Thursday, December 29, 2016

Happy New Year

2017 is almost upon us (while I've barely gotten used to writing 2016, a symptom of growing old, no doubt). Do you make New Year's resolutions? As I've probably mentioned before, I gave up that concept a long time ago. I think more in terms of goals, plans, and hopes. Some goals for 2017 include: finishing the paper I have to deliver at a conference in March (a task I can't avoid unless I want to show up at the session with a rough draft!); submitting stories to two annual anthologies in which I've occasionally been included in past years; and completing a short novel I started several months ago but haven't worked on lately because of holiday prep, proofreading a re-released novel, and typing up my usual annual vampire fiction bibliography update.

The current issue of RWR (the Romance Writers of America members' magazine) includes an article about planning. It highlights the virtues of paper planners and discusses some advantages of mapping out long-term and short-term plans on paper instead of just relying on an electronic schedule. Brain research has shown that writing by hand is uniquely helpful in making material "stick" in the mind. While I haven't tried a planner, I do like making tangible lists. The older I get, the more I need the confidence of having things written down in order to remember them.

Along with some good things—my husband and I celebrated our 50th anniversary in September, with all our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren present, along with some other relatives and friends—2016 also brought some negative events for me. My two principal publishers closed this year, leaving most of my works "orphaned." Another publisher is picking up the books from Amber Quill, but of course it will take a while before everything becomes available again. I'm still considering what to do with the books and stories from the other closing publisher, so another project will be self-publishing a few of those pieces. Recently we've had illness and other trouble in our extended family. In the public sphere, we've witnessed the loss of iconic figures such as Leonard Cohen, John Glenn, and Carrie Fisher. And then there's the American presidential election, a source of "comfort and joy" to almost 50 percent of our population, but a cause of disappointment and anxiety for me.

On Christmas Eve our priest preached on Hope—as distinct from optimism, a feeling of confidence (whether substantiated or not) that things are inevitably getting better. Looking around at the world, we see many factors to undermine optimism. As one of my favorite carols, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," laments, "Hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on Earth, good will to men." All the more reason to practice the cardinal virtue of Hope.

Loosely quoting Colonel Potter from a New Year's episode of MASH, "Here's to the new year. May she be a durn sight better than the last one."

By the way, on the subject of the holiday season, which doesn't officially end until January 6 (Epiphany), I've just finished rereading Connie Willis's collection MIRACLE AND OTHER CHRISTMAS STORIES, as well as her two long stories not in that volume, "Just Like the Ones We Used to Know" (the cumulative effect of all those thousands of playings of "White Christmas" generates an unprecedented worldwide weather anomaly) and "All Seated on the Ground" (aliens land, and nobody can figure out what they want until they hear Christmas carols at a mall). Willis's keen wit infuses all the stories with her unique brand of humor-in-seriousness. Highly recommended!

Wishing happiness to all in 2017!

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Theme-Archetype Integration Part 1: The Nature of Art

Theme-Archetype Integration
Part 1
The Nature of Art
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

On Facebook Messenger, I was discussing how to create fiction that can sell to a commercial market and at the same time just write what you want to write, what you feel you need to say, what is deeply personal and matters to you -- what you personally want readers to feel in their guts, way below the verbal level.

That gut-response is what makes fictions memorable, and thus talked about and recommended. 

I get that response to many things I've written, particularly Sime~Gen.

Sime~Gen #14 is in the works, with more planned.

Most recently, I was reminded on Facebook how moving my first non-fiction book, STAR TREK LIVES!, has been to people still connected to me via social networking. 

Robert Eggleton posted a picture of the cover of STAR TREK LIVES! and said nice things about it, whereupon a number of people chimed in with their memories.  I only noticed the post when Robert J. Sawyer "tagged" me on his comment, and I got drawn into a long discussion where I answered underneath people's comments.  If you know how Facebook "works" -- it spawns lots of conversations under a broad topic where lots of people exchange views.  Choose the right friends, and it can be very cordial.

On previous series of posts on this blog, I've explained the intricate relationship between STAR TREK LIVES! -- non-fiction about a TV Series -- and Sime~Gen a future-history of humanity set (so far) mostly on Earth of the far future.

The private discussion on Facebook Messenger with this other writer was within the context of the lasting impact my work has had, still echoing down the generations of writers and readers. 

I had pointed her to

and to

... which she had read through once, and came back to say she was left puzzled by my use of the term "archetypes" (she is a well educated professional writer, so it was my usage not her ignorance).

And it is true, I do use the word to refer to a bit of fiction-structure which is related to fiction the way math is related to theoretical physics. 

 That archetype structure behind the fictional worlds is what gives those fictional worlds their verisimilitude.

We've discussed verisimilitude in several posts.  Here are a few:

Creating verisimilitude is a key writing craft skill -- craft not art.  Craft can be learned by anyone who can write a literate sentence.  Art may be born into you, or absorbed from those who raise you, or a combination, but you can't just "learn" it with the intellectual part of your mind.  And you can't learn Art with the part of your mind that can be trained in a Craft (such as driving a car can't be mastered by reading a book about it.)

I make vocabulary distinctions to refer to components of what it takes to launch into a commercial fiction writing career. 

Art is like Math.  In Math you "let X equal" -- or just arbitrarily assign meanings to blank variables.  That trick is the power behind applying a mathematical discovery to a real world problem, such as the Grand Adversary of all students, The Word Problem. 

A Math formula is the math equivalent of fiction's archetype. 

If you are accustomed to solving problems using carefully selected math formulae, then you know on a nonverbal level what an archetype is.

Yes, it is non-verbal.  The language handling section of your brain can not acquire or manipulate the underlying concept "archetype" with the kind of facility necessary to create the artistic dimension of fiction.

LOVE CONQUERS ALL leading to the HAPPILY EVER AFTER is the result of applying an archetype to a problem, of "letting X equal and Y equal" then applying rules to manipulate the equation until you get a solution.

The problem you are applying the archetype to is the problem of "What Is The Meaning Of Life?"  Or maybe, "What Is Life?"

Which archetype you select to apply to that WHAT IS LIFE? problem is dictated by the theme for your fictional story.  Or maybe the other way around on some occasions, the resulting THEME your novel explicates (after you cut, trim, rewrite, clarify) will have to be an exemplification of the archetype you accidentally applied.

When you are doing "Art" - those "accidents" are in fact your subconscious screaming at you, "SAY THIS!" 

We don't always know what we know until we tell ourselves. 

So how do we know what we know in order to say it in a novel?

We view the world and then we depict what we see.

Art is a selective depiction of Reality.

Art is not reality itself.  Art is a few bits and pieces of Reality, rearranged to say something that may be useful to those who hear it. 

Fiction is a conversation about Reality in the language of Art, between fiction writers with readers eavesdropping.  Art is a "language" just as mathematics is a language.  Physicists talk to each other in Math.  Fiction Writers talk to each other in Art.

Physicists talk about the structure of Reality, and Writers talk about the structure of Life.

Both professions are Artistic professions, creative professions, exploring "where no one has gone before." 

Good physicists ask good questions no physicist has asked before.  Good writers as questions no writer -- or in the case of science fiction romance, no living being -- has asked before.

Having asked a New Question, the artist then suggests an Answer.

Not THE Answer, mind you, but An Answer.  Another writer will try to disprove that Answer, postulating a different Answer, and the argument will take shape as readers try out every variation they can imagine.  News stories and academic studies will flow, "progress" will be made, and the conversational argument will continue.

That exploration of the non-existent, unreal world of imagination is endlessly fascinating because if a human can imagine it, some other human can make it real.

That is how Art fuels human progress, and why it is so important to "support The Arts" -- Art inspires.

Commercial Art may inspire but that is not its purpose.  Commercial Art exists to make a profit, and Commercial Artists do this work to make a living while dreaming of making a killing! 

Art is a necessary component of human life -- it existed as Cave Paintings and campfire stories long before people lived in permanent structures with sewers and chimneys.

Art has proven to be a necessary component of Civilization because it inspires creativity and convinces young people to dream and make it real.  Through Art we know we can succeed.

So, as I have discussed in many previous posts, the Artistic component of novel writing, as opposed to the Craft Mechanics component, comes from the writer's ability to look at the tangled mess of "white noise" that is the Reality we live in, and sort out a signal, see a pattern in the randomness of reality. 

That signal may actually be there -- or maybe not, maybe it is just the writer's imagination.  Psychological Studies have determined that humans will always see patterns where there actually are none -- such studies are cited as proof that God does not exist, but is just a figment of our imaginations.

We see patterns in the Stars and give constellations names.  Various cultures have seen different patterns and named them differently, attributing different powers to the same sky patterns.

There is something that we just know:  Reality consists of patterns.

We don't believe this.  We know it. 

Science, on the other hand, seems to have proven that we see patterns where there are none.  Most of reality is random.  Entropy (disorder) always increases.

Then there is the Observer Effect, in physics, where the act of observing changes the observed.  This happens because to observe, one must bounce something off the object being observed and detect it.  When the bounce-impact happens, the observed object thereupon changes, and the bounce-back particle does not carry all the information about what the object will become. 

In other words, as of the early 20th Century, theoretical physics (mostly just math at that time, but now being checked out by the Hadron Collider) postulated a connectivity among all physical objects.

Oddly, this notion mirrored the bedrock principles of the most Ancient mysticism we have record of -- ancient magical traditions, religions even more ancient, -- humanity has always "known" that somehow what we think and feel affects concrete reality. 

Physics is all about discovering the equations that describe how physical objects affect one another (gravity and so on).

Art is all about discovering the archetypes that describe how human lives affect one another (Romance and so on).

The psychological "archetypes" that Carl Jung made so famous
describe not only how individual humans function, but also how we are all "connected" through the collective subconscious. 

Structuring human psychology this way brings human psychology into the same kind of structure that physics was postulating (during those same decades of the early 20th century).  In short it is "wheels inside of wheels" -- symmetry. 

And if you study Kabbalah, you will find that the Tree of Life structure that delineates (with mathematical precision) the connection between human consciousness and the physical world around us also uses that "wheels inside of wheels" structure.

The 10 Sepheroth or areas of definition, each contain all the 10, each of which contains all the ten -- the infinite regression effect symbolized by the Quaker Oats box with the picture of the Quaker Oats guy holding a box of Quaker Oats with the Quaker Oats guy holding a box of ..... infinitely.

Note how the image here shows each of the Sepheroth as Trees in and of themselves.  Now visualize how each of the Sepheroth on each of the little Trees contains another Tree.  In Math, these are called Cross Terms. 

One excellent way to understand how this bit of physics (reflection, infinite iteration) applies to human emotion at the interface between the spiritual and the physical (Love vs Sex) is to study this book:

This 49 day drill, done annually, educates and trains that non-verbal part of the mind that knows without believing.  (...knows such things as Love Conquers All -- a corollary of Joy Breaks All Barriers -- and other principles that are hugely unpopular these days.)

The human emotions are the lower 7 of the 10 Sephiroth, and each of the 7 manifest in human beings as combinations with each of the other 7X7=49. 

Each one of these focused exercises will yield at least one, of not dozens, of Romance Novel Plots, all with Beginning, Middle, End laid out clearly.

Underlying this particular book's explanation of this 7X7 structure of the human psyche is the pure Archetype that generates our human personality.  Once fully grasped, these principles will reveal why sayings such as, "There's no accounting for taste!" are not true. 

Archetypes belong to the realm of non-verbalizable knowledge.  It is not belief, but actual knowledge accessed by a different cognitive function that does not encode data in words or even in math.

An archetype is a pattern.  If you set out to make a new dress, you go to the notions store and select a pattern.  That pattern envelope contains several variations (long sleeve, short sleeve), and the one you select will give you a range of sizes. 

Behind all the variations and sizes is an "archetype" of "dress" -- ball gown, job interview dress, cocktail dress, etc.

Now you go select material and matching thread and buttons, zippers, sequins, whatever. Every possible combination will produce vastly different results.

But underlying all those different dresses is still The Archetype for that style dress that generated the folded tissue inside the envelope.

With writing a novel, you do the same thing.  You go to your store of Views of The Universe -- (life's a Ball, life's a party, life's a dinner date, life's all work, life's deep sea fishing expedition) -- and you pick out one of your Views.

Then you go to your notions counter and pick out details of how this Life you are going to depict is going.

Just as sewing that dress is an exercise in craft, so too is writing the novel depicting the meaning of life as experienced by this particular Character.

Your reader will recognize the verisimilitude of the life you are depicting because your reader, too, knows the archetype behind your original creation.

As Jung pointed out, we are all connected by something -- and he called that something the Collective Unconscious.  Maybe there is no such thing, but there is something we all have in common, we all recognize, no matter how hidden by details.

Art is in the selection of details juxtaposed to convey a theme - a message about the nature of life.

But the commercial novel writer does not get to invent new patterns, freehand.  If enough readers can recognize the underlying archetype, the pattern you selected, the novel will sell well.  If that pattern is not recognizable, the first people to buy it will not recommend it to others.

Scholarly, creative writers don't get to invent archetypes either -- but they may discover them.  Archetypes are as structurally fundamental to the structure of reality as are the laws of gravity.  We can't invent gravity - but our understanding of its relationship to space and time has changed markedly over the last few decades.

 Jean Lorrah, my sometime collaborator and a Professor of English, has noted that the novels we write belong to a hitherto unrecognized category, a particular Plot Archetype which I call Intimate Adventure (Action Adventure with the Action replaced by Intimacy which may or may not be sexual).

In real life, all the archetypes overlap and interact -- every human born on this planet has a unique composite of archetypes (Natal Chart) plus all the modifications (epigenetics) they gather through life.  It's a mish-mosh. 

In fiction, the Characters have 3 prominent traits, only one of which is dominant.  Characters are like musical chords, formulated just so. Not every chord goes with every other chord -- in a novel, the writer has to stick to the "Key" as the music writer has to stick to a Key.  The plot events of a novel are the "Time" or rhythm, -- is it a waltz or a fox trot or a tango? 

As I have explained in previous threads, Writing Is A Performing Art, a wisdom taught to me by Alma Hill.

Commercial Fiction Writers perform the story, just as a pianist might perform a Chopin piece for an audience.

No two performers do it the same way, and no two performances by a given pianist come out exactly the same.  A performance is a hand-made, one of a kind, artistic creation.

It is just like giving a speech someone else wrote, or making a dress from a pattern bought at a store.  Individual components are carefully chosen to go together into an artistic whole, with each component enhancing the meaning of all the others.  A huge set of individually mastered skills are brought together into a performance to present a tiny glimpse of infinite wisdom.

The choosing of components, the bringing of the components together to make the underlying Archetype visible, yet manifesting in a unique way, is the writer's Art.  The craft lies in the practice and mastery that makes the performance seamless, effortless, uplifting, memorable.

One sour note, one off-beat plot event, can reduce the sublime to the intolerable.

The Art is in the non-verbal message that is conveyed by the style, voice, and the beauty of the performance. 

Some commercial writers have to know what they're doing to do it well.  Some can't do it at all if they know what they're doing.  Others are hybrids of these extremes.

How you accomplish the performance is idiosyncratic.  What story you perform for which audience is idiosyncratic.  Writing teaches you as much about yourself as it does about the world and your audience.

The art lies in how you fit what you have to say within the recognizable archetype you share with your audience. 

Artists see something in the chaos of reality that the audience doesn't see, then use the tools of shared archetypes to reveal the purpose and meaning of life.

There is no art form that does this better than the Science Fiction Romance.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Inventing Traditions

I think I've previously mentioned one of my favorite seasonal books, THE BATTLE FOR CHRISTMAS, by Stephen Nissenbaum. The "Battle" refers to the replacement of the REAL "old-fashioned Christmas" by what we now think of as the "traditional" holiday, a process that occurred in the nineteenth century. Christmas in prior centuries would have looked to us like a blend of Halloween, Thanksgiving, Mardi Gras, and New Year's Eve. (Even in the mid-1800s, a major part of the Christmas celebration in the American South consisted of excessive drinking and making lots of noise, mainly by shooting off guns.) The transformation to the domestic holiday we cherish didn't come about through natural evolution but as a result of deliberate choices. The concept of St. Nicholas bearing gifts, although derived from one strand in Dutch culture, was not only popularized but effectively invented, as far as America was concerned, by the literary circle to which Clement Moore and Washington Irving belonged. The Christmas tree seems to have originally been, not a universal German custom, but the practice of one region in Bavaria. When it spread to England and North America, within one generation people were saying, "Of course we always have a Christmas tree," as if this "tradition" had existed from time immemorial.

The habit of giving gifts to children replaced the old practice of the upper classes bestowing bounty on their servants and poorer neighbors and giving treats to groups that performed wassail songs door to door. The "old-fashioned Christmas" of earlier eras was thus deliberately transformed into the domestic Christmas we're familiar with. Furthermore, worries about children becoming greedy for presents and anxiety over what to give to friends and relatives who already "had everything" sprang up almost immediately. Manufacturers and merchants were quick to produce and sell items designed especially as Christmas gifts. The family-centered celebration and the commercialized Christmas lamented by Charlie Brown grew up together. C. S. Lewis thought the "commercial racket" was a recent development in his own lifetime (as he discusses in the essay "What Christmas Means to Me" in GOD IN THE DOCK), but he was mistaken. As Nissenbaum's book points out, people in every generation have tended to conceive of the "real old-fashioned Christmas" as something that has just recently died out, in their parents' day or at most their grandparents'. In fact, the image of a pure, "authentic" holiday that existed in some past era is a myth.

So at Thanksgiving we sing "Over the River and Through the Woods," even though most of our grandmothers, like Charlie Brown's, live in condos rather than on farms. We sing, "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas," even if we grew up in one of the many parts of the country where it seldom snows (if at all) until January. Families have their personal traditions, of course. Some don't set up the tree until Christmas Eve, a custom that baffles me, because they go to all that trouble and then have only a week or a little more to enjoy the result. Of COURSE you are supposed to set up the tree as soon as practicable after Thanksgiving, and you open presents on Christmas morning. NOT on Christmas Eve—what a scandalous breach of propriety. :) During our sons' childhoods, our tradition included watching Christmas specials on TV, something my parents couldn't have done as children. Earlier in the twentieth century, visiting the department store Santa Claus began to grow into a tradition for many people. At nearby Sandy Point State Park, there's an annual lavish display called "Lights on the Bay," and driving to view that is probably a traditional part of many families' holiday season.

Consider "classic" carols and seasonal songs. How long does a song have to remain popular to enter the category of "classics" or holiday standards? Some now beloved and well-established songs have become standards in my lifetime, notably "Do You Hear What I Hear?" and "Little Drummer Boy," which I don't remember hearing in childhood.

Some Jewish families, as a concession to the dominant culture, set up a "Hanukkah bush" in their houses during December, a custom that's local to North America and dates back at the earliest to the late 1800s. Does this count as a "tradition"?

How long does a custom have to exist before becoming legitimately "traditional"? Mother's Day became a national holiday in 1914, thanks to a campaign by one woman, Anna Jarvis. Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by an African American professor. The U.S. official Grandparents' Day has existed only since 1978 (and I'm not sure how much it has caught on other than with greeting card companies—I've never taken any notice of it, since I maintain that its purpose is already covered by Mother's Day and Father's Day).

Whether "invented" or not—and all celebratory practices were invented by somebody once upon a time—"traditions" are basically whatever people cherish as such.

Merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, and festive Yuletide to all!

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Depiction Part 23 - Guest Post By Carol Buchanan

Part 23
Guest Post By Carol Buchanan
Depicting Relationships

Here is the index post to previous entries in the Depiction series:

Today, Carol Buchanan has provided a Guest Post on for my series on Depiction, she has titled Depicting Relationships. Here it is, below.

Last week I reviewed Carol Buchanan's 4th novel in her Vigilantes series,

Carol Buchanan has depicted the formation of the States of the United States out of raw land - a wilderness rich with gold and searing cold winters.  No setting is more appropriate for Romance, and Science Fiction (science of mining, politics of the science of mining, life in constant confrontation with "the unknown" and "unknowable" (thus the murder-mystery theme fits perfectly into the Romance of Science Fiction)).

I recommended that writers of Alien Romance study what Carol Buchanan has done in this tetralogy to reformulate stacks of original-source documentation into real-life-living-full-color story of human beings struggling with their personal issues and still creating a new order -- the United States, -- all these states distinctly different, under different laws (and good reasons why laws had to be different) yet united.

The Vigilante series depicts the period when paper money was first being promulgated and valuated, when gold dust and coin was "real money" that you dug out of the ground.

The series speaks to the issues we've explored in the series on Astrology Just For Writers and on Tarot Just For Writers -- the innate problem of the Individual vs The Group (1st House vs 7th House).

Index to 10 posts on Suit of Swords:

Index to 10 posts on Suit of Pentacles;

All 5 Kindle volumes on Tarot are collected here (free on Kindle Unlimited):

Index to posts on Astrology:

The essence of story is Conflict.  Depicting Conflict is so hard that much of what you read today substitutes fist-fights, space battles, explosions, and chase scenes for "conflict" because writers (and many readers) do not know what conflict actually is.

So our modern entertainment industry has gone for the Visual Depiction of conflict, using symbolism even the youngest children can understand. BOOM!!! BAM!!!

In Romance and Mysteries, we divide novels into sub-categories: Sweet, Steamy, Cozy, Dark, Hard Bitten (Sam Spade), Gritty, etc. In science fiction it is Nuts-n-Bolts vs Sociological and a large variety of other sub-genres.  What survives today is mostly the Space Battles variety of science fiction that makes the concept of Science Fiction Romance seem odd.

But nothing could be farther from the truth of the matter.  Romance, Mystery, Science Fiction, and Westerns -- all of them, even the ones with a Conflict of Man Vs. Nature, are about Relationships, and very little other than Relationships.

Yet, in publishing we do discuss "The" Relationship-driven Plot, as if it were distinct from everything else.  It is not. All fiction is about Relationship, and all conflicts somehow involve Relationships -- even when the Main Character is a prisoner in solitary confinement relating only to himself and his/her imagination.

How a human relates to him/herself deep in the unconscious mind configures how that individual will relate to other people.  We all play out what is inside us, creating the drama of our lives.

The story writer's job is to reveal that fact in a way the targeted readership can absorb and understand in a non-verbal way.

Carol Buchanan has hit on a way of understanding that intangible fact about what the Relationship driven Plot really is.

Her previous Guest Posts on this blog are:

So here is her new Guest Post, Depicting Relationships, that may be of great use to Romance writers, especially those writing Paranormal or Alien Romance novels.

-----------GUEST POST BY CAROL BUCHANAN-----------

The Space Between: 

Depicting Relationships The Ghost at Beaverhead Rock

 At the core of a relationship between you and your other(s) lies the unspoken – the thoughts, the wishes, the desires known perhaps only to you, that are quite aside from overt speech or action. 

Likewise for the other.

In the space between you and the other person is the core of your relationship, the subliminal meeting neither of you may understand in the moment, no matter how long you know each other. Each of you conveys some of your inner life to others without being conscious of it.

In this space neither speaks, but only acts. The rhythm of breathing changes. One of you raises a wineglass, arches an eyebrow. A different tone colors a word.

Body language. There are whole books about that form of silent communication, but if I succeed in saying what I mean in this article, that’s not exactly what I’m talking about, although body language is a part of it.

The core of a relationship lies in the space between you and one or more others. The raised eyebrow may communicate an attitude or a feeling, but something happens between you and the other that is not brought to the surface. Neither of you speaks of it, but somehow you know there’s a difference on the other side of that space.

That’s where the relationship happens: In the spaces. In the nebulous area that holds the pauses in what is said, as a sudden silence falls on a party.

The partners in the relationship blink and ask themselves what happened.

The core of a relationship is subliminal.

The Subliminal Core of Relationships in The Vigilante Quartet

In the series I’ve titled The Vigilante Quartet, I make use of the subliminal core when Dan Stark, the hero of all four historical Western novels, encounters not only danger and violence but the direct opposite, love.

takes place in what is now southwest Montana. Historically, in 1863, it was a region where ruffians ruled and murder was tolerated. When a group of men form the Vigilance Committee (as they did in the history), Dan Stark becomes its prosecutor.

I brought the McDowell family into the novel as a foil for the violence around them – the gunfights, the vandalism, the terrorizing of decent people.

Martha McDowell’s determination to give her children a better life counters her husband’s aggression. Everything she does, from secretly learning to read against his wishes, to holding onto her faith in God, opposes his violence. She takes in two boarders. Dan Stark and Deputy Sheriff Jack Gallagher, a friend of her husband’s. Dan suspects Gallagher is secretly one of outlaws.

At supper one evening, McDowell and Gallagher challenge Dan, who they think threatens their rule by intimidation. (They’re right.)

At the same time, Dan and Martha recognize their feeling for each other. For their own safety, they must not let the other two suspect what happens between them. Their mutual knowledge comes by way of a change in how they see each other.

It occurs amidst covert threats against Dan from McDowell and Gallagher. With McDowell’s wife and children present, they can’t threaten Dan openly. The reader understands the threat because of three elements:

§  Gallagher and Dan have had increasingly hostile encounters earlier in the book.
§  Dan senses the threat as a snake’s rattling.
§  He is afraid for Martha and her young daughter sitting in a dark place beyond the candlelight.

Danger surrounds him, and he is afraid, but in the midst of this dark fear he catches Martha looking at him in a way he thinks of a “luminous.”

A light shines in the darkness.

In the space between them.


In my latest and final book of The Vigilante Quartet, a new relationship of a different order comes into the story of Daniel Stark’s evolution as a Vigilante.
The ghost of a hanged man haunts him.

Dan has married Martha following his return from New York City to pay his father’s debts. He is a prominent Vigilante, who has put the noose around the neck of more than one man. He first notices the ghost when it boards the stagecoach he is on at Beaverhead Rock (a landmark mentioned in the journals of Lewis and Clark.)

The ghost carries with it the stench of death, and takes the shape of a hanged man who carries a revolver in its hand.

The specter appears sometimes as a thickening of a shadow, a shimmering, a shudder where there can be no movement because shadows do not more on their own. It has no substance and makes no sound.

Dan thinks to himself, I do not believe in ghosts. But as a rational man, a lawyer, he cannot deny the evidence of his senses of sight and smell. If it doesn’t exist, how does he see it? Smell it?

That’s my challenge to readers. Is it a symbol of Dan’s sense of guilt? Is it one of the hanged men come back to accuse him of murder? Does it even exist?

Ghost and man never overcome the space between them..

How I Learned about the Space Between
Dan and the Ghost are in a relationship between human and nonhuman. Their entire relationship lies in the space between them.

I learned about the space between from an odd instructor named Gus.

Gus was a horse. My horse for a decade, until he colicked and I had to have him put down to end his suffering. 

One cold grey October day I went into the pasture at the equine sanctuary where I volunteered. I thought Gus had something that appealed to me, but I’d only known him for a couple of weeks. If he didn’t acknowledge me, I thought, I would concentrate on another horse. Sure enough, he stood grazing apart, a few yards away from the other horses that gathered around me for treats.
He raised his head, looked at me, and planted a tentative hoof in my direction, as though was uncertain what coming closer might bring him.

I thought, You’re my horse.

With him, I didn’t have the modes of communication I was accustomed to. A horse’s face are hide over bone, so they don’t have the facial mobility we humans read in each other.

Communications methods we learn from pets are useless with them. They don’t wag their tails as dogs do, for example. They don’t hiss, meow, or yowl as cats do.

But dogs and cats – and humans – are predators. Predators have monocular vision, with both eyes in the front of their faces, which gives depth perception and helps to judge striking distance. Perhaps predators have an innate sense of each other.

The horse is prey. And he knows it. He has binocular vision, with his eyes on opposite sides of his head. This gives him a nearly 360 field of vision, very good for spotting predators. He cannot see directly in front close up, nor directly behind.

It makes him very acute in sensing predatory intentions, in reading people. He “gets the vibes,” as they said in the Sixties.

From Gus I learned to listen for the vibes.

Sure, there were plenty of overt signals I learned. His vocal range would have done an opera singer proud, from soft rumbles in his throat to earsplitting bugles. I paid attention to the warning in a lifted hind hoof, and to the positions of his ears.

As time went on, we communicated almost by telepathy. I say “almost” because I’m hedging my bets. On our last trail ride before he got sick, I felt he was not happy, that the enclosing forest made him nervous. I thought, He won’t put up with this till the end.

Did I signal him somehow when I thought that? Did I mirror his nervousness back to him? Maybe. Probably. Horses are telepathic.

At any rate, awhile later, he turned back the way we had come. He was going home. I lost the discussion, but when he wanted to run home, I held him to a walk all the way back.

In the Space Between
Writers and writing books talk a lot about dialogue in terms of words spoken, gestures made. But I think there’s room for us to explore what is not said, what is not done in relationships.

To consider the space between.

To “Be still and know that I am God.” Yes, that relationship, too.

Carol Buchanan

Learning how we "relate" to the animals of Earth might be a big help in First Contact with non-humans from elsewhere.

We now know that monkeys, dolphins and whales speak to each other.  We humans have a lot to learn about Relationships.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Recommended Reading For Copyright Enthusiasts

Of interest to copyright enthusiasts this week:

Authors Guild files a friend-of-the-court brief in the long-running and very important lawsuit concerning universities creating their own unlicensed digital course "packets" comprised of excerpts --sometimes consisting of entire chapters-- from copyrighted works.

Authors Guild supports the publishers' and authors' claim that it is not "fair use" to cherry pick, publish and distribute the most useful portions of authors' works when the authors are not paid at all and this use removes the incentive for students to rent or purchase the works or a licensed (and paid) package.

On Friday, the Librarian of Congress published an online poll for the public, asking for popular opinion about the priorities and qualifications that the replacement Register of Copyrights ought to possess.

If you would like to make polite and constructive suggestions (you cannot do so anonymously), please follow this link.

No doubt, anonymous and pseudonymous trolls (who do not like the idea that authors, musicians, photographers and other creators should be paid fairly for their work) will encourage the appointment of someone with strong sympathies for EFF and tech giant "permissionless innovators" and "disruptors".

The Trichordist comments scathingly.

Both Authors Guild and TheTrichordist recommend an op ed from the New York Times written by Jonathan Taplin, author of "Move Fast and Break Things: How Google, Facebook and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy."

One of the most striking points made in the article is that Facebook makes a great deal of money by hosting copyright infringing content. Perhaps things will get better for the content creators in 2017.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Writing in Dark Times

Kameron Hurley's essay in the current LOCUS is the most overtly political piece I've ever read in that magazine:

There Have Always Been Times Like These

Hurley writes in apocalyptic terms, as if we're now living in Mordor. In her view, "We are going to lose much in 2017," because "a darker power was elected into office in the United States by a slim minority." She laments, "I see that hopeful ray of light we have all been shining out into the world smothered once again in darkness during this latest backlash." She frames the recent election as one phase in the "long war between the light and the dark, between our better selves and our darker natures."

Even though ours isn't a political blog, I suppose there's no harm in mentioning that I also voted against Hurley's "darker power." I'm optimistic enough, though, to hope that the immediate future won't be quite so bad as she forecasts.

The central message of her essay, however, isn't to curse the darkness or declare that we're all doomed. Rather, she celebrates, as quoted above, the "hopeful ray of light" writers "have been shining out into the world." Speculative fiction has value because of "our hopeful stories, our ability to tell dif­ferent futures." Science fiction and fantasy offer both cautionary tales (warning us against paths to potential dystopias) and images of better worlds we may transform into reality. Storytellers "create the narratives that help us all make sense of the world."

I would add a third valid function of speculative fiction, a temporary escape from the anxieties of mundane life into another world. Entertainment for its own sake, as a distraction that sends us back to "normal life" refreshed, is not to be scorned. Of course, using fantasy in this way might incur the charge of "escapism" in a negative sense. Indeed, we've all run into critics who dismiss ANY form of counter-factual fiction as "escapism." J. R. R. Tolkien answers this charge in "On Fairy Stories." Who's most likely to be obsessed with preventing escape? Jailers! As Tolkien says:

"Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. In using escape in this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter. Just so a Party-spokesman might have labelled departure from the misery of the F├╝hrer's or any other Reich and even criticism of it as treachery."

To those who dismiss fantasy as "unrealistic" and therefore a waste of an adult's time, Tolkien provides this rebuttal (although he isn't addressing precisely that point):

"Fantasy is a natural human activity. It certainly does not destroy or even insult Reason; and it does not either blunt the appetite for, nor obscure the perception of, scientific verity. On the contrary. The keener and the clearer is the reason, the better fantasy will it make."

Or, as Puddleglum the Marshwiggle, imprisoned in the green witch's underground lair in C. S. Lewis's THE SILVER CHAIR, retorts to the witch's claim that her world is the only world that exists, "I'm going to live as much like a Narnian as I can even if there's no Narnia."

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Reviews 30 The Ghost At Beaverhead Rock by Carol Buchanan

Reviews 30
The Ghost At Beaverhead Rock
Carol Buchanan 
Reviewed By Jacqueline Lichtenberg

The Ghost At Beaverhead Rock is a 522 page Historical Romance, but not at all typical of the Romance Genre. In fact, it is not so typical of the Historical genre either.

This novel is about what makes a man into a husband and what kind of man can not be transformed like that.

It is about the very serious stuff you find in Historicals as well as about the things you hardly ever find in Romance.  And it is about what traits portend that a man will become a good father.  All of this abstract (face it: boring) stuff is just background for the torrent of forces configuring the Territories into what will be the United States of today: what is an Economy?; what is Law?; what is Authority?

All of this is blended with a strong author's hand into a smooth reading, fast paced read you will work fast every day to get back to reading in the evening.  Writers should analyze this book for scene and chapter structure, for pacing (rate of change of situation), for how Characterization is depicted using actions not description.

The Ghost is 4th in a series that has garnered some awards attention and deserves more. Lots more.

The previous novels are God's Thunderbolt, The Vigilantes of Montana, and Gold Under Ice.

Here are the Amazon links:

Book 1 - God's Thunderbolt

Book 2 - The Devil In The Bottle

Book 3 - Gold Under Ice

Book 4 - The Ghost At Beaverhead Rock

Or you can find them at the author's website

Here are some posts I've done here previously about this series:

And a Guest Post by Carol Buchanan:

So you see I've been following this series as it has developed, and it is literally a "can't put it down" read if you are interested in Science Fiction Romance.

Remember, Star Trek was sold as "Wagon Train To The Stars" -- a western set in space.

Science Fiction and Westerns or Historicals are kindred genres because they are about facing "The Unknown" and figuring out how to live and thrive in an alien environment.

In fact, come right down to it, marriage is itself a matter of pioneering an alien environment, a partnership between two strangers who think they know each other.

Pioneering is about moving into strange, mostly empty territory and figuring out how to create a government and an economy.  Marriage often enters the empty territory of a two-person home which, little by little, adds children -- and every year of their lives is new territory.

So this Vigilantes series starts with a heart-felt Romance, wistful, ernest, and full of promise and insurmountable obstacles.  And then the series challenges that marriage and re-creates it on new terms.

This story of a marriage is thematically parallel to the "marriage" of the new Western States into the Union, which at that time was being challenged by The Civil War which shattered families, brother against brother.

The series is set (mostly) in the West where gold was discovered, and depicts the way fighting over claims pitted men (and women) against each other.

It seems to me this is the story of a woman who "mines" a man's heart for the gold hidden in his depths, the incorruptible noble metal, soft and malleable hidden within brittle quartz.

This series is a solid example of how to apply the skills we have discussed in the series on Depiction and the series on Symbolism.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Fake News? Fake History! (About Copyright)

My copyright enthusiasm has led me to take a free online course: Constitution 101 offered by Hillsdale College.

Copyright is mentioned in the Constitution (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8)  but in my opinion, copyright is also an Intellectual Property right, and the constitution upholds the right to own property. 

Certain opponents of copyright are alleged to have written such statements as: "We Jeffersonians know better. Copyright is not a natural right, entitled to protection at the expense of the public good."

The above link is exceptionally interesting. It is about how some academics who are hostile to the rights of musicians and songwriters especially (but, weakening of copyright for one group of creators opens the door to weaking copyright for all creators) rationalize the allegedly so-called retaliatory constructive termination of the recent Register of Copyrights, Maria Pallante.

"The public good" seems to be the excessive profitability of billion-dollar tech giants that stream or otherwise distribute music and other entertainment, and the "right" of members of the public to enjoy creative works as a perquisite that follows the subscription to- or purchase of certain apps or hardware or software.

Concerns have been expressed about the Library of Congress.

I would describe the Notice of Intent (NOI) Loophole as a variation on "orphan works". Remember the Hathi Trust project? The trick is that a big tech company that wishes to exploit ebooks or music without paying the author or songwriter simply "pretends" that they cannot locate the copyright owner or author. Therefore, under the "permissionless innovation" theory, they exploit the work and pay no one unless or until the copyright owner finds out about it on their own.

This is not the only problem.  Allegedly, "...some in the anti-copyright crowd...are promoting the Library's recent deal with the Berkman Center's Digital Public Library of America to turn a digitized Library of Congress into a kind of feeder to Kickass Torrents with sovereign immunity..."

Given digitization, and the fact that it is mandatory for every copyright owner to donate 2 copies of the best of the best of their works, to the Library of Congress, that quote about feeding torrents is not so implausible. The Library of Congress appears keen to monetize and distribute what's in their collection, if one can extrapolate from what Maria Pallante was ordered to do.

I appear to be the only skeptic about the USPTO push to discuss the Digital Marketplace. For those who wish to view videos of the entire day of events at the USPTO conference on on Friday, Dec 9th, 2016, follow this link:

For those who merely want a book-related summary, there were relatively few mentions of books or ebooks during the day. Encouragingly, the focus seemed to be a genuine and positive concern for a system to ensure that "the internet" should know who owns rights to any type of intellectual property.

Speaker Trent McConaghy (of Blockchain) testified that he would like a Kayak-like (travel industry analogy, not watercraft) system presumably for finding the type of digital intellectual property that one desires at the best price.

Speaker Bill Rosenblatt (I think it was he who made this remark) bemoaned the fact that a Federal Judge (Denny Chin, as I recall) threw out the Google Book Settlement that would have established a Book Rights Registry. That Book Rights Registry would have been very helpful to authors and those who wished to exploit authors' books.

What worries me is, who would pay for any eventual registry? We know that it has been alleged that creative-works exploiters like Pandora and Spotify want music creators (songwriters and performers) to pay for their own music registry so the music services don't have to go to the trouble of locating rights owners in order to pay them. Would authors, musicians, photographers, models, etc have to subscribe in order to be in a registry?

And then, once one is in the registry (at least one could be found and paid), would authors be treated like The Turtles? Just as music that was written and originally performed before 1972 has been treated as if it was out of copyright, and is now being awarded lesser royalties than music written and performed since 1972, could something similar happen to book authors?

Here's how royalties could get reduced without copyright owners getting a voice.

But... the good news is, we can have a voice.  Check out who is on the House Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, and drop them a line. Maybe an anticipatory thank-you note for looking out for authors. :-)

All the best,

Rowena Cherry

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Human Redesign

In Heinlein's METHUSELAH'S CHILDREN, well-meaning, godlike aliens on a colony planet redesign the DNA of a human embryo to produce what they consider improvements, such as replacing fingers with tentacles; Lazarus Long's people react with horror instead of gratitude and hastily leave that world. Recently on Quora, someone posted a question about what changes you would make to improve the human reproductive process, if you had that power. Some suggestions offered were: give women the ability to end a pregnancy at will (maybe by resorbing the embryo, like rabbits) or pause a pregnancy in suspended animation until convenient, like kangaroos; separate the sexual function from the excretory function (presumably referring to males—the idea of placing those organs in completely different parts of the body goes way beyond tweaking with the human blueprint to making our anatomy downright alien); getting rid of menstrual periods (only a few mammals menstruate, so why can't we simply absorb the excess uterine lining the way other females apparently do?); allow people to transfer the embryo to the father, like seahorses.

Some changes I would wish for in an ideal world: Not only for pregnancy, but for human comfort in general, it would be nice if evolution had done a more efficient job of transforming us from quadrupeds to bipeds. Imperfect adaptation to walking upright leaves us subject to many uncomfortable conditions such as back, joint, and foot pains, hernias, and organ prolapse. For reproduction in particular, voluntary control of the process would solve many problems. Suppose women could ovulate or suppress ovulation at will? And if conditions of the pregnancy or the environment turned unfavorable, in this scenario they could resorb the embryo by an act of will, as mentioned above. It would also be convenient if men could produce erections, or suppress them, at will. For both sexes, a lot of anxiety would disappear if we could simply decide to have orgasms when desired. I'd like to have labor pains reduced to mild cramps, just enough discomfort to alert the woman that she's in labor. Why does dilation of the cervix have to hurt so much? At the actual delivery phase, a sensation of slight pressure would be enough to tell her to start pushing.

That last request might be impossible without a total restructuring of the human body, because of the compromises we already make between the sizes of the baby's head and the mother's pelvis. But, again, in an ideal world where we have voluntary control over physical processes and sensations, we could mentally suppress most of the discomfort associated with pushing out a full-term infant. Those compromises make another possible wish, that babies not be born so helpless, out of the question. Human intelligence means our offspring have large brains and large skulls, and the human female's pelvis can't grow much bigger while still allowing her to walk upright. That's why human babies are born so undeveloped; the size and lifespan of our species would lead us to expect our infants to stay in utero about twice as long as they do. In effect, a newborn baby is an extra-uterine fetus.

Given absolute power to alter human anatomy and physiology, what improvements would you make to the reproductive process? Or any of our physical attributes?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Depiction Part 22 - Depicting Alien Nostalgia With Symbolism

Part 22
Depicting Alien Nostalgia With Symbolism
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Previous parts of this series are indexed here:

And here is a video ...

...which is a grand example of how to integrate all these posts on Depiction with the entire series on SYMBOLISM which will need an index post eventually.  Meanwhile, here are a few of the related posts to symbolism:

Yes, we have been working on theme-symbolism integration since 2009 at least!  Symbolism is most important in connecting a modern human reader to a future alien character or civilization. Symbolism is even more important in casting the spell of Romance over a reader. Here is the series on why we cry at weddings.

And here is one about Theme-Worldbuilding integration:

We have studied the individual components of this craft, and now are looking at how to join those components into a seamless and functioning whole -- a whole the reader can not reverse engineer (unless the reader is a writer who understands these craft techniques).

Basically, we study the current world we live in, and we study the humans around us both as individuals and as the trends they respond to in large groups.  Then we build a world the people living in this world WOULD believe if they walked into it through a dimensional gateway.

To build a convincing Alien Civilization, you must include the elements that your readers take for granted in this civilization.  One thing that has arisen in recent decades is the Internet and its ability to carry video.

This video-package editing art form has been around since (to my knowledge) the 1970's when fans took clips of Star Trek episodes and blended them with filk music, showing them via VCR in hotel rooms packed with laughing fans.

The clip-editing art form dates back to the 1940's theatrical shorts, especially the News Reel, short clips edited with narrative to create an impression.

This video clip we're studying here

Is a series of still IMAGES which are SYMBOLS of a time past, mostly the late 1940's and 1950's, symbols still extant in the 1960's.  The music is a Dean Martin hit song, Memories Are Made Of This -- popularized by radio disk jockeys (paid of course by the music publishing industry to favor one singer over another.)

Those who did not grow up in the era when those images were common will not respond emotionally to them the same way that someone whose teens were spent surrounded by those items would.

That objectivity is what I'm after here, presenting this video for scrutiny.

"Memories Are Made Of This" -- listen to the words of the song.  Create the SYMBOLS your Aliens would hold as Memories.

Here are the lyrics posted by Google

Now plot your Romance with an Alien creating as you go along, just the right SYMBOL fabricated out of an integration of the human's symbols (of which the human's memories are "made") and the Alien symbols (which you invented).

Yes, writing Science Fiction Romance is hard work.  But it is worth it, and with practice it gets easier and swifter.

Here is a YouTube play of the song without the Memories video clips.

It has had well over a million views, and there's a good reason for that.

Nostalgia sells.  If your Aliens do not have nostalgia triggers, no human reader would believe a human could fall in love with that Alien. (You might want to create some Aliens like that, too, for contrast and conflict.)

Create a bit of nostalgia in your novel for your readers to share with their grandchildren.

Note in this brilliant video the absence of BOOKS as nostalgic triggers.  Readers are always between 5 and maybe max 15% of the total population (which is why writers have a hard time making any money.)  These visual items, common everyday sights, and that song (which was saturating the radio airwaves so it is known even to non-readers), combine to depict nostalgia.

What books should have been included?

Create an Alien story, novel, stage play, fictional event, that DEPICTS the era when your Alien love interest was adolescent (whatever that meant to that species).

Please study this video.  If you have to, then just make yourself a Facebook Account and then delete it when you're done studying.

This Facebook video has had about 300,000 "shares" -- it nails it!  Study how that was done. Disassemble into the components, study the components, invent the Alien equivalents in your universe, reassemble into the Alien art form.  Your Characters and their Romance will seem real to your readers.

That "seem real" is what we call verisimilitude and this exercise is how you achieve that.

The goal of the exercise is not to make you suffer through this tedious exercise every single time you set out to create an alien civilization.  The goal is to train (not teach, train) your subconscious to do this analysis/synthesis process outside your conscious awareness and present you with dynamite imagery for your novel.

To make a living at writing, you have to get fast and efficient because words aren't worth much, and art is worth even less.  You have to get to where it is easy to do this, but you nail it (just like this video does) each time.

You achieve this level of proficiency by plodding through the process one step at a time, and practicing and practicing.  Some people need more practice -- others somewhat less -- but with that goal of proficiency in mind, the practice time and repetitions will be minimized.  The important part is to avoid practicing your mistakes.

That is a goal of these posts -- to minimize the amount of practice necessary to become proficient in writing craft skills.  Fill your mind with the abstract, then practice making that abstract concrete.

The series linked above on Theme-Symbolism integration should help.  Read that series on Weddings, and create a series like it about say, Christmas or New Year's, or whatever winter solstice festivity is your favorite.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, December 04, 2016

There Are Limits (to Safe Harbor), Pallante Protest, And More....

The legal blog of  Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP  (not a blog I've seen before) provides a detailed and fascinating --at least for copyright wonks-- article about "red flag" knowledge, and when an ISP or OSP may be said to have knowledge of copyright infringement, even when a takedown notice has not been submitted.

Also former Registers of Copyrights Ralph Oman and MaryBeth Peters have written a joint letter to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees concerning the recent treatment of former Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante.

It has been alleged that Maria Pallante was removed from her prestigous work, and assigned to policy planning for the Copyright Office gift shop. Some have allegedly speculated that the reason for Register Pallante's forced career move was that a certain search giant company's lobbyists and former search giant company's employees who now work for the current administration object to Register Pallante's alleged opposition to new regulations that benefit primarily Google, and that are disruptive and costly to copyright owners.

More articles on this scandal can be found on the website.

Also on are a series of short videos by copyright owners about what copyright and copyright protection means to them.

Submissions are welcome and being sought by the copyright alliance.

For European visitors to this blog, please be aware that Google puts cookies on your computers and other devices for the purpose of identifying your susceptibility to specific advertising. The authors of this blog have no control over this, but we have a duty to remind you of the cookies from time to time.

Other reminders: as of December 1st 2016, website owners who accept user generated content from others must register their copyright agent with the Copyright Office electronically.

December 9th is the USPTO open meeting  on the digital marketplace. The Authors Guild will be attending.

All the best,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, December 01, 2016


We spent the Friday through Sunday noon after Thanksgiving at ChessieCon in Timonium (just north of Baltimore). I'm thankful for its location, so that we can drive there and back easily; if it required a flight or a long drive, we probably wouldn't go on a holiday weekend. The author guest of honor was Sarah Pinsker, and the musical guest was S. J. Tucker. In addition to her concert, I attended performances by Cade Tinney (who sang a song from the STEVEN UNIVERSE animated series with heart-wrenching beauty) and filk veteran Roberta Rogow. Highly impressed with Roberta Rogow's historical and SF filk, I bought two of her albums in the dealers' room. I especially like her "Schindler's List." And this piece, which she always closes with:

Fact and Fiction

I appeared on two panels, about "The Care and Feeding of Critique Groups" and STEVEN UNIVERSE. My contribution to the discussion of critique groups came from belonging to an online group of around fifteen people, who interact by e-mail. Weekly critique slots are available, and members who want feedback can send their work to the group after reserving a slot. In practice, only a few either submit or critique regularly; many of the fifteen or sixteen members seldom participate, and there's no requirement or penalty. The typical experience described by other panelists was more often with face-to-face groups of fewer people. We talked about the logistics of organizing a critique group, how to give useful feedback, and the importance of the authors in a group being at about the same level of development.

If you haven't watched the STEVEN UNIVERSE series, you'd be amazed at the depth of emotion embodied in what looks, at first glance, like a humorous superhero cartoon for kids. Steven is fourteen-year-old boy (who looks younger, and there's a plot reason why) living with the Crystal Gems, three feminine-identified aliens who fought with Steven's no-longer-present mother in a long-ago rebellion against the Homeworld Gems, who intended to use Earth as an incubator (thereby destroying all life on the planet). Steven is half Gem and half human. His human father remains involved in his life, but it's the Gems who have to protect Steven and teach him to use his nascent powers. They live in Beach City in the state of Delmarva; their home is an alternate version of Earth, the prehistoric Gem War apparently having knocked the planet's history off the course our primary world followed. The panel naturally spent a lot of time on gender issues, a central focus of the show, but there was much more to discuss. One of the series' dominant themes is reconciliation and redemption. We decided Steven's main "superpower" is empathy. Though still a child and far from perfect, he tries very hard to heal even the most unprepossessing "monsters." The very cartoonish art style belies the underlying seriousness of this animated Intimate Adventure program, so its complexities sneak up on the viewer. Do give it a try. The individual episodes are only about twelve minutes long after the commercials are stripped off. Be warned of "continuity lockout" after the first few episodes; the story really needs to be viewed in order.

My husband, Les, also appeared on two panels, one on submarines in science fiction and one on the phenomenon of high-tech magic, fantasy with scientific underpinnings or science so advanced it looks like magic. We attended another panel on submarines, a slide show presentation on real underwater craft of the nineteenth century (and a bit about Jules Verne's Nautilus). One session that delved particularly deeply into its topic tackled the challenge of creating realistic characters with PTSD. There was also a panel on "Writing Outside the Lines," about constructing characters unlike oneself (in gender, race, etc.), a complex and contentious issue.

Les and I participated in the group author signing and had fun talking to people, even though we didn't sell any copies of our books.

ChessieCon is highly book-oriented with lots of sessions slanted toward writers. It also has a full music track. If you live in or near Maryland, do consider joining us some year.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt