Thursday, May 30, 2019

The Omnivore's Dilemma

No, not the book of that name, which was the only reference that popped up on a full page of Google results. I first encountered this term in the section on "Disgust" in HOW THE MIND WORKS, by Steven Pinker, who attributes it to psychologist Paul Rozin. The omnivore's dilemma encapsulates the double-edged nature of our ability to digest a vast variety of different foods. Therefore, human beings can survive in almost any environment on Earth. The negative side of this advantage is that we can't be sure whether a new potential food source is safe to eat until we've tried it.

As Pinker puts it, "Disgust is intuitive microbiology." After a certain age (when they outgrow the "put everything in their mouths" phase), children avoid things we would consider intrinsically disgusting, such as decayed organic matter or body fluids and excretions. Most people will even refuse to put in their mouths harmless items that resemble disgusting objects (e.g., fake vomit). Contact or resemblance equals contagion, an emotional aversion that overrides mere rationality. But what accounts for "disgust" reactions to items that we dismiss as inedible but many other cultures classify as food?

Pinker points out that we accept a very narrow range of animal products as food, even though those we shun are perfectly edible. Most Americans confine their animal diets to chickens, pigs, cattle, sheep, and selected types of fish and other seafood. From the mammals we raise for food, many of us eat only certain parts of their bodies and avoid the rest (e.g., organ meats, feet, tails, etc.). Pinker discusses how we learn these dietary prejudices as a byproduct of the omnivore's dilemma. In infancy and early toddler-hood, the "put everything in their mouths" stage, children have to eat what their parents offer them. When the child gets mobile enough to forage for himself or herself (in a hunter-gatherer society), the "picky" stage sets in. (It's probably not a coincidence that the food-finicky phase coincides with the drop in appetite when the rapid growth spurt of early life slows down.) Now the child regards new foods with suspicion. The items fed by the parents during the early months are accepted as edible. All other potential foods are, by definition according to the child's world-view, repulsive. Whatever isn't explicitly permitted is forbidden and therefore disgusting. As a practical corollary of this process, it seems parents should try to introduce their toddlers to as many different foods as possible during the sensitive learning period.

I was reminded of this section in HOW THE MIND WORKS (a fascinating, highly readable book—check it out) by Facebook videos of our seven-month-old grandson trying his first solid foods. He likes avocado. Until recently, he liked applesauce. Last week, he rejected it; maybe that's just a temporary fluke. Babies, like human beings in general, crave sweet tastes, because in a state of nature our ancestors depended on sweetness to tell them when fruit was edible. This natural attraction to sugar inspires infant-care experts to advise starting babies on less sweet foods (e.g., vegetables) first, rather than letting them get fixated on sugary things such as fruit right off the bat.

Pinker, by the way, says that not only are most parts and products of animals considered disgusting (see above), but also most or all disgusting things come from animals. Vegetables may be rejected because they taste bitter, but they're not viewed as disgusting. I reacted to that statement with, "Speak for yourself, Dr. Pinker." As a child, I was disgusted—i.e, nauseated—by several kinds of vegetables because they were served in a cooked-to-mush condition. The combination of change in taste from overcooking and the yucky texture made my stomach revolt. I believe, by the way, that the cliche of children hating vegetables arises from the crimes perpetrated on perfectly harmless plants by 1950s cooking styles and the prevalence of over-processed canned veggies in the American diet of that period.

One especially interesting issue: What about bugs? Why don't many cultures—ours included—eat insects and similar arthropods (e.g., spiders)? We often pay high prices for the privilege of consuming certain other arthropods, such as lobsters. And we happily eat one kind of insect secretion (honey). Yet we abhor the termites and grubs that form an important part of our ape relatives' diets. The easy answer in American culture is that bugs aren't included among the "permitted" items we're fed in childhood. But why aren't we?

An article from SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN attempting to answer that question:

What's Stopping Us from Eating Insects?

And one from the anthropology website "Sapiens":

Why Don't More Humans Eat Bugs?

Neither of these articles exactly repeats Pinker's hypothesis, which makes a lot of sense to me, although the second essay touches upon it: Gathering enough insects or other small arthropods to provide sufficient protein isn't a very efficient process. It takes a lot of time and energy. Therefore, people incorporated bugs into their diets only if those creatures were abundant (in the tropics, for instance) and nothing better was readily available. Where a society could obtain plenty of protein from more efficient sources, such as raising herd animals, they didn't bother to eat bugs. And since whatever isn't permitted during the early learning period is by definition forbidden, bugs are disgusting to most of us. This cultural phenomenon drives the humorous appeal of the popular children's novel HOW TO EAT FRIED WORMS, since at a certain age many kids develop a sort of queasy fascination with yucky things.

One lesson for future interplanetary explorers might be that colonists should conscientiously expose their children from infancy to all sorts of safe native foods in extraterrestrial environments, even if the parents find those items repugnant.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Theme-Worldbuilding Integration Part 20 - Why Love Matters

Theme-Worldbuilding Integration

Part 20

Why Love Matters 

Previous parts in Theme-Worldbuilding are indexed here:

All readers, of fiction or non-fiction, are detectives working a mystery case.

First they want to know what this book is about, and why should I waste my time reading it.  A closed book is a mystery.

Once hooked by your first line, your reader becomes YOUR READER.  They have "entered" your world, they have invested themselves in opening the book.

At that point, the mystery becomes, "what are the rules of this "world" and how do those rules differ from the rules by which I live my everyday life."

A story becomes interesting by posing a question, and part of the intriguing nature of a question is the unconscious assumptions behind the frame of the question.  Those unconscious assumptions behind your crafting of a first line are in fact the elements that frame your theme.

The theme of a work of fiction must be stated, baldly, in "on the nose" vocabulary once in a work of fiction, first at the end of the opening scene -- about 5% of the total wordage of the work -- and then near the end, right after the climax.

The theme is what the story is about, but whether the thematic statement is true for your reader has to be argued in the Worldbuilding part of your story, not in plot, story, character, action -- all of the other components of a work of fiction illustrate the theme, and the theme is the statement of the essence of the World your Characters must cope with.

The mystery the reader is working through is, "How does this fictional world differ from my everyday world?"  And beyond that, whether the fictional world is an improvement on the everyday world -- or perhaps if the thematic thesis somehow illuminates or explains the everyday world.

The overall, core, theme of Romance is Love Conquers All, and beyond that, once "conquered" then All will deliver the Happily Ever After smooth glide through life.

In everyday reality, it's hard to see that happening to anyone, least of all yourself -- and very probably yourself while you are in love.

People who "fall in love" are usually astonished, bewildered, and experience the state of mind and heart as a "game changer."

Today, there is a lot of research going on focused on the brain, while even more money is being poured into research on the mind.  Scientists are trying to prove that the mind is a product of the brain.

If they can establish this beyond doubt, then they will have proven that the hypothesis of the existence of a Soul is an unnecessary complication, and all human behavior can be explained simply as a function of the brain.  Occam's Razor logic says go for the simplest explanation that works, so that will be the thematic basis of the science of the future.

To write SCIENCE FICTION -- and therefore to write SCIENCE FICTION ROMANCE -- the writer takes an idea that is currently unquestioned by science, something assumed, an axiom, or so well proven it may as well be an axiom.  Then the writer builds a world around the premise that this axiom of science just is not true.

The mystery the reader is solving is, "How would the world be different if this axiom of science is not true?"

No single novel, or single author, can compile all the possible differences a shift in axioms might bring, so we have to select one possible consequence and build the entire fictional world around that.

The THEME is composed of A) the axiom that's wrong, B) the corrected axiom, C) the consequence of the new axiom.

Suppose science concludes there is no Soul, but in fact there are Souls, therefore the meaning of life has nothing to do with the appearance, or fate, of the body.


Or maybe




Whether Love can Conquer All might depend on whether it is an attribute of the brain, the mind, or the soul -- and that writer's decision is called world building.

Here is an article (which may not be true, but makes good fiction fodder) posted in Elite Daily:

which says


If we really want to get technical, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans *actually* measure oxygen levels in the tiny veins in our brain, not just "the brain." For those of us who aren't literal brain scientists (hi), the take away here is that there's a lot to be learned from observing brain scans, especially when it comes to love. Finding "The One" has been linked to increased activity in the areas of the brain associated with sex, reward, and memory. And what's better? Being in love is also connected to decreased activity in brain sections linked to fear and dislike. So basically, being in love means more stuff is happening in the good places of your brain, and less stuff is happening in the bad.

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

And that is science completely about the brain.  Is that all we are? Cells, and nerves, electrical signals?  Or is there a Soul that science can't detect?

You might want to reread the 6 or more parts of SOULMATES AND THE HEA series:

If your thematic thesis is that there does exist a Soul, then your story, or your novel, would be about a particular Soul ripped, torn, mashed, stretched, and flung through a learning experience.

As you specify what Soul, starting where, going where, doing what, with which consequences, and what obstacles to conquer, your story emerges complete with plot, characters, situation, setting, etc.

Two good examples to contrast and compare are these novels:

Tanya Huff's Peacekeeper Series is one to watch -- #3 in the series, THE PRIVILEGE OF PEACE is about a second encounter with the defeated obstacle of previous episodes, Big Yellow, an alien spaceship which seems to mean humanity no good.  It's a takeover attempt, invading the body-brain of humans, and doing more than just spying.

Now contrast/compare THE PRIVILEGE OF PEACE with C. J. Cherryh's 1997 entry in her MERCHANTER series, part of the ALLIANCE-UNION saga she is still expanding for us with the 2019 entry, ALLIANCE RISING (#1 in the HINDER STARS series).  (note this was from Warner Books, not DAW, so it's hard to get since she went back to DAW as her main publisher).

"Finity's End" is the name of a starship.

I enjoyed re-reading FINITY'S END after that ship turned up, brand-spanking-new in ALLIANCE RISING.

So I puzzled over why I enjoyed this old story so much -- and concluded it was the meticulous world building that generated the vivid, deep, torn and tormented Characters, shattered by war and loss of those close to them, but now healing, re-connecting, creating a new vision of a better future.

Tanya Huff deals directly with a sexual love bond, while Cherryh explores the strife/strength axis of family bonds -- great-grandmother, cousins, aunts, etc. extended over (rejuvenated) lifetimes complicated by the time-dilation of FTL travel.

But they both write in universes where the Soul is a real component of the world building, while the Characters (just like us) have no clue about that and don't want to know.

This world building technique (what the Characters don't know about their world and aren't curious about) lets the reader either see it's there or firmly believe that it is not there.

Ambiguity is one of the most difficult aspects of Art to master, and both these writers have achieved that. 

But in both these novels, you see that ambiguity used in broad strokes to great effect.

Why does love matter?  Because, whether there is a Soul or not, Love reconfigures the brain and that changes what you do, when you do it, why you do it, and even whether you'll do it or not.

Love configures behavior by reconfiguring the brain.

Since the brain is so plastic, so impressionable, it is entirely possible that love could be reconfigured out of the circuits.  And therein lie a lot of novels.  The question could become, "Can love conquer the obstacle of its own lack of existence?"

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Death and Your Photographs

Legal blogger Ally Tow, writing for Boyes Turner LLP, discusses a case of sudden death, and denied access to the deceased's albums stored with a secretive social media giant.


No matter your age or excellent health, you should have a Will, a Living Will, a medical Power of Attorney, a clause in your Will giving your heirs legal access to your social media accounts, and --if you are a writer-- you should assign your copyrights.

Be sure to leave your certificates of copyright registration and any copyright reversion letters from former publishers in a safe place, and also perhaps, a list of your internet accounts and passwords.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Monopolies, Publishing, and Online Media

Cory Doctorow's latest column briefly surveys the history of antitrust enforcement, considers the effect on creative artists of the concentration of market share in a few mega-organizations, and analyzes a provision of the European Union's new Copyright Directive. Spoiler: He's against it (that one clause, anyway).

Steering with the Windshield Wipers

I must admit my initial reaction to the first paragraph was amusement at a tangential thought. Doctorow illustrates the monopolizing of an industry by a few corporations or only one with this suggestion: "Take off your glasses for a sec (you’re a Locus reader, so I’m guessing that you, like me, are currently wearing prescription eyewear) and have a look at the manufacturer’s name on the temples." If you need glasses to read text on a screen, how are you supposed to read the brand name on them when you take them off? I tried, and as I expected, the print is way too small. LOL. Anyway, Doctorow reveals that most eyeglass frames and lenses are made by the same company that owns the major retailers in the field. (So my personal choice, Lenscrafters, isn't really independent of its alleged competitors such as Pearle Vision. We live in a weird world, all right.) From that point, he asks how we got into this situation and proceeds to discuss Facebook and other Internet social media engines. He offers examples of "overconcentration blues" in film and TV, the music industry, publishing, and social media sites (with particular emphasis on Facebook's privacy problems).

He strenuously objects to the EU Copyright Directive's clause that requires online providers to "block anything that might be unlicensed, using automated filters." In Doctorow's opinion, "This is a plan of almost unfathomable foolishness." One of his primary objections is that the policy won't stop infringement, because filters are susceptible to abuse, "imperfect and prone to catching false positives," and "cheap and easy to subvert." He also believes the rule will be so expensive to comply with that smaller companies will be squeezed out, to the benefit of the mega-conglomerates.

In near-apocalyptic language, he works up to the conclusion that "monopolies are strangling the possibility of a pluralistic, egalitarian society." This article, however, doesn't answer the logical next question: What must we do to be saved? As for the publishing industry, it doesn't seem to me that the dominance of the Big Five (possibly soon to become four) is quite so dire for authors as it used to be. We now have alternative outlets that didn't exist in the past, in the form of a multitude of small presses and e-publishers, as well as inexpensive self-publishing.

Some services, in my opinion, SHOULD be provided by monopolies. Maintaining utility infrastructure such as the electrical grid or the sewer system, for instance. But not publishing.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Index to Soul Mates and the HEA Real or Fantasy

Index to Soul Mates and the HEA Real or Fantasy
Jacqueline Lichtenberg 

Why don't people believe a Happily Ever After "ending" is possible in real life, and if it isn't possible to achieve in reality, what's wrong with reading about it?

This series explores this complex issue from several directions.

Part 1 Are Soul Mates who find each other destined for an HEA?

Part 2
Why do readers reject the Romance Genre, but accept the Love Story sub-plot?

Here is a set of links to previous posts in other series of posts on this blog being applied to this problem in the Soul Mates and the HEA series:
We have discussed the plausibility of the Soul Mate hypothesis and the Happily Ever After goal hypothesis in many different contexts.
If the HEA is implausible, how come it happens?
The Cheating Woman
Nesting Huge Themes Inside Each Other (building the foundation of a series)
And What Does She See In Him?

Part 3  of Soul Mates And The HEA Real or Fantasy -Convincing Your Reader

Part 4
Is Monkey Sex Best There Can Be?

Part 5
Domestic Violence During the HEA

Part 6
Love Vs. Romance

Part 7
Is The HEA Balderdash?

Part 8
The Science of the HEA

Part 9
Mixing Soul, Science and Politics

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Other People's Medical Misfortunes

Just because Amazon has made a movie --about the infamous tossing (out of a car window) of  a severed male member-- does not mean that any writer can write about such an event. That particular event preceded HIPAA (medical privacy law), and movie rights were probably bought and sold.

Legal blogger Kristin Starnes Grey, writing for Ford & Harrison LLP  discusses the pre-HIPAA case on the HR Entertainment Blog and offers wise advice when one is tempted to write about another person's medical misfortunes.

or here:

On the other hand, apparently, HIPAA does not protect medical information revealed by some of those for-entertainment-only "fitness" tracker apps. The proprietors of those apps, especially if you allow "sharing" with your Facebook "friends", are lawfully allowed to sell any information you provide to Facebook.

I doubt that Facebook is much interested in whether you drink zero or 8 glasses of water. I can't help wondering if those treacherous little trackers can tell whether, and for how long, you --if you are male-- shake hands with the otherwise unemployed in a North-North-Westerly elevation with a 6" range of motion.

Maybe you should take your Fitbit off sometimes?

Given that some European country is talking about making it illegal for parents to bring up their children Vegan, maybe one should think twice about the dietary information one fills in and shares.

Legal blogger Sara H. Jodka for the law firm Dickinson Wright discusses the finer points of Medical Privacy and HIPAA, and advises app users to beware.

or here:

To make what I hope is fair use of one tiny weeny tip in that very useful blog, read that HIPAA form that the receptionist asks you to sign.  Cross out any wording in the fine print where you give the doctor permission to share your ultra super secret private medical information over any unsecure method (email perhaps?) that the doctor and his staff deem convenient.

You know that certain free mail providers read your e/f/g/ymail and track your purchases, if you have receipts emailed to your email account?

Finally, and perhaps not medical-misfortune-related, Microsoft has a new and thoroughly helpful process to discourage the politically incorrect writer from articulating, or even thinking inappropriate thoughts.

Presumably, for now, this technology is optional.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Thoughts on Genre

A blog post by fantasy author Seanan McGuire on what genre is and is not, plus her own expectations for genre:

Genre Is Not a Prison

For one thing, it can be easier to tell what genre a particular work is not than what it is. McGuire cites one of the clearest examples, romance. Concluding with a Happily Ever After (or at least a Happily for Now) is essential to the definition of romance. Without that feature, a story isn't a romance regardless of any "romantic elements" it may include. GONE WITH THE WIND and ROMEO AND JULIET are not romances (in the modern sense, leaving aside the various medieval or Renaissance meanings of the term, which don't necessarily entail "love story" content). Her explanation reminded me of another component that used to be considered integral to the definition of "romance": Decades ago, a scholar of the genre defined a romance as the story of "the courtship of one or more heroines" (e.g., PRIDE AND PREJUDICE). The field has changed to make that definition obsolete; a romance novel today might focus on the love story of a male couple.

McGuire brings up the often-debated distinction between science fiction and fantasy, noting that people "can take their genres very seriously indeed" and that, for example, "Something that was perfectly acceptable when it was being read as Fantasy is rejected when it turns out to be secret Science Fiction." That potential reaction caused some disagreement between my husband and me, as well as with our editor, when the conclusion of the third novel in our Wild Sorceress trilogy revealed our fantasy world to have been an SF world all along. I worried that some readers might react with annoyance to what they might see as a bait-and-switch, and the adjustments we had to make to accommodate the editor's reservations validated my concerns. On the other hand, fiction with a fantasy "feel" that turns out to be SF isn't all that uncommon. The laran powers on Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover look like magic (and are viewed as such by the common people of that world), and a reader who starts with the Ages of Chaos novels might well be shocked when the Terrans arrive and Darkover is revealed as a lost Earth colony. The abilities of the characters in Andre Norton's Witch World series seem to be true magic, yet the stories take place on a distant planet rather than in an alternate world such as Narnia. And both authors' works are considered classics of the field, so those series' position on the fantasy/science fiction borderline hasn't hurt their enduring popularity.

I don't entirely agree with McGuire's comment about fantasy and horror: "Fantasy and Horror are very much 'sister genres,' separated more by mood than content." While true as far as it goes, this remark sounds as if all horror lurks under the same roof as fantasy. Granted, my own favorite subgenre of horror, which I encountered first and still think of as the real thing, is supernatural horror, a subset of fantasy—defined as requiring "an element of the fantastical, magic, or impossible creatures." As the Horror Writers Association maintains, however, horror is a mood rather than a genre. In addition to supernatural or fantastic horror in a contemporary setting, we can have high fantasy horror, historical supernatural horror, science-fiction horror (e.g., many of Lovecraft's stories), or psychological horror (e.g., Robert Bloch's PSYCHO).

McGuire does acknowledge the importance of mood in assigning genre labels: "Because some genres are separated by mood rather than strict rules, it can be hard to say where something should be properly classified." Does that mean we should give up on classifying fiction according to genre? Quite the opposite! I tend to get irked rather than admiring an author's bold individuality when he or she refuses to let one of his or her works (or entire literary output) be "typecast" as science fiction, horror, or whatever category the work clearly belongs to. McGuire seems to feel the same way: “'Genre-defying' is a label that people tend to use when they don’t want to pin themselves down to a set of expectations, and will often lead me to reject a book for something that’s more upfront about the reading experience it wants to offer me." Some authors seem to view the very idea of "expectations" with disdain, as if genre conventions inevitably equate to "cliche" or "formula." Do they feel equally dismissive toward the fourteen lines and fixed rhyme scheme of a sonnet?

As McGuire puts it, "And when someone wants something, they really want it. I react very poorly to a book whose twist is 'a-ha, you thought you were reading one thing, when really, you were reading something else entirely, whose rules were altogether different!' ” Genre, she says, at best resembles "a recipe. It tells the person who’s about to order a dish (or a narrative) roughly what they can expect from the broad strokes." Making it clear what ingredients the "dish" contains is one of the main jobs of marketing. Nowadays, a reader can discover works in exactly the niche he or she is looking for. On the Internet, a book needn't be shelved in only one category, and its genre components can be subcategorized as finely as the writer, publisher, or sales outlet chooses. So a fan of, to quote McGuire's example, “Christian vampire horror Western,” can find stories by like-minded authors.

The concept of "fuzzy sets" can be useful in thinking about genre. A book that's an unmistakable, nearly archetypal example of fantasy would fall in the center of the "fantasy" circle. A different work that has many characteristics of fantasy but doesn't check all the typical boxes might belong somewhere between the center and the boundary of the circle. Some works feel like sort-of-fantasy but not completely and may include markers of other genres. They might fit into an overlapping zone between the "fantasy" circle and the "science fiction" or "horror" circle. A historical novel with a romantic subplot might appear at the intersection between historical fiction and romance. None of this hypothetical fuzziness, however, means that there's no such thing as genre or no point in categorizing fiction.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Soul Mates and the HEA Real or Fantasy Part 6 - Love Vs. Romance

Soul Mates and the HEA
 Real or Fantasy
Part 6
Love  Vs. Romance 

Previous parts in the Soul Mates and the HEA series are:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

In a post About Building a Hero Character from the fabric of your Theme,

I mentioned the TV Series NCIS
as lacking in "Romance" which prompted Margaret Carter (who posts here on Thursdays) to comment:

I have reservations about your comment on absence of Love (Romance) on NCIS. In the course of the series, we've seen McGee and Jimmy (the assistant medical examiner) fall in love, get married, have children. Given the genre of the series, these are necessarily subplots, not main plots, but they are there. And we saw Tony give up his NCIS career to move out of the country and become a father to his newly discovered child (not romance, but familial Love -- although, granted, this event removes him from the series).

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

Margaret Carter (a widely known scholar) is, of course, correct that, from time to time in the long-running NCIS Series, we have seen Characters become involved, move in together, break up, marry, have kids, and generally have a real life outside crime-solving, behaving like "everyone else" living in 21st Century USA.

And I do believe romance writers can learn a lot by studying the scripting of NCIS episodes to a depth where the nuances between Love and Romance -- and the overlap zones  between the two -- become more vividly apparent.

Studying TV Series, or book series, by watching or reading the episodes in rapid succession is a worthwhile exercise because, after much repetition, you internalize the format, shape of the story, pacing of the plot, and perhaps most important, the boundaries of a genre.

Successful, long running, expensive-to-make TV Series, give you an understanding of the narrow tolerances of a broad audience.  Failed TV Series (3 seasons or less, regardless of budget), give you an understanding of the wide tolerances of a narrow audience.

Romance readers are, actually, a very broad audience, narrowly focused on how couples get together -- and even, how there can be an HEA in your future after the heartbreak of a relationship failure, or a widowhood.

TV audiences are even broader, as they must include people who hate "mushy stuff" or Romance in any form, who think spaced-out "In Love" condition is a form of insanity bound to lead to a nasty breakup, and who know from experience that happiness in real life comes in flashes, quickly overshadowed by Harsh Reality.

Dark, Gritty, Grim, Bloody -- those are the attitudes Characters must have toward their fictional realities in order to seem "realistic" to the broadest audiences today.

Today -- but not long ago, and perhaps in the future we will see a brighter view of Reality re-assert itself.

Currently, there is a strong current of disbelief of the existence of anything resembling an HEA - a Happily Ever After ending, the very "ending" that defines the Romance Genre.

Just as the "adventure" genre (to which science fiction has been erroneously thought to belong) requires the Hero to "win" at the end - to vanquish the villain, to overcome all obstacles, to succeed - the Romance Genre requires the Couple (as a unit, as a Hero) to form a lasting bond despite all obstacles.

The Romance writer's main plot-search is always for creative obstacles to keep the Couple apart, strand them as separate individuals.

Love Conquers All is the over-arching Romance Genre Theme, but the definitions of "conquer" and "all" are wide open to interpretation.

So, Margaret's observation deserves deeper scrutiny. 

In the series, NCIS, there is plenty of Love -- every sort of bonding and Relationship Driven Plotting has been touched on over the 15 (or more) years this show has run.

But in the various sub-stories of the lives of the Special Agents (and of the criminals, and the victims), we find no HEA presented. 

Our Main Hero, Gibbs, is single -- with 6 marriages behind him.  No HEA, and no further hope burns within him. A glimmering surfaces from time to time, but his life is all about murders and destroying criminals. 

NCIS exemplifies the lives of those who have given up the search for a Soul Mate.  They live in worlds circumscribed by the HFN - Happily For Now - flashes of happiness sprinkled along the time-line of otherwise dark/grim lives.

The other Special Agents on Gibb's team have other Dark/Grim/Pluto-driven lives -- Tony had a kid he didn't even know about until the mother (arguably his Soul Mate) was presumably killed.  He ditches the job he loves to move to Paris to raise that kid.  What had seemed a bright Romance in his life, flirting and teasing for years, is dashed to bits.  More pain is in store as it seems possible Ziva might be alive.  Is this the story-arc of true Soul Mates?

As Margaret noted, we have seen the assistant medical examiner and McGee (the resident computer Geek, complimenting Abby's wider skills) "fall in love, marry, have kids." 

This raises the question of what the difference is between "falling in love" and "Genuine Romance." 

The Main Character in NCIS (the hero, the Star of the Show, the one whose face is on screen more than any other), Gibbs, has the key-life-pattern that sets up the theme for all the Relationships on the show.

To be a work of Art, a TV Series has to have thematic coherence.  In real life, the people who work together on a team generally do not have that sort of coherence.  When Karma is active, though, even in real life task-forces and groups teaming up to a single purpose do, indeed, have the potential for thematic coherence. 

When you see that coherence emerging in a real life Group you belong to (sub-sets of Star Trek fans, for example, or fans of a particular author), it can set your hair on end.  It is downright spooky.  Like seeing a ghost, you know it is not real, but it is real --- it is more real than Reality Itself.

Fiction, such as TV Series or novels, reveal that dimension of Reality -- or conceal it -- as part of the thematic structure of the Worldbuilding.  That depiction is the Art of Fiction.

Romance Genre is designed to reveal the reality of an otherwise invisible dimension through which the Bond of Soul Mates operates. 

In ordinary consciousness, humans can not perceive that dimension where those Bonds tie us together.  During certain Neptune Transits to your Natal Chart, that perceptual channel is activated, sometimes opened wide, sometimes just tingling with energy. 

Neptune adds a dimension to perception of the nature of Reality.  It isn't a choice -- either reality has an HEA built into it, OR it doesn't.  No-no, that is not how humans apprehend life.  It is more a matter of "sometimes you can see where you're going, and sometimes you can't see." 

Neptune perceptivity comes and goes -- and usually comes on bright and irresistible only once in a normal lifetime. 

As noted on NCIS, Gibbs had a Soul Mate and a child, and they were both killed.  He, while still in charge of a unit at NCIS, sneaks off an murders the man responsible for their deaths. Some of his team know what he did -- he gets away with it.  That is "Dark" - "Grim" - "Gritty" - and a life-story-shape incompatible with the Romance Genre.

Gibb's biography is re-echoed in the biographies of all the other Characters he searches out, vets, and accepts onto his Team.  The Team reflects the darkness that envelopes his soul.  And he does have a soul!  He is both at ease with the murder of the murderer of his Soul Mate, and endlessly anguished about it. 

All of those he accepts onto the Team have the beautiful light of Gibb's Soul in common with him, and are thus willing, able, and eager to Love, to bond (with each other, and with spouses, children, etc.).  But they also share the Dark, the failures, the guilts, the horrible dramatic (Pluto-driven) tragedies akin to Gibb's biography.

One external symbolic sequence that illustrates the patched-over-Souls struggling on with life in a dim, grim, duty-and-responsibility job, was when the producers destroyed the Office section where all the desks are grouped.  They all hate the orange/reddish color of the wall paint, and many are not comfortable with the skylight, yet when the place is rebuilt after the explosion -- it is repainted that exact shade of orange.

Emotional and spiritual lives are reconstructed and repainted like that -- mimicking the past in a desperate grab at continuity. 

That sequence is worth studying as an example of the use of symbolism.

The NCIS Series shows us a world powered by love - love of fellow workers, love of law and order, love of innocent victims, love of special individuals, love of elder-mentors, love of children, and an occasional glimpse of love for a parent or grandparent. 

Margaret is correct.  The Series is permeated with Love, and occasionally, temporarily, Love wins out.

The Art of NCIS the TV Series shows in the unending job of  solving crimes. There's never a lack of crime, especially murder of Marines, on and off duty, active and retired.  The blackest, darkest, most vicious aspect of human nature is bottomless, endless, –– law and order can't WIN against this element of human nature.  The job is a pure description of a life of utter futility -- definitely Grimly Ever After. 

But they solve the crimes. These torn, shattered people team up and WIN against criminals (more so than other teams.)

But their wins are just temporary flashes - HFN.  Something to celebrate, then move on.

This artistic statement of the nature of humanity and human life poses the question, "Is life a futile groping through darkness spangled with flickers of Love?" 

And the Romance writer answers, "No, life is Love, floodlit by goodness, punctuated with meaningful obstacles."  Every obstacle overcome by Love is a Soul-lesson well (and cheaply) learned.

So you can write a cop-show that is a Romance, around a main character who is living his/her HEA, joyfully upholding the law, learning about humanity's aspirations toward goodness, kindness, and generosity of spirit.

One mystery series that seemed to start out to be such a story is Faye Kellerman's Decker/Lazarus novels, starting with a true Romance Mystery Detective cross-genre award winning novel, The Ritual Bath.

The series follows the couple after Decker rescues Lazarus and marries her (and her kids), through them having a child of their own, through putting the children through school, through visiting in-laws, through a whole cop-career, to retirement to become a small-town-cop. 

The series depicts the world of NCIS via civilian Homicide division in the big city - the endless and overwhelming job - without the failed HEA being the core organizing principle of the Theme.

A successful marriage, plenty of drama, lots of personalities and conflict, but a very realistic HEA situation.  This series almost defines what an HEA looks like in our real world -- plenty of dark grit, plenty of awkward social situations, but Love fueled by an unending Romance energizes these Characters.

The dimension of Reality that Romance adds to mere Love is (very oddly) stability.

Romance, as I've noted is made available to real life people during some Neptune transits to their Natal Charts.  Neptune "dissolves" reality, wipes away barriers.  That is the definition of the Romance Genre (Love Conquers All).

Love, on the other hand, is made available to real life people during certain Venus transits to the Natal Chart, or Solar Arc transits of Natal planet to Natal planet.  It is Venus to something, or something to Venus -- Venus is always in the mix. 

Neptune is famous for destabilizing, and Venus is famous for giving nice feelings, wealth and pleasure.  Venus rules Beauty (Taurus) and Justice (Libra). 

When Neptune and Venus combine in an easy-flowing way, you get stability, or something like Chemistry's "steady state" (which is always changing, but always returning to a central value).  You find pleasure and profit in mystery, change, processes that alter your opinions of what is just and right, discoveries of what is inside.

Neptune (Romance/altered-consciousness) and Venus (Love, Beauty) combine in many different ways to produce a dynamic stability we call the HEA -- Venus being "happy" and Neptune being "ever after" (uncertain future.)

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Digital Theft Is Like Selfish Motoring. Really? (A Rant)

EFF compares the unlawful practice of reproducing and distributing copyrighted works in violation of the lawful rights of copyright owners (copyright infringement) to bad driving (a civil traffic infraction).

EFF also calls anyone who would protect and preserve their copyrights "a troll", but name-calling is not remarkable. It is a pity that digital theft of intellectual property is equated with selfish non-adherence to driving or parking rules.

They tell their followers "prevent copyright trolling: tell your Representatives that copyright claims can't be treated like traffic tickets."

Is that an accurate representation of the C.A.S.E. Act? How are traffic tickets treated?

Wiseman Trial Law blog explains what happens to a person who commits a traffic offense and is spotted and stopped by an officer of the law. The driver either constructively admits guilt and pays a fine, or they go to district court to dispute the grounds for their "ticket".

If they are repeat offenders, what might have been a civil infraction for a first timer becomes a criminal felony, for example if they were driving (badly enough to be stopped) while knowing that their license to drive had been suspended.

Under current copyright law, the statutory penalty could be as much as a $150,000 fine per instance, but the copyright owner would have to identify the infringer and take him or her through a federal court case at enormous expense (estimated at around $350,000 for the copyright owner) and long term inconvenience for both.

If the C.A.S.E. Act becomes law, the fine for the infringer would be capped at $15,000. Is that comparable with traffic ticket fines?

EFF suggests that one individual Claims Officer would award damages, but the Act discusses a small claims court, with a Claims Board of three Claims Officers to hear both plaintiff and defendant.

One similarity might be the "three strikes" idea. With traffic tickets, if you get too many points on your license, at some point, your license is suspended. With the DMCA, in theory, repeat offenders are supposed to be banned from some internet access.  In practice, few platforms ban repeat offenders, and there are no measures to prevent banned individuals from rejoining with a new name and a new email address.

Keith Kupferschmidt blogs about the problem of the platforms whose business models reward their wilful blindness to the piracy from which they profit.

There can be no working together as envisaged by the DMCA, when copyright owners know that works are widely pirated, and that take down notices are an endless, fruitless cycle of whack-a-mole, but the platforms insist that the take down system works perfectly.

In haste,

Rowena Cherry

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Reformed Villains

I love a good "redeemed villain" story, but creating a good (i.e., plausible and emotionally engaging) one isn't easy. The chief villain of Shakespeare's AS YOU LIKE IT, Duke Frederick, undergoes a sudden conversion at the end of the play, repents of usurping his brother's dukedom, and enters the religious life. Not very believable in real-life terms, but since the change of heart occurs in a romantic comedy, we can suspend disbelief. Usually, redeeming a bad guy is more complicated. How can his or her character arc be made convincing?

A traumatic backstory that arouses audience sympathy can help. So can showing hints of goodness in the character, however tenuous (the "save the cat" moment Jacqueline often mentions). Regina, the Evil Queen in the TV series ONCE UPON A TIME, commits several murders, both by her own hands and by proxy. Her reign is characterized by tyranny and cruel atrocities. She magically curses not only Snow White but the entire realm. Flashback episodes, however, show Regina as a victim of her dictatorial mother, who slew Regina's true love and forced her to marry the king. Although kind to Snow White at first, Regina developed bitter hatred for her because young Snow's carelessness betrayed Regina's secret love and led to his death. As mayor of Storybrooke in our world, Regina adopts Henry, illegitimate son of Snow White's daughter (who initially doesn't know her own true identity—yes, this series is complicated). Regina's love for her adopted child, at first mostly—though not entirely—autocratic and self-serving, gradually develops into a deeper, unselfish affection, which plants the seeds of her repentance and desire for redemption. While I enjoyed seeing the Evil Queen grow into the heroine she becomes by the end of the series, I did, however, have trouble suspending disbelief in her redemption at times, because she commits some horrifically evil deeds in the flashbacks. But the series does show her growth toward goodness as she struggles with the terms of her redemption and her reconciliation with former enemies. For instance, whereas in her youth she pursued implacable, disproportionate revenge against Snow White for the results of Snow's childish mistake, in a later season Regina demonstrates maturity in forgiving a mistake by another character that also threatens to destroy her happiness.

Jaime Lannister in the "Game of Thrones" novels and TV series doesn't have a "save the cat" moment early in the saga. Instead, he's introduced with a "shoot the dog" moment. Caught in an incestuous act with his sister, Cersei, he pushes the witness, young Bran, out of a window, maiming him for life. This is one of several evil deeds Jaime recently mentions in rebuttal to the lady knight Brienne of Tarth when she calls him a "good man." His self-awareness about his dark past highlights the change in him over time. Among other changes, his relationship with Brienne has evolved. At first, he treated her with mocking scorn; now they are friends and lovers. Some details by which the series lays groundwork for Jaime's redemption: He slew the former king, gaining the title "Kingslayer," from sound motives, effectively saving the country from a mad tyrant, but as the nickname indicates, he's regarded negatively for this act. Most of his evil deeds are inspired by love and loyalty toward his twin sister and their mutual children. Yet when she crosses lines in ways too extreme for him to accept, he breaks with her, showing that he possesses a core of honor and decency. The audience also feels sympathy for him when his sword hand is cut off. By the current climactic season, he has demonstrated his reformation in action by offering his services to the heroes trying to overthrow Cersei.

Some fans may feel his past crimes are too serious for any credible redemption, though. What does it take to achieve a plausible reformation and redemption arc for a character guilty of egregious evil? Is there ever a "moral event horizon" that, once crossed, can never be re-crossed?

For fans of vampires, werewolves, witches, and demons, Brian M. Thomsen and Martin H. Greenberg edited an anthology on this very theme, THE REPENTANT (DAW, 2003). I reviewed it here in my "retro-review" monthly blog post series on VampChix:


Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

When Should You Give Up On A Manuscript, Part 6 - Should You Ever Rewrite Your Previously Published Novels

When Should You Give Up On A Manuscript
Part 6
 Should You Ever Rewrite Your Previously Published Novels
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Previous parts in this series indexed here:

With all the "remakes" of old movies, and of course the long history of stage plays being re-mounted by new players, how could any writer resist the urge to completely rewrite the earliest versions of their works? Well, some do resist, and with good reason. Others dig in and do a complete rewrite, and others just polish out the typos or change wording for smoother reading.

With New York Times Bestselling writers retrieving their rights and self-publishing their backlist titles in e-book, paper and sometimes audiobook, you have to wonder how close the newly re-published version may be to the original.

Some writers (me, for example) consider the original (sans typos, of course) is valuable in its original form because of the awkward sentences, dated values, unskillful scene cut-aways, drifting point of view, run-on-descriptions, and other mechanical errors.

In among those mechanical writing craft errors lies the key to the charm, vibrancy, inspiration, and maybe even the "message" or theme.

These older novels, for any writer, become an embarrassment, but the more-so with a series that has become a towering success, an icon of the field.

Marion Zimmer Bradley's first published Mass Market novel, Sword of Aldones, became, for her very cringe-worthy. With time, the novel that had been published (and reprinted a lot as more and more Darkover novels were published to increasing acclaim) became not at all the novel she wanted as part of the Darkover series.

So when the opportunity arose, she rewrote Sword of Aldones into a novel that could form a cornerstone for the series she had been trying to write. And so, she retitled the story -- which had morphed considerably -- to be Sharra's Exile.

Sharra's Exile covers the same time period, but is not at all the same novel. So I recommend reading both.

Reading this long series, in publication order, gives you a good understanding of why the first published novel needed to be rewritten -- and then, actually, re-created as a different novel.

Many writers of series, especially sets of novels written over a long number of years (with many other projects between them) -- series not written as a single story, but many stories flung against the tapestry of a common background, are going to suffer from having the early novels that enchanted so many readers just not stand the test of time.

Even if a writer's craftsmanship does not improve much over the decades (because it didn't need much improvement), the writer herself will mature, grow, and the readers will likewise be growing older.

Original fans will be pointing to the earliest novel to try to hook younger people on the series -- but it won't work.

If the time span is thirty or forty years, that is about two generations. And the world has changed.

If you are writing contemporary Romance, well, suddenly your novels are Historical Romance -- pre-cell-phone. Or pre-smartphone.

Historical Romance novels which had a genuine historical setting will suddenly seem "dated" because the Characters' attitudes and problems are not the attitudes and problems of the current teen readership. For older readers, the attitudes of the Historical Characters are just fine -- they fit the ostensible period, and how people thought then. But for younger readers, those Historical attitudes are offensive, wrong, illegitimate, and just plain not-fun-to-read.

Futuristic Romance is even trickier. The current readership is firmly convinced that today's attitudes and values will become more firmly entrenched, more widely respected, and taken for-granted in the future.

An older readership would know better, having read the Greek Classics, Roman Classics, and novels from the 1800's and so forth -- social progress surges and retreats, staggers, and zig-zags, and never permeates all nooks and crannies of a society at once.

If you are working in an interstellar society, you can lure your readers into suspending disbelief by showing how cultures on isolated planets tend to diverge -- months travel from each other. And Aliens are the wild card.

We have discussed what to do about FAILED writing projects, but the bigger problem is what to do about successes.

We have a new example of approaches to the problems posed by success in the famous, ST:ToS fanzine series about Spock's illegitimate son, Sahaj, a series now retitled Gematria.

Buy it here:


Gematria 11.8 - Continues the story of the developing relationship between Spock and his now 11.85 year-old-son, Sahaj.  389 pages; 189,685 words FanQ winner, 1978, best writer, best artist (Alice L. Jones) $10.00

Join the Sahaj Continued Group on Facebook:

Many Romance novels today focus on the "Single Mom" -- after divorce or widowhood, or perhaps just unmarried, with a child to raise.

Most of those Single Mom Romance novels focus on young women struggling to launch a career, maybe doing college courses on the side, aspiring to go to Law School, or become a doctor. The Sahaj fan novels focus on Spock, Second Officer, Science Officer, top of a career he finds satisfying and rewarding, suddenly discovering he has a young son who has had a traumatic beginning to his life, and whose abusive Vulcan mother is now dead after trying to use the son as a weapon to murder Spock.

Spock's struggles to deal with his mostly Vulcan son, and all the human elements in that son's early years, all the ancient Vulcan tendencies left to flourish without a modern Vulcan upbringing,

The original fanzine publication of the novel, THE FORGING, hit Star Trek fanzine readers like a tornado, and created a new alternate universe for other writers to play in (with permission of the author). The Forging won fanzine fandom's highest award the year it came out -- the Fan Q. And it well deserved it, too!

So decades later, with all the modern online tools available, and old printings on paper now deteriorating, becoming collector's items, it was time to issue Sahaj in electronic form. New fans were curious.
But what to do?  It just didn't read as smoothly as it once had, and wouldn't relate to the new readers.  

With the support of the Sahaj Continued Group on Facebook, Leslye Lilker set out to rewrite and upgrade this famous novel to speak to the modern audience.

I think she succeeded.  And in the process managed not to obscure the fresh-faced-earnestness of the mostly-Vulcan kid fostered by a human family.

You might not understand this single, stand-alone, novel as a Romance, but the series will deal head-on with Sahaj's Vulcan arranged marriage, and his ambitions for his life and career.

The Forging sets the tone for Spock's desperate efforts to raise his boy -- after his own conflicted upbringing.  He is so determined to do right by Sahaj that he messes up, big time for every major success.

One core element in every Romance is the "backstory" of the Characters. Where did they get these emotional problems?  

Following Sahaj from his inception (angst fraught as it was) through his urgent/earnest 5-year-old's needs being filled by humans, gives us the perspective to understand the Human/Alien love story innate in his Vulcan family choosing him a Vulcan bride.  

Just how Vulcan does Sahaj want to be?  And why?

The author says of the rewrite: 

I decided early on that the story centered around the forging of relationships: Sahaj's relationship with himself and every other character; Spock's relationship with his son and how being a father changes his relationship with everyone else. ; with Jim and Bones' forging of a new relationship with everyone else and a smattering of Sarek and Amanda thrown in.  In short, the events in this novel set the stage for everything that is going to come in the future.
------end quote------

That's why I want you all to read this novel.  As with the first-published Darkover novel, it sets a foundation for a modern adult story.  And that is why the original (to be re-read and cherished) had to be updated, even rewritten, to firm up the foundation of the broader work.

This updated, polished, refined, edition of The Forging is more insightful than the original.  This edition adds depths and facets to Sahaj while showcasing all the original charm that captivated a generation of fanfic readers. 

I can't heap too much praise on this updated edition.  The rest of the series is likewise being organized and re-issued as a single, long, complex, work which beautifully showcases the way skills increase over decades.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, May 05, 2019

On The C.A.S.E.

This is a call to action for authors, and friends of authors.

The C.A.S.E. bill has been reintroduced in the new Congress. The EFF doesn't like that... so perhaps you should like it.

C.A.S.E. is the acronym for Copyright Alternative in Small-claims Enforcement (act). It is also known as HR 2426 and SR 1273 and it brings together Hakeem Jeffries and Doug Collins; John Kennedy, Thom Tillis and Mazie Hirono.

If C.A.S.E. receives enough Congressional support to become law, it will mean that copyright owners can enforce their copyrights in small claims courts.

As matters stand today, if a copyright owner sends a DMCA notice to stop illegal exploitation of their copyrighted work online, the illegal copy may or may not be taken down, but the uploader has the option to file a "counter-notice" disputing the take down.  If a counter notice is filed, the illegal copy or link will be reinstated... forever... unless the copyright owner has $60,000 or more available to pursue a federal lawsuit in federal court.

If you would like to urge your own Senators and Representative to support C.A.S.E., the copyrightalliance has made it easy, as long as you can spare ten to twenty minutes of your day.

Click this link.

This will take you to a copyrightalliance web page, where you can choose whether to write to your own Senators, or your Representative (you can do both, but separately).  You click their link, enter your address and zip code (which automatically identifies your own congresspersons).

Next, you are taken to a pre-written letter imploring your Congresspersons to co-sponsor and vote for the C.A.S.E. act.  You can simply send it, but that would be "astroturf" (not much more convincing that signing a petition... which is still much better than doing nothing at all), but you can also EDIT the letter to insert personalization, deploy synonyms, leave out some of the "as you know, Bob" info dumps, perhaps add a real anecdote from your own experience of being ripped off by pirates.

Thank you for considering the importance of supporting the C.A.S.E.

All the best,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Copyright Conundrum

One of my favorite authors, C. S. Lewis, published many books of essays over the long span of his career. A few of the early volumes have been allowed to go out of print. Aside from fabulously overpriced used copies, they can be found only in libraries—and not many of those. The copies I was able to read came through inter-library loan from the one library in Maryland that accumulates and retains a huge collection of older books that most public libraries tend to cull (for lack of space, I know, but the practice still pains me to contemplate). Many of the essays in those volumes have been included in more recent collections released by the Lewis estate, but not all. I made photocopies of the otherwise unavailable items I wanted to keep and reread, for my own private use.

Thinking about those "lost" Lewis books recently, I've been contemplating a hypothetical ethical question about out-of-print works. Consider a deceased author whose writings are old enough that some have lapsed out of copyright, even though most are still under copyright and being published by his estate. (I don't know whether any early Lewis works are in fact old enough to be in the public domain; he just happens to be the author who started me thinking about this situation.) Suppose those out-of-print, public domain works are hard to find and impossible to buy at any reasonable price. Suppose a devoted reader scanned those books, articles, or stories and made them available online for free. (Not that I plan to do any such thing; it would be way too much work!) Obviously it would be wrong, even if technically legal, for an individual fan to charge money for them. A reputable publisher might offer such works for sale with editorial material for added value, but I would hope such a publisher would notify the estate of its intention as a courtesy, at least, even if not required to under law.

Now, it seems clear that scanning and distributing such works would be legal, because in this hypothetical example they're in the public domain. My imagined reader doesn't make any changes in the text and certainly doesn't claim the writings as his or her own. This person's sole motive is to make "lost" works available to other fans. Would this activity be ethically permissible? I believe it would. Not only is it legal, the author's estate has effectively abandoned the books. Having not reprinted them since their release in the 1920s or before (which would have to be the publication date for the material to be in the public domain), it clearly has no intention of ever doing so. The hypothetical scanner and distributor would be performing a service for other fans who want to read those "abandoned" writings.

This seems to me at least as ethically okay as publishing books such as PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES, which add extra material to the largely unchanged text of a classic novel while making no claim to ownership of the original work. Any thoughts on my hypothetical scenario?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt