Thursday, October 30, 2014

Real-Life Zombies

Just in time for Halloween: An article from NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC about parasites in the animal kingdom that "zombify" their hosts:


For example: The jewel wasp's sting turns a cockroach into a "zombie" that the wasp can lead into a burrow by its antenna. The roach passively allows the wasp to lay an egg on its underside and stays motionless while the larva hatches and digs into its abdomen. Another kind of wasp inserts its egg into the abdomen of a ladybug, which goes about its normal behavior while being gradually eaten from inside by the wasp larva. When the larva crawls out of the ladybug and spins a cocoon, the insect remains "enthralled." Immobilized by the alien chemicals in its brain, it stands guard over the cocoon. When the adult wasp emerges and flies away, the ladybug dies. Gypsy moth caterpillars sometimes get infected by a microbe called a baculovirus. When it comes time for the virus to leave its host, it changes the behavior of the caterpillar, causing the insect to climb to the tops of leaves. Then the virus dissolves the caterpillar into "goo," which drops onto leaves below where the next generation of immature moths will ingest it. Killifish infected by certain flatworms tend to gravitate to the surface of the water, thus exposing them to getting eaten by birds, the next stage in the flatworm's life cycle. The single-celled parasite Toxoplasma, to complete its life cycle by moving from rats to cats, causes infected rats to lose their fear of feline odor and even become attracted to the smell of cat urine.

Although the hosts do behave in a zombie-like manner, because they haven't actually died they seem more like possessed creatures than undead (with the possible exception of the unfortunate ladybug, which continues a gruesome pseudo-life with its guts being devoured). While the hosts may be compared to zombies in their mindless behavior, the parasites remind me of many fictional vampires with their mind-altering abilities. I'm gratified to learn that there could be an authentic biological basis for my premise that my own vampires secrete chemicals in their saliva to have soothing, euphoric, and addictive effects on victims.

Creatures like the ones described in the article irresistibly bring to mind Octavia Butler's classic story "Bloodchild." Human colonists on an alien planet have agreed to a symbiotic partnership with the sapient inhabitants, who seem to resemble giant centipedes. Almost all female (they're apparently suffering a shortage of males), they need human hosts (mainly male) to incubate their eggs, which are laid inside the man's body. Normally, the mother removes her offspring when they hatch before they can hurt or kill the host. But sometimes she doesn't get there in time . . . . These aliens' stingers inject a chemical that eases pain and induces a calm, pleasant emotional state. The female alien in the story acts as a patron to a human family, of whom she seems genuinely fond.

Many fictional vampires enter symbiotic relationships with human blood donors, especially in romances. But would a human community plausibly become desperate enough to make a bargain like the one in "Bloodchild"? Possibly, if the alternative is certain death for all of them.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Strong Characters Defined Part 3: Tit For Tat in Paranormal Romance by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Strong Characters Defined
Part 3
Tit For Tat in Paranormal Romance
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Previous posts in the Strong Character Defined series are:

Part 1 in Strong Characters Defined series posted:

Here is another post with foundational material about Character:

And here is Part 2 in this series:

Today we're going to examine a Theme that turned up in a quote posted on Twitter.

This tiny quote reveals a Theme that can be used as foundation of a really hot Romance which has a Character-driven Plot, and might be a long series of very long books.

Michelle McKee retweeted a tweet that @Goodluck Msangi sent to @tase_ny :

---------quote from Twitter Retweeted by Michelle McKee----------
Goodluck Msangi ‏@tase_ny May 12

Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good  for each other and for everyon… …

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

That's from Thessalonians 5:15 which is posted on the URL ".niv"

The full, non-twitter condensed, version is:

"Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else."

I have no idea what this conversation was about or why the retweet ended up before my eyes, but it fits perfectly with the discussion on Depicting Culture using Dialogue:

Aphorisms, platitudes, punch-lines of jokes, and every sort of encapsulated Ancient Wisdom passed down in sayings or children's rhymes can be used to depict the culture your characters live in without ever a word of Exposition (thus avoiding the dreaded Expository Lump.)

We all know that Bible Quote as a version of "An Eye For An Eye" -- which is so garbled in translation it's hopeless to try to explain that it's not Revenge or "making someone pay" but rather, just like the US Constitution, LIMITS the power of the judiciary by expressing the precise liability a person has for the damage done to another person. 

Therefore, it makes marvelous fodder for the care and feeding of a Romance.

We all know that Couples argue (even fight) over Politics, Education, Birth Control, or the cut of a political candidate's suit.  Most of the time, the domestic issue is not the ostensible issue.

Marion Zimmer Bradley taught that the Villain is the Hero of His Own Story -- that who is good and who is bad is a matter of Point Of View.  She learned that from her mentors.

Read the quote again.

Words like "pays back" and "wrong" and "strive" and "good" are subject to wildly varying definitions as you switch point-of-view to tell a great story.  There are hundreds of distinctly different novels set in dozens of Worlds buried in that one little quote as you change the definition of those qualitative words as you shift Point of View.

When you write a story from two points of view, you (as writer) must draw a STARK (i.e. artistic) distinction in black and white for the comparison of the points of view.

The reader must feel secure in comprehension of that distinction before you introduce any shades of gray.  The nature of that distinction is the source of your narrative hook.  Readers will accept or reject a book on the basis of whether the difference, the conflict, has personal relevance.

Fiction is not reality, but rather an artistic depiction of reality.  Certain attributes your Built World are exaggerated, others minimized, to bring depict the Theme of this character's Life. 

Shades of gray, and "there's no such thing as an absolute Truth" just won't work to fuel the hot-hot scenes you want to write, and won't hit the reader in the G-spot of imagination.

You need the high contrast of absolute Right and absolute Wrong, but once those polar opposites are in place, you can bury them in colors chosen from the palate of colors appropriate to your Theme (just as an artist selects certain tones to key a picture; writers must select just a few tones of reality to depict their world and let the reader fill in the rest.)

"Never repay a Wrong with a Wrong" makes a dynamite theme if both the Protagonist and Antagonist (or both who will form a Couple) are absolutely committed to behaving that way, yet define what is Right and what is Wrong differently. 

So even though the real world the reader lives in is painted in shades of gray, blue, red, yellow, green and everything between, the Art that is sought by a Romance Reader needs to separate the shades, to bring up the contrast. 

The romance reader won't be able to sink into the story if it isn't clear "What She Sees In Him" and "What He Sees In Her."  At the same time, it has to be clear why the Couple doesn't  just skip the story-part and get married today.  The Conflict is them vs whatever-keeps-them-apart.

The essence of story is Conflict.

Therefore, what she sees in him and vice versa has to be utterly clear (even if it is to change later in the novel via an Epiphany.)

So let's assume both the Soul Mates are Strong Characters when they meet.

And let's suppose, since this is the season, that they are working together for a particular Political Candidate.

They are both on "the same side" - so there should be no barrier to them getting together.

Let's employ what I like to call "karmic plotting" -- using some Paranormal Dimension to explain how and why the main characters came to this Situation, why they are in it together, why they want to kill each other even if not literally.

Maybe this Couple were the victims of an Arranged Marriage way back in the Middle Ages.  Maybe they never shared a bedroom?  Maybe, in bitter retaliation and grand defiance against his inattentiveness and against her Father for hurling her into this, she had a kid by another guy and pretended it was the husband's kid (but the husband knew better).  The husband threw the wife and kid out of the mansion and repudiated them publicly.  (i.e. he returned a Wrong with a Wrong). 

In other words, the Arranged Marriage is "unfinished business" in their karmic relationship.

And let's take the case of a married woman getting pregnant by another man as the karmic background here.

So each of them is feeling relentlessly attracted to the other (without even considering sex in the mix), and absolutely scared white lipped at the idea of getting involved with each other. 

The part of the mind that has an affinity for RIGHT says, "Marry that one!" and the part of the mind that has a weakness for WRONG says, "Run!"  because running is the easy way out which a Strong Character would never choose.

As the campaign they're working on heats up, the campaign manager turns to Attack Ads, and maybe includes lies about the opposition's record.

Let's say the Opposition is claiming to be the son of a famous person -- and that connection is what makes his following trust him.

In a Conference meeting about their next attack ad, one of the Couple blurts out a suggestion, "Just say he's not the legitimate son of Famous Guy.  His wife cheated and he's been fooled into accepting this guy as his son." 

"We don't have any proof of that."

"What do we need proof for? It'll hit only two weeks before the election - early voting will be under way!"

And the other one of the Couple says, "We can't do that.  It would just be so wrong!"

The first one of the Couple says, "Not only can we do that, we should do it because of all the dirty lies he's told about our Guy."

The Campaign manager considers, "Well, tit for tat, we'd be even."

"Besides," adds the first one of the Couple, "there is so little resemblance between father and son that I wouldn't be surprised if he isn't really the father."

So the Campaign Manager launches the disinformation ads.

At a Campaign stop, in the middle of the novel, the two get a Tarot Reading, or a Psychic divines the Relationship of their previous lives -- but they don't believe any of that non-sense.

Meanwhile,the Couple destroys the headquarters staff as they argue every aspect of the issue and the staffers take sides, then fight between themselves. 

If you're writing from this Outline, you insert encounters with Psychics, Clergy, and some spooky experiences on the campaign trail.  Oh, and they get the endorsement of a Romance Writer famous for Historicals, who has written Their Story.

The parallels between the Middle Ages arranged marriage build slowly, and there's confusion in them both as they dream the Past, and it's the same as the Present.  Maybe they decide to break the jinx by having sex which they never did in the Past?

Not only are they now arguing that the Campaign Ads should not have veered toward such a blatant lie, but also that it's bad karma to lie.

Maybe they start to think the Campaign Manager is a reincarnation of the son she fobbed off as her husband's?  This novel can be very spooky in a realistic way as the staff takes sides in the Couple's battle.

The Campaign becomes ineffectual for lack of staff cohesiveness.

The Campaign loses. 

The Opposition Candidate (now Elect) turns out to be the son of another man.  The Lie turns out to be True.   The Public is outraged, and divided over whether this man (an imposter) is actually Elected or not.

The newly Elected Official commits suicide, because he had no idea he wasn't his father's son and couldn't face the world after living a lie so publicly.

The Couple has to attend the Funeral, as part of the Political Campaign Staff.  Be sure to give them jobs on the Campaign that would require them to do the courtesy.

At the Wake after the funeral, they get drunk together, having both learned that one does not respond to a Wrong by doing another Wrong.  The Karmic Consequences are just way too severe.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, October 26, 2014

EBay and PayPal Profiting from Sale of "Resell Rights" to Dean Koontz, Jeffrey Archer, Robert Ludlum

EBay does not post the name and contact information of a copyright agent on their site.

Therefore, IMHO, EBay does not qualify for Safe Harbor under the DMCA, at least in Northern California, if it could be argued that Oppenheimer v. Allvoices, Inc is a precedent.

Quoting from a blog on Lexology:

"In the case of Oppenheimer v. Allvoices, Inc., the plaintiff, a professional photographer, alleged copyright infringement by the defendant. The defendant is an online service provider that publishes various audiovisual content.......... The United States District Court for the Northern District of California held that the defendant "may not invoke the safe harbor … with respect to infringing conduct that occurred prior to Allvoices designating a DMCA-related agent with the Copyright Office"


This might be interesting to Random House, given that Dean Koontz appears to have an address in California.

I am not posting this to encourage anyone to knowingly (which it would be, if you follow this link )
to try to buy "Resell Rights" to any living or recently deceased author's body of work. The point I want to make is how outrageously eBay turns a blind eye to the most obvious copyright infringement.

Perhaps I would hesitate to talk about turning a blind eye, except that I have a record of correspondence that I had with eBay CEO John Donohoe's office in which I pointed out multiple instances of copyright infringement, and suggested that, given that EBay can force would-be sellers to  provide every detail of the weight, package size, shipper they will use and much more before the seller can complete an auction listing, EBay could easily use the same metric to oblige sellers who claim they own the copyright and the right to sell resell rights to 55 Dean Koontz stories, and 29 short stories by Jeffrey Archer, and a bunch of works by Robert Ludlum.

I believe that EBay deliberately chooses not to even try to educate sellers about copyright. The quotes below show gob-smacking ignorance of copyright law. The fault is eBay's, IMHO, because they allow alleged falsehoods to be published and perpetuated.

Alleged falsehoods such as this:
This a PayPal only auction.  Upon Payment this eBook collection will be sent to you within 24 hours.
Attention eBay Staff:  I am an Authorized Reseller of this product and also the copyright holder or I have resale rights to this eBook or item.

Full Resell Rights are Granted by the copyright owners to sell these eBooks with Resell Rights or Master Resell Rights Granted! This ad complies with all eBay rules and regulations.

"I will send this item by postal mail. Sending this item by email or by any other digital delivery method is not allowed and violates eBay policy."
On the rare occasions that a copyright owner discovers an infringement, joins VeRO and submits a take down notice before the auction ends, buyers of the illegal items are not informed that they bought an illegal item, or that they actually did not acquire Resell Rights (or, they weren't a year or so ago.... and if they are now, this particular seller appears to be unaware that he does not own the rights he is offering to sell.)

Also, eBay posts "Have One To Sell"? "Sell Now". That implies that anyone who buys Dean Koontz's books, or Jeffrey Archer's books, or Robert Ludlum's books from this seller is welcome to relist using the same template, doesn't it?

If this listing truly complies with all eBay rules and regulations, IMHO, EBay's rules and regulations are woefully and deliberately inadequate and or inadequately communicated to users.

One seller boasts that he is not greedy. He readily claims that he has created multiple copies of the ebooks in different formats: "I have multi platform converted these ebooks so more people can read them on multiple readers"

It is easy not to be greedy when one sells "stuff" for which one did not pay!

I sincerely hope that someone raises the matter of EBay and how difficult it is to takedown this sort of thing at the USPTO multi-stakeholder forum on October 28th.

Rowena Cherry

A reminder that the USPTO and NTIA will host the fifth public meeting of the Multistakeholder Forum on improving the operation of the DMCA notice and takedown system. The meeting will be held on October 28, 2014 from 9:00am - 12:00pm in Berkeley, California at the UC Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall, Booth Auditorium, 215 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, CA 94720). The weblink to access the live webcast for this meeting is: The phone bridge information for remote participation is: 1-888-453-9955; Passcode – 6039037.
At the meeting, the Working Group will report on the substance and progress of its work to date. Attendees of this meeting will thereafter have an opportunity to respond and further discuss or identify matters for the Working Group to address.
For more information about the Multistakeholder Forum, please visit the Multistakeholder Tab at: For an archive of documentation relating to past meetings of the Multistakeholder Forum please visit
To register for the meeting, please follow the instructions at: 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Saving Ova for Later

Columnist Susan Reimer writes about Apple's offer to subsidize the freezing of eggs for women who want to delay childbearing while still taking advantage of the optimum age for producing healthy ova (a perk already offered by Facebook):

Susan Reimer

In theory, these women can jump-start their careers with the prospect of being able to time motherhood to fit their life plans. One catch, as Reimer points out, is that the optimum age for harvesting eggs is in the twenties, and how many young women of that age are likely to have jobs offering this benefit? At present, also, there's the practical problem of the low success rate for in vitro fertilization of previously frozen eggs.

One observation by Reimer: "One commentator wondered aloud if we really wanted to support a society that requires us to work so hard that we have no time to have children. I would argue that we are already that society. This just makes it easier for women to navigate it." She also points out that before focusing on such a relatively exotic perk, we should work harder on accessibility of health coverage, maternity benefits, day care, flexible work hours, etc.

Those who've read Heinlein's PODKAYNE OF MARS will recall that in the future society of the novel a similar process of cryogenic preservation is routine (on Mars, at least, where the human inhabitants tend to marry early and have large families). The custom reconciles the discrepancy between the best biological age for conceiving and gestating infants and the best social age, in terms of emotional maturity and financial stability, for rearing them. In this novel, however, couples don't save eggs or embryos; they have full-term infants, produced through natural pregnancy and birth, frozen. Podkayne mentions one typical example, a young married couple who have their babies while finishing school, then consign them to cryogenic preservation. After both husband and wife complete the main phase of their careers and take early retirement, they have all three of their babies revived to be raised as triplets. Podkayne's own mother had five children in quick succession, Podkayne and her younger brother being characters in the novel and their three infant siblings still being in stasis at the opening of the story. If Heinlein were writing this book now, I suspect he would opt for preservation of embryos rather than full-term babies.

If the technology of freezing eggs or embryos ever becomes reliable enough to be as routine as on Podkayne's Mars, would that necessarily be a Good Thing? We might ask whether professional women who decline this perk and choose to have children earlier in their careers might find themselves subtly penalized, stigmatized as not sufficiently dedicated to their work. And would the custom of allowing some women (the privileged) to postpone the child-rearing life stage through cryogenics spawn yet another class distinction? Given the possibility of these effects, might availability of such a procedure become another way of encouraging women to become as workaholic as would-be successful men have traditionally been expected to be?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Strong Characters Defined - Part 1 - Reading Market Reports by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Strong Characters Defined
Part 1
Reading Market Reports
Jacqueline Lichtenberg 

This is Part 1 of the Strong Characters Defined Series, even though Part 2 has already posted. 

Part 2 is

Cindy Holby wrote in her Saturday Jan 27th, 2007 post on this blog:
I write very strong characters. Characters that seem to make an impact on my fans as every letter I get mentions how much they love the characters, how much they were drawn into their lives and how much they think about them long after the story is over.
----end quote---------

The few weeks previous to Holby's post, I posted some comments on Genre and how though it is enforced and defended by publishers, Genre is really invented by and perpetuated by readers (the opposite of what Editors think, and yet Genre is defined by publishers). 

As a fiction consumer, you can up your odds of getting what you want from a book by learning something about how publishers tell writers what the reader wants to buy.  Publishers do that via a publication called Writers' Markets, and via columns in periodicals aimed at Writers titled something like Market Reports, which is a report to writers on where to market which kind of property. 

One of the requirements you see over and over in Market Reports (where publishers describe what they're buying now) is "strong characters."

They want "strong characters" because those books (and films) make bigger profits, not because there's no market for Weak Characters but because there's a bigger market for Strong Characters. 

Writers, publishers and readers often mean different things when they say "strong characters.'

Publishers don't mean by the term "strong characters," characters the reader can identify with (as Holby's readers admire), nor characters that have big muscles, nor characters that impress the reader and make the reader remember their names and use the character for cosplay.

Publishers mean characters whose decisions direct and energize the plot.

Publishers mean the point of view character must be the person who makes the decisions (internal conflict) that manifest in Plot Events (external conflict).

The Market Report is telling you to send in stories with a protagonist who makes the initial move that sets the plot in motion, and an antagonist who acts to prevent the protagonist from achieving the protagonist's goal. 

Protagonist and Antagonist define the Conflict.  The writer uses Conflict to Depict the Theme.

Publishers do not want point-of-view characters who agonize, wring their mental hands, or worry without ever taking charge of their own life.  However, a character who merely acts and never thinks or feels, won't be considered "strong" either. 

A Strong Character is one who wins his own Internal Conflict between his Emotions and his Reason -- between Desire and Values -- or whatever dichotomy you choose to illustrate your Theme.

The character who loses his/her Internal Conflict is the Antagonist.
That's the series on Depicting with links to previous posts.

Confusing the role of Protagonist and Antagonist is one mistake beginners so often make when choosing a point of view character.   

You might also want to read Dialogue Part 9, Depicting Culture.  Very often an internal conflict is best depicted by a conflict between Values and External Culture (or peer-pressure).

That entry also has links to previous parts.

A strong character is defined by publishing as a person whose "character" is strong -- who has values and sticks to them regardless of their own emotional internal pain.  A Strong Character is defined as a person who backs his Values with life and limb, takes risks, stays focused on the goal, and maybe goes down swinging, but never, ever, ever compromises over "right" and "wrong." 

Uncompromising, unyielding, unbending, stubborn, obstinate, obstructionist, are traits which are produced by Strong Character. 

But the words have a negative semantic loading - (look up semantic load if you don't know what that is). 

In Executive Training, these internal character traits are redirected into external manifestation as "Goal Directed" and "Strategist" and "Taking Charge" and "Gets the Job Done" and "Determined" and "Dominant" and "Successful."

If you want to learn to think like a "Strong Character" so you can write the dialogue convincingly, then read some books on Executive Training. 

I've never seen a Market Report where a publisher asked for "weak characters." 

They don't want to buy stories where the main point of view character is someone to whom the story happens.  They want the main point of view character to be someone who makes the story happen, if not at the opening scene, then as the character "arcs" or changes under the impact of Events, the character steps up and takes charge of their own life. 

Now, in Romance, there can be another character who "makes the plot happen" -- whose decisions direct the course of Events.  But the protagonists have to assess that course of Events, and re-position themselves to "succeed" in achieving their own goals, regardless of what the Decision Maker's goals might be.

An example is the Arranged Wedding.  Set in different times over the last few centuries, the Strong Female Lead might cut a deal with the arranged-husband, negotiate for a part of the marriage where she makes the decisions, then parlay that into being the Title Holder.  Or in later centuries, she might arrange for the arranged-husband to meet with a sorrowful accident.  In modern times, she might "just say no" even if it means leaving her religion and her country behind.  But if she's "strong" she will get her own way -- and might live to regret that.

One point of confusion between Strong and Weak Characters lies within the concept "Character Arc" -- we all want to see the characters in a novel learn from their experiences, not repeat the same errors.  We want to see people change their minds about certain fundamental assumptions, but in a work of fiction that mind-changing must seem not just logical but inevitable to the reader.

For example, a teenage couple hooks up at a wild party and has unprotected sex.  Then comes the dog-fight over abortion, what's right, what's wrong, what should we do, what can we do, whose decision is it anyway?  Oh, and what will the rest of their families think?

The Shot Gun Wedding used to be the only choice.  Now, life is more complex.

So if one says do the abortion, and the other says that's just wrong, one of them must "arc" - one mind or the other has to be changed.  In real life, that doesn't happen.  In fiction, it has to happen for clear-cut reasons that bespeak the Theme.

Say for example, the woman wants to do the abortion and the man says no, and they are both strong characters but are too young to do a good job of considering the other person's position.  So she does it anyway, as is her right because it's her body even if it is his son.  Neither has changed their mind, and it's way too late now.  The argument is moot. 

They part in a STORM of toxic emotion.

Ten years later, pushing 30, maybe one or both are divorced after an infertile marriage, and they meet as professional rivals -- say two Lawyers faced off over opposing Clients, maybe arguing before the Supreme Court.  Or maybe they are each CEO's of new-hot-tech companies, chewing at each others' market shares.  They are pitted against each other.

The ferocity of their professional battle will mirror the ferocity of the battle over abortion, and you will have an opportunity to depict two cultures in a fight to the death over right and wrong. 

If you are doing this in Science Fiction (maybe with Time Travel) or Fantasy -- maybe with Paranormal Romance where ghosts figure in to the plot -- you can depict the "might-have-beens" and that she could not have gone to college if she'd had a child to raise, and that he could not have finished a Ph.D. if he had a wife and kid to support.  But the bone of contention in their current rivalry involves a 10 year old boy -- the age their son would have been by now.

See the potent drama unfolding? 

When women are raised to be Weak Characters so that men can always dominate them, and men are raised to be Strong Characters (regardless of their individual Nature), the situation appears a lot more peaceful -- but only on the surface.

When women are raised to be Strong Characters just as men are, you have the Clash of the Titans, and people must determine their own criteria for what is Right and what is Wrong. 

If men and women are equally "Strong" in their stance on what is Right and what is Wrong, then the only Resolution of the Conflict (Internal and External) is "Character Arc" -- one or the other (or both) must admit to a flaw in their concept of "Right vs. Wrong" and either or both must change the basis of their thinking.

That is the typical story of, say, a Religious Conversion leading to an Alcoholic going sober and staying sober. 

The hardest thing a human being ever does is to admit to having been wrong.  We all need to know beyond doubt that what we understand to be Right is in fact Right because we put our lives on the line for it.

In Fiction, the moment when a Strong Protagonist admits to having been Wrong is called "The Epiphany" -- because it is a sudden, blinding, shift in perception of the world just exactly like a Religious Conversion. 

Constructing an Epiphany moment for a Strong Protagonist is a complex (and dangerous) thing for a writer to attempt.  But it does make for a memorable novel.

The key to learning to create a believable Epiphany moment is to go through your everyday life asking yourself, "What would I accept as proof that I am wrong about XYZ?"  Challenge everything you believe, from politics to morality, from religion to science (especially science) with that question, and take notes on what your mind does. 

To write a "strong character" from the inside, you must be a strong character.  To write a convincing Epiphany from the inside, you must experience an Epiphany of your own (and take notes.)

So what kind of book do you want to read?  Do you prefer to read about someone who is a victim of circumstance because of their own ineptitude or lack of forethought whose problem is ultimately solved by someone else's actions?  There is a market for that. 

Or would you prefer to read about someone who was a victim of circumstances and despite paying a huge price, prevailed over circumstances and made the world a better place for it? 

A strong Character has, as primary consideration in crafting goals, the ultimate fate of others.  The strong Character does not put him/herself first. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Please Support Artists' Rights Oct 19th

Recently, the shared news that the Content Creators Coalition (C3) is holding a weekend-long event to show solidarity with artists who are standing up for their rights. Those not in New York and unable to attend the concerts and demonstrations can support creators on Twitter.

Thanks for the cool graphic to

when:  THIS SUNDAY, Oct 19th, at 4:30-5:00pm
where: Google 8th ave btwn 15th and 16th sts in Manhattan)

SUPPORT ARTISTS RIGHTS! #supportartistsrights 
Join Us:


Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Sense of Style

Cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, one of my favorite nonfiction authors, has previously written several books on language, notably THE LANGUAGE INSTINCT, WORDS AND RULES, and THE STUFF OF THOUGHT. I particularly recommend THE LANGUAGE INSTINCT, packed with fascinating information in Pinker's lucid, witty style. His newest work, THE SENSE OF STYLE, subtitled "The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century," speaks directly to writers as well as anyone interested in what makes for clear writing and distinguishes good prose from bad. Although he focuses on nonfiction (with many examples, analyzed to reveal their authors' strategies), his advice applies to fiction, too.

He discusses one problem especially relevant to nonfiction writers but a concern of anyone who wants to communicate clearly—the "curse of knowledge." In brief, we tend to assume our audience knows our subject as well, or almost as well, as we do. We may use specialized terms without defining them. We leap between connections plain to us but possibly opaque to many of our readers. "Like a drunk who is too impaired to realize that he is too impaired to drive, we do not notice the curse because the curse prevents us from noticing it." Another issue Pinker tackles at length is the lack of a gender-neutral animate pronoun in English. "It" certainly won't do as a substitute for "he or she," but (as Pinker clearly illustrates) the use of "he" to cover both genders has become obsolete and doesn't work very well anyway. He defends the much-maligned "they" for persons of unknown gender, whether singular or plural.

By analyzing our comprehension of written prose with reference to the way the human brain processes information, Pinker demonstrates exactly why a sentence or paragraph that seems incoherent has that effect on us. This neuroscience approach helps him to unfold the reasons why some of the revered "rules" of grammar and syntax make sense and others are merely fossilized superstitions. He distinguishes between the rules worth following for their own sake and those writers need to know mainly to appease picky editors. I found the final chapter, "Telling Right from Wrong," the most enjoyable and informative, where he runs down a long list of traditionally "wrong" usages and briefly notes why he considers these prohibitions obsolete. He follows up with a shorter list of distinctions in word usages that he thinks ARE worth keeping. I don't agree with all his recommendations (I'll never accept the phrase "between you and I" or the verb "lay" as synonymous with "lie," except in dialogue), but he always makes his points in persuasive and entertaining ways.

He also illustrates the text with cartoons from a variety of sources, from "Doonesbury" and "Shoe" to the WASHINGTON POST. Recommended for all writers and grammar geeks!

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Dialogue Part 9: Depicting Culture With Colloquialisms by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Dialogue Part 9
 Depicting Culture With Colloquialisms
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Here is a list of previous posts in the Dialogue series:
That post has been updated to include the previous 8 parts of Dialogue.

And here is Part 3 of the Depicting series with links to previous parts:

You should also keep in mind the Cliche

And Misnomers:

Here we are building on points made in those prior posts.

Remember from earlier discussions of Dialogue that Dialogue is not "recorded speech."

You can't make your characters sound realistic by using real speech.  Yet without studying real speech with the ear of an outsider, you can't write realistic dialogue.  That makes dialogue very much an art form, ...

Here are more prior posts related to dialogue and art:

...but as in all arts, there are some easy rules to get you started.

Have you ever noticed how a politician using a teleprompter reading a speech delivers the words smoothly, without searching for expressions, or apparently self-editing as he talks?  This is the season rich in examples of speeches and "hot-mike" moments.  Go find some videos of speeches - doesn't matter for or against what agenda, just listen to the intonation and watch for stumbles.

Reading from a teleprompter is a sure giveaway that the speaker is not saying his/her own words (even if they write their own speeches!) and therefore raises the question of whether the speaker actually understands the meaning of the words written by an erudite speech-writer.  Also there's the question of whether, if understood, the words said aloud are actually the truth. 

Here is a recent non-fiction book by an eminent champion of consumer rights.  This book depicts (in non-fiction) a situation that would make a wondrous "conspiracy theory" to set on an Alien world sizzling with debate on whether to make First Contact with Earth, just to tap our resources. 

Note the book is about politicians saying one thing to voters, and another behind the scenes, their motives for doing that, and the counter-strike building against it.

Here is the blurb from Amazon:
Ralph Nader has fought for over fifty years on behalf of American citizens against the reckless influence of corporations and their government patrons on our society. Now he ramps up the fight and makes a persuasive case that Americans are not powerless. In Unstoppable, he explores the emerging political alignment of the Left and the Right against converging corporate-government tyranny.

Large segments from the progressive, conservative, and libertarian political camps find themselves aligned in opposition to the destruction of civil liberties, the economically draining corporate welfare state, the relentless perpetuation of America’s wars, sovereignty-shredding trade agreements, and the unpunished crimes of Wall Street against Main Street. Nader shows how Left-Right coalitions can prevail over the corporate state and crony capitalism.
---------end quote-------

Oddly, Glen Beck predicted (reading from a teleprompter) that the "Left" and the "Right" would form a coalition on common grounds.  Do you think Nader would ever appear on Beck's show?  Hmmmm. 

Dialogue in novels, done as printed text, generally does seem smooth, rehearsed just as if we all read from a teleprompter saying things we don't exactly mean for reasons of self-interest not so different from those depicted in Nader's newest book.

One of the main dialogue tools a writer can draw on to depict dialogue that is emotionally truthful, that is up-front and completely honest, is to depict speech-stumbles, adding in the uh and ummm and self-conscious chuckles or long hesitations as a word is carefully chosen. 

I used the silences while carefully choosing a word to depict the Alien From Outer Space in my Vampire Romance, Those of My Blood.

BTW "You know" is not usually added in written dialogue, even though in real speech you hear that (and the equivalent) a lot. 

Too much of that choppy dialogue and the page just does not scan correctly for a reader, so it's a tool to use sparingly.  I use it way too much, but my novels are emotion driven, relationship driven -- and often the characters are driven by a need to be perfectly honest and accurate.  (or they are very bad liars)

Now, why is it that stumbling and searching for a word does not seem "right" to readers when there is too much of it?  And how much is too much?

In real life, we really do exchange short utterances in smooth, flowing words.

How can that be? 


In real life dialogue, most of our utterances are well-rehearsed! 

There is such a thing as routine speech.

There are words and phrases we repeat endlessly (which makes for dull reading).  We speak to each other in colloquialisms, set phrases and on-message talking points. 

Consider your routine exchanges with check-out clerks, appointment secretaries, and the service people who come to your house to fix an appliance, fix the plumbing, whatever.  Foreign Language Guidebooks are replete with this kind of routine-speech all indexed.  There are phrases you memorize and just roll off the tip of your tongue, brain barely engaged.  We are used to communicating that way. 

That's why politicians who have rehearsed talking points can fool us so easily -- they sound like they are just talking the same way we talk.

So when you write dialogue, remember to use a "smooth" style (without um and ah and you-know) when the exchange is depicting routine civil discourse, polite conversation, Guidebook Conversation. 

But when your character goes off-script, loses his mental teleprompter, he/she can get tongue-tied and stumble -- or try to choose words carefully.  This is the typical teenager having the first adult conversation with a potential sex partner.

Our everyday routine speech is Setting Dependent and Relationship Dependent and Situation Dependent.

And so our written dialogue can be used to depict Setting, Relationship and Situation -- as well as Culture, social and business expectations.

Since we have these speech-patterns in real life that can be used only in certain Settings, Relationships, Situations, etc. when we read stories with dialogue, we automatically decode the dialogue to infer what Setting, Relationship or Situation lies behind the characters.

Thus a writer has a tool to convey loads of information about a Culture that the character who is speaking would not consciously know about himself.  This tool works wonderfully well for depicting Alien Cultures. 

To make a story "accessible" to a modern Earth audience, you lead the reader to decode the dialogue into data about the culture just as they would if overhearing a conversation in an elevator.

What the reader figures out for him/herself about the culture of the Aliens will make the Aliens seem real, make their characters seem like old friends.  What you TELL the reader about the Aliens will go in one eye and out the other -- with a shrug and a "who cares?"

So give your reader Dialogue that DEPICTS the Alien Culture without explaining that Culture to them in so many words. 

Here's the book that I keep referring you to for a lesson in where, inside your head, you keep your Culture.

Humans are largely unaware that they have a Culture (or two) driving their behavior.  Most don't even know what Culture is, where it comes from, or what it can accomplish in a cohesive society.  We've discussed this in previous posts.  Your reader's ignorance is your tool for convincing them your Alien Romance is real.  But that will only work if you can identify your own cultural drivers.

Here let's take a stripped down, bare bones example of dialogue that depicts a culture. 

Called into the boss's office on Monday morning, an IT manager gently closes the door behind him.

The boss sits at his desk making notes on his Project Management calendar.

---------SAMPLE DIALOGUE--------

"Hi, Jim!" the Boss said.

"Good Morning.  You said to be here 10:00 AM?"

"Yes, you're only a little late.  Tell me, how is the Network Upgrade project going?"

"Those lost data files are still lost, but the Network is now running."

"Great!  That's a good start.  So when will you have the missing data recovered?"

"I've had a crew on it over the whole weekend.  We've done all we can, but the data is just gone."

"You've done all you can?  You personally?  And the data is gone forever?"

"Yes, I've been on it with them-"

"And you've done everything possible?" 

"Definitely, everything possible." 

"That's your excuse? You've done all you can and everything possible?  All of you?"

"Well, yes, we'd never give you less than our best."

"I see.  Then, I've done all I can and everything possible, too, and there's just no way to recover from this - so you and your whole crew are fired, effective at Noon today." 

The boss hits SEND on his keyboard.  "Pick up your severance pay on the way out."

------------END SAMPLE DIALOGUE----------

In our everyday reality, this IT professional and his team would NOT be fired for "doing all they can" and having the results be less than acceptable.

In our current culture, once you have maxed out your abilities (so we are taught in school these days) you are thereupon excused from all further effort. 

Under no circumstances may you exceed your current limitations lest you "show up" some other student or become an Elite, or get the idea you are "superior" because you accomplished something nobody else could.

In fact, if you do dare to step over a limit, like say "Common Core" standards, and do more than is required, you get slapped down hard.  You are lectured that you must not read ahead in the textbook, you must not "color outside the lines" and may not use sources you find in libraries or online to contradict what it says in the textbook.

The reason, of course, is the way Teachers now do not do their Degree work in what they teach, but in "Education" -- so in reality, the teacher doesn't know enough about the subject to write the textbook, but is considered qualified to teach that textbook's content. 

So if a student brings in facts that dispute the book, the teacher will be made to look bad in front of the other students for the lack of a coherent answer.  A Common Core Teacher is not allowed to teach the class that the textbook is wrong, even if it is and the Teacher knows that.   

Heated argument and debate with Teachers over errors in textbooks was once encouraged in schools, but that leads to heated argument and debate with Supervisors at work (and real strife in Situations such as Nader postulates in his book).  If Promotion has not been on merit alone, the Supervisor then looks bad. 

A) Do a snatch of Dialogue between such an overwhelmed Teacher and a know-it-all Student on the pattern of what I showed you above.  Show the cultural paradigm just by stripped bare lines of dialogue, no description, no he-said/she-said, no narrative, no business for actors to convey emotion.  Just dialogue.  Try it. 

B) Now do a similar exchange between the Parent of a child so accused of insubordination and the overwhelmed Teacher.

C) Do an exchange between the Teacher and the Principal, like the IT Head and the Boss above.

D) Do all three snatches described in A, B, and C, but set on an Alien Planet amidst an Alien culture. (yes, you may launch a Romance between the Teacher and the Parent of the Student.)  Do it all with Dialogue alone.  This is a standard text-book exercise in Professional Radio Writing for Drama shows and you find it in Write For Television books, too.

Depicting such a situation, a writer can convey all manner of abstract facts about the Ancient History of the Civilization (human or non) of the story without a word of narrative or exposition.

The result of today's massive shift in school culture is adults who have become a different kind of reader. 

That gives rise to a generation-gap you, the writer, must straddle.  You must entertain the reader who accepts the idea that one merely has to do all one can, or everything possible, and then can give up without incurring penalty or blame.  With the same words, you must entertain the reader who just assumes that any limitation the characters encounter is there to be transcended, overcome, destroyed, blasted, upset, dissolved, or something else.

Here is the latest in a long series by Simon R. Green that depicts the team of a warrior and a witch combining talents to achieve the Impossible -- several times a novel.  It is about the Drood family, and is part of the Tales of The Nightside but set in our regular world where secret battles go on every day. (shades of Ralph Nader!)

Green does 5-star worthy novels, but the latest few could use a lot of blue-pencil editing to remove dialogue loops.  Green's style, however, is strongly evocative of Gini Koch's ALIEN series, which also presents us with an indomitable pair who will invent, create, out-think, or out-maneuver any threat. When "all I can" isn't enough, they violate rules, break laws, smash barriers, and acquire a much larger inventory of things they can do.  These characters live without limits set by others -- yet have an admirable set of limits they construct within themselves.  They do not abuse power simply because they can. 

Remember, in current culture, giving up quietly leads to promotion, or "failing upward" or what used to be called being "bumped upstairs."   

Science Fiction was founded by people raised to be the sort who, when presented with a problem that will not yield to "all one can" simply does something one CANnot -- one exceeds one's personal, internal limitations. 

Likewise, once "all possible" solutions are exhausted, one INVENTS a new solution (or three).  Green and Koch give us current novels depicting that sort of character. 

The lack of that unlimited attitude was a massive flaw in the TV Series Beauty And The Beast -- not the current one, but the older one about a culture in the tunnels under New York where an Alien from Outer Space was welcomed, but fell in love with a woman from Above.

The TV writers set up a situation which could have been changed by doing something that CANnot be done, and set as the premise for the show that the Situation could not be changed. 

The show was about living with inevitable heartbreak - and the short-lived series spawned more fanfic than you can imagine.  Fans hammered at adding things and inventing things to resolve this Situation where two lovers could not inhabit "the same world."  Every permutation and combination of solutions to bring the two into the same world for an HEA (or to kill off one) was written.  A lot of it is now online, but most was done only on paper.

So if the producers wanted to engage Science Fiction fans, they hit on the right combination -- just tell the fans "It is impossible" and watch the fans flood the world with solutions that are in fact possible -- or change the world to fix the Situation.

Science Fiction was founded by folks with the mindset of non-conformists, defying rules and limits, and creating inventions on the fly to solve problems as they came up.  That's what fanfic is, and where it came from -- the intrinsic thrust toward breaking barriers, doing the impossible, changing the very nature of Reality so it accommodates Love better -- fans not allowing Hollywood to prevent them from having their stories.  Ralph Nader would be well advised to study fandom for a model of how to fight the Big Corporations conjoined to Washington.  When Star Trek was cancelled (the first and second times) fandom prevailed over big business and got the animated Series, the films, and then more TV Series, and now more films.

No Science Fiction Hero ever yielded to an opponent after doing just "all he can" or "all possible." 

Literary scholars insist that audiences want to "identify with" fictional characters.  To do that, the audience requires that the characters have something in common with the audience.  For Science Fiction, that common-characteristic is the refusal to stop at "all I can" and to do what it takes to solve the problem or change the Situation. 

In the 1970's, concurrent with Star Trek, we had the Women's Movement.  Today we have female Hero characters with that indomitable attitude in both Romance and Science Fiction.

"Bosses" in science fiction stories expected and required their hirelings to do things that the hireling could not do (at the outset of the story) -- and to defy the Possible and accomplish the previously Impossible thus establishing new standards for what could be done, and re-defining the nature of Reality.

Doing the Impossible just takes a little longer, and might include cost-overruns.

Our current youngest readership does not expect such performance from the Hero of the story, and would not despise someone who failed to accomplish something beyond their ability. 

How can you blame someone for not-doing what they can't do? 

Robert A. Heinlein had a saying to the effect that failing is a capital offense -- you fail; you die.

Thus the snatch of dialogue above delivers a SURPRISE ENDING that depicts a culture alien to many modern readers. 

Add a few sentences to that dialogue snatch to indicate how shocked the employee was to be fired (if he was) and what the Boss did next about the unsolved problem of the lost data.

Which one is the Hero (or which is more Heroic) would be depicted by what each chose to do next. 

If the IT professional above were female and the boss male (or vice versa) you could end up with a really hot Romance.  After all, firing a woman who can't do the impossible for failing to do the impossible is going to get the company sued, no?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Copyright Compendium (and... Authors Beware Click-Through Contracts)

The latest (third edition) draft of the Copyright Compendium is available for public comment before the final form is released in December 2014.

Read the Copyright Compendium here:

If so moved, having read it, leave a comment here:

This is the section that interested me, because I worry about websites and blogs that appear to be legitimate, that post copyright notices in their footers, but that display copyrighted ebooks either for reading on the site or for download, and that claim immunity because the ebooks are "User Generated Content" or "Uploaded by Authors" or "Uploaded by Users".

Some of these sites, like certain auction site vendors, claim that collections of ebooks written by popular (and not-so popular) modern-day authors are their own, unique and copyrightable compilation, like a "playlist" because of the way the ebooks are sorted and grouped. Or, like torrents that collect together a few hundred "paranormal romances", for instance, on the assumption that no individual author of one of the hundred ebooks can claim ownership of the torrent.

Does this Compendium protect them?

Here's a small passage from a legal blog that caught my interest;

The new Compendium confirms that website users are “authors” of their original user-generated content (UGC) for copyright purposes. Therefore, to obtain ownership of the copyright in the UGC, a website needs a signed agreement that transfers the user’s rights and, therefore, should include an assignment provision in its “click through” terms of service. If the website owner desires to file an application to register that UGC, it must name the authors in the application and maintain records of the authors who transferred ownership rights

Credits: Sourcing@MorganLewis

Find the article here on Lexology (a very informative site for pro-copyright activists and lawyers):

Scribd used to call its uploaders "authors", even when they were obviously copyright infringers uploading unauthorized copies of copyrighted works to the site.  Last time I looked, it seemed to me that many of the allegedly illegally uploaded "documents" that are scans of e-books and of paperbacks remain available and monetized by Scribd as orphan works after the allegedly piratical original uploaders apparently have been removed as members.

If a click-through contract might confer copyright to the website, I think that copyright owners should be particularly wary of clicking "I Agree" when visiting any website.

From what I've seen, many pirate sites will not permit copyright owners to see the site or use the Search feature of a site unless they register and agree to the terms and conditions. Often, by agreeing to those terms, the new registrant agrees not to use anything they find on the site to sue the site (that is a simplification, but what a potential Catch-22).

What if a copyright owner clicks-through in order to discover whether some other user has uploaded that copyright owner's works to the site?  What if the act of clicking "I Agree" then grants permission for the site to continue in what was previously piracy?

According to this Compendium, a website cannot copyright User Generated Content without naming the author, so uploader "aliendjinnromancefangirl123" cannot be listed on a copyright application.

Will sites keep a record of what "aliendjinnromancefangirl123" uploaded and gave them implicit permission to share? What happens if Rowena Beaumont Cherry foolishly "Agrees" to their contract, uploads nothing, but under the wording of the contract, trasnsferred ownership rights to Rowena Cherry content that had been uploaded by someone else?

Color me paranoid, I guess. What do you think?

All the best,
Rowena Cherry


Thursday, October 09, 2014

Animal Rights

I just wanted to note this while it's fresh. A lawyer for the Nonhuman Rights Project is suing on behalf of a chimpanzee named Tommy, claiming Tommy is "unlawfully imprisoned" and deserves "legal personhood." A decision in favor would have profound implications for the legal status of other higher nonhuman animals:

Chimpanzee Rights

Rise of the Planet of the Apes? Even more, this case brings to mind Heinlein's classic story "Jerry Was a Man," which centers on a lawsuit to grant an enhanced chimp legal personhood.

Margaret L. Carter

Holes in Reality

"The Hole in Reality" is the title of the science column by Pat Murphy and Paul Doherty in the current issue of FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION (September-October 2014). It's about some of the myriad ways "your brain makes up the world." As many philosophers have taught and neuroscience now confirms, we don't perceive the outside world "as it is." Information gathered by our senses gets filtered by the brain in often surprising ways. To make sense of our environment, our minds rely on "short cuts" and "predetermined expectations" without which the volume of sensory input would overwhelm us. In short, "You don't see the world at all. You see a picture of the world that your brain constructs." As a result, we usually see what we expect to see.

Murphy and Doherty begin by illustrating this principle with examples of optical illusions. You can check out one of them here:

Dragon Illusion

The paper dragon appears solid and seems to turn its head to follow the viewer, even though in fact it's not moving (the observer is). The illusion of solidity gives the false impression of motion. The F&SF article also gives examples of how the mind plays tricks with distance and size, as in distorted rooms where people walking around appear to enlarge and shrink as they change position relative to the observer.

The article then goes on to discuss how the brain's ingrained expectations form our attitudes and reactions below the conscious level. Here's a page with some tests you can take to evaluate your own unconscious biases. They cover numerous different areas, such as race, gender, religion, etc.:

Implicit Associations

I took the "religion" test, just to find out how the page functions. Since it asks the subject to work as fast as possible, I'm not convinced it measures much more than one's hand-eye-keyboard coordination, but it's an interesting experience anyway.

The F&SF article talks briefly about confirmation bias—our tendency to seek information that supports our existing beliefs and neglect or filter out disproving data—and the "relevance paradox"—overlooking information we consider "distracting or unnecessary" because it doesn't fit into our preconceived pattern. Murphy and Doherty discuss how science fiction can, little by little, change what we perceive through that "hole in reality."

Historical fiction can sometimes have a similar effect, as occurred to me this week while rereading (yet again, but for the first time in a while) Diana Gabaldon's OUTLANDER. The heroine, Claire, a World War II nurse, has accidentally traveled through time from 1945 to 1743, where circumstances force her to marry Scottish Highland clansman Jamie Fraser. I can hardly wait until April to find out how the STARZ network series will handle the scene where Jamie punishes Claire with a beating for disobeying his order to stay where he left her. Because of her disobedience, she gets captured by the villain, British officer Black Jack Randall, thus putting not only Claire and Jamie but their entire group in danger. This section of the novel illustrates with stunning force that "the past is a different country" (to repeat one of my favorite quotations). Twentieth-century career woman Claire finds the custom of a man's administering corporal punishment to his wife appalling, and she doesn't think much more highly of the practice of thrashing children for misbehavior. Jamie—whom we know by this point to be a kind, honorable man who passionately cares for her—finds her attitude baffling. He recalls many instances of beatings from his own father, whom he respected and loved. Later in the book, we see a graphic illustration of the difference between that kind of parental discipline and brutal child abuse, which Jamie abhors. But will the TV series have the time and space to show all this context in a way that will prevent losing the audience's sympathy? After the beating, Claire reflects that up to then her eighteenth-century surroundings haven't seemed quite real to her. Compared to the horrors of World War II, skirmishes between small bands of musket- and claymore-wielding fighters feel almost quaint. King George and Bonnie Prince Charlie are names from classroom history lessons to her. Yet a sword can kill a man just as dead as a bomb.

C. S. Lewis remarks somewhere that the books of the past—and the books of the future, if we had access to them—by highlighting the unquestioned beliefs of other times and places, illuminate our own implicit beliefs. From the perspective of a time traveler from the past or future, or an alien visitor, doubtless people in our era hold world-view assumptions, shared by all political, ethnic, and religious sectors, that remain invisible to us because we see them as simply "the way things are." They represent the our brains' construction of reality. As Murphy and Doherty point out, science fiction can break open those world-views and create "holes" through which to view reality in fresh ways.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Theme-Plot Integration Part 14, Ruling a Community by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Theme-Plot Integration
Part 14
Ruling a Community
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Parts 1-13 of this series are linked in the following Index Post:

The Supreme Court of the USA, back in June 2014, ruled that you can't patent an idea or an abstract.  That's not a new concept since PATENTS are for things.

Likewise you can't copyright a STORY IDEA which is why writers all steal from each other. 

You can't copyright a theme or a plot -- you can copyright the exact sequence of WORDS used to express that theme or plot.

Laws like these, "Intellectual Property Law" -- that say if you make something, you have the right to profit from it -- are the very foundation of modern civilization.

Ownership is an abstract idea which, when made real and concrete in our everyday lives, produces abundance.

So we have the 10 Commandments that say not to steal, and even not to ENVY -- not to "covet" your neighbor's anything. 

Today's underlying theme behind all the political fracas is simply about ownership, profit and envy.

Many have noted that as this conversation about say, "children are the responsibility of the community" and "parents shouldn't have a say in the local school curriculum content" -- and sex education in schools, and everything that goes with that -- has become louder, envy and covetousness has become louder.

Your idea of the cause of that coincidence, and about how important that connection is (if it exists at all) is a THEME that you can plot into a novel.

Remember, the core theme of all Romance Novels is "Love Conquers All" and the most powerful such novels challenge that statement, making the author prove it's truth is a plausible truth.

The most potent fiction-themes reside between the cracks in our culture.

The cracks are the connection points -- and like cracks in a sidewalk mark two "slabs" being joined to make a smooth surface.

That is why one can look at the world and say THIS is not connected to THAT -- and be correct.

And that is why one can look at the world and say THIS is directly connected to THAT -- and be correct.

These are two "correct" thematic statement forms that come into conflict and Conflict Is The Essence Of Story.

Finding a clean, clear, short, way to state the nature of a connection between two observed processes or states of being is the Art of Theme.

If you look at Astrology -- my posts on Astrology Just For Writers are indexed here:

In astrology, you have the "Natal Chart" which is a pie-chart representation of the Zodiac at birth.

That is 12 sections (Houses), just like cutting a pie, so the very structure of HUMAN PERSONALITY is graphically represented by opposites.

The interpretation for the first 3 Houses is all about the SELF.  Opposite those are 3 Houses that are all about OTHER.

The trick to RULING A COMMUNITY is to understand the relationship between 1st House and 7th House.

Ordinarily (if you know some Astrology) you'd think "Ruling" is all about 10th House or maybe Leo (the Natural 5th House). 

But if you look deeper into human personality, and thus into what kind of governing Groups of Humans can endure, you see that the sticking point that all nations and governments come apart on is INDIVIDUAL vs GROUP. 

Group can be Man & Wife, or Spouses, and it can be Parents+Children, or tribe or country, or just a Country Club.

1st House defines the Self.  7th House defines the one-to-one Relationships, but in some forms of Astrology 7th House represents also The Public.

What does it take to be a RULER of a Community? 

Well, first, the only times Ruling ever works historically, you see that the Ruler was a member of the Community (not an outsider -- that always fails dramatically which makes good story fodder).

So in effect, a Ruler from a Community is subconsciously imposing his own personal values on the community, but he got those values by growing up inside the community, so though "ruling" implies "imposition" what he's imposing was there already.

Think of it as singing on key in a choir and the Ruler just steps out and does a Solo.  Has to be a solo from the same song everyone is singing behind him.  The Ruler's values have to harmonize with those of the Ruled -- or the Community fragments.

So Humanity has been on a millennia long search for the operational relationship between Self and Other.

Just look at the divorce rate -- that's trying to get two people who don't "harmonize" into the same house.  We can't even do that reliably on purpose! 

Communities are built from the building-block of families.

A community can stand to have a few raucous families included, but the strength of the community is inside the harmony of the Family components.

If the Family is regarded as Self - then the community is Other.

If the Community is Self (say members of a particular Church or Rotary Club), then Other is the State or the whole Nation.

Like those Russian dolls, one inside the other -- we build from components.  Legos.

So the biggest, most story-fraught, issue or problem of today is simply, "What is the most workable Relationship between Self and Other?"

How do we form communities?  What should a well-formed Community look like?

Should we make up an Ideal form of community and hammer and smash all these individual Lego blocks into a shape that fits?

Or should we choose individual Lego blocks that already go together easily, and separate off the others? 

No matter how big the Community (all Earth; 400 planet Union of the Galaxy), it is formed on a theory about the most workable relationship between Self and Other -- between 1st House and 7th House.

If the theory is wrong, the Community will disintegrate -- and it will disintegrate because of the error. 

Disintegrating communities (the headlines abound in examples) make wondrous story-locales, especially for Romance because the disintegrating infrastructure of the couple's life gives them something to overcome that every reader can easily grasp.

So how do you construct a satisfying ENDING to a story about Ruling a disintegrating community?

The HEA ending requires you, the writer, to solve the problem all humanity hasn't made a dent in for thousands of years.  But as a science fiction Romance writer, you can extrapolate, suggest or fantasize a workable community shape to place before your couple.  The ending doesn't have to depict that end-result existing -- just show the road to it and the hope of getting there.

So where do you find clues about what your readers might accept as a workable community?

You look into the cracks.  You look between elements.

Here is a place to start.

The Torah portion of Korach recounts how G-d told Moshe and Aharon: “Separate yourselves from the midst of this community and I will destroy them in an instant.” Moshe and Aharon responded: “G-d, L-rd of all spirits, if one man [Korach] sins, shall you direct Your wrath at the entire community?”1

Rashi explains that the phrase “L-rd of all spirits” refers to G-d’s omniscience. Moshe and Aharon therefore added these words to their rejoinder for, as Rashi says, they were in effect saying: “Unto You is revealed all thoughts; You know who is the sinner. If one man alone has sinned, shall You direct Your wrath at the entire community?”

G-d responded: “You have spoken well. I know, and shall make known, who has sinned and who has not.”
--------END QUOTE----

The story of Korach who gathered a group from among the nascent community and presented grievances to the leadership, and because of the content of what was bugging them, G-d responded with a judgement upon the entire community.

Moshe and Aharon argued (you can argue with Authority), and they won (you can win arguments with Authority). 

From that story, one might conclude that the way teachers discipline classes of students by punishing the whole class for one who talks or texts or sounds off at the teacher, is WRONG. 

The individual children in a class must be treated as individuals. 

Or From that story one might conclude that all members of a group have to be treated the same because any variation at all is unfair and unequal.  Individuality is a major sin. One must conform to the Group rules that are made up by the Ruler.

Create a character who believes one of those conclusions and another character who believes the other conclusion -- but the two are in perfect Harmony on everything else (sex included).  The attraction is intense, but so is the disagreement.

Now set out to convince one or the other that he or she concluded incorrectly. 

Just write the OUTLINE of a novel like that.  Then write another outline using different parameters -- all focused on the different conclusions possible from that little commentary of Rashi on "if one man sins, shall You direct Your wrath at the entire community?" 

How (science fiction, Paranormal fantasy) can you Rule or govern a gaggle of individualists none of whom will deign to conform to preferences of another? 

Invent an Alien Species that can indeed function that way, and face them off against humans.

I dealt with parts of that problem in

There is ever so much more to say, and Alien Species out there in the galaxy are a tool writers can leverage to great advantage -- they give you both theme and plot in one neat bundle.  For an example, think about Spock and Logic.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, October 05, 2014

ConFusion 2015 in Dearborn Michigan

Who is going to ConFusion?

Registration is open at and those in the know should be booking their rooms at the Dearborn Doubletree Hilton (code BTC).

Panel application

Highlights for me will be the panels on Science, on Literature (of course), and on Comics.

My best,

Rowena Cherry

Thursday, October 02, 2014

The End of Marriage?

This article by Susan Reimer of the BALTIMORE SUN is headlined "The End of Marriage" on the website and the editorial page of the print issue for that day:

The End of Marriage

Headlines, of course, aren't written by the author of the article. I trust Reimer herself didn't intend to make such a sweeping pronouncement of doom on the grounds that, as she puts it, "The American household is nearly unrecognizable from our sitcom past." The nuclear family "made up of a breadwinning father, a homemaking mother, and a couple of kids" can hardly be considered synonymous with the whole institution of marriage, considering the concept was invented in the nineteenth century, when the Industrial Revolution met middle-class Victorian values, and reached a brief peak in the 1950s. This model was, of course, far from universal even among the American middle class at the time (I myself grew up in a "blended" family; my father and stepmother were both previously married and divorced, with children, and Mamma worked full-time until the birth of our half-sister), and unattainable in any era for most working-class families. Moreover, Reimer notes that this period sometimes idealized as "the golden age of family life" was "also a repressive time for women."

Regardless of the headline, the bulk of her essay, in fact, isn't about the shift from the "Ozzie and Harriet" ideal to more varied types of marriage such as male-breadwinner and two-career households, not to mention same-sex unions. It's mainly about recent research on the links between out-of-wedlock childbirth and poverty. Few people would deny the importance of family stability and "a sense of certainty about the core issues of job security, wages, health care, child care and retirement" to lifting parents and children out of poverty. These issues, however, are separate from the observed trend that, as remarked by sociologist Philip Cohen of the University of Maryland, "there is no single family arrangement that encompasses a majority of children."

For a more nuanced analysis of American marriage trends as contrasted with what the popular imagination views as "traditional," I recommend sociologist Stephanie Coontz's THE WAY WE NEVER WERE. Interestingly, when Coontz asked her college students in the early 1990s to define the traditional marriage, they described a cross between OZZIE AND HARRIET and THE WALTONS, often citing those TV series by name. In fact, those programs portrayed two distinctly different models of marriage and the family, and the 1950s ideal was a conscious reaction against the Depression-era extended-family household.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt