Sunday, July 30, 2017

Taking Names (And Violating Authors' Human Rights For Profit?)

By "taking names", I mean "taking" in the sense of misappropriating famous authors' and artists' real names or pen names, and without permission or compensation, taking and selling those names as advertising keywords.

In 2013, according to Penny Sansevieri of Author Marketing Experts, Amazon took the moral highground when debut authors attempted to exploit the names of celebrity authors (without permission) in order to market books.

Now, I hear, Amazon is cashing in, and selling celebrity author names as advertising keywords. Perhaps Jeff Bezos has (allegedly) lost his morals because Mark Zuckerberg is (allegedly) doing it? And getting away with it.

I am fairly confident that Amazon indeed may be selling names as keywords, because the Kindle advice forum is replete with advice on, for instance, how to pay Amazon to suggest to readers that ones writing is comparable to that of  JK Rowling.

I took Mark Zuckerberg's name in this context because Hypebot suggests that Facebook sells celebrity musicians' names as advertising keywords, and Hypebot quotes the "litigation risks" paragraphs from Facebook's own  2015 disclosures to investors as proof.

Facebook allegedly warns stockholders that American and international laws about the use of (presumably copyrighted) content, and the rights of publicity (that is persons' rights to their own names and likenesses) etc. etc. are still "evolving", and Facebook could be sued and lose--presumably massively-- in court(s).

Hypebot quotes Article 27 (2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.” 
In my opinion, that suggests that Facebook may violate artists' and creators' human rights for profit.  If that's what Facebook is getting away with, it looks like Amazon is getting away with it, too.

Facebook and Amazon probably have a high-placed friend in Senator Sensenbrenner (R WI ) who, according to The Trichordist, is proposing to strip copyright owners (at least, the beleaguered musical authors) of the right to statutory damages and to legal fees, even if they prevail in court in a copyright infringement action.

That will put an end to copyright infringement class action lawsuits against permissionless innovators!

In my opinion, authors and songwriters and musicians should be explicitly granted the right to opt in to having their names sold as advertising keywords (opt out is more onerous, and leads to problems of payment if the search engines "cannot find" someone) and they ought to be paid royalties every time their name is sold as a keyword.

Since that is rather unlikely, and might even require an Act of Congress, what's to be done about it?

The legal blog of FR Kelly discusses reasons to trademark your name, or the names of your children.

As they say, there may be money to be made from a name, so it is wise and prudent to make sure that the rightful owners of the name own the trademark. Otherwise, someone else could trademark the name first, and not only exploit it for profit, but also, prevent the rightful owner of the name from using it.

All the best,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Human Domestication

Here's a new article on the hypothesis that the human species may have domesticated itself:

How Humans Maybe Domesticated Themselves

"Tameness" (which the article loosely equates with "domestication," although they aren't quite the same thing) is here defined as "a reduction in reactive aggression — the fly-off-the-handle temperament that makes an animal bare its teeth at the slightest challenge." By this standard, we are fairly tame. "We might show great capacity for premeditated aggression, but we don’t attack every stranger we encounter. Sometime in the last 200,000 years, humans began weeding out people with an overdose of reactive aggression" (as theorized by Richard Wrangham, a Harvard University primatologist). Did we discover being nice to each other produced better results for the group as a whole? (Go figure.) Early humans, as they developed more complex social skills, may have joined forces to throw bullies out of the tribe.

Domestication tends to have visible effects on body structure as well as personality, e.g. changes in head shape, ears, tails, and coloration. For example, we can see obvious differences between the physical traits of dogs and wolves. The foxes in the famous Russian fur-farm taming experiment evolved over multiple generations to look more puppy-dog-like. Correspondingly, modern human beings look more "domestic" than Neanderthals. Becoming tamer may also have contributed to the development of language. It's known that domesticated songbirds have more complex songs than wild birds. Also, it makes sense (I suppose) that if people get along together rather than fighting a lot, they have a greater frequency of peaceful interactions in which to evolve a complex language. The article notes that at least one other primate species, bonobos, may have tamed itself, since they are notoriously less violent among themselves than their closest relatives, chimpanzees.

Recently, it has been theorized that dogs and cats effectively domesticated themselves, dogs by hanging around garbage dumps to scavenge food, cats by prowling into our granaries to hunt the rodents that devoured the grain. Animals innately less fearful of or aggressive toward people, a little more willing to accept human approach and touch, would have become better nourished and produced more offspring. Eventually, we invited those tamer animals into our homes. That scenario sounds more plausible than the earlier notion that human beings picked up stray cubs to bring home and raise, despite how much I enjoyed similar scenes of animal taming in the "Clan of the Cave Bear" series.

The "human self-domestication" possibility fits in with Jacqueline's post this week about reason developing as an adaptation to life in social groups. I much prefer this hypothesis over the concept popular in the 1960s, that we developed intelligence through the invention of weapons for killing and hunting, as proposed in the bestselling works of Robert Ardrey (AFRICAN GENESIS) and Desmond Morris (THE NAKED APE). Now that we know chimpanzees make tools, kill for meat, and wage "war" against bands of rival males, the "man the mighty hunter" origin of our species looks far less plausible. The self-domestication myth (in the sense of an origin story, not necessarily untrue) certainly strikes me as both more appealing and more plausible than the simplistic origin myth imagined in the prehistoric segment of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, where the alien monolith sparks hominid intelligence by showing the ape-men how to make weapons.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Plausible Path To Happily Ever After by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Plausible Path To Happily Ever After
 Jacqueline Lichtenberg 

A good part of the target readership for Romance (and all its sub-genres) just can not see the Happily Ever After endings that we favor as realistic.

We have discussed the "realistic" Happily Ever After previously:

But how does a writer craft a plot and a story that bring the reader to experience an HEA that the reader simply does not consider possible -- and perhaps does not consider desirable?

If the fiction lacks sufficient realism to be convincing, if it is too implausible even for a fantasy, or if it is a fantasy the readership scorns as unhealthy (which is how Science Fiction has been regarded), then the vital life lessons of Romance fiction will be lost.

Readers want to be convinced, but without giving up current beliefs.

Today, because of the condition of the world we live in, the Happily EVER After concept seems childish, and reading HEA style fiction seems mentally and emotionally unhealthy.  HFN, Happily For Now, seems far-fetched.

So there are several questions a writer has to answer for herself.  Most of the answers do not belong in the fiction being written -- but they must be woven into the worldbuilding behind the fiction, and then not mentioned.

These answers become the Characters' beliefs, the convictions the Characters won't change despite evidence to the contrary.

The HEA is the target that the "arrow" of the book must hit.

The most excited new fans of your work who will talk about it incessantly to their friends are the ones who "discover" the plausible, real-world, path to the HEA by reading your novel.

That won't happen if you set out to convince them that the HEA is real.  People don't read fiction to be "set straight" about their misconceptions.

A novel is not an argument with your readers.  It is, however, a "quest" -- a search, and a trail of breadcrumbs, clues about what questions to ask.

Fiction is not the mechanism to convey your answers to Life's Big Questions.

Fiction is the mechanism to pose Questions About Life.

Fiction questions reality.

As I've noted in previous entries here, writers write because they are bursting with something to say -- and writers write a specific genre because they have to say it to certain people.

That "bursting" point often comes when a new answer to an age-old question comes clear.  The writer has a new truth to impart to others.  But having a truth, and saying it, are not the same thing.

Novels are a conversation, often between a group of readers and a group of writers -- very much like a panel discussion at a Convention where writers answer questions from the audience and argue with the other writers while the audience is jumping up and down.

One signature trait of writers -- we all argue for a hobby.

But the trick to arguing is to direct your energies away from "winning" (e.g. changing the other person's mind to agree with yours) and toward posing questions that may (or may not) lead the other person to rethink their positions.  Of course, in the process, you might come to question your own position.  Thinking can be the most dangerous thing a human can do.

What if there really is no such thing as a Happily Ever After?

What if Happiness is not achievable? Remember: "What if..." is one of the key ingredients in science fiction, and this blog is about science fiction romance.

As noted previously in these entries, many times you can't change someone's mind on a subject because that someone did not ever make up his own mind.  Rather, people (having no energy to waste) adopt the opinions of others.  Once adopted, an opinion and whatever factoid is the excuse for holding the opinion, will lie unquestioned and unquestionable.

We discussed some of this here:

Where we cited research published in early 2017 confirming the psychological traits delineated by research in the early 1970's.

Speculation in Psychology is that human reasoning processes developed to facilitate the ability to "blend in" with the tribe or group, to keep domestic peace and direct energies toward fending off enemies, not fighting among ourselves.  Thus we adopt protective coloration of opinion -- and come to solemnly believe opinions that are not our own -- and come to resist to the death any "facts" that contradict the "opinion" that keeps our allies fighting for us, not against us.

This could be a good description of the old fashioned nuclear family.

I've said previously that family is rooted in privacy -- what happens in this house stays in this house.  The Family presents a united front to the community.  Don't air your dirty laundry in public.

See this article in the New Yorker Magazine:

The Stanford studies became famous. Coming from a group of academics in the nineteen-seventies, the contention that people can’t think straight was shocking. It isn’t any longer. Thousands of subsequent experiments have confirmed (and elaborated on) this finding. As everyone who’s followed the research—or even occasionally picked up a copy of Psychology Today—knows, any graduate student with a clipboard can demonstrate that reasonable-seeming people are often totally irrational. Rarely has this insight seemed more relevant than it does right now. Still, an essential puzzle remains: How did we come to be this way?

In a new book, “The Enigma of Reason” (Harvard), the cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber take a stab at answering this question. Mercier, who works at a French research institute in Lyon, and Sperber, now based at the Central European University, in Budapest, point out that reason is an evolved trait, like bipedalism or three-color vision. It emerged on the savannas of Africa, and has to be understood in that context.

Stripped of a lot of what might be called cognitive-science-ese, Mercier and Sperber’s argument runs, more or less, as follows: Humans’ biggest advantage over other species is our ability to coƶperate. Coƶperation is difficult to establish and almost as difficult to sustain. For any individual, freeloading is always the best course of action. Reason developed not to enable us to solve abstract, logical problems or even to help us draw conclusions from unfamiliar data; rather, it developed to resolve the problems posed by living in collaborative groups.

“Reason is an adaptation to the hypersocial niche humans have evolved for themselves,” Mercier and Sperber write. Habits of mind that seem weird or goofy or just plain dumb from an “intellectualist” point of view prove shrewd when seen from a social “interactionist” perspective.

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

Read the whole article and ponder this perspective when considering the nearly panic stricken rejection of the Happily Ever After ending by such a broad spectrum of the general public.

The threat of Happiness is somehow alarming.

Applying this research to the question of why Happiness would be a threat, you can see that being the ONLY happy couple in a sea of abject misery would make you (and your children) a target of resentment, rejection, and eventually ejection from the Group.

The miserable, or Happy Only Temporarily (HFN or Happy For Now) couples might number among them a majority of jealous types who might think the Happy Couple is happy because of "things" (nice house, car, job) that couple has that others don't have.

Perhaps the Happy Couple would be seen as having happiness they don't deserve.

QUESTION: what can a human do to "deserve" happiness?

There's a Romance Plot in that question -- depict a Couple doing what it takes (regardless of personal cost) to earn Happiness and then actually getting what they think they earned.

Perhaps the majority of the miserable couples would believe the Happy Couple is happy because of what they own.  But, "You Didn't Build That" -- you  have success only by utilizing the hard, sweaty, miserable work of the vast majority who actually pay for the roads and bridges, electricity generating dams, and other infrastructure.  Therefore, what you earn is not yours but belongs to everyone.

QUESTION: Is the emotion of "happiness" a consequence of possessions?

There's a Romance plot in that.  The US Constitution is predicated on the idea that humans, by right of being human, are entitled to PURSUE Happiness, but not necessarily to attain it.  It's the theory of "equality of opportunity" but not "equality of outcome."  A great moral argument lies in that -- the sort that can make or break marriages.

Think again about that scientific research about human cognition.  It exists to allow us to blend in, to adopt others opinions and assumptions, to knuckle under, to avoid conflict with those we depend upon by never (ever) changing our minds.

To discard the opinion of the Group (because of a newly discovered fact) is literally suicidal -- unthinkable to a sane person.  There's too much at stake - spouse, kids, career, social standing, entre to higher circles.  Facts are nothing but false information.  True information reinforces alliances with the Group.

Hard facts, the "Cold Equations" of reality do not figure into beliefs, unless the one person ("Leader" maybe, or priest or pundit) who calls the tune actually takes hard facts into account.

QUESTION: Does being that "Leader" of thought guarantee Happiness, or Happily Ever After?

There's a Romance Plot in that: consider a Couple that first met inside a Cult (like, for example, the Manson Cult) and saw it was headed for suicide.  Suppose that Happy Couple managed to escape.  Would the Cult Leader who lost that Couple, and all of his followers, still be "Happy?"  Were they ever Happy?  Could the Couple reach a "Happily Ever After" by having escaped?  Can they find a community where almost all the Couples are "Happily Ever After" achievers?

There's the problem the modern Romance writer faces.  We are writing for a readership living alone, disconnected, among a vast sea of troubled and dysfunctional couples with children. Many readers are teens feeling trapped in a dysfunctional family, having never encountered a functional family.

There is a huge percentage of people who do not have experience of observing a family being functional.  They don't have a mental model of what functional families feel and sound like.  "Leave It To Beaver" and "The Brady Bunch" did a disservice in that functionality was depicted as a bit too "rosy."

The bliss promised at the wedding is never sustained through children, school, extracurricular carpooling, job layoffs, skyrocketing bills and decreasing income.

We discussed that at some length here:

And also in the context of the Wedding itself in Why Do We Cry At Weddings, which is two parts inside the larger Theme-Symbolism Integration series?

So again, think of that fully functional, Happily Ever After Family embedded in a community of miserable or broken families mired in dysfunctionality.

Do you, as a writer, have in your real life a "model" -- real life people -- who are currently living a Happily Ever After life?  Do you know a family where the elders are dying off after having lived a Happily Ever After (Norman Rockwell painting style) perfect life?  Do you know a family where the elders are dying off and the younger generation and its children are carrying on the tradition of the Happily Ever After perfect life?

Is that family living alone amidst a sea of miserable families and family-fragments?

Given that cognitive research cited above, I rather imagine that the only environment where you will find HAPPILY EVER AFTER families is one where the vast majority of families in the community are also living happily ever after.

Why would that be?

Birds of a feather flock together?  (OK, you all know how I just love cliche).

It's not enough (for humans -- Aliens is a different discussion) for one, single, lonely family to live "Happily Ever After."  Either they move away to join a happy community, or they create one around themselves -- or they make it to Happily For Now and no further.

That's right, real Romance fiction has to come in long series of long novels, like Gini Koch's ALIEN series.  Life is crafted one step at a time, and the more beautiful and happy the goal of those steps may be, the more fierce the opposition, just as Gini Koch has depicted.

Gini has her Characters at the stage of married with two children, and building a Family By Choice.  The married couple adopts, then fosters, then allies with other couples with children, until their community numbers in the dozens -- possibly hundreds.

If the goal of the Romance experience, (finding a love interest, cultivating a Relationship, maybe living with each other, planning a future) is to reach the Happily Ever After steady state of life, then the goal of Romance is Family.

Usually, the Romance novel ends at "I love you," or "Will you marry me?" or perhaps at the Wedding and all the relatives crying at the wedding, dancing the night away and eating chocolate cake with white frosting.

We get a glimpse of the potential future where nothing goes wrong.

Usually, the concept of children is just an abstraction, and the idea of raising children is pictured without screaming, feverish nights, teething, sibling rivalry, or one having to give up a career to follow the other to a better paying job.

Most young people looking for that first serious Romantic Encounter would not have in mind the image of such a strife-ridden Family, torn this way and that by finances and illness, sagging under the burdens of pregnancy and armfuls of infants when thinking of Happiness.

Young people don't regard a long life dotted with brief moments of contentment as Happily Ever After.

Our culture does not now provide an image of Happiness amidst challenges, adversity, or the long-long haul of endurance necessary to build something lasting -- a family dynasty that produces productive and industrious people who know how to be happy in circumstances that most people would view as inherently miserable.

As we looked at the singular Family that is Happily Ever After embedded in a community of misery, we noted how some people view possessions or financial circumstances as the root source of happiness.  This view is reinforced and encouraged by modern media and currently published Romance novels (of all mixed genre types).

Get some physical thing, or a job or income level, title, prestige, social position, -- garner the admiration of others for your art, or whatever you pride yourself on -- and your entire inner self will switch from dark misery to bright joy.

The Commercial Establishment encourages this with things like "Mother's Day" and "Father's Day" both holidays created and sustained by mercantile interests.  Buy something = Make Someone Happy.  Christmas likewise = Buy A Child A Toy And MAKE them happy.  MAKE being the operative word.

The grain of truth behind the connection between material wealth and happiness is what makes it possible to found an entire culture on this assumption.

Now put together this Material Things Make Happiness cultural assumption with the psychological studies indicating the purpose and point of human cognition and fact-free opinion forming.

Once convinced that finding the RIGHT GIFT will force someone who is miserable to become happy -- no fact will change that opinion.

It becomes an opinion upon which life itself hangs.  We must give children gifts on Christmas or they will be scarred for life.  Likewise material gifts at birthdays, back to school, etc become a habit to give and a habit to receive.

How is it even remotely possible to conceptualize an entire LIFE lived "Happily Ever After" if "happiness" is absolutely dependent on material objects owned?

The TV News is filled with images of tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes etc wiping out entire houses, villages, families.  War slaughters so many, how can the bereaved emerge "happy" (never mind ever after).

TV News is full of Great People -- people with multiple Titles, heads of corporations, towering prize winners, toppled from grace by an injudicious email or phone call.

Given this tangible vision of how fragile possessions and position are in this life, how can "Ever After" have any meaning?

How is it possible to life Happily Ever After when at any moment the entire life built with such arduous effort can be just wiped out?

In a group culture that "believes" happiness is caused by things, and given human nature is to resist to the death allowing facts to alter beliefs, where are you going to find readers to accept (nevermind believe in) the HEA and thus Romance that is not just sexual lust run amok?

Think about that and maybe you can see why Science Fiction is the right genre to "cross" into Romance to depict the Happily Ever After.

Science Fiction is the Literature of Ideas, and the core Idea common to almost all science fiction is "Suspension of Disbelief."

Right now, the majority readership of Romance disbelieves in the HEA.

Add science fiction to Romance, and suspend their Disbelief.

Then ask some of those pesky questions about human nature and the construct we call reality.  Show (don't tell) a Character noticing a Functional Family embedded in a community of miserable families.  Ferret out that happy family's secret, the thing that makes them different, the Idea that lets them experience "happiness" amidst misery.

A war-torn city is one setting that lends itself to this investigation.

A drug-saturated Inner City that's Gang Dominated is another such setting.

Or as Gini Koch chose, Washington DC and the duplicitous swamp works well as a backdrop for a functional family.

Fiction is an art form like all others that depends on contrast to become vividly memorable.

Let contrast between emotional tenor of the foreground Characters and the tangled, dark threat/misery of the background setting rev up the power of your novels.

Why do we cry at weddings? Is it because we see all the sadness to come?  Or is it because we can't tolerate the brightness of real happiness?

Perhaps the disbelief in the Happily Ever After is rooted in the Idea that the physical body (all Romance Leading Females are "beautiful" and all males "Handsome") is a material possession.  We live in a culture of body building and weight loss Icons -- as if the shape and form of your physical body is something you get to CHOOSE.

We see the physical body as the source of Happiness.  You have to have the right shape, and the right clothes (or absence thereof), the right hair in length and color, and the right "moves" in grace and power.

The physical body is a thing you acquire by hard work (starving, exercise, expensive face "work" and capped teeth.)

With this focus on the appearance of the body delineating the place in the Group, in society, in career, it is small wonder that "Happiness" is regarded as arising from the physical appearance.

Here is another "read" on our current culture as of Spring 2017 by none other than a Rasmussen poll.

Fewer Americans see motherhood as a woman's most important role.  Also note the birthrate is alarmingly low in the United States.

Today, career is more important even than pregnancy (despite research showing a pregnant woman's stress level adversely affects fetus) -- but some companies are hiring pregnant employees some help.  This means mothers are not only out-sourcing infant care and childhood education ( day nurses, and daycare) but now also out-sourcing decision making about pregnancy itself.

In 2014, we had 1.86 live births per woman - that is a fast shrinking population. 2.0/woman would be break-even, not growth.  The population is still growing because of longevity, but at about the rate the economy is growing.  Anyone who understands the dynamics of these connections, and who equates happiness with material possessions, will see a bleak future, not a happily ever after one.

Here is an interactive graph with loads of information on population growth.

And if you believe the cultural assumption that the material body is the source of happiness and that motherhood is not the woman's most important role, it is obvious that the fleeting appeasement of the sexual appetite is the correct model for the achievement of Happiness.

It is clear why an entire culture has adopted (eagerly) the equating of Romance with Great Sex.

Great Sex equals Happiness.

And since Great Sex is a truly fleeting experience, then likewise the only possibility for happiness is the HFN.  If something else doesn't go wrong in the bedroom, then age will wipe out, or at least reduce, the Great Sex.  You have to be careful not to have children because crying infants tend to reduce the frequency of Great Sex, so then you won't be happy.  

QUESTION: What if sexual satisfaction has no relationship whatsoever to Happiness?  Would the Happily Ever After ending then make sense?

There's a Romance plot in that question.  What sort of Romance can the severely wounded war veteran have if sexuality is eliminated?

Or flip that around, and use the "Arranged Marriage" scenario where two complete strangers share a wedding night -- and dutifully have sex to produce a pregnancy and an heir.  What could ignite Romance between them?

There are many novels on the market today that explore love (and hate) that grows after an arranged marriage -- but many more about escaping an arranged marriage for the arms of Romance.

Also marriages that are "for convenience" - a business deal - form the basis of many Romances.

Arranged Marriages usually involve aristocracy, often Monarchy.  So the details focus on a unique couple with unique problems -- as the scenario discussed above where the happy couple lives amidst miserable families.

But what if all the marriages of everyone the couple knows have been arranged?  And what if the norm, the vast majority, of those families are indeed happy, stable amidst challenges, losses, bereavements, and attacks by hostiles?

Suppose this community is the last shred of humanity alive in this galaxy, and the marriages are arranged by an A.I. -- maybe not the single power running the whole show, but an A.I. specialist in choosing humans to mate both for genetics and for happiness.  Could an A.I. pair Soul Mates?

To use that artistic trick of contrast, you would have to tell the story of that one miserable family amidst a sea of happiness, and the temptation would be to tell the story of how all those happy couples are really victims of horrendous misery, tricked into a dull and manipulated life.

To turn that story to science fiction, you have to reverse that situation and convince your readers that all those A.I. dominated human families actually ARE happy, and living happily ever after.  You have to show don't tell how the single miserable family is outcast because they don't "buy into" whatever belief system is sustaining the culture's happiness (according to the psychological research cited above).

The writer's temptation is to prove that the miserable family is correct and to break that culture out of its A.I. domination.

But first imagine what you'd have to build into their world that would bring the miserable family into the HEA all the other families are living?  Then try to develop a way to sell that entire concept to a modern readership.  How could you get today's readers to root for the miserable couple to join the happy majority instead of exposing their happiness as a fraud?

How could you make that miserable family's journey to happiness seem so plausible and so desirable that the modern reader would be rooting for their success and then be satisfied with the ending?

There are two ways to do this.  Either choose a story and find a readership for it, or choose a readership and craft a story that expresses their most dearly held beliefs.

Who believes in the HEA?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Piracy Where You Least Expect It

Apple is alleged to be one of the better actors when one is thinking of Big Tech and copyright infringement, and exploitation of authors and musicians.

In recent weeks, there are rumors that ebook pirates have been self publishing other authors' works on the i-Tunes or i-Books platform.

Apples has a link for authors and publishers to report piracy of their work, and Apple is promising to remove the "bad apples" (dreadful pun intended).

One hopes that EBay and Google and Facebook will be inspired to take a leaf out of Apple's book!

Facebook appears to be recommending a new site "TeamAftermind" as legitimate. If it is offering my books for free, I would say that it is a pirate site.

All the best,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Metamorphosis of Journalism

Earlier this year, the Toronto STAR ran an article by Catherine Wallace, winner of the 2016-2017 Atkinson Fellowship (a journalism award), about the whirlwind changes currently happening in the field of journalism:

Journalists Are Vanishing

The traditional media outlets, especially newspapers, are no longer the only source of news. For many people, they aren't the primary source, and some don't read old-fashioned newspapers at all (a practice that seems incredible to me—give up my morning papers? never!). The traditional media used to be the "gatekeepers" of information, as Wallace puts it. Now we get news and opinions from many different sources in addition to printed papers, not only broadcast programs (TV and radio) but a variety of Internet formats such as blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and videos filmed by ordinary citizens. In Wallace's words, "My smartphone is a 24-hour news feed — a newspaper, magazine, computer, radio, TV and town square in a single mobile device." The Internet has blurred if not abolished the distinction between content providers and audience. Journalism is "no longer an industry, now an ecosystem." What have we lost or gained with the passing of the former status quo?

The Internet makes it possible for anyone to publish anything. Wallace applauds the "democratization of news and information." We can all express our opinions publicly. The news "ecosystem" has become diverse rather than monolithic. We have "countless witnesses to big events" instead of just the official line.

On the negative side, she mentions the loss of jobs in the field of journalism, a decline that endangers the objectivity we used to expect from the traditional news media. The Internet is swamped by information, but much of it is "raw." Traditionally, reporters and editors made sense of this flood of information (and misinformation). And then there's the "bubble" effect (though Wallace doesn't use that term), in which it has become too easy to surround ourselves with information and opinion sources that reinforce what we already believe. We're in danger of consuming "fake news" and "alternative facts" without checks and balances. Wallace draws particular attention to the role of traditional news sources in reporting on local community events and issues. That's one reason why I'll never drop our subscription to the local paper, even though, since it was bought by the company that owns the Baltimore SUN, the two publications print a lot of the same articles.

Wallace's long essay contains lots of thought-provoking observations and is well worth reading in its entirety.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Reviews 32 - C.J. Cherryh and Gini Koch In The Same Breath by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Reviews 32
C. J. Cherryh and Gini Koch In The Same Breath
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

This blog series posting on Tuesdays is about Science Fiction Romance, how to write it, where to find it. and why this mixed genre is significant in the sweep of human history, or future history.

So, because we focus on writing craft, we have to analyze many novels -- some having science fiction elements, some having romance plots, and some with fragments of each buried within the Depiction.

Reading this year, and watching TV Science Fiction/Fantasy, I've noted many deep themes laced through it all.  Romance is surfacing, like a submarine, just showing a conning tower right now.

Romance is the bedrock of the Love Story - and Love is the binding tie of civilization, the cultures that make up a civilization, and the organized governmental entities that are formed by civilizations.

We have a number of countries around the world where we are noticing a "failed state" -- a government that can not keep law and order.

We see small examples of that in the USA big cities -- the shooting wars between gangs, some of them international gangs, fighting over territory to sell drugs, and slaves, or kidnap children to sell, or harvest organs to sell.  These international cartels are also harvesting our disregarded geniuses to work as hackers, trying to bring down whatever system they target.

Living against that backdrop, your readers thirst for a good "take me away from it all" or "rescue me" Romance.

But many young readers are entering the "kick butt and break out of here" head-space.  They are just fed up with being victims.  They want stories about women who rescue themselves, and maybe rescue their guy while they are at it, put the world to rights and maybe save the galaxy in their spare time.

Feminism is loud and boisterous today, but under that there is a recognizable trend of women who don't need liberating because they've never been enslaved.  They are adopting feminine flattering fashions, working ambitious jobs, and having kids.  These women will read Romance, but also play kick-butt video games as proficiently as their male peers.

These young women are looking for the strategy and tactics of living a good, honorable life, raising kids to be indomitable adults.

Counterpoint to that, current publishing markets are noticing the rise of the "Cozy Mystery" that we discussed here previously.  And the news is full of campus movements for safe spaces, stress free living, safety from emotional challenges while learning.  There is a readership looking for stories that do not challenge them to change their minds.  Mother's Day 2017 produced this article - the title says it all.  Parental Burnout is real.
So you see two market trends in conflict.

Always remember Conflict Is The Essence Of Story.  As I employ the terminology, Plot is the sequence of deeds and events, while Story is the effect of the Plot's Because-Line of Events on a given Character (how that Character interprets the significance of the consequences of an action) -- which powers the Character-Arc, the way the Character learns basic life lessons in the school of hard knocks, suffers growing pains, and matures in outlook.

Maturing often means changing your mind or opinion about some vast philosophical abstract subject (God Is Real or God Is Fictional Ploy To Control Me).  Changing our minds is one thing humans (as individuals or whole societies) resist to the death.

Life's hard pounding Events, disillusionment, betrayals by lovers, betrayals by politicians who promise anything to get elected, overcome that resistance to changing our minds.

Novel plots are made of a sequence of Events that pound a lesson into some Character's head and force the Character to face the Ultimate Truth they would rather die than face.

This is the kind of change we call maturation.  But resistance to maturation has produced another old adage (good plotting is made of challenges to old adages) -- "As We Grow Old, We Do Not Grow Different, We Grow Moreso."

In other words, whatever base personality you are born with emerges at first just a little bit, and then as age sets in, that personality becomes more dominant.  Depicting that kind of change is called a Character Arc.

We have two (among many) writers topping the charts today who are producing long Series that chronicle the "Arc" of a Character from adult immaturity to seasoned Age.

Both series now have brought their Characters to middle-aged mindsets.  One series started with a hot Romance, and still (in married with children stage) features really hot Alien Sex.  The other started with a Career Move achieved after much striving within a University, dealt with isolation and loneliness, and forged a solid human/alien sexual and intimate Relationship that has reached stability.

Both these series feature the Family Unit embedded in an extended family.

Both depict how family and ancestry shape and direct a Character's life, and how that may be passed down to the next generation.

They are both Action Series of galactic proportions.

In early 2017, we got the 18th and 15th entries in these two whopping wonderful Series:

They are both tightly focused on a Human/Alien Love Story.

In the Foreigner Series by C. J. Cherryh, the Aliens are the natives of the planet a stray ship full of humans happened upon.

In the Alien Series by Gini Koch, the Humans own Earth and the Aliens happened upon us and planted a colony of refugees.

In both series, the colonists are in the midst of being caught up with by those they were leaving behind (generations ago).

The Conflict and "action" battle scenes are generated by the pursuit, while the two varieties of people living on one planet seem to get along fairly well.

In other words, both (long) series in totally different worlds, circumstances and Alien biologies, are Refugee Stories.

At the same time, both are Generational Sagas spanning many generations.

Both follow family-genetic relationships and descendants while at the same time embedding the Main Characters deeply into a Chosen Family (as my sometime collaborator, Jean Lorrah, calls the Sime~Gen Householdings).

Yes, I write Generational Sagas about genetic vs chosen family.  The reason is probably that I love to read that kind of story -- a story of long-term consequences, the ripples in Time caused by innocent decisions, the Disturbance In The Force as Characters learn hard lessons.

Both the Foreigner Series and the Alien Series are about Characters under extreme stress, learning fast, running for their lives making snap decisions and suffering the consequences -- and changing their minds about what they perceive as "what is really going on."

These are both very popular series, and they are about exactly the sort of situation and Character that a huge percentage of the population find odious.

Nobody wants to find out their thinking is completely wrong-headed.  How would you feel if confronted with absolute proof that Climate Change is not the result of human activity at all?  Not at all!  What notions embedded in your entire view of reality would have to be uprooted and discarded?
You pick up a Romance Novel to get away from that kind of stress or threat of stress.  You want to feel that if everything isn't wonderful right now, it will surely be wonderful tomorrow.

You want to ride with a Character who is finally-finally meeting that special, specific Someone whose very existence will make everything wonderful.

When in the mood for a Romance, you don't want the complications that a Family adds -- yet the characters came from somewhere and if the Romance pans out, will likely have children and grandchildren.  In fact, even if the Romance does not pan out, they might have children and grandchildren to complicate the families they do marry into.

Families are an irritation and an inconvenience.  In fact, many feel that Family is an impediment to happiness.  Just think of the angst surrounding that invitation to Thanksgiving Dinner.  Or remember that the "Home For Christmas" commercial that was a heart-warmer for so many years no longer runs -- and there's a reason for that.

The real life experience of your readers is that Family is a Pain In The Neck -- they don't want to deal with their Mother or Father.

Check out recent TV Series that depict someone with a Parent nosing into their affairs.  The Parent is always a source of disruption, difficulty, maybe embarrassment.  In ROYAL PAINS
the father of the brothers running Hankmed concierge medical practice abandoned his family leaving the boys to take care of a dying mother, is known as a confidence man, spent time in jail, and through interacting with his grown boys now, finally starts to "reform" -- but we're never wholly convinced.

Find a currently popular TV Series where the parents appear on the show, and are admired, emulated and loved dearly.

In the TV Drama about Lawyers, Suits, we have an aging Grandmother who is beloved and emulated (sort of), but who dies early in the series.  Her teachings of morality are repeated but not lived up to.

In fact, the entire "Characters Welcome" showcase on USA Network never involved a warm, loving, "Leave It To Beaver" or "Brady Bunch" family.

I have raved about all of these "Blue Sky" TV Series because they formed the basic Character Study necessary for good Science Fiction Romance -- the plot dynamics were rooted in Relationships while the Action was just decoration.

Now, the newest crop of TV Series might be called Dark Skies, not Blue Skies.  This trend will reverse, but for now this is the reflection of reality the large TV (broadcast and streaming) audiences accept as plausible depictions.

I keep using that word, depiction, because we've discussed it at depth.  Here is the index to the Depiction Series:

Here is Part 27 in that Series

While I suspect Gini Koch's Alien Series will make it to the TV Series screen (the writing is intensely visual and feeds the Gamer's thirst for action), I would be surprised if the intricate family relationships survive translation into the broader audience.

No matter how big a Best Seller a book might be, the viewership of a TV show is orders of magnitude bigger.  Best Selling books may sell a few hundred thousand copies -- a failure of a TV Series reaches a few million viewers.

That's why novels converted to movie or TV become so distorted -- the larger audience just will not tolerate what thrills the smaller audiences.

You find the same phenomenon with self published novels.  Some self published novels are BETTER than anything that can be commercially published because the self publishing writer can please a smaller audience, and thus afford to please that smaller audience more intensely.

Today's larger society is slowly abandoning the Nuclear Family life-structure (Father/Mother/Children), and with each couple having fewer children, the extended family structure of Aunts, Uncles, Cousins numbering in the hundreds does not exist.

That Extended Family structure often breeds the phenomenon of the Tribe or Clan -- a group so large that no one person knows everyone, but yet accords others in the Group the respect due a sibling or parent.  A Tribe or Clan usually develops a Leader, often an eldest or richest, who passes down the adages that reveal ultimate truth.

Adages (which quickly become cliche) are sayings you memorize (reluctantly) in childhood, and firmly disbelieve until Middle Age when the truth inside them is finally revealed.  A Stitch In Time Saves Nine.  It's Just Growing Pains.  Pick On Someone Your Own Size.

The set of all adages absorbed in childhood constitutes the framework of a culture -- it is one firm thing everyone you know has in common.

What happens in the Family, Stays In the Family.

The essence of Family is privacy.  We present a united front to the world, but bicker endlessly behind closed doors.  Bickering is the Sport of Families.

Bickering is an expression of familial Love.

Think about that.  Strife is a binding force in human society.

So many of your readers have never met a functional family, never lived inside one, never made the acquaintance of the middle child of a brood of nine or more, and simply do not have a set of Adages in common with you, or with anyone they know.

Family has been the core of human civilization for thousands of years, but now family members are the last people you want involved in your life.

At the same time, statistics show that families without a live-in Father produce children who tend to join Gangs and adopt a dog-eat-dog lifestyle.

Science is telling us, firmly and unequivocally, that Family is important for societies, yet at the same time genetics editing and artificial wombs are being developed that will shatter what family ties remain.

These crosscurrents in society are the main substance of Science Fiction Romance.

Science is studying brains, spirits, and family formation.  But the plot is Romance.

Romance happens when a child grows up and bursts forth from a family into the world.  It is a stage of transformation into adulthood and maturity.

Romance can also happen at the end of life -- September Song.

Romance is the expression of the meaning of Family, and the essence of Family is Privacy.

Think about that as you recall what you learned of Plato's writings while you were in school.

Plato was born around 428 BCE (four hundred years before Jesus).

This from Wikipedia:
Along with his teacher, Socrates, and his most famous student, Aristotle, Plato laid the very foundations of Western philosophy and science. Alfred North Whitehead once noted: "the safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato."
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Plato grew up in a world where the Jews were emerging from obscurity into becoming a force in the Middle East (look at the map: little wooden ships sailed from what is now Israel or Lebanon to Greece easily).  The Middle East was the neighboring trading partner to Plato's Greece.

Judah returned from exile in 539 BCE. Israel became a province of Persia under the priests. In 428 CE, Ezra brought the Torah from Babylon to Jerusalem, effectively marking the beginnings of modern Jewish religion. Ezra was a priest who reorganized the Israelite state politically, and organized the new religious system that included study of the Torah: he is known as the "Father of Judaism." Nehemiah, a court official in Persia, returned slightly later to rebuild the city walls and the temple in Jerusalem: this is the "Second Temple" in Jerusalem (the first temple was built by Solomon), so one speaks of "Second Temple Judaism."

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

Imagine the flourishing Trade economy, the politics, the wars, that framed Plato's productive years, the family adages he absorbed, and the hammering that "life" gave him.

Now consider this from a Biography of a famous Jew of the 20th Century: (I'm breaking the paragraphs to make it easier to read on this blog, but it is a direct quote from this Biography telling of an incident where a fellow named Block met The Rebbe, the head of a Chasidic sect in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Remember, we're talking about Family and how themes regarding Family lace two major novel series together, Foreigner and Alien.  Read this quote and think about how those two novel series would have to be changed to make them into TV Series.

"Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History" by Joseph Telushkin

In the circles in which Block moved at Harvard, Plato was regarded with the highest respect, representing the epitome of high culture and civilization. But the Rebbe had a different take on Plato’s writings: He spoke of Platonic philosophy as cruel.

“That’s the word he used, ‘cruel,’” Block recalled in an interview decades later.

What upset the Rebbe in particular was Plato’s social philosophy, his advocacy of the abolition of the nuclear family and his belief that children should be taken away from their parents. Plato claimed that parents influence children to be egotistical, and it would be better if children were raised without knowledge of their parents, as wards of the state.

For Judaism, the family was central, as expressed in the Fifth Commandment; for Plato, the family was destructive.

Although everything Block heard that day about Plato was accessible to anyone who read through his writings, this critique was new to the young philosophy student. He had never heard it offered at Vanderbilt or Harvard, the two universities where he had studied. Yet, as he sat there, he realized it was unarguable (it was clearly expressed in Plato’s writings, though academics ignored it) and that the implications were immense and far-reaching.

In addition to the obvious ills that resulted from alienating children "from their parents, an attack on the family was also the source of totalitarian ideologies. Once you raise a generation of children to be more loyal to the state than to their families, there is no limit to what you can demand of them. In the Soviet Union, as the Rebbe, who had lived under Communist rule, knew, the government glorified children who informed on their parents and sometimes brought about the imprisonment—or worse—of their parents for making anti-Communist remarks or showing opposition to the state.

Raise people to not feel love or loyalty to their parents, and it will not be easy for them to feel love or loyalty to anyone else—only to the state.

The cruelty of Plato’s thinking, the Rebbe emphasized that day, was not just in breaking up the family unit. It was in depriving children of parental love. For it is the parents, not the state and its functionaries, who have a genuine love for their children. And depriving children of this love, which is their due, was perhaps Plato’s greatest cruelty.

Block recalled that a few years later, a philosopher with respected academic credentials stunned the world of philosophy by writing about these aspects of Plato’s writings. In the book, he depicted Plato’s social philosophy as “cruel.” Block remembered being struck by the philosopher’s use of this term, the same word used by the Rebbe. The book caused a furor, but what really impressed Block was that “nobody ever refuted it in any way.” However, as Block recalled, all that this professionally trained philosopher, a man who devoted his whole life to philosophy, had done was “to say the same thing that the Rebbe told me years earlier.”

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Have we become Plato's envisioned world?  Is that why the general public rejects the notion of the Happily Ever After ending?

We have discussed Plato's view of the rise of Biblical culture in the neighboring lands previously.  He had good reason to view "Honor Your Father And Mother" with horror and perhaps panic.

That epoch of human pre-history could be characterized as a war between pro-family and anti-family cultures.

Until Greece invented Democracy (and later Rome, the Republic), the only forms of government were Kingdoms and Empires, a family based aristocracy in which ordinary people had no say in the direction of their lives.

Kings and Aristocrats got to be the bosses by owning land, which they acquired by killing more people, more savagely than anyone else.  Then their children inherited and perpetuated the iron-fisted bossing.

So, since aristocracy was nothing but family and family connections, it is perfectly sensible for Plato to see the only hope of humanity as the destruction of the family.  What other sources of information did he have?  The family constituted the greatest source of Evil in his world - so advocating its destruction of the family was his way of being kind, not cruel.

But now we can see the results of the disintegration of the Family at the core of society, and the devastating effects on the human psyche.  Today we have information and we have options.  We are not doomed to practice the profession or craft of our parents.

We are free.

So what do we do with that freedom?  

We now live in a society where marriage is optional, parents are to be shunned especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and nobody is personally responsible for the behavior of anyone over 18 years of age.

Note how many of the mass-shooting-rampage perpetrators are characterized as "loners" -- nice folks, mind their own business, but no friends or visitors.  If they live with a parent, the parent has no clue what they've been up to in the basement or online.

Disconnecting leads to suicidal and homicidal angst, or to connecting with Gangs, criminals, thugs, and power-makes-right folks.

We know that Love Conquers All -- but how, in this case, can it conquer the disintegrated family?  Children raised without Parental Love may experience Romance -- but the fluff-headed blur of Romance turn to true Love?

We see neurological studies (yes, SCIENCE fiction romance can include the sciences of neurology and genetics as well as physics) showing how the brain's neurons forge connections because of experiences (learning).  Is there a certain brain configuration that allows us to believe in, and actualize, the Happily Ever After?

One of the things I love about C. J. Cherryh's Foreigner Series is the way she depicts a very amenable alien species based on a civilization without "love" -- an alien physiology that forms strong emotional bonds but literally can not comprehend the concept of Love, not Romantic Love or Brotherly Love or any form of Love.

We also know now that genes may or may not "express" the trait they configure.

We know that early experiences, maybe in the womb but surely during infancy, shape the brain's development and ultimately the adult who will emerge from that childhood.  Experiences shape genetic expression and neurological pathways -- humans are extremely malleable, adaptable.  That is one primary survival trait of the human species.

Can Romance reconnect the "loner" -- the child of a shattered or dysfunctional family -- to the rest of humanity?  Or is that what is happening as families disintegrate and children gravitate toward Gangs, end up in jail and become part of a self-perpetuating criminal culture?

Is the human need and impulse to "bond" as strong as a newly hatched chick to "imprint" on a parent?

The Greeks and Romans used to "expose" defective newborns on the city wall, leaving them to die.  Some were "rescued" -- grew up bonding to some stranger.  Are we the descendants of those improbable survivors?

Gini Koch's 2017 entry in her Alien Series, Alien Education, focuses sharply on the doings of schools, PTA, Teachers, teenagers, and what happens in a world where a multiplicity of Alien species raise their children in the same school.

Has Gini Koch depicted our world of bonded and non-bonded and un-bonded humans by inventing alien species to represent us all?  Are we that alienated from each other?

In these two, long and complex novel Series, we have one of the most profound sources of thematic material for science fiction romance.  I recommend reading both series while thinking carefully and precisely about what Family means to humans.

What forces form and hold families together -- what forces rip them asunder -- and most importantly, which is the Good and which is the Evil?

Is your family relevant to your life?  Why?  Is that even an important question when it comes to Romance?  "Who" are you?  Does your family define you?  Or do you define it?  Are you a victim? Or a kickass heroine?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Loud Money

If it is true that "money talks", then megabucks funding probably talks a lot more loudly than romance authors' advance money.

Fortune Magazine discusses the power of financial incentives over some academics' writings.

To digress into science: Is it possible that there are few financial incentives for talking about the effects on sea temperature and atmospheric carbon levels of the underwater volcanic eruptions in Tonga?

And, to whimsically toss some politicians into the abyss: There's not a lot, one presumes, that "Paris" and the G-19 can do about underwater volcanoes.... Would Hollywood write a "Deep Impact" or "Asteroid" or "Space Cowboys" type science fiction movie involving plugging submarine magma flows?

By the way, if the sfr authors in our alien-romances audience have not considered The Weather Channel as a source of inspiration, maybe look at their "strangest weather" series for alien worlds' weather.

A similar premise (about the power of filthy lucre over opinion-leaders) was penned by the indefatigable Editor Charlie.

Charlie seems to suggest that very rich indeed people can pay for an authoritative-seeming opinion to be written, and then cite that opinion as proof they they are not being wicked. (This is the kicker at the very end of Charlie's enchanting article. Do read it!)

MTP covers the matter, also.

The Trichordist muses that there are over 200 academic papers about copyright, trust/antitrust matters and more that do not disclose that they were funded by an interested party, and upon which government policy-makers may have relied.

The musicians and songwriters were more fascinating than the cloud of blogging lawyers this week!

All the best,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Reading Material Triage

Do you keep all the books you buy? I've heard of some people who go to the opposite extreme and give away almost every book as soon as they've read it. Shudder—I would never think of doing that. For one thing, I often reread, and even if I don't think I'll want to reread a given book, I might change my mind later. Moreover, I've owned books (or individual stories within anthologies) that I didn't finish when they were new but returned to later. Also, as a lit-crit person (even though I haven't done much nonfiction writing lately), I never know what I might need to refer to in the future. Then there are readers who keep and discard selectively. They might hang onto a core collection of especially valued items and give away or donate most other books. Some people weed out their hard-copy collections and replace favorite works with e-books.

Once, while my husband was in the Navy, he and I attended a party at the home of another naval officer. As I wandered from room to room in the public areas—everywhere except bedrooms—I started to wonder, "Where are all their books?" This man was a college graduate; that's a prerequisite for being an officer. I assume his wife was, too. Yet I did not see a single book. This happened long before e-books, so they couldn't have been paperless purists as some readers are nowadays. (Another attitude completely alien to me. I buy e-books from time to time, mainly when the item isn't available in print or is MUCH cheaper in electronic format, but I love my hard-copy books and enjoy accumulating them. No worries about the battery charge running out! Much easier to flip to a page I want to reread!)

I belong to the "keeper" school of thought. I never get rid of books. We owned a couple of thousand, almost all paperbacks, when my husband joined the Navy in 1971. The number has multiplied several times over since then. During our Navy moves, we culled small items and sometimes furniture. We never discarded a book, though. Somehow, our personal property shipments never ran over the weight limit. Now that we've lived in one house for over twenty years without a move, there hasn't been any pressure to get rid of anything. (Which, admittedly, can generate a storage problem with objects other than books.)

And what about magazines? Do you throw them into the recycling bin after reading? Some publications, the very ephemeral ones, I do. Others, I keep for a few months, occasionally clearing out the backlog. As for magazines with articles that merit rereading, such as NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC and LOCUS, and those that are effectively story anthologies in periodical format, e.g., THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, I keep them permanently. I cringe at tossing any publication other than a community freebie, because it seems disrespectful of the effort and expense that went into producing the materials. Yet on one level I realize that's illogical, so I have reluctantly started discarding some magazines. As for NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, my husband has been prodding me for decades to dispose of the accumulated stacks. I will probably succumb, to the extent of sorting out the issues I really want and giving up the rest.

What brought on the printed-material triage crisis was our basement renovation project. The damaged ceiling and torn, mold-stained carpet are being replaced. The cinderblock-and-board shelves in the middle of the den have been dismantled. The tall bookcases against the wall have been temporarily staged elsewhere. They'll be restored to their places after the refurbishing is finished. Rows of new bookcases—twenty-four of them—will be set up in the center of the room. At last I'll have the real "library" I've always fantasized about. Meanwhile, all the basement books have been packed into boxes and stashed in a rented storage container in the driveway. Approximately 120 boxes. And those aren't all our books. We have a bedroom full of others downstairs, plus my entire vampire collection in the upstairs office as well as shelves full in the living room, our bedroom, and an alcove in the rear of the workshop.

I look forward to the only pleasurable part of this drawn-out ordeal, re-shelving the books in rational order instead of cramming them anywhere they'll fit as we've had to do in recent years. For the first time in forever, I'll be able to zero in quickly and efficiently on items I'm looking for (no more caving in to desperation and ordering a used copy of a novel I know I own but can't find). I'm the kind of person who'd probably drive professional organizers crazy. My idea of organizing isn't getting rid of stuff. It's finding more efficient ways to store more stuff.

How do you handle your accumulated books and periodicals?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Depiction Part 31 - Depicting Random Luck

Part 31
Depicting Random Luck
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Previous parts of the Depiction Series can be found here:

One bewildering criticism editors level at writers is, "But, why did this just happen???  Why did this Character deserve this?"

You can't sell the book by answering, "By sheer, dumb luck."  At least you can't unless the main Theme is luck as an "undocumented feature of the Universe."

Editors worry about readers finding a novel "contrived" -- nothing throws readers out of a novel faster than the impression that the writer just artificially threw something in because they didn't know how to get the story to go where they wanted it to go so the writer just forced it to go there, just said this is where the story is going.

That's "contriving" -- deciding what you want to happen in your story, and just writing that it happened.

In real life, we all know, things "just happen" at random, with bewildering and derailing impact.  Life just gets shattered for no discernible reason and you just don't understand it.  Nobody you ask can explain it.  It is just the way the world is, lump it.

But in fiction it is different.  We go to fiction for entertainment, and a  change of emotional framework, a different way to look at the world.  We go to fiction to walk in someone else's moccasins, someone who does not live in a random world of hurt.

Romance Novels are for people who do understand the world in terms of "luck" -- but in terms of both good and bad luck, and how those two types of events are connected through the depths of the Spirit -- through the Soul, and thus through Soul Mates.

The world is a tempestuous sea, and often our life's boat must plow straight through a hurricane, through the eye of the storm and out the other side to get to that peaceful tropical island of Happily Ever After.

The waves that batter us this way and that may seem random as they dump us under, but they are not random.  The Soul knows that, but we mortals can't see it, and don't grasp it.  But like a hurricane that swirls around a center, the storms that derail our lives do have a pattern behind them.

What angle we attack those ranks of waves from, which way we go relative to the wind, and how well we buckled our flotation harness, how well dressed we are against the cold ocean, and maybe what sort of boat (family, Church, community, work-friends, Facebook friends, etc) we have chosen to use, all determine how well and how easily we may survive.

All these choices (made long before adversity appears) depend on our Character -- how compromising, how careless, how obliviously accepting, how Prayerfully Faithful, how self-confident (with or without justification), how studious in researching, how strategically planning, how foresightful, depend on all the Character traits that are innate, and then honed by upbringing. Thus parenting matters, schooling matters, work experience matters, and the crowd you hang with matters.

We may imagine we see patterns in the furious and destructive waves driving us off our chosen life-course, or we may imagine them random, without a pattern.  Readers live in a real world where either or both of these views is their normal way of looking at the world.

But every one of your readers knows, at the Soul level, that there is sense behind this somewhere.

Some are convinced that it is incumbent upon them to figure out what that sense is.  Some know beyond doubt that there is no such sense, and we live in a random universe just imagining patterns because our brains can't process life any other way.  We are just animals, subject to whimsical floods of hormones -- unable to "resist" the temptations of the world, especially sex with the hottest one you have ever encountered.

These are two entrenched beliefs you will find in literature as far back as literature goes -- Ancient Greek and older.

We are animals, subject to animalistic drives -- and it is insane to fight those drives.

We are Immortal Souls here to learn harsh lessons, to suffer here so we may attain Heaven after death.

We all live in the same world, but SEE that world and the import of Events (novel plots) differently.

Reality is an optical illusion - like Rubin's Vase - two vases or two faces?  Well -- in truth, both!

It is easier to see on the black and white, but you'll find it on the yellow and white, too.  This is a perfect example of the "difference" between those who see the world as created and run by God, and those who see the world as run by humans, or a machine humans are slowly learning to work.

It isn't "point of view" -- you are looking at the same pattern with the same eyes, but your mind can shift focus to "reveal" a truth you hadn't noticed before.  Keep it up, and you can get confused.  But there does exist a Truth -- it's just that the truth is not either/or.  We don't live in a binary world, but we can make it binary for convenience.  We don't live in a zero-sum-game universe, but for FUN (so we can all fight to the death) we can make it zero-sum and steal from each other for fear of not having enough.

Truth exists - somewhere "out there" -- and maybe somewhere "in here" -- but it is often inconvenient.  We studied "truth" in several blog entries under several topics.  Conflict is the essence of story -- but truth is the essence of conflict.

Listen to a famous person saying something on TV, then listen to the commentators or read some articles reporting on what was said.  Look for it, and you will find 3 things --
What you heard --
What Reporter One heard --
What Reporter Two heard --

We all heard these same things, but interpreted them differently depending on whether we view the world as two-faces or two-vases or have the ability to switch, or see  both at once.  Writers see both at once.  The writer's job is to show readers what a "both at once" world looks like.

The difference in what is heard or seen is inside the listener/viewer, in the filters created by basic assumptions about The World and the Nature of Reality.

Some of us learn to switch filters to suit the occasion, others consider that switching dishonest, and still others become frozen in one or another state.  Strong Characters retain or recreate that choice, and then make that choice deliberately.

The Animals vs Souls argument is like interpretations of what famous people said -- each person hears it differently.  Animal vs Souls is like two-faces/two-vases -- or the shadow of the cylinder being round or square depending on the angle of the "light" (spiritual light by which we "see" truth with the "third eye.")

So what is a writer to do to make readers understand what these Characters are SAYING (to each other, and to themselves inside their own heads).

How does a writer scoop up a bedraggled person from their real world and transport them to another world, to become another person with different concerns living in a world that makes sense?

If you take the view that humans are only Animals, you lose half your readers.

If you take the view that humans are basically Souls, you lose half your readers.

However, if you (as the writer) can see both Faces&Vases, you can take the view that the human animal body carries the Soul through life -- sometimes as an onlooker, sometimes as a helpless passenger, and sometimes in the driver's seat -- different people being so very different -- then you may scoop up the vast majority of readers who are "in the middle" or "confused" or "don't care" or who tend to vacillate from one view to another, sometimes depending on if it's Sunday or not.

"The book the reader reads is not the book the writer wrote." 

You may write vases and some readers read faces.

Our current culture has adopted a social stance requiring us not to "judge" each other, not to be judgmental (which is taken to mean exclusionary) but rather to be accepting (which is taken to create diversity).

But the thing is all humans, for all time, have always "judged" each other and nothing will make that stop.  Try it.  Try writing a novel about a Character hitting a Life-Storm who never - ever - judges any other Character they interact with.  See how much story you can write before your main Character has to decide who to trust, who is guilty, who has to be fired, or who to hire.

Damsel In Distress, running away, slips into a tavern by the docks and has to pick out a ship's Captain to approach about passage.  She has to judge that man or woman.  How far can you write your story without a character passing judgement on another character?

To choose a mate (Soul or otherwise), we form a judgement about that person.

The only way to learn to form accurate and useful judgments, to form reliable judgments of other people is to practice -- a lifelong practice starting at about Age 2 -- which is famous as the Terrible Twos because at that dawning of judgement of others, all humans but Mommy are threats of the first magnitude.

Later, all strangers are attractive -- hence it is easy to kidnap a 10 year old by offering a car ride.

Sometime in the teens, with arduous exercise, judgement will (or will not) develop, steadying down between those two polar opposites -- trust no one, or trust everyone.

We learn to tell people apart.  By 20, you've got it, or you never will, unless a hurricane sweeps your life aside and hammers the lesson home the hard way.  Disillusionment works wonders, but that usually takes a string of hard luck events.

We learn to tell people apart after age 21.  The third quartering of Saturn to its own Natal position happens at about age 21, chosen as the Majority year, or maturity for a good reason.  Saturn represents judgement, and everything related to separating this from that, to discipline and focus.

Learning to distinguish between animal sexual attraction, infatuation, and Soul Mate level attraction Love, is the subject of most Romance Novels, whatever sub-genre they belong to, Paranormal or Nuts-n-Bolts science fiction.  The hurricane that blows life off course in the Romance Novel is usually an unexpected, and highly improbable Love, the incongruous love that shifts the view of life from two vases to two faces.  In a blink, you suddenly know you were all wrong.  What does a strong person do when discovering an error of that magnitude?

Saturn is "exclusive" -- it severs ties, sorts friends from enemies, and its transits often signify divorce (or even bereavement).

By contrast, Jupiter is "inclusive" -- and our solar system has both a Saturn and a Jupiter (a face and a vase) for a reason.

Plot is the sequence of events.  I have said many times in this blog, that plot = because line.

Because Character One did this, Character Two responded by doing that, whereupon Character One countered by doing something else.  Etc. to the resolution of the initial Conflict.

Note, though, that Plot (e.g. Life) is generated by a Character Doing Something.  What a Character does about a circumstance or happenstance, about an Event that seems sheer dumb luck,  reveals the strength of that Character's character.

Characters choose what to do by those mental "filters" that cause us to hear the famous people saying things that others proclaim they did not say, that make the world always two-faces, or always a circle.

You have read self-help books that urge you to change your life by changing your internal dialogue. There is a science behind that.  What we tell ourselves, over and over, habitually, does direct our choices, especially in an emergency when action must be taken without sufficient information -- we fill in the gaps in our information by imagining what "must be there."  That is why soldiers and emergency workers "drill" -- doing the motions over and over until they become conditioned reflex.  What you say to yourself, over and over, will determine what you do in an unfamiliar situation.

Fictional characters do that, too, which is what makes them seem like real people.

Recently, a lot of money has been spent studying human behavior.  We've discussed that in the mathematical development behind PR or Public Relations (an obscuring term for manipulating large groups of people, fooling people into buying your product, advertising).

Some studies are turning up in the popular press, and they are worth noting and thinking about. These are traits ordinary people use to judge other people as friend, foe, or victim.  These are the scripts ordinary people repeat in their minds, hoping to acquire desirable traits.

I found an article in Inc magazine that is a case in point.

These articles are now called Listicles and have become click-bait.  But this is a good one for writers:

13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do
Give up the bad habits that drain your mental strength.

Probably without knowing it, the author, Amy Morin, has summarized a set of tests or guidelines for writers doing the internal dialogue and plot-driving-responses of the Main Character or Hero of the story who must be a Strong Character -- or at least a stronger character by the end.

Take any one of these weak-character signals in an otherwise strong character, and portray it clearly. Then you can hurl a "random" bit of bad or good luck at that trait, a hurricane of events to drive the character to remedy that flaw - making them stronger by the end of the story.

The weakness caused the hurricane, so the Character deserved to get smashed by a wave out of nowhere.  Fighting through the storm causes the unexpected strength (that comes out of nowhere in response to a test) that we see at the end.

Here is Amy's list - the article discusses and describes each item, so read that article.
1. They don't waste time feeling sorry for themselves.

2. They don't give away their power.

3. They don't shy away from change.

4. They don't focus on things they can't control.

5. They don't worry about pleasing everyone.

6. They don't fear taking calculated risks.

7. They don't dwell on the past.

8. They don't make the same mistakes over and over.

9. They don't resent other people's success.

10. They don't give up after the first failure.

11. They don't fear alone time.

12. They don't feel the world owes them anything.

13. They don't expect immediate results.
------end quote---

Now you know how to tell readers which characters are weak in specific character traits and thus why it is poetic justice that some ignominious fate befalls them.  Editors will be able to see "why" this random event happened to this Character, and readers will come away satisfied.

What readers want to see is how the weakness is remedied by the plot disaster.

Get that structure right so that otherwise implausible, random events make for reader satisfaction. The key clue is that articles like this delineate how people you do not know assess other people who are not like you.

Transport your life-bedraggled reader to a world where things make sense.

It's not random luck: it's Karma.  Life is a poem.  It makes sense if you know how to listen.

If you are not strong - you must become stronger.

Note how this plays into SAVE THE CAT! -- the writing book I keep recommending.  You introduce your Character "saving the helpless" - doing an act of kindness, which is the kind of thing done by someone whose self-image is strong.  The "cat" is weak, scared, helpless, and needs saving.  I am strong, powerful, brave, and will do the saving.

Now the reader has a "first impression" (which is lasting, you know) of this Character as Strong. Whatever weakness (as delineated in this article) your character displays next will be interpreted (like the words of famous people) through the filter of the sure knowledge this Character is Strong.

The things that happen because of the Character's weak-spot-flaw as demonstrated by the 13 traits above, will then be "well deserved" and caused by the weakness.  The resolution of the Conflict will remedy that weakness. The Life Lesson will be learned (next time, wait for the Queen Mary -- dingy will not make it across the Atlantic).

In a Romance Novel, the Lesson is driven home by the Character of the Soul Mate.

One useful definition of Love is that the True Love's presence makes you exhibit your very best Self -- maybe even be a much better person than you think you really are -- maybe be so good you actually like yourself.

You gravitate to that person, you want to be with that person, and you admire that person.

Few love what they admire (hence Numbers 9 and 12 on that Listicle).  But loving what you admire is a master trait of the Strong Character.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg