Thursday, April 30, 2020

Joanna Russ on Feminism and SF

I've been rereading TO WRITE LIKE A WOMAN: ESSAYS IN FEMINISM AND SCIENCE FICTION, by Joanna Russ. Although released in 1995, it contains many essays published earlier, as far back as the 1970s. It's still available new on Amazon, and you can view the table of contents with the "Look Inside" feature:

To Write Like a Woman

Of particular interest in reading these older works is noting how the image of women in popular fiction has changed since the 70s—as well as recognizing some problems that linger on to the present day. We can hope we've moved beyond the status quo described in "What Can a Heroine Do? or Why Women Can't Write" (1972), in which Russ argues that most of the plot and character archetypes familiar in novels written by and for men don't apply to female characters. An outcome defined as success for a man constitutes failure for a woman. A fictional woman (like career women in real life, at least at the time the essay was written) is apt to find herself stuck in a classic double bind; if she strives to fulfill her ambitions and actually succeeds, she's condemned as "unfeminine," but if she behaves the way a woman is traditionally expected to, she's viewed as weak. Consider how the history of "Alexandra the Great" would read. A female character in male-oriented fiction tends to fall into stereotypical categories such as the Bitch Goddess and the Maiden Victim. She can act as a protagonist in only one kind of story, a love story. Three principal genres are exceptions, according to Russ, giving characters true agency regardless of gender—mystery, horror, and especially science fiction.

Other essays of special interest are two pieces about all-women or women-dominated societies. "Amor Vincit Foeminam: The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction" (1980) surveys a batch of stories about such societies, written by men. It's amazing how silly most of them sound. Typically, the basic self-contradiction in those dystopias, which embody masculine fears about being dominated by females (in these tales, giving women equality always leads to feminine tyranny), is that women are portrayed as so powerful they can crush men completely (aside from the hero, of course), yet so weak they can be subdued and enlightened by "real" sex or even a passionate kiss. Numerous counter-examples appear in "Recent Feminist Utopias," which analyzes a selection of more nuanced, humane female-dominated societies, all but one written by women. Russ includes Marion Zimmer Bradley's THE SHATTERED CHAIN, presenting the Free Amazon subculture as one such society, even though it's embedded in the patriarchal culture of Darkover as a whole. I would have liked to see a discussion of Bradley's true feminist utopian novel, THE RUINS OF ISIS, but perhaps it hadn't been published at the time of this article.

The first three essays in the book examine science fiction as a genre and try to construct a working definition of its "aesthetic." "Someone's Trying to Kill Me, and I Think It's My Husband" provocatively analyzes the paperback Gothics so popular in the 1960s and 70s. The other pieces range over a variety of topics, including a merciless dissection of the film version of Harlan Ellison's "A Boy and His Dog." Despite the age of the material in this collection, it remains fascinating, thought-provoking, and relevant to the current status of the field. Also recommended: Russ's incisive work HOW TO SUPPRESS WOMEN'S WRITING. ("She didn't write it"; "She wrote it, but she had help"; "She wrote it, but look WHAT she wrote"; etc.)

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Theme-Conflict Integration Part 7 - Romance Without Borders

Theme-Conflict Integration
Part 7
Romance Without Borders

Previous parts in Theme-Conflict Integration are indexed at:

Romance, just like Science Fiction, is a genre without borders -- there is literally no story that can be told that won't be improved by adding Science and scientific thinking to a Character, and likewise, there is no story that won't be improved by Romance.

We all know what Romance is.  It is what we love to read.

And as with science fiction, thousands have tried to describe what makes a Romance novel a Romance novel -- has anyone actually succeeded and defining this human experience?

Is there anyone who can define happiness?  What is the formula for a good life?  How do you choose a mate?  By how you FEEL?  By who your parents approve of?  By whose parents your parents approve of?

Arranged marriages, usually about property, heritage, Royal Titles, or settling ancestral feuds (or wars), can actually be about the Parental generation observing details about the young adults to find which personalities blend with least friction.

Arranged marriages can be successful when the elders doing the arranging are able to see, and understand what they are seeing, the youngsters from a perspective the youngsters don't know exists.

Look around this world of today, and you will find few, very few, elders who have any idea what the marriage-age generation is about.

It's called a generation-gap for a reason.  There is simply no connection or contact across that gap because of the way young people's brains develop to process information.

This, of course, starts in infancy, or maybe even before birth, as the human brain its very plastic.  Yes, it changes a lot through experience of the world, and keeps on changing far longer than science used to believe.

So let us postulate that Romance, and the potential to experience true Romance, the potential to recognize a Soul Mate (even in an Alien from another planet), the potential to bond firmly with a mate chosen by Older And Wiser matchmakers, is rooted in the experiences of infancy.

Infancy is the root of the ability to fall in love?

Or possibly infancy is where we learn there is no such thing as a Happily Ever After.

In infancy, we experience the passage of time as a percentage of all the time we have been aware.

Thus the second day of life is 50% of all existence.

By the time a person is 20 years old, you have lived 7,300 days, so a day is about 0.01 percent of your life.

As you get older, the percent of your life that a day represents gets smaller, so the Events of a day become less and less significant.  You have good days.  You have bad days.  Nothing wallops you over backwards if it lasts only 1 day.  The things that matter are the things that have long-range (years) consequences.

So the experiences of the world that have the longest range consequences happen in infancy, toddlerhood, and yes the angst of the teen years.

A Matchmaker who knows the business will be able to match 20 year olds with a good mate for a solid marriage, a marriage that will end in Romance, not begin there.

But to pull this off, and it is chancy, the Matchmaker has to remember how the parents of the 20-year-olds were treated as infants, and how the twenty-somethings were treated by those parents all their lives.

And the Matchmaker has to know a lot of people, their biographies, and how they turned out, and what they went on to do after having their kids.  The successful matchmaker has to understand life-long trajectories, the business of living a good life.

This was possible when we all lived in villages small enough that everyone knew everyone, that children went into the same profession as the parents (blacksmithing, farming, trading, weaving, tanning, etc) or were apprenticed out to a better profession.

That much information just isn't available today, three generations into a highly mobile world where family ties to neighborhoods were broken as corporations moved workers around the country.  You had to move your family to climb the executive ladder.

Nobody, at that time, was thinking of that process in terms of how it would affect the eventual ability to experience Romance.

Let's theorize that it did.

Would that explain why we have about half the world convinced there is no such thing as a Happily Ever After in real life?

Children whose significant Relationships, at 3, 5, 10, even 14 years of age are broken may be traumatized (brain development issue, more than just emotional) in such a way that their Character is scarred.  Scars, physical scars on the skin, heal, and even disappear with the decades, so it is possible scars on the brain could likewise become invisible.

Skin scarring does retrain insensitivity for years after it becomes invisible, but healing can happen with enough time.

The brain is likewise pliable, responding to environment and experience.

Today's children are being raised "online" -- and I know some, personally, whose dear friends from Elementary School have moved away, but maintain contact via FACETIME or video-chat of some sort -- and yes, Facebook or other chat platforms.

In the 1940's only the relatively affluent had telephones at home, but by the 1950's it was common for a house or apartment to have ONE telephone.

The classic joke of the 1950's and 1960's was how Teens monopolized the single phone line (even or especially if there were "extensions" in the house) just talking snd talking to their friends about what seemed to the parents to be nothing at all important.

It was only the affluent who had extensions, and most phones were on a short wire attached to the wall.  That phone line had to be kept open for incoming "important" calls the parents wanted to be available for.

Long distance phone calls were massively expensive.

So if a child's friend moved away, to another state for example, ALL TIES were broken.

Today, even lower income households have dumb phones, if not smart phones.  But penetration is in full swing, and in 20 years or less, everyone will have a wider world to live in.

WITHOUT BORDERS is the way to think of the current generation gap.

Humans experience the "freedom" of living without borders, without having to re-establish credentials and licenses for professions (Nursing, M.D.'s, Electricians, Plumbers, Teachers, etc) by passing state tests each time you move, as a wonderful thing.

Humans experience the freedom of leaving home for college as a wonderful thing.

Humans experience the freedom of getting a driver's license and being able to borrow a parent's car as a wonderful thing.

Freedom - the ability to transgress boundaries without adverse consequences - is treasured by humans.

Happily Ever After without FREEDOM is Misery Ever After.

But Freedom is dangerous.  Give a 3 year old freedom, and he'll run out in the street and get run over, or drown in the backyard pool, or fall down a Well, or get stuck in a storm drain.  It happens.

Freedom is dangerous, but it is essential to the Happily Ever After goal.

Managing risk is the skill-set parents have to start teaching their infants on day two of life.  The mother's hands holding and feeding the newborn start the process of configuring the brain to get what you want/need within the risk-borders best chosen for the situation.

As with all primates, humans learn to parent by being parented.  How those mother's hands hold the newborn begins the process of acquiring the ability to parent.

It is a long process of acquisition and is accompanied by many other skill-sets being acquired.

But it is the parent's influence on the newborn that the matchmaker has to know.

Today, only God knows.

The chain of parenting culture/habits/practices has been broken -- in the early 1900's by the advent of experts writing books on how to parent, and in the early 2000's by the advent of email (OK, programming the VCR became the joke of the 1990's) and other online activities.  Children could do things their parents could not learn to do no matter how hard they tried.

It has always, throughout human history, been the opposite -- parents with years of experience could do things the children could only hope to master some day.

Thus we have a generation of parents who, as children long ago, escaped the "limits" -- the borders of discipline, their parents set for them.

Romeo and Juliet enshrined the archetype of children associating with people their parents disapproved of.

Children always hate, resent, and expend enormous energy beating at these borders parents put around them.

Look at the 1 year old who stands up in his crib and falls out.  Look at the 10 year old who runs away from home.  We all spend our formative years trying to escape.

Kids do that. Parents remember being like that, seeing the world as a trap, and like cows in a pasture, pushing toward the greener grass on the other side of that fence.

Parenting fashions have begun to change rapidly in the last century, as what children are capable of doing has expanded (but common sense acquisition has not), so we have new books on "how to" parent coming out every decade or two, with conflicting advice based on science.

The parents (and grand-parents) who weren't parented with strict boundaries, physical borders, psychological and sociological limits, are now raising children.  These new parents may know, but not have personal feelings and memories for, living within strict boundaries, and trusting their parents to set those boundaries appropriately.

The parenting process that might be producing the skepticism about the Happily Ever After lifestyle goal is the process of delineating borders.

Parental border setting is all about "controlling" who your child associates with.

As infants, we learn to recognize Mother's face, Father's face, and then others who provide and handle us, feed us, change diapers, put us in a playpen, allow this but not that behavior.

As we grow, our circle of recognition grows.

Good parenting consists of observing this particular child's growing ability to form and hold associations, and carefully enlarging the circle of acquaintances, managing the establishing of friends (these days through "play dates,") and adding people from this type of household but not that type.

By High School, children should have acquired the ability to assess the risks of this or that Relationship, and to understand their own sensitivity to risk, their ability to tolerate emotional impacts that come inevitably from having friends.

The problems today come at least partly from the parent's inability to teach these skills.

They can't teach them for two main reasons: A) they weren't taught, B) what they were taught, and what they learned, aren't relevant to the world today's children live in.

The generation gap caused by technology has ripped apart the parent-child relationship.

In families where that has happened, you will see a rising percentage of people who just can't see happiness as anything stable, long term.

Humans yearn for long-term as much as for freedom, so the trend will reverse.  Currently, your prime readership for Romance (teens-twenties) may be in the stage of being unable to form long-term Relationships, so "Happily" means something, but "Ever After" just does not.

Being dependent or having dependents is not a "happy" situation from the point of view of a young person who grew up as a single child, or maybe just two, possibly in a one-parent situation.  The view of life, of what it can and should be, that children with 7 or 10 siblings have is very different.  Happiness is a noisy mob, and freedom is running with that noisy mob faster than Mom can capture you.

Children raised in a noisy mob generally have parents who have many siblings, so aunts, uncles, cousins form an even noisier mob, and happiness is having them over as company -- or being over to their house to play with more cousins.

The point of getting married is to create a new noisy mob.

Children raised in a noisy mob start infancy with a much larger circle of intimates, and learn to deal with compatible and abrasive personalities very early in life.  Such children will have less trauma dealing with an ever growing circle of acquaintances, greater resistance to bullying, more tools for creating social harmony.

Today, families have shrunk, so even three generations back children don't have the noisy mob of uncles and cousins.  Where they do exist, often families just aren't in touch because they long ago moved to different places, even countries.

The parenting skill of allowing a child's number of associating children to grow at the rate that child needs is no longer being transmitted in the majority population.  For the Romance writer, this means the potential readership is thirsting for a vision of life with those skills.

Think about the popularity of the T V Series THE BRADY BUNCH.  Or consider the Cop-Family depicted in the TV Series, BLUE BLOODS (2019-2020 season is #10 in this family gritty drama series).

Or think about the work-family formed at the core of TV Series like NCIS or BONES, or the much older Series, THE WALTONS or LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE.

There is an audience hungering for broad group-dynamic Relationship stories -- maybe because families have shrunk and humans prefer larger families?

Romance readers will be wanting stories about large families where, right before our eyes, humans learn the art of conflict resolution via close, personal, intimate relationships that are not romantic (e.g. siblings, cousins).

It is in the larger family dynamic that humans master the tools of conflict resolution, or perhaps even conflict generation.  Ask yourself what is the optimum family size for humans -- then explore what the reproductive dynamic of your Alien species would dictate for their early life acculturation.

Themes involving deep, personal, unique and individual Relationships easily embrace the problems of having many siblings.  Humans compete with siblings (gotta kill that kid brother!) -- but do your Aliens?

Parents try to police that sibling rivalry, but do they know how if they had no siblings?

Many of the Conflicts that drive humans out into the workplace, and hurl them into love affairs, originate in early life, even infancy and toddlerhood.

The borders we internalize as our parents enlarge our circle of acquaintances, how to behave toward a friend, how to fend off attacks from an aggressor, how to accept, how to reject, how to know when to do which, are the foundation off all subsequent Romance.

How a child responds to being "socialized" with these borders around behavior shows the Matchmaker what groups to look at to find the Soul Mate.

That's what Matchmakers are supposed to do - find the Soul Mate and introduce them.

A brief introduction is all that's necessary when a Relationship can "click."

Sometimes that Soul Mate just isn't alive to be found, and then the Matchmaker's job is to find another bereft lonesome who can blend easily into a Happily Ever After life for the couple.

It can be done.  It has routinely been done throughout human history.  But today the shattered family structure has prevented the nurturing of the Matchmaker skill sets.

The internet, live video-chat, and other tools may heal the extended family and shift the cultural matrix toward the more stable "village" of associations.

In a thousand years, humanity may look back on this shattered-family period as a difficult aberration in the human search for peace.

Do we have to wait that long to open hailing frequencies with Aliens?  Are they waiting?  Or are they already here?

If an Alien was adopted into a large human family, what inevitable conflicts would develop?

THEME: humans are innately combative, competitive and hostile to anyone "different."

THEME: humans are innately gentle, curious, and loving toward all, but the animal body striving to survive in a hostile world warps these innate tendencies toward hating that which is different.

THEME: love can free such a warped human psyche to roam beyond the torturous internal borders adopted for survival.

All three of these themes can generate Romance Novels - but they are especially suited to the Second Time Around Romance, as the more mature Characters have relevant backstory that shapes their conflicts, internal and external.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Saturday, April 25, 2020

National ? "Emergency"?? Library???

The Authors Guild is asking all comers to sign a petition.

Here's what you can expect to see:

The excessive punctuation is mine. I apologize.

For authors, it would probably be quite effective and legitimate to use the comments box to name ones titles that have been pirated on this site.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry 

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Sex Lives of Animals

I've been rereading DR. TATIANA'S SEX ADVICE TO ALL CREATION, by evolutionary biologist Olivia Judson. As the title implies, the book is formatted like an advice-to-the-lovelorn column, with each inquiring letter from a perplexed organism used as the springboard for discussion of similar behavior in a wide range of species. The lively explorations of often bizarre sexual customs are supported by twenty-four pages of notes and an extensive bibliography. Not only are the descriptions entertaining in themselves, they delve into the reasons why evolution produced such behaviors and how they promote the survival of the species. The mating habits of "lower" animals could spark fascinatingly strange ideas for alien biology.

Suppose sentient species on other worlds shared some of those bizarre (to us) customs. If the male typically gets eaten during copulation and contentedly accepts this fate in order to nourish his beloved and their children, maybe a network of rituals would grow up around the process of his offering himself to be consumed. Maybe males would compete to become plump and nutritious. Imagine an intelligent species in which the newly hatched infants always eat their mother's body, as with some spiders. Their society would have to include a caste of caretakers and educators to bring up the young. Almost nobody would have a living mother, and the rare female who selfishly refused to let herself be devoured would be ostracized. Maybe a females' rights movement would develop an artificial infant food source to liberate mothers from inevitable death, so they could lead long, productive lives. Hive insects such as bees, of course, are dominated by females with few males, whose function is limited to mating, but among the females only the queen breeds. Terry Pratchett's Nac Mac Feegle, diminutive but bellicose fairy folk, live in a similar colony, except that the queen (or "kelda") is the only female, married to one of the males and sister-in-law or mother to all the rest.

There's a marine worm that can change its sex repeatedly throughout its lifetime. The switch depends on the size and sex of the worm's partner. When a pair stays together long-term, both eventually become hermaphrodites. Ursula Le Guin's LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS features a world where people shift between male and female depending on the random chance of which sex their current mate happens to become that month. The difference from the transsexual marine worm is that Le Guin's aliens revert to neuter for most of each month. She devised this reproductive system as a thought experiment on how a society without sex differences would work. A few Earth creatures start out as females and later transform into males; the Martians in Heinlein's RED PLANET and STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND have this kind of life cycle. One category of organisms, slime molds and green algae among them, may have hundreds of sexes. That doesn't mean five hundred of them need to get together to produce offspring. It means each sex cell is genetically distinct from the other kinds, and there are rules as to which can pair up. The social functions of reproduction and parenting would look very different in a slime mold society from the way they work in ours. In the more conventional male and female pairings we're familiar with, imagine an intelligent species reproductively similar to seahorses, in which the male gestates and gives "birth" to the young. Or suppose we were like certain bats whose males as well as females secrete milk to feed their offspring. Either of those species would probably have a society where females, not being biologically tied down to child care, could enjoy much more independence than in traditional Earth cultures. What about a world of women who reproduce by parthenogenesis, as some animals are capable of doing? All-female societies reproducing parthenogenetically have often appeared in science fiction, such as the world of Whileaway in Joanna Russ's THE FEMALE MAN and the post-apocalyptic setting of Suzy McKee Charnas's MOTHERLINES.

Here's a page that gives an overview of numerous examples of odd animal reproductive behavior, with lots of links:

The Sex Lives of Animals

Nonhuman animals have been found to engage in just about any unusual or "perverted" human sexual practice you can think of, including bestiality (copulating with a member of an unrelated species) and necrophilia. Those two habits, as the article points out, must be simply mistakes in evolutionary terms, since they can't result in reproduction. According to DR. TATIANA'S SEX ADVICE, however, the most deviant sexual custom of all, judging by its rarity is—monogamy.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

How to Use Tarot and Astrology in Science Fiction Part 7 - Creating Charisma with Verisimilitude

How to Use Tarot and Astrology in Science Fiction
Part 7
Creating Charisma with Verisimilitude 

Previous parts in How to Use Tarot and Astrology in Science Fiction Series are indexed at the bottom of the index post about Astrology

The Tarot posts - Tarot Just For Writers - have been polished up and presented as Kindle books. 5 Individual volumes, or one single collected one (the collected is cheaper).

And we have explored Verisimilitude in the various aspects of Worldbuilding, Theme, Plot, and even Marketing.  Seeming "real" at least in some single element, is a novel's most memorable feature.  One "realistic" element can make the imaginary elements vivid, real, fascinating, and memorable.

That distinctive element, original and imaginary, will "tag" your Series in the reader's mind, and they will remember your byline, maybe buy more books.

So here are some of the Posts mentioning Verisimilitude.

Here's one about Corporate Greed and the Sex Drive -- involving Pluto transits.

And I did say verisimilitude is essential to Theme:

The HEA is a hard sell to non-Romance readers, which is most of the science fiction readership, so you have to argue convincingly for the verisimilitude of the Happily Ever After ending.  Here is a discussion of that task for the author of Soul Mate romance.

And Plot Pacing is paramount.

In fact "Pacing" as a writing technique can be the most important thing you learn to do. Pacing can be the genre signature -- which scenes or descriptions you spend pages on, and which you cut to less than 1 sentence.

A long time ago, Romance novels were required to omit sex scenes, and still they captured imagination and fueled determination not to settle for less than a Soul Mate.

Romance novels sans sex still presented Characters with potent Charisma.  You could meet a man whose mere glance would sweep you off your feet.

Love at first sight works like that.  After all, it is "first sight" - presumably not after first sex.

Charisma works like that - instant first-sight attention getting, followed by a riveting hint of potential.

Potential for what depends on the problem confronting the person who notices the charismatic figure.

In the era of the "Talkies," film producers were successful if they could recognize a person with Charisma.  People could learn to act, could be promoted widely, could be "made a Star" -- if only they had Charisma.

Today, Hollywood has learned to fake Charisma, but still those with natural Charisma shine above the rest. Football players, even golfers, tennis stars, Olympic figure skaters, some of the better ones never get the round of endorsements and personal appearances because they don't have Charisma.

Today, the politicians that get the most votes do it with Charisma (fake and real), not Policies.

So in real life, it is useful to understand Charisma.

In Fantasy Life, only the writer has to understand Charisma to create such an attractive Character.

However, with the main product Hollywood is selling being Charisma, mature readers have noticed "it's all a sham."  Everyday readers see the gossamer shimmer of beauty ripped away ("Oh, she is so Botoxed!"), and don't want to buy that product anymore.

Yet, we still feel "seeing is believing."  If we see beauty, are attracted by a voice, an idea, a gesture, we respond, and we don't know why.

Likewise, we see ugliness, a disgusting visage, hear an irritating voice, see unacceptable behavior, and we are genuinely repelled.

That repulsion can be created artificially using Hollywood techniques, the same techniques that create Charisma.

That realization is fluttering around the edges of popular consciousness.  Charisma is real, and powerful, but the mature reader of Romance and of Science Fiction is coming to realize how Charisma is being used as a tool to manipulate their opinions and behaviors.  Nobody likes being "manipulated" but Charisma is sneaky - and only becomes apparent after the action (buying a cosmetic product, voting for the wrong person). 

And so Charisma can be the element a writer uses to create verisimilitude connecting the reader to the fantasy world the writer is just imagining.

As noted above, the Happily Ever After ending is a very hard sell.  Real life experience tells us that infatuation passes -- it isn't love at first sight.  Marriage based on infatuation don't last and break up in real agony.

Infatuation happens when a person first encounters a Charismatic Figure who ignites a deeply personal, individualizing vision of the future.  It's usually sugar coated, but reality teaches us the sugar coating hides the bitter truth.

So with age, and experience, we look at Charismatic figures with leery suspicion.

A teen who finds True Love is viewed as Infatuated.

So we have the "second time around" Romance, when a Relationship can proceed to the HEA, while previously it was blocked by the surface illusion of who the other person really is. 

Infatuation is a small scale version of experiencing Charisma.  The person may not be a Soul Mate, but just connecting with a virgin area of Personality.

We need our infatuations to teach us about ourselves.

Charisma, as used by the media for fiction and non-fiction (yes, top newscaster's get to be top by having Charisma, not just brains), refers to that same lure that infatuates younger people, but instead of affecting just one person, Charisma affects a broad swath of a target audience.

Learning to develop and aim Charisma, to weaponize Charisma (obsessive love) was the shaper of modern civilization.

Those who are the "target audience" of the weapon-wielders armed with Charisma are beginning to understand it is all a sham.  That's why the broadest audience now considers the HEA all a sham.

The HEA happens when Soul Mates form a Couple.

Soul Mates often seem infatuated and obsessive as they work toward forming that Couple and surmounting the current obstacles.

The Romance writer of science fiction, fantasy, or paranormal genres has a unique opportunity to explain Charisma to a readership uniquely suited to understanding that explanation.

The explanation the writer chooses has to be embedded in the Worldbuilding behind the story -- at an invisible level of the structure.  The explanation has to be woven into the theme, not at the assumption level but at the more blatant symbolic level.

Here is the index to theme-symbolism integration:

Most writers will have developed several solid explanations for the existence of Charisma, but there are always more to be found.

Here is one way Astrology can explain both the Soul Mate attraction, where each person affects the other charismatically but nobody else sees what she sees in him, and the Public Figure Charisma that moves the body politic.

Infatuation, which has the same effect as being attracted to a Charismatic Figure, is an effect of the planet Neptune and the Sign Pisces which Neptune rules.

Neptune has a blurring or dissolving effect on structure (on reality), but at the same time reveals a "higher truth" or a more real truth that is totally unrealistic but nevertheless true.  The quintessential illustration of the Pisces male is the Engineer.  Think Scotty on ST:Tos.

Obsession is all about Pluto.  Remember Pluto is the "upper octave" of Mars, where Mars creates a bar-brawl scene, Pluto creates World War.  Pluto rules Scorpio, the sign notorious for secret sexual obsessions and even perversions.  It is not the sexuality and love depicted by Venus which is so often paired with Mars. Pluto is the raw staying power of life itself.

Pluto magnifies whatever element it connects to, and so it magnifies Neptune's infatuation effect into full blown Charisma, where life itself depends on cleaving to the glamorous object shrouded in Neptune veils (and thus never what it appears to be.)

The reason understanding of Charisma is so illusive is that Charisma is the product of two difficult to understand forces (symbolized by Astrological planet and sign), Neptune/Pisces and Pluto/Scorpio.

How this works between two individuals, Soul Mates, is how the two Natal Chart positions, aspects, signs, houses, midpoints, of Neptune and Pluto relate to each other, and what transits to the natal charts are in effect during the infatuation.

How it works for whole populations lured into following a Charismatic Figure (sometimes to salvation; sometimes over a cliff) has to do with the Figure's natal chart and transits as they relate to the generational positions of Pluto and Neptune.

The third element that determines how Charisma affects actions (Plot) is the notion of Soul.

Soul is a concept that has to be woven into the worldbuilding. Either souls are real in your fictional world -- or not.  Once you make that choice, you discard one set of themes, and lock into another (maybe a genre, too).  It is a basic choice, and determines which audience (and thus which publisher and which editor) you submit your book to.  For audiences that accept Soul as real in everyday life, you would have to work hard to convince them that Souls are not real in your universe, but Love is real.

So if you opt to build a world where Souls are not real, you eliminate the audience that understands the real world through the concept of Soul.

You would have to convince those readers that a world where humans (or Aliens) have no Soul is better than their world, or can be fixed to be as good as Reality.

That argument generates your Themes.

So Theme and Plot become one via the element of Charisma.

THEME: Souls choose to override the infatuating lure of Charisma and break free of Obsession by using (insert a tool, fictional or not, such as Religion, ESP, Magic Glasses).

THEME: People, humans and Aliens, can not choose to override the infatuating lure of Charisma and so become the hapless victim of Obsession at the behest of their "betters." Kings, Queens, Army Generals, Sorcerers, Moguls, Alien Overlords.

Either theme can be subordinated to the Romance Genre envelope theme of "Love Conquers All."  With or without Soul Mates, Love can muscle through any situation (at least to a HFN ending).

With the Soul Hypothesis, you have an HEA potential, but without Soul, you get a predominance of HFN endings.

Learn what your potential readership knows is real, pick one thing that readership bases their life-decisions on, and incorporate that into your worldbuilding. Be absolutely consistent with that one thing, and let imagination loose for the rest.

In science fiction writing, mix an element your readership knows for a fact is not real with elements they know are real.

Science Fiction is all about "What if ...?"  And basically what goes into the ... of that question is something that is widely known and accepted by all the experts suddenly turning out to be wrong.

Being wrong delights the scientist in the SF reader because finding out what has been wrong brings the "If only ..." of potential happiness into view, and makes the "If this goes on ..." prediction subject to revision for the better.

Being the dynamic force in re-creating your own world is the most fun anyone can have in life.

When the Neptune and Pluto transits bestow life-long, innate Charisma in a person, that Charisma attracts followers simply because the person is having fun living.

Charisma just sits there seething until FUN is added.

Charismatic figures enjoy being the center of attention, which makes them the center of attention.

On the smaller scale, of one-on-one relationships, one person can see an infatuating delight in another and become obsessed by it, joining the Charismatic individual in his obsession.

Being obsessed is actually FUN.  It feels good, which is why people don't struggle to break free until the obsession has almost run its course.

So if Charisma is the topic of your Theme, what it is, where it comes from, why it is good, why it is bad, and whether it is even real or just an insanity of the moment, then you need to introduce your reader to a Character who would enthrall them in real life.

Spock was such a figure for ST:ToS (and still is).  But note how many fans of Star Trek never found Spock interesting -- and instead were obsessed with Kirk, McCoy, Scotty, or even Chekov or Sulu.

Each individual fictional character was Charismatic and obsessive to different segments of the audience.

As the characters interacted with each other, the audiences melded together into a social force to be reckoned with by a Hollywood which had, hitherto, looked down on their victims.

Yes, Hollywood thinking disparaged fans (of anything) because those Execs knew the tricks of artificial Charisma that had fooled those fans.

Knowledge is Power.

The fans learned.  Now the fans rule.  Or do they?

Star Trek created an audience (out of pieces that would never have come together into a social force) using Charismatic Characters.

Study the audiences (fanfic reveals all), then study the Characters, and don't forget to study the writers, the producers, and especially those who supply the money (studios - read the Credits).  Study how Charisma has been used, and find a new way to use it to explain the Happily Ever After is real, and not an ending but a beginning.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Force Majeure

Force Majeure is a sexy French name for a powerful excuse for failure to perform.  It is much in the news, and is being invoked by major oil companies and very small publishers to welsh on contractual agreements.

"To welsh" is rather a pejorative term, and might also be politically incorrect, as it implies that residents of Wales are synonymous with financial unreliability. No offense toWales or its people or princes is intended here.

Contract Standards publishes a fair definition of Force Majeure.

The Shearman & Sterling legal blog is highly edifying on the burning question of whether or not Covid-19 is a Force Majeure event. Of especial interest is their three-point test of whether or not the critieria for Force Majeure is satisfied.

Could an author who is locked into an unacceptable contract declare Force Majeure because of Covid-19? This author only reads legal and publishing blogs, but if BP can put off purchasing LNG equipment for an entire year (when the market is bad for oil and gas) on the grounds that the pandemic is beyond its control, the pandemic prevents BP from performing, and BP took all reasonable steps to mitigate the consequences of the pandemic on its operations, maybe authors working from home could claim the same, if they wanted to do so.

It's not easy to write at the same time as unplanned home-schooling, or while having to watch adorable ankle biters every second of the waking day.

The Authors Guild has a guide to help those affected by Covid-19

Recently, Michael Seidlinger of Publishers Weekly wrote about 15 books and authors hurt by the coronavirus.

Book tours are cancelled, book stores are closed, sales are down, allegedly Amazon is giving preference to promoting third party book sales (for which no royalties are paid to authors, of course), and piracy is soaring. Californian freelance authors have even more about which to worry.

Bryan Cave Leighton & Paisner have a very good set of bullet points about Force Majeure and Covid-19, whether one is on the receiving end of a Force Majeure notice, or considering dishing out one.

An author is certainly helpless if under a governor's local executive orders to keep schools closed for the rest of the school year, and to confine everyone to their homes in fortnightly increments.

Foster Swift Collins & Smith PC detail some of the Covid-19 restrictions for those "cabined, cribbed, confined" (Macbeth) in Michigan.

Given the lift to morale that one could get from painting a room --or even an accent wall-- in these S.A.D.times,  it seems particularly cruel that in some places, one may not even buy paint!

All the best,
Rowena Cherry 

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Writers and Their Finances

In the April 2020 LOCUS, Kameron Hurley writes about the difficulties of maintaining a reliable income stream as a freelance author:

The Tricky Finances of the Adjunct Writer

Starting with the unusual problem of several thousand dollars popping up in her bank account from an unknown source, she muses on the balancing act a full-time writer who doesn't produce mega-bestsellers must perform to survive from month to month. She mentions such phenomena as different publishers paying at various intervals and on different dates, royalties received months or years after the publication that earned the income, payments that arrive long after the contract promised they would, and the difficulties of enforcing contracts when their terms aren't fulfilled. Not to mention the impact of that "boom-or-bust cycle" on income taxes. "Trying to explain how writers get paid to anyone outside of the business is difficult, because as you’re saying all this out loud, it sounds absolutely unsustainable and bizarre."

The "hustle," she says, "isn’t about balance. For many of us, the hustle is about survival." Hurley has a day job, which, as she emphasizes, most writers need not only for a reliable income stream but most importantly for health coverage. It was a slight shock to me when I read that half of her monthly Patreon support goes to cover her health insurance and mortgage. My reaction was, "Wow, she receives enough from Patreon every month to equal twice her mortgage and health insurance?!" And yet with that income and proceeds from sales and royalties, she's still struggling. Aside from the first full year after the release of my one Harlequin/Silhouette vampire romance, in my best years I generally earned enough from writing to buy a family dinner out once a month. Maybe twice, in good months.

Fortunately, all my adult life I've enjoyed the kind of support Hurley recommends at one point in her article—a well-employed spouse with excellent health-care coverage (from a thirty-year Navy career, followed by a secure retirement). We have never needed my writing income to live on. That's a good thing, because we would probably be sleeping in the car! Still, sales are gratifying even if one doesn't "need" them, because royalties equal readers, and writers create in order to be read.

Mercedes Lackey often points out that fewer than ten percent of writers make a living from their vocation, and most who do have a nonfiction income source (e.g., journalism, writing ad copy, editing, etc.) as a basis for financial security. Holding a day job doesn't constitute an admission of failure. She advises the aspiring novelist to get qualified in a field for which there's steady demand but which doesn't exhaust one's brain, thus supporting oneself while leaving time and energy for writing. Plumbing, for instance. Marion Zimmer Bradley was fond of reminding young writers, "Nobody told you not to be a plumber."

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Worldbuilding from Reality Part 13 Making War Alien Style

Worldbuilding from Reality
Part 13
Making War Alien Style 

Previous parts in Worldbuilding From Reality are indexed here:

We all know what humans will go to war over.  Don't we?  We are human, after all -- certainly we understand what makes us kill each other?

After all, we've been doing it a good long while.  At least 7300 years, it seems.

Will your readers think they understand human warfare? 

The usual excuses are fights over resources (water, hunting, grazing, flint deposits, etc)  And of course, there's Helen of Troy - men go to war over women, or maybe just to get away from the yammering in the house?

Humans get angry, blame their internal discomfort on others, and HIT.

Kindergarten kids learn to hit before they learn to speak coherently.  It's human to HIT that which annoys, discomforts, or obstructs.

Today, the external annoyance, obstruction etc. is coming from people who have banded together under a different political banner.

We are gearing up to fight to the death over IDEAS, and usually over differing ideas of what reality is.

Here is an article on motivated reasoning.

In theory, resolving factual disputes should be relatively easy: Just present evidence of a strong expert consensus. This approach succeeds most of the time, when the issue is, say, the atomic weight of hydrogen.

But things don’t work that way when the scientific consensus presents a picture that threatens someone’s ideological worldview. In practice, it turns out that one’s political, religious or ethnic identity quite effectively predicts one’s willingness to accept expertise on any given politicized issue.

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

And below that, in the same article:

The same facts will sound different to people depending on what they already believe.


The interdisciplinary study of this phenomenon has exploded over just the last six or seven years. One thing has become clear: The failure of various groups to acknowledge the truth about, say, climate change, is not explained by a lack of information about the scientific consensus on the subject.

Instead, what strongly predicts denial of expertise on many controversial topics is simply one’s political persuasion.

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

In other words, humans make up their minds, then keep an open mind about facts. 

If you are writing Alien Romance, you can be confident you will portray the human as recognizably human in their thinking processes.  But why would that human fall in love with this particular Alien?

What Alien thinking process is so sexy?

Look at some of the research mentioned as arising over the last six or seven years -- find a single, simple, easily explained and illustrated principle that the Aliens do differently.  Find why that would be so sexy! 

One method of manufacturing Alien species touted by Poul Anderson was simply that all behavior, cultural and philosophical is sexual.

If the reproductive process is different (say egg laying, for example) the Alien cultures would develop from and around the differences caused by that different process.

All human cultures we've ever discovered have that element in common -- so it is very hard to see how reproductive processes generate our cultures and our civilizations.

Warfare, and winner-takes-all-including-the-women, is one thing all our civilizations have in common -- and shrewd analysis can reveal how warfare is essentially sexual.

The whole sex/violence spectrum that is studied so closely by the Romance Genre writers will lead inevitably to the larger type of combat - armies, and massacre. 

We, and all your readers, are descendants of the winners.

Remember that -- winning is all-important to us because of it.  There are no losers left.  So this is now major league, Super Bowl warfare.

This election season is dubbed a war for the soul of America.  It might actually be that, a spiritual war.

Would your Aliens understand that? Would their lack of ability to understand being descendants of winners be their most endearing characteristic?

If your Alien hears an impassioned political speech from this election war, will he understand it?  Will he know why your human female protagonist is willing to give her life, or at least her love-life, to add even her own tiny bit of force to her side's winning?

Could they understand war between winners? 

Or the obverse -- caught up in some Alien, interstellar war for Alien reasons (having to do, unknown to the Aliens, with their Alien sexuality) would your human protagonist have any idea why they were killing each other, blowing up planets, exploding stars - destroying life in the galaxy over their Alien issues?

Viewed from the human's eyes, their facts will sound different than they would to any Alien from any Alien side. 

Incorporate this oddity of human nature which makes our ability to deny not a result of ignorance, but rather of what we already know (and thus can't question) into a novel about human/Alien Romance.  Contrast the human need to make war with the Alien war - can they comprehend the relationship between sexuality and violence? 

Astrology gives you a good clue as you study the 8th House, Scorpio, and its ruler, Pluto.  Scorpio is not sweet-love like Libra.  And Pluto, being the upper octave of Mars is not about fighting and quarreling, but about war and warfare. 

What is the "outer-planet" of the Alien's solar system, what does it rule in their character, and how does your individual example of this Alien people manifest that property? 

Build your Aliens from the reproductive level up through sexuality, and on into becoming the dominant species on a planet.

While you are doing that, consider that human dominance on this planet might be coming to an end.  After all, all previous dominant species came to their ends.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Can't Touch This Copyright Law

A videographer spent more than a decade chronicling the discovery and recovery (1996) of Blackbeard's pirate ship the Queen Anne's Revenge. The State of North Carolina infringed his copyrights.

Previously, in 1990 Congress had passed the Copyright Remedy Clarification Act, which was intended to remove any State's sovereign immunity from prosecution for copyright infringement.

The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that Congress acted unconstitutionally in 1990.

Individual States have carte blache to infringe copyright. Copyright owners can't touch them.  This permitted piracy is discussed with great wit and clarity by Peter Jaffe and Marissa Yu, blogging for the lawfirm Freshfields, Bruckhaus, Deringer LLP.

Original Link.

Probably, other enterprises with a net worth and reach comparable to that of a sovereign State are also beyond the reach of copyright law.

Social distancing makes law enforcement, and the operation of the courts increasingly difficult, and while no one is suggesting that courts meet by hologram, as on the Planet Krypton, there is a suggestion that jurors could be sent a locked and specifically loaded iPad.

Contributor Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm writing for Holland and Knight LLP's The Persuasive Litigator blog discusses the possibility of online trials.

It's an interesting idea, but is perhaps incompatible with "net neutrality", although the possibility of a juror suffering from buffering is noted, and Dr. Ken has a suggestion.

Live-streamed church services have suffered in recent weeks, and one wonders whether all traffic is truly treated equally when internet use is up up to 400%, we hear owing to so many folks being ordered to stay at home all day, day after day.

The interesting issues of network congestions are discussed by Julie Bak Larsen for the Bird and Bird legal blog.

And all the while, copyright infringement flourishes, as do internet scams, and sp-called emergency expansions of "fair use" and copyright theft as exposed by thetrichordist.

All the best,
Rowena Cherry 

Thursday, April 09, 2020

The "Catch" in Author's Monopoly

Cory Doctorow's March LOCUS column asserts, "A Lever Without a Fulcrum Is Just a Stick":

Lever Without a Fulcrum

The "lever" here is copyright law, the "author's monopoly." The article focuses on some ways the common practices of major publishers can use this "lever" as a "stick" to beat creators. According to Doctorow, broad copyright protections designed in theory to safeguard the rights of authors often don't accomplish that goal in practice if publishers' contracts demand control over the exercise of those provisions. Authors, particularly novice writers, usually can't negotiate changes in standard publishing deals; they face "take it or leave it" offers. E-book and audio rights, for example, are seldom left under the creator's control. This situation effectively strips the "author's monopoly" of much of its power. "The fact that the company can’t reproduce your book without your permission doesn’t mean much if the only way to get your book into the public’s hands is through that company, or one of a small handful of companies with identical negotiating positions."

Doctorow analyzes phenomena such as music sampling, record contracts, Audible (the audiobook provider), video streaming, and DRM in relation to the general problem that, "Market concentration at every part of the supply chain is conspiring to make life harder for artists." His proposed solutions involve rights reversion clauses, changes in licensing rules, and unionization, among other possibilities.

I might suggest that authors deal with small presses (both print and e-book) rather than the Big Five. Small publishers can provide a personal touch and, often, more flexible contractual terms. But, of course, the mammoth corporations offer bookstore exposure and high-volume sales; the latter are almost impossible to achieve online without strong marketing skills. Also, an author who feels she lacks the expertise, resources, or time to exploit subsidiary rights effectively might prefer to leave those outlets in the hands of a publisher with the connections and experience to do so for her. It's a puzzlement.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Reviews 52 Life and Limb by Jennifer Roberson

Reviews 52
Life and Limb
Jennifer Roberson 

Previous reviews have not been indexed.

But I have discussed Jennifer Roberson's previous work. She is one of my favorite writers.

I discussed Roberson's Sword-Dancer Saga in the first book review post I did for this blog.

The Tiger and Del, Sword Dancer series went to 7 books, and I loved every one of them.

Roberson's Cheysuli Series - 8 Books - is very much worth your while.

And now we come to a new series, also Fantasy, but with a contemporary setting.  Call it modern Urban Fantasy.

You may remember the 15 Season TV Series, Supernatural, about two brothers who fight for right in a world of demons, possessions, Angels (fallen or maybe otherwise).  They travel the modern world saving the day from threats most people don't know exist.

It's a marvelous TV Series, but seemed to me to be flawed, possibly because there was more Horror Genre than Romance - more relationships that go nowhere than Happily Ever After trajectories.

I discussed the TV show twice:

And on this blog, Margaret Carter also discussed the show:

We talk about this paradigm of "reality" because it is a fascinating backdrop for Romance, one that is not sufficiently explored.

Now, Jennifer Roberson (that is RoBERson -- not Robson) has brought her Relationship plotting talents to explore this basic concept.

In her afterword, she points out that her first impulse was to create the two lead characters as male and female and play the game as she has in previous series.  But she decided on two brothers to lead this series, brothers who are not physically related but are spiritually related in a way they (at first) don't exactly understand.

They are tutored by a man who seems to be an Angel (actual sort, with wings) working on Earth to gather forces to oppose Evil at an Armageddon.

This man tries to explain their nature to them as he trains them to conquer the evil forces, and supernatural creatures, demons that possess people.

This kind of Fantasy worldbuilding is Jennifer Roberson's strongest talent, and it shows in the first book in this new series, the Blood and Bone series.

This opening chapter focuses on introducing the two young men (who don't like each other - one who just got out of Prison because he killed someone, and the other who is a college educated Cowboy hick), detailing some of the tutorial assignments they are given, so there is a lot of exposition to absorb.  I liked them both.

The thing is, in this introductory novel, the exposition disguised as dialogue or even action, is not annoying.  The story unfolds at a good, solid pace, and the various oddball characters introduced show vast potential for Relationship.

I feel this Roberson series would have made a much better TV Series than Supernatural.

LIFE AND LIMB is not a "copy" of the TV Series in any way.

The world Roberson's characters inhabit is entirely different.  But if you study the 15 seasons of SUPERNATURAL along with this new Roberson series, do a deep contrast/compare analysis, you could learn why I keep harping on the worldbuilding from theme techniques.

The special difference between the TV Series, Supernatural, and the novel series, Blood and Bone, is theme -- and that difference generates the Characters, Plot, and Story that are so different.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, April 05, 2020

Look Who Is Behaving Badly Now

Conspiracy theories about the Wuhan Coronavirus abound. I haven't seen any that suggest it was intended to destroy copyright, but the collateral damage to copyright may be irreversible.

Academics behaving badly.
Authors and their friends will have heard of the IA, which appears to be freely and incontinently giving away to all and sundry that to which they have no rights at all. Their rationale seems to be that all the world has an emergency need for free reading, because of the pandemic.

Apparently, the Boston Library President supports this book piracy, and David C. Lowery has twelve stinging public questions for David Leonard.

The questions are well worth our readers' time. It does not appear that David Leonard has replied at all.

Pastors behaving badly?
Times are tough, and with luck, there's plenty of generosity and grace to go around... but, "thou shalt not steal."

Legal bloggers Caleb Green  and Andrea L. Arndt  for Dickinson Wright warn religious institutions to think twice before making their new live streaming performances irresponsibly modern and larded with copyrighted bells and whistles.  The religious exception does not extend to performances, distribution/publication outside of the house of worship. Facebook is not a house of worship. Nor is a private home.

Original link:

Lexology link:

The Prager U has an interesting analysis of what constitutes "stealing", and it includes all forms of property including intellectual property.

Warning, the U is heavily supported by advertising.

Local politicians behaving badly.
While political campaigns generally pay for the appropriate licenses to play popular music to entertain crowds at rallies and other gatherings, local councilmen who choose to perform copyrighted rock and pop songs on Facebook, YouTube, and on local television to "cheer up" and endear themselves to their bored constituents may well not know or bother to buy licenses.

The usual suspects behaving badly (SNAFU)
As MTP points out from time to time, whether times are hard or good, Facebook always does well, and always at the expense of creators.

One cannot pay the rent with "advertising credit," and if the old piracy argument that piracy is free advertising hold true, why should artists pay pirates to advertise on the pirates' platforms?

PS. An anonymous librarian has replied with an open letter to the multi-millionaire pirate running the so-called Internet Archive.  Please share!

All the best,
Rowena Cherry 

Thursday, April 02, 2020

Accessible Writing

The April 2020 issue of RWR (magazine of the Romance Writers of America) contains an article titled "The Literary Craft of Accessibility," by Rebecca Hunter. She begins by analyzing the difference between literary fiction and genre fiction, for which she focuses on level of accessibility: "Literary fiction expects the reader to come to the book, while genre fiction books come to the reader." To put it simply, literary fiction expects the reader to work harder. It would be easy to conclude that denser novels are therefore of higher quality than less "difficult" works, a "false—and harmful—hierarchy" the author warns against. I readily agree that a "literary" novel may be difficult and dense for the sheer sake of difficulty, putting unnecessary roadblocks in the reader's path from the mistaken notion that lucid prose and a clear narrative thread equate to "dumbing down." And a genre novel can include deep themes that make a reader think and challenge her established assumptions.

Hunter undercuts her cautionary reference to false hierarchies, in my opinion, by contrasting "lyrical" and "thoughtful" with "fast-paced" and "light," the latter suggesting a "more accessible style." A genre novel can be accessible, yet sedately paced and deeply emotional. Some factors she lists as contributing to degree of accessibility include length of sentences, breadth of vocabulary, balance among action, atmosphere, and ideas, moral clarity or ambiguity, how clearly the characters and plot fulfill "expectations set in the beginning of the story," and "use of cliches, idioms, and other familiarities." I have reservations about some items on the list. For example, I don't think a novel has to lean heavily toward "action" to be accessible. Many romance novels don't, nor do many vintage favorites in other genres. GONE WITH THE WIND is one perennial bestseller that has many more reflective and emotional scenes than action scenes in the popular sense of the word. I find the mention of "cliches" off-putting; while familiar tropes, handled well, can be welcome, an outright "cliche" is another matter. Another feature, "amount of emotional complexity spelled out for readers," sounds as if excessive telling over showing is being recommended. Every writer must balance all these elements in her own way, of course, and Hunter does address the shortcomings of cliches and "telling." She points out that "frankly, there are lots of readers who like this familiarity and clarity." So an author needs to know her target audience well. "Each reader's preferences are different. . . .there are readers for all accessibility levels." Hunter also discusses theme, which she defines as "an open-ended question our story asks" and briefly covers the possibility of increasing a work's complexity by adding additional thematic layers.

Personally, I enjoy a book with a varied, challenging vocabulary and complex characters and emotions. What make me impatient are works that appear to be confusing for the sake of confusion, such as failing to clearly distinguish characters from each other or coming to a conclusion that leaves the reader with literally no way to be sure what happened—by which I mean, not an ambiguous ending deliberately designed to allow multiple interpretations, but one in which it's impossible to puzzle out the plain sense of what transpires on the page. As Marion Zimmer Bradley used to say in her submission guidelines, "If I can't figure out what happened, I assume my readers won't care." Levels of acceptable "accessibility," of course, vary over the decades and centuries according to the fashions of the times. Long descriptive and expository passages, common in nineteenth-century novels, would get disapproved by most editors nowadays, no matter how well written. Something similar to the opening paragraphs of Dickens' A TALE OF TWO CITIES ("It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. . . ."), although accessible in the sense of easily understandable, probably wouldn't be accepted by most contemporary publishers. It also used to be common for authors to include untranslated passages in foreign languages, especially in nonfiction but sometimes even in fiction. Most nonfiction writers up through the early twentieth century assumed all educated readers understood Latin and Greek. Dorothy Sayers inserted a long letter in French into her Lord Peter Wimsey mystery CLOUDS OF WITNESS; the publisher insisted on having a translation added. On the other hand, to cite a contemporary example, in Barbara Hambly's Benjamin January mysteries, set in Louisiana of the 1830s, January's erudite friend Hannibal often includes Greek and Latin quotations in his speech. They add flavor to the story's atmosphere, but understanding them is rarely necessary for following the story; when it is, Hambly clues us in as needed. Readers who'd be put off by this kind of linguistic play simply don't form part of her target audience, but then, such people probably aren't fans of historical mysteries in general, which require openness to navigating an unfamiliar time and place.

Hunter's article also doesn't discuss accessibility in relation to genre conventions. For instance, Regency romance authors probably assume their target audience has some familiarity with the period, if only from reading lots of prior novels in that setting. Science fiction, in particular, expects a certain level of background knowledge from its readers. We should know about hyperdrive and other forms of FTL travel, if only enough to suspend disbelief and move on with the story. Some SF stories expect more acquaintance with the genre than others. Any viewer with a willing imagination can follow the original STAR TREK, designed to appeal to a mass audience. Near the other end of the accessibility spectrum, the new posthumous Heinlein novel, THE PURSUIT OF THE PANKERA (the previously unpublished original version of his 1980 NUMBER OF THE BEAST), envisions a reader with a considerable fannish background. The ideal reader knows or at least has some acquaintance with Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom books and E. E. Smith's Lensman series. That reader also has a high tolerance for dialogue about the intricacies of alternate universes and the heroes' device for transiting among them, on which the text goes into considerable detail at some points. Optimally, that fan will also have read Heinlein's own previous work, at least his best-known books. This novel is not the way to introduce a new reader to Heinlein, much less to SF in general.

It seems to me that "accessibility" forms a subset of the larger topic of reader expectations. So the question of how accessible our work is (or needs to be) comes back to knowing the expectations of the target audience.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt