Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy (U.S.) Thanksgiving!

As usual, we’ll be attending Darkover Grand Council north of Baltimore on Thanksgiving weekend. Sadly, the long-time organizer and chair died this year, so this will be the last official DarkoverCon. The committee plans to continue it next year under a new name, ChessieCon. This year, though, one of the con’s biggest attractions, the folk band Clam Chowder, will present its farewell concert. We’ll miss them a lot.

One of the panels I’m scheduled for discusses “Werewolves vs. Vampires.” Why do so many books and movies show werewolves and vampires as hereditary enemies? I’ve seen a few in which the werewolf serves as the vampire’s ally or henchman, which seems to me just as reasonable, but that relationship doesn't appear so often. Shouldn’t it be natural for the two “species” to cooperate? The vampire drinks blood and doesn’t necessarily have to kill every time she feeds. After she finishes with a victim (unless she’s a “good” vampire who won’t let her donors be harmed), the werewolf can eat the flesh (unless he’s an ethical lycanthrope who hunts only animals, in which case he’d have even less reason for rivalry with vampires).

Friends or foes, however, the class hierarchy never seems to change. In monster society, vampires tend to be portrayed as aristocrats, and werewolves, in keeping with their beast nature, as low-class brutes. If anybody has ideas to offer about vampires vs. werewolves, I’d love to read them.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Reviews 2 by Jacqueline Lichtenberg - Page-turners To Study

Reviews 2 by Jacqueline Lichtenberg
Page-turners To Study

Reviews 1 (not really the first reviews I've done on this blog!) is here:

This series of "Reviews" is about books you can study and learn from.

Here are three innocent looking books, but they are anything but innocent.

Each is a 2013 entry in a long running series of novels guilty of being page-turners.  Each one is a complete novel in and of itself, a whole story.  Each one is an "episode" in a longer story arc -- as we've been studying episodic structure and the use of "Interesting" to achieve that structure.  Each one is a page-turner.  Each of these authors has hit the rhythm the current publishing establishment needs to make a profit.

Gini Koch's ALIEN series is Fantasy Romance with the structure of military science fiction -- that good, old fashioned, traditional military-action-formula stuff that has sold well for maybe more than a hundred years.  But Gini is doing it as Romance!

Judging by the vigorous market for very simple shoot-from-the-hip video games, COMBAT based stories are still popular.  Every generation becomes enamored of "winning" in a combat situation -- just being faster, stronger, more skilled than the opposition is every teen's goal in life (for a while, at least).

So there's always a market for stories about vanquishing foes by blasting them to bits.

The same is true of Romance genre.  There's always a market for stories about "dazzlers" (a term Gini Koch uses in her ALIEN Series to good advantage) when you (the writer) can bring the reader into the character of a dazzler whose power over men is devastating. Making the reader feel what it's like to have such power over others is the same as making the reader feel what it's like to have the power to blow adversaries to bits.

Here is the Gini Koch page on Amazon, though I rather imagine readers of this blog have not missed a single one of the Alien novels:

Touched By An Alien, Alien Tango, Alien In The Family, Alien Proliferation, Alien Diplomacy, Alien vs. Alien, Alien In The House and in December 2013, Alien Research are the ALIEN SERIES titles.

This is the series that connects these other two series of Military Science Fiction/Fantasy. 

Note, that I have told Gini Koch several times that the ALIEN novels need to be line-edited to soak about 20% of the words out -- a couple of reviewers have noted that, though often readers just don't know WHY they have a hard time "following" a story or remembering the huge list of characters as they pop up, then vanish from the pages.

That difficulty is often from a lack of vigorous line editing rather than an innate structural problem. 

The story Koch is telling in the ALIEN series is complex, far-flung, passion-driven (what will a heroic type person do for the sake of maintaining a love-life?), and crazy-funny all at the same time. 

What constitutes "Interesting?"

It is possible to review the ALIEN novels in a dozen different contexts, illustrating many story-telling techniques that are all highly marketable (other than being just plain fun to read) -- but today we are continuing the discussion launched over the last couple of weeks involving the subject of what, exactly, constitutes "interesting?"

Here is the index of previous posts relevant to this discussion of writing a Page-turner:

In Part 3 of this series on story-springboards,

...we started sketching out the issues and topics relevant to constructing an Episodic Plot, one of which is a "springboard" with enough potential energy to hurl the story and plot all the way to The End.

In Part 4 we analyzed "boring" - where it comes from and how it happens.

Now we're looking at what makes a reader turn the page -- want to know "what happens next" -- or be eager to pick up a book they had to put aside because it's long, like the ALIEN SERIES novels are.

What makes a reader buy a sequel?

Well, each reader is different, and a given reader changes taste over the years.  But there is a one-word answer from the point of view of a writer -- "suspense." 

Soap Opera structure -- the episodic structure is best exemplified by the old-fashioned soaps - is generally considered to work well with suspense because the 'characters are interesting' -- watching a Soap even after missing a few episodes is a "visit with old friends." 

The suspense element can be "what will this old friend do about this new problem?" or it can be just, "what's going on with this old friend now?"  Either way, it's "what happens next to my old friend?" 

Life, in general, is all about "what happens next." 

There are two main categories of "happens next."
A) the consequences of what was done before (Saturn)
B) a NEW Event that blindsides the characters and changes everything (Uranus).

Remember, in the vocabulary we've adopted for this blog, "Plot" is the series of Events; "Story" is the meaning of those Events to the characters. 

You will find these two structural elements referred to by various terms elsewhere, but every professional writer knows the structural function of these two elements and - consciously or unconsciously - knows how to weld them together using Theme as the glue. It doesn't matter what you call them.  You just have to know how to work with them. 

Genres are distinguished to some extent by which element dominates - which element has the most words devoted to it, STORY or PLOT.

In the "Action" genres (Fantasy or Science Fiction, Men's action, war stories), Plot is supposed to dominate.

In Romance, Story dominates.

Thus in Romance genre, many long paragraphs between lines of dialogue are there to detail the emotional motivations slowly developing into the next utterance.

In Action genres, many long paragraphs are between lines of dialogue to detail the moves and counter-moves, the narrative of what the characters did to deliver which blows to the opponent.

In Romance, the plot is carried on the story.

In Action, the story is carried on the plot.

When Story and Plot are about equally balanced, each explicating the same Theme, each progressing in a smooth dance rhythm (what editors call "pacing."), you get the broadest audience appeal.  Half the audience will be frustrated there isn't more story, the other half will be frustrated there isn't more plot, and neither half will be so frustrated they stop reading. 

The best way to learn to balance Story and Plot in your writing is to practice doing one without the other -- like "Dancing With The Stars" it does take practice.

But you won't get it just exactly right on first or sometimes third draft.  It takes editing, right down to the minute the novel goes to press, to get the balance correct for the intended audience.

Gini Koch has nailed the "pacing" of the overall novel -- the beginning is in the right place in Plot and Story, the Plot and Story start of on the correct foot, mirroring each other like dance partners on Dancing With the Stars, the quarter point turn is right where it should be, the middle is smack in the middle, the 3/4 turn into the final action is on the nose, and the ending rises to a massive climax spectacle, then glides to rest -- with a few loose ends trailing to suggest the sequel as an episodic series should.

Take any one of the ALIEN novels and find the page numbers for those turning points, write down what happens at those points, read the whole novel, then graph plot and story and see what you find.

So if you wanted to improve the reader experience for the ALIEN novels, you would have to line and word-cut, trim, rephrase sentences, condense -- painstaking, and time-consuming (thus expensive) work.  And you'd have to cut enough so that there was room to add reminders about "who" each of the characters is when they pop up again.

Would it be worth it?  Would you lose some of the humorous banter that fans love about Koch's writing?  Yes, you would lose some readers that way -- would you gain more?  I doubt it. 

Now look at the two other long-running series in the photo above, The Destroyermen by Taylor Anderson and The Lost Stars by Jack Campbell.

These are essentially Combat Strategy Novels -- more about maneuvering fleets, resources, playing politics and diplomacy as forms of combat, deploying fire-power of every sort from explosions to one-upsmanship surprises. 

The Lost Stars is a spinoff series from Jack Campbell's Lost Fleet series - same universe, but subordinate characters become the main characters.

The Destroyermen is more of a Fantasy type Science Fiction series.  Some World War II Navy ships get sucked into an alternate universe Earth where evolution took some different turns, producing aliens of various sorts on various continents.  These Destroyer crew people from our world are Americans of the "Can Do" generation who land in the midst of a very confusing multi-cultural world-war situation -- and basically change that world by introducing technology and tactics. 

STORM SURGE is the 8th book in a series.  It's hardcover from RoC, and has gained great praise for a reason.  It's a page turner! 

But like Gini Koch's series, the cast of characters is vast and hard to remember. 

Unlike Gini's series, though, DESTROYERMEN has resorted to following different characters into different theaters of conflict -- and only by reading very fast do you see the overall tactical situation.  The strategies though are lost in a shimmering fog.

There is, however, one driving objective -- each set of characters has the objective of getting out of this shooting war alive. 

They do not spend any paragraphs thinking or dreaming about the perfect life they want to create on this strange Earth.  They form war-buddy relationships, but don't get a lot deeper than that.  To them, the most important thing in life is not the fulfillment of a deeply satisfying Relationship with the Soul Mate who completes them.  The most important thing in life is LIFE -- i.e. staying alive long enough to take the next breath.

The second most important thing in life to these lost Americans (and there are some Japanese warship survivors who allied with the "other side" on this alter-Earth), is doing "the right thing."  Even when living like "drunken sailors" they strive for a solid moral footing.  They have Honor, and won't sell that just to survive.

The oddly non-1940's element is that these Americans unquestioningly accept the non-human allies with all their cultural quirks.  There's little of the prejudices that shaped those decades in the USA. 

So, yes, it's Fantasy, but with all the elements of Science Fiction.  These Americans offhandedly re-engineer, re-invent, and originate technology -- and while they're at it, they teach non-humans how to create  technological innovations.  By Book 8, Storm Surge, the non-humans are the primary source of innovations -- new aircraft, new torpedoes, new ways to create and deliver explosions, and of communicating over long distances.  Meanwhile, the majority non-humans adopt 1940's slang English. 

Along the way, you learn enough about the characters (human and not) to be rooting for these folks and against those folks -- you want to know "what happens next" because the action never pauses, even during the tense waits while forces and fleets reposition.

To find the secrets of the "page turner" of episodic structure, check the Events (plot developments) at the beginning, quarter, middle, 3/4 and end points in each volume.  Each volume has a complete story, but leaves over some "loose ends," for the next part of the story.  You can learn more about page-turner structure from books you do not like than you can from books you do like because, without the glamor of an enchanting novel to suck you in, you can see through the surface to the mechanism below. 

If Taylor Anderson gets to finish the DESTROYERMEN series, I suspect it will be the entire story of World War II in all its theaters.  The canvass is vast -- as is the multi-planet canvass that Gini Koch is painting her love story against.

Taylor Anderson seems to be telling a story of Honor using a plot of Technology.

Gini Koch seems to be telling a story of Romance using a plot of Family Dynamics.

Which brings us to Jack Campbell in a far-far-far future Interstellar War.

Campbell builds fleets of interstellar combat vessels -- of various sizes and purposes just as a sea-going fleet of today is composed of various sorts of vessels.  Then he pits them against each other, each driving toward a specific strategic goal.

Campbell's far-flung canvas is stitched together with 2 kinds of "wormhole" transportation gates -- one natural, scattered among various star systems, and the other constructed in strategic locations to facilitate the war, and trade.  The constructed gates are "gifts" from the mysterious aliens, which the main hero of Lost Fleet discovers are really weapons to destroy humanity. 

Attacking, defending, and using these natural and artificial "gates" is the main plot dynamic. 

Most of the words of the The Lost Fleet series are devoted to maneuvering through or around these gates, and out-foxing a rival Fleet for control or access to a gate.

Most of the words of The Lost Stars series is devoted to exactly the same sort of maneuvering, but via politics more than spaceships.  In The Lost Stars, one star-system decides to secede from one of the star empires and declare independence.  That's not working too well, so they start trying to create allies among their nearer neighbors. 

Taken together both series paint on an even larger canvas than Koch or Anderson use -- because here we have a Game of "Let's You and Him Fight" -- where an alien species is manipulating Humanity into a centuries-long war, human against human.  There are a couple other alien species just discovered, but we don't know yet if the first aliens have conquered them, or what kind of allies they might make to humans.

So Campbell's canvas shows a Humanity Divided sitting in the midst of a giant sea of Hostile Unknowns, and one Hero from humanity's past awakened from cold sleep with a way of thinking alien to "modern" humanity.

Both Jack Campbell series, Lost Fleet and Lost Stars, are First Contact stories carried on a Plot of Strategies and Tactics of Warfare.

Campbell takes more time to go into the intricacies of Relationship, develop smoldering love stories that show every sign of developing into full fledged Romances, and to reveal the depths of human psychology that form the platform of warfare.

Now you may be wondering why this blog is focusing on Military Science Fiction when the ostensible subject here is Romance.

Consider Sex and Violence, and their relationship to each other within the Human Psyche -- the origin and nature of what is "interesting" to a reader, and what exactly a writer does when creating the "climax structure" of a novel.

And there is the larger question of whether sexuality has anything at all to do with Romance.

These 3 novels series, taken together, provide a context for exploring the relationships among these abstract components of human nature.

If you decide you don't want to read Jack Campbell or Taylor Anderson -- try Mike Shepherd's Kris Longknife series.  It's fabricated of the same material, and has a terrific love story thread. 

Mike Shepherd

We will return to this subject, and very likely use off-hand references to these novels with the assumption you are acquainted with them.  Even if you don't read them all, every single word, do take a look at the Amazon pages and figure out what about them is "interesting" to the people who like them.  At the same time, study what it is about them that seems so very "boring" to you.

Check the author's pages on Amazon and note especially the "Customers Also Bought Items By" section on the right. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Copyright: Those who speak to Congress, speak for themselves.

This week, I respectfully present a round-up of a few discussions of copyright issues around the internet that interest this author.

Most Upsetting (to me)
" .... speakers emphasized education and voluntary cooperation over legislation, even as they acknowledged that voluntary efforts by search engines–a chief gateway to pirated works–had not been effective."

Who were the "speakers"? One was John McCoskey, executive VP and CTO of the Motion Picture Association of America.

Allegedly, he said that  "the bad actors were not the search engines but the pirate sites."
That may be the view of the MPAA, but it does not represent the views or experience of many musicians and authors whom I follow.

On the internet, the key to piracy is to follow the money, in this author's opinion. The search engines encourage the creation of pirate sites by making pirate sites profitable. If the search engines were barred by law from also placing paid advertisements on pirate sites and thereby profiting from piracy and making piracy profitable, the search engines might escape blame.

The High Cost of Free (Music)
In this article, journalist Kathleen Richards discusses a documentary "Unsound" about how piracy has affected a sampling of musicians.

When she writes, "It's a topic that threatens their livelihoods, yet few have talked about it publicly, because those who have have been criticized and ostracized by the fans they rely on to make a living...." she could equally well be writing about authors.

Cyber-bullying and intimidation are rife when people who don't mind paying for expensive equipment, and for softward to protect "their freedom", become abusive when anyone dares to suggest that the creator of the entertaining content ought to be paid.

However, the comments on this article are mostly by musicians, for musicians, and well worth reading. The coarse and abusive remarks by the pirates and bullies have been removed.

Not so, with the next interesting article on piracy!

Too Many Americans Think Piracy Is Okay.
Kudos to Congresswoman Judy Chu for speaking out. Brickbats to the lowlifes who make racist comments about Congresswoman Chu, and vulgar comments about the unfortunate perspective taken by the photographer.

An absolutely typical piratical argument follows these lines quoted in part from one commenter:
"consider the fact that most of us won't have a shred of pity for these billionaire corporations whose members have private islands for themselves while we have to struggle to pay rent. Everyone else in the industry will be completely fine despite piracy. Movies are making more money than ever right now so none of these set-technicians or caterers or whatever will be negatively effected.(sic) Ms. Chu can **** right off."
Note the assumptions:
1) All copyright owners are billionaire corporations.
2) Copyright owners own private islands.
3) Income inequality is not fair/People who are not billionaires are justified in pirating.
4) Piracy doesn't hurt anyone at all who works in the entertainment industry.
5) Caterers and set-technicians will not be hurt by piracy.

Finally, whoever JemJem is, one has to admire the succinctness and wit of his/her comment on a hostile Authors' Guild discussion about Judge Denny Chin's volte face on the Google Book Scanning saga.

" Our rights to what's yours supersedes your rights to what's yours."

Apparently, the end justifies the means in Denny Chin's courtroom, and it is not copyright infringement if one scans an entire copyrighted work without permission or compensation as long as one only displays (and makes money from) the parts of the work that people want to read.

Does this open the door to an unauthorized anthology of the world's greatest sex scenes? Would that be transformative?

Opting-in would have made so much more sense, and been so much fairer.

All the best,
Rowena Cherry

Friday, November 22, 2013


Not only is today the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination, but on this same day in 1963 two other great men of the 20th century died, Aldous Huxley and C. S. Lewis. When I heard about Kennedy's death, I was in a high school class (I don't remember which one), and the principal announced the event over the PA system. The next few days were dominated by nonstop television coverage of the assassination and its aftermath. My mother idolized the Kennedys, especially Jacqueline, so our TV stayed on all weekend. I'm pretty sure I had read BRAVE NEW WORLD by then. As a preteen, I had definitely read and enjoyed a couple of the Narnia books. The life-changing experience of reading the rest of Lewis's works, though, didn't happen to me until about a decade later. So even if I'd seen an obituary for either of those authors on an inside page of the local newspaper, I wouldn't have taken much notice.

An incisive little book, BETWEEN HEAVEN AND HELL, by Peter Kreeft, imagines a conversation among Kennedy, Huxley, and Lewis immediately after death in a sort of celestial waiting room. I highly recommend it.

In case you haven't read 11/22/63, Stephen King's monumental, exhaustively researched time travel novel about the Kennedy assassination, I recommend that, too. Its time travel rules have a twist I haven't seen anywhere else, and the result of the hero's journey into the past doesn't turn out in any of the ways one would expect.

Margaret L. Carter

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

No True Vampire

In reading an anthology called THE UNDEAD AND PHILOSOPHY, edited by Richard Greene and K. Silem Mohammad, I have a bone (or maybe an entire skeleton) to pick with the first essay, “The Badness of Undeath,” by Richard Greene. Greene has a lot of penetrating speculations to offer about why we consider undeath not only worse than being alive but a fate worse than death. One of his premises, however, strikes me as wrongheaded. At the start of his argument, he excludes vampires with souls, zombies with free will, and other nontraditional undead from the category he’s discussing. He maintains they aren’t “real” vampires and zombies. In fact, he says in so many words, “In this chapter, all vampires and zombies will be considered to be unfriendly and dangerous. Moreover, all vampires will be considered to be cursed or damned and evil by nature….”

What a blatant example of “begging the question,” building the conclusion of an argument into the premise. Of course if we take as an axiom that all vampires are damned and evil by nature, regardless of its other aspects most people will see undeath as a fate worse than mere death. Greene’s approach reminds me of the “no true Scotsman” trope: A Scottish gentleman hears news of an atrocious crime committed in an English city. He says, “No Scotsman would do such a thing.” When he’s told about a similar crime in Aberdeen, he retorts, “No TRUE Scotsman would do such a thing.” It’s easy to maintain that all vampires and zombies are “unfriendly and dangerous” if we state a priori that the “good guy vampires” and kinder, gentle zombies aren’t “true vampires” or “true zombies.”

Where should the line be drawn, if anywhere, beyond which a modified monster no longer fits into its original category? Are ethically responsible vampires real vampires? Are zombies with self-consciousness and free will, as in Piers Anthony’s world of Xanth, real zombies?

As to what makes undeath, if understood in the traditional horror-fiction sense, worse than death, so far in my reading of the anthology I haven’t seen any of the authors tackle head-on the issue of the soul. They seem to equate “soul” with consciousness. Not surprising, since the book analyzes the undead in terms of philosophy, not theology. However, the question reminds me of C. S. Lewis's rationale for our fear of dead people. Why are we afraid of ghosts and revolted by corpses? Lewis suggests that because body and soul were created as a vital unity, their separation strikes us as deeply unnatural. A disembodied spirit and a de-animated body both inspire an instinctive shudder. So a soulless body that’s still moving around is even more unnatural and therefore terrifying. To me, though, this argument applies mainly to zombies. If a vampire rises from the grave with free will and the same personality he or she had in life, why shouldn’t the vampire have the capacity for ethical choices? In that case, isn’t the “soul” still present in some sense? Even the first time I read DRACULA (at age twelve), I rebelled at the notion that becoming a vampire automatically changed Lucy into a fiend.

The concept of soullessness leads to another question, discussed but not settled in one of the anthology’s later essays: If the reanimated body is no longer ourselves—if our personality has vacated it—why do we feel horror at the idea of becoming a zombie or a traditional evil vampire? We haven’t become that, really, because we’ve left the building. For instance, according to the official theory in BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, during the creation of a vampire the human soul departs, and a demon takes possession of the body. Nevertheless, when Angel gets his soul back, he suffers profound guilt for all the evil deeds he committed while “he” was a soulless vampire. The more we consider the issue, the more tangled it gets.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Story Springboards Part 4 - The Art of Interesting Episodes by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Story Springboards Part 4
The Art of Interesting Episodes
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Here is the index of previous posts relevant to this discussion:

In Part 3 of this series,
we started sketching out the issues and topics relevant to constructing an Episodic Plot.

We noted that most books on how to write fiction end up with the famous writer just saying that a new writer simply has to write an "interesting story" and it will sell.  That is what most famous writers have done to get famous, and it is good advice.

Problem is -- how do you write something "interesting?"  What do you do with all the story ideas boiling around in your head to form them into an "interesting" story?

That brought us to the problem of what exactly the word "interesting" actually means.

A tweet from twitter attributed the property "interesting" to thoughts, which set us off on an investigation of the properties of language and its use for communication.

What exactly does "interesting" mean?

One person means one thing by a word, another means a different thing -- but they both think they mean the same thing by that word.

I Love You is one of those marvelous examples.  Men mean one thing during sex, women hear another totally different thing in those words.  Later, comparing notes, furious arguments and searing emotions erupt.

Words are incendiary weapons.  Very possibly words are "weapons of mass destruction" instead of "weapons of mass instruction." 

To a writer, "words" are the, single, most interesting subject in creation! 

So to ponder what "interesting" is all about, what it really means, let's look at what most people would consider to be the opposite of interesting.


Miscommunication, which we discussed in Part 3, over various concepts of TIME in various cultures has been the cause of culture-wars throughout history.  Miscommunication between the sexes involving the simple little phrase "I love you," (which is more precise in Greek, but still very slippery), has caused wars and the rise and fall of huge corporations.

Miscommunication between the generations likewise causes massive friction, and shapes personalities during childhood. 

As the twig is bent; so grows the tree.   What your love-life will shape up to be might be discernible in childhood via the issue of, "Mommy, I'm bored." -- (or put another way, how you learn to move from 'bored' to 'interested.') 

Miscommunication causes the "I'm bored," conversation between child and adult to go nowhere. 

The child is convinced that "interesting" is a property of THINGS, and boredom would be gone if only Mommy would supply an interesting toy, or game. 

Mommy, having survived boredom, probably knows that "interesting" is a property of the person who is interested, not of the thing they are interested in.

The Happily Ever After (HEA = never bored?) ending is a full resolution of the conflict while the HFN (Happily for Now = I found an interesting Event/Person) ending is a partial resolution -- leading to SEQUELS when boredom sets in again and the search for another interesting object is launched.

"I love you" can be all about sustaining an "interest" in you.  Many happily married couples cite a fascination with the "surprising" (i.e. Uranus/Aquarius) nature of the relationship. 

SIDENOTE: Tom Baker, who played DOCTOR WHO for many years, was a multiple Aquarius and played the Doctor in that "footloose" interested in all humans, never attached to anyone for long, mode of the Aquarius male. 

The core essence of the Art of Episodic Plotting (which reached a level of perfection with Baker's DOCTOR) is simply the concept "interesting."

Spock made the single word "Interesting" a household metaphor. 

INTERESTING is something children just don't understand.  It happens to them sporadically, is totally delightful, turns on something inside that they adore, makes the wriggle with pleasure, and they don't know why that happens. 

A child has no mastery of how to direct their own attention or hold attention on a subject long enough to penetrate to the core concept.

Part of the definition of "child" is the state of being "non-sexual" or "pre-sexual."  A child lacks a direct awareness of sexuality.  But it is there, within them, anyway, and something at the periphery of that zone of awareness is stirred when "interest" is "aroused."   

You know how easily a child is distracted from whatever they are doing or however they are feeling.  The older the child, the harder they are to distract.

One underlying problem today is how adults have not developed attention spans longer than say, a 14 year old's.  Beyond the natural lengthening of attention span by age, it takes training and discipline to stick to a task long enough to finish it. 

How many would-be writers have a multitude of unfinished works?  How many rejections happen because a work is turned in 3 or 4 drafts too soon -- for lack of that attention-span discipline to finish it?

That kind of discipline of attention comes only with maturity (in astrology represented by Saturn.)  The age of 7 is pivotal, and interestingly enough that year is the year that Saturn makes its first square with its own place. The opposition (1st peak of success) comes at age 14. 

That attention span deficit is why you can "distract" a child under the age of 7 from a tantrum or "Mommy buy me this" or any other problematic behavior.

Which brings us to why we discussed the linguistic and cultural aspects of TIME as a component of "interesting" last week.  

The condition of childhood is a SHORT view of TIME (time is also represented by Saturn) -- the adult condition requires lengthening that TIME-SPAN or attention-span.  For the mature adult, "now" is a much longer span of time than it is for a child. 

But attention span does not lengthen naturally, or simply by the passage of time.  It is just like musculature -- it changes and matures only by usage, by exercise, by effort. 

That's another reason the HEA or "Happily Ever After" ending seems implausible to many.  "Ever After" is a long time to be "interested" in anything, let alone a person.  Those who remain mystified by their roving "interest" and are subject to spans of "boredom" will not be able to relate to being interested in someone for the rest of their lives.  Those who have mastered their internal "interest" needle can much more easily imagine a person who is captivating for a lifetime. 

The trick of lengthening attention span (so you can hold a job and/or a Relationship) is to learn all about the intricate notions of "interesting" so that external influences can't "distract" you.

That lesson is also the trick behind writers finishing a writing project -- something as long as a book takes months, sometimes years, to finish.  Most of the hours spent toiling on a book are spent on repetitive, "boring" tasks.  Thus the writer who intends to make a living from the craft must master their own attention mechanism -- master it to a degree not expected of the audience.

To do that, the writer who works consciously (rather than from innate Talent) can benefit from understanding the abstract depths of the word "interesting."

What is the origin of interest, what is the effect, what is the use, why does it exist, how does it work?

How many parents know the following exchange by heart?

"I'm bored!"

"You have a closet full of toys. Here, play with this one."

"I don't want to."

"Try this one"

"It's too boring." 

"Well, I can't help you."

A while later, "Mommy, I have nothing to do!"

"So do your homework."

"No. It's boring." 

And on and on. 

Many writers will be able to recognize in that exchange the same pattern that underlies the phenomenon that has become known as "Writer's Block." 

Being "bored" by your own thoughts is not a property of the thoughts any more than a child being bored by their toys is a property of the toys. (ask a toy-manufacturer; watch focus-group tests of toys!)

No parent has ever won this fight about boring toys (or homework) unless the parent has matured enough to have spotted the misnomer issue with "interesting" that we discussed in Part 3. 

The misnomer issue is all about language, about words and definitions, where they come from, how they evolve, and how we come to agreement on what words mean. 

Words exist at the intersection of Art and Magic, but we use them for Science.

The concept of where "interesting" originates can be applied to Writer's Block as well. 

Maturation is the process of sorting out what originates inside of you (e.g. who you are, finding yourself, etc.) from what originates outside. 

Maturation is the process of becoming an individual distinct from your parents, and even from your environment, becoming independent and self-sufficient.  Watch time-lapse photos of a fetus developing, and consider that process continues throughout the entire lifetime. 

The child is "bored" because the child is not "self-sufficient." 

Very often the writer is "blocked" because their own material "bores" them, just as the child's own toys bore the child.  (classic cure parents learn is to save a new toy for those rainy-day-I'm-bored moments, using the Uranus method of igniting "interest" via novelty.  This tactic may benefit the parent more than it does the child, but that's a topic for a YA novel.) 

The immature can substitute novelty for interest. 

You can be immature at age 50! ... in fact, there is always some part of you that is immature. 

So we're closing in on the core element that defines what is, or is not, "interesting," and thus what a writer must do to turn out an "interesting story." 

"Interesting" is partially about something you didn't know before.

The tweet  cited in Part 3 indicates that happiness comes from having interesting thoughts -- and that can be interpreted as being "self-sufficient." 

Many children learn to entertain themselves by telling themselves stories they make up (most who eventually sell novels start off like that!).   

Reading stories written by people who are more mature than you are can inspire you to make the effort to distinguish yourself, to become the individual you are born to be, to realize the unique potential that is you. 

But while we are, each of us, unique, we are also composed of the same array of variables that compose everyone else.

We discussed this from the writer's point of view in the series on Astrology and Tarot. 

You'll find those posts listed in Part 3's index to Art and Craft of Story and Plot Arcs summary of previous discussions.  (see the top of this post)

We are unique by virtue of having our common variables filled with differing values, thus making each of us a unique pattern composed of components we have in common. 

That's why "astrology" works -- everyone has the ten variables astrology studies, but they are arranged differently and each Soul uses each of these variables with different degrees of mastery. 

Everyone has a Sun Sign -- so we all understand on a non-verbal level "what" the Sun Sign provides to people (e.g. energy). 

Captain Kirk was acted by an Aries (so was Spock) and portrayed an Aries - an explorer charging ahead of the pack, not a "Leader" (Leo) who made policy.  Kirk was not comfortable in the Admiral's role (Leo) and wanted his ship back -- for a reason.  Gene Roddenberry was a Leo and ran the set like a Leo male.

1/12th of us have the same Sun Sign (and usually don't get along with those of the same sun sign.)  We recognize that commonality and resonate to it.

And so on around the zodiac -- then variations modify each of us when "Houses" are considered.  And the Soul wearing that natal chart is the wild-card that changes everything. 

So while we are self-sufficient individuals, we are also part of various groupings, (1st House of Self, always opposite 7th House of Group) and we do not see a contradiction in this. 

Thus, when we read a book on writing craft that says all you need to do to sell your writing is to tell an "interesting story," we do not see a contradiction in that instruction.  We grow up considering "interesting" a property external to Self, a property of the object of interest.  We grow up as audience, not performer.

We resonate to that instruction because we have, at some time, been interested in something.

We have read a lot of books that we found "boring."

We all want to write "interesting" books.

Surely the essential ingredient that distinguishes an interesting book from a boring book is a property of the book.

Books that don't sell well fail in the marketplace because they are intrinsically boring, right?

But then how can it be that those books, when self-published, have a small cadre of enthusiastic fans?

They say, "There's no accounting for taste."  Really?

Some will also say that the people who adore one type of book (say, for example the Romance Novel?) just aren't as well educated as normal people.

All of these paths of reasoning are based on the idea that the quality called "interesting" is a property of the object which has captivated interest (book, movie, TV show, game, whatever) and not a quality of the specific person who has become "interested."

A writer has to look at it differently.

A writer is out-putting the object in which other people will be "interested."

That is a drastic Point Of View shift, from audience to performer (writing is a performing art.)

Ponder that curious property of language noted above: one distinguishing characteristic of children who will grow up to be professional writers is interest in the meaning of words.

Words and their meaning are not intrinsically interesting.  If they were, everyone would be "a writer."  Everyone would read the dictionary for fun! 

No!  "Interesting" is a property of the person who is interested -- not the object that they are interested in.

In writing an "interesting story," the writer is not the person who is to be interested (writing itself is often lonely and boring).  The audience, the reader, is the one whose interest is to be ignited.

The reader's interest is inside that reader -- not inside the story. 

The writer does NOT write "an interesting story."  That's how it seems to the reader -- but that is not how the process seems to the writer. 

The discovery some writers make only after selling novels and seeing them marketed, listening to fans raving and others giving it 1-star on Amazon, bloggers tearing it apart and sounding as if they never read it, is very simple.

Marion Zimmer Bradley always quoted, "The book the writer wrote is not the book the reader reads."

What does that mean?

The book the reader reads is either "interesting" or "boring" depending on the READER, not on the book.

MZB also held that anyone who can learn to write a literate English sentence can sell their writing - fiction and/or non-fiction. 

Another mentor of mine was Andre Norton (the YA author).  I was in her house one time, and she gave me a tour of her book shelves.  She had a vast collection of rare books on anthropology, archeology, pre-history, etc. etc. and could tell you what she'd learned from each of them.

Just listening to her talk about those precious books ignited a ferocious desire to read them -- not because the books had the quality "interesting" but because she was interested in them.  If you picked one up and tried to plow through it, you would be bored to tears. 

Those books engaged Norton, though.  *yes, I know Norton was a pen name.*

Good teachers are like that.  They not only know their subjects inside-out and upside-down, but they just plain and purely love the subject (whatever it is at the moment).

I was "turned on to" DOCTOR WHO in just that way.  A friend visiting me who was a fan of my novels spent several hours on my back porch enthusing over THE DOCTOR in his various incarnations.  I had to get my hands on the videotapes.  I was not disappointed! 

"Interesting" is a property of a PERSON -- not of a THING. 

My friend who turned me on to The Doctor resonated to that material because of a property of her (which I shared). 

If you (the writer) are interested in what you are writing, many of your readers will "catch" that interest from you. 

Yes, "interesting" is contagious.

You don't write "an interesting book" -- you kindle the interest of others, not by the thoughts you think but by your sizzling-hot love of those thoughts.

"Interesting" happens when reading a book because of the CONTACT (like a lit match touching a candle wick) of your inner "flame" with the reader's inert wick.  It is not "the book" which is interesting.  It is YOU.

"Interesting" is a force, an electricity, a power, that you (your personality) conducts like a copper wire conducts electricity -- just like the human Soul conducts Love.  It's pure energy -- not a property of you, or the book you write, or any physical object, and not of the thought.  "Interesting" is a force - perhaps The Force - which you conduct into reality just as you conduct Love into reality. 

And the part of YOU that ignites the reader is usually some part that you are completely unaware exists, unaware that it is conducting a charge.  (springboard = potential energy; interesting = kinetic energy)

More: the part of the reader that is kindled is a part the reader is unaware exists.

It is the lack of awareness of those energies that causes the riveting of attention we term "interest." 

Interest is riveted just as when a person touches a "live wire" and electricity stiffens the person's body.

Just watch the practiced mom on the rainy day when the kid goes "I am bored."  She takes out a toy, (or maybe an adult book) and enthuses about it.  First thing you know, the kid is interested.  The kid has no idea WHY the kid is interested -- but the Mom has studied that kid carefully and chosen from an array of available toys that "speak" to that part of the kid that is not yet developed.  When the Mom 'closes the contact' (throws the switch inside the kid), interest happens. 

The process of personal growth -- of "going where no man has gone before" -- is what we term "interesting."  Traveling there takes energy -- that energy flows through the contact with external reality and into the person creating the potential for change, the tantalizing promise of change.

A Romance happens (Neptune - the blurring, unreality-effect of the zodiac) when two people meet and each finds within the other something that they don't know is inside themselves.

That same definition applies to frenemies, and to "Moby Dick" obsession-style Arch Enemies (Moriarty) (Darth Vader). 

Recognition of Self inside Other leading to an expansion of the definition of Self is another way of defining "interesting."  It happens when energy flows from one person to another. 

Expanding (Jupiter) is part of Maturation (Saturn), which explains why the deliberate mental gymnastic exercises necessary to expand attention-span leads to self-mastery which leads to finding absolutely everything "interesting" by becoming large enough (Jupiter) to touch things, and strong enough (Saturn) to control the in-rushing energy. 

So spend some time walking around your life looking for manifestations of that definition of "interesting" as an energy akin to Love.  We'll be using it to construct "episodic stories" and structuring "climaxes." 

We'll drill down into Springboards a bit more in the Dec. 10, 2013 post, Theme-Character Integration Part 5 - Fame and Glory - When You're Rich They Think You Really Know. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Life in Our Galaxy?

Thrilling news for SF fans: How many Earth-like planets does our galaxy contain? In recent reports, some astronomers speculate there may be 40 billion:

Galaxy Quest

Of course, the existence of worlds that can support our kind of life doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll meet humanoid aliens we can socialize and maybe even interbreed with. Consider the millions of species on our own planet. As Heinlein’s narrator in HAVE SPACE SUIT, WILL TRAVEL remarks, spiders don’t look anything like us, yet they enjoy living in our houses.

So where is everybody? No doubt you’ve all heard of the Fermi paradox:

Fermi Paradox

If Earth-like planets are so common in the universe, shouldn’t enough of them have developed the capability of interstellar travel or at least communication that we should have been visited or contacted by now?

I prefer the hypotheses of “they choose not to interact with us” and “Earth has purposely not been contacted” over the more pessimistic beliefs that intelligent life is rare, usually doesn’t develop a technological civilization, inevitably destroys itself before inventing interstellar travel, is too widely separated in time and space to overlap with our civilization, or is typically so alien it wouldn’t want to contact us or we wouldn’t recognize it if it did.

Maybe there really is a Prime Directive: Maybe the Galactic Federation has imposed a quarantine on us until we’re mature enough to join the civilized universe. Or possibly our location on the edge of the galaxy means they just haven’t gotten around to us yet. Given the scrappy history of intercultural exchanges in our own history, I like to speculate that our first alien contact may not involve official explorers or diplomats. Our first visitors might be merchants looking for new trading partners, pirates in search of loot, refugees like the former slaves in the series ALIEN NATION, or maybe even lost tourists. I once read a story in which a flying saucer landed in a suburban family’s back yard—and the “pilot” was an alien kid who’d accidentally driven off with his parents’ vehicle.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Story Springboards Part 3 - Art of Episodic Plotting by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Story Springboards Part 3
Art of Episodic Plotting
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Here is the index of previous posts relevant to this discussion:

This post series on Story Springboards explores the essence of what "interesting" means from the point of view of a writer and how to use that knowledge to sell fiction, especially Science Fiction, and double especially Science Fiction Romance. 

All the books on how to write stories tell you (without showing) that to sell fiction, all you have to do is write an "interesting" story. 

No instruction is more frustrating than that simple sentence "just write an interesting story."  So let's delve a little deeper than writing teachers usually do. 

"What is interesting and how do you write it?"

And what has that to do with the Art of Episodic Plotting? 

Note the first post in this series is from a selling writer who is intrigued by "art heists" -- and introduces the elements about art theft which is intriguing to her.

This multi-part discussion of springboards is intricately related to the underlying structure of short stories, novels and screenplays -- serials, sequels, episodes, braided plots, converging plots, parallel plots, all sorts of technically different but very marketable structures. 

"Interesting" is a property of those structures much more than it is of a particular subject, but remember that THEME is the foundation of story structure, which is why we've been examining how to "integrate" theme into each of the other elements of structure.

For each type of structure, a different type of SPRINGBOARD is necessary.

The springboard (wound up potential energy that is about to hurl the reader into a ballistic arc with an "ending" of belly-flopping or slicing into the pool) is energized by the quality "interesting"  but "aimed" at a target which is identified as "genre."  The strength and flexibility of the springboard you construct depends on how well "integrated" theme is with the rest of the components of the story structure. 

That is, you can sell any structure in any genre, mix and match, if you construct your springboard just right. 

The springboard is the main subject discussed in your logline, pitch, or query letter, but it is never mentioned by name.  The springboard has to be shown, not told.

This is why the "logline" or pitch for a story, and the "query letter" and synopsis or summary or treatment, is such a useful tool to the editor who has to choose whether to invest the company's money in this project.

The "springboard" reveals which audience demographic will be "interested" by this story.

Showing not telling your springboard is also why it is so hard for a writer to create the selling pitch or query letter -- the inclination is to TELL the editor, not show.  But the editor is looking for a master of show-don't-tell. 

The logline, query letter, etc reveal to the editor whether you, the writer, know what you're doing -- or not. 

If an editor backs a writer who does not know what he/she is doing, the editor tends to get fired.  The alternative for the editor is to try to teach that writer the "ropes."  Time spent on teaching one writer is time that can't be spent perfecting other manuscripts.  So an editor who is "developing" one writer has to buy other products that are perfected already. 

So there is a small market for beginning writers who haven't mastered "springboards," and a large market for writers who have. 

Story Springboards Part 2 is found here:

So now let's put "interesting" under the microscope. 

A while ago, the following "interesting" tweet appeared in my twitterfeed. 
Tweet from    
The happiest person is the person who thinks the most interesting thoughts.

--Timothy Dwight

This philosophy (yes it is a philosophy and therefore makes a terrific novel theme) is based on a "misnomer" that everyone believes from earliest childhood -- the labeling of an object (or in this case a thought) with an attribute which does not originate within that object. 

Here's the URL to the post where the power of the "misnomer" is discussed in depth.  It reveals an essential component of the process of grabbing the "interest" of a target audience, the use of language.

Cross-correlate that post on misnomers with the post on TALENT

The misnomer twist in that tweet above is the attribution of the property "interesting" to the object in which the person is interested. 

The philosophy behind that attribution is very similar to the thinking behind the misnomer "Fast Food."  (the healthiness of the food is attributed to the method of delivery -- misdirecting the problem-solving attention away from the real problem.)

Remember a problem is a manifestation of a CONFLICT - and conflict is the essence of story as well as plot.

In constructing the foundation for a long series of novels, a TV Series, a movie-serial, or an episodic videogame, you have to load the problem(s) with enough potential energy to "spring" all the way to the ending of the Series. 

Understanding climaxes (both within a story, at the end of a scene or chapter, and at the end of a story, and how the series of climaxes must relate to each other) requires an understanding of the initial state -- the springboard before it has sprung, and where the weaknesses are in the springboard that might cause it to break or mis-fire. 

I don't think there are any books on writing craft that reveal the internal mechanism of the writer's mind that must function (consciously for some, unconsciously for most) to produce a "springboard" with enough energy wound up in it to reach "the end" of a long arc (series of novels, or a TV Series) and still have enough punch to blow off energy in the biggest climax of the series.

In a TV Series, there is usually a team of writers brainstorming the final climax, which is often why a series will "peter out" or fall off track as writers come and go from the team.

Most writers who do formulate a powerful springboard, do it by accident, but there is a method to it that can be learned, even by those born without any writing Talent.

One thing "writers" come by naturally, that is a sure sign a child has the capacity to make a living at writing, is a curiosity about words for their own sake, an interest in words beyond the mere meaning.

Such a curiosity includes words in many languages, both cognate with the native language of the child and non-cognate languages -- AND "made up" languages like Klingon or Elvish.

So the child learns early that you can't translate anything from one language to another, not really.  You can approximate and create the illusion of understanding, but not the understanding itself.  That's why most all children create their own words for the feelings and concepts developing in their minds -- convinced no human has ever before needed such a word.

You can't really translate from that internal apprehension of a "meaning" to an external, mutually agreed upon meaning. 


Look at all the circles as representing the same concept in different languages. 

And consider that children and adolescents don't "speak the same language" as adults, or grandparents.  Language reflects the "generation gap."  A "living language" evolves.

A concept symbolized by a word has connotations and denotations. 

Denotations are easy to translate most of the time, but the native speaker hears a word and hears echos of all the connotations that go with the denotation and all the depth and texture of semantic loading, of emotional associations, and colorations imposed by their own generation -- and by prior generations. 

For example, when you hear the word Chocolate, do you FEEL 'bitter' or 'sweet?'  Chocolate itself is very bitter.  But we think sweet because we are accustomed to sugar that's lightly flavored with chocolate.

Note how an English word may overlap a small arc of Mandarin and another Arc of Hebrew -- but coincide reasonably well with both only in that tiny section in the middle.  And even there, there are discernible differences (symbolized by the colors). 

You might say an English word with most of your meaning at the top of the orange circle, and the translator could only find Mandarin or Hebrew words at the bottom of the English set of associated concepts where the circles overlap.

But when the translator says that word in Mandarin, the listener would "hear" all the connotations and associations and allusions contained in that word's Mandarin circle, barely noting the area of definition where there is an overlap, and never knowing of the existence of the associations you actually meant.

I've had novels "translated" -- they are unintelligible in the translated form.   

The same overlapping circles effect is true even within a given language.  That's why children invent their own words and define their own circles.

No two people know or use any given word in exactly the same way because we each have different accumulated connotations that we attach to words as we learn them, and emotional associations that are evoked because of subsequent experiences. 

Children learn this difference in usage early in life -- for example, the 4 year old's definition of NOW is very different from their 40 year old mother's definition of NOW.  "I want my blankey," does not mean "I want my nice clean blanket after it's been through the wash." 

So consider the three circles as three people - mother, father, child - earnestly discussing when they will arrive at the child's friend's birthday party. "Now" does not mean "now." 

If such variance exists among speakers of the same language, consider how different languages express views of the world that are inherently different and literally untranslatable. 

No two languages divide the world into the same circles of definition.

The word, "interesting," is subject to this very interesting effect.

A similar effect happens between two people using the same language, and it is a larger effect when two people are using different dialects of the same language.  (Is that piece of furniture a davenport, a sofa, or a couch?  A writer has to know what their reader will envision.) 

Those who know only one language and culture learned before the age of 7 (the age at which language brain centers start to become set), can't grasp how the very words we use shape our perceptions of reality and limit our imagination.  Things that are commonplace to some people are unthinkable to others -- simply because of language.

We think in words.  That's why children make up words to talk to their friends of the same age. 

The classic examples from Linguistics include Navaho, and other Native American languages that depict TIME not as a linear arrow, but as something else.

One of the complaints against Native Americans in the 1870's was that they were "lazy."  Or untruthful.  The Native American would agree to work a job, and then not show up "on time."  The person who hired the Native American would fire him for being late, and the Native would be offended because he wasn't late -- even if he was three days late. 

No amount of translating could work through this conceptual problem.  The solution then employed was to conscript Native children into American schools and inculcate the linguistic domains of definition (and ethics, morals and religion that go with them) into the child at an early enough age that the child would grow up to be employable (which was deemed the key to happiness). 

OK, none of the real history was that simple.  But a lot of it hinges on words providing limits to what we can conceptualize.  There are many such examples in cultures around the world. 

If this kind of gap is possible among humans, just imagine what we may run into on some of those planets now being discovered "out there.' 

Hebrew, likewise, handles the verb TO BE in ways entirely different from English.

When concepts of TIME and EXISTENCE are configured differently, everything in the culture that uses those concepts becomes configured differently.  The differences cause the most trouble when the participants yelling across the cultural gap are unaware there is a gap.

This kind of miscommunication is the ESSENCE OF CONFLICT. 

Resolution of conflict is one essential ingredient in climaxes. 

Anticipating a climax is the essence of "Interesting." 

Next week we'll look at "boring" for clues about how to write "interesting" stories. 

January 21, 2014 Story Springboards Part 7 takes a closer look at boring/interesting with skills&drills. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Public letter about extending First Sale To Ebooks

To ( CopyrightComments2013 AT uspto DOT gov

As an author, I am dismayed by the erosion of copyright protections for content creators.

It is just, right and fair that "First Sale" is trumped by the copyright ruling that prevents duplication, publication, and distribution of copyrighted content.

One argument we see by librarians and ebook consumers is that all they want is the right to "lend" an ebook the way they used to lend a paperback or hardback.

They already have that ability under the law. All they have to do is physically hand over their loaded e-reader.

Most people wouldn't lend a paperback to a close friend who lives on another continent because of the real world cost of mailing the work through the postal services. The cost of postage was a natural protection against the abuse of "lending". Similarly, librarians in lending libraries don't mail hardbacks to patrons who cannot spare the time to visit their local lending library.

Lending loaded e-readers ought to be fine. Making multiple unauthorized coies of a digital work (even temporary copies) in the course of transmitting a work from the party who paid for a license to read the work to a party who did not pay for it in order to save postage and to save friends the cost of buying their own license..... should not be legal.

If it IS made legal, e-books ought to cost more than the paper product because of the additional risks of abuse and exploitation. E-Books are a convenience, and consumers have always paid a premium for convenience. Also, service providers have traditionally been paid a premium for taking a risk. 


Rowena Cherry


Saturday, November 09, 2013

An Asshole Out Of Water

Don't you love a good mixed metaphor? A bad one is even better, particularly if it makes the mind boggle.

In a nutshell, "An Asshole Out Of Water" may be the magic formula for a cracking yarn. This revelation was shared in an insightful movie review by Miek Ryan comparing Crocodile Dundee and Thor, albeit in much more polite language and at greater length.

It's well worth reading. Now, I am no longer mystified why some of my readers write to me wanting the further adventures of Thor-quentin on Earth.


Meanwhile.... on a much more serious note, November 13th is the deadline for authors and others to submit comments to the Copyright Department regarding digital first sale rights.

My view is, those who wish to lend an ebook the same way that they would lend a paperback should simply hand over their loaded Kindle, Nook, or ipad. That would be apples for apples.

CopyrightComments2013 at uspto dot gov.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Total Net Immersion

Do you know about Google Glass? The first I heard of it was from reading about a woman who got a traffic ticket for wearing the goggles while driving.

Google Glass

The traffic incident makes me wonder how using Google Glass differs, in principle, from checking a GPS while driving. In practice, probably the fact that it’s a heads-up display hovering in a little square at the top right of the glasses (if I’m interpreting the website demo correctly) makes the difference. I would certainly find that too distracting. Essentially, this thing is an Internet access device controlled by voice commands and a touchpad in one of the earpieces of the glasses.

Lots of science-fictional societies include personal net access technology either worn on the user’s head or actually embedded in the brain. I had no idea we were so close to fulfilling that prediction. Many alarmists already deplore the isolation produced by strolling around in public talking, texting, or web-surfing on cell phones. Imagine how that situation will intensify when most people have “phones” that are effectively part of the user’s body. Google Glass is currently priced in the four-figure range, so it won’t become ubiquitous tomorrow. However, so was our first computer (in 1983), and that Apple is far surpassed today by my husband’s iPad at a fraction of the cost. The ubiquitous personal web interface will pervade our culture soon enough. Will the next step be controlling the interface by thought alone, as amputees do with some experimental prosthetics?

Worries about privacy inevitably arise from the prospect of cities thronged with people wearing a combination Internet browser and camera attached to their heads:

Google Glass Privacy Concerns

On a related topic, how about the latest VR invention, Oculus Rift? Testers claim this gaming headset fulfills the promise of a genuine total-immersion experience:

Oculus Rift

Are we moving toward the real-world implementation of another familiar SF trope, a virtual-reality realm players will feel they’re actually living in? “Addiction” to immersive video game environments is already a concern for many observers. Suppose this latest technology raises the lifelike quality of the experience to such a level that users will never want to emerge from the virtual setting? Who’d have thought the common fictional motif of getting literally lost in a game world might become a fact this soon? I used this plot premise myself in “Fantasia Quest,” a novella in my story collection DAME ONYX TREASURES: LOVE AMONG THE MONSTERS, but when I wrote that story (less than two years ago), I assumed that degree of immersion was still totally imaginary.

Dame Onyx Treasures

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Index Post to Art and Craft of Story and Plot Arcs

Index Post to Art and Craft of Story and Plot Arcs
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Catch up on these posts before we launch into a wide discussion of constructing "story springboards" and focusing on the episodic structure of story and plot. 

Put these posts together -- like the pixels of an image -- and you will find a 3-D image of how to manipulate the story inside your mind into a novel or series of novels (or a videogame) product that can be marketed by the existing marketing system.

(You can write about inventing a new marketing system that would accommodate your product without manipulation and sell that book to the existing market!)

Here is an index to 8 parts of the THEME-PLOT-INTEGRATION series:

For the Art of Arcs series pay particular attention to:

Here is the STORY SPRINGBOARDS series part 1 and 2 -- part 3 coming next week getting very deep into this subject of "potential energy" in a story concept. Part 4, the following week will discuss how to learn to write an "interesting" story.

Master Theme Structure, The Camera, Nesting Plots and Stories is the title of the following entry in "verisimilitude vs reality" which covers point of view and shifting point of view.

Part 3 "The Game, The Stakes, the Template continues the point of view discussion.

Remember, to create CONFLICT you must be able to speak FOR the side of any issue in your reader's daily news feed that you deeply, personally, and adamantly disagree with as you present the side you do agree with.  Otherwise, any characcters you set up as adversaries for your Main Character will tend to be "paper tigers." 

For the time you are writing the deeds, thinking, motives and dialogue of the adversary, you must become that person -- believing in your gut all the things you, personally and in real life, abhor. 

That is why Alma Hill taught that WRITING IS A PERFORMING ART -- it is.  You must be an ACTOR to pull off characters Point of View with verisimilitude.

Now the THEME-WORLDBUILDING series -- not yet ready for its own index post but germain to the Art and Craft of Story and Plot ARCS -- the "arc" is built into story/plot at the point where theme and worldbuilding intersect, which is the story-springboard that manifests as conflict. 

THEME-WORLDBUILDING has 7 parts so far:

Part 6 of Theme-Worldbuilding is about the use of Media Headlines -- and reveals the ART OF THE MISNOMER (which is headline writing, and "tagging" complex issues with misleading but short nicknames.)

"Fast Food" as unhealthy because of its speed is a handy example of a misnomer since no food is "faster" than say picking an apple and chomping into it.  Few foods are as healthy as an apple or a handful of fresh-picked blueberries.  So the faster the food, the more healthy it is. 

The MISNOMER is all about misdirecting the attention away from the actual issue. 

In the  case of "fast food" the issue is complex, artificial additives that are manufactured by slow, arduous and expensive chemical processing, as well as fats and oils that have nutritional values tediously processed out of them.  The faster the food, the more healthy it tends to be -- so the correct nomenclature for "Fast Food That Is Bad For You" should be "SLOW FOOD."  Would "Slow Food" make a selling headline?

It's all about MARKETING:  -- details the development of a mathematical model for controlling the behavior of large groups of people (e.g. MARKETING).  This mathematical model has been the primary mover of modern civilization since the successful application to shoring up the price of bacon for farmers by creating the myth that the "bacon and eggs breakfast" is the path to success in life, starting with commissioning a scholarly study about breakfasts paid for by the firm hired to publicize the health benefits of bacon (because pig farmers were losing money.) 

Much of our current culture is based on manipulating people.  So the misnomer "interesting" is attached to novels, movies, non-fiction subjects, and news broadcasts, as if the attribute "grabs attention" is an attribute intrinsic to the Event or the Report of the Event rather than to the person whose attention has been grabbed.

Of course, if everyone understood what "interesting" really means, no commercial would ever be profitable, and none of our current politicians would be elected.   Public Relations (as a mathematical model of  how to manipulate behavior) only works because the public is ignorant of how and why it works, but Public Relations is what the big Publishers have whole departments of experts to do for writers -- that Indie Writers don't yet know how to do for themselves.  (yet, mind you! yet!)

The "arc" techniques we'll be discussing are much like building a bridge -- whether it can carry the traffic depends on the anchor points and the suspension cables.  It is a structure and the load capability of the structure depends on the materials used and the design of the intersecting points that bear that load.  Arc techniques are all very much like engineering, and also resemble "Public Relations."

Story and Plot are like the pylons and cables that support the roadway.  There is a science to the engineering -- the choice of materials, location the bridge, design of load-bearing angles -- but there's an "art" too because it matters how the thing looks, how it fits into its surroundings, blends with the scenery and at the same time stands out as elegant and beautiful in its own right.  There is also a political component to bridge building in getting the permissions, clearances, contracts, etc.  That political component is analogous to "selling" your story to a "publisher" who will turn it over to their staff of experts in the Publicity Department -- people whose schooling is in Public Relations not story-craft.   

Here are links to Astrology and Tarot posts just for writers:

Here is an index to Astrology posts:

And here is one that carries that subject on a bit farther:

Here is are index posts for the 20 posts on Tarot for writers:

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Adapting to a micro environment

My only commercially available novella, Mating Net, contains a reference to micro-environments which have formed in "crater worlds" in a deeply pitted planet. Only a small portion of the story took place in one of those crater worlds, and I did not have the word count to develop local flora and fauna.

Well, to be honest, I did, but it would have been an info dump.

I was in Lakeland, Florida, recently and was fascinated to see birds hunting and playing on the lily pads in Lake Mirror. Not jacarana type birds, nor coots, nor ducks, nor heron-family birds. Nothing with enormous feet, particularly long legs, special bills or other water-living adaptations. They looked like regular brown jays.

I believe that jays are opportunists.
They are Corvidae, which is the family of birds "considered the most intelligent of the birds, and among the most intelligent of all animals having demonstrated self-awareness in mirror tests (European Magpies) and tool making ability (crows, rooks)—skills until recently regarded as solely the province of humans and a few other higher mammals. Their total brain-to-body mass ratio is equal to that of great apes and cetaceans, and only slightly lower than in humans." (Wikipedia)

As I watched them, I was reminded of the Japanese snow monkeys, and of the story of how apes learned to wash rice by throwing it in water, and only eating what floated.

These jays were turning up the lily pads to catch creatures living on the undersides of the pads. Probably snails. They flew on and off, hopped from pad to pad, used smaller pads like elevators to lower them into the water for a splashy bath (it looked quite deliberate), hunted etc.

This is not my video.... and it shows a variety of birds on lilypads. Enjoy and be inspired.

All the best,
Rowena Cherry