Sunday, December 31, 2017
Polite and Witty Take-Downs
"Stop Using Our Trademark... please... pretty please," writes ENSafrica Legal blogger, Gaelyn Scott.
This highly readable blog tells the story of three courteous, witty and charming Cease and Desist notices that resulted in good publicity for the enforcers, and no apparent hard feelings from the recipients of the notices. There are also at least four examples of heavy-handed approaches that backfired. So.... something for everyone.
Jeffrey S. Edelstein, legal blogger for Manatt Phelps & Phillips LLP taps for inspiration the medieval-royal-banquet inspired advertisement for a certain brew. It is a charming story of a well received, themed takedown.
"Dilly" by the way, is also a nickname for a stage-coach. Before trains and coaches, there was a very fast stage-coach service, known as the Diligence. I have this on the authority of "Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable."
Yes, there really is a "Brewer's Dictionary." It was recommended to me by one of my English Professors at Cambridge, whose surname was Brewer.
"Dilly Dilly" is a refrain in the old English song, "Lavender's blue, dilly dilly, Lavender's green..." which was made popular by Burl Ives. I have a vague recollection that the "lavender is blue/lavender is green" may have stemmed (pun!) from the different perspectives of lavender enjoyed by a butterfly and by a caterpillar. The plant looks one color from below, and another from above.
Apparently, Disney appropriated "Lavender's blue, dilly dilly..." for a Cinderella cartoon movie.
Online, which girl's name is abbreviated to "Dilly", I would have thought "Delilah", but nameberry.com offers Dilys, Dilwen, Daffodil, and then there is the masculine Dilliver, and possibly Dillon.
Other meanings of "dilly" can be found here: https://www.collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/english/dilly
Sometimes, I am baffled that the Trademark authorities award trademarks for words and phrases that have been in common (or even in arcane) use for decades.
Ending on a sour note, this author was disappointed to see a regular guest on a Fox News program on Saturday speak approvingly of Britain's London School of Economics (as I recall), which I understood her to claim provided subsidized photocopying services to allow students to photocopy textbooks instead of purchasing or renting them. Photocopying textbooks may well be copyright infringement if one copies subtantially. It is not "fair dealing", under UK law, if the copying of the work is a substitute for the purchase of the work and affects sales of the work.
One guide for educators in the USA. http://www.kasunic.com/article2.htm
A guide for educators in the UK https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/375951/Education_and_Teaching.pdf
One should be wary how one uses a photocopier!
For our European readers,Advocate Elaine Gray of AO Hall in Guernsey offers comprehensive and timeless advice from 2010 about copyright.
Authors, have you audited your websites and social media pages recently? If you host images or music that was created by someone other than yourself, are your licenses and rights up to date? Are you sure?
Wishing everyone a healthy, prosperous, and happy New Year!
Thursday, December 28, 2017
New Year's Goals
In January, I prefer to set "goals" (modest, achievable ones) rather than "resolutions." The latter word sounds more intimidating (and yet fragile). Assuming the annual "Sword and Sorceress" anthology appears again in 2018, I plan to submit a story to it, as usual. Also, my husband and I will work together to come up with a submission for the next Darkover anthology. We had collaborative works in the 2016 and 2017 volumes but didn't make it into the one forthcoming in May 2018, so there's a challenge for us.
Writers Exchange E-Publishing is gradually re-releasing my former Amber Quill books. (By my count, there are eight more to go.) I've written a next-generation sequel to one of those, which I'll submit to Writers Exchange sometime soon. Since they don't publish erotic romance, one of my 2018 goals will be to compile e-books of my erotic romances from my other defunct publisher, Ellora's Cave, toning them down a little from heavily graphic to steamy. I've already released two self-published Kindle steamy romance books. ARDENT BLOOD (originally published by Amber Quill) comprises three novellas, featuring werewolves, vampires, and a lonely undine:Ardent Blood
DEMON'S FALL (originally included in a multi-author Ellora's Cave anthology) stars a fallen angel who defies his infernal lords to save a woman he's been assigned to tempt. I think of it as inspirational erotic paranormal romance, if such a genre crossing can exist:Demon's Fall
My next steamy romance bundle will probably contain my three related vampire novellas from Ellora's Cave, because it's important to me to have all my "Vanishing Breed" vampire tales available for purchase. I've combined two linked stories in that universe from the fanzine GOOD GUYS WEAR FANGS 4 into a short e-book, VAMPIRE'S TRIBUTE:Vampire's Tribute
I'm also putting together a collection of stories my husband and I had in the discontinued fantasy webzine SORCEROUS SIGNALS.
Other than short stories for submission to the "Sword and Sorceress" and Darkover anthologies, I don't have any new works planned for the near future. I do have a light paranormal romance novella out on submission and hope to find a home for it in the coming year. What are your writing goals for 2018?
Margaret L. CarterCarter's Crypt
Tuesday, December 26, 2017
Finding The Story Opening, Part 3, Should A Pro Write Fanfic? by Jacqueline Lichtenberg
Previous parts in Finding The Story Opening:
The week before last, we looked at 3 novels, two widely published hardcovers from major Houses about International Intrigue, and one widely popular Fanfic novel about Interstellar Intrigue. One of the hardcovers had a ten year old girl in it, and the fanfic has a 10 year old boy in it.
I expect by now you've read all 3 and done your contrast compare study.
I assume most reading this blog are either Romance genre readers or Science Fiction genre Readers -- and some of the readers are writers.
Last week, the author of the (hugely) popular Fan Novel, The Ambassador's Son, about Sahaj, Spock's son who turns up in Spock's life for the first time when he is 10 years old, presented us with a
Her summary of the learning curve, and final summary of what she had to internalize to produce the gorgeously polished current versions of these stories (and with stories in her universe written by others, some of the most brilliant writers in ST fanfic), brought into focus many of the topics we have discussed here, and examined in minute detail.
I recently saw some news interviews and items on Venture Capitalists looking for products to invest in. Just like film producers, they are interested only in items that can be summarized IN ONE SENTENCE (or maybe two short ones).
The "pitch" has to be so short you can write it on a paper napkin, or the back of a business card. An "elevator pitch" -- you can say while the doors open.
Those brief words must be the concept, and it must "haunt" the person you pitch to, and do that in such a way that they know where to find you to get more. In other words, your Identity must be wrapped into that concept, without actually including name, address, phone number, Twitter handle etc.
Pitching is the secret.
It is the core of the dreaded "Query Letter."
Most beginning writers have an Idea and plunge right into WRITING, just too excited by their own interest in the Idea to stop and wonder why that Idea grabs them so.
That is what Leslye did with her first plunge into telling Sahaj's story.
And that, actually, is the core secret to writing vastly popular fanfic like Sahaj.
Story Telling is a craft, and all "craft" is boring to learn, just like beginning piano lessons and the incumbent practice sessions. Parents have to tie their kids to the piano bench. But ten years later, the college student is the toast of the dorm playing while friends dance in the hallways.
At that point, the musician is having fun, making the instrument talk for him, creating joy to gift to others, making memories and not thinking where to put fingers to make this or that sound. The years of practice create brain synapses that allow the adult to think the song, and it comes out into the air with no awareness of what the fingers did to achieve that.
Telling stories is the same way. At first it is laborious, boring, depressingly difficult, and you have to think about each move, force yourself to follow the metronome and hit the notes to the beat of the measure.
Yes, fiction has a beat, called pacing. Each genre has a rhythem, a "key signature" and "time signature." Each type of story, or novel, has a structure, like a poem. But each story set to that music is unique.
Sahaj was one of the first "Spock Has A Child" stories. And perhaps the first to rub his nose in it, and make him raise that child.
In other words, Leslye Lilker made a name for herself telling stories to a very specific readership segment -- the fanzine reading Star Trek-Spock fans who understood "life" is more than "adventure" and Romance running around the galaxy and writing scientific papers.
That segment of the TV audience that knew how incomplete the Galactic Hero's Adventure is without the "raise your children to be Heroes, too" part of the story read Sahaj and went on to produce many variations.
And that movement dragged many other Movies, TV shows and text-based-books into the question, "What happens AFTER the adventure?"
What happens after the Romance?
Lesley Lilker is working on how the Romance happens after the adventure, and plans to tell us some of those stories.
This is a clue about how to structure stories for our new genre, Science Fiction Romance - or Paranormal Romance - or a mixture of the two, Alien Djinn Romance.
So there are two problems all writers, beginning writers, selling writers, big name writers -- all writers -- have. Finding the Target Audience and crafting a Narrative Hook, an Opening Scene, that will rivet that audience's attention.
After you get their attention, of course you must deliver the goods, with style and substance and satisfaction. But no matter how satisfying your story, it will not deliver satisfaction if it doesn't first grab attention.
And you can't be polite about it.
You must "grab" attention -- yes verbal violence writ large. You won't get it by requesting attention, or politely pinging a silver knife on a crystal glass.
Grab the attention of those (always very few) readers starving for this particular story you know and they don't.
Your opening lines and opening scene are your elevator pitch, the whole series in ONE SENTENCE.
The real implications of the payload you are about to deliver may be hidden, wrapped in symbolism and iconography as we've discussed, but all of it, including the inevitable END, and the very inevitability of that END, must be wrapped into that opening.
From then on, you unfold that package, like decompressing a program you've downloaded, then installing it in the reader's mind, then customizing it, then running that program.
Writing a story is the opposite of reading a story.
Note how Leslye Lilker's post last week starts with the oft repeated fact that everyone is a story teller. When you answer a friend's question, "How have you been doing, lately?" you are "telling a story." First you live the story, then you edit it down, select specific facts and couch them in specific words chosen specifically for the individual person you are speaking to.
But, though you may say only true things, you are weaving a fictional story from the facts of your life. First you lived, step by step, through the last few weeks, then you met your friend again, and EDITED OUT (deleted) what you thought would seem irrelevant or TMI to this person. Then you embroidered the high points and displayed them in a "light" (oh, pretty good lately -- or oh, it has been so hard).
In other words, you added in the emotional textures of your own point of view to convey to your friend the reality of your life (or to conceal it by saying things were fine when they actually weren't). Very often, when we summarize our life experiences for a friend (or enemy) we select what to tell and what to withhold based on what we want that person to FEEL - about us, about themselves, about the world.
This is fanfic. This is sharing a viewpoint, and as fanfic often does, "fixing" what seems to need fixing.
Everyone does this - some better than others, but everyone does it, and everyone puts effort into learning how to do it from the teens onwards.
You are a "fan" of your own life. You are a geek who knows more details than anyone else wants or needs to know. EDIT.
OK, since you know how to talk to friends (and enemies, bosses, co-workers, etc), why should you write fanfic of a TV show? Why not just leap directly into professionally selling fiction, pitching at the biggest publishing houses?
Well, some people do seem to do that successfully (usually there's more to their story, but yes, the direct leap has been done successfully.)
But most people need those years of boring practice at the keyboard that produces a piano player you can dance to.
You can edit your life because you know all the details. You can edit your life FOR a particular person or group because you know those people. So you know the process. You can play chopsticks. But can you play Chopin? At Carnegie Hall, filled with piano virtuosos, and those who believe they are virtuosos?
That "wider audience" target is the tricky part. You can edit your universe for those you know, personally -- and you can leverage that skill to where you can edit your Imaginary Universe for an Imaginary Audience, but producing polished prose for such a large, Imaginary Audience takes practice.
To sell to those larger Publishing Houses takes practice. Such publishers are not interested in the one-time-wonder who is presenting "my book" -- as if there is one and only one in a whole lifetime. Such publishing houses need authors who are productive -- who know what they are doing and can produce to deadline.
In other words, those publishing houses are looking for writers (not authors) -- writers who are ready to "take the show on the road" and produce large numbers of copies of a particular performance at the scheduled time and in the scheduled place. Like a road show.
You may adopt a number of bylines, one for each genre you write in, but each byline must be associated with a uniform product produced efficiently (not labored over). Writing is not hard. Learning to write is very hard.
How do you know when you're ready for Prime Time? When you are ready to reach wide audiences because you understand how to edit your Imaginary Universe to "grab" the largest number of people who have a single trait in common, and little else?
You know you are ready for Prime Time when you can find "The Story Opening" to ANY STORY -- yours, someone else's, or just make one up and recognize it as an opening. "Oh! That is a springboard into a story."
How do you get to where you can create story openings that hook specific, but very large, audiences?
You work in universes that hook very large audiences. That is, you read, write, and discuss, analyze (beta read) fanfic in a universe that has an audience that you want your fiction to reach.
You either pick an existing TV or movie fanfic base to join, or you create one by self-publishing. Self-publishing works best if your byline is already known to an existing fan base, but studies have shown that fanfic readers don't easily follow their favorite fanfic writers into prof fic.
One beginning professional writer who learned a lot from this Tuesday blog series, took my advice and absorbed and studied the SAVE THE CAT! series by Blake Snyder, whose books explain the structure of Blockbuster Movies.
Recently, after years of studying SAVE THE CAT! and writing to the "beat sheet" revealed in those books, she Tweeted me:
Kimber Li @KimberLiAuthor
I can't watch a t.v. show now without seeing something I need to fix, like the structure fell apart in the second act. @JLichtenberg
Well, that's how you know you've made the leap over the vast divide between reader and writer. You can't not-edit, can't not-see flaws.
Sometimes millions spent on advertising can push a product to the top sales rank, despite flaws. But it costs less to push a product with fewer flaws. However, no product is worth pushing at all unless it is delivered on time.
Kimber Li also asked, some months ago, about writing fanfic, especially after having begun to sell.
It used to be that if a Major Publishing House discovered you wrote fanfic, they would never buy from you.
As you have noted, if you've been reading this blog a while, I was a professional writer before I began placing Star Trek fanfic stories in the ST:ToS 'zines - my Kraith series.
At the time, all the members of SFWA I knew advised me not to use the same byline on fanfic as on profic - such as my Sime~Gen Series
But I did it, anyway. Now the world has changed, and a number of writers are widely known for both prof and fan fic. Writing fanfic is not a stigma anymore.
The reputation of "geeks" "nerds" and fen has changed. Maybe STAR TREK LIVES! had something to do with that.
Now ponder what Leslye Lilker wrote last week, about theme.
If you can't state your theme in one sentence, you will not have an anchor onto which to hook other elements. In other words, theme is the glue that holds the story together.
Theme provides the title, and IS the hook for your audience. It is the story in one sentence - it is the version you can write on a napkin or business card.
The same Imaginary Universe you have created (from scratch or from some Movie or TV Series) can produce Characters, Situations, Settings and THEMES for any audience. You edit your whole Imaginary Universe to extract the particular details that will intrigue your intended audience, and leave out the rest.
Can't emphasize that enough -- Art is as much about empty white-space as it is about the words. Music is not music without "rests" -- the little pauses between beats. What you leave out depends on your audience.
"Steamy" Romance gives every detail in a sex scene. "Adventure Romance" just "goes to black" and hard-cuts from first caress to the shocking awakening in the morning when the bad guys attack.
How do you know what to write and what to leave out? By knowing your audience.
Like Kimber Li noted, if you study Film (via SAVE THE CAT!) then go to movies, you will see things you never saw before. Those who can't see those things will still enjoy the film. So study the audience. Instead of watching the film, watch the people respond -- listen to the breathing, (and watch for secret-cell-phone texting because they're bored).
Those people may be your intended audience, people to buy your books in the genre of that film.
Find something like that - a film, TV Series, Netflix Original, Google to see if there are published stats about the size of the audience, pick a film or series that leaves you bursting with IDEAS - write fanfic for that audience, showing them how you would fix the flaws you see (that they don't) and how much more enjoyable the story would be if the flaws were fixed.
That's what Sahaj does for ST:ToS fen -- note that years later, they provided Kirk with a son, and Spock with a sister (they did read Kraith, you know).
The lack of family, of ancestors and descendants, of cousins and wives, was seen by that particular audience as a FLAW.
It was not considered a flaw by Hollywood-circa-1966.
Science Fiction was thought to be a genre that only teenage boys would enjoy, so it had to be devoid of complex emotional webs creating tight-knit family structures. It had to be full of danger, fast movement, and the specialness created by being THE FIRST to ever see or discover something.
Hollywood had no idea that Science Fiction was always and would always be the Literature Of Adult Women, and that the lack of Romance would be considered a flaw not a feature.
Hollywood has learned, since then.
But as I have pointed out, Romance readers and fans are among the best educated people and have stringent requirements for their fiction, just as science fiction readers do.
How does a writer meet such requirements?
Practice. Boring hours of practice.
If you study how to teach piano, you will find that there is a method that gets you to effective and efficient practice. The method is to just play-through your mistakes -- don't stop when you miss a key, but rather just keep the beat and pick it up. Then repeat the whole piece or at least a section as a single whole.
That method is akin to learning writing by writing fanfic.
Pick a fandom that contains the readers you want to buy your books.
Pick a skill to practice.
Now ask yourself why you like this fictional universe? A portion of the fans of this universe will like it for the same reason you do - most have other reasons.
The people who like it for the same reason you do are your Readership.
Show don't tell them why you like this universe - and that is your theme.
A professional writer is not wasting time or creativity writing fanfic if the fic being written practices the skills that still come awkwardly.
I was not proficient at Theme-Everything-Integration -- all the various series of Integration posts I've done here to explain what I've learned -- when I wrote the first Kraith story.
Here is the opening I concocted way back then.
----------quote SPOCK'S AFFIRMATION----------
The Admiral's office was quiet, efficient and so neat it resembled an unoccupied hotel suite. Admiral Pesin sat with both hands on his desk calmly reviewing the curious orders he was about to issue. In the guest-chair to the Admiral's left, sat a Schillian security officer. The Schillian looked rather like a man-proportioned toad, or perhaps lizard. The Star Fleet uniform pants and tunic only emphasized his differences.
Presently, a transporter beam built two figures in front of the desk. Captain James T. Kirk and his First Officer, Commander Spock, of the USS Enterprise, presented themselves with proper formality and then Admiral Pesin introduced the Schillian as Lieutenant Commander Ssarsun of Star Fleet Security.
"Gentlemen," Pesin said, "be seated."
He looked from Ssarsun to Kirk and finally to Spock where his gaze became unreadable. After a long thirty seconds, he said, "Commander Spock."
"It is . . . with regret I must inform you that Sarek is still missing, and the Vulcan authorities insist that, though there is still hope, your father must be declared legally dead."
But somehow, mysteriously, I did manage to get most of the required elements into the first few paragraphs.
A) The best thing about Trek was ALIENS
B) The Most-Best thing about Trek was TELEPATHIC ALIENS
C) The missing element about Trek was Vulcan, and Family
Spock is being called upon to step up into his father's sho
es. But it is complicated.
That opening hooked legions of fanfic readers when it appeared in T-Negative, and as with Leslye Lilker's mailbox, my mailbox burst with Letters (typed on paper, sent in an envelope with a stamp) explaining A) why this is a great story and I love it, and B) why this is a terrible story and just plain all wrong, or C) how to fix it.
"How to fix it" is fanfic.
And fans of Kraith wrote a lot of fanfic in the Kraith universe.
I used what I learned to craft the opening of House of Zeor, which was the first novel in the Sime~Gen Series, and fans have written a lot of Sime~Gen fanfic, most of which is professional quality writing, and is now being published in the Sime~Gen Universe by a professional publisher.
So fanfic breeds fanfic.
If you want to create a Classic, a series that other writers will be inspired to adopt and write in, then writing fanfic is the best way to learn how it is done.
The fans of the Intellectual Property that turns you on will be able to tell you what you do right -- and wrong -- in creating in "their" universe.
You may not learn writing, but you will become proficient at executing the craft. It is practice, and only practice (with feedback just like the piano teacher correcting the angle of your wrists, and the straightness of your back) performing before an audience (a recital) can bring your craft skills to concert pitch.
Once you have found how to captivate an audience and inspire them to their own Art, you will be ready to take your show on the road.
One sign you've made that transition from passive consumer to active producer of fiction will be, as Kimber Li noted, that you can't not-see the errors that others make.
We used to use a blue-pencil to mark up books as we read -- today, on Kindle, you just highlight and sometimes make a note. No writer can resist editing someone else's work.
The most compelling fiction to "edit" like that is fiction that somehow strays from the THEME showcased in the opening.
The story opening is the theme. Any detail or scene or character that strays from that theme will be seen as an error to be fixed. Readers may be aware of the "error" and lose interest because they don't understand the story, but writers will just wade in and fix the "error" -- recast the Character, rewrite the dialogue, imagine missing scenes.
Find the story opening by asking yourself why you want to write this story. The answer to that question will be the reason readers want to read the story. And it will be your one-sentence pitch to an editor who wants to publish the story - because the readers of that imprint like that kind of story.
You get to Carnegie Hall by practicing.
Sunday, December 24, 2017
Coal In My Stockings (Merry Christmas)
Santa sprinkes coal dust: we learn that there has been another data breach, this time involving Amazon Web Services, Experian, Alteryx and a mysterious unnamed Other.
Thank-yous to T. Fox-Brewster of Forbes for the insights.
Amazon Web Services owned the leaky "bucket" that was left "open" for anyone to view. Apparently, 248 different data files were available for each of 120,000,000 American households, including information on hobbies, and interests. How does a credit rating agency know about ones hobbies? What does ones passion for armchair bird-watching have to do with whether or not one is a good credit risk?
Why do we accept "targeted advertising" as a good thing? Is it really a good thing that the social media sites and aggregators are able to collect and sell every intimate detail that can be extracted, teased, coerced, and inferred about us all?
Have you ever worried about the three "secret" questions and answers that banks and other sites require you to answer? One would almost have to subscribe to Ancestry.com to know the right answers to some of the questions. And, if the bank account customer has to go there to find out the name of their oldest maiden great aunt's illegitimate first born (not really), why shouldn't a crook do the same?
Authors are particularly at risk. As public figures, more of their/our information is publicly available than usual. Think about copyright registration, website registration, domain name registration, ISBN registration, announcements in Publishers Weekly or Publishers Lunch, entries on Romance Wiki.... for starters.
Perhaps, for that last minute Christmas present, our readers should consider purchasing a $30 credit freeze on TransUnion, also on Equifax, and also on Experian. Also, a Lifelock subscription. Also a privacy protection service if the local bank offers one. Just, don't give any of them all of your credit card numbers.
On the copyright front, the USPTO has announced Thursday January 25th 2018 as the date for the second Public Meeting on "Developing The Digital Marketplace For Copyrighted Works".
To register, and for more information:
There is talk of databases, and facilitating licensing, and tracking ownership, and improving the ways customers access and use photos, films, music, text. It sounds like cookies to me. More Silicon Valley middlemen angling to take a cut of creators' creative works.
On that uplifting note.... Happy Christmas!
Thursday, December 21, 2017
Holiday Entertainment Recommendations
Any Lovecraft fans here? If so, you really want to hear the Cthulhu Mythos Christmas albums, A VERY SCARY SOLSTICE and AN EVEN SCARIER SOLSTICE. They contain Lovecraftian filks to the tunes of classic carols and popular holiday songs. My favorite selections are "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Fishmen," "Away in a Madhouse," "Harley Got Devoured by the Undead," and "I Saw Mommy Kissing Yog-Sothoth." Songbooks are available, too. The producers, the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society, also offer other goodies such as audio dramas and vintage-style films:H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society
Thanks to the wonders of home video, I can watch my favorite Christmas movies at will, unlike in my childhood when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and we could catch old films only if they happened to be rerun on television. I'm an avid fan of A CHRISTMAS CAROL in its many variations. My top favorite film adaptations are the Patrick Stewart and George C. Scott versions. The Mr. Magoo cartoon is surprisingly good, within the limits of its short length, and it includes some lovely songs. The Disney animated rendition in which Mickey Mouse plays Bob Cratchit unwisely fails to incorporate much of the dialogue from the original, but it's fun to watch anyway just to see Uncle Scrooge in the role he was named for. The excellent AMERICAN CHRISTMAS CAROL, starring Henry Winkler (yes, the Fonz), isn't a straight retelling but, rather, a re-imagining set in small-town America in the early twentieth century. In the "better than you'd expect" category is a made-for-TV movie I've watched many times, A DIVA'S CHRISTMAS CAROL; a black, female singing star plays the Scrooge role. That one clearly takes place in an alternate world where Dickens' novel doesn't exist, because nobody bats an eye at a rich woman called Ebony whose manager is Bob Cratchit, with a terminally ill son named Tim. One classic I watch every December is LADY AND THE TRAMP. Although not labeled a Christmas movie, it starts and ends at that time of year.
Then there are the holiday episodes of TV series. In the MASH Christmas episode I like best, children from a Korean orphanage share Christmas dinner with the MASH crew. Because their supplies for the feast didn't make it to them, the men and women pool their personal goodies to make a treat for the kids. The cool, upper-class, acerbic Major Charles Winchester contributes only a small can of smoked oysters, although everybody knows he received a mysterious package from home. It turns out that the package contains expensive specialty chocolates that he donates anonymously to the orphanage, in accordance with his family's tradition. The second plot line involves the senior doctors struggling to prolong the life of a fatally wounded soldier past midnight so his children won't have to think of Christmas as the day their father died. Of the numerous TOUCHED BY AN ANGELS Christmas episodes, my favorite is the one in which Monica reminisces about her encounter with Mark Twain on the Christmas when his daughter had just died (the latest of several grievous losses he'd suffered). One thing I like about this program is that, unlike some of the episodes, it doesn't present the mere apparition of an angel as enough to comfort or convert the human character. Twain's initial reaction to meeting Monica is essentially, "All right, God exists, and I still don't want anything to do with Him." Another element I especially like is that the episode features one of my favorite carols, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," which we don't seem to hear so much nowadays. An outstanding animated program, especially if you have kids to watch it with, is ARTHUR'S PERFECT CHRISTMAS. The title character has an ideal image of how the holiday season should unfold; of course, everything goes wrong but turns out right in the end. The show also touches on Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and the possibility of inventing one's own holiday traditions as an alternative to the hype and stress. As for stand-alone Christmas specials, I have a particular fondness for "Shrek the Halls," in which the grumpy ogre, who's never celebrated anything before, tries to create the perfect holiday for Fiona and the babies by following the instructions in CHRISTMAS FOR VILLAGE IDIOTS. Very funny even (or maybe especially) for adults!
Books: A CHRISTMAS CAROL, of course. And I love THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER, by Barbara Robinson. It's narrated by an elementary-school-aged girl whose mother gets reluctantly stuck with the church Nativity play. The town hooligans, the Herdman children, swoop in and take over the pageant, with results that are deeply moving yet not sappily sentimental. There's a film based on the novel, with a screenplay written by the author herself. Connie Willis's holiday stories, lavishly showcasing her incisive wit, are indispensable for SF and fantasy fans. She has recently released A LOT LIKE CHRISTMAS, an expansion of her earlier Christmas story collection. My favorite pieces are two novellas that weren't in the old edition. Thousands of radio re-playings of multiple covers of "White Christmas," augmented by the stubborn insistence of a prototypical Bridezilla that she MUST have snow for her Christmas Eve wedding, spawn a worldwide blizzard in "Just Like the Ones We Used to Know." Snow even falls in locations that have never seen it before in recorded history. You can read this work online:Just Like the Ones We Used to Know
You really should get the book, though. My other favorite novella in it, "All Seated on the Ground," features the narrator's experience on a committee tasked with a first contact project. The alien visitors don't behave hostilely, but they don't speak or otherwise give any indication of their purpose in coming to Earth. Until they're taken to a mall, where they hear Christmas carols—and respond to the line "All seated on the ground" by suiting their actions to the words. Only the narrator, with the help of a high-school chorus director, notices this reaction and manages to decipher its meaning. Hilarious, but as in all Willis's work, the humor arises from character and situation, not one-liners. A LOT LIKE CHRISTMAS includes an introduction by the author plus an afterword listing her personal holiday movie recommendations.
Margaret L. CarterCarter's Crypt
Tuesday, December 19, 2017
Guest Post By Leslye Lilker - Being The Writer Not The Reader
Today we have the second Guest Post from Leah Charifson, pen name Leslye Lilker, widely known for her Star Trek fanfic about Sahaj, Spock's son he didn't know he had until the kid was 10.
I talked about THE AMBASSADOR'S SON, a novel about Sahaj first meeting Spock, last week, comparing it (favorably) to two widely published hardcover Best Selling novels of international intrigue, SAVING SOPHIE and VENGEANCE.
If the name Leslye Lilker sounds familiar, perhaps you read her previous Guest Post here, in 2015.
Since then she has been working on the new stories about Sahaj, running Sahaj Continued Group on Facebook, and re-issuing the older stories with updated editing, all while changing her employment status and moving.
So this week Leslye Lilker brings us the story of what she learned via launching into Fanfic writing, and discovering how the transition from reader to writer changes your perspective.
Also, it is harder than you think -- yet easier than you'd ever expect. Romance writers who are making that leap will tell very much the same story.
------------Quote Leslye Lilker--------------------
Jacqueline has set me the impossible task of discussing the learning curve I am on in my writing, in hopes that it will encourage beginning writers to persevere in learning to craft their stories.
I am not sure that I am the best example of someone who has negotiated the slippery slope. I have had lots of help along the way, I am willing to breakdown what works for me, with absolutely no claim to originality or totality.
At some point in time I have synthesized these steps so that I am able (or at least I try to) work on more than one section at a time.
It is human nature to tell stories.
We do it every time we meet our friends at the mall and we catch them up on what we’ve been doing. That is a story told orally, complete with body language and tone of voice, both of which make your tale come alive. If your audience, your friend, doesn’t get it, you can add details, or tell it in a different way. Authors do not have that luxury. An author must communicate with his audience through the use of rhetoric, the language chosen to persuade or impress his audience. This known as style.
All of the elements of a story come under this umbrella.
I don’t know anyone who can just sit down, put words on the paper, and come up with a compelling, cohesive story. As your high school English teachers told you, writing is a process, and there’s no getting around it, no matter how experienced, and how successful you are. Of course I didn’t let that stop me from putting an idea I had down on paper, publishing it in my first fanzine, and going to a convention. Thus began my education.
Letters of comment began to arrive. Most mentioned such things as, “plot holes,” “character motivation,” and “homophones.” I had no idea what these things were. Fortunately, the letters also in included words like, “great idea,” and “I love Sahaj.” With that encouragement I hooked up with people who knew more than I did, and let them read and comment on my stories. After a while I began to understand that you just couldn’t put an idea down on paper without finessing it, because your reader will not see the story the way you intended.
Here is my down and dirty process for writing the story:
Keep a writer’s diary. Write down all of your ideas, random thoughts, overheard dialogue as you have lunch out, anything at all that you might ever use in any story at any time. This will come in handy later on in the process. Also note down the things you like about other authors. You might even copy turns of phrases, or descriptions that jump out at you. Put them in quotes, cite your source, and learn from them. You also might do some research about the various elements that make up a story and write down notes for yourself.
The reason I say write it down is because the brain does not retain as well by reading the screen or print out as it does when you have to physically write something down.
The diary is also the place to tell yourself your story. Start with your theme, the universal truth, you want your audience to understand. If you cannot state your theme in one sentence you will not have an anchor on which to hook the other elements of your story. An example of a theme is, ‘When man fights nature, man loses.’ Now you can write an adventure story set in Alaska, when a man ignoring advice from experienced backpackers, sets out to meet his buddy across an unfamiliar trail. Oh wait. Jack London did just that in “To Build A Fire.”
For me, the characters come next. In your diary, write out your back story for each character. Put in every detail you can think of, because this is not going into your story, but into your brain so that you can call on parts of it as it comes naturally in the story. Your characters need to be three-dimensional, and flawed to be believable.
You’ll need a protagonist, the character who moves the story, with a task or a goal to accomplish. You’ll need an antagonist, who has a legitimate reason to prevent the protagonist from achieving his goal. Know what they look like and be prepared to describe them early on (Character description.) Write down their character traits, which is how they behave and react. You might even create a conversation between yourself and your characters. Beware though they might come and haunt you in your dreams!
Create a plot chart, just the way you did in high school. Start with whatever bit of exposition you need to create the setting (time and place.) That’s your starting point. On your way to the climax (turning point) you’re going to list each step the protagonist takes to achieve his goal. But every step is countered by the antagonist, which may or may not be another person. This step-counter-step creates conflict, i.e., man against man, man against nature, man against self, etc. The conflict resolution leads back to the theme.
Know the setting for the overall story and for each scene. WRITE THEM DOWN IN YOUR DIARY. Use them.
Now it’s time for your first draft.
WRITE IT DOWN.
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to put your words on paper. At least it is for me because I am a visual, linear learner. I see a story as a living, breathing character, and when I do the first draft I consider it to be that character’s skeleton. I’ve heard other people use the hamburger analogy so I’ll do that too. That’s where the first draft is a hamburger.
Great. You’ve got an identifiable beginning, middle, and end. Now it’s time to add details which will make your reader see, hear, feel, taste, and smell what your character is experiencing (imagery.) Now is not the time to worry about diction or syntax. Just get the ideas down. In my analogy, these details are the organs that make the body work. In the hamburger analogy it’s adding lettuce and tomatoes, ketchup and onions.
Now go back to the beginning and multiply those details.
Do your words adequately convey the who, what, where, when, why, and how for each and every scene in your story? Does each scene have a beginning a middle and end? Does the reader understand the setting for each scene? Is it a…. forgive me… logical progression? Write it down. This is adding muscle and tendons, or bacon, mushrooms, and avocado.
Next step is to divide.
This is where you’re going to chunk ideas. You might have written a sentence in paragraph three that actually would be better in paragraph five. This is the time to move it there.
This is also the time to make sure that all paragraphs have a topic sentence and a transitional conclusion, so that one paragraph moves smoothly and logically (my favorite word) from one to the other. Another thing to look at is whether your vocabulary, your diction, is appropriate to your audience. It is said that an author should write to readers with an 8th grade reading level. Personally, I have emulated one of my favorite writers, Dean Koontz, who has sent me to a dictionary on many an occasion, and have chosen not to write down to my audience. I figure that anyone who loves Star Trek must be an intelligent being.
Since we are working on paragraphs this might be a good time for you to check your dialogue.
Dialogue is what your characters say. The purpose of dialogue is to move the story forward and reveal character traits to your reader. Spoken words go in quotation marks. You want to try to avoid ‘talking heads’ – dialogue that is not embedded into action to the point that the reader just sees two hand puppets talking to one another. Another thing is that each time the speaker changes he/she must go into a new paragraph.
Example of how not to do it:
“How are you, John?” “I’m fine. How are you, Jane?”
Example of how to do it:
Jane sauntered up to John, stood akimbo, and poked him in the chest with one elegantly sculpted nail. “How are you?” The words dared him to complain.
John, having survived the initiation, simply said, “I’m fine. How are you, Jane?”
Once your characters have reached their turning point, it is all falling action from there, leading to the denouement, where your protagonist has an epiphany, of sorts, and then you conclude your story, nice and neatly.
This is the skin and features of my characters, the hamburger bun, so you’re done, right?
Now it’s time to put it away for a day or two weeks. If you’re like me, you’ll immediately start getting ideas to change, fix, or add to what you have. Write them in your diary, and when you do your next draft, you’ll be able to incorporate them.
So what’s the next step?
You’re going to hate it.
You will retype the whole thing. Every. Single. Word.
You’ll be amazed at what you missed the first time and can now correct. This is what I call breathing life into my character, and for the burger, I guess it would be the first delicious bite.
You’re done now, right?
Now it’s time to read it aloud to someone, if you’re fortunate enough to have someone to read it to. It doesn’t matter if it’s a baby, or your dog, or even your mirror. Reading it aloud will point out places that need work that you haven’t already picked up. Don’t stop to fix it. Just mark the spot and read on.
Then fix it.
Done now, right?
Now it’s time for you to select two people whose writing and proofing skills you trust and admire and have them mark up your draft, because it still is a draft.
Then correct errors again.
You’re done now, right?
You may be sending your manuscript to an editor who wants additional changes.
So you make the changes, or argue ‘til you win, or pull your manuscript, and you get published.
Not necessarily. Your subconscious mind is still working, and the day after your work is published you think of ten things you want to change.
Solution: Sing “Let It Go” ten times and move on.
Now, you’re a writer!
(P.S. If this sounds like it was written by an English teacher it’s because I have just retired from that profession. A great book to look at is Thomas Fosters’ How To Read Like A Professor which breaks down the elements of writing and introduces many archetypes we find in what we read and write.)
-------------END QUOTE FROM LESLYE LILKER-----------
Isn't it odd how many friends of mine are English Teachers? Jean Lorrah is a retired Professor of English and my coauthor on many Sime~Gen Novels, and author of whole novels in my series.
If you take a close look at the Star Trek fanfic writers who started this whole fanfic phenomenon, (the precursor to self-publishing) you will find English Teachers, Librarians, Bookstore Managers, and all sorts of people who have stringent standards for their fiction, and their science, and their history. In other words, Star Trek fanfic writers have the same educational profile and tastes as Romance writers (and readers).
You can't get away with Historical errors in Historical Romance. The readers will out you on Twitter, for sure. And you can't get away with scientific errors in Science Fiction Romance.
Being the writer means intercepting factual errors and story-logic errors (plus grammar, spelling, punctuation) before the words are released to Readers -- because there will be errors, and readers do notice them, so fix them. But don't let fear of making an error in public stop you from blasting out that first draft, or those idea notes, any old which way. Being a writer means learning to fix all your mistakes - after you've made them. No matter how inept that first draft - you can FIX IT. You have the skill, the craft, and the fortitude to fix it.
Sunday, December 17, 2017
For the purposes of this article, this author is using the flattery-free definition of "snow job" found on the Merriam-Webster page https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/snow%20job If you visit that page,
you will be invited to explain where you saw "snow job" being used, and what caused you to look it up.
Many sites that illegally publish and distribute other people's copyrighted works, for instance, would like visitors to believe that if they visit the website, they are bound to hold the website owner harmless for whatever they find there.
Their Terms of Service may be a snow job.
Two sources explain the differences between "browsewrap", "clickwrap", "scrollwrap", "sign-in wrap" and other types of online "agreements" that a user might enter into, or be tricked into thinking they've entered into,
perhaps simply by virtue of visiting a website.
Arina Shulga on The Business Law blog
Oliver Herzfeld, writing for Forbes
As Shulga and Herzfeld suggest, to be binding, TOS have to be obvious and omnipresent and unavoidable. That means, not hidden in link in tiny font in a footer.
Like this: https://archive.org/
They are there, but the font is small.
Here are the TOS https://archive.org/about/terms.php
This is a site that claims to be a library. It claims to scan one thousand books per day, in twenty-eight locations around the world. Legitimate libraries to do not make their own scans, they pay for a license and lend out licensed copies.
One of those locations they mention is China.
They say that anyone with a free account can upload media (including live concerts, music, books, television programs, images and software programs) to their collection. Therein may lie the source of a problem, if account holders who do not respect copyrights are able to upload scanned works.
They claim that hundreds of thousands of modern books can be borrowed (electronically), including books that are still in copyright. They value the privacy of their patrons, so do not keep track of IP addresses.
Some authors are discovering copies of their modern, in-copyright books, some of which may be in Amazon's exclusive programs. Some of these books, it is alleged, are available for lending in formats that are easy to alter (for instance, strip of DRM), and often, an encrypted duplicate copy of the "borrowed" ebook remains on the patron's computer so that copies may --it is alleged-- be kept and shared elsewhere by unscrupulous "patrons".
One troubling statement on the site is
As a whole, this collection of material brings holdings that cover many facets of American life and scholarship into the public domain.https://archive.org/details/americana&tab=about
One does not "bring" other people's works "into the public domain" by allegedly infringing their copyrights. Copyright doesn't work like that, that that is not how "the public domain" works.
"Daisy" copies are lawful. They are specifically designed for readers with disabilities. Most authors are happy that this exception exists to enable persons with vision impairment to enjoy reading.
All the best,
Thursday, December 14, 2017
The June issue of SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN included an article on "Making AI More Human," which discussed improving the way artificial intelligences learn. Can they be designed to learn more like human children? Computers excel at tasks hard or impossible for human beings, such as high-speed calculations and handling massive amounts of data; yet they can't do many things easy for a human five-year-old. Developing human brains receive information about the environment from the "stream of photons and air vibrations" that reaches our eyes and ears. Computers get the equivalent information through digital files that represent the world we experience. Both "top-down" and "bottom-up" approaches to learning have advantages. In top-down learning, the mind reasons from high-level, general, abstract hypotheses about the environment to specific instances and facts. Bottom-down learning involves gathering and analyzing huge accumulations of data to search for patterns. This Wikipedia page further explains the differences:Top-Down and Bottom-Up Design
And here's a brief overview, which suggests, "A bottom-up approch would be the most ideal way to create human-like intelligence as we ourselves are part of a bottom-up design process (which occured in the form of evolution)."Top-Down Vs. Bottom-Up
I'm intrigued by this page's mention of "child machines with a willingness to learn." According to the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN article, real children apply the best features of both top-down and bottom-up processes and even venture beyond them to make original inferences.
How similarly to a human child would an artificial intelligence need to grow and learn before we'd have to accept it as, in some sense, human? Would it have to possess free will in order to qualify as a fellow sentient being? That question would require defining free will—a feature that classic behaviorists and some other determinists don't even think WE have.
The SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN article concludes, "We should recall the still mysterious powers of the human mind when we hear claims that AI is an existential threat."
Margaret L. CarterCarter's Crypt
Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Reviews 35 Best Seller Vs. Best Read by Jacqueline Lichtenberg
I have not made an index of the Reviews series yet, but you should be able to find the previous ones with a search on this blog.
This is a review, but it dovetails into many topics we've examined under a microscope of such high power that most people find it boring, or incomprehensible. Most of what we've discussed in this Tuesday Alien Romance blog is exciting only to people who have attempted to write a story or novel.
The main advice to begining or aspiring writers is, "Just Write!"
Until you get your head into a place where your fingers will cooperate and just make some words, you simply can not learn this stuff. After you've done some writing (the worse the product the better it augers for your career), then and only then are you able to comprehend these craft topics.
If you just want to enjoy a good read, I have three novels here for you today. If you are up to reading to learn how to structure your story, not just a story, reading these novels will constitute a giant leap.
None are romances.
If you aspire to a career in Romance Novel writing, reading books like these and analyzing why they work for some readers but not for you, is the most efficient way to get a solid hold on how to craft your own, personal, novel.
It is efficent, but boring.
Two of these novels are not hot, not steamy, not sweaty, and not sweet.
That is why you, who want to write great Romance, can learn from reading them.
Novels that you get caught up in are necessary fodder for new writers. They show don't tell what you want to do with your life.
Novels you love twang a response from your heartstrings -- and you aspire to twang other readers' heartstrings in the same "key" or "chord."
You learn to do that fastest by reading through, all the way to the end, novels you absolutely hate -- or better yet, novels that absolutely bore you to death.
Those boring novels will make you rear up on your hind legs and scream, "NOT LIKE THAT -- LIKE THIS!!!" And you will blast out a true Master Work and found a career.
Many who read a best selling Romance react just like that to the sappy, sacharine, helpless-heroine, befuddled couple, victim-of-bodily-lust Characters who can't help themselves or exercise good judgement.
And they produce novels such as two of the ones I have here from really giant Publishers of Best Sellers.
Taken together, these three novels will teach you all about expository lumps, worldbuilding, and THEME-CHARACTER INTEGRATION.
Last week, we considered Creating a Prophet Character as Part 11 of Theme-Character Integration.
The week previously, we looked at Creating A Prophecy as Part 17 of Theme-Worldbuilding Integration series.
Index posts listing Theme-Character posts and Theme-Worldbuilding posts are here:
The index to Theme-Worldbuilding Posts is here:
As you can see, we've been chewing away at these complex topics for years. It all remains an amorphous sea of hazy ideas in the back of your mind until you put it into operation. The first step in implementing these concepts and views is simply to read sets of novels such as the set we'll talk about here.
Yes, it is often like reading textbooks in school.
But in this case instead of reading to pass a test some teacher makes up and holds as a club over your head to bludgeon your imagination into line with the "approved" academic opinion (usually found in Cliff Notes), this time you will read for the purpose of creating the exact emotional response in your readers that you, personally, want to create.
This is learnable stuff. It has been said anyone who can write a literate English (or whichever language) sentence can write fiction and sell it. That is not art. It is craft. Art can't be learned. Craft can. But it is not usually fun.
The "steamy romance" sub-genre often fails to attract a wider audience because of faulty theme-character integration. Faulty theme-character integration turns a perfectly logical, completely spiritual Soul Mates Romance into pure porn that just does not "work" for any reader looking for a story.
Without theme-character integration, you put your reader into a frying pan not a sauna. They don't sweat; they flinch.
Switching point of view -- as a means of conveying information to the reader because the writer has been too lazy to work through the boring business of learning the craft -- produces more flinches and glazed-eyed bordom than panting and sweating through the suspense and release. Adding sex scenes doesn't cure the problem. Helpless protagonists overwhelmed by lust don't cure the problem.
So many writers reach for worldbuilding details to cure their problem with readers not understanding what the story is about.
The more worldbuilding detail you lard on top of a faulty theme-character integration problem, the worse the novel becomes.
When you fall in love with a fictional world you have built (even if it is a view of our real world that your readers see on the TV News), and that world is the reason you want to write this novel so you create Characters to tell the story of that world, you will very likely produce a first draft full of expository lumps.
Two skills necessary to eliminate expository lumps ...
... are Depiction and Theme-Plot Integration. Plot is pure show-don't-tell narrative of deeds and events. Depiction can include description.
So, proceding on the assumption you have read and absorbed those previous posts on the craft of fiction writing, I have a book here from a major publisher, a novel that enraptures a reader looking for international intrigue with sympathetic characters (as opposed to villain vs villain and the most viciious one wins). It is a best seller from a St. Martin's Press imprint called Griffin.
On Amazon it has 4 and a half stars from over 700 readers.
It pleases READERS -- which could be why this editor chose to accept the manuscript in its current condition. If it were a Romance, or Science Fiction (or even Western, or Police Procedural) it would have been sent back for rewrite - maybe two or three more times.
Note it is a novel in a best selling SERIES -- so there could have been time pressure to get the thing into print with the shoddy patch job that screams out to the practiced eye (but would not be noticeable to the reader!).
I don't know the editor who bought this novel personally, but I have sold two novels to St. Martins as hardcover originals now in Kindle (and Kindle Unlimited), new Trade Paperback, and the St. Martin's Hardcover is still available ...
...and so I have learned vast respect for their editorial staff. None of them would have let me get away with the clumsy expository lumps in SAVING SOPHIE.
Read SAVING SOPHIE with the blog entries I linked above in mind, but mark and analyze the spots where your eyes glaze over and your mind wanders. There are a couple spots where some readers will set the book aside and never pick it up again.
Find those spots. You can't find them when reading in your favorite genre. They leap out at you clearly when reading in a genre you just don't particularly care for but will read "if it's a good story."
Most readers will read anything "if it's good." They have no idea what they mean by good except how it makes them feel.
SAVING SOPHIE is a "feel good" novel -- the whole novel consists of the classic opening scene of a movie - SAVE THE CAT.
The title is the THEME -- "saving." Sophie is a 10 year old girl (mark that age because the next item to contrast with this novel is about a 10 year old in a similar situation.)
After you've read SAVING SOPHIE, keep reading my commentary here.
SAVING SOPHIE is set in a series, but reads just fine as a stand-alone.
That's a good trick, but it actually is not well pulled off. My editors at St. Martin would not have allowed this error.
SAVING SOPHIE is billed as a novel in a detective series where the lead Characters are amateur detectives, Liam Taggart and Catherine Lockhart.
What's wrong with that?
Nothing -- you know I love series! I have pointed you to Faye Kellerman's Decker/Lazarus series that started with her award winning THE RITUAL BATH, which is actually as much Romance as Mystery -- and with real appeal to science fiction readers.
I've read every one in that series, and loved them all, but the "Romance" genre aspect disappears into the domesticity of raising kids in a policeman's household.
And I rave about Gini Koch's similar series with more Fantasy/Paranormal/Science Fiction worldbuilding, ALIEN.
So my criticism is not a question of taste, but of simple mechanical craftsmanship.
SAVING SOPHIE reads well if regarded as an early draft or as fan-fiction of the intrigue drama genre.
The editor would have had to STOP publishing and START teaching writing to bring this novel up to my standards. Editors are not paid to teach writing craft, and most of them don't know it (Fred Pohl, who bought my first story for a magazine and later bought my first non-fiction book, STAR TREK LIVES! being a prime example of one who does.) But editors are not paid to teach. They are paid to "develop" writers.
This editor at St. Martin's Griffin imprint is a master developer. Just look at the Amazon profile for Rondald H. Balson to see that.
So what would I have preferred to see fixed in this excellent novel?
The expository lumps. Faye Kellerman doesn't do expository lumps, but her husband is a best sellding novelist so probably clued her in to how to avoid lumps at the outline stage.
Gini Koch doesn't do expository lumps (and has finally tamed her dialogue issues).
Both these series are similar to SAVING SOPHIE, and don't have this problem.
The Kellerman series is about a husband-wife detective team with the wife good at detecting but not employed as an actual police detective.
The Koch series is about a human and an Alien-living-on-Earth who become a kick-ass mobile combat unit turned politicians, and the human woman is one of the finest intuitive detectives ever to grace the pages of a novel series.
So my criticism of SAVING SOPHIE is not a matter of taste.
I saw a tweet the other day on Twitter from a novelist who wondered why she came out of a movie theater rewriting the script when she doesn't want to be a script writer. I replied that is what writers do that annoys people!
And that is why I have so many problems with SAVING SOPHIE as a novel (not as a story!). It occurs in our real world, and accurately depicts the international situation as it is unfolding in 2017. One day it will read as a Historical that is uncannily accurate, like the Rabbi Small Mysteries I've pointed you to.
How do these writers avoid expository lumps?
It really is very easy.
When you find you must write page after huge block paragraph filled pages of EXPLANATION before you can TELL THE STORY (i.e. start the plot rolling), when the world you have built (or researched for a Historical or Contemporary set in the real world) is more interesting to you than the Characters -- you will commit the cardinal sin of the Expository Lump.
In your heart, you know the reader will not get the emotional impact you intend if the reader doesn't know what you know -- all of what you know.
Before you can tell the story you must explain the world.
When that happens to you, you can be certain your novel is lacking an important character -- the one that shows (depicts) the information in that expository lump, and brings it alive to your reader, makes that "information" into intuitive and personal understanding rather than a list of facts to be explained.
One of the reasons for exposition in novels is to CONDENSE. In commercial fiction, length matters for reasons having nothing to do with Art and everything to do with market.
Exposition burns through material much faster than show-don't-tell.
But people believe what they figure out for themselves, not what they are told.
You can't evoke emotion in your readers. The readers must do that for themselves.
So you must break up your expository lumps.
One method of doing that can be learned from any or all of the novels by Andre Norton (you can get omnibus ebooks of her works on Amazon). By highlighting in different colors (which you can do on Kindle) each sentence's components by type (Exposition, Narrative, Dialogue, Description) you can see how to orchestrate using these tools and keep the plot moving while the reader is unaware of learning anything from the exposition (but absorbs it unconsciously.)
So mere word-work can expunge most expository lumps. Failing to use this 4-part harmony tool is just plain lazy writer syndrom and has no place in commercial fiction.
But editors don't get paid to teach that word work. They may "catch" a violation here and there, but will flag only the worst to avoid messing with the writer's style and voice.
That basic word-work is where "style" and "voice" are conveyed. Only practice can bring those elements up to snuff.
But a severe case of Expository Lump as you find in the first third of SAVING SOPHIE has another, structural source.
There is a Character Missing.
So the writer sat one of his Detective Pair down with an Expert and wrote out in dialogue all the exposition he was sure the reader didn't know and had to know to understand the motives of the other Characters.
I peg this as a Craft failure and simply as a beginning writer not knowing the techniques needed to avoid the Lumps, as pure laziness caused by publishing deadline and length pressure. Rewriting to add the correct Character would have taken maybe a year's work.
This is the kind of Character who has to be built in from the first 1-paragraph summary Idea.
In the case of SAVING SOPHIE, my opinion is that the missing Character is The Enemy of The Adversary.
In this novel, The Adversary is the grandfather of Sophie, the 10 year old girl. He is a big-wig Palestinian with pride of heritage, very Islamic (as opposed to the ordinary Muslims). Sophie's mother has died - (we later find out she was murdered by her father, this Grandfather). The American court awarded custody of Sophie to her American father, with visiting rights to the Palestinian Grandfather. One day, as part of an intricade, decades in the making plot, the Grandfather absconds with Sophie, takes her to the Palestinian part of the city of Hebron.
The Grandmother is depicted as a non-entity, totally squashed by her husband, worse than a slave.
But her daughter, Sophie's mother, is depicted as a woman with gumption who is master of her own mind and opinions. That is, ultimately, why the grandfather killed his own daughter (she married her American Soul Mate).
The missing Character in this story-structure is the Palestinian enemy of the Grandfather.
The author goes to great expository lengths laced with contrived dialogue to convince the reader that SOME (probably most) Palestinians are not Terrorists, disapprove of Terrorism as a political tool, and loathe the kind of Muslim who thinks they have a duty to kill people.
And that fact just happens to be true in our everyday reality. The trouble makers are few, the trouble they make is huge.
Instead of lecturing and posturing on this topic, the author should have used a show-don't-tell technique to create a Character who is the enemy of the Grandfather/kidnapper/terrorist. The Grandfather is part of a plot to kill thousands of Israelis with a bacterial infection, which he used to kill his daughter for her crime of marriage to the man of her choice.
The detective pair is hired to bust this international terrorist plot.
And incidentally, also to solve the mystery of what happened to millions of dollars during an international bank transfer.
The problem with this marvelously intricate (and completely logical, well constructed plot) is that it is NOT the "story of the detective couple."
The detective couple are supposed to be the main characters. They don't even belong in the story, never mind in the plot. They are external to the drama. SAVING SOPHIE is not about them. They do bring a bit of relationship/romance to the book, but they don't belong in this book.
Note how Kellerman's husband-wife team is always integral to story, plot, theme of all the Mysteries they solve. The cases the professional detective husband encounters (not all of them, but only the ones Kellerman chronicles) are actually ABOUT the dynamics of the couple's Relationship.
I infer that the reason this detective couple are in this novel is that the first novel about them (set in Ireland) was a grand, commercial success. The editor probably asked for another one.
The story of SAVING SOPHIE is ripped from the Headlines, as I've talked about on this blog quite frequently. It is topical, which is another reason it had to make deadline, flaws and all.
So, to make the point that most Palestinians just want peace to raise their kids, what should the author of Saving Sophie have done?
My answer (which is not the only answer, just the most obvious) is to create another Palestinian Character who is fed up to here with this nonsense and kidnaps Sophie from her kidnapper-grandfather, possibly with the grandmother's help.
The point is made that the Grandfather loves Sophie -- but he doesn't. He sees her as another female to dominate.
The Character Development weakness in the writing is that Sophie is a wimp.
Yes, many 10 year old girls are wimps and wouldn't fight. But Sophie doesn't "adjust" to circumstance, she pines and whines. This makes her an object not a plot moving Character.
So making a deal with a good Palestinian and her Grandmother to get herself kidnapped out of the Grandfather's clutches, while finding out enough about the sinister plot to kill thousands to rat them out to Mosad, would make this an interesting book with ABSOLUTELY NO EXPOSITION, and even less need for the Liam Taggart and Catherine Lockhart detective team.
Sophie's father, who is hell bent on rescuing her, is the one set up as a patsy for embezling the missing millions of dollars. He's fleeing authorities because of that frame up, which hampers his ability to rescue her.
That's enough story for a novel.
One of the other sources of expository lumps that will not yield to these standardized techniques of word-work and Character Illustration is cramming too much material into one book. Very often, the unwieldy expository lump is unbreakable because what you actually have is several novels condensed into one book.
This story may happen in the career of this detective couple, Taggart and Lockhart, but there is no reason to chronicle this incident in their life. It doesn't change anything for them, and they don't learn a Life Lesson from it (just a lot of Near Eastern History and Politics).
In other words, the basic structure of SAVING SOPHIE is absolutely contrived and very flimsy because of it.
As a result, though the story-logic is excellent, and the depiction of our reality is spot-on perfect, the whole book is crazy boring. Nevertheless, (check Amazon comments) readers of this genre love it. It is woven of hot-wire topics, ripped from the headlines. And editorial work patched it up well enough to please this readership.
But I love kickass heroines, and I know 10 year olds, and I just do not believe this 10 year old girl -- but if she's "real" she is boring.
Notice I use the word boring a lot here, today. It is because it is a favorite word of another 10 year old Main Character in a novel series about a couple.
That couple is Kirk-and-Spock, and the novel series is Leslie Lilker's Sahaj Series.
I was asked on Twitter to do some blogs about FAN FICTION, so I am tiptoeing up to that topic here.
Leslye Lilker is the pen name for Leah Charifson, who has a Sahaj Continued Group on Facebook where we talk a lot about all the Star Trek incarnations, including fanfic and TV shows inspired by Trek.
Sahaj is the 3/4 Vulcan son of Spock whose mother (a Vulcan Ambassador) who was a really nasty character but has recently died in the novel, THE AMBASSADOR'S SON, which catapults Sahaj into a situation similar to the one that "Sophie" of SAVING SOPHIE is in.
You can get THE AMBASSADOR'S SON online in various formats HERE
https://sahajcontinues.com/ is the top of the site with a Chronology of the stories. "Sahaj" is a whole universe, and one of the most influential in all Pre-Harry-Potter fanfic.
Sahaj handles his situation much more the way I would have handled it at 10 years old, and Sophie does not handle her situation.
Sophie is a cypher character, a place holder of no value in and of herself. She's the object, the McGuffin, while Sahaj is a real person, with real problems -- much more a Victim (in this plot) than Sophie ever was.
McGuffins are a device to eliminate from your writing by use of Plot-Character Integration. A MacGuffin (a.k.a. McGuffin or maguffin) is a term for a motivating element in a story that is used to drive the plot. It serves no further purpose. Sophie is a tear-jerker character with no other purpose. That technical craft problem is so easy to solve that fanfic writers can't get away with using a McGuffin device.
So the second novel to read to analyze the difference between a BEST SELLER and a BEST READ novel is my nominee for this year's Best Read, THE AMBASSADOR'S SON. (and yes, the rest of the series - there are links in the back of the book.) You don't have to know anything about Star Trek: ToS to have a walloping grand time reading THE AMBASSADOR'S SON.
Even so, THE AMBASSADOR'S SON whirls you into Sahaj's story without expository lumps, lectures, or instruction. Yes, it is fanfic, leaning on ST: ToS -- but even without remembering any of it, the novel makes sense and is a compelling read.
Leslye Lilker is a byline to memorize and search for. Excellent craftsmanship, never a beat missed, and a vast, truly broad appeal that extends far beyond the usual Star Trek fanzine readership.
Sahaj fails to extricate himself from his plight -- but that does not stop him from trying again, and again, from figuring angles, and driving toward his goal in a single-minded, entrepreneurial, success oriented methodology (with unfortunate results). Eventually, (years and novels later) he does achieve his goal, and acquires other goals along the way. When he does achieve a goal, the reader deems him worthy.
Sahaj is dominated by an Alien Entity attached to him by his villainous mother for the purpose of making him hate Spock and then for the purpose of killing Spock to get back at Sarek and the Ancient Family Spock is descended from.
Sahaj, when we first meet him, is the trojan horse in an interstellar intrigue plot bigger than any of Ronald H. Balson's paper-thin Palestinian Characters, and going back even more centuries of Vulcan politics and the adoption of the non-Emotion based culture.
In the plot, Sahaj is the victim. In the story, Sahaj is the hero. In the end, Sahaj gets the last laugh. You want to read all the Sahaj stories -- Lilker has dragooned a number of other (creative, talented and craft proficient) writers into creating in her alternate Trek universe because Sahaj is worthy.
More than that, if you are a Romance reader who loves Alien Romance, who loves Paranormal Romance, you will be glad to know there is Alien Romance in Sahaj novels being worked on in 2017.
Read it as an example of an intricately "built" world cradling a heart-rending multi-generation saga -- all without expository lumps. You know the world; you know the Characters -- but you never have to be told. You figure it out, and the figuring is fun.
Sophie will never be worthy because she has no personal investment in her fate.
So in SAVING SOPHIE, the Characters, Plot, Story, Theme, and Worldbuilding are all independent elements that just do not belong together, can not be "integrated" as I've discussed in many of these series, and sit there like oil and water in layers.
The missing Character could have been the soap necessary to integrate them -- but that would require eliminating the Detective Pair they probably intended to use to market this novel.
Success begets success -- but you don't want it to come so early in your career that you bomb on your second or third novel, before you've internalized the craft tools needed to fit an Editor's stringent requirements.
"Write me another book about this pair of Detectives."
Well, SAVING SOPHIE is not about the pair of detectives, but that is what it is marketed as.
That is a very hard writing assignment, and the failure of this writer is easy to sympathize with. Writing a novel for commercial reasons is very hard if the detective pair was not originally created to be the foundation of a series. And using material ripped from contemporary headlines for a plot can make it even harder to execute the Pair Of Detectives Roam The World Solving Insoluble Problems For The Powers That Be trope.
International Intrigue is a genre that uses multiple points of view to tell a coherent story. Point of View Shifting is a major craft technique (which is also a bit shaky in Ronald H. Balson's writing). It requires integrating almost all the individual techniques we've discussed.
The third novel to include in your contrast/compare study of the Expository Lump and the Best Seller Vs. Best Read issue is actually by Pete Earley, a writer who achieved Best Seller status all by himself, and here collaborates.
VENGEANCE is the novel.
It is another example of creating a novel specifically to sell to a particular readership -- and this time, the grand Best Selling Author name in a huge font on the cover is Newt Gingrich (whose wife has been confirmed as Ambassador to the Holy See (i.e. Vatican).
The former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich (architect of the contract with America that a group of Representatives signed while campaigning to enact a specific economic agenda, which they actually did do), has gone on to become a producer of video, other novels, non-fiction books, children's books with his wife, and is seen on TV almost every night.
His name SELLS BOOKS.
He is a pretty fair writer, by himself. He has apparently (I don't know him personally) learned to take editorial direction and has good editors. His work is pretty sound. So his NAME on the cover in blazing huge type is not exploitative of popularity, as it often is with celebrities.
Many celebrities of such stature have their names on books they barely looked at before publication -- the sweaty, boring (Sahaj's favorite perjorative term) business of writing a book is beyond them or beneath them.
The work is done by ghost writerrs -- who often don't get their name on the cover, nevermind with "and" before it.
Pete Earley has many books to his credit (search him on Amazon), but this is the third in a series, and it avoids all the problems I highlighted with SAVING SOPHIE.
Every Character driving the plot explicates a thematic element that is part of the psychology of revenge or vengeance. It is Art at it's best. The title is the THEME (just like THE AMBASSADOR'S SON is the theme.)
Note how SAVING SOPHIE is not the theme but the McGuffin.
Earley is proficient with all the craft tools we have discussed, and picks them up for a word or phrase or two, and lays them aside gracefully, never missing a beat with the pacing.
I suspect Gingrich wrote the Presidential Oval Office Speeches (which are short, move the plot, deepen characterization, provide motivation, and illustrate what show-don't-tell is all about) because I have heard him on TV saying very similar things.
I suspect he provided some of the Washington D.C. "color" details from his years in that environment.
By the acknowledgements, I see they have expert consultants, and from reading this novel I think they listened to their chosen expert.
It is well edited, and well copyedited, published by Center Street imprint of Hatchette. Top drawer operation, and no significant fails in this novel.
OK, maybe you won't like the politics -- but forget that. Both SAVING SOPHIE and VENGEANCE use the material of the Middle East Conflict, both include a full blown tutorial on the vast, deep, and meaningful history of that conflict (just exactly as you must do if writing about ghosts, djinn, Harry Potter, or Aliens from another planet and their interdimensional or galactic wars.)
No created story world is complete without the war-history of the clashing cultures.
The content of that history, or at least the part you choose to reveal to your readers, has to highlight, underscore and illustrate (in show-don't-tell) all about your THEME. The nature of the content is not important. The way you present that content is VITALLY IMPORTANT to the emotional responses of the reader.
Since both SAVING SOPHIE and VENGEANCE are about the Middle East Conflict, the world-girdling religious wars currently in progress (often not mentioned in headlines), you must read them both, together or in rapid succession to grasp my point here.
Both major best sellers, but one is boring and riddled with amateurish errors never permitted in fanfic, and the other is fascinating, smooth, and easily a candidate for Best Read of the Year despite being pure Best Seller material exploiting previous successes.
They are a pair, and the difference between them is best explained and illustrated by reading THE AMBASSADOR'S SON.
The difference is Theme-Character-Integration.
You can read about this craft technique for years and still not be able to do it. But read about it and read these 3 novels all at once, and you will suddenly see why your submissions are rejected or relegated to the bottom of the heap.
Yes, they are not "Romance" per se, but that makes it easy to focus on the craft techniques and see immediately how to use them in Science fiction Romance.