Thursday, July 31, 2014

Gaiman on Genre

The new issue of the JOURNAL OF THE FANTASTIC IN THE ARTS includes Neil Gaiman's guest of honor speech from the 2013 International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts. Having been enthralled by the talk when I heard it in person, I'm delighted to have the printed version to remind me of so many great lines I'd recalled only vaguely.

Gaiman's main topic is genre, but he begins by discussing the interaction between author and reader. As authors, he says, "What we give the reader is a raw code, a rough pattern, loose architectural plans that they use the build the book themselves. No two readers will ever read the same book, because the reader builds the book in collaboration with the author." Reminds me of Jacqueline's Tailored Effect! Gaiman mentions the not uncommon experience of returning to a beloved childhood story and rereading a scene that you remember "so vividly, something that was etched onto the back of your eyeballs when you read it" and discovering that the rain, wind, sounds of horses, etc. that you remember so clearly aren't on the page—"you realize you did it all." Something like this experience probably inspires a lot of fanfic: We're driven to articulate what we saw in the original work that was implied but not openly expressed there.

Gaiman takes a stab at defining genre, after briefly discussing the pragmatic market definition of it as a heuristic device for enabling readers to find the kinds of stories they like on bookstore shelves. Some comments:

"Genre, it had always seemed to me, was a set of assumptions, a loose contract between the creator and the audience."

He compares porn movies to musicals by drawing an analogy between the sex scenes and the songs. "In a musical the plot exists to allow you to get from song to song and to stop all the songs from happening at once. So with a porn film. . . . If you've gone to a musical and there are no songs, you are going to walk out feeling that you did not get your musical money's worth."

"If you take them out—the songs from a musical, the sex acts from a porn film, the gunfights from a Western—then they no longer have the thing that the person came to see. . . . If the plot is a machine that allows you to get from set piece to set piece, and the set pieces are things without which the reader or the viewer would feel cheated, then, whatever it is, it's genre. . . . Subject matter does not make genre."

I'm not sure this statement doesn't minimize the importance of plot a bit too much. Still, it blew me away when I heard it. Each genre has its defining elements. A romance reader expects a love story at the center of the plot and a happily-ever-after (or happily-for-now, at least) at the conclusion. It has been quite rightly said that GONE WITH THE WIND and Diana Gabaldon's OUTLANDER aren't romances, because they don't conform to these "rules"; they are better described as "novels with romantic elements" (a category, incidentally, that the RWA has deleted from its RITA contest on the grounds that the category dilutes the organization's focus on romance). Genre fiction even has its "obligatory scenes," without which the reader will feel cheated out of the anticipated reading experience. For example, in the original STAR WARS, it seemed obvious that Luke Skywalker would have to face Darth Vader in combat, since at that point all we knew about Vader was that he'd allegedly killed Luke's father. The absence of that confrontation at the end of the first movie came as a disappointment—but a clear set-up for a sequel. We knew the story wasn't "finished."

Gaiman again: "Now the advantage of genre as a creator is it gives you something to play to and to play against. It gives you a net and the shape of the game. . . . Another advantage of genre for me is that it privileges story."

Do science fiction and fantasy, being broader genres than the romance or the Western, have certain defining "set pieces" without which we aren't in the genre anymore? Or, more narrowly, do certain subgenres, such as the quest fantasy, possess these elements?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Index to Theme-Character Integration Series by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Index to Theme-Character Integration Series
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Following is the list of posts in the general topic of how to craft Themes and Characters so the two elements become indistinguishable to the general reader.

"Integration" of two basic skills is the foundation of creating that "suspension of disbelief" that readers seek when entering a fantasy world, or when leaping into an adventure set in an impossible (but maybe desirable) landscape.

Part 17; Building a Lead Character From Theme

Part 16: Building A Hero Character From Theme

Part 15: Building A Bully Character From Theme

Part 14: The Family Man

Part 13: Soul Mate Of The Kickass Heroine

Part 12: Creating A Kickass Heroine

Part 11: Creating A Prophet Character

Part 10 Popping The Question

Part 9: Trajectory of Cultural Change

You may want to read these posts in the order in which they were written -- or perhaps only sample some of them.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Onward to Mars?

In connection with the 45th anniversary of the first moon landing, there are stories in the media about Buzz Aldrin's proposal to skip returning to the moon and instead focus on reaching Mars. The major obstacle to achieving this milestone with current technology, he maintains, is the assumption that the voyage must resemble the moon missions, with astronauts landing and then returning to Earth. Aldrin advocates a one-way journey—or, more accurately, permanent colonization. He compares prospective Mars pioneers to the Pilgrims, who left England with no expectation of returning. Even more extremely, the Polynesian voyagers who settled Hawaii presumably lost touch with their homeland altogether.

While I can't imagine ever wanting to do such a thing, examples such as these illustrate that plenty of people in history have been adventurous or desperate enough to transplant themselves permanently to a new home. Our hypothetical Mars pioneers, in fact, would be much better off than the colonists at Jamestown, having the advantage of constant communication with home, not to mention more reliable resupply ships.

Some critics insist the red planet is too inhospitable to attract permanent settlers; instead, they envision a research station with rotating staff, like the outposts in Antarctica. Either way, I'm reminded of Heinlein's various Mars novels. The first expedition as described in STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND didn't fare well. They all died by murder or suicide, leaving baby Michael Valentine Smith to be brought up by Martians. In RED PLANET and PODKAYNE OF MARS, however, the human inhabitants think of Mars as their home and Earth as an exotic foreign world their ancestors left behind. I'm optimistic enough to hope I'll live to see the first beginnings of that kind of future. I'm sixty-five; with luck, I may have another thirty years. Consider how far we've come in other fields of technology over the last thirty years.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Theme-Character Integration Part 7 Defining Character Strength by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Theme-Character Integration
Part 7
Defining Character Strength
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Previous parts in this sequence on Theme-Character Integration:

Here is a TV Series Episode that clearly and cleanly defines the interface between Theme and Character-strength.

The Series is INTELLIGENCE on CBS and the episode in question is titled ATHENS.

This is Episode 9 of the First Season.

Why is that important?  Because strength of character is abstract, illusive, and a trait that is "revealed" one component at a time, not on the first page of a novel or the pilot for a TV Series.

"Strength" of character means one thing to an editor, producer, or agent, and another to the writer -- yet another to viewers/buyers.

What one person sees as strong another sees as weak.

The assessment of a character is very much based on the end-customer's View of the Universe and is idiosyncratic -- very, very personal.

Strength of Character is a Trait that can answer the question "What does she see in him" that is the core of Romance, but is especially relevant to Science Fiction Romance (my favorite kind).

INTELLIGENCE is a mundane science fiction romance -- and a pretty good one.

The couple in question is an ex-soldier who volunteered to have a "chip" inserted into his brain (which works because he has a certain rare genetic mutation) and the woman assigned to be his bodyguard and protector because he's worth maybe a billion dollars (remember the 6 Million Dollar Man?  this is an UPDATED version.)

So episode by episode (or for a novel, chapter by chapter) we have seen this man's character revealed as the attraction between the two Special Forces grade individuals heats up.

At first wary, the mutual respect is established and grown as each saves the other from harrowing circumstances, and they develop teamwork precision like a circus act where each puts his life in the hands of the others.

And meanwhile, respect grows with the management team sending them on missions, and the tech team that works the "chip" miracles.

So we have many "variables" of character traits filled in for both these people and a really neat ROMANCE blooming nicely. 

Now, remember this is a CBS drama, not USA CHARACTERS WELCOME.

There are two "beats" (see Blake Snyder's SAVE THE CAT! screenwriting instruction series for beats definition) to pay attention to in order to learn to assess a "strong character" for the fiction market, and then to analyze many examples, then create some of your own.

Here's the story.  Gabriel, the fellow with the chip in his head, gets amnesia (long international terrorist plot business that's irrelevant).  When he wakes up in the middle of the attack on his headquarters without any memory of who these people are, he doesn't know the good guys from the bad guys.

3/4 through the episode, when he's now convinced the attackers are the good guys and he's helping them beat his real friends, the showdown scene, the turning point into the final act, is his bodyguard eye-to-eye with him trying to convince him that she is the "good-guys" side and the attackers are the bad-guys.

Gabriel's chip has been hacked in such a way that the data attached to his friends' personnel files has been changed to make them seem like bad guys, killers, victimizers of children.

The DATA shows the bad guys as the good guys.

Riley (his bodyguard) stares Gabriel in the eye and tells him to stop thinking and just FEEL -- telling him that his memory of facts is gone, but his FEELINGS originate in another part of the brain and are more reliable in sorting good from bad.

This is the NEW CULTURE PARADIGM we see in all these most  popular TV shows.

This entire generation of viewers has been educated from primary school to understand the world in terms of feelings and to put aside all facts in favor of what feels right.  (look for that theme if you haven't noticed it -- it sells big time in Romance).

We see in Romance -- if you read some written in the 1950's and 1960's then skip ahead to 2000, you will note this trend, then follow it back decade by decade until you locate the turning point in philosophy -- the theme that lust and passion are irresistible, that there's no use trying to use intellect to over-ride animal lust, and that all hook-ups or even marriage must have searing-passionate-animal-lust as the foundation.

That might correlate to the divorce-rate rise -- a statistical researcher might get a paper out of it.

But to sell fiction, you have to understand the world the reader thinks is real in order to invoke suspension-of-disbelief.  So pay attention to the cultural shift from THINK FIRST, and STOP CRYING OR I'LL GIVE YOU SOMETHING TO CRY ABOUT upbringings, to DON'T EVER OFFEND ANYBODY.

The worst crime children learn about in primary school is making someone feel bad by doing something better than they can do it.  Everyone gets a certificate of merit, a prize, a ribbon, just for showing up, so the incapable won't feel bad about being incapable. 

So we see this EMOTION trumps THOUGHT as a major, cultural assumption, a philosophy, and that makes it THEMATIC MATERIAL.

In this episode of INTELLIGENCE, we see one of the love-interest characters convince the other love-interest character that you can tell the good guys from the bad guys by how you FEEL and that all data, all facts, all thought is unreliable.

The story is rigged so that in this instance, that is actually true -- and that rigging is what makes this a beautiful example of THEME.

The "Character" element that integrates with the theme is that Gabriel - the chip-guy - buys it.  He relies on how he feels about Riley and throws in with his employers against the invaders.

And he wins the day back for them.

Then the STRENGTH of character scene comes at the end, final tag of the episode, where it is made crystal clear that emotions trump facts or thought.  How you feel is the only important and determining factor. 

So this series defines "STRONG CHARACTER" as someone with the courage to act on emotion-only against all the facts.  Facts are unreliable; emotions are the truth.

You know that the TV Series Intelligence is still using the same mechanism to create "strong characters" for an audience because this episode which showcases and defines "strong character" first wipes out Gabriel's memory of facts, then replaces the facts with lies.  When he's convinced the lies are truth, he still acts like Gabriel -- loyal and strong, and ferociously protective of children. 

The script bores right to the core of the definition of Strong Character by removing Intellect from Reliable Information Source.  By eliminating that one factor, the script reveals the unspoken cultural assumption of the definition of high moral fiber.  The best people strive to follow their heart, not their brain.  So lies don't matter (because nobody will pay attention to them), but feelings do matter.

If you dig back a few decades you will find all TV action-shows, all Science Fiction, and most Romance depicted the STRONG character as the one who followed Intellect, determined and cross-tested facts, and "did the right thing" regardless of how they felt about an issue, regardless of the emotional loss or pain they might cause themselves or anyone. 

Today the definition of what illustrates "strength of character" has done a 180.

However, the actual writing craftsmanship is still the same!

"Strong Character" in fiction is defined by the integration between the character's emotional life and the character's external, fact-based life.

The concept "Integration" means essentially that two elements merge to form a third, and that the proportions of each ingredient are defined so that the "third" they create has a recognizable consistency.  That's a marketing thing.  Large markets are created by producing consistent products that are all the same -- if you buy Tide to wash your clothes, and buy another package with exactly the same LABEL next month, you expect the new package to contain the same washing-power.  Likewise with books - if it says Science Fiction Romance or Paranormal Romance or Vampire Romance, it better deliver just like all the others under that label.

So today's market is looking for characters who have an unshakeable dedication to following their feelings and ignoring all intellectually ascertained facts.

It is the UNSHAKEABLE trait that is the defining ingredient in "Strong Character." 

No matter what happens, that integration point between intellect and emotion will not change in that character -- not amnesia, not maiming, not disabling, not disease, not helplessness, not imprisonment, not torture, not anything will alter the proportions of Intellect and Emotion behind plot-moving decisions and actions. 

That integration point is stable, meaning the character is both sane and admirable.

It's the exact same writing technique -- the exact opposite message.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Naming Characters

A few days ago, I read a blog post on choosing character names. Among other things, the author discussed the common practice of using baby name books as references. I've done that in the past (besides a mainstream baby book, I have an old paperback of "New Age" naming suggestions for more exotic ideas). Now, though, I depend on the CHARACTER NAMING SOURCEBOOK, published by the Writer's Digest book club. It's divided by ethnic group and includes surnames (and explanations of each culture's naming rules) as well as first names. It also contains useful lists of the most popular American names by birth year.

That blog post talked about taking care not to name characters after her family members or close friends. I tread carefully in that area, too. Several of my favorite names have been barred from use in my fiction because they're worn by relatives or co-workers. On the other hand, I wouldn't go so far as to eliminate the name of every person I've ever been acquainted with. Another matter to consider is repetition of initials. Many authors tend to gravitate toward particular letters in naming heroes and heroines. In my case, I seem to default to L and M for heroines. Without realizing I'd done it until it was too late, I published two pieces with heroines named Laurel and Lauren, respectively. As for minor walk-on characters, if I don't pay attention, I lapse into the same few default names for all of them. Some authors keep charts of names they've used. While I don't do that, I can see the usefulness of the custom. Writing teachers advise against having major characters in a book or story with similar-sounding names or even ones that start with the same letter.

In real life, of course, a family or social circle often includes people with same-initialed names, names with similar sounds, and even identical names. For a long time we had three women named Betty in the office where I worked. At another period, we had four Joans. Fiction, though, imposes an artificial variety on names for the sake of clarity. Likewise, in defiance of "realism," we try to avoid ludicrous puns or names that don't "sound like" a proper hero, heroine, or villain, unless they're purposely chosen for the humor or incongruity.

One precaution I take, which I don't think I've seen mentioned, is avoiding famous and even moderately famous names. (Somebody only vaguely familiar to me might be a major celebrity to others.) If a given-plus-surname combination pops too readily into my brain, I Google it to make sure I haven't heard it somewhere and consciously forgotten it. In particular, if my character is an author, singer, etc., I don't want to name him or her after a real artist in the same field. Of course, it's almost impossible to invent a name combination not borne by SOME real person. The point is to make sure it's not a person readers will have heard of and have distracting associations with. In one of my early novels, I gave the heroine, Jenny, a boyfriend named Craig. My critique partner pointed out the humor, which was lost on me. I'd never consciously heard of the Jenny Craig company before then, although it might have lodged in my unconscious mind at some point. Needless to say, I changed the boyfriend's name. The heroine of DARK CHANGELING, my first vampire novel, was originally called Britt Logan. When I realized the airport in Boston, the hero's home town, is Logan Airport, I changed her last name to avoid the unintentionally funny coincidence. Such coincidences do happen in life. When I met my husband, his family lived on a street called by my mother's maiden name. But real life, unlike fiction, isn't required to be artistically appropriate.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Marketing Fiction In A Changing World Part 9 Guest Post by Chuck Gannon (Nebula Award Nominee)

Marketing Fiction In A Changing World
Part 9
Guest Post
Charles Gannon
(Nebula Award Nominee)

Is the Charles Gannon title we'll discuss today and then hear directly from Gannon himself.

This is not a review of the contents of this book, but about its origins.

This is about Marketing Fiction in a Changing World, Part 9 in this long series, about why these Tuesday blogs are relevant now, today, and will very likely give you writing tools that will be relevant twenty or thirty years from now, to teach to the 12-year-old who hasn't been born yet -- despite technological advances in the fiction delivery system.

The previous parts of this series about Marketing Fiction In A Changing World can be found at:

Here below, Charles Gannon gives you a glimpse of the reasons why you should read the Tuesday posts on this blog.

Gannon's book FIRE WITH FIRE is making a huge impression on readers in 2014 and there's another book out in Spring, TRIAL BY FIRE.  He first turned up in my sphere via STAR TREK decades ago.

He was just a kid then, but I treated his early attempt at writing a story as if he were an adult and a seasoned professional -- two barrels right between the eyes.

He took the douse of cold reality like a pro and came back with a serious game-plan.

It was a beautiful thing to behold -- and definitely demonstrated the difference between a to-be-professional-writer and a never-to-be-professional-writer.

The difference is not in the quality of the writing.

As Marion Zimmer Bradley taught in her writing workshops, any literate person can learn to write well enough to sell prose.

As any reader knows, lots of that kind of prose gets published -- and isn't worth your time to read.

Therein lies the difference -- anyone can learn the craft; not everyone has a) the vivid imagination and b) the personal stuffings, the character, to take the punishment of the world of performing arts, c) something to say that you want to hear.

When you find imagination and strong character among the kids you encounter, treat them like adults and dish it out plain and simple. 

I have tasked Chuck Gannon to pay it forward, Robert A. Heinlein style, and treat the kids who come to him as equals -- some of them will take fire from that, and some of those will carry his own work forward to future generations.

However much things change, they stay the same. 

Art is all about sorting the unchanging from the morass of churning change.

Science Fiction is the vehicle that best showcases the edge that being able to do that sorting gives us. 

Charles Gannon titles aren't Science Fiction Romance, per se, but if you want to write SFR that roars into the marketplace, study what Gannon has accomplished with crafting a marketable, award-worthy novel. 

------QUOTE FROM CHUCK GANNON  ----------

I met Jacqueline Lichtenberg when I was 12 years old.

She was talking about Star Trek at a local library and I was dazzled by her energy, her passion, her eloquence, her humor. And, more wonderful still, when I approached her afterward, she was utterly and wonderfully receptive. So much so that she said the magic words: "Send me something! I'll tell you what I think. But be warned: I'll tell you the truth!"

I already knew I wanted to be a writer, but at 12, that vision is a very inchoate one. How does one make a living? How does one get to be good enough to be worthy of publication? Who will show me HOW?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg had all those answers and more. After the closest critique of any fiction I have received TO THIS DAY, she continued to be available as mentor, information source, adviser (adviser, as I and the English prefer) and, best of all, a wonderful friend.

If you have the opportunity to work with her, do so. To ignore that opportunity is like leaving a winning lottery ticket laying in the middle of the road.

If you are reading this, you are halfway to finding out if you CAN be a writer, and what it will take. Which is different than MAKING you a writer: no human can do that. But what Jacqueline does is BETTER: she gives you the unvarnished truth and maximum hope based on your extant skill set. And that kind of integrity, excellence, insight and honesty is rare indeed.

And perhaps rarest of all values is this one: what Jacqueline teaches NEVER gets old. Fashions, in writing as in everything else, come and go, but the core and classical principles remain constant. And those are the bedrock of Jacqueline's own writing and her mentor-ship. Go ahead: see for yourself. You'll be glad you did.

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

So click on over to  and survey where he has gotten to in his career.

Then read his work, examine the covers, the blurbs, and any marketing materials you can find involving him. 

Watch, listen, think hard, and see how the techniques and methods, the angle of view, and the application of the oldest story-telling-craft to this modern world can be applied in the here and now to captivate a target audience.

Strip out the particulars, and you will find this methodology easily pertains to the creation and marketing of Science Fiction Romance.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, July 13, 2014

E-Book Buyer Beware

Not to damn Amazon with faint praise, but Amazon is good for one thing: establishing the lowest legal rung of the e-book pricing ladder.

As a general rule of thumb, if someone is selling an e-book for less than Amazon, that someone is probably either a credit card scammer, an identity thief, or a copyright infringer. That's my opinion. There are exceptions.... for instance, currently, some Hachette titles.

If one does an internet search engine search for "E-Book Scam" or "E-Book Credit Card Scams" you will find some information, but not as much as one might expect given the number of sites that apparently offer thousands of ebooks for sale, often, all for $1.50. They may even offer e-books that do not exist, and never have existed.

If the price looks too good to be true, do not give the purveyor your credit card information without doing a great deal of due diligence.

What due diligence? you may ask.
Well, try googling the name of the TGTBT site.
Try a "WhoIs" search, for instance "" and if you find that the e-book seller is using Privacy Protect services, you might wonder why anyone would give their name, address and credit card information to someone who does not want their identity known.

Personally, I am offended that identity thieves and credit card scammers use authors' names and book titles as bait. I am astounded that the scam works, and that there are people honest enough to pay for ebooks who nevertheless are drawn to sites that do not post the name and contact information of their copyright agent.... and that warn customers that it might take 12 hours before the e-book can be delivered, or that promise to "Take Requests" for ebooks that are not listed in their inventory.

Happy summer reading.
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, July 10, 2014

New Paranormal Romance

Amber Quill Press has just released my new paranormal romance with Lovecraftian elements, SEALING THE DARK PORTAL:

Sealing the Dark Portal

I really like this cover. The butterfly is heroine Rina's familiar, a jeweled ornament on a pendant that comes to life. Rina is an alien in a sense, because, although human, she comes from a different space-time continuum. But at the beginning of the story she doesn't know that. Almost everything she remembers about her past is an illusion. Although she thinks she has lived an ordinary life in our world, in fact two years earlier she fled here from her homeland with her memories altered for her own protection. Now the creatures from the void between dimensions that overran her world have pursued her here. She must regain her memories and her magical ability in order to defeat them. Moreover, an enemy sorcerer has tracked her from their devastated homeland and plans to open a portal onto the void in our world also.

I gave Rina a werecat bodyguard who came across with her to watch over her in secret. When she meets him and her true memories awaken, she also has to deal with memories of the past intimacy they shared. He has the power to take three forms—human, domestic cat, or cougar (mountain lion). I had fun with him and with Rina's very assertive butterfly familiar.

The spark for this novel was the concept of two people who'd known each other in a different world meeting again in this one, while one of them doesn't remember the former life. Yes, the "false memory" motif has appeared in lots of fantasy fiction, but the example that inspired me was the brief scene at the end of Stephen King's Dark Tower saga, when Susannah and Eddie find themselves safe in New York with new identities and new lives ahead of them. How did those lives play out, I wondered? Suppose a comparable pair of characters discovered they weren't safe after all?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Genre: The Root Of All Passion by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Genre: The Root Of All Passion
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Previous parts in this series on Genre:

And here is a July 2014 update on e-book Bestsellers on Amazon -- showing how few of the top selling e-books are put up by a single person rather than a publisher.  Small publishers do better than self-publishing for authors. A small publisher can offer an array of books all narrowly focused to a particular readership, drilling down to the root of passion for those readers.

And now we'll look at genre as the root of all passion.

I found this article when emailed me they had a new interface design, so I went over to to check that out.  (showing I had a klout of 56)

The article on is a couple excerpted paragraphs from -- here is an excerpt of the excerpt.

--------from ----------
.... The result of all this baggage is a preposterous, resentful pecking order in which readers get way too much pleasure out of pissing on other readers' preferences and/or jumping, on the slightest pretext, to the conclusion that their own are being ridiculed.  ....
-------END QUOTE----------

Here's the whole, original article:
The title on is
 Is the literary world elitist?

What readers who take offense at unfamiliar words and challenging books are telling us about our culture

-----excerpt from end of full article-----------
If, however, I did fear, deep inside, that my inability to appreciate any celebrated book betrayed my complete intellectual and aesthetic inadequacy, I would probably be pretty angry. I’d feel the need to stick my oar in and announce that “The Adventures of Augie March” is actually a crap novel, that it is objectively boring and that the critics who praise it are charlatans. Even if I couldn’t explain exactly why I dislike it, I might want to register that dislike because somebody should be speaking out against this hoax being perpetrated on the public by the literary establishment. I’d resent that establishment and the snooty, Bellovian way it expresses itself, with fancy words like “crepuscular.” And I’d want everyone else who, like me, could see through this emperor’s new clothes to know that they are not alone, and get them to tell me I’m not alone. It’s usually those with the least faith in their own opinions who become the most outraged when the consensus does not agree with them.

If I did feel that way, it also probably wouldn’t be my fault. If I had such attitudes, chances are it would be because at some early — or even later — stage in my life, someone with similar anxieties would have taken them out on me and made me feel small and stupid and tacky. And to make myself feel better, I might do something similar to someone else: for example, mock my little brother for reading George R.R. Martin. Petty abuses like this get passed on in pretty much the same way the bigger ones do. All the same, even if we’re not to blame for our insecurities, we are responsible for recognizing them for what they are. And for growing up and getting over it.

--------end excerpt-----------------

What leaps out at me is, "It's usually those with the least faith in their own opinions who become the most outraged when the consensus does not agree with them." 

Faith in one's own opinion often comes about when you, yourself, have worked the problem, systematically applying the axioms and postulates of your own personal philosophy and/or religion -- an internally consistent theory about Life, the Universe, and Everything -- and arrived at your own understanding.  When that much exertion results in a conclusion, there can't be much intellectual insecurity about the conclusion.

When, however, your opinions are based on what other people tell you your opinion should be, there is little chance you will have anything but intellectual insecurity and go through life striking out in impotent rage.  

From the first quote from, what leaps out at me is "resentful pecking order."

We all recognize that "pecking order" in the way Romance is "pecked at" especially for the HEA. 

Almost any plot-development based on a thoughtful evaluation of another person's emotional reality will be vilified by anti-Happily-Ever-After devotees. 

This article on suggests that those who oppose the exploration of the paths to an HEA do so because they are intellectually insecure in their rejection of the existence of the HEA.  Could that explain the viciousness of the attack?

I believe that reading Romance genre sensitizes readers to the way the world looks from another person's point of view -- something all good Literature does.  Romance is not a genre to be looked down on, but a Literature to be looked up at.

The core essence of Romance is a heightened sensitivity to how another person feels, a sensitivity to emotion that pierces the intellect. 

Romance is a state of mind as well as heart, an altered consciousness that we can attain most easily when under the dissolving impact of a Neptune transit. 

Older astrology books taught that the Neptune transit signified a state of mind in which one's perceptions of reality were "blurred" or dissolved in a way that made one's views "false."

But the higher truth is that if you have exerted yourself in training your mind and emotions to work on a theory of reality that is without internal contradictions, then the Neptune transits responsible for Love At First Sight will sharpen your judgement of human nature and your ability to perceive the emotions of others and plumb the depths of character.

You will see that Love and know, at the first glimpse, what you're looking at.

Read what I've said here again and note the interweaving of "thought" and "mind" and various references to emotion such as "feel" blended into "know."

There is a psychological study which asserts that some people perceive the world through emotion, while others perceive through thought or logic -- and that this cognitive style is inherent in you, not under your control, not a choice, not something you can acquire or change.

There are spiritual approaches to understanding the state of being human that encompass both the emotion based reality, and the logical or intellectual based reality. 

Such spiritual disciplines strive to get the emotional and logical faculties to interact in a balanced way. 

I suspect that exactly where that "logic/emotion balance point" is for an individual is a matter of inherent traits, but getting to that balance point is a struggle for everyone.

One essential ingredient in a life securely ensconced in such a "logic/emotion balance point" is the presence of the right opposite number with the complementary attributes -- e.g. The Spouse. 

There is also another tenet of classic Astrology that holds that the physical appearance of a person is indicated in the natal chart.  For example, people with long-shaped faces generally have a prominent Capricorn or Saturn or both. 

Note President Obama seems (by the published official Birth Certificate) to have Saturn in its own sign Capricorn with Jupiter in conjunction, emphasizing his Capricorn nature.  (his Sun is in Leo.)

Now check out the proportions of his face -- also his slender build is typical of strong Saturn or Capricorn  -- his reputation for being "no-drama-Obama" (such a Capricorn trait, though Leo is famous for drama) was acquired while that conjunction was activated by transit -- and he was able to convince the Nation that he would be a great manager for the Executive (Capricorn) Branch because he looks (and sounds) like a Manager -- which is what Capricorn is really good at, what Saturn is all about -- organization - while Leo is about commanding. 

So Love At First Sight might be based on seeing that complementary natal chart, that Spouse material, in another person's appearance. 

Love at First Sight might also have an aura component -- a psychic perceptibility activated in a unique way by this particular individual.  Pheromones would figure in that.

That's the bottom line in any Romance Novel -- two unique individuals fitting together, hand in glove, and recognizing that fit, even if only subconsciously.

Now consider the problem of resolving the Romance Triangle situation -- where two different characters are  opposite numbers for a third. 

A woman beset by two lovers has to choose one of them.  Each one is "perfect" because each completes her in a unique way.  So she has to choose one on the basis of which side of her personality she wants shape her life.

The Romantic Triangle novel gives the writer the opportunity to display decision making tools, both cognitive and emotional.

One thing I've noted in our current world is a lack of decision-making precision, a lack of understanding of the process of decision making, and a lack of hard-practice at the process.

That lack has led to a distrust of the individual's judgement.  You see this in things like trying to make a single rule that everyone follows before pulling a Fire Alarm at a school -- or a whole list of procedures that have to be followed in a particular situation.  It's as if nobody dares risk relying on another person's judgement for anything. 

That's the world your reader is living in, so consider it carefully.  Small wonder there's intellectual insecurity. 

All real-life decisions are a leap into the dark, deep-end of the pool -- you are diving in blind, you do not have sufficient information, nor will you ever have it.  Risk-Risk everything's a risk, and intellectual insecurity leaves one with a paralyzing terror in the face of possible failure. 

But you must use all the information you have to arrive at a decision that is the best you can make (logically), so that in retrospect, no matter what goes wrong you will not waste resources revisiting that decision but devote all your energy to solving the current problem.  When you have become a strong character with strong decision making skills, you can boldly go where no one has gone before with the confidence that you can surmount any challenge that dares to meet you.

This kind of decision making process is most evident in Romance novels, and thus Romance gives readers the most practice you can get vicariously.

This exercise in virtual decision making is especially salutary when the writer can step the reader through a rigorous logical evaluation of a character, and then through an equally rigorous emotional evaluation of that character. 

Bringing the two branches of the decision tree together in the final pages of the novel lets the reader arrive at their own answer to the question "which one should I marry?" before the character decides -- and then the reader can test their resolution against the main character's resolution and go away arguing the case.

Even writers can re-think which two characters should get together finally.  You all read about J. K. Rowling rethinking Harry Potter's link-up?

As the Romance field has grown, and branched into hybrid genres such as Paranormal Romance or Interstellar Adventure-Romance, the opportunity for series that move the characters through the "I love you" point to the "I do" point, and on to the "We're pregnant" point and even beyond to the "I don't know what to do with your child!" point.

When the structure of a Relationship, or the destiny (I married a medical student; now he's a successful doctor and I feel like a widow, or single-mother) seems just plain wrong for your personality and ambitions -- what do you do about it?

Did you choose the wrong one of your two suitors?  What is the life of the other man's wife like today?

How do you work this problem?  How do you define this problem? 

The permutations and variations on this essential life conflict have barely been touched on by the Romance field.

My favorite of the current works-in-progress on this theme is Gini Koch's ALIEN series.  Book 9, ALIEN COLLECTIVE came out in May 2014:

Kitty Kat, the heroine of the ALIEN novels, is an ordinary human at the start, acquires some new traits along the way, but even when kicked way off her center, she returns to her own stable intellect/emotion point and continues to function.  Her marriage to an alien is as much in spite-of as because-of, the insane hyper-sexuality between them.  She chose this man not just for the sex, but because of his strong character that complemented her own.

We often grapple with the definition of a strong character.  Editors mean one thing by the term, writers another, readers yet another.  There is a very real core to all three definitions.

What it takes to be a "strong character" is balance at a stable point inside you where Intellect and Emotion conjoin, co-mingle, and become indistinguishable from one another.  Such a person, Saint-Class-Human, would have all emotional impulses not "under control" but "programmed" to give intellectually correct answers.  Such a person can leap before looking and always nail the landing.

For a strong character, every life-choice must satisfy both emotional preferences and intellectual honesty.  A "strong character" is on his/her way to that saint-class-human. 

Even if the character has a morality or an ethic that is non-human, or what the reader would consider criminal, or culturally unacceptable, if that character's emotional responses are stringently consistent with his/her intellectual standards (impeccable logic, given the premises) then the character will be seen as "strong."  Not stubborn -- strong. 

Such a character, with fully integrated emotions and thinking, will absorb the impact of shattering events with just a bit of recoil, then surge back into the fray with renewed determination.  That's what strong characters do.  They don't give up.  They don't give in.  They don't crumble. 

Where does such "strength" of character come from?  It comes from the stability at the balance point where emotion and logic join into a single, clear assessment of any life-situation. 

For such a fully integrated character, a Neptune transit (falling in love, ga-ga infatuated, unable to think of anything else) will be FUN, not an occasion for actions destructive to the life or career that's been built so far.  What has been built so far will be strong enough to absorb the impact of True Love, integrate the new Spouse into all the on-going affairs, and make progress even while courting.

A Romance novel gains plausibility when these improbable Events happen to an integrated personality. 
Stories like that "work" because in reality, we all know how the integrated personalities around us seem to just sail through vicissitudes unscathed while everyone else is smashed to pieces.

A person may appear to have a strong Saturn or Capricorn (look like a great manager) but not have that "strength of character" that can be achieved only by stabilizing at that emotion/logic balance point.

A lover will judge not just by good looks, but also by performance under stress. 

That's why we love Science Fiction Romance where lovers get to see their prospective spouse under the impact of bizarre, unthinkable, and screw-ball stress.  Smart women flee from men who crumble.  Smart men flee from women who crumble.  We aren't all that smart, so we love reading about smart characters. 

But with practice, with determination and unrelenting striving, one can get to be that smart.

That's the hope all humans harbor.  You can't change "who" you are -- but you can be a strong version of you, rather than a weak version.

Reading good Romance can provide the vision of what you could be, if you sweat it out and train rigorously to find your emotion/logic balance point.  Nobody can tell you where yours is.  You have to risk everything to find it.  What do you risk?  Reliving that emotional pain referenced in  "Is the literary world elitist?  What readers who take offense at unfamiliar words and challenging books are telling us about our culture"   that triggered your version of intellectual insecurity.

Either intellectual or emotional insecurity vitiates the strength of character necessary to cope with our real world.  By reading Romance, and especially the hybrid genres of Romance, you can evaluate and assess where inside you those insecurities reside, what caused them, and then find what you can do to confront your demons and exorcise them. 

In other words, you can find out how to become the kind of "strong character" you so admire in novels. 
Concentrate on reading the writers who have the aspect of strength you have set yourself to master.

If there is any criticism of Romance Genre that actually holds up well on scrutiny, it's that many authors of Romance do not themselves train in rigorous internal consistency of philosophy that comes automatically when you live at that stable emotion/logic balance point.  But many of the most popular Romance writers do.  Very often, they get to their balance point by writing Romance! 

Beginning Romance writers just (tell rather than show that this character falls in love with that character on first sight -- and there is no way readers can figure out what "he sees in her" or "she sees in him" because there is nothing to see.

This harks back to THEME that I talk about so much.  The writer has to have a thematic rationale for Love At First Sight that the writer wants to explain in this novel -- where does it come from, why does it happen, does it really mean anything in the long-run?  Religion can be the explanation, or karma, or life-is-random, or "I'm helpless before my carnal emotions."  But the writer has to be saying something with that First Sight Plot Event in such a way that the reader can "hear" it being said, and later "see" it working in their real world.

The weak character is "helpless before carnal emotions."  If the character becomes a strong character as a result of striving with carnal emotions, you have a novel series, because this kind of "strength" -- that comes from a totally consistent philosophy of life, consistent with emotional reality and consistent with logical reality -- takes decades of hard living to achieve (sometimes in a past life).

The best source of plot-events to throw at your weak character who is developing strength is the typical Pluto Transit event that I have, in previous posts, identified as the source of Melodrama.

In real life, solid relationships seldom result from lust-at-first-sight where the couple has incompatible personalities.

But even that does happen -- really!  Sometimes, such relationships result in 50th Anniversaries with hoards of grandchildren swarming about.

It's a crazy world, and lots of highly improbable things happen.  Such improbabilities are the real life venues for stories.  You see it in biographies and autobiographies. 

Love Conquers All.  It really does.  And that fact is a mystery humans can't help but probe. 

Romance is all about emotion -- and intellectual insecurity (as noted in this article) is a condition that blends both emotion and intellect, body and mind.

You can't have ROMANCE without "mind" -- but you can have sex and lust without "mind."

The Romance Genre is by definition all about finding that balance point within the character's personality where intellect and emotion blend harmoniously.  And the Love Conquers All premise behind the Romance Genre is all about how that balance point is attained by partnering with the right opposite number.

A coupling that facilitates the advancement of each character toward their own balance point exerts a strong influence on the course of Events around them -- and perhaps on the destiny of Humanity and perhaps the Universe, depending how mystical you want to get.

Showing rather than assuming or telling this process of balancing intellect and emotion can make Romance genre novels more accessible to those who can't believe in the reality of Happily Ever After.

When you mix Science Fiction with Romance, you can demonstrate the kinds of balance points that are favored by a sensitive dominance of intellect over emotion.  You can show how emotion can be trained by the intellect to recognize and react to that which is consistent with the philosophy or religion the character has consciously chosen. 

Achieving that intellect/emotion balance point and thus becoming "strong" characters, a couple can indeed and in reality, live a Happily Ever After ending.  Just contemplate those 50th Wedding Anniversary celebrations -- some people do make it to the HEA.

The easiest way to get to the HEA is to vanquish your Intellectual Insecurities -- as delineated in this article I cited at the top of this post:

 Thursday, Feb 6, 2014 05:00 PM -0700
Is the literary world elitist?
What readers who take offense at unfamiliar words and challenging books are telling us about our culture

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Across Media

Having recently read the Japanese novel SWORD ART ONLINE and the manga based on it after watching the anime adaptation, I've been thinking about adaptations of fiction into film. From what I've read and seen, I get the impression that in Japanese media the adapters of a novel or manga tend to work closely with the original creators, so that SWORD ART ONLINE represents the norm: An anime film typically follows the novel or manga as faithfully as the translation from one medium to the other allows. Which, in my opinion, is as it should be. If the adapter doesn't enjoy or respect the source enough to want to adapt it faithfully, why not just write his own film? (I know, I know, for the market value of the title, but I still don't approve.) When I watch a movie or series based on a book, I'm expecting to see the novel brought to life on the screen, not some producer's off-the-wall rendering of a story "inspired by" the original.

Of course, most novels are too long to translate fully into the time span of theatrical movies. (That's why the miniseries is the ideal medium for filming a novel.) Hence the numerous film versions of A CHRISTMAS CAROL and DRACULA, many of which I've seen. It's intriguing to note which elements of a long, complex story a filmmaker chooses to include or omit. I realize some omissions and adjustments are unavoidable, even with a rather short novel such as A CHRISTMAS CAROL. What make me gnash my teeth are gratuitous additions and changes. Take the big-screen version of PRINCE CASPIAN, for instance. The movie inserts an attack on the castle that isn't in the book, serves no purpose other than to add some "action" scenes that don't advance the plot, and displays Peter behaving in a manner totally out of character for him (as the script makes him do at several other points). To make room for this tedious "action" sequence, the script omits Aslan's triumphal cross-country procession to liberate Narnia, which didn't appear in the BBC PRINCE CASPIAN production for lack of time and which I'd been eagerly looking forward to in the theatrical adaptation. A more subtle distortion of character appears, famously, in the original movie of Stephen King's THE SHINING. In the novel, although the father has plenty of problems, he's trying to be the best possible father and husband in the circumstances, and it's obvious that the very real supernatural entities in the hotel drive him out of his mind. In the Stanley Kubrick movie, he seems to be crazy all along.

Another Stephen King adaptation, SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, offers examples of "good" cinematic embellishments. Neither the chess set made of rocks gathered by the other convicts nor the scene where Andy locks himself in the warden's office to broadcast classical music throughout the prison appears in the novel, but they fit beautifully with the plot and Andy's character.

Some films manage faithful translations of the books they're based on despite the time limitations. GONE WITH THE WIND does an excellent job, with the deletion of only a few characters and subplots. SILENCE OF THE LAMBS is another example—but notice the shift in emphasis at the end. In the book, the final scene shows us Clarice, briefly at peace after solving the serial murder case, sleeping beside her new-found lover. In the movie, we last see her receiving a phone call from Hannibal Lecter, and the final scene shows Lecter, having escaped from prison, disappearing into a crowd. He becomes the center of the story in a way he wasn't in the novel. Then there's ROSEMARY'S BABY. A simple, streamlined novel, it became an excellent movie with almost no alteration. Earlier this year, for motives that elude me, the novel was adapted as a TV miniseries. It's essentially the same story, but updated to the present day and relocated from New York to Paris, with many details altered. In the most glaring change, the kind neighbors who turn out to be the heads of the Satanist coven are transformed from elderly and frumpy to younger, beautiful, sophisticated, and of course French—in other words, stereotypical Satanists. This change eliminates one of author Ira Levin's principal strokes of genius, portraying a mundane world in which ordinary people, even the nice old couple in the same apartment building, can be agents of supernatural evil. The wife in the 2014 miniseries would never call the dessert with which she drugs Rosemary "chocolate mouse," and I believe that's a loss.

Another reason I've been thinking about adaptations is that next month the Starz network will begin showing its series adapted from Diana Gabaldon's OUTLANDER, one of my favorite novels ever. The TV format allows scope for a full, respectful treatment of this very long, complicated book. Gabaldon has been waxing enthusiastic about it for months, so there are grounds for hope.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Reviews 8 - Laura Resnick-Seanan McGuire - Myke Cole - David S. Goyer - Michael Cassutt

Reviews 8
Jacqueline Lichtenberg
Laura Resnick - Seanan McGuire - Myke Cole - David S. Goyer - Michael Cassutt

After several long advanced technique posts, let's take a look at some good examples of applications of these techniques.

These are not Romance novels, but they are Relationship driven novels worth studying after reading the previous 6 posts on writing techniques.

You may wonder why I direct your attention out of the Romance field for examples of how to write a good Romance.

The answer is simple.  Perspective. 

Gene Roddenberry added Spock - the half-breed non-human - to the Enterprise crew because science fiction's most powerful hallmark is the external perspective on human nature.

He originally had a female First Officer who was unemotional, while the half-breed alien Spock did have emotional responses that he showed without a second thought.  (watch THE CAGE and THE MENAGERIE)

Science Fiction is traditionally an "action" genre.  "Action" started as a men's magazine kind of war-story genre -- or perhaps in the Dime Novel days as the simple Western.  But today we have Action Romance, and in Fantasy/Paranormal we have Kickass Heroine novels. 

"Strong" characters aren't characters with a lot of bulging muscles, but rather characters with an indominable Will.  That doesn't mean "dominant" -- but simply a character who can't be dominated.

Such a strong character either has a goal at the outset of the novel, or acquires that goal through the opening events that establish the conflict.

We explored some of these issues last week in an examination of the 3/4 point in a novel.

The heroic characters we love most are the ones who aren't heroic at the opening of the story.  They rise to the occasion under the press of events.

This is the essence of the story-arc -- the way the character grows, changes, and unfolds to stand tall before a threat.  In all the self-help books about what women want in a man, you seldom see that trait delineated as clearly as you do in Science Fiction or Fantasy.

The best depictions of that kind of character growth seem to appear in the hybrid genre novels such as Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier by Myke Cole.

Here, we have an alternate universe being explored by our present day military as if it were an alien world.  There is a portal, but it takes a special Talent to open it.  Magical Talent is being identified and trained in our world, and the Military is leading the way. 

We follow Colonel Alan Bookbinder, an accountant type individual who has to come to grips with discovering his own magical talent, and with how that Talent alters his career path away from the Pentagon and into the field -- on this alien planet.

It is one, long, hard struggle, but with the help of the people he meets, he begins to access that strength of character which he had never needed in his life before. 

This is a novel that almost defines what "strong character" means.  It is well constructed, easy to follow despite being located in our present day Earth and also on the other side of this dimensional gate.  There are a lot of characters, but they are vividly drawn and memorable. 

The focus is on this one man and his fight to exceed his own design-specs.  Romance writers can learn a lot from this novel by examining that tight focus, and noticing how it gives us a complete portrait of a Hunk ripe for Leading Man in a really hot Romance.  Every woman of strong character wants a man like Colonel Alan Bookbinder.

Then take a good, long look at Seanan McGuire's work.  You'll find many novels by Seanan McGuire - fast paced, complex, sometimes difficult to follow but always worth the effort.

The plot structure here is a chase -- with elements of mystery-suspense and revelations about the rules of Magic or ESP in the world of the Hero, October Daye, a woman with as many problems as Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden. 

If you haven't read the Dresden Files series that I've raved about in prior blogs, do take a look:

The Dresden Files

The Dresden Files series novels are more complex but easier to follow when reading despite having a truly huge cast of characters.  Butcher has mastered the use of point of view to create this easy-to-read effect.

Comparing the male Harry Dresden to the female October Daye.  You might even imagine what would happen if they met.  I find that concept irresistible. 

Now we come to something lighter, more playful but focusing on material that is just as serious, just as potentially deadly, yet more optimistic.

This is the Esther Diamond Series by Laura Resnick.

Esther Diamond is an actress struggling to make it in contemporary New York.

Esther Diamond Series

As the titles suggest, these are deliberately written to highlight the comedic aspects of serious situations -- and manage to evoke some of the situation comedy flavor we loved so much in Star Trek: The Original Series.


Are two favorites of mine.

The Series is:

To learn the most from the Esther Diamond novels, do a complete contrast/compare with Seanan McGuire's October Daye novels focusing your attention on dialogue techniques. 

As with Gini Koch's Alien Series the humor technique relies heavily on dialogue, and it works fabulously well.

Study both Gini Koch's dialogue technique and Laura Resnick's.  There is a difference, but both writers use dialogue to greatly humorous effect -- which adds to the realism! 

Here's a clue of what to look for.

We discussed dialogue recently here in The Gigolo And The Lounge Lizard:

And do note that I keep pointing you at Screenwriting books like Blake Snyder's SAVE THE CAT! series which focus on structure.  I have not dug up currently available instruction on how to write dialogue for film, which is a very sophisticated application.  Not only do the words have to say what needs saying, but they have to string together in a way that's fairly easy to pronounce, and even easier to understand when heard at a rapid tempo.

Also dialogue for film has to translate well, since the profit margins for film depend on foreign sales.

So stagecraft is the place to learn dialogue.

And guess what?  Esther Diamond is a stage actress who uses dialogue like a stage trained actress in her everyday interactions.

Laura Resnick also writes the other characters in the Esther Diamond series as interacting with Esther via dialogue as if in a film or a play.  They don't know that's what they're doing, but it clearly is.

And Laura Resnick is dealing with a very hot romance between Esther Diamond and the police detective she keeps dragging into mystical situations which he doesn't believe for one moment!  The novels are not specifically Romance -- but they couldn't exist without this Detective-Romance.

You find a similar formula in the Detective series I love Faye Kellerman's Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus Series but it has only a slight leaven of humor.  The warmth and romance lies within the marriage and raising of children -- and now grandchildren -- and visits to in-laws.  Yep, warmth among in-laws.  Terrific stuff.

For another take on humor/fantasy/strong characters do try Cecelia Jerome's Willow Tate Novels "In The Hamptons" where a graphic novel writer deals with her magically endowed family in the Hamptons -- complete with rescued dogs and mystical animals intruding from another dimension.

So by reading these light, funny, and fairly complicated novels, and comparing the dialogue with similar but not-so-pointedly-humorous works, you can just learn the technique by osmosis.

For a space-adventure set in the very near future with plain dramatic writing in a novelistic style (as opposed to Laura Resnick's stage-style), see

Heaven's Shadow by David S. Goyer and Michael Cassutt:

In Heaven's Shadow, a wandering asteroid is coming toward Earth, and the USA and Russia send missions to explore it (it's very large).  They land and discover the thing has an inside -- and have their adventures dealing with alien technology that borders on Fantasy. 

It's a very simple story, with a solid technological background that adds plausibility, but it's a psychological suspense story all about how each character reacts to the impact of the alien.  Very classic tale with a modern execution.  It's well written, easy reading, and memorable for the vividly described, fantastical settings within the asteroid.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg