Thursday, March 31, 2016

Modes of Thinking

One of Robert Heinlein's characters declares that conscious thought is like the display window in a calculator, showing the result of a process that goes on underneath, in the preconscious or unconscious mind. I think he's probably right; nevertheless, most people (as far as I know) do experience thinking as a conscious procedure. Suzette Haden Elgin often wrote about "preferred sensory modes" in learning and interacting with the environment—some children learn best by sight, others by hearing, some by touch. (And the last group suffers a distinct disadvantage in our public school system.) Likewise, people seem to have different "thinking modes."

I've always been highly verbally oriented. In my early years, I took it for granted that "thinking" MEANT "formulating thoughts in words." Mental verbalization, "talking to yourself," was the only process I recognized as thought. It was quite a revelation to learn not everybody's mind works that way. C. S. Lewis, one of my idols and certainly a brilliant wordsmith, was a strongly visual thinker. He said all his fiction began with "pictures." THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE, for example, sprang from an image of a faun carrying packages through a snowy forest. Lewis described his writing technique as something like "bird-watching." Various "pictures" would appear in his mind, and eventually he would sense that a group of them belonged together as part of a single narrative. Only then would the conscious work of devising a plot to link them begin. Only after Aslan "came bounding" into Narnia did it occur to him to include Christian content in the story (contrary to the popular belief that he intentionally set out to write "allegory"). Animal scientist Temple Grandin describes herself as so much of a visual thinker that words are her "second language." I'm so much the opposite, so non-visual, that I have trouble connecting faces with names and, in movies, telling characters apart if they look similar. This tendency also means that as a writer I struggle with creating vivid descriptions.

It's clear to me now that verbal thinking and even abstract thinking aren't the only processes that can legitimately be classified as "thought." Aren't animals thinking when they solve problems, even if they don't have the capacity for abstract thought? When our dog extracts a treat from a hollow toy or a cat bats at the swinging closet door until she can wiggle inside, they are clearly acting from intention, not trial-and-error. So I have to label their mental processes "thinking," even if that definition contradicts the narrower assumptions I used to hold.

How can we be sure of recognizing "thought" among extraterrestrial aliens who may not think anything like the way we do?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Reviews 24 by Jacqueline Lichtenberg of Alien In Chief by Gini Koch

Reviews 24
Jacqueline Lichtenberg
Alien In Chief
 Gini Koch 

There are 11 prior posts where I mention or discuss Gini Koch's Alien Series.

Well, no, not discuss -- more like rave.

I have included spoilers below but these are the kind of novels that you can't spoil by knowing what will happen in advance.

Gini Koch has indeed been extremely prolific, and in the process of telling this long, complicated story, with many characters,  interstellar settings, and science tantamount to fantasy, she has become a much better writer.

The most bizarre setting Gini Koch has tackled has been Washington, D.C. complete with "wives" club to instruct spouses and establish the social whirl, all the way to vociferous (sometimes dangerous) picketers on Embassy Row.  So far, only K Street has been treated from a great distance, an occasional Lobbyist mentioned

If you step into this series with Alien In Chief, then go back to read the first one, ALIEN
you will see the styling difference immediately.

If you read my reviews of these (terrific) novels, you will note I highlight the wordiness and "loose" styling.  The proportions in terms of words spent dwelling on this or that, the repetition of points, slowed the pace and vitiated the penetratingly vivid characterizations.

Little by little, that effect has been tamed, and this book ALIEN IN CHIEF, zips along at the pace of events without awkward pauses.  The improvement makes it easier to follow the action and the motivations.

Alien In Chief is Book 12,


...which details the events that we have seen coming for several books now as the bad-guys close in.  Finally, the ultimate doomsday weapon is deployed, a disease that takes down a trainload of high USA government officials.

Jeff, Kitty's husband the Alien we met at the beginning of Book 1, has been Vice President for a while.  Kitty, a human with altered DNA, has been the Ambassador to Washington from the AC Aliens.

Now, at least for a time, Jeff becomes President of the USA and Kitty has to drop everything to become First Lady.

Given what we know of her personality from the previous 11 Books, this will be a unique era in American history.  Already, she has taken the field, kicked butt, vanquished villains galore, managed media relations, and survived a bout of plague.

This is a science-fiction-urban-fantasy blend with strong elements most beloved in the Video-gaming and Comic communities.  But the blending is seamless, from Book 1 onward.

And yes, it is your favorite kind of series -- Human/Alien Romance where all the sex scenes are supercharged.  (And don't forget, they now have 2 very young, very precocious children who won't stay out of Adult affairs.)

I'm sure a lot of fans will want to duplicate the music playlists Kitty uses to inspire her fighting style, wishing that a super-alien would jigger the song sequences to give clues about what's about to attack.

And that's the only advantage Kitty has, a clue, not an actual briefing full of information.  She does have her altered DNA which gives her some Alien powers, but in this novel we see how she performs when these new powers fade away due to the disease.

As we come to the end of ALIEN IN CHIEF, we find the well known characters discussing who should be Vice President and who should take over the C.I.A.  Meanwhile, they are hosting a delegation of Aliens from a coalition of planets far-far-away, planets Kitty & Company saved from a brutal civil war.

There will be Washington Parties to inaugurate the new President, and there will no doubt be vigorous opposition to an Alien presiding in DC.  There might be a few left-over villains and a number of mysteries which, when solved, will create greater perils.  And since they saved a lot of humans who had caught the plague, there may be after-effects of that plague that appear later -- it was synthesized using some DNA from some as yet unknown planet.  Yes, it's a space plague.  You have to read this book to believe it.

Read these novels anticipating great, good, rollicking fun, and you won't be disappointed.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Copyright Matters

Should we have a named and registered copyright agent for our blog? One hopes not, because we moderate Comments, and that is the only way a third party could potentially upload copyright infringing material.

However, there are Blogspot blogs that do give the appearance of infringing copyrights. If in doubt, this article by the law firm FisherBroyles has some excellent advice in the segment "Have a Website? Got a Copyright Agent? If not, You May Have a Problem!" (scrolling down the page a bit). 

This week, the law firm of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP posted an analysis of what the Ninth Circuit ruling in the "Dancing Baby" case might mean for all copyright owners. That means, this affects authors, too.  We now have to "consider fair use" before sending a Takedown Notice when we see our works apparently being published and distributed without our consent and without payment to us.

The problem for authors is that a good proportion of what appears to be copyright infringement is designed to entice folks to click on links that often lead to malware-infested sites. According to the USPTO, we are not required to give our credit card information to a site we suspect is a pirate site, and we are not required to download potentially dangerous files in order to substantiate our good faith belief that our work is being illegally exploited. However, the Lenz "dancing baby" case is not helpful, and this author believes that that was exactly what Google funded EFF wanted.

I've shared this before, but here are some tips on navigating illegal download sites.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry

Irregular Reminder For European Visitors

Dear European visitors, 

Happy Easter Sunday, and thank you for visiting!

We are required to make sure that our European visitors are aware that European Union laws require us (the authors) to give European Union visitors information about cookies used on our blog. (Not by the authors. We have no control over the cookies. We don't even know what the cookies are! They are Google's cookies). In many cases, these laws also require us to obtain consent. 

If you follow this blog, we assume that you consent.

Google tells us that, as a courtesy, the good Google folks have added a notice on our blog to explain Google's use of certain Blogger and Google cookies, including use of Google Analytics and AdSense cookies.

Google tells us that we are responsible for confirming this notice actually works for our blog, (but we have no idea how to go about confirming whether or not this notice actually works, short of asking European visitors to leave a comment telling us!) and that it displays (but we don't know how to do that, unless European visitors kindly leave a comment to that effect). If we employ other cookies, for example by adding third party features, this notice may not work for us.  I don't think we do, but I'm not omniscient.

What I do to avoid being tracked by Google is to go into my Safari Preferences every day, and I delete every cookie that I don't want.  Also, when I am in motels using public wi-fi, I have found that turning off the wi-fi --often!!!-- cuts down exponentially on the influx of spam.

This blog will repeat from time to time.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry

Thursday, March 24, 2016


The theme for this year's International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts was "Wonder Tales," with particular focus on fairy tales. Since I'm a big fan of retold fairy tales, I was excited about this theme. Sadly, the Guest of Honor, Terri Windling, couldn't attend because of health problems. Ellen Kushner read her luncheon speech, a moving discussion of the value of wonder. It drew on Windling's personal experience of longing to step through a doorway into a different world, which resonated deeply with me. On Thursday evening, special author guest Holly Black read from a work in progress called THE CRUEL PRINCE, which I definitely want to read when it's published. The guest scholar was Cristina Bacchilega, a specialist in fairy tales and folklore.

The Lord Ruthven Assembly, our vampire, revenant, and Gothic division, recognized the following works with awards: Fiction, JACOB, by David Gerrold; nonfiction, a bibliography, THE VAMPIRE IN FOLKLORE, HISTORY, LITERATURE, FILM AND TELEVISION, by J. Gordon Melton and Alysa Hornick; other media, the movie WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS. In one of the author reading sections, I read a story from SWORD AND SORCERESS XXII, "Vanishing Village," which was very kindly received. I attended several stimulating panels. The session on "Remix Culture" had a lively discussion on where to draw the lines with regard to fanfic and other adaptations and reuses of existing works. "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Read Them," set up as an informal round-table conversation, covered a wide range of topics related to animals in fantasy. The panel on the "Brave New World" of publishing offered much valuable information and advice for new as well as veteran authors. In the final time slot of Saturday afternoon, a panel on the latest STAR WARS film packed the room, with strong opinions expressed on such topics as gender and race issues and the commercial policies of the Disney empire.

David Hartwell, Tor Books editor, the author of the pioneering SF study AGES OF WONDER, and prolific, highly influential anthologist, died earlier this year. He was a faithful attendee at ICFA, running the book sale room for many years, so the conference featured several tributes to him. Also, each membership packet included a book of reminiscences compiled in his honor.

As usual, I came home with a bunch of free books. The weather in Orlando remained beautiful for most of the con. Thunderstorms were predicted for the weekend, but they didn't materialize, only a few showers. I enjoyed smooth airport experiences and flights in both directions. In fact, I would have declared it a perfect week except that, for the first time ever, my suitcase didn't get aboard the homeward plane with me. What a horrible, sinking sensation to stare, empty-handed, at a vacant luggage carousel when all the other passengers had gone! Fortunately, I must say the airline dealt with the problem efficiently and delivered my wandering bag to our house Monday night.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Worldbuilding From Reality Part 4 - Creating A Story Canvas by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Worldbuilding From Reality
Part 4
Creating A Story Canvas
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Previous parts on Worldbuilding From Reality:

Here are some previous posts related to Worldbuilding

In addition, there are long series of posts about integrating Worldbulding with each of the other skill sets we've discussed.  

Working with the developers of the Sime~Gen Videogame, who are worldbuilding in a Universe I created, I've been following developments in mapping our Galaxy and the stars beyond.

The Game developers want to take the narrow window on Future History I used to showcase the Characters I used and open that window wide -- taking humanity of the far future into the Galaxy on adventures flung far and wide. 

So I have been collecting posts on the advancing edge of astronomy and astrophysics and putting them on my Pinterest Board

I also park some on Flipboard and some on Facebook. 

In particular, the videogame company that has licensed one of my series, Sime~Gen, is planning to create an Interstellar setting for the character-driven story.  It will start with exploring this solar system, then expand to discovering Aliens "out-there."

But WHAT is "out there?"  

You all know that the fashion in science has been, for decades, to assume that there are no intelligent Aliens "out-there."  That idea went out of fashion with old-style Science Fiction.

Guess what. It's back!  Speculation began sizzling and then exploding in mid-2015.

And now comes the NEW orbital telescope called the James Webb Space Telescope, expanding on what Hubble has found, it is just inevitable we'll find whatever there is to be found out there.

That new orbital instrument will let us expand the map of all galaxies, solve mysteries of things like "dark matter," gravity, Black Holes, and maybe find some "Intelligent Life Out There" -- of course, what we see will be millions or billions of years old, but still useful information.

Here is a video of a map of galaxies, showing where in this mess Earth is located: 

The Video says Earth is not the "center" of the universe -- but know what?  Maybe we'll discover otherwise.

You may have seen that video around.  It contains this blond-hair like image in the middle of the video and takes some patience to get there.

The red dot you see in this still from the video is us -- our GALAXY, not the Sun.  That's the structure of the Universe -- at least of a tiny slice near us that we've mapped parts of.

Then there are all the 2015 articles about Dark Matter with more papers due all the time now.

Definition from Astronomy:

(in some cosmological theories) nonluminous material that is postulated to exist in space and that could take any of several forms including weakly interacting particles ( cold dark matter ) or high-energy randomly moving particles created soon after the Big Bang ( hot dark matter ).
For example:

So our notion of the cosmos is expanding, and mysteries are appearing out of the nooks and crannies of Math and Astrophysics.  The gravity generated by Dark Matter is theoretically responsible for giving the Universe (that branching yellow hair type image in the video) its shape.  

The Hadron Collider will be making a lot more news in 2016.

So what is a science fiction writer to do?

Well, story telling is about focus, about a selective recreation of reality, not about reality itself.
By factoring out all the other variables, the writer focuses the reader's attention on the singular point of this particular story.

Stories are about people who are symbolically represented by Characters.

Characters are not "real" people -- but they trigger a recognition response in readers who then fill in all the gaps to create in their own imagination a Person derived from the writer's depiction of a Character.

That's how a reader puts him/herself into a story -- by filling in what the writer left blank.
So, to create your story canvas out of this vast-vast Universe we are now able to glimpse, you first need a story.

To find the story, you need a Character who will live that story.

Find the Character in your imagination, figure out what bit of that Character's life is that Character's story, then SELECT a bit of the vast-cosmos of reality to wrap around that Character.
Set the Character free to roam your slice of real-space.

For a long series of long books, you can use a bigger canvas -- a larger slice of what the James Webb telescope will be discovering.

You can move your Characters between Galaxies if you can intuit a space-drive that might be able to traverse such distances.

In the 1930's and 1940's Edward E. Smith, Ph.D., posited that the factor limiting our space-drive possibilities to sub-light "speeds" was INERTIA.

So he just posited that humans invented a device small enough to put on a space ship that eliminated inertia.  He called it an Inertialess Drive. I don't recall its fuel or energy source.

Gene Roddenberry came along in the 1960's and posited a Wormhole Based space drive powered by antimatter, focused by dilithium crystals.  Look up the history of science as understood in the 1950's and you'll understand what Roddenberry did there.  

So now it's 40 years later, and science is puzzling over Dark Matter and Dark Energy and Black Holes that swallow stars and burp.

What are you going to base your star drive on?

And how far do your Characters have to travel?  How big a government do they need - how many people, how many different kinds of people?

C. J. Cherryh has done a wonderful job of depicting interstellar civilization in her FOREIGNER SERIES which I keep rave-reviewing here and everywhere. It is up to volume 17, now. Here's Amazon's page listing the books as a series.

But now we have all this new information about the map of the Universe -- how many galaxies there are, where they are in relation to each other, and what is between them (e.g. Dark Matter and Dark Energy).

So naturally, writers will be exploring what they can do with a star drive based on Dark Matter.  

Say, a ram-scoop technology based on scooping up Dark Matter and converting it to Light Energy?  

Or perhaps "sails" designed to capture Dark Energy?

There is more "Dark" than "Light" out there -- and nobody knows what can be converted to what or used for which.

That does not mean you, the writer, can just randomly postulate any old thing.

Whatever you postulate for the solution to the mysteries faced by particle physics and astrophysics today, it must symbolize, explicate, illustrate, or explain your theme.

In other words, the Characters you create have to "belong to" the World you build around them -- in a manner similar to (but different from) the way human beings belong to our world.

You create imaginary physics, as Gene Roddenberry did, to tell a story of a Character.

Read this short comic, and see how  Captain Kirk was a part of Gene Roddenberry's real life character.

Now look at the Universe Roddenberry created to wrap around James T. Kirk -- to set Kirk loose into that wild west setting.  

Even now, there's new Star Trek.

Note how Roddenberry set the TV small-screen Series mostly on the Bridge set, and occasional quarters or sick-bay, and the transporter room -- all interiors. And a lot of the planet exteriors were inside sets on a sound stage (and looked like it).

Making what the reader "sees" very small in comparison to the total environment the Characters "know" is "out there" is a dramatic device to engage the reader's imagination, get the reader to invent all the details and thus invest themselves in the dream.

Doctor Who did this for decades -- there was a Gallifrey out there, we knew it, but the story never went there, so we had to invent it.

Use that technique. Start your vast-enormous-intergalactic canvas in a small, tiny, slice of the Reality your Characters live in.

Book by book, expand the stage, explore hidden parts, romp among galaxies like grains of sand.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Saturday, March 19, 2016

What Are We Putting In The Ocean?

I'm just back from a short vaction in Florida, and I cannot say that I came away feeling very proud of people.

The signs say, "Keep Off The Dunes". Do people keep off the dunes? No. They sit on them for an elevated view. They let their dogs play on them. They sleep on them. They take a short cut across them instead of using the boardwalks.

Dunes are important and fascinating, not only for protecting the coast from winds and storm surges. Specialized creatures live in them, and specialized plants grow on them. The roots of sea oats help to keep the sand from being blow inland.  Beach grass dies if people walk on it and break its stems.
More info

The signs say "No Dogs" (between certain hours). One sees dogs during the no-dogs hours. The rules say that dogs must be on a leash during the hours when dogs are allowed. Are they?  In most cases, not.  I was harassed by a large excited dog as I stood in the shin-deep surf.

Apart from that, the beach was littered with glass, aluminum, styrofoam, and plastic trash. Alas.  It all contributes to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. or the Great Atlantic Garbage Patch. But that's nothing. I should have been in Seattle.

What is it with Seattle? Perhaps the people there are more stressed than Americans anywhere else. Or perhaps, they think they aren't because of all the drugs they ingest and excrete.

"Researchers found cocaine, Advil, Prozac, Lipitor, Benadryl and dozens of other drugs in the tissue of juvenile chinook salmon caught in the Puget Sound in September 2014, the Seattle Times reported in February. The salmon likely picked up the drugs from wastewater in the area that's a "[cocktail] of 81 drugs," as the Seattle Times put it."

Alas. That is wild-caught Pacific salmon. And, I thought that I was okay if I avoided the farmed Atlantic salmon.

"Other drugs found in the wastewater include (but aren't limited to): Aleve, Flonase, Paxil, Tylenol, Tagamet, Valium, Zoloft, Darvon, OxyContin, caffeine, nicotine fungicides, antiseptics, anticoagulants, Cipro and other "antibiotics galore," the Seattle Times reported."

Imagine, though, the science fiction (I almost typed fishion) possibilities of self-aware, laid back, buzzed, sleepy, obese, bacteria-resistant, indigestion-free sea life! They didn't mention the sexually stimulating drugs, but one might expect that among the 81 drug cocktail, something of the sort would be there.

Toilets of the future ought to be designed with their own reservoirs... like back to cess pits!!! Or a water feature wall of their home, on the other side of the home from an Elon Musk-like solar/battery recycling power wall.  Come to think of it, if one churned one's greywater, one might create hydroelectic power, too.  Bill Gates was recently on TV drinking recycled urine. Perhaps, if people drank their own recycled pee, they would get better value from their drugs as a side effect.

A possible solution for the future might be to have two toilets in every bathroom. #1 and #2  One would save a lot of water that way.  And, keep the juvenile chinook salmon in better health.

All the best,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Greetings from Orlando; Zootopia

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

This week I'm at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts in balmy Orlando. I'll report on the con next Thursday.

By the way, have you seen ZOOTOPIA? I was highly impressed and definitely want to own this movie and watch it repeatedly. Almost as much of a winner as INSIDE OUT! One intriguing feature is the way this latest film confronts the issue of carnivores and herbivores living together in society, as most worlds inhabited by intelligent, anthropomorphic animals don't. The closest analogue might be Brian Jacques's Redwall, but that series portrays predators as uniformly, simplistically, and irredeemably evil (a deliberate choice on the author's part, but I prefer the way ZOOTOPIA handles the problem). It's also interesting that ZOOTOPIA keeps the sizes of the various animals roughly to scale, so that when the rabbit heroine ventures into the section of the city called Little Rodentia, she strides among the buildings like Godzilla in Tokyo (but of course more carefully).

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Reviews 23 by Jacqueline Lichtenberg - Stone and a Hard Place by R. L. King

Reviews-23-by Jacqueline Lichtenberg Stone And A Hard Place by R. L. King

R. L. King is one of the writers highlighted on my page of writers who have been influenced by my writing.

I want to point you to Book 1 in R. L. King's series The Alastair Stone Chronicles,  because I truly admired the strong, disciplined structure of this novel.

It's an easy, quick read -- great kind of thing to read on an airplane but you won't toss it in the trash when you get to your destination (or delete it from your phone -- paper and Kindle versions on Amazon).

cover of R. L. King's novel

Besides being a great story about a master of Magical Craft taking on an Apprentice while dealing with a cross-dimension incursion by a genuine Monster Entity, this novel is worth any writer's time to study.

It's not a Romance, but the plot is driven by Relationships and a good, solid sexual relationship, too.

All the Characters (except the Monster) do things because of how they "relate" to the other characters.

We see what it means to hold someone in contempt.
We see what it means to think you should hold someone in high regard.
We see what it means to acquire high regard for those who supply "strokes" or good feelings, who      bolster your self-esteem whether you should have any self-esteem or not.
We see what it means to perceive an elegant devotion to Charity and  throw down in support of that  lofty goal.
We see what it means to be self-critical.

This novel creates an interlaced web of Relationships all of which contribute materially to the plot.  There's love, contempt and even embryonic hatred.

We can see all of this in one panoramic perspective because of the underlying structure of the novel.

That structure is invisible to the consumer, the casual reader, which is just as it should be.  The casual reader should swoop through the story eager for "what happens next" -- and indeed that is exactly how this book reads.

The strict, disciplined structure reminiscent of Hollywood movies or network TV shows causes the page-turner effect.

After you've read the book, check the beginning then check the ending.  Also check the middle.


But the truth is the following analysis does not spoil the pure enjoyment in this novel.

There is an unexpected death near the end.  It is not foreshadowed, except poetically.  You keep asking yourself how in the world is the writer going to keep this character alive after all this -- but all indications are that the writer will keep that character alive.

But no.

Poetic Justice is served up cold.

Here's the relevant 3-part series on this blog on Poetic Justice and how to use it as a device.

Now, given that the plot calls for that shock-scene of the death, and a huge Karmic Reveal, together with (all in a couple of paragraphs) a glimpse into the future lives of this character, and possibly the past lives of the Main Character who survives, maybe into the Relationship between them established over lifetimes, -- how can the opening of such a Paranormal Action-Mystery novel be structured so the ending makes sense, but is not telegraphed to the reader?

If the opening telegraphs to the reader too much, then the reader will become bored and stop turning pages.

Well, the genre is "Mystery" primarily (not Romance).

If it were a Romance it might be classed as Paranormal Action-Romance and the opening would be the first meeting of the two characters who would fall in love -- very likely opening on them fighting each other, maybe in Arcane Combat.

This is clearly a MYSTERY.

But it partakes of the elements of Science Fiction, too.

The mystery in question is the arcane equivalent of a science mystery -- a piece of data that doesn't fit accepted theory.

So as the author says, it is an Urban Fantasy because the setting is contemporary (sans cell phones), and the science involved is Magic.  From my NOT SO MINOR ARCANA series on Tarot:

I think it is much more than just Urban Fantasy -- mixing many genres seamlessly, including hints of a coming Romance.  Some major publishers still shun this type of mixture -- but of course it is my own personal favorite.

So as the novel progresses, investigation shows there are some theories that cover the observation, but no big detailed reference works to cookbook through fixing the problem.

Since paranormal mystery genre is to be the envelope, the writer chose to open the plot as you do with a mystery, and to close with the solution, and a denouement as you do with a mystery.

The typical closed-form detective novel, or TV show, starts with the discovery of the body, or a bit of evidence that a crime has been committed.  This kicks off the Plot -- but not yet the Story.

Stone and a Hard Place starts with a prologue, and a wildly gorgeous opening line.

"Adelaide Bonham was convinced that her house hated her."

The whole novel is about that House, it's hatred for Adelaide, what kind of person she is, how she manages to accept an unacceptable explanation of what she has observed, and what she does both because of that acceptance, that observation, and what she does in spite of that acceptance, and what becomes of the House because of it all.

Adelaide an old, frail, infirm woman, a widow who has inherited the house passed down to her husband by his ancestors.

She is not a typical old widow.

She's courageous, exemplary, set in her ways but willing to accept new ideas.

But she is not the Hero of this Story -- not the Main Character.

That's why her conviction that her house hates her is in a prologue, not the opening of Chapter One.

Stone And A Hard Place is not about her, not her story, not her destiny.

She, like the first character you see on a TV Series episode opening where the week's body is discovered, is part of both plot and story -- she is obstacle, goal and enabler, even perhaps Protagonist, but not Hero, not Main Character.  She both prevents and then instigates plot events.  But the novel is not her Story.

Many readers of this blog know I usually send back (mostly unread) any manuscript sent to me for evaluation that begins with a Prologue.

The art of the prologue is incredibly difficult to master.

Artistically, the prologue must be a major narrative hook -- draw the reader into the story.  But at the same time, it must not fix the reader's attention and present the reason to read this novel.

The reason to read the novel is paragraph 1 of Chapter 1 -- it is not the prologue, which as it's name indicates is the "log" (like Captain's Log) of "what came before the story" that instigates the plot.

Be advised, most readers routinely skip anything labeled prologue, so usually it's better to call it Chapter One and make it the springboard into Chapter Two.

In this case, though, what you have here is a perfect example of a novel that must have a prologue, and a perfect example of a prologue that contains nothing but prologue material.

You find perfect examples like this in Mystery and Police Procedurals -- the Event that the Main Character must investigate.

The beginning writer tends to grab at the prologue to solve a writing structure problem no other tool in that writer's toolbox seems suited for.

Usually, that is the beginning writer's up-welling urgency to write the story, shoving aside anything that would slow down the writing -- including learning new techniques necessary to tell the story in just the way that the story demands.

That is not what happened here in Stone And A Hard Place.

This prologue is a precise example of not only when to use a prologue but how and why.

This prologue is part of the formula of the Detective Story, and sets out the main problem The Detective will have to solve.

The plot has "reveals" about the way the Reluctant Detective gets sucked into solving this problem, what he discovers that's vaguely suspicious, what he learns that is definitely suspicious, what makes him very wary of the size of the problem (tip of the iceberg and he knows it) -- what and how he researches, what is known about this problem, what he thinks about what he discovers, what he decides to do about it, what happens (not as a consequence of his decision plot-wise, but as a consequence poetically, karmicly, of who and what he is).

Each bit of information about the mystery, about why this old woman thinks her house hates her, what she does about that, what the Detective ( a master Magician named Stone who is facing a very hard place in his life) does as a consequence of what the old woman does, is Revealed at exactly the correct place in the narrative all the way to The End and the epilogue.

The precision pacing is not just the order in which information is revealed, but also how many words are devoted to revealing each piece and giving the reader time to absorb and understand that information.

The information feed in this novel is perfect.

The Mystery Plot begun in the Prologue forms the backbone of the Plot.  The Mystery Formula sets the pacing.

The Story begins at the Chapter One opening.  (for a Mystery formula this is exactly the correct choice.)

Chapter One introduces our Reluctant Detective with his awareness of the karmic problem of his life, the life-stage he is passing through at this very moment.

The opening line is perfect:
"Alastair Stone suspected the Universe was conspiring against his desire to keep the two sides of his life separate."

And at the end of the novel, we see that is indeed the case -- poetic justice, karma, has overwhelmed and transformed his life, and he is complicit.

The next few paragraphs of the opening (brief, hard-punching paragraphs perfectly crafted) convey the information that Stone will now take on an Apprentice at the behest of a figure who is an Old Friend.  That figure is thought of many times throughout the novel, and then tinkers with Stone's destiny again in the Epilogue.

The epilogue is titled appropriately Chapter Forty-Six, Two Weeks Later, instead of epilogue.

Why is this not titled epilogue?  Because it does not cap the prologue with a final bit of information completing the plot begun in the prologue.

It is not an epilogue, but a denouement to the mystery, dealing with the damage left in the wake of resolving the conflict.

Chapter Forty-Six delineates the wrap-up of the Story (not the Plot) and indicates what the Reluctant Detective will choose to do next because of the losses sustained in this adventure and the scars only beginning to form on his psyche as the two parts of his life have been smashed together with the force of karma.

Within the first few paragraphs of Chapter One we also meet Stone's "magically oblivious girlfriend" -- who later figures in the story significantly, particularly in saving Stone's life.  They're sleeping together but  not living together -- lots of romantic tension that isn't yet a romance.

Then Chapter Two introduces Stone's everyday life (as a Professor of the arcane at a regular university where the topic is treated as a mythical curiosity), and his first meeting with his new Apprentice.

The main characters are all introduced in the correct order, the order of their effect on the ending.

The body of the novel is all about juggling responsibilities to train the Apprentice while dealing with the Monster In The House, and with the overcoming of the personal angst caused by Stone's inability to keep the two sides of his life separate and still keep his self-respect.

The Point of View shifts, but never wanders.  The writer does not use point of view shift because she doesn't know any other way to get the information to the reader.  She chooses Point of View Shift because it is the correct tool for this information feed at this specific point in the novel.  It is all very disciplined, very precise.

The entire composition follows the "Beats" delineated in Blake Snyder's Save The Cat! series on screenwriting.  Scene structure, climax points, each one is placed exactly where it belongs by adjusting the number of words necessary to move the story and the plot ahead.  That word-count discipline is a big factor in the page-turner effect.

Read this novel, enjoy it, then dissect it beat for beat, count paragraphs, words, and how dialogue is mixed in tempo with narrative, exposition, and description.  There is a firm hand behind this novel, and a very high precision sense of structure and pacing.

As Save The Cat! points out repeatedly, structure and pacing make the difference between an "Opens Everywhere" film and a campus Arts Playhouse showing or two.

Structure and pacing are all about audience size.  But though both structure and pacing are necessary conditions for wide distribution, they are not sufficient conditions.

This novel has the potential to reach and please a very large, very broad audience given the right kind of publicity and promotion.

In today's world, that kind of publicity and promotion is rarely possible for a work of mixed genres like this one.  Urban Fantasy is one of the labels that allows for such a mixture.

If you are writing a mixed-genre -- or perhaps think you are writing a very pure genre -- study this novel's ingredients.  It is a smoothly blended mixture of all my favorite genres.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Is Monogamy a Good Idea?

Some biologists don't think it is:

Pairing Up for Life

Many species of birds are known to pair up for one breeding season or for life. The main reason is that their newly hatched chicks need the constant labor of two parents to keep them fed and alive. But DNA tests show that most of them practice only social monogamy, not sexual monogamy. "Adultery" is not at all uncommon among birds. "Unfaithful" females benefit from the best of both lifestyles; they get mated partners to help raise the chicks and also a more varied genetic contribution to their offspring than they would receive from their mates alone.

In mammals, as the article points out, it's impossible (without bottles and formula, at least) to divide parenting duties equally between male and female. Gestation and breast-feeding help to account for the much lower frequency of monogamy among mammals.

Elaine Morgan's THE DESCENT OF WOMAN outlines the factors common to most species that practice pair-bonding: (1) Helpless infants who require intensive care in early life. (2) A den, nest, or other fixed location where the young are sheltered. (3) Approximate equality between male and female rather than overwhelming male dominance (which the BBC article also mentions).

An additional, rather grim purpose for pair-bonding arises from the tendency of males of many species to kill infants sired by other males. A female with a permanent mate has protection for her babies against marauding outsiders.

On Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover, the original colonists from the stranded ship in DARKOVER LANDFALL recognize the perils of settling a new world with a limited gene pool. Therefore, in the early generations of Darkovan society, women are encouraged to bear children by as many different men as possible rather than entering into exclusive marriages. Of course, they also receive an outside genetic contribution from the chieri.

Despite the benefits of genetic variation to the family and the species, faithful monogamy remains the ideal in our culture. Most of us probably believe the social, spiritual, and emotional motives for love and marriage outweigh the advantages of spreading our DNA abroad.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Soul Mates and the HEA: Real or Fantasy? Part 1

Soul Mates and the HEA: Real or Fantasy?
Part 1
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

This is labeled Part 1 because I expect there will be future parts.

Our readership for Romance and all its variants has a deep skepticism about the existence and plausibility of the Happily Ever After ending, or HEA.

This is based on real life experience.  Few of us know or have experienced and survived the exaggerated, dramatic, larger-than-life Events that divide a life.

Those Events come roaring into a Life like a flashflood, boiling rapids, sweeping away the person and everything they have built and identify with.

Astrologically, there are two planets that produce this effect when in certain transits -- Uranus which acts without apparent warning, and Pluto which undermines structures and passes, leaving the Events to surface later (like a Sinkhole opening up under your car -- it seems sudden, but took months of rain to hollow out the hole leaving just the thin cover you fall through.)

These outer planets move slowly through a Natal Chart.  Pluto and Neptune (Romance is related to Neptune) never make it all the way in a normal lifespan.

So at birth, life is set up to hit "rapids" once or twice.  The tumbling destruction can last a couple of years, or up to ten years or so.  While you are inside this pattern, you can't even think that there will ever be an "End" at all -- that this is life.

And some Lives actually go on and on like that, from pillar to post, like a Soap Opera plot.

So we look around at our own life, at the lives of others we know, and see there is no Ever After -- only Happily For Now.  People who thought they were Soul Mates get divorced in 5 or 10 years.  It's not real, but we wish it were.

Or, if we yearn to attain this state of HEA with a real Soul Mate, we kind of hope it's not real because as life goes on, it's too late.

What if others have attained what we want, and we are locked out of happiness?  That is just too bleak and painful a way to look at the world.

Many people, given a glimpse of such a harsh reality, internalize the disappointment and transmute it into anger.  Carrying internalized anger often shortens lifespan.

So a lot scientific studies have investigated "Happiness" and the mental and emotional strategies of "Successful People."

There seems to be a universal yearning for an inner peace that is just beyond reach.

Here is an article referencing a wide variety of studies probing the mental condition known as "Happiness."

BTW "Happiness" is usually symbolized in Astrology by Jupiter and/or Venus.

Here is the article I found on Flipboard and spread through Facebook:

3 secrets to dealing with anger the right way, according to neuroscience

At about the same time, I got drawn into a Facebook discussion on a Romance Writer Group about whether Romance is real.  Some writers said yes, and cited how many decades they had been happily married to the same guy.  Others said no, and cited failed Relationships.  It was a long, involved and passionate discussion.

At one point I said:
Remember that space ships and life on other planets and even cordless phones (Robert Heinlein), was all classified as "escapist fantasy" by most of the world while we (Science Fiction Readers, Star Trek Fans) went and made it Reality. Romance writers can do the same for the Soul Mate and HEA concepts.

The trick of communicating the passionate aspiration to make the HEA a reality in our modern world is in the Worldbuilding.

That connection between the Soul Mate being Real and the worldbuilding behind every novel, even Contemporary Romance needs worldbuilding, is what I go on about on this blog.

To solve that "Is it Wish Fulfillment Fantasy OR Is It Real?" dilemma for you so you can convey the ambition to Make It So to your readers, I pointed to that article cited above, DEALING WITH ANGER ACCORDING TO NEUROSCIENCE.

That article talks about point of view (though they don't know it). The best graphic I've found to explain what that article is talking about is
  Note how that graphic I keep referencing on this blog joins "Soul Mates Are Real" to "Soul Mates Are Escapist Fantasy."

Writing craft requires the arduous practice of getting people up out of their circles and squares either/or mentality and into an understanding of Reality that transcends and joins the two options into a seamless whole while, at the same time it validates all the choices in the dropdown menu.

Life is not an either/or choice.  Nor is it a single choice you must make from a long list of choices.  Nor can anyone "give you a choice."  Choice is yours, and the options among which you choose are yours to invent.

Your life is yours -- and nobody else's.

Your life is unique and you are unique.  Your life is a work of art you are creating from the raw material you find around you.  What raw material you can find depends on how good you get at the "reassessment" exercise suggested in that Psychology article on Anger and Neuroscience.

You attain that much coveted inner tranquility called "Happily" by "reassessing" what you are looking at and choosing an appropriate inner dialogue to describe it to yourself.

Once you have your description, that raw material becomes yours and you can craft it into a Happily that can plausibly last Ever After.

If you, the writer, can not SEE that potential in the raw material around you, it is very likely you will not be able to reveal that potential to your readers.

A great Romance, the kind of book or series of books that force readers to memorize your byline and look for more, is one that the reader finishes and turns around to start reading again.

Readers reread books because they evoke an ambience that tantalizes the edges of their everyday Reality with the promise of insights beyond human ken.

What you put into a novel is not what the reader gets out of it.

But if you put in your vision of Reality, the reader can take out of the book their own vision of Reality.

Yes, reading fiction is an adventure into the amorphous subjective world -- but in the hands of a fine craftsman, subjectivity becomes objective.

That's what happened with STAR TREK.  Fans grabbed it out of Gene Roddenberry's hands, and "made it so."  It was college age kids who wanted to play video games with kids on other campuses who invented ways of connecting computers.  It was a guy off in Europe who figured out the idea of the "internet browser" -- software that interprets code.

Now we do this on our mobile devices.

With massive data crunching capacity, we are now exploring the farthest galaxies back to the beginning of time.  We are finding planets, some that might harbor life (maybe not as we know it, but life.)

We can't say this is a direct result of Star Trek -- a silly, cheaply made cardboard set, silly-uniform TV show with pointed ears -- but that is also the way Romance works, indirectly.

Romance Genre is uniquely suited to showing (not telling) readers how to achieve that mental shift described in that Psychology article.

The most efficient way of showing readers how to think in "reassessment mode" is by using the techniques of Science Fiction Writers and Gamers, combined and repurposed.

The Romance Genre of 40 years ago is GONE -- the Romance Genre of "now" is over-emphasizing monkey-sex (not that such isn't important in correct proportion), while the Romance Genre of ten years from now is barely glimpsed.

We are pioneers in the most exciting field extant.

One of the Romance writers on that Facebook Group noted that one reason many Romance novels seem implausible is that the Relationship develops too fast, without context and time for the psychological lessons to sink in and be assimilated.

I agree the "speed" in many Romance novels ruins the effect which is, I think, why we're seeing a rise of the Adventure-Kickass-Heroine-With-Love-Story-Sidebar genre -- in Fantasy, SF, Military SF, and Paranormal (Vampire slayers etc).

In Science Fiction, the series long ago became the best selling format, even before the Multi-Generation-Novel format.

Long ago, I had a Best Selling Romance Writer come to me with a Werewolf novel she had written but couldn't sell in either romance or Science Fiction markets.

She asked why it wouldn't sell to the SF market. I told her what to change. She did. She sold it to a science fiction imprint.

Then she called me up a few years later appalled that the publisher was going to REPRINT it and was asking for a sequel. She didn't know if she should be offended and say no to that offer.

Back then, Romance didn't get reprinted and didn't have series, but Science Fiction did. I lived to see that massive shift in the Romance genre toward the publishing habits of the Science Fiction/Fantasy genre, and I am so pleased I did.  We are headed into a convergence of genres which will then diverge into new categories with new labels.

It will all work out, but every novel needs at least a Love Story if not a full blown, giddy-and-crazy Romance driving the plot.

So, based on that Psychology article, my conclusion is that Soul Mates and the HEA are Real -- which is why they make the best Fantasy!

We all live in a subjective bubble that warps the Reality that is objectively out there.  We can change how we regard things and that will objectively change how objective life goes.

So the choice "HEA real or fantasy" is a false choice.  It is both real and fantasy.  Fantisize efficiently and you can realize it in your life.

Real life is mostly imagination, as it says in that article.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Saturday, March 05, 2016

The Dark Underbelly Of Our Business

Have you noticed that the United States Copyright law provides virtually no incentive for anyone to pay royalties to the copyright owner?

The "sharing economy" and "permissionless innovation" have made matters more problematic for copyright owners, but it has always been the case that the government is decidedly not on the side of "the little guy or gal".

There's a very short statute of limitations (is it three years?) from the time a copyright infringement is discovered (or can be proven to have been discovered) and when time runs out to sue.  Enforcement of a copyright is the responsibility of the copyright owner, not only to discover it, to send a DMCA notice, and if a counter notice is filed, to sue in federal court.

An author would have to be wealthy indeed to be able to afford to take a scofflaw through the federal court process.  The link above applies to musicians, but the principle is the same.

If you should ever wish to send a DMCA to Google, and if you would much  rather avoid the merry-go-round of links that make the process more efficient (ie, only the most determined complainant does not give up before completing the obstacle course), the email address of the DMCA agent is

Google designated DMCA agent info

All the best,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Memory Hacking

More brain news: It may someday be possible to erase or modify memories or even implant false memories:

Memory Hacking

In the short term, the most practical application of these techniques may be to help people suffering from phobias by changing the emotional impact associated with the relevant memories. A mouse experiment demonstrates the manipulation of the rodent's brain by making it fearful or confident at the will of the experimenter.

This research builds on discoveries that memory is far from the infallible recording of events it was once thought to be, a permanent trace that scientists might someday be able to replay on command. False memories commonly form in everyday life:

"Indeed, new evidence suggests our memories are imperfect and malleable constructs that are constantly changing over time. Each time we recall a memory, we go through the process of revising it. That means any time we recall an old memory, we’re disrupting it. Sadly, the fidelity of our memories degrades over time."

The article introduces a twelve-year-old boy who's a striking exception, a case of Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory. Instead of needing help to recall experiences, he literally can't forget anything. This trait isn't an unambiguous superpower. The ability to forget can be a blessing.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Genre: The Root Of All Amazon Comments by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Genre: The Root Of All Amazon Comments
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Previous parts in this series on Genre:

And here is the page that lists the Amazon comments for DEAD LETTER DAY (A MESSENGER NOVEL)

The subtitle A MESSENGER NOVEL or the author's name is necessary because there are many novels titled DEAD LETTER DAY.

You can't copyright a title, so many novels have the same title, and are distinguished by the author's name.  In general, when titling a novel you are writing, it is a good idea to look at Amazon to find out what other novels by the title are "out there" and what, exactly, they are about.

For example, I lifted a classic Vampire line, being used by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro in her St. Germain novels, to use for the title of a Vampire novel which is actually a Science Fiction Romance set on the Moon. The title I chose is THOSE OF MY BLOOD (free on Kindle Unlimited)


The publisher's (St. Martin's Press Hardcover) target audience was Vampire and Fantasy fans, and the title bespeaks the Vampire core of the novel -- which explains the source of Vampire legends using Science.

So when I was doing book signings in Mall bookstores, sitting up front at a table full of copies of the book, with a big easel sign outside the door saying THOSE OF MY BLOOD with an image of the cover, (the old hardcover cover; it has had several editions since and is currently being released in audiobook edition from, people came up to me asking about my book on GENEALOGY.  Check out the search results on Amazon and you will find some of those nonfiction books.  True, this Vampire novel is all about family relationships, but not exactly genealogy.

So DEAD LETTER DAY is an appropriate title for the novel by Eileen Rendahl, but can be confused with many other books.  Eileen's "Messenger" delivers deadly objects at risk of life and limb.

When titling a novel, be sure to check Amazon and Google search for the phrase you are using.  The title represents or symbolizes the Theme, which is always a "universal" and as a result, can be commonly used to make other sorts of statements.

Throughout 2015, there has been a running battle between Amazon and "reviewers" and publishers and even readers.

Here is an installment in that battle:

As I have noted in previous posts, we are carving out new territory in a new world when it comes to communication and information.

The connection between "information" and "communication" is crystal clear in the explosive blasts of "fantasy" type statements by politicians and retorts of "that's a lie!" and euphemisms for that retort such as "disingenuous."

We, as writers, are seeing this same fog blurring the line between information and disinformation in the online comments pages -- Amazon being only one such venue.

I'm not talking about Library Journal, The New York Times Book Review (both of which have treated my mass market novels very well indeed) and not even about online blogs that "review" novels.

I'm talking about readers who post on the products page comments such as "I liked it" (i.e. personal reactions offered to people who do not know that person), or statements such as "the characters are wooden."

Without knowing the commenter personally, a potential reader can not tell whether this book would be an enjoyable read.  Enjoying reading a particular book is a very personal experience, an investment of time, energy (and money), and emotional wear and tear.

So the open comments page on Amazon which is called "reviews" really have nothing at all to do with "reviews."

A "review" is an analysis of a novel to communicate information about that novel to people who would (or would not) find that novel worth its cover price.

With novels like Dead Letter Day (A Messenger Novel) by Eileen Rendahl, you see a Kindle Edition price of $7.99, which I consider exorbitant.  The recent negotiations between Amazon and Publishers (and lawsuits flying every which way, including iBooks on Apple platforms), have "settled" in such a way as to push people back to Paper Editions by raising the price of the ebook.

So grabbing a "cheap" ebook edition in case you might like to read the book in the future (collecting a series so you can binge-read it) is being discouraged.

This makes "reviews" by other readers much more important, and gives readers a whole lot more to consider before buying a novel.

It muddies the decision waters -- which is something marketers are taught to avoid at all costs.

So Amazon has been "cracking down" on "reviews" written by "reviewers" for money.

The problem is not that "reviews" are being posted for money -- but rather that the words posted by such "independent contractors" are  not reviews at all, but comments.

Comments are different from reviews.  As noted above, comments take one or both of two stances:
A) I liked/didn't like it, and
B) My disappointment in this book was the book's fault, not mine, so YOU will be disappointed, too because the writer is bad at writing.  It's not my fault I chose the wrong book to pay my hard earned money for.

Neither statement has anything to do with whether YOU will like this book, or what properties are inherent in the novel itself.

Reviews, on the other hand, focus entirely on whether the book delivers what the cover, title, genre category indicate is inside, and which particular audience is targeted by the publisher.

Yes, audience targeting is done by the writer as I've described

... but the target can be adjusted by a clever editor issuing rewrite instructions.

The Editor's job ...

Here is Part 7 of Editing -- with links to previous 6 parts: the 'get reviews' via the Publicity Department.  That means the Editor must carve the material into a shape a Publicist would recognize as being in demand by a specific market.

"Reviews" are a marketing tool.  "Reviews" are INFORMATION.

"Comments" are a sharing tool.  "Comments" are COMMUNICATION.

Amazon has gotten the two distinct forms confused, which is why they are in such a tangled muddle.

Reviewers GET PAID to read, analyze, and write up their analysis, specifically targeting mass-buyers such as Libraries, Bookstores, Retailers, Warehousers, and yes, even newspapers such as the New York Times Book Review.

Commenters must not get paid in money, perhaps not even with a free copy.  The whole point of "sharing" a reaction you, personally, experience when reading a novel is that you are COMMUNICATING to the world something about who you are.

Comments are about you -- and are useful to people who have something in common with you, who know who you are (via social networking, for example), and would like to discuss a particular book with you, personally, because you have something in common.

Reviewers get paid to prevent you from wasting your money, and have no interest in hearing back from you.

In other words, COMMENTERS (as distinct from Commentators) get paid via your response to their comments.  REVIEWERS get paid by someone else to "get the word out" to the specific market the publisher intended.

Both get paid, but in different "coin of the realm."

I know this distinction because I've done both, in fandom and fanzines, online in social networking and Twitter chats, as well as professionally paid by a paper print magazine to review free copies of books.

That is I get free copies and a salary, to sort books out into piles, and direct the piles of books at those who would benefit from the content.  Dead Letter Day is one of the books I was sent, free, to review but without a salary or stipend, just the free book.  The review I write here is "optional" -- I will still be sent review copies even if I do not review Dead Letter Day.  A Reviewer is assigned titles they must read and review, and turn in their review by a certain date.

I only review books that will still be a great read and instructive by whatever date you might happen to pick them up.  Timing "reviews" is all about marketing.  My commentary on titles is all about what you can learn by analyzing, contrasting and comparing certain novels to other novels, and I recommend checking your library for ebook or paper copies to read free.

Reviewers are paid to part you from your money.  Commenters are trying to get your attention.  I am intent on illuminating the dark corners of writing lessons your readers can benefit from.

What I choose to say about a book has a lot to do with who is listening.

Here, on this blog, I am talking mostly to Romance writers who use elements of science fiction, fantasy, and/or Paranormal genres to broaden their audience reach.  Other readers here are working toward selling novels with several of these elements.  Still others are readers who love knowing how novels get made and published.  You might be surprised how many readers love seeing how writers do it!

Right now, due to the whole self-publishing, internet, ebook, social networking phenomenon, the world of publishing is redefining the concept Genre, not just the content of books with a genre label on the spine but the very parameters that define what constitutes a genre.

So new experimental genre names are appearing on book spines, and a wide variety of twists, blends, and content are being included under genre labels that sell well for no reason the publisher understands.

As a result, many readers are being led astray by the publisher, then blaming the author for their disappointment in a book.

A track record of disappointing readers is one of the legitimate reasons for an author to change their byline.

I've covered Pen Names in previous posts.

Here, though, I am telling you to study the comments on the Amazon page for this particular Messenger Novel, and then read the book, and discern the difference between a comment and a review.

Also read this article on the whole 2015 Amazon dust-up which I mentioned above.

Think about what you, as a reader, want to know about a book before you put down $8 to get a copy.

DEAD LETTER DAY is 294 pages, and the  3rd in the MESSENGER series -- DON'T KILL THE MESSENGER, DEAD ON DELIVERY are the prequels.

I recalled reading the previous ones as I was reading DEAD LETTER DAY, but only vaguely. I didn't find anything in Dead Letter Day that tripped me up or made me think I should reread the prequels.

The series premise is that there is a paranormal world interspersed with our normal world, and it has werewolves and vampires and other "things."  Marlena Markowitz is a young woman whose magical talent, training, and obligation is to deliver packages to paranormal beings -- wherever the recipient might be.

A friend of hers, Paul, a werewolf, has gone missing, and his pack does not seem as concerned as she thinks they should be.

This is an Amateur Private Eye novel, set in a Fantasy universe, with Romance and many other genres skillfully interwoven.

Marlena investigates Paul's disappearance until she puzzles out the motivations of the various paranormal characters involved with her friend, Paul, and locates him.  She is indefatigable and relentless, despite many discouragements that would stop most people.

Meanwhile, Marlena delivers packages and runs her dojo for young children, and trains her own apprentice Messenger.

With so much material compressed into such a short novel, the author still makes room for a Romance thread.  This is an installment in an ongoing Paranormal Romance story which reads well as a stand-alone, but is enhanced by memory of the previous novels.  It is not a Romance.  It is a Private Eye Novel.

I highly recommend Eileen Rendahl's Messenger Novels to those who like a variegated Paranormal world revealed through multiple plot threads and a cast of vividly drawn Characters.

But more than that, I recommend studying the contrast between the comments on Amazon and your own response to the novel.

Try to discern what you, as a Romance writer, can do to attract "reviews" on Amazon that point specific readers at your books, and other readers (who would not enjoy your book) away from wasting their money and posting bitter comments.

As a reader, try to figure out ways to avoid wasting your money.

Genre used to be the sort-mechanism.  You would walk into a book store, glance up at the signs, and go right to the shelves which had all the books you might want to read.  Then you'd pick one by some hint of content, or author's name, but all of them were "good."

Now readers are aswim in a turbulent sea of indistinguishable titles, and the readers do not know why they are whipped around and pointed at "bad" books.  They blame the writers for bad writing, when in fact it is the blurring of the lines between genres coupled to the blurring of the distinction between Review and Comment that is causing confusion.  Add to that the plethora of ebooks that are really early drafts needing work or perhaps fan fiction recycled for publishing.  Review Blogs are strenuously trying to fill the gap, but still falling short.

Publishing needs new ways to sort books for readers.  Can you think of a new one using tech in novel ways (as Uber applied tech to the taxi problem?)  Then write a novel about that method.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg