Thursday, May 30, 2013

Too Many Characters?

Over the weekend at our house, we had a conversation about the problem of “too many characters” in a novel or series. What that principally means, of course, is too many named characters for the reader to keep track of. What’s the limit before you reach an excessive number? Some writing advice suggests an actual formula, so many characters for each word count range and no more. Surely the answer to this question depends a lot on what genre you’re writing. A category-length romance tends to play out on an intimate scale in which full development of the hero-heroine relationship leaves little or no space for subplots and, therefore, for major secondary characters. A mystery needs a wide enough pool of suspects to keep the reader guessing. An epic fantasy novel or trilogy, which is what we were discussing, allows scope for many more characters, in fact almost demands them. But how do we know when we’re reaching a cast of individualized characters so numerous the reader will get confused? It’s easy to say we should keep them if they’re all necessary to the story, but how do we decide which can be eliminated or combined without damaging the plot? In her play cycle THE MAN BORN TO BE KING, about the life of Christ, Dorothy Sayers explains in her authors’ comments how she merged some roles to make the huge cast a little more manageable. For instance, she made the centurion whose servant Jesus cured the same as the centurion at the crucifixion. She also adopted one ancient tradition that Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany were the same person.

There used to be a member in my online critique group who insisted no minor characters should have names, because singling them out with a name gives the reader the idea that they’re destined to play an important role in the story, and if they never do, the reader gets confused. I think this “rule” can be taken too far. For example, if the police chief is going to appear more than once, even as a walk-on, it seems to me less awkward to give him a name than to call him “the chief” over and over. Presumably the viewpoint character knows his name! In Dean Koontz’s latest novel, DEEPLY ODD, he gives a name to a waitress who appears in only one scene, and Koontz’s track record suggests he knows what he’s doing.

Is there such a thing as too few characters? I’ve written romance novellas and novelettes that have essentially two, the hero and heroine, with maybe a brief appearance by a third person at the beginning of the story. Obviously that limited a number of people would seldom work in a full-length novel. True, there are brilliant exceptions, such as Stephen King’s MISERY, populated for most of its span by only the protagonist and antagonist. As a writer, how do you make these choices? For the typical full-length novel, what type and number of secondary characters would you as a reader normally expect? If you pick up a book whose story is preceded by a long list of dramatis personae, the way some epic novels are, do you find that helpful or discouraging?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Theme-Plot Integration Part 10 - Use of Co-incidence in Plot

We've been discussing a contrast/compare among 3 novel series, 20 novels in all.  This post is about these books, and contains spoilers as well as opinion and a suggested "take-away" from this study.

Here is a link to Part 8 where we launched into this 20-book comparison, and Part 9 with links to them all, and the index to previous parts:

Remember, posts with "Integration" in the title put together the craft skills we've discussed singly in previous posts.

Also remember, most of this "work" is done subconsciously.  A writer telling a story wouldn't be consciously aware of doing any of this.  Those who do it as a "Talent" and get goshwows for their adroit use of these skills probably learned them just by reading eclectically, not necessarily thinking about what they were reading. 

Here's where we discussed Talent in writers:

Inborn, innate "Talent" is often signified in a natal chart by a quincunx or quindecile between outer and inner planets (fame is totally different).  We observe the results of Talent from outside the person by noting how "easily" they pick up certain skills (the child prodigy on the piano). 

Theory is that this ease of learning happens because the actual hard-slogging up the learning curve was done in a previous life, and the Soul selected that ability to be brought into this life.

Theory is that any "person" has a Soul with many-many Talents, and this person you are dealing with "now" has only a smattering of the Talents he/she has stored in their Soul.  Some of what a person has now is relevant to what they're doing in this life -- some not at all relevant. 

We "observe" the shapes of lives from the outside by reading biographies -- from the "inside" by reading autobiographies (at least the ones actually written by the person named), and by watching the people around us for the patterns we saw reading those books.

That's why a writer's best work is usually not done in their teens or twenties.  It takes many years to read enough and observe enough people to perceive the patterns scattered deeds and events create.

As you read the rest of this series of Theme-Plot Integration posts, think about an ant crawling  up one of those huge, hanging tapestries you've seen in museums, the kind women used to make to hang in drafty castles. 

You sit on a bench ten feet away or more, and gaze upon the picture with all the different, entwined figures cavorting in different settings.  You see a lot of different scenes from one side of the tapestry to another.  Then you think about the scenes and you see an entire story of a Historical Event (such as a war) or perhaps the mythological gods and goddesses whose stories carried the philosophy of that Age.

But what does that ant see?  The ant doesn't have a human eye, or a human brain.  The ant may pick up strands from the colored threads, not discerning the color differences, just that the strand supports its little feet. 

If the ant were an Artist, it would infer the pattern and run back to the next and try to explain that pattern to other ants. 

We are ants trying to discern the pattern of our lives.  (yes, I know the answer is 42.) 

That underlying PATTERN is what Art reveals.  That pattern is what writers study.

A writer will go to the mall and people-watch, just as actors do.  Just sit and watch people juggle packages and kids and scramble from store to store -- think about "who" those people are and where they are inside one of those PATTERNS.

Finding a pattern in random dots is what artists do for a hobby.  For a living, artists SHOW YOU the pattern they see. 

The most commercial story-form today is the Novel.  It has developed over more than a century and diversified at various periods into a variety of genres. 

The commercial Novel is a very specific type of Work - it is a story with very specific shapes.  Academics like the word "trope" to describe such shapes.  Those who burn with a desire to shatter the art world as they see it often refer to a trope as a "formula." 

The worse opprobrium cast upon the most highly commercial fiction is the term "formulaic."

Once a formula or trope has become well enough known to a consuming market to be identified as "formulaic,"  that particular shape is on its way out of the commercial fiction arena. 

Since we live our everyday lives amidst a turbulent sea of unrelated, even random, dots of information, Events, and tasks, we love to relax with a nice, predictable STORY we can trust to deliver as expected.

But since we live amidst those random dots, and can't see what patterns Artists see  amidst the random, we just plain don't believe fiction that we can see "through" -- that we can see a pattern in, that we can see the formula behind.

So writers spend a lot of time disguising the bare bones behind their stories, the "plot."

Just as Hollywood producers want "the same but different" so also editors want "the same but different" because viewers/readers want "the same but different."

Fiction consumers want that predictable formula, but they don't want to be able to SEE it. 

If your reader can see the bones, the formula, the PLOT, the story is not plausible.  But if your reader can find no bones, no formula, no PLOT, the story is not plausible.

In other words, there has to BE a plot, and it must be something resembling the "plots" that subsume the everyday reality of the consumer's world, but your plot has to be as invisible as the plot of your reader's real life is.

How do you make a plot, a pattern you've striven to discern in reality for years and years, into something invisible underlying your story?

You cloak your Plot in the flesh of Theme.

Just as no two human beings look identical, but all have bones, no two stories look identical but they all have a plot.

The essence of all those plots is conflict.

All novel type stories are the story of a conflict that is resolved.

And the same is true of a series of novels (or a TV Series).  Here is a conflict.  Here's how it got resolved.  Here's the resolution. 

That's the bones, the plot, the part which, if it somehow sticks out of flesh that's too lean, will disappoint or disgust readers who need the mixed-mashup of random dots that they see in real life around them. 

So let's look at the three novel series we're studying.

In Part 9 we ended up with theme sketches:

Corine Solomon is in love with a guy whose Talent is "Luck."  That has a whole backstory having to do with his parentage, but the point is that Talent and Luck (co-incidence) drives the plot of all 5 of the Corine Solomon novels.

(Alien Series) Kitty-Kat has a Talent for organizing other Talents, for leading a group of talented warriors while Luck sweeps her through personal combat, chase scenes and armed combat.  She remembers what's worked before and uses it to good effect again.  But her real Talent is for asking Question -- yes, capital Q questions, such as Kirk's "What does God need a spaceship for?"  Those are the obvious questions nobody else ever thinks of because people rely on assumptions they haven't tested when trying to solve a problem.

Sten has a Talent for surviving.  He learns the Art of War, but it isn't inherent in him.  He finally grows up enough that all he wants is to stay out of combat situations.  But he's living a Destiny, so the harder he tries to avoid combat, the worse the combat gets.  His Talent doesn't help him get out of his Destiny, which he can't even see coming -- any more than you can see a tornado coming until it's too late.

Perhaps the overall theme of the Sten Series is that forging the path to your destiny must inevitably affect, deflect, or inflect the paths of others toward their destinies. 

--------end quote--------

The Corine Solomon novels by Ann Aguirre are action/romance with paranormal dimensions added.  They are essentially Romance, with a main character (Corine) who starts out striving for independence and loving being independent -- but galled by the boyfriend she is separated from.

The PLOT is basically, an Independent Woman perfectly satisfied with being independent, pursuant to her own code of Honor, helps those who help her.  In so doing, she rescues her boyfriend from (literally) beyond Death and marries him. 

They separated basically over his Luck -- terrible trouble would strike, followed by harrowing, heart-stopping adventure, narrow misses, and escape.  It was a life-pattern she couldn't stand and he couldn't stand inflicting on her.  She, too, has a paranormal talent - she can touch an object and read it's history.  She applies that Talent to earn a living in antiques.  But then she gets mixed up in (by "sheer co-incidence") Mexican gangland wars, and the harder she tries the worse it gets (by ever more improbable co-incidences).  Co-incidence, happenstance, and luck drive the problems into her path.  She solves those problems by repeated applications of "doing the right thing regardless of the odds" and (by co-incidence) Wins (temporarily.) 

Corine is a problem-solver by nature, and views each of the disasters that befalls her as a problem to be solved.  At the end of the final book,  Agave Kiss, she rescues her boyfriend/lover from beyond Death (he's a half-breed son of a god, so when he dies his father tries to make him into a working god).  This is an application of the plot-bones of mythical stories -- they always work in fiction.  And in the process she gives up her original Talent, so now she can't read objects.  He proposes in a romantic setting smacking of the opening sequences. 

In the final Corine Solomon novel, the author Ann Aguirre (on twitter  )  mentions that she didn't think her editor had confidence in her ability to bring the series to the Happily Ever After (HEA) ending required for the "trope" or formula, but here it is and it is an HEA.  Yes, indeed it is exactly that.  Corine Solomon got what she wanted (even needed) even though she didn't know in the beginning of the series that this was what she had to have. 

Because of the paranormal dimensions involved in the worldbuilding, the Corine Solomon Novels are a good example of how to use co-incidence in plotting and produce something other-worldly that resembles our everyday lives. 

The ALIEN SERIES by Gini Koch is a bit more than a Romance. 

The 7th Alien Series novel comes out this month, May 2013, and Gini says on twitter ( ) she has contracts through book 11 with plans for more beyond that.  So it's hard to sum up right now, but let's try.

It doesn't END with the marriage to an Alien, but goes on to challenge that marriage, beget a child, and change the world that child will grow up within (with the infant's Talents helping). 

In that, it resembles the Sten Series more closely than it does the Corine Solomon series.  The two series are about an existing "order of things" that is challenged by introduction of a New Element, with the resulting instability resolved by a Hero (Kitty Kat or Sten) who "does the right thing regardless" just as Corine Solomon does. 

The setting for the Alien Series is Earth plus one other Planetary System inhabited by Aliens, and a backdrop of a galaxy out there somewhere (filled with threats). 

The Plot of the Alien Series might be stated as "Woman who thinks she's an ordinary human who doesn't believe in co-incidence just by co-incidence walks into a battle between Aliens resident on Earth and Aliens inimical to the well-being of Earth, and completely by "accident" wins the battle and the undying love of one of the Aliens resident on Earth.  She keeps on doing the right thing, which includes fixing up the world to be hospitable for her child." 

Kitty Kat's Talent for asking the obscurely obvious Questions is a result of her disbelief in co-incidence.  She keeps trying to connect the dots of her life into a Pattern, absolutely sure there is a pattern there somewhere.  And she keeps finding those patterns where nobody else can find them.  She acts on the pattern she sees, and "co-incidence" and "luck" pursue her.

A theme can be discerned by connecting those bits of co-incidence.  Let's look at the Sten Series.  There are 8 novels extant, and on the fanfiction blog-post (once a year, on Empire Day) Allan Cole has posted a possible opening chapter for Book 9.

STEN starts with a young boy, child of indentured servants (slaves really) on a high-tech manufacturing Space Station.  He sees the life his parents live (and die in) and where the kids of other parents likewise indentured live, and every cell in his body says NO! 

Sten defects, fights the system, grows to maturity as a "rat in the walls" of the Station, fighting every step of the way.  Eventually, the station is invaded by representatives of The Eternal Emperor, and Sten "is rescued" because of his fighting prowess -- and sheerest, dumbest, purebred and insane LUCK.  Absolute co-incidence changes his life as he participates (using his hard-won skills as a wall-rat) in the combat between the Station owner and the Emperor's Representative (very similar to the kickoff Event of the Alien Novels). 

The writing rule is that you can use CO-INCIDENCE to kick off a plot, to start a story, -- happenstance and accident (i.e. Uranus transits) often change our life-direction so it's plausible that trouble comes via co-incidence, because that's generally how it seems to us in our "reality."

But from a writer's point of view, it isn't random dots.  Co-incidences and accidents "happen" because of some inherent, intrinsic, basic, unknown-to-ourselves, trait we hold within our innermost psyche.  It is our Soul ramming through into external Reality, that "creates a stirring in The Force" -- that moves the currents of Time And Space -- that somehow effects the random Events like a magnet attracting filings, and brings "things" into our lives that disrupt existing patterns.

Consider the axiom: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished. 

That is a pithy saying, an adage, a bit of Wisdom of the Ages (has a basis in Kabbalah, as the Light of Good attracts the klippot for a perfectly Good reason), and it's more than irony or pessimism. 

Somehow, the sum total of all our generations observing "life" has distilled this bit of wit from random Events.  No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.

There is a relationship between what you DO and what HAPPENS TO YOU, but it is not cause/effect.  There's no way to game the system, or bribe G-d. 

You could say (theme is a philosophy) that no bad deed goes unrewarded. 

There are tons of self-help books about Why Good Things Happen To Bad People, or vice-versa.

It's not "cause/effect" which is the basis of all Science, but it's not Random either. 

There is a pattern -- some call it "poetic justice."  What goes around comes around.  As you sow; so shall  you reap. 

There's a reason the ancients developed the idea of "The Music of the Spheres."  The universe we live in can be described by mathematics, and so can music.  Poetry and music thrum within us all, so when we see a plot "come full circle" as songs and poems do, finishing what was started on the same "note" -- we feel satisfied, vindicated, safe in our comprehension of our reality. 

Ancient Greek and Roman fiction is filled with tales of Destiny, Fate, mighty Heroes fighting with their gods (mostly losing in the end).  Those civilizations were based on "you can't win" but our civilization is based on David and Goliath, and "The Bigger They Are The Harder They Fall."  We champion the Little Guy, and the Little Guy wins -- that's poetic justice to us.

Sten is a Little Guy who at first gives his innocent loyalty to The Eternal Emperor, finally gets to meet the Emperor in person and see him as a rather ordinary seeming Being, smart but not infallible. 

In the typical Uranus transit, we assert ourselves, our most true-to-self core identity comes roaring out into the world with massive amounts of built up energy behind it.  (here's an index to posts on Astrology Just For Writers)

So Sten's desire for freedom comes exploding out of him when the oppressive Establishment that basically consumed his parents, is under attack by a larger, unseen and not-understood by him, authority.  Using all the skills and tools he's developed over years, he gets himself caught up in a CONFLICT between the Emperor and one of the Emperor's (apparently) Loyal Subjects -- between the Emperor and the corruption that the Emperor's governing style allows to suppurate. 

That corruption (the indentured servitude thing) has shaped Sten's personality, drive, ambition and view of reality, as well as his Values.  He has a lot to learn, but what he learned before his rescue is what eventually generates his ultimate response to the Emperor's behavior. 

Having been rescued, he willingly gives his loyalty to The Emperor (well, The Empire), and becomes a soldier, then a member of an Elite Service.  He climbs the ladder to high command and even to Ambassador speaking for the Emperor -- but by that time, it's a very changed Emperor. 

Sten grew up rejecting the oppressive regime of a slaver, and now discovers -- very slowly over the millennia, the Eternal Emperor has slowly been deteriorating.  The current reincarnation of the Emperor is not the man Sten first met -- this one is insane, a mad dictator worse than the slaver who killed Sten's parents.

This Empire sprawls over so many galaxies, is peopled by so many Beings, that the picture Sten must find amidst the random dots is very blurry.  Remember that ant crawling on the tapestry we mentioned above?  That's Sten -- trying to understand The Empire, and what has happened to The Eternal Emperor -- and why it's all gone bad.

Sten's path from wall-rat to Emperor's Nemesis appears, point by point, assignment by assignment, to be a Random Walk -- a path of co-incidence, chance, and luck.

And in so appearing, that path states the overall theme of the Sten Series.

What is that theme?  Well, I don't know and I doubt even the authors Chris Bunch and Allan Cole, actually know for sure.  I think though, that Allan Cole has a very good idea of what it is saying.

As I see Sten's Path -- it says that we all bear the seeds of our destruction within us.  We scatter those seeds and sometimes it takes so long for our seeds to germinate, grow, and bear fruit that comes hunting us that we don't recognize our destruction when it comes back at us.  But it comes from within.

That is not a theme unique to The Sten Series; rather it is a technique all great writers use to replicate in fiction the pattern of life we observe from our eyes, (as the ant on the tapestry.)

The deep subconscious conflicts within your main character generate the Plot Events outside that character, the Events that cause him Joy and Sorrow, Elation and Grief. 

The antagonist, the Nemesis, of a character is the reflection of the character's deepest unconscious.

Sten's unconscious was "programmed" because of his origin as a slave's child, to need to destroy Authority. 

He fought to free himself of oppression (mid-series he "retires" to an idyllic world he has earned enough to buy, and nearly goes crazy because there's no oppression to fight any more), and gave himself to a bigger, more elaborately disguised by random-dots oppressor, the Eternal Emperor.

All along the path, Sten fought to free others of oppression, to serve freedom, to make the Empire a better place, and so his skills (gained as a wall-rat) generated miraculous wins that catapulted him on a meteoric rise to the Emperor's good graces.

But the velocity of that rise (the sheer Uranus/Aquarius Power for Freedom), made him an Individual (Uranus) to the Emperor -- and that velocity itself could only be seen as a threat to the Emperor who had lost his own sense of Individuality, his own sense of uniqueness (Uranus). 

Uranus rules accidents.  And individuality.  And Aquarius -- The Age of Aquarius. 

And this is where the themes of the Corine Solomon novels, the Alien novels, and the Sten novels resonate harmoniously, different instruments in the same orchestra playing the same symphony.  Art. 

Corine Solomon is Fantasy, the Alien novels blend Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Sten is just Science Fiction.  Yet they're all made of the same thematic stuff.

We might term that stuff Co-incidence, or Luck, or Destiny. 

The heroic plot is crafted from the thematic substance of how the Individual projects the Self onto the substance of reality, crafts the world in which he lives.

The exterior World you build around your character to cradle them and display them (as a jeweler displays a diamond on black velvet) is molded from the subconscious of your character.

Whether that truly reflects how our real world works, how life works, or not, is irrelevant to the Art underlying story-craft.  It is how we SEE the lives people around us live.

We see people get their comeuppance -- oh, not right away, to be sure, but get it they do.

But we don't see what happens to ourselves as our own comeuppance.  At least, not the first few times it happens. 

Maturity might be defined as the ability to see how you deserve what happens to you, so that when something you don't deserve happens to you, you know for sure that you didn't deserve it.

In that clarity of knowing the difference between what he deserves and does not deserve, in his maturity, Sten decides he must take down the Eternal Emperor.  This Destiny has chosen him. 

And so Sten turns and stops running from the bald fact that the Emperor is now no different from the owner of the slave-factory space station where he grew up.  And Sten takes him down. 

The Sten Series is not a Romance with an inevitable and obvious Happily Ever After.  It's not about finding a Soul Mate -- it's about first finding the Freedom (Uranus) from tyranny (Saturn) that will allow Sten to be able to notice and identify his Soul Mate. 

The Corine Solomon Series, the Alien Series, and the Sten Series all have that one Plot element in common, Co-incidence that is NOT REALLY CO-INCIDENTAL.

The co-incidences and luck that beset the Main Character arises from the Main Character's own character, mostly subconscious. 

Their world arranges itself to challenge them to grow and mature into someone who can surmount one final challenge and achieve an objective. 

Originally a Hero was a half-god/half-human Being who could do things normal humans can't (Hercules), but who shared human foibles, faults and were subject to the whims of the gods.  They usually fought the gods and their destiny.

Today a Hero is a human who comes to do something he/she couldn't do before - who matures into a more powerful Being by meeting challenges to their weakest spots.

Very often they die during this process.  But sometimes they survive maimed, with new challenges to overcome. 

These 20 novels are stories of how a Hero matures.  The theme they share is that of co-incidence arising apparently in response to a Hero's actions/feelings/movement.  The plots are crafted from how the Hero creates co-incidences-to-order without having a clue that they're doing that.

These 20 novels are extremely hard to analyze for a distinction between Theme and Plot because the themes and the plots are fully integrated.  Only the author can know, and usually it's better that they don't know. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Memorial Day Sunday

Today, I simply want to add my word of thanks to all members of the military for their service, and especially to those who have taken the ultimate risk of life and limb for their country.

Thank you.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Wicked Words

This summary is not available. Please click here to view the post.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Theme-Plot Integration Part 9 - Use of Co-incidence in Plot

Here is a link to Part 8 of this Series and to the index to previous Theme-Plot Integration posts:

On Google+, I belong to a "Community" run by Deborah Teramis Christian for people who "write" (build) Games that people play in alternate universes, created worlds.

As you know from my long, involved discussions of worldbuilding, it is a topic that I think Romance Writers haven't approached with enough focused concentration until just recently.

As Science Fiction and Paranormal Romance blend, writers have had to pay more attention to the process of how science fiction "worlds" are created.

Until recently, only Historical Romance delved deep into the details -- such as the names of articles of clothing, the years different historical characters spent in the same city (where there might have been an illegitimate child conceived who might have affected events later).

Today, Romance writers are exploring the stars, meeting alien species, finding interesting relationships and might-have-beens.  And so the process of extrapolating our current world into the future has become of great interest to Romance writers.

I have three huge series -- huge in the size of the books, huge in the size of the sales, and huge in the importance of what they say -- to point you to as we launch into a contrast/compare and reverse-engineering exercise. 

But first, here's a beginner's work on Worldbuilding you should take a look at. 

Next we come to a 5 book series by Anne Aguirre, titled the Corine Solomon Novels:

Blue Diablo, Hell Fire, Shady Lady, Devil's Punch, and Agave Kiss are the titles.

Corine Solomon

I talked about Anne Aguirre here:

You might call the Corine Solomon novels "Urban Fantasy" -- but there is an excursion into another dimension (or two), many mysteries, and a gorgeous Love Triangle involving not-quite-human and Magically Gifted human.  The 5 novels form one long story told from a nice, tight single point of view, that of Corine Solomon.  And it is her story. 

I highly recommend all of Anne Aguirre's titles because she has a firm grip on how to structure this kind of novel, and an ability to portray the extremely "dark" without forcing you to accept a world view where there is absolutely no light. 

I particularly love Aguirre's Sirantha Jax Series.

Look over the Corine Solomon novels and if you've read them, view them as a whole, integrated "work."  Note how it is one character's "story."  Note the beginning, middle, and end "beats" of each novel -- then the overall structure of the set taken together.  Note the pacing.  Now particularly note how Aguirre replicates The Hero's Journey for Corine Solomon.  Then note how Corine has, by the end of the first quarter of each novel, four or five (sometimes 6) problems to solve.  Then note what Aguirre reveals about Corine's thinking about solving those problems. 

Note the inner dialogue Corine holds with herself about her problems.  See where she's focusing her attention, and how she defines the problems.  Each novel starts with a list of problems, and ends with those problems solved -- giving rise to more problems, true, but for the moment, a triumph.  Note how those problem-sets are constructed at the beginning to appear insoluble, and how each problem when solved brings in the tools to solve the next.

Note what Corine Solomon is thinking when she picks out a problem to tackle first.

It's always a decision made on the basis of what is RIGHT -- what's the right thing to do, or at the very least, what is the least-wrong choice.  What problem has to wait (and get worse) while this more urgent one is tackled?  And there is always the possibility that Corine will not survive to tackle the next problem on her list, but she doesn't dwell on that.  She throws all her personal resources into doing the right thing right now.  That is the essence of the Hero who goes on a Hero's Journey. 

Blake Snyder in SAVE THE CAT! has analyzed vast numbers of blockbuster films showing you how the Hero has to acquire about 6 problems as you lay pipe into the story.  Aguirre uses that structure, and it's one reason she can turn out so many novels so quickly, and all of them resonate with her readers.  She knows the structure, she knows the story she wants to tell, and she just plows on through arranging the details of her world to support that story. 

Now consider Gini Koch's Action-SF-Romance Urban Fantasy (sort of) series ALIEN.

ALIEN is much more precisely Romance, but has a lot of combat and battle scenes.  The problems that come at the Hero (Kitty-Kat) on the Hero's Journey to an HEA are more of the Enemy Aliens Attacking and Alien-Allies Need Help type.  The motivation that energizes Kitty-Kat most often is to attain and preserve a loving, peaceful and happy environment.  She takes the role of a warrior protecting her world. 

Remember, in my previous mentions of Gini's ALIEN SERIES I've pointed out that they need line-cutting.  That's a process of eliminating the words that don't say anything, don't advance the plot or explicate the theme.  Usually that's about 20% of the words in a semi-final draft.  Very often, at least for me when I do it on my own work, the manuscript doesn't get any shorter, but the end result is that all the words say something.  This is a stylistic thing.

You can see the style difference by comparing a chapter of one of the Aguirre novels with one of the Koch novels.  It's not that one is "superior" to the other, but that a professional writer should have mastery of all styles and techniques, and choose the one appropriate to the Art behind the work. 

The titles are Touched by an Alien, Alien Tango, Alien in the Family, Alien Proliferation, Alien Diplomacy, Alien vs Alien, and Alien in the House (May 2013). 

Alien Series

I talked a bit about Gini Koch's Alien Series in these posts:

Both these series focus on Romance disrupted by Action, where the Action is the obstacle to be overcome and the Relationship is the goal. 

Because this is our kind of stuff, we have a hard time seeing how it's put together so we can replicate the effect.  So to find out how to do this, we should look at something that does the same thing, but in another way -- that tells a different story from a different standpoint. 

So, 5 Corine Solomon novels, 7 ALIEN novels, and 8 STEN SERIES novels, 20 novels all together, taken as a whole, contrast/compare, and extract theme, plot, and discover how the two elements become integrated. 

First, on identifying THEME. 

I can't assert "the" theme of each of these 3 series is something specific.  I'm sure each of the writers has their own idea of what they were saying (or perhaps have no idea, just wanted to say it!  Marion Zimmer Bradley worked that way - not knowing the theme until 20 years later!).

I'm pretty sure you will find your own idea of the theme as you read these series.

My overall "take" on the Corine Solomon Novels, and the Alien Series Novels is that they are essentially Romance, and so the overall theme is Love Conquers All.  Each novel individually has a specific sub-set of that overall theme brought to the fore. 

The Sten Series is not Romance, and it's a collaboration between two exemplary writers with disparate backgrounds.  The 8 novels have one Hero, and he is definitely on a Hero's Journey.  But the series taken as a whole has a much bigger theme worked out on a much larger canvass that spreads over several galaxies. 

So the Sten Series has several points of view, each carefully related to Sten's point of view.  When we visit the events other characters are involved in, we see Sten's life from outside.  We sometimes see Sten being moved about on the chessboard of inter-galactic politics.  We find out what problems other characters face - only to understand that Sten himself hasn't defined the problem he faces in a complete way. 

While the overall theme of Corine Solomon and Alien Series novels is Happily Ever After, with the caveat that such an idealic life comes only at great price, and after stringent testing of the moral fiber of the Hero, the Sten Series might be said to have the overall theme of All Is Not As It Seems. 

It's very hard to separate these 3 series though.  Sten has a Happily Ever After thread, and the other two are definitely structured on the "Great Reveal" - the "All Is Not As It Seems" theme.

What a reader sees in each of these series depends more on the reader than on the material because these 20 novels are Art. 

While Corinne Solomon and Kitty-Kat are living their own lives, Sten is living a Destiny. 

Sten's Destiny is not at all what it seems -- and with each novel, Sten progresses to what seems to be a New Destiny earned at great price.  But all he thinks he's doing is what you and I do everyday, just survive another day, survive another threat, beat off the Bad Guys, get out of a tight spot, finesse and clever yourself into a better position. 

Sten set out to survive and mind his own business.  But he got "rescued" and cast in the role of Warrior because he has a talent for surviving and minding his own business.

But what is a Talent?  That's a profound question we've discussed previously:

Maybe writing isn't a Talent, but we often write about characters who have a Talent. 

Corine Solomon is in love with a guy whose Talent is "Luck."  That has a whole backstory having to do with his parentage, but the point is that Talent and Luck (co-incidence) drives the plot of all 5 of the Corine Solomon novels. 

Kitty-Kat has a Talent for organizing other Talents, for leading a group of talented warriors while Luck sweeps her through personal combat, chase scenes and armed combat.  She remembers what's worked before and uses it to good effect again.  But her real Talent is for asking Question -- yes, capital Q questions, such as Kirk's "What does God need a spaceship for?"  Those are the obvious questions nobody else ever thinks of because people rely on assumptions they haven't tested when trying to solve a problem. 

Sten has a Talent for surviving.  He learns the Art of War, but it isn't inherent in him.  He finally grows up enough that all he wants is to stay out of combat situations.  But he's living a Destiny, so the harder he tries to avoid combat, the worse the combat gets.  His Talent doesn't help him get out of his Destiny, which he can't even see coming -- any more than you can see a tornado coming until it's too late. 

Perhaps the overall theme of the Sten Series is that forging the path to your destiny must inevitably affect, deflect, or inflect the paths of others toward their destinies. 

I classify all three series as Art. 

I've held forth here on the nature of Art and how a writer uses that essential nature here:

When you start to talk about creating Art about Destiny, you are dipping into the realm of the Supernatural, the Paranormal, the Divine, the Magical, -- or God. 

Corine Solomon deals head-on with Hell, gods, demons, angels -- and what happens when the categories get confused.  She has to sort out Good from Evil, and taken her personal choice, then stick to that choice. 

Kitty-Kat tries to ignore the whole issue of Divine Intervention, of a world Created by God.  She pretty much succeeds, as she discovers more and more about how things are just not what they seem.  She gets used to being shocked when a new aspect of Reality is revealed.  But she avoids the issue of God. 

Sten would fall down laughing or kick you out an airlock if you started prattling on about a Benevolent God.  His life provides no evidence for such an interpretation of Reality.  In other words, his life exists in the kind of world you and I live in -- where there is no evidence supporting any theory of Divine Creation. 

And yet, our whole world can be viewed -- taken as a whole -- as a Work of Art. 

Here's a little lesson from the Bible about the artisans chosen by God to create the Tent in which God revealed himself to the High Priests, the Mishkan.  The blueprint for that tent was given to Moses at Mount Sinai -- you may have seen the recent History Channel series, "The Bible" and noted the extraordinary ratings it pulled. 

By all accounts, the Tent these artisans built was a spectacular Work of Art.  I can envision it as a minature replica of the entire World that God Built.  The blueprint and the people chosen to execute that blueprint very closely resembles the process of writing a novel. 




In describing the people qualified to construct the Sanctuary and its instruments, the Torah repeatedly calls them "wise-in-heart" in referring to their skill. The craftsmanship these artisans possessed was more than technical, their wisdom was a special sort -- that of the heart.

Some people are brilliant intellectually, their gifted minds master sciences, their logic and reasoning are unimpeachable. Despite these mind-gifts they may be cold, unsympathetic, unmoved by suffering. Others are kindlier, charitable, more emotional by nature, not particularly given to analysis and profound understanding. They may also be overindulgent, gullible, suspicious of or impatient with reasoning. While each sort has qualities, in extremes, or rather without tempering the initial and dominant characteristic, their deficiencies are grave.

The ideal is the wise-in-heart, proper balance between emotion and thought, feeling and reason. The qualities of learning and study, intellectual vigor, the scholar ideal, have always been glorified by our people. No matter how sincere the heart's emotions, they must be channeled, harnessed, and used. Torah inspires the heart in its search. Without Torah the most sublime emotion may degenerate into bathos or sentimental banality.

Similarly, exalted as the intellect may be, it cannot exclusively express the fullness of man. Emotional balance gives warmth and human substance to the mind's achievements. In Jewish terms it means that the true scholar, the disciple of Torah, is endowed with the emotions of love and awe of the Creator, sympathy for the lowly, affection for mankind. Such a person, the wise-in-heart, is qualified to create a Sanctuary for G-dliness wherever he goes.

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

Now think about Destiny, Fate, and the Happily Ever After.  Think about THEME and the world you are building for your characters, choosing and inspiring your artisans.

Think about the writing rule that the author must not stand up on the page, blow a whistle to get attention, and start shouting at the reader about all the wonderful things in the world that this story is not about. 

Reading a book is an intellectual exercise of emotional sensitivity.  The closer the balance between emotion and intellect in the novel, the greater the reader's enjoyment. 

The THEME is the intellectual part -- the PLOT is the emotional part.  The PLOT shows the THEME -- the emotions reveal the knowledge, the lesson to be learned. 

Think about THEME and we'll discuss Co-incident in Plot. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Food, glorious food.....

I asked on Facebook today what on earth (or not) I ought to blog about today, since it is my day to blog.

Suggestions were limited but interesting, from the new "Earth-like" planet which is surprisingly close and if only it were on the far side of the sun might be compared to Antichthon to Vulcan-types who only want sex every seventh year ... which might try the patience of a human lover... to sexual frustration in general, particularly for a vampire mated with an exoskeletal type.

I think that I will talk about food instead.

Please watch this and apply your warped and twisted writerly minds.

I wondered if there were a literary genre called gastropunk. As far as I can tell, there isn't, but someone has coined the name so.... I am not sure what a science-fiction/speculative fiction niche would be called that focused on food-related conspiracy theories, or food-related mutations. 

Or, indeed, on the rise of a Vegan class of latter day superhumans, at least as smart and sexy as our great, great, utterly great grandparents, who rebelled against the behemoths of modern day food stamp fare; mandatory, state-regulated school food fare; coupon-subsidize fare; work cafeteria fare; Genetically Modified fare.... etc etc and grew their own fresh, organic produce on the large and grassy lots of their local churches, encouraged by a young, unpopular (he has to be unpopular for plot reasons, otherwise his parking lots would be full and there would be no room for gardens and no need to feed his sheep to lure them to evening services) and rather hip minister (or pastor) and some die-hard elders.

Anyway, please watch Jamie Oliver's shocking and entertaining speech, spread the word, and steam some real, fresh vegetables for dinner once a week. Or more often.

All the best,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Octopus Intelligence

An article that illustrates why the octopus would make a great model for an intelligent nonhumanoid alien:

The Mind of the Octopus

Octopuses in captivity appear to recognize individual human beings. They are good at solving puzzles, such as getting into closed containers, and learn quickly. They perform playful activities and show evidence of boredom if not given a challenging environment. Their colors change to express emotion.

This article included lots of information about octopuses that was new to me. For instance, they have neurons in their arms. A freshly detached tentacle will even carry out purposeful movements as if it has a mind of its own. These creatures taste as well as feel with their suckers and effectively “see” with their skin.

Unfortunately, octopuses have one disadvantage as models for intelligent extraterrestrials: They die immediately after reproducing. Of course, your ET cephalopods don’t have to meet that fate. On the other hand, think of the plot-driving conflicts that could arise if an intelligent creature had to choose between mating and living out a full lifespan.

The article mentions that octopus intelligence and ours must have evolved completely independently from each other. In that respect they’re like aliens living on our own world but in an environment (the ocean) where our kind of life can’t survive without protective gear—like outer space or a non-Earthlike planet.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Theme-Plot Integration Part 8 - Use of Co-incidence in Plotting

The posts with "Integration" of two skills in the title are "advanced" discussions.

Here's the index to the previous 7 parts in this series.

Now we'll tackle the entire STEN SERIES by Chris Bunch and Allan Cole.  It is not Romance, so we can be more objective about the story and how it's constructed. 

To do the kind of study I intend to show you how to do with a Romance genre novel would be impossible.  You'd get too caught up in the particular dimensions that we resonate to and not be able to discern the structural bones behind those dimensions. 

For a while now, I've been searching for an example I could use to illustrate the techniques that create widely selling, big hits, that are not shallow.  You see the kind of book I'm talking about in Regency Romance where an entire world of technology and psychology cradles a story which is deceptively simple on the surface, unutterably profound within. 

But readers who dislike Romance don't see the profound depths.

There's something of the same effect in action-based Science Fiction.  Readers who dislike "science" often don't see the profound depths in an action galactic-war novel. 

But sometimes it is those invisible depths that produce the gigantic, explosive, (bewildering to the publisher) sales track record of a series. 

And oddly enough there are some techniques that power action/military Science Fiction sales that can easily be applied to Romance, but seldom have been, or where you have found it, it isn't done Blockbuster Style.

I love action/romance genre novels - particularly space-military-romance -- double-particularly with a human/alien romance.  When the theme and plot are integrated using the techniques that drive the Sten Series, those mixed-genre Romances sizzle! 

When you add sizzle to profound, you will get that explosive sales pattern that you see at the top of the Romance Genre lists. 

Sten, of the Sten Series, is a sizzling hot hero who can't settle into a Relationship -- well, read all 8 novels for how that ends up. 

I think you'll find the ending of the series a springboard into a human/alien romance of your own -- completely different but the same.  (Isn't that what Hollywood is famous for demanding "the same but different?"  Well we're going to study how to do that by examining what a writing team that DID THAT consistently to make a living in Hollywood, wrote in their novels.)

I've talked about Allan Cole in previous posts as someone with a career worth studying if you plan to be a successful writer in today's swiftly changing world.

We're going to examine how he and Chris Bunch achieved what they did with the STEN SERIES. 

The point here is that the The Sten Seriesis a genuine "series" (with a masterplan behind it like Babylon 5) -- a single story in 8 volumes.  Click the title to see my reviews on Amazon, on Kindle versions. 

It is not romance genre.  It's action, military SF.  We're going to reverse engineer it and apply what we learn to ROMANCE GENRE.

Remember, the point behind all these posts dating back to 2007 is to figure out why Romance genre is not held in the high esteem we think it should be, and how to change that.  Sheer sales volume won't get us that kind of respect.  But sales volume is a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for garnering that respect. 

Sales volume achieved in spite of, rather than because of, professional promotional support does gain the kind of attention that can lead to the respect we're talking about. 

THE STEN SERIES is a major clue.  Read this from Allan Cole, co-author of STEN.  Follow the link in this email letter, and read about how the series was originated and sold.

-------quote from email from Allan Cole -----------
The tale of how Sten came into being has to be one of the weirdest stories in writerly history. I told the story in one of the early Hollywood MisAdventures: "Sten - The Fast Turnaround Caper." And it goes into some detail. Here's the link: My guess is that it'll have you on the floor. >g<

As for the publisher's sales efforts - they were sorely lacking. The books basically sold themselves. And sold so well in fact that our agent (Russ Galen) got well over six figures for each of the last two books. I don't think Del Rey ever realized what they had until the series was complete. This worked to our advantage. We had no NY literary rep at the start. After Wolf Worlds came out, Russ Galen - a young agent at Scott Meredith, then - called us and asked if he could represent us. Then he made Del Rey contract for the books one by one, upping the ante each time.

Around about Fleet Of The Damned, he sweetened our kitty by forcing them to give back the foreign rights, which they never really attempted to sell. Then the foreign sales took off like crazy. We kept telling the editors (Owen Locke and Shelly Shapiro) about how well the books were doing overseas - and all the mail we were getting from readers. (snail mail at first, then Compuserve), but they didn't pay much attention. In the Nineties, Del Rey let the books go out of print one by one. Meanwhile, foreign sales were soaring. We were making way more money abroad than at home - and also getting more respect. (In the late Nineties, my foreign editors flew Kathryn and I to Europe for a six-week Continental book tour... London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, Munich, Geneva and Moscow... The crowds at the Moscow book-signing alone went around the block.)

Finally, a year or so after Chris died I talked to his widow, Karen, who agreed to let me see if I could get the U.S. rights back. Thanks to Shelly Shapiro, who had by then become a good friend, the deed was done with little effort. Wildside did the U.S. paperback and e-books. Books In Motion bought the audio rights. Immediately, the British sat up and took notice. Called my foreign agent (Danny Baror) and grabbed the UK rights. The other foreign publishers became newly enthused and there has been a flurry of new contracts, new editions and new readers.

I'm hoping that there is going to be a major Sten revival.

One of these days I'll finally get Sten on film. It's not a matter of "if," but "when."

So, as Laurel might tell Hardy, That's my story - and Sten's - and I'm stuck in it.


Allan Cole
Allan's Bookstore:
Allan's E-Books:
Allan's Facebook Page:
My Hollywood MisAdventures:
Tales Of The Blue Meanie:
------------End Quote---------

We'll pick this topic up again very soon, so go look over the Sten Series, especially my reviews on Amazon Kindle.

Read the books with particular attention to the PLOT aspects, and the use of co-incidence in shaping Sten's military career all the way up to admiral.  Then read VORTEX (Sten #7) with particular attention to the science of tornadoes. 

In fact, from Book 1, read with attention to the behavior of tornadoes.  You'll find by Book 7 that the THEME aspect lies within the concept of tornado. 

Ask yourself what is the Romance genre equivalent of a Tornado?  When you find the TORNADO within the structure of the whole STEN SERIES, you'll have the answer to that question, and you'll know what you can do to elevate the reputation of Romance. 

Also as I read the STEN novels on Kindle (all but one, which I got in audiobook) I used the SHARE feature to share significant quotes.  If you "follow" me on Kindle, you can see the excerpts I selected to "share" as I was thinking of doing this series of posts. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Freeloading.... Chris Ruen and David Byrne

I shall be interviewing Chris Ruen on my radio show on May 21st ( but in the meantime, this film of Chris talking with David Byrne (of Talking Heads) about copyright infringement is both entertaining and enlightening.

I hope that Chairman Goodlatte and the good persons currently deciding whether copyright laws protect creators and artists are paying attention. Please take the time to go to this site  to locate contact information by your own zip code for your representatives in Congress, then write to them about the need for greater protections for copyright owners in the internet age.

If the embed code does not work, here is the link

One of the most striking anecdotes was when Chris Ruen explained how, as a barrista in a coffee shop where musicians congregated, he noticed that they had less money than he did, and he started to question his ideas about ripping off musicians.

By the way, here are some articles about Copyright.

Best wishes,

Rowena Cherry

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Narnia and Middle Earth: A Clash of Writing Styles

An article in the newest issue of MYTHLORE (the journal of the Mythopoeic Society) discusses why J. R. R. Tolkien disliked C. S. Lewis’s Narnia series. The best-known reason was that Tolkien disapproved of mixing characters and creatures from several different mythologies in the same story, e.g., Father Christmas, fauns, and dwarfs. Another reason was Tolkien’s professed dislike of allegory (which the article questions, because he did write some allegorical fiction himself, such as “Leaf by Niggle”), and he thought the Christian message in the Narnia books was too obvious.

However, Josh B. Long, the author of this article, highlights a more fundamental motive for Tolkien’s negative reaction to THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE and its sequels: Long quotes Lewis’s biographer, George Sayer, as saying Tolkien felt those novels were “written superficially and far too quickly.” Tolkien also disapproved of the lack of a coherent background for the Narnian universe, so different from the depth and detail of Tolkien’s own imaginary world. The fundamental objection, though, seems to have been what Long summarizes as, “Tolkien was opposed to Lewis’s compositional carelessness, superficiality, and haste.” As friends and colleagues critiquing each other’s works in progress, Tolkien disapproved of Lewis’s speed and “fluency,” while Lewis showed exasperation with Tolkien’s extremely meticulous slowness of composition. As Long puts it, “Tolkien needed someone hammering him to be productive, while Lewis needed someone to remind him to slow down and pay attention to the details.”

Now I get it. Tolkien had an aversion to Lewis’s approach to writing fiction because Tolkien was a plotter and Lewis was a pantser! Consider the diametrically different ways they created their worlds: Tolkien, as a professor of ancient languages and literatures, began by inventing his Elvish languages as a leisure-time hobby. Then he constructed a world in which those languages could be spoken. Over many years, he created the myths and legends of this world as the SILMARILLION (not published until after his death). Only later did he write THE HOBBIT, retcon its events to fit into his subcreated world, and follow up with THE LORD OF THE RINGS. For Lewis, on the other hand, every work of fiction began with “pictures.” He seems to have been a very visual thinker. For example, THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE developed from an image of a faun walking through a snowy wood with packages and an umbrella. He described his plotting process as something like “birdwatching.” Mental images would come to him spontaneously, and after a while several of them would feel as if they belonged to the same story. Only after he had accumulated a cluster of such “pictures” would he start the conscious work of constructing sequences of events to link them all together.

As a side effect of this plotting technique, the Narnia series does show inconsistencies among the various novels. Long mentions that “Lewis had planned to revise The Chronicles of Narnia to make them more consistent, but unfortunately passed away before he could do so.” I’m reminded of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover novels, which at first she wrote as one-shot books that she never intended as part of a series, with the result that geography shifts from book to book. She eventually rewrote the earliest novel, SWORD OF ALDONES, as SHARRA'S EXILE to make its events fit better into the established universe.

Contrary to Bradley’s and Jacqueline’s world-building advice not to commit yourself to any “facts” you don’t need to establish for the current story, because you might end up getting locked into something you'll want to change for a later book, Tolkien did exactly that. He built the whole world and its history before writing THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS. This method at least tends to avoid inconsistencies. Tolkien, however, did revise THE HOBBIT in later editions because it wasn’t originally envisioned as part of the Middle Earth universe. I admire parts of both Lewis’s and Tolkien’s methods. I don’t see anything wrong with fast, “fluent” writing; I envy that gift. But I also delight in a deeply detailed, all-encompassing fictional universe.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Index to Theme-Plot Integration

Every once in a while I give you a chance to catch up by posting a list of previous posts in related series -- sometimes with parts that are scattered about under different topics.

You may be able to find almost all my posts on this blog by searching for the keyword Tuesday.  I post here on Tuesdays, and try to remember to label each post with Tuesday. 

So here is an index post with links to some of the individual concepts behind Theme and Plot, how to identify them, how to find commercial ones (ones you can base sell-able novels on), and how to create such a well integrated novel of your own.  There are a lot of links in this post :

And here are the parts of this series on integrating THEME and PLOT:

Never Let A Good Emergency Go To Waste

Fallacy as Theme

Fallacy as Analysis

Fallacies and Endorphins

The Great Steam Punk Example

The Fallacy of Safety

The Fallacy of Trust

The Use of Co-incidence

The Use of Co-incidence in Plot

The Use of Co-incidence in Plot continued

The Use of Cliche in Plot

Tom Clancy Action-Romance Formula

Superman Man of Steel Action-Romance

Ruling a Community

Protecting a Community

Affairs of State

Theme-Plot Integration Part 17 - Crafting An Ending

Part 18 Stating Your Theme

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Blood, glorious blood (Tick Season is Upon Us)

Have you ever had sexual contact with anyone who was born in, or lived in Africa?
If so, you probably cannot give blood in America.

In the past three years have you been outside the United States?
Maybe you cannot give blood.

Notice the racial profiling here:
"To increase protection of the U.S. blood supply, we continue to recommend that you defer blood and plasma donors who have traveled or resided in the U.K. for a cumulative period of three or more months from the beginning of 1980 through the end of 1996."

Why is this? Because, as of March 2010, 216 people (ever) have been diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, 169 of whom lived in the U.K.

There is no exemption for British vegetarians. That interests me.

Conversely, when it comes to a much more quickly devastating blood-borne illness known as "Texas cattle fever" and also as "Nantucket fever", there are no blanket restrictions on blood donating based on people who have lived in or visited Texas or Massachussetts. 

The questionnaire merely asks "Have you ever had babesiosis?"
I cannot help wondering how many would-be blood donors know what babesiosis is, let alone whether or not they have ever had it. Also, what if they know they have had piroplasmosis, but the questionnaire does not ask about piroplasmosis?

According to a 2011 article in DISCOVERY, over the last 30 years, blood transfusions caused at least 159 cases of babesiosis, twenty-eight of whom died soon after their blood transfusions.

Also, interestingly "Currently, no licensed tests for screening U.S. blood donors for evidence of Babesia infection are available. Persons who test positive for Babesia infection should be advised to refrain indefinitely from donating blood."

You get babesiosis from deer ticks. The worst part of the year for being attacked by ticks and also by mosquitoes is May, June, July. Break out the repellant.

For my Vampire-Romance writing colleagues....  Does DEET repel your vampires? 

Here's a scan of the Blood Donor History Questionnaire. It seems like rich source material for Vamp Writers. What do you think? Alas, though, there is no question pertaining to vampirism or cannibalism.

Interesting questions!

Babesia is a protozoan parasite of which Babesia microti and Babesia divergens are the two species most frequently found to infect humans. Infections from other species of Babesia have been documented in humans, but are not regularly seen. Babesiosis is also known as piroplasmosis. Due to historical misclassifications, this protozoan was labeled with many names that are no longer used. Common names of the disease include Texas cattle fever, redwater fever, tick fever, and Nantucket fever.

The seven states with well-established foci of zoonotic transmission (Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin) are referred to as Babesia microti–endemic states

All the best,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Canine Empathy

Research has confirmed what many dog owners probably already know, that dogs react sympathetically when human beings show distress:

Dogs Feel Your Pain

The experiment confirmed that the dogs weren’t just reacting to strange behavior, such as tuneless humming. When a person pretended to cry, whether somebody the animal was familiar with or not, the typical dog would offer comforting gestures such as nuzzling and licking. Because we have bred dogs over many generations to pay attention to human behavioral signals, they have become attuned to our emotions. Doubtless the fact that they're pack animals—social creatures like ourselves—helped in their development of this gift.

Do cats (more solitary creatures) ever react to human sadness? I can’t remember any of our cats doing so. Does that mean intelligent aliens who’ve evolved from non-gregarious species would feel somehow "wrong" to us because they're deficient in empathy? Conversely, Jacqueline wrote a novel under a pseudonym, HERO, about a solitary alien species whose members, when they come into contact with Terrans, regard our willingness to risk ourselves for the good of others as a symptom of madness.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt