he did it! 

Analyzing his audience, I have found it isn't ALL older people.  There's a wave of 20-somethings, and even teens, who are absolutely caught up in what he's doing.  Those 20-somethings are not likely to be readers of PNR either, but they found what they want in Beck's program. 

Again, forget what he's doing and focus on how he's doing it.

People will say HE FOUND HIS AUDIENCE -- but as I noted above his audience found him.

Beck says George Soros spent millions "discrediting" him -- some Soros funded organizations funded other organizations that funded organizations that hired bloggers to use filthy language emphatically lying about what Beck said on the air, thus discrediting Beck. 

I don't know about the hiring part, but I've seen the blog comments -- the exact same blog comments word for misspelled word turning up on news commentary threads  on various articles having nothing to do with the filthy-language comment on Beck.  I've seen copy/paste clones of those comments on Beck turn up day after day - the same comments, on different news item blogs, on different days, posted under different poster-handles. 

Being curious, I started watching the actual broadcasts and listened to what Beck said exactly, then looked for what the blog commentators said he said.  The claim that someone hired people to paste filthy-language comments all over the blogosphere is a logical way to interpret what I've seen.  But I have no knowledge of how these things happened, only that Beck never said most of what's attributed to him, but as the furor increased so did Beck's audience share.

Maybe we need George Soros to fund an anti-PNR campaign complete with filthy language?  Naw, that wold never work.

But just like Beck, PNR doesn't say what most people say it says.  Same campaign was waged against Dungeons & Dragons years ago and it got more popular the more it was opposed. 

I'm not nearly as interested in Glenn Beck (and his hobbyhorses) as I am in the audience response to him -- his audience found him.  HOW DID THEY DO THAT???? (other than the discrediting campaign blog comments)

If I can figure out how they did that, I can figure out how to FIND the PNR novels that need finding and develop a readership of millions (30 million readers -- think about that!  It's not unreasonable for an audience size: there are 330 million people in the USA alone!).

Note my most current novel, THE FARRIS CHANNEL is Paranormal but not Romance (has an offstage love story or two, but love/romance does not drive the plot).  I'm not telling you "buy my book" or "be my audience" or "find me!"  -- though that might be nice -- I'm trying to figure out how PNR readers can find their "Glenn Beck."

If we can't gain respect in one-step, maybe we can attain it by becoming vilified first?  I just don't like that idea.  No.  There has to be another way. 

You, as reader don't need to find the writer of PNR novels you want to read, but you need to find a "Glenn Beck" a spokesman that gathers a book-buying public.  That spokesman has to be someone we can rely on to bring to our attention  'the best PNR novels.' 

We have some great Romance blogs like Galaxy Express but they don't have 30 million readers!  (Million; think about that 30 million.)

Here's a web-radio talk-show that interviews authors and loves SF, Fantasy, Romance and PNR.  If you're a writer, contact them.  It's not 30 million (yet) but it's a start.

-------QUOTE FROM THE PROMOTION-----------

PWRTALK is the network with the best experts and programming that provides a conduit for voices not otherwise heard in this noisy techno and digitalized world. In the first 6 months of 2012, PWRTALK received 1 million new listeners. In the first 2 weeks of July, PWRTALK received another 1/4 million new listeners. For WebTV and audio interviews, please contact Lillian Cauldwell at 734-827-9407 or email
 ----------END QUOTE-------------------

Oprah Winfrey has lost and not regained her audience as she moved to create her own Cable network, but she was this kind of spokesman for her kind of "personal expose" book. 

When Beck has a guest on his show who's written a book, that book shoots to the top tiers on Amazon just as Oprah Winfrey's guests' books did.  Beck's audience listens to radio (and web-radio), watches TV, and behold -- READS BOOKS. 

When he left Fox, by contract he couldn't take the research he'd done there on their dime.  He can't use clips from his own Fox show.  And he can't afford to re-do that research from scratch (it was hugely expensive, though his show overall was cheap-cheap).  So he's been gathering sponsors, and subscribers (you have to have internet access (Roku but not Amazon will get the show for you) plus a subscription which is I think $100/year) to get his shows.  I absolutely must figure out how his audience has found him.  He didn't find them, though he tried for decades.  Suddenly, they found him! 

Once he got feedback for his passionate presentation of the Mexican border situation (being squashed indicates there's something there), he began researching, asking questions, looking for answers, searching out the roots of movements under the surface of US culture.  That quest became the core of his Fox show, and when he did a months long presentation on American History, his ratings soared.  His audience found him. 

The audience's responses and interest guided his research, his efforts, and touched something in him that ignited his personal curiosity, a need-to-know just like any writer's fascination with a story idea.  He's half journalist, and he had grabbed hold of a journalistic subject.  His audience touched off his explosion of interest in American History that led to the series of "revelations" he's presented that keep attracting more viewers.  He's a showman by nature -- anything that ignites an audience to enthusiasm will ignite him to out-perform himself, but he's also a shrewd business man (I have a sketch of his natal chart).  Once he mentioned a topic that got a ratings spike, his own interest in it spiked -- maybe it was dollar signs, or maybe it was his need for applause (he's a comedian by training). 

All writers are like that, PNR writers most especially are on the lookout for feedback, for applause, for understanding.  What gets audience response, gets more attention from the writer in the next book. 

Beck's audience found him sitting there on CNN like an unlit candle, and they touched fire to his wick.  He took that fire to Fox and found a bigger audience and became a much bigger candle. 

Beck's audience used him to get what it wanted.  The audience milked him, not the other way around as observers always think!  As a writer, I know what that feels like.  When an editor wants more, I find more!

The PNR audience needs to find a Glenn Beck of PNR.  Who?  How?  Where? 

I don't have the entire answer yet, but I do have an "app" on my iPod and Kindle that gets "radio" and can get internet radio shows.  Apple has subscriptions to podcasts. This is a growing business while paper publishing is shrinking.

You can dock your iPhone or iPod in your car's dashboard and make internet radio come out of your car's speakers while you commute.  Or subscribe to sat radio. 

Other than commuting, I don't know where people find time to "listen to radio" -- but they do!  See TARGETING AN AUDIENCE PART 5 again and that link above to unplugging from cable TV -- people are abandoning cable TV, broadcast TV, to the point where there are fewer and fewer TV Series, and the ones that exist do fewer shows per year.  People are doing something with their time.  Ebook sales are UP.  People watch movies streaming on Amazon on their TV screens and smartphones!  You can watch movies on Kindle Fire wherever you can get a fast wi-fi connection. 

There's a huge audience, a veritable tsunami of an audience, sloshing around looking for the Glenn Beck of their field, whatever that field may be.  PNR is only one of many fields that needs a Glenn Beck. 

Glenn Beck just about invented his field -- this whole schtick he's done on American History, and his examination of the cultural shifts we've been living through is put together from scratch.  He's going into the music business and the feature film business next.  He's holding huge "Events" people go to just to have a good time bringing the whole family exploring American history and cultural roots.  Imagine filling a football stadium with lovers of PNR! He filled Cowboy Stadium with 65,000 people July 28, 2012 and there's a video of that program on his website (or maybe on ). 

How can we do that?  There are podcasters and web radio talk shows interviewing authors, pulling in audiences numbering in the thousands.  But not 30 million.  65,000 yeah, probably, but not 30 million.

Why should we bother trying to ignite a Glenn Beck or Oprah Winfrey of our own?  What has PNR got in it that our lives "need" the way Beck's audience thirsts for whatever it is they get out of watching him?  (I haven't figured that out, yet, either.)

Until he started talking about the Mexican border and got squashed by his employers for it, he didn't have this kind of mojo. 

What topic lies within PNR that has the same relationship to PNR that the Mexican Border does to American History?  And where can we find someone to set on fire with that topic? 

On twitter, they now show you this notice if you click on the CHANGE link on TRENDING NOW on their page: Trends offer a unique way to get closer to what you care about. Trends are tailored for you based on your location and who you follow. 

Maybe that 'trending now' feature will help us find our very own Glenn Beck to aggregate the PNR audience, our Oprah Winfrey. 

Here's a QUOTE from a recent item on what Oprah is doing from a Financial News item in June 2012:

Faced with the potential failure of her money-pit cable network OWN, Winfrey is working the phones hard to secure big-name interviews for her show, "Oprah's Next Chapter." Back-to-back episodes last Sunday featured the Kardashian family and rapper 50 Cent, and the Kardashians will be back this weekend. Michael Jackson's daughter Paris and the late Whitney Houston's family made news with their interviews in recent weeks.
The open question is whether she can have the same cultural impact on a smaller stage. Winfrey's daytime talk show was generally seen by around 6 million people in her final years; "Oprah's Next Chapter" with the Kardashians was seen by 1.1 million viewers, according to the Nielsen company.
------------END QUOTE-------------

Beck's viewership isn't in Oprah's ballpark there, but his "reach" including all his media is bigger.

I'll get back to this topic when I do figure it out.  Meanwhile, don't get blindsided by the video gaming industry.  Study that, too.  

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Thursday, August 02, 2012

The Laws of Fiction

The great nineteenth-century Christian fantasy writer George MacDonald (author of THE PRINCESS AND THE GOBLIN and AT THE BACK OF THE NORTH WIND), also wrote a lot of nonfiction, including a collection of essays called A DISH OF ORTS, which contains some extended ruminations on literature. This book is available online as a free PDF. The final section, on the Fantastic Imagination, is well worth reading for its thoughts on the process of what Tolkien later called “subcreation.” MacDonald discusses how the writer of fantasy (or, as MacDonald refers to the genre, fairy tales) must faithfully ensure “harmony between the laws by which the new world has begun to exist; and in the process of his creation, the inventor must hold by those laws.” In other words, as all writers of speculative fiction know, consistency within an imaginary world is necessary for suspension of disbelief. “Law is the soil in which alone beauty will grow.” Then comes the passage that struck me most powerfully:

“In the moral world it is different: there a man may clothe in new forms, and for this employ his imagination freely, but he must invent nothing. He may not, for any purpose, turn its laws upside down. He must not meddle with the relations of live souls. The laws of the spirit of man must hold, alike in this world and in any world he may invent. It were no offence to suppose a world in which everything repelled instead of attracted the things around it; it would be wicked to write a tale representing a man it called good as always doing bad things, or a man it called bad as always doing good things: the notion itself is absolutely lawless. In physical things a man may invent; in moral things he must obey—and take their laws with him into his invented world as well.”

What a lucid, penetrating reminder of the principle that believable characterization, even of monsters or aliens, must ultimately be grounded in human nature as we know it. MacDonald’s view on “the laws of the spirit” seems especially relevant today with the popularity of flawed heroes and antiheroes in contemporary fiction. Of course protagonists have to demonstrate some flaws in order to seem credibly human. And the antihero protagonist certainly has his place, as long as he possesses enough redeeming traits to make him a bearable companion for the length of an entire novel. I’ll give up on a book, though, if the author clearly expects us to like, maybe even approve of, a character who seems to me to have no redeeming traits.

What about the Hannibal Lecter series? When Thomas Harris first introduces Dr. Lecter, in RED DRAGON, the cannibal psychiatrist is clearly evil, although already an extraordinary character. In THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS he becomes charismatic and seductive, but there’s still no question of his evil. A strong protagonist, Clarice, opposes him while acknowledging his fascination. HANNIBAL becomes more ambiguous, because Lecter functions as the viewpoint character for much of the novel. However, he still has Clarice as a counterweight on the “good” side, at least until the dark fairy tale ending. In the prequel, HANNIBAL RISING, though, Lecter becomes the protagonist, and the reader is drawn to sympathize with him. In both HANNIBAL and HANNIBAL RISING, Harris subverts the established status of Lecter as the bad guy by opposing him with other villains who come across as even worse. In the prequel, especially, we first meet Lecter as a helpless child trapped in a horrible situation, very different from the suave manipulator in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. Disturbingly, even before HANNIBAL RISING came out, some readers posted fanfic and Internet discussions insisting Lecter wasn’t totally evil. They were seduced by the character’s intelligence, seductiveness, and cultural polish into overlooking his essential sociopathy.

Which brings to mind the shooter in the recent Colorado attack. (Not that I believe for a second that the Batman franchise has any responsibility for his violence, any more than the Beatles were responsible for Charles Manson. No artist can predict how a mentally unstable individual will respond to a work.) Batman has been presented in some incarnations as not only a character with a dark side but sometimes verging on an antihero. Still, he’s always shown as fighting for the side of good (as far as I can tell from reading the reviews, not having seen many of the movies). The Joker, on the other hand, is clearly the bad guy, labeled as such by the narrative and unambiguously acting as such. For whatever personally warped reasons, the Colorado shooter identified with the wrong character.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt