Thursday, September 29, 2016

Following a Script?

In an article in our Tuesday morning newspaper about local citizens' reactions to the first presidential debate, one person charges the opposition candidate with a habit of giving "a scripted answer." I'm not going to tackle the pros and cons of the candidates; rather, I'm struck by the implications of that person's apparently unquestioning belief that "scripted" equals "bad." I suspect many people might agree with that assumption, because our contemporary culture values spontaneity. The general attitude seems to be that a spontaneous reaction is more "authentic," more "honest," than a pre-prepared one. The more I think about it, the odder it seems to me that an off-the-cuff emotional answer would be valued higher than a product of careful thought and planning.

In my opinion, spontaneity is overrated. How many people actually enjoy surprise birthday parties? If you had a meal ready to put on the table, would you really be thrilled to be whisked out to an expensive restaurant on the spur of the moment? Erma Bombeck wrote a column about her husband's impulsive suggestion that they instantly drop everything and go on a spontaneous family trip. An hour of frantic arrangements for dog-sitting, car pools, etc., later.... In general, I think most pleasures are enhanced by preliminary expectation. (If my experience of fifty years of marriage is typical, "spontaneous" sex can't hold a candle to anticipation of a planned romantic evening.)

The difference between "scripted" and "unscripted" reactions speaks to the purpose of literature as well as the patterns of real life. In the major rites of passage in our lives, a script gives us a framework for expressing the emotions of the occasion in a way most of us would find hard to articulate on our own. A funeral service bestows a shape on the messy process of grieving; a wedding gives shape and weight to the couple's commitment. (How many "write one's own vows" ceremonies scale the poetic heights of the traditional marriage service? And even when a couple writes their own ceremony, they're still following a script thought out beforehand.) As for literature, good fiction portrays the joys and sufferings of individual characters in a way that all readers can immerse themselves in and identify with. In A PREFACE TO PARADISE LOST, C. S. Lewis devotes a chapter to defending poetry that embodies what some of his contemporaries disparaged as "stock responses." Lewis values "a deliberately organized attitude" over what one of his fellow-critics praised as "the free play of experience." To Lewis, this imposition of shape on "the free play of experience" is precisely what we want from ritual and literature.

As he puts it, "In my opinion such deliberate organization is one of the first necessities of human life, and one of the main functions of art is to assist it. All that we describe as constancy in love or friendship, as loyalty in political life, or, in general, as perseverance—all solid virtue and stable pleasure—depends on organizing chosen attitudes and maintaining them against the eternal flux (or 'direct free play') of mere immediate experience."

Lewis recognizes that the differences between his view of spontaneity versus "deliberate organization" run so deep that he's not likely to convert his opponents to his opinion. People who "think that to organize elementary passions into sentiments is simply to tell lies about them" aren't likely to change their minds when the contemporary zeitgeist mainly endorses their belief. Imagine what Lewis would think if he paid a quick visit to today's world and found how far the attitude he criticized has spread since he wrote A PREFACE TO PARADISE LOST in 1942.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Theme-Worldbuilding Integration Part 16 - Scientific Evidence For Happily Ever After

Theme-Worldbuilding Integration
Part 16
Scientific Evidence For Happily Ever After

Previous parts of Theme-Worldbuilding Integration are indexed here:

We have discussed, under Theme-Symbolism Integration, why it is that we cry at weddings.

That entry has links to the two previous parts of that series on symbolism.

There is, at such turning points, a moment when our view of Life, The Universe, And Everything cracks open and a shaft of metaphorical "light" from beyond shifts the light-shadow pattern we think is reality.  We see potential futures and yearn either not to see such hopeful views or to live with that vision constantly.

Each person, at a wedding or other turning point in life -- birth of a baby, death of a grandparent, college graduation -- reacts differently to the vistas of potential open before them.

And even one given individual may react to the same kind of Event (wedding, birth, graduation, funeral) differently at different times in life.  Individuals change in response to experiences.

There is a commercial for a memory-enhancing product that declares, categorically, that YOU ARE YOUR MEMORIES.

Personally, I do not see that as true in any way.  You are YOU before you've had any experiences, and you are the same person after you've forgotten about a particular event, but chosen to cherish and memorialize other Events.  A lot of what you remember is consciously selected, but most of it is not.

Take post-traumatic-stress disorder, for example, much in the news with our discussion of war and allowing returning soldiers to purchase firearms -- and other attempts at crafting a "filter" to determine who is (or is not) allowed to carry (concealed or otherwise.)

In post-traumatic-stress disorder, often a memory recirculates with the impact of reliving an event over and over.  This produces all sorts of nervous system malfunctions -- depression, anxiety, etc. etc. This sometimes occurs in the bystanders, parents, spouses, and co-workers of those people killed at a mass shooting or some sort of Terrorist driven Event.  The impact of losing a child to random violence can produce the same recurring flood of memory/emotion as being in an army combat unit overwhelmed by enemies.

Does that memory make you "who you are?"  Can you ever go back to who you were before that Event disrupted your nervous system?

Are you just your physical nervous system and physiical brain?

Or are "you" a physical body plus something else?

Yes, of course, your Identity (that makes you distinct from all other humans) is entwined with the things you do, the consequences that splash back on you, the actions and reactions of Others, and all the "accidents" that intrude into your life.

We ordinarily think of our "self" as a blended combination of all that, plus profession, current job, who you're married to or live with or have as an "Ex" whose presence in your life disrupts your plans and constrains your freedom.

What you think a "Self" is -- where it comes from and why it exists, how it is shaped or crafted by Events -- influences whether you consider a Happily Ever After condition possible (for you, or for anyone).

The concept "Soul Mate" is all tied up with that theory of Identity.

Pick a theory of Identity for your "World" that you are "Building" to cradle and showcase your "Story" and you narrow the range of options for each subsequent choice you make as you build the world around your story.

A primary question relevant to whether your story ends in Happily Ever After or Happily For Now, or misery-forever, is "What Makes People Different From Each Other?"

Or perhaps your world is built on the most common assumption extant today, that humans actually are all alike, and the differences just blemishes to be polished off so a society can function smoothly, like a machine.

Over centuries, different theories have been experimented with about how a society should handle sexuality.  There's "males have all the rights" cave man style.  There's "smart women seduce the strongest male" so offspring will be fed and protected.  There's "women own everything and rule men" matriarchy arrangements we have seen described among African tribes.  These variatiions have more to do with survival than with happiness.

Happiness is an add-on item.

One theory is that power makes humans happy, and only one person can have all the power so only one can be happy.  Usually, our novels, stories, and cautionary tales describe how miserable someonoe with "all the power" is bound to be.

Is happiness caused by oppressing everyone and making them serve you? (the harem theory).

Is "stability" (the same thing your grandparents had) the ideal model for "happiness?"

Younger people crave "novelty" for its own sake, but is endless novelty the key to happiness?

These are THEME questions -- answer them and further narrow the options for more of your world's dimensions.

Keep in mind how subjective our view of the world actually is.

Each of your Characters can live in a world where the answers to those questions of Identity and the nature of Happiness are different from all the others.  This is the best way to generate Conflict any reader can understand both internal and external conflicts -- thus also plots.

Many great Romance novels have been constructed around the "arranged marriage" -- either via resisting the arrangement or reluctantly going along with it, then falling in love with the Other Party despite one's better sense.

Today's world scorns societies that rely on "arranged marriage" -- often viewing such things as misogenistic since it is the woman who usually is bartered like a possession.

But maybe there's more to be said for the "arranged marriage" -- perhaps we have just lost the technique for matching couples?  Online Dating services operate as (or cast the allure of) Marriage Brokers.

There has been some success (also spectacular failures) with using math and science to match people in marriage.  New research that has serfaced at in June (of course) of 2016 indicates that an arranged marriage between two who expect to work hard at changing themselves (rather than changing the Other) actually does lead to "Happily Ever After."

One of the key ingredients in making Marriage 'work' happily, the article points out, is how we choose to edit our memories and cherish certain aspects of Events over others.

Or possibly, these choices are made subconsciously and are a product of inherent traits of Personality -- you can choose which to include in the world you are building to write your story.

This article is well worth reading in its entirety.

Here is the summary from near the end and there's more after this bit. Read this whole article, and the book it is about!

Sum Up

Here’s what Jonah had to say about how to make a relationship last:

Similarity doesn’t matter: Matching music playlists don’t predict happy marriages. Sorry. Focus on emotions.
Arguing is good: Negative communication beats no communication every time.
Know it’s going to take work: The healthy way to get to “Romeo and Juliet” is to think “arranged marriage.”
Have grit: Devotion. Loyalty. That’s grit. And it predicts success at the office and at home.
“Glorify the struggle”: It’s all about the story you tell. Did the conflict lead to a happy ending? Hint: it better.
Love is a challenge. But life is a greater challenge. We’d like a sure-thing that guarantees happiness and takes away all the pain. But that’s fiction.

If you’ll excuse a superhero analogy, you need to stop trying to be Superman. He’s invulnerable. But nobody is invulnerable. Bad things happen to all of us. We cannot avoid pain.

You’d be better off trying to be Wolverine. He isn’t invulnerable. But he can recover from almost any injury. You can’t live a life free from conflict but you can learn to cope with the hard times until the good times return.

And what helps you cope with the problems of life better than anything? And makes you successful and happy? “Our closest relationships determine how we respond to the toughest times in life.” Here’s Jonah:
---------end quote------

The article discusses a book titled A BOOK ABOUT LOVE and has some video clips of the author of that book.

The description of this book on Amazon says:

Weaving together scientific studies from clinical psychologists, longitudinal studies of health and happiness, historical accounts and literary depictions, child-rearing manuals, and the language of online dating sites, Jonah Lehrer’s A Book About Love plumbs the most mysterious, most formative, most important impulse governing our lives.
--------end quote---------

And is particularly skeptical of "online dating" sites -- which make great plot-points but perhaps in "life" have not yet perfected an "algorithm."  In science fiction romance novels, you can simply postulate that some new genius hacker had naiiled that algorithm and is running a dating site that really matches soul-mates.

As of June, 2016, that would be science fiction romance -- arranged marriage using a science that is too absurd to exist, or perhaps is just dreamed of.  Lots of plots can be turned on the idea that an imaginary online dating site is defrauding subscribers.

How "science" is regarded in your built world will determine a lot of the plot and conflict, but the decision is a THEMATIC one.  Is "science" infallible?  Is a "science denier" certifiably crazy and not qualified to buy a gun? Is "science" always wrong?  Or is the pursuit of real scientific answers to "personality" and "life choices" blasphemy?

Perhaps in your world, Online Dating Site Fraud has become a political issue in a major Governor or Presidential campaign?  Government must control the internet and scrub out all false and fraudulent information -- make sure the wrong people don't get hold of the ability to, say, "3-D Print" an AR-15.

Guns and Romance mix very well, as we've seen in the film FACE OFF.

That image is an Icon, and you can create such images on purpose to symbolize your World, and the core beliefs of your Characters.  Here are some more previous posts on symbolism, icons, guns and romance:

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Art vs Tech (Art Lasts)

This is a must read paen of praise for art and culture, and especially for music, and some deep scorn from the inventors of the internet for those who say that artists must become marketers.

Please read:

All the best,
Rowena Cherry.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Please Sign The Copyright Alliance Petition

The Copyright Alliance has penned an open letter to the 2016 Political candidates, pointing out that the need to protect creators' rights to publish and distribute their own work and to profit from their own work is not a partisan issue.

Please read the letter here:

If you agree with the sentiments, please consider adding your name, zip code, and email address to the petitition.

Just today, I received a telephone call from someone with a foreign accent claiming to be from Microsoft, and offering to help me since my "microsoft computer" had sent them a signal that it has been hacked.

Yeah, right!  These people will give their intended victims a "serial number" to prove that they really do work with Microsoft, and really have received communications from "your microsoft computer" but this is a number that all computers have.

The sixth thing to do when the Microsoft phone scam targets you is "Tell People". Here is a good article about the scam:
It is written for our British friends, so if you are not British, don't bother with the Action Fraud link. Otherwise it is helpful.

Continuing the theme of dishonesty and the internet, ZDNet put out a helpful article about ransomeware this week:

ZDNet also published some advice from Edward Snowden:

Last, but not least, you probably know that 500 million Yahoo users have had their names, email addresses, passwords, birthdays, security questions, phone numbers and more compromised.

Here's what to do asap:

All the best,

Rowena Cherry

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Feminist Bonobos

Among bonobos (formerly known as pygmy chimps), older females often protect younger ones against male harassment:


This behavior is especially remarkable because female bonobos, unlike some other species of apes, typically leave home at adolescence and join other groups, so adult females in a bonobo band mostly aren't relatives. Yet they form coalitions with unrelated females. Bonobo society has been described as more matriarchal than that of common chimpanzees; males derive their status from the status of their mothers. Bonobos have a reputation as the "make love, not war" apes because their social interactions depend more on sexual overtures than on aggressive dominance displays. They've even been known to make conciliatory sexual gestures toward members of other troops rather than attacking them.

Many behaviors formerly thought to set apart human beings as unique among primates have been observed in chimpanzees, e.g., tool-using, cooperative hunting for meat, and, sadly, rape, murder, and something like war. Bonobos especially demonstrate such features as non-reproductive sex for purposes of affection and bonding, oral sex, the importance of the clitoris in erotic stimulation, same-sex erotic activity, and face-to-face intercourse. The riddle of why human females ceased to have estrus cycles becomes less significant when we learn about non-reproductive intercourse among bonobos. The status of "receptive" to mating vs. "non-receptive" turns out to be a continuum rather than all or nothing.

These apes can shed light on human social evolution. They still, however, leave unresolved the big differences between Homo sapiens and all other primates—habitual bipedalism and the loss of most body hair. We're the only "naked apes." As Elaine Morgan discusses at length in her fascinating books on the "aquatic ape hypothesis," the replacement of fur with fat is unusual only among land animals. I still find her arguments compelling, even if she may have made some errors in detail and if a few of the big problems of human development she tackles in THE DESCENT OF WOMAN (e.g., intra-species aggression, perpetual sexual receptivity) have become less problematic in recent decades.

Jared Diamond, author of GUNS, GERMS, AND STEEL, also wrote THE THIRD CHIMPANZEE, which explores human evolution on the premise that an alien observer would view chimpanzees, bonobos, and Homo sapiens as three equivalent, closely related species. Diamond speculates on why our variety of "chimpanzee" evolved to become the dominant species on the planet.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Lost Fleet: Beyond The Frontier - Leviathan by Jack Campbell

Lost Fleet:
Beyond The Frontier
by Jack Campbell

I've recommended Jack Campbell's space-war novels (actually several series in the same world he has built) since 2013, and I'm still recommending them considering the 2015/2016 entries in this series of series.

Here are some previous discussions pertaining to Campbell's worldbuilding in space: 

These Jack Campbell novels have several love stories in them -- super fantastic love stories -- and the material for a Romance is right there on the surface, but these novels are not category Romance.

I've discussed them from several different angles, all of which are salient to the Romance field in general, science fiction Romance in particular -- and even Historical Romance because Jack Campbell is doing meticulous worldbuilding.  The same worldbuilding techniques he uses apply to Romance -- though the worlds and themes might not.

He focuses on the combat, the politics, and the "bear trap" plot of a mostly regular sort of Character volunteering for a job and finding out that it entails much more than expected, leadership of an entire battle Fleet, or several solar systems.

Technically, both the Lost Fleet and the Lost Stars series are not "war stories" or even battle stories.  All of these series, including the first contact with Aliens novels, are about what happens after a 100-year war, how humans can't adjust and after 5 generations of war just do not have the cultural background to think non-war-thoughts.

This is the fabric of dynamite Romance, and it is not plagiarism to lift a concept like that from published work and run with it.  There is much more to say about how humans would relate to each other across interstellar distances.

In the Lost Fleet and Lost Stars series, Campbell has explored what would happen if Aliens (really alien aliens) discovered humanity expanding among the stars and played a high-tech game of "Let's You And Him Fight" (a situation you can rip from today's modern headlines about the Middle East).

By ripping the material from modern headlines, Jack Campbell has produced a timeless work of art.

To get that "timeless work of art" perspective, you need to read most all the books, think about them and remember them as you read on.  It is the Big Picture that shows the art.

Large portions, pages after pages, of these novels are pure narrative describing space battles between fleets of ships (a fleet is like a symphony orchestra, composed of many kinds of instruments that must be brought into play with precise timing).  These battles take place under strict and limiting Newtonian laws of motion.  The fleets maneuver for hours or days then flash by each other in split seconds at perhaps .2 Lightspeed, which requires weapons to fire by computer.

The world Campbell has built includes two kinds of FTL travel, one natural wormholes and one kind using "Gates" that people can build and put places where wormholes are not stable.  Transit is different depending on which kind of entry is used.

So fleet maneuvers can include dodging in and out of some other dimensional space.  When sitting in Newtonian space, sensors "see" only at Lightspeed -- so when ships appear on the other side of a solar system from the Fleet you are in, you "see" them appear hours and hours after they actually appear.  Computers can compensate for some Relativistic distortions, but not others.

Campbell has figured the time-delay issue into Fleet Maneuver decisions and DEPICTED the effect Newtonian mechanics and the Lightspeed limit would have on success or failure of Fleet combat.  He includes some inertial damping on his ships, but it is not perfect.  Human presence aboard limits what a ship can do when changing vector.

Here is the index to Depiction

What can a Romance writer learn from reading the depiction of Newtonian space combat?

Combat is a form of communication where each maneuver is a sentence in a conversation.

Sex is a form of communication where each maneuver is a sentence in a conversation.

It is very hard to learn to write great sex scenes.  Reading great combat scenes is boring to Romance writers.  Combat, fight scenes, are just plain boring.  So, since you do not get caught up in the material, do not bring a thousand assumptions to the scene, you are able to penetrate the facade of the scene down into the mechanism of the writing craft that produces the scene.

Once you can see what Campbell is doing that so enthralls his intended audience, you will be able to block a sex scene that moves your Romance Plot ahead just as compellingly as Campbell's fleet battles move his vast Interstellar Politics and Human Nature plot ahead.

In THE LOST FLEET: Beyond The Frontier: LEVIATHAN, Campbell explains (in show don't tell) how and why it is that his Hero, John "Black Jack" Geary, has no interest in taking his Fleet to the home world and taking over the government, setting himself up as emperor or something like that.  Many people want and expect him to.

In part, Campell depicts the Character of Black Jack as dedicated to the Republic model of government by democratically elected officials by showing how he befriends (in previous novels) the aliens called The Dancers (because of their ship Fleet maneuver grace), and now by how The Dancers choose to help him defeat this new enemy.

And we come to the new enemy.  It is "the enemy within" -- and enemy created by the very government Black Jack supports.

When the interstellar war against the other half of Humanity (the Syndic) was being lost, Black Jack's side created a last bastion the government could retreat to if they lost their home world. And they created a Fleet of battle ready ships, with no human crews, because they thought there wouldn't be anyone to man a fleet if the home world was overrun.

This fleet was run by autonomous Artificial Intelligence recently programmed to flight like Black Jack Geary.  In other words, Black Jack must now pit his fleet against HIMSELF.

And, in true Major Motion Picture form, Campbell brings Black Jack's win from a B story, a sub-plot, led by a Character who seemed mere window dressing (a love story distraction).  She turns out to be The Hero of the final triumph.  Yes, Black Jack wins by dint of the efforts of women who get full credit for their efforts, not just from him but from society.

By this point in THE LOST FLEET - Black Jack is married to the Captain of the flagship from which he commands his Fleet.  There's a lot of sexual tension on that bridge.

But there are two major lessons in the fleet battle scenes: A) They Occupy The Place A Romance Would Have A Sex Scene, and B) If The Battle Scenes Bore You, You Now Know Why Romance Bores Other Readers.

Note how many words each battle scene goes. Note where you lose interest.  Write your sex scenes to the length you want the battle scenes to be, and you will broaden your readership.

Beyond that, you can learn a lot about worldbuilding by noting how Campbell "reveals" bits and pieces of the entire canvas of interstellar civilization(s) he is using.  He does not tell you everything at once, does not spend pages and pages giving you information about politics, the different planets, their economic inter-dependencies etc.  If you learn any of that, you learn it by figuring it out.

Examine the entirety of all of these novels and you will see that you do not need to use everything you invent for your universe.  The reader does not have to know most of it.

Note how Campbell using a very tight point-of-view technique to show you the slice of that whole universe he's built that actually pertains to this one person's life and life-choices.

The dilemmas and conflicts that drive Black Jack Geary are clear, human, immediate and comprehensible -- even though he lives in an incomprehensible universe.

Now remember that to most of your readers, the condition of being "In Love" -- the reality that suddenly becomes tangible to those caught in Romance -- is as alien as Black Jack's interstellar civilizations are to you.

Depict and explain it to those readers in Show Don't Tell.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Dishonesty And The Collapse of Moral Authority

Earlier in the week, Margaret posted about the loss of privacy in the internet age, and I happened to read her post  while I was outraged by a breach of my own privacy.

There's no turning off or opting out of the online spying by Google and Facebook, but their "targeted" and "interest-related" advertisements go too far (IMHO) when those adverts suggest that an individual is a liar, a cheat, a fraud. It is almost defamatory, isn't it?

To digress....On the other hand, there is little civility on the internet, because one has the illusion of anonymity when one can adopt an alphanumerical nickname, and can write mean-spirited remarks that one would never say to someone's face. That may be an illusion. Just yesterday, a retired spook advised everyone to put a piece of tape over the camera hole on ones computer. It's not just Big Brother who is watching you!

What kind of mindset exists in America when students cheat routinely, and businesses set up shop blatantly to facilitate cheating? Apparently, this sort of thing is tolerated, expected even. How, then, can we ever be sure that anyone is qualified for anything?

What kind of future world will we see, if humankind continues on this path? This path where the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that it would be an intolerable hardship if politicians could be punished for lying to
the electorate?

(The Obama administration allegedly presented a friend of the court brief that for candidates to lie to get themselves elected is protected speech

How 1984 is that?

No wonder so many science fiction novels are dystopian. Do we really want a dystopian future? Is there a non-totalitarian way to turn the tide of moral decay? Could honest people wear a futuristic version of a Mood Ring that would change color when one lies? Would it be possible to turn those podiums that political candidates grasp into lie detectors?
All the best

Rowena Cherry


This is an older account by someone claiming to be of immigrant descent, who has seen everything from roofers, to auto repair shops, to dentists.... all cheating customers, and even to hateful food workers spitting into the food of restaurant diners.

A discussion of tolerance of dishonesty in American society.

An expose of the cheating crisis in schools

and the names of businesses that profit from helping people cheat.
Scientific American has a copyrighted article describing some experiments to study the thoughts that occur before one makes an honest or dishonest decision.

In the words of Warren Buffett, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it."

PS.  I apologize for the size of the print.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Privacy Under Siege?

Speaking of privacy, as Rowena's recent post does: Cory Doctorow's column in the latest LOCUS delivers warnings about privacy threats from the Internet and the cutting-edge "Internet of Things."

Privacy Wars

Doctorow discusses the "absurd legal fiction" of the ubiquitous "notice and consent" requirement. You know, those policy statements and conditions of use for which we have to check "accept" before we can run software or access certain web content. As Doctorow points out, nobody can really read all that stuff. To do so in detail with every device or program would eat up most of our waking hours. Yet by checking "accept," we often give permission for all sorts of tracking software to interact with our computers and phones, without even realizing we've done so. Pokemon Go players probably realize the game "knows" where they are at all times, but they accept that knowledge as part of the cost of playing the game.

I don't own a smart phone and never plan to get one (unlike my husband, who upgraded to such a device a while back). So at present my activities and movements in the physical world can't be tracked by any incarnation of Big Brother (public or private—and isn't it interesting that Orwell envisioned an all-seeing government, yet nowadays it's mainly commercial entities that observe us?). I'd direly miss the convenience of ordering from my regularly-visited websites without having the enter information every time, though. And it's a great boon, when I'm not sure whether I own copy of a certain book, to learn from a glance at the Amazon book page whether I've bought it already. To get that convenience, we have to accept cookies and all that comes with them.

Doctorow's vision of the totally connected future takes on an apocalyptic tone, as in this paragraph:

"You will ‘interact’ with hundreds, then thou­sands, then tens of thousands of computers every day. The vast majority of these interactions will be glancing, momentary, and with computers that have no way of displaying terms of service, much less presenting you with a button to click to give your ‘consent’ to them. Every TV in the sportsbar where you go for a drink will have cameras and mics and will capture your image and process it through facial-recognition software and capture your speech and pass it back to a server for continu­ous speech recognition (to check whether you’re giving it a voice command). Every car that drives past you will have cameras that record your like­ness and gait, that harvest the unique identifiers of your Bluetooth and other short-range radio devices, and send them to the cloud, where they’ll be merged and aggregated with other data from other sources."

Do you think our digital footprints will, on a practical level, become that detailed and all-pervasive anytime in the near future? What company or agency would have the time, resources, or motivation to aggregate and make active use of so much miscellaneous data? On the other hand, I agree with Doctorow that the mere fact of having all this information unguardedly accessible SOMEWHERE is frightening.

Coincidentally, in an interview in the same issue of LOCUS, Charles Stross speculates on the benefits and potential hazards of living surrounded by interactive objects. He narrates an anecdote from the pioneering days of microprocessors, back in the 1970s. Someone joked that eventually the chips would become so cheap we'd put them in doorknobs. Everybody laughed. If you've stayed at a hotel lately, you've routinely encountered computerized door locks. Stross proposes the example of replacing city sidewalk pavement with stones containing chips that have "the equivalent of an iPhone 4 in computing power." Then suppose most pedestrians are wearing clothes with radio ID tags designed to interact with the washing machine for optimal cleaning—which incidentally also contain unique identifying data. If a person collapses from a heart attack, the sidewalk could summon an ambulance instantly. But a fully networked city could also track us everywhere we go.

Forsooth, smart technology can indeed be a mixed blessing.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Targeting A Readership Part 12 - What If Your Fans Strike Back by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Targeting A Readership
Part 12
What If Your Fans Strike Back
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Previous parts in this series on Targeting a Readership (writing specifically for certain markets) are indexed here:

So today we look ahead in your writing career to the point where you have hooked a large number of fans, and then somehow disappointed them.

There is a very well written, tightly reasoned blog article that has made an online splash that you should read and think about.  I flatly disagree with the premise, yet can easily see how it might be considered plausible.  I adore the title, Fandom Is Broken.  And I must admit that if you target a readership, expect them to target you back.

So read this essay By  .

This article on Fandom Is Broken came to my attention when a fan of my novels and non-fiction posted a link to it on the Sime~Gen Group on Facebook, where I replied I had to write a whole blog about this topic because I flat out disagree with the premise that fandom has changed in any way at all.  The "national character" of fans is to be loudly, inconsolably acrimonious, utterly possessive, and completely proprietary where fictional characters are involved.  That's the way it is supposed to be.  It is the nature of who we are within the matrix of mundane society. Our ferocity knows no bounds.

My credentials for disagreeing with the premise that "fandom is broken" are rooted in being part of active fandom since 7th Grade, and continuing to be involved in the online fan community as well as fans of my own work (a hair raising experience as you can imagine having someone else write your characters or re-cast your themes.)

Just pause a moment and visualize what will happen after you've got your science fiction or paranormal Romance published.  People will read it.  People will react. What will they say to you or to each other behind your back?

Depending on the Readership you have been Targeting, your fans may react in a number of ways, very likely a few will gravitate toward each of these reactions, while most will come back at you with one or another of them.

A) Just find another writer to follow
B) Vociferously denounce you in Amazon reader comments etc.
C) Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Tumblr, etc etc tirades (example)
D) Personal threats and attacks to "force" you (and/or your publisher, producer, editor, etc - the whole commercial fiction delivery system which your work must please before it can reach that targeted readership) to re-plot the direction of the story (make one character gay, make another go from hero to villain, or villain to hero)
E) To H*** with you, and post fanfic demonstrating that you wrote it all wrong, and THIS is how the story must go!

Obviously, I am of the Part E) attitude.

Possibly the author of the essay FANDOM IS BROKEN thinks attitude E) is un-fannish, or a sign that fandom is broken. But the truth is, insisting the story go your way, even if that differs markedly from the author's way, is fannish.

He should have been a fly on the wall while I was talking to Andre Norton about her writing a sequel to STAR RANGERS (telling her the plot for her novel) and she told me that I should write it, whereupon I did and sold it as the Dushau Trilogy (and won the first Romantic Times Award for Science Fiction!)  It took a trilogy because I didn't use her universe, but recreated the salient parts in an original universe.

Or maybe he should have listened to me telling Gene Roddenberry why he was "doing it all wrong." Of course, being who I am, I didn't vilify or threaten either great writer, (just not my style), but extreme vehemence ladled on thick over an adamant attitude is my style.  As a double-dyed Fan, I will have it my way!  (with Romance!!!)

When "they" (NBC and Paramount) cancelled Star Trek, I and hundreds (actually thousands) of others just wrote more and published on paper, in fanzines, sold to each other at conventions at which Gene Roddenberry was often a Guest.
 A printed volume of Kraith

I engineered the Kraith Series
to invite people to contribute to this alternate Star Trek Universe and over time, 50 other very creative people did that -- and several fanzines appeared carrying my alternate universe into yet another variant. Kraith was the subject of an article in the New York Times Book Review.

Kraith was designed to prove the theories I presented in the Bantam paperback STAR TREK LIVES! which blew the lid on fandom and fanzines -- garnering the attention of the New York Times and arousing vast public interest (both in deriding fandom and in becoming a creative, active fan).

In April 2016, France 4, a public station in France, aired a documentary on fan fiction partly based on a book I have an essay in, titled Fic: Why Fan Fiction Is Taking Over The World.  It shows the Professor who compiled this book teaching Kraith to a University class, then clips of an interview with me, and then some French fanfic fans.  Trust me, fandom is not now broken.  We've only barely begun!

My first novel in my own series, Sime~Gen, titled House of Zeor,
 Sime~Gen 13 Book Series on Amazon

was cited in STAR TREK LIVES! in a footnote, offering further proof that I understood why fans loved Star Trek (faults and all). I sold House of Zeor with a money-back guarantee to Star Trek fans who loved Spock.  60 hardcover copies went out on that guarantee, none were returned.

To show that Kraith was not an accident, just popular because it used a TV Series as a platform, I created more novels in the Sime~Gen Series to appeal to that same "Part E" segment of Star Trek fandom.  The proof appeared as paper fanzines (at one time there were 5 Sime~Gen fanzines), and later made the transition to the Web where printed stories are now posted for free reading alongside millions of words of never-printed-on-paper fan fiction.

Now, several contributors to Sime~Gen, some professional writers, have created a professionally published anthology of Sime~Gen stories, and one writer is expanding her posted fan fiction into a professionally published novel trilogy.

So, you can see I am well acquainted with how fandom started (having known those we call First Fandom, who started science fiction fandom in the 1930's), with how it morphed into TV/Media online fandom, and with many fan-feuds and bitter controversies lasting decades.

I know "fandom" from two sides -- having been a lifelong active fan, then grown up to be a professionally published writer whose fans have written in my universes, both with and without my permission or knowledge.

And I have been studying the dynamics driving the massive shift in the Fiction Delivery System under the impact of the Web, Print On Demand, Self Publishing (via and Amazon Kindle, etc).

It is not just the business model being morphed by the new communications media, social and anti-social as they may be, but also the content, form and function of fiction in general -- genre fiction in particular.

We are looking at a feedback loop phenomenon -- where there is no chicken/egg problem, no actual origin (storytelling goes back to the beginning of language; bees dance their stories of where to find pollen!).  Fandom is part of a dynamic process.

It did not have the name "fandom" until the 1930's, but I am certain this feedback loop between story-consumer and story-producer has been revving up since shamans inspired audience around camp fires.

The term "fandom" has its origin in a word-creation process much used by science fiction fans.  It blends the word "fanatic" which is the derogatory for "enthusiast" with the word "domain" or "kingdom" which is the place you live and defend with your life.

Fandom created the first "cyberspace" using the old purple gel spirit duplicator invented for offices, restaurant menus, and school tests to make quick but perishable copies.

Fans wrote essays like blogs do today, discussing (lauding or excoriating) books, their authors, as well as editors and publishers. They mailed their essays to a "publisher" who mailed copies to other fans.  The price was money to cover paper and ink (or sometimes just free out of the editor's pocket) or a contribution to be printed for which the writer would get a copy.  In other words, the face-to-face "bookclub" experience was extended nation-wide via the U.S. Postal Service because nobody knew anyone in their neighborhood who read "that stuff," too.  

This bookclub discussion group type "fanzine" publishing grabbed onto each advance in publishing technology and expanded its reach -- via hand-cranked mimeograph, electric motor driven mimeograph, and then with the much larger readerships gathered by Star Trek Fandom, on into offset press, and today etc etc.

Today, even full live-actor productions of fan-written/acted/produced unauthorized episodes of Star Trek are thriving.

Huge amounts of current fanfic are uncritical of the original material, approving, or wallowing in a romantic sea of unmitigated adulation for the original.

But as extreme as approval has gone, there is likewise an extreme of disapproval, a critical attitude that rips the original to shreds and/or injects incompatible ideas into the basic theme of the original.

Fandom has spanned that whole spectrum of responses as far back as I can remember, and as far back as those who founded science fiction fandom have told me they can remember.

The article FANDOM IS BROKEN acknowledges the tension between creator and consumer, between writer and customer, but glosses over the innate rancor, and fiery temper which is the signature of the science fiction the fannish personality:

There's always been a push and a pull between creator and fan, and while it can sometimes be negative it was, historically, generally positive.
----------end quote----------

No, historically, the reason fans grow up to become professional writers is that the Relationship with the writers they first read was not generally positive.

The proto-writer personality reacts generally with, "No!  No! THAT IS ALL WRONG!" and then proceeds to do it their own way, which is "right" in their way of looking at things.

Fans used to raise their voices to save canceled TV shows or to support niche comic books, but now that we live in a world where every canceled show comes to Netflix or gets a comic book tie-in or lives on as a series of novels the fans have stopped defending the stuff they love and gotten more and more involved in trying to shape it. And not through writing or creating but by yelling and brigading and, more and more, threatening death.
----------end quote--------------

Well, the writing and creating part does come later, true.  First comes the screaming in anguish, and today that is magnified in the Twitter echo chamber.

Yes, STAR TREK fandom is traced back to Bjo Trimble's famous write-in campaign (which failed to get the show revived and earned nothing but contempt from Paramount until the Conventions swelled into national news events).

Other groups have tried to recreate that, and in fact "Hollywood" now pays some attention to fans (if not out of respect for their taste in story material at least out of greed for their money.)

One thing Bjo Trimble's "how to write to Paramount" mailings emphasized was that calm, reasoned statements were more effective than threats and insults, and that 'defense' of what we love in Star Trek was not going to convince a network to pick up the show again.

The reason for that is simple.  Network TV does not select or shape TV Series around "content" -- fiction is just there to glue eyeballs to the screen during commercials.

Today, that's changing as the subscription-model replaces the advertising model -- Netflix, Hulu, even YouTube and Amazon are dabbling in the subscription model delivering fiction uninterrupted by commercials.

The subscription model can foster more emphasis on content - but only popular content because video production is still expensive (way more than purple spirit duplicator copies).  To make a profit, they need large numbers to subscribe, so the content of the fiction will conform to the "lowest common denominator" taste.

Read this quote from later in the "Fandom Is Broken" article siting other instances of current fan outrage:

It's all about demanding what you want out of the story, believing that the story should be tailored to your individual needs, not the expression of the creators. These fans are treating stories like ordering at a restaurant - hold the pickles, please, and can I substitute kale for the lettuce? But that isn't how art works, and that shouldn't be how art lovers react to art. They shouldn't be bringing a bucket of paint to the museum to take out some of the blue from those Picassos, you know?

The AV Club's piece ran a day too early, it turns out. The same day the piece hit the internet exploded in another fan outrage, this time coming as a result of Steve Rogers: Captain America #1, a new Marvel comic that revealed - dun dun dunnnn! - that Captain America had actually been a Hydra double agent his whole life.
--------------end quote----------

The Fandom Is Broken article seems based on the assumption that "the internet exploded in another fan outrage" is a new, or "broken fandom", phenomenon.

The assumption seems to be that fan-outrage is somehow "non-fannish" or a new characteristic that has appeared because something changed, something broke.

The opposite is true.

The nature of those who become "fans" -- not FANATICS mind you, but FANS -- includes an ensemble of characteristics that pretty much define the difference between fans and "the lowest common denominator" central market film makers must aim for -- the market large enough to support a video production at broadcast quality, nevermind theater quality.

1) Sharp Intelligence
2) Vivid Imagination
3) Strong Sense of Personal Identity
4) Unswerving Determination
5) Clearly Reasoned Opinions
6) Independent Minded
7) Collector of trivial facts by the thousands

Any two or three of these traits can be found at peak values in vast numbers of mundane people.

Fans call non-fans, mundane.  Mundane is the previous jargon term for muggle.  There's nothing wrong with being a mundane -- they just don't understand you when you talk about what matters to you, especially if you're "exploding in outrage" over a story-development.

I derived that list of traits from people I know.  I know a lot of people, writers and readers, who have all 7 of those traits at the maximum strength any human can have.  They're fans -- not necessarily of science fiction per se.  Fans of Romance or Mystery genre have the same profile.  Even fans of God -- people who are into Religion or Mysticism -- max out all 7-traits in that profile.

So if you, as a writer of science fiction and/or paranormal Romance, or any mixed genre, have that 7-trait profile all to the maximum degree, chances are you will write for others who have that profile.

Here's the problem.

That profile is rare.

As I noted above, any 2 or 3 of those traits are maxed out in huge numbers of people.  People who have all 7 maxed out are very rare.

TV or even online Video fiction Series are expensive to produce.

Self-publishing a book is much less expensive today, but still a big capital investment: A) time to write, rewrite, polish, edit, lay out, book design, B) buying cover graphic, C) crafting promotional campaign that can involve buying ads, D) fixing mistakes.  If you only sell a few hundred copies, you won't make even $0.50/hour on that investment.  Even selling to a publisher who does most of the work, you still won't make more than $10/hour unless you sell hundreds of thousands of copies.

If the Readership you are Targeting is rare, you will sell a few hundred copies, and that's all, over years.  So to be a professional writer, you must broaden your "reach" -- how many people will find your work satisfying.  That's what editors do to "almost" manuscripts:

So there is a financial barrier to fan-made fiction Series for the online video audience, but as the cost of video equipment goes down, and the knowledge and skills to get the most out of the cheapest equipment (a cell phone for example) becomes more prevalent, online video fiction or fan-fiction will proliferate.

Even so, to break even or make a profit, the audience targeted has to be larger than the "rare" market of fandom.

And that is the view from the Traditional Publishers skyscraper offices, or from Hollywood.  Fan outrage simply does not register, not because the outrage is not real or well expressed or legitimately based, but because that "rare" personality is RARE -- it is just too small a market segment to MATTER.

Fandom is not broken.  Fandom has always operated this way -- taking personal possession of the fictional material doled out by Publishing (or now Production), taking proprietorship of that which has been created by others, and insisting that the fictional material conform to personal expectations.

In the 1930's and 1940's the "outrage" against professional science fiction writers was aroused by errors in scientific fact -- or a failure to imagine (imagination being one of those 7 traits) far enough out or failure to incorporate the very latest discovery.

Even through the 1950's and 1960's any professionally published science fiction or fantasy writer who displayed ignorance of the then-current scientific facts (or in the case of Fantasy, the pantheons of dead civilizations, or the "rules" of magick) would get heaps of letters complaining about the mistakes (on a par with making Captain America a Hydra double agent his whole life - an error of fact in the audience's reality on a par with not knowing the difference between the Solar System and the Galaxy.)

If a science fiction story with an error of science was published in the magazines, the editors would get heaps of letters and publish some of them, sparking long, arcane and heated arguments about how to extrapolate current scientific fact to account for the story's premise.

Note that one of those 7 traits is the propensity to collect trivia -- the geek who is a nerd with an eidetic memory at least for certain stories.  As a writer in any sub-genre of science fiction, you must understand that the target readership will notice every single mistake you make.  They collect trivia. Collectively, they know everything.

Many professional writers talk to each other about their fans who know their universes better than they do.  I have quite a few of those!

The FANDOM IS BROKEN essay makes the point that the modern, online fan has a new attitude developing: because they buy the story, pay money for it, they are therefore "entitled" to satisfaction, as the consumer of any product would be.

Think, for example, of a car owner with Takata Airbags -- after all the recalls and so forth, news broke this past Spring that brand new cars are still being built with the defective design airbags. Having paid so very much for a car, wouldn't you feel entitled to an air bag replacement that is NOT defective enough to kill you?

So, after paying such an unconscionable amount for a theater ticket or to a cable TV/internet provider, don't you feel entitled to fiction that satisfies?

As a writer, you must keep putting yourself into that mindset every time you drift out of it. You are writing to satisfy the reader - not yourself.  "The Reader" includes people like you, with all 7 fan traits maxed out, but most of them only have a few of those traits, and they pay the bills, so satisfy them, too.

What satisfies those who have all 7 of those traits maxed out would bore or distress the more ordinary folks. So learn to keep scenes very short - 700 words maximum.

Another thesis in the FANDOM IS BROKEN (really, you must read this long essay, including the quoted death threat) is the following:

I don't want to pretend that this is some sort of generational shift; if that death threat above is to be believed the guy who made it is either in his 40s or fast approaching his 40s. This underbelly has always been there in fandom, going back to Doyle and beyond. There are new wrinkles for younger fans, a group that seems uninterested in conflict or personal difficulty in their narratives (look at the popularity of fan fics set in coffee shops or bakeries, which posit the characters of a comic or TV show or movie they love as co-workers having sub-sitcom level interactions. I had an argument with a younger fan on Twitter recently and she told me that what she wants out of a Captain America story is to see Steve Rogers be happy and get whatever he wants - i.e, the exact opposite of what you want from good drama), but while the details change the general attitude is the same: this is what I want out of these stories, and if you don't give it to me you're anti-Semitic/ripping off the consumer/a dead man.
---------end quote---------

Do you realize what the writer of this essay is saying?

Read that quote above again.

"what she wants out of a Captain America story is to see Steve Rogers be happy and get whatever he wants - i.e, the exact opposite of what you want from good drama) "


What she wants is ROMANCE and an HEA for an Action Character.

For me (and likely you, too) real drama is in becoming and in being happy - especially ever after!

Isn't that what we write?  Isn't that what we seek out to read?  What do you mean, Romance is not dramatic????

Romance is what life is all about, bonding, children, family!  I can think of any number of great TV Series and films that embody the Action Hero happy amidst FAMILY LIFE (after a hot-steamy strife-ridden romance, of course).

Think of a few of your own.  Here's the beginning of a list:

1) Little House On The Prairie
2) The Waltons
3) Daniel Boon
4) Ponderosa
5) Babylon-5
6) Star Trek -- especially DS-9 - any of the ensemble shows where the ensemble becomes family
7) Murder She Wrote (Perry Mason, or almost any Police Drama with ensemble cast).
8) Lois And Clark
9) Beauty And The Beast (TV Series)

Science Fiction, Action, Mystery, and Romance genres mix and match very well.  That was proven beyond a doubt by the way science fiction fandom gobbled up Star Trek and produced endless millions of words of "Get Spock" stories and then generated "Slash" which has since proliferated to almost every other TV show.  Keep in mind that before Star Trek fanfic, all science fiction 'fanzines' contained nothing but non-fiction about the books people were reader, cons they went to, other fans they knew.

If you don't think Action Genre goes with Romance Genre perfectly, go watch the very old movie, African Queen.

Fans love adventure, love the lone-wolf, the unattached hero (Kirk, Spock, McCoy), but the reason they love them is that these action-hero types are in the process of pursuing the Happily Ever After ending - the goal of adventure is to get home, and live a quiet and secure life raising children!  To get home, one must leave home.  The stranger who comes home makes home strange.  Or better yet, pioneering to make a new home.  Right now, N.A.S.A. is rumbling on about a Mars or Moon colony.

The author of Fandom is Broken apparently does not see Romance as Drama.  But as I've noted many times in these blog entries, every story needs a Love Story.

Take the Fan Profile of 7 traits and manifest that identity as a Romance Reader, the very strong personality (male or female) who understands that Home is the destination of every Adventure, that peace is the destination of Action, and then you can see why this one woman on Twitter was in a passionate fury to see Captain America finally get what he deserves -- His H.E.A. ending.  And we want the whole story of what happens during that ending.  Remember BEWITCHED?  Peace and happiness are not the opposite of good drama.

Remember how Superman "grew up" when they finally let him get together with Lois?  Lois & Clark is THE TV Series Superman for me.

The growing fury of media fans, fueled by the fast-cheap communications on social media, is going to produce a radical change in the Fiction Delivery System, and perhaps in all reality.

After all, it was college Gamer folks who pushed the networking of computers between campuses, and someone from the other side of the Atlantic created HTTP ( the markup language concept that lets your browser translate computer code into stories you can read.)

The fury and rage pointed out by FANDOM IS BROKEN is not a sign that fandom is broken, but rather fandom shows a gathering determination to change the world (again).

This is the way fandom always functions.  The energy gathers, becomes defined, gets targeted, and manifests as a sudden shift in the reality the mundanes live in (Star Trek in animated for kids, in films, on the air again (and now yet again!).  The first orbital flight. The International Space Station. Orbital telescopes. Maybe "hyper-loop" travel NY to CA in a couple hours.

Robert Heinlein opened a kid's novel with a guy riding a horse, and his phone rang, so he opened the pommel of the saddle and answered a call from Mars.  That was decades before cell phones.  Now iPhones! It took 70 years, but look at the change!  Fans of Robert Heinlein prevailed in changing the reality mundanes live in.  That's what fan fury accomplishes.

If the quote -- "what she wants out of a Captain America story is to see Steve Rogers be happy and get whatever he wants - i.e, the exact opposite of what you want from good drama) " -- is a good definition of the target this time, then Science Fiction Romance is the genre that will prevail.

Love and Romance and the extreme-drama-HEA will become the warp-and-woof of the fabric of mundane reality.  We might even have Peace in the Middle East!

So if you disappoint your fans and they try a hostile takeover of your Work, that is as it should be (as long as you get paid if only in publicity and homage -- I'm a big fan of copyright, but as a fan I know that homage is coin-of-the-realm) Just consider whether you want to disappoint your fans on purpose or by accident.  Then think carefully about which segment of your audience you are willing to disappoint -- the ones with all 7 traits maxed out, or some of the others?

Fandom is not broken. Fandom is functioning perfectly. Fandom is revving up to change muggle-dom. Again. I want to see the change be toward increased respect for Romance Fandom.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg