Thursday, August 31, 2023

On Character Growth

There's an essay on the WRITER'S DIGEST website called "The Importance of Character Growth in Fiction," by bestselling author Annie Rains:

Importance of Character Growth

She lists and discusses vital elements in showing the transformation of a character over the course of a story: Goal and motivation; backstory and the character's weakness or fatal flaw, arising from features of the backstory; the plot and how its events force the protagonist to struggle, plus the importance of pacing so that growth doesn't "happen in clumpy phases"; the "ah-ha" moment when the character realizes the necessity of taking a different path; importance of showing through action how the character has changed to be able to do "something that they never would have been able to do at the book’s start."

As vital as all these factors are, and as much as I love character-driven fiction myself, I have slight reservations about Rains's opening thesis: "If your character is stagnant, there is no story. . . . Your character should not come out of your plot as the same person they were before their journey began." Doesn't good fiction exist to which this premise doesn't apply? Classic detective series, for example. What about Sherlock Holmes? Hercule Poirot? Miss Marple? What about action-thriller heroes such as James Bond? Through most of the series, Bond survives harrowing adventures that would kill ordinary men many times over, with no discernible change in his essential character. (In the last few books, he does begin to change.) Even in stand-alone novels, as mentioned in the WRITER'S DIGEST essay to which I linked in my blog post on July 20, static characters (as opposed to the negative term "stagnant") have their place. In A TALE OF TWO CITIES, Charles Darnay doesn't change, whereas Sidney Carton does. In THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, the Russian submarine captain has already made his life-changing decision before the story begins and never veers from his goal. In A CHRISTMAS CAROL, Scrooge transforms, while Bob Cratchit is a static character. So, arguably, is Romeo, who's still the same impulsive, emotion-driven youth at the end of the play as at the beginning, thereby possibly triggering his own tragic end.

I'd maintain that, while Rains is self-evidently correct that a character's circumstances have to change in the course of a narrative, he or she doesn't necessarily have to undergo a transformation, depending on the genre. The character must either attain the plot's stated goal or fail in an interesting, appropriate way. Without a change in his or her situation, whether external, internal, or both, there's no story. But an internal transformation isn't a necessary feature without which "there is no story."

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Wrack and UAIN

There's "wrack and ruin", which means destruction and is somewhat tautologous (it says the same thing twice), and there is "rack and ruin" which means stretching torture and subsequent uselessness, and then there is wrack and UAIN, where the latter is an acronym... and not a good thing.

For an absolutely delightful (and not at all pompous) peroration on the relative merits of "wrack" or "rack", see Steve Finan's article.

I agree with him about the difference between "discreet" and "discrete". No doubt since AI is unavoidable, fewer and fewer people will know the difference, and "discreet" will simply acquire a fourth meaning, or even up to eight additional meanings if one is mathematically inclined.

So what does UAIN stand for, and why is it bad?

Legal blogger and senior counsel Douglas J. Wood of Reed Smith LLP, writes briefly but powerfully about the unsung environmental harms caused by AI in promiscuous (third and fourth meaning) online advertising.

U is for Unreliable

A is for Artificial

I  is for Intelligence-generated

N is for News-and-information-websites

Newsguard's Misinformation Monitor goes into much greater detail in a very long, comprehensive and damning article written by Jack Brewster, Zack Fishman, and Elisa Xu ... et alia. Apart from the waste of energy, the carbon footprint, the heat, the damage done by UAIN includes the proliferation of allegedly bogus and potentially harmful health advice, a lack of human editing, and a great deal of copyright infringement and piracy of reputable writers' articles.

Please note that there are several banners that split up this article, but keep scrolling until you reach the literal and metaphorical bottom line which is:

"NewsGuard considers a site to be Unreliable AI-Generated News if it meets all four of these criteria: 

  1. There is clear evidence that a substantial portion of the site’s content is produced by AI.
  2. Equally important, there is strong evidence that the content is being published without significant human oversight. For example, numerous articles might contain error messages or other language specific to chatbot responses, indicating that the content was produced by AI tools without adequate editing. (It is likely that now or in the future many news sites will use AI tools but also deploy effective human oversight; they will not be considered UAIN websites.)
  3. The site is presented in a way that an average reader could assume that its content is produced by human writers or journalists, because the site has a layout, generic or benign name, or other content typical to news and information websites.
  4. The site does not clearly disclose that its content is produced by AI."

By the way, and nothing to do with wrack and UAINs, it is good internet security advice to change your passwords every 90 days!

All the best,

Rowena Cherry 

Friday, August 25, 2023

Stop and Smell the Roses by Karen Wiesner

Stop and Smell the Roses

by Karen Wiesner

A memorial for a dear friend who passed away recently, including some of my colored pencil flower artwork.

A dear friend of mine passed away recently. I'd known her for over 20 years, and our children grew up together. They remain best friends to this day, even as she remained mine up until the end. Throughout the years I knew her, she endured multiple health issues. For the last year or so of her life, she was made aware by her doctors that her time in this world was short. When I look back now, I realize that I don't remember ever hearing her complain. I'm also struck by the fact that she didn't live like a person who was dying. She lived her life. Period. Impending death wasn't an obstacle to joy for her. She got through the bad periods, and she enjoyed the good ones. She took everything as it came. Even in her final days, she focused on what was important to her, the things that truly mattered: her husband, children, grandchildren, friends, and making the most of every moment, finding pleasure in those simple things, and never failing to let those around her know how grateful she was for their presence.

I understand the meaning of the phrase "Stop and smell the roses" (something my dear friend loved) because of her example. When an oncoming collision is headed straight for you, it's easier to close your eyes and shut down, shut off, hide inside yourself. It's impossible to enjoy life when you're concentrating on the advancing doom. So she did the best thing she could have done in the face of the inevitable: Although it was always there and she never forgot it, she found a way to turn away from it and focused instead on the roses blooming in the garden of her life. This is a lesson I hope I never forget, no matter how close I come to life's unavoidable finish line. My desire is to emulate such a beautiful standard. In honor of someone I'll miss, VJW, 8/13/23, here are some of my own floral creations.

@Rose colored pencil by Karen Wiesner
@Rose colored pencil by Karen Wiesner

@Hibiscus colored pencil by Karen Wiesner

@Scarlet hibiscus colored pencil by Karen Wiesner

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.

Visit her website here:


Find out more about her books and see her art here:

Visit her publisher here:

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Posthumous Unfinished Writings and Whether Characters Have a Life of Their Own

Last week I read TERRY PRATCHETT: A LIFE WITH FOOTNOTES, by Rob Wilkins, who worked as the Discworld creator's personal assistant for many years, right up to the end. Two points in this biography distressed me, as a reader, writer, and occasional literary critic. (Well, aside from knowing in advance about the sad conclusion, Pratchett's premature death from a rare form of Alzheimer's disease.) I reacted most strongly to the ceremonious crushing of the hard drive from Pratchett's computer, purposely obliterating his unfinished works. Pratchett ordered that his unpublished writings should stay unpublished and that there would be no posthumous Discworld fiction from other authors. Of course, an author has a right to express that wish and have it obeyed by his heirs. But utterly destroying every trace of those uncompleted stories? Very well, as per the author's instructions, don't publish them. However, I shudder at the thought of the loss to SF and fantasy scholarship. A library could have preserved them in an archival collection for academic study of Pratchett's work.

Some readers of Harper Lee's prequel to (or first draft of) TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD declared it should not have been published, that it only tarnished the reputation of her classic novel. "That isn't the point," I mentally screamed at the time. The point is the value of that prior work to scholars of her writing. Consider the abundance of posthumous publications and unfinished works by C. S. Lewis available to fans and academics. I would hate to have missed all that. And then there's the case of J. R. R. Tolkien, whose son spent decades compiling, editing, and releasing Tolkien's many surviving stories and fragments. What a loss to scholars and readers the withholding of that material would have been.

In one of my second-tier favorites of Stephen King's novels, LISEY'S STORY, I of course sympathize with the fictional bestselling author's widow, who has been constantly pestered since his death by academics demanding access to his manuscripts and other files. I also feel for those fictional scholars, though. While reading the book for the first time, I did wonder what the heck was taking her so long to get around to the obviously necessary task of releasing his papers for study. Granted, most of the people making those demands were portrayed as pushy, presumptuous, and often downright contemptuous of Lisey herself. I trust Pratchett scholars wouldn't act that way, and I mourn that we'll never know the contents of those destroyed files. If publication had been allowed, I would have paid a considerable sum to read even a fragment of a story about Susan Sto Helit as headmistress of her old school (one example mentioned in the biography).

Second and less important was a casual remark of Pratchett's quoted in passing, which nevertheless I felt like protesting. Once a fan asked him what Commander Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork city Watch was doing in between two particular novels. Pratchett answered, "Nothing. I made him up." If a fictional character becomes vivid enough for readers to imagine he or she has a life outside the printed pages, isn't that a good thing? Pratchett himself certainly must have understood the fanfic-creating impulse, for he admits to perpetrating fanfiction at least once: As a teenager, he composed a PRIDE AND PREJUDICE rewrite set in the world of LORD OF THE RINGS. (It involved orcs.) Not only fanfic but also professional fiction attests to the irresistible desire to expand on the imagined lives of favorite characters.

I know of at least one novel speculating on what Heathcliff did in his years away from Wuthering Heights and how he made his fortune. A recently published book explores the wartime service of the March girls' father during the early chapters of LITTLE WOMEN. So many classic works leave gaps and unanswered questions. What was the full backstory of Bertha, the mad wife in JANE EYRE, and was she actuallly insane before Rochester locked her in an upstairs suite (not, as commonly said, the attic) with only one companion (THE WIDE SARGASSO SEA)? What happened to Ishmael after his rescue at the end of MOBY-DICK. (Jane Yolen recently published a YA novel spun off from that question.) What's the story of Captain Ahab's wife, fleetingly alluded to in Melville's book? There's a novel about her. In A CHRISTMAS CAROL, how do the events look from Marley's viewpoint? Several works have addressed that question. Why did young Ebenezer Scrooge's father detest him? (Ebenezer's mother couldn't have died in giving birth to him, as one classic film states, because his sister Fan is younger; if Scrooge senior was that bitter about his wife's death, he wouldn't have remarried.) Why is Ebenezer too "poor" to marry Belle right away? His father must have been prosperous, since he enrolled Ebenezer in an apparently respectable boarding school and eventually sent a carriage to bring him home; what happened to the family money? What happened to Fan's husband, the never-mentioned father of Scrooge's nephew? What is Tiny Tim's illness, which has to be something chronic but ultimately fatal and yet curable by nineteenth-century medicine? At the time of Scrooge's death in the future scenes, where is his nephew? It's hard to believe Fred, as portrayed in the present-day scenes, would ever give up on Uncle Ebenezer.

These are the kinds of questions deeply involved fans of stories ask. Speculating on the answers is a vital part of the fun of being a reader.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Sunday, August 20, 2023

The Right Buzz

One really should not exploit someone's name for the joy of word play. But, I just did, so I apologize. 

It's four months until the Holiday Season, so it is high time for those-with-books-to-promote to develop a promotional countdown.

There is a name for what I did there, a compound noun. One of the many things that I love about the German language are their compound nouns.

Legal blogger Jan Buza of the international law firm Trama (which I am pretty sure I have never quoted before) has penned a very good article explaining the top five strategies for a successful product launch on Amazon.

Normally, I'd summarize some of it, but an obviously late-breeding mosquito kissed me on the back of my left hand, and now my whole hand, fingers included, is swollen up like an old fashioned boxing glove and it is hard to write.

The explanation took longer than a precis!

Please follow the link. Most of his five strategies have sub-categories with excellent advice on executing the strategy. I will just quote Jan Buza's takeaway.

"Winning Amazon product launch requires a combination of thorough market research, strategic product listing optimization, pre-launch promotion, effective advertising, and trademark protection. By following these top strategies and utilizing the benefits of Amazon's Brand Registry program, you can increase your product's visibility, credibility, and long-term success on the platform. Remember that continuous monitoring and optimization are key to sustaining your product's performance in the ever-evolving Amazon marketplace. Good luck with your product launch journey!"

On the IP Brief blog, lawyer William J. Hurles, of Dickinson Wright has published a comprehensive and useful guide to help sellers navigate intellectual property law on Amazon.  

A Seller’s Guide to Navigating Intellectual Property Law on Amazon

Here is a small tease.

"The key for Amazon sellers to avoid copyright infringement issues is to utilize only original content with all aspects of their products. A common pitfall for Amazon sellers is copying and pasting content from other websites or products (e.g., pictures or descriptions) for use on their own materials. This should be avoided at all costs, as it can lead to product takedowns and expensive copyright infringement lawsuits."

Finally for today, Nick Usborne suggests the five most important words to use on your web site. The words are: Free, Sign Up, Buy, Now, Thank you. Of course, the point of looking up the book and reading the excerpt is to know the secrets of what to do with those words.

The article can be found in the book, Mastering the World of Marketing, by's Founder David Riklan and Eric Taylor. 

I think it would be fair use to share part of one example (from an email that David Riklan sent out to his subscribers): 


"Now is good. "Later" is death. If someone digs deep enough into your site to find the product or service they want, and then just makes a mental note to come back again some time, you've lost her.

The Web is an easy-come and easy-go environment. If you can't get people to act immediately, forget it.

So ask people to do things NOW:
• Sign up NOW
• Buy NOW
• Tell a friend NOW

Go further still with some incentives:...."

I would just add, that with regard to incentives, maybe read some of my recent articles, because the FTC has updated the law on the offering of and giving of incentives as it relates to reviews.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry 

Friday, August 18, 2023

Pros and Cons of Taking Break from Writing, Part 2 by Karen S Wiesner

Pros and Cons of Taking Break from Writing,

Part 2

by Karen S. Wiesner

In the final of a two-part article, I evaluate aging, progress, and momentum as well as talk about the indisputable value breaks provide one in their particular discipline along with the damage protracted absences from said discipline can also do.

In the first part of this article, I talked about my goals for 2023. I have two more series to wrap up before I retire from writing. After that, I'm hoping to illustrate children's books. I'd hoped I could finish writing the first drafts of my last few novels in 2023. 2024 was my goal year for making the transition between the two disciplines of writing and art.

For the month of July 2023, while I was intensely writing the first draft of my final Peaceful Pilgrims story, I toyed with the prospect of going directly into writing the second to the last novel in my Bloodmoon Cove Spirits Series throughout the months of August and September 2023. However, I was bordering on burnout. Without a break, my writing would suffer, and that's simply not how I wanted to go into any of my final writing projects. I want each of them to be my best work ever. I was at a crossroads: I needed a break, but, if I took one, I absolutely couldn't accomplish all I'd intended to in 2023. Retirement and beginning my next career in illustration would have to be put on hold. Again.

My poor husband heard my angst over this issue on a daily basis for the last two weeks in July, as I tried to decide the best course of action concerning my dilemma. He surprised me one morning when he told me about a weekly podcast he watches devoted to the discipline of swimming. In this particular video, the host talked about the pros and cons of taking a break from swimming. Although I've spent years thinking I understood the indisputable value breaks provide in writing, as well as the damage protracted absences can also do, I learned something as my husband summarized the points the swimming instructor brought up.

For swimmers in training, as my husband considered himself (though he really only competes with himself--or his alter ego Frank who swims one kilometer a day every day like clockwork), there are a lot of pros and cons to taking a short break or even a lengthy one from daily discipline. A lot can happen to the body when a swimmer isn't in the pool each day, and of course the longer the absence, the worse things can get.

First, the longer an individual has been swimming, the more natural it becomes for them. They develop a "water feel". Being in the water becomes so natural, their skills become honed and instinctive. Taking a break, that instinct is dulled, and not surprisingly the longer they're away from the water, the more drastic losing the "water feel" becomes. Once they come back, they'll have to work harder to adjust to being and becoming like a fish again.

Second, when you're swimming every day, you're building endurance and muscle, and your metabolism is high. You can do more, expend less energy with the task, and in less time. When you take a break, your tolerance for the activity lessens. While your muscles enjoy and benefit from the initial rest, before long they begin to atrophy if absence persists. Finally, while you're working out each and every day, you may be able to eat more and still burn it off without penalty. If you're not putting in the work every day and that stretches into even more time away, you may still be hungry; however, eating the same amount you did sans the exercise, you'll gain weight in a hurry.

Third, when a person swims each day, the body becomes stronger. With the powerful muscles that being fit provides, this person is better able to handle anything in life that requires physical activity. Short periods of rest--a day or two--can be very beneficial, allowing muscles to heal before being rebuilt even stronger. Just as you'd expect, muscle that's not being worked breaks down, which will happen if a rest carries on too long.

Creative pursuits aren't all that different from a physical activity like swimming. For instance, the longer you've been writing, the more you hone your writing craft--"word feel", if you will. The process of writing becomes natural when it's done often, every day, with proper discipline, and it can become instinctive. But breaks, especially long ones, can make a writer lose that instinctual edge. You'll work harder to produce the same results you got easily before you took the extended break.

When you're writing each day, you're building skills, endurance, and longevity in the pursuit of excellence. Your enthusiasm and passion will be high. You'll be able to do more, expend less energy, and produce quality results in less time. But take a long break, and your tolerance wanes quickly. You tire easily and, inevitably, your skills will begin to weaken and wither. You'll also find your ardor cooling, your hunger tapering off. You may feel disinterested or even apathetic about returning to the discipline you previously enjoyed.

Finally, when you're writing every day, your material becomes far stronger. Your stories will invariably be richer, deeper, and more powerful. Taking breaks between stages in a project can almost certainly improve the quality and quantity of your work as well as provide you with the refreshment and perspective necessary to continuing the task through to its successful completion. You can read my previous articles about the benefits of writing in stages on this blog here: However, long breaks from writing can set you back instead of propel you forward. You need momentum for long-term tasks, and that only comes from activity, not lethargy, which saps physical, mental, and spiritual pursuits. Once gravity pulls you down, you'll have to work harder to yank yourself back up again.

The takeaway here becomes clear when you consider that in nearly aspect of life, finding the thing that you're good at, the thing you love and are willing to work hard to gain or achieve success in requires that you juggle times of disciplined activity and short periods of revitalizing rest. Both are crucial to maintaining, sustaining, and ensuring progress. Just as overtraining can cause injuries, refusing to allow yourself to step away for a bit to recover physical, mental, and spiritual energy can lead to burnout or worse.

Another factor is the length of time you've been working on any certain discipline. Anything you've been doing for a long time and consistently over the course of presumed years will provide you with a healthy foundation for instinct, endurance, and strength. Each of these components will remain in place for longer, requiring more hardship to whittle the three cornerstones down. Core aspects drop away slower, because you can fall back on the basics you've been cultivating for a considerable number of years. Someone who's new to a discipline will see key competencies drop off much faster when they take short or long breaks from it. Conversely, if you've been training hard and you come to a full stop abruptly, your overall performance is likely to plummet just as suddenly. But if you're doing something almost casually, you probably won't notice a significant change in your functioning.

I've been writing for almost 35 years. If I had to compare my career to a physical activity, for most of it I was easily competing to be an Olympic athlete. Between getting old, the COVID isolation hitting me hard, and the life upheavals I experienced a few years back (more about that in my "Reflections of Life" article series, which you'll find posted here:, I came to an almost full stop very suddenly. I've been dealing with the fallout ever since…

Such as the fact that I'm now facing that the goals I made for myself at the end of 2022 probably can't happen the way I planned. I can't write two novels back to back anymore, like I used to, even if one of them is drastically less complicated than the other. I'll need to take a break from writing for the next several weeks after finishing the first novel I've written this year in late July 2023. I'll have things to do to fill the downtime, just a little each day while I take a refreshing break from the hard work of writing. Additionally, I can get in some of the art practice that will eventually help me when I'm settling into the new career as an illustrator. I'll be ahead of the game there since I'll have spent several years in advance honing the new craft I intend to put my all into once I retire from writing. Between September and October of 2023, I'll write the next, more complex novel that I'm working on this year. That will leave me just enough time the final two months of 2023 to at least outline the very last offerings in my Bloodmoon Cove Spirits Series. It's not everything I hoped for. But, hey, it's still good.

It's very easy for me to get discouraged when I compare the "myself of today" with "myself of yesterday". I'm practically at a standstill when I look back at what I used to be able to accomplish every given year. I think I need to stop hitting the same brick wall of being disappointed with my output, of wanting to push myself harder. I may want to do more, but I've found over the course of the last two years that I simply can't anymore. I'm older, I have less stamina, and it just takes longer to make the magic happen. Even still, when I do get things done, I've found myself very proud of what I've managed to produce.

Instead of letting this same dejection knock me down over and over again, it may help me to compare myself to other writers. Most authors produce one novel a year and consider themselves productive. So, even if I only write two this year (perhaps pathetic in comparison to my previous five novels and five long novellas), I'm still doing double the norm. That's something. (If you write one a year, don't think you haven't accomplished much. You have. I just used to be a superhero and now I'm normal. It's a brand new world for me, one that's lacking the furious glow of the previous.)

So what if I'll only able to write two novels instead of the three I'd hoped to complete in 2023? So what I won't be able to retire from writing until 2024, at which point I can avidly begin my next career in illustration? Let's face it, I'm kicking and screaming every second, even as I accept this "downgrade". I imagine I'll fight against compromise in this regard the rest of my life.

Still, I'm not running a sprint here. My writing career has been a marathon, one I'm coming to the end of, and therefore it's even more necessary that I allow myself to slow down, catch my breath, and conserve my vigor so, when it's time to make that final push toward the finish line, I'll be in possession of 3 1/2 decades of instincts, endurance, and strength to help me complete the race. I call that success, even if I didn't get there with as much under my belt or anywhere near as fast as I intended.

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.

Visit her website here:


Find out more about her books and see her art here:

Visit her publisher here:

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Ideal Writing Day

The e-mail list for authors of one of my publishers had a fun discussion thread last week: What would your ideal writing day be like?

I envy the kind of writing day some of those apparently prolific, enthusiastic authors envision. I don't think I've ever experienced an ideal writing day. I'm a very slow, laborious writer, and when I have an uninterrupted day to myself, I'm the sort of person who will suddenly find a usually tedious household chore of compelling interest.

However, on a good day I typically plan two stretches of writing time, a short one in the morning and a longer period in the afternoon. On an ideal day, each of those would last longer than it does in real life. Also, I would start the afternoon writing session earlier instead of falling into the trap of waiting until late afternoon when everything else is done -- because everything never gets done. As a book on housekeeping I own points out, you will never "get it all done" because it is infinite (that is, unlike most "real jobs" one gets paid for, its limits are undefined). So writing time has to be defined and adhered to if one wants to produce words on a consistent basis. If I didn't have the distractions of a house to keep up, a dog to take care of, and a spouse to feed (simple breakfasts and dinners on weekdays), my ideal writing schedule would comprise a couple of hours each in the morning and the afternoon. Without dawdling, each of those time spans would produce at least 500 words.

Marion Zimmer Bradley used to say writing was the perfect job for a stay-at-home houseperson because it can be dropped and picked up for brief stretches of work anytime during the day. My reaction was "speak for yourself, bestselling author." :) In recent years, however, I've gotten better at using those fifteen-minute blocks. Several hundred words can be churned out in that amount of time, if one doesn't let one's mind wander. Preliminary outlining definitely helps in that respect.

Along that line, Mercedes Lackey has stated several times in her Quora posts that if a writer can dash off 500 words of a blog post in a few minutes, he or she should be able to produce a similar volume of words on a story or novel in the same amount of time. But, darn it, nonfiction is much easier to create than readable fiction. Or maybe I feel that way because I spent so many years mainly in academic writing.

Caffeine and/or alcohol (in moderation) can help the words flow. Of course, they'd need editing later, but so does everything to some extent. However, indulging in those substances as writing aids on a regular basis would eventually become routine and therefore undermine their effectiveness as a stimulus.

What does your ideal writing day look like?

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

How Long Is A Piece Of String?

Or for that matter, and this is my point, what is the price of a cup of coffee?

If one is staying at a Best Western, or a Hampton Inn, the coffee flows freely all day (from industrial-sized thermos flasks). If one is at home, drinking instant, it's around 30 - 50 cents a cup depending on the brand and how much one heaps the coffee spoon. If one uses K-cups --not an environmentally sustainable choice because of all the non-recyclable plastic-- the cost is about double. And if one goes to the byword brand on any main street for barista service, the cost starts at $2.

With such a price variation, how do pitchmen on television get away with telling you that their product costs less than --or about the same as-- a cup of coffee every day?

Again this week, the legal bloggers have been talking about either AI or Advertising. In the case of the former, a Detroit lady is suing the City and one or two of its law enforcement officers because they used AI facial recognition to misidentify an innocent person as a car jacking suspect based on a years-old photograph.

How deceitful is it, if the witness were to state, for instance, that the very recent perpetrator looked to be in her twenties, so, instead of showing him a recent photo of a forty-year-old, they knowingly show a photo of a random woman from the database when she was twenty-something?

Perhaps driver's license photos should never be used for this sort of thing, but according to Thomas Germain, writing for Consumer Reports, law enforcement at all levels has a database that includes DMV product, and millions of Americans who have done nothing more edgy than obtain a driver's license have their photos in the system.

Someone described all this use of a person's photograph without their knowledge or permission akin to a covert op. And then there is Facebook, or the entity that was once known as Facebook.

I suspected that the Facial Recognition tagging was used promiscuously (randomly) as a way of promoting oneself or ones work product to as many "friends" as possible. Ah, well. 

Legal bloggers Morgan E. Smith and Margaret A. Esquenet of the Finngan law firm's Incontestable Blog explain what advertisers and influencers now need to know about writing and publishing endorsements and incentivized reviews.

There are now teeth in the law, and those who write fake (whether negative, or glowing) reviews or endorsements could in legally liable for potentially misleading the public.

Legal Blogger Douglas A. Thompson of the law firm Snell & Wilmer (a new resource to me) writes about the same important  FTC updates, with the added frisson of the possibity of class action suits against unfortunate perpetrators of less-than-wholly-accurate reviews.

Daniel Kaufman, partner at Baker & Hostetler wrote about something similar last month about online review practices and considerations. If you missed it before, it is well worth reading. 

This is the most interesting to me.

"Conditioned incentives for reviews. It would be unlawful to provide any incentive for a review where the incentive is conditioned on the writing of a review that expresses a particular sentiment, whether positive or negative."

As, I have mentioned in the past, I've seen a lot of apartment rental complexes where tenants are offered a rent rebate, or a discount, or lottery tickets in exchange for a 5 star review of the property.

Finally, there is an audio discussion between Dan and Annie about all the myths and misconceptions that get incurious advertisers into trouble. (I have to say, I did not listen to it. My computer is playing up.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry

Friday, August 11, 2023

Pros and Cons of Taking Break from Writing, Part 1 by Karen S. Wiesner

Pros and Cons of Taking Break from Writing,

Part 1

by Karen S. Wiesner


In this two-part article, I evaluate aging, progress, and momentum as well as talk about the indisputable value breaks provide one in their particular discipline along with the damage protracted absences from said discipline can also do.

As I get older, I think more about how much energy I had in the past and how much I was able to accomplish in such a short time. Frequently, I'm shocked about how I was able to do all I did, juggling dozens of balls all at the same time--seemingly without break a sweat. That's not the case anymore. These days, I call my former, amazing ability to accomplish my superpower…one I've almost completely lost as I age.

In my youth, my superpower allowed me to write five full-length novels and five (usually very long) novellas in a single year--completing all the steps involved from outline to final polish for all these stories in that year. I'm not sure how long I'll continue to freak out that I have such trouble finishing a mere three novels (and no novellas at all) in a year's time now. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

As you can tell, there's some grief and discouragement involved, but I've nearly reached the stage of acceptance in this process as well as the ability to reevaluate the best way to go about completing the activities I expend my diminished energy on. One such review involves a topic that has been a favorite of mine throughout my career: Namely, the pros and cons of taking a break from writing. The reason I started thinking about this recently is because I'm constantly looking at what I want to get done versus what I'm actually accomplishing over time. I assess this from one year to the next as well as from one month to the next, since most of the steps in my writing projects take around a month to complete. In the middle of any given year, I want to check on my progress. Doing this allows me take a long view of my progress as well as to gauge my momentum (or lack therefore) over time.

I've talked about this before in this column, so some of you already know that I'm counting down to writing the final books in my last two series. At that point, I intend to retire from writing, and I'd like to begin illustrating children's books indefinitely. To that end, for the last couple years, I've been taking online art courses in several mediums, trying out different things, finding out what interests me the most and where my talents lie. I try to fit a week or so of "art practice" into my schedule each month. It's not easy to do this because during the short time (usually the last week of the month) I allot to applying my love of art, it threatens to steal all my interest from writing. So I need to keep it contained; I have to decide what's possible in that short time I give myself to devote to art. This new love threatens to overtake me if I indulge it even for a short time and too often. While I want to be learning art craft during this time before I retire from writing, I can't let it take over. I have to get back to my writing sooner rather than later because I'm determined to finish these final two series to provide myself and readers closure before I retire from writing.

2024 was my goal year for making the transition between the two disciplines of writing and art. At the end of 2023, I figured out that it was possible to outline and write during the course of the next year what I thought at the time were three books. I might not have time to revise and polish all of them until early 2024, but I could at least get the first drafts written. I started 2023 pretty optimistic. In the first few months, I accomplished an admirable amount of tasks. I finished off the books I'd started in 2022 after getting critiques from my partners on several of them. I wasn't happy with how much work all of those required, taking more effort and longer time than I ever intended to complete them. Again, that seems to be a new thing in this aging process. But, alas, several things got done and dusted. I also outlined the final story in my Peaceful Pilgrims Series and felt really good about how that series would end. I had to pause in progress on my novels to get ahead on a couple months' worth of articles for this weekly column, something I used to be able to slam out in no time and I wouldn't have to think about it again for the next year. Ugh, ugh, ugh.

I finally got back to business on my novel writing goals for the year in May 2023. While outlining (again what I initially thought was) the second to the last book in my Bloodmoon Cove Spirits Series, I hit my first real snag in upsetting the goals I'd set for the year: I realized I still had too much material to cover to finish the series with a single book. Although I felt pretty far from solidifying the specific details on what was needed to wrap up the loose threads still dangling in this series (and still do at the time of this writing), I couldn't escape that there was no way to get it all into one book. Believe me, I tried. I definitely did not want the final offering of the series to end up 500 pages. I came to the conclusion that, with the number of viewpoints I would need to complete the series, it might be better to divide them into two separate parts. So one final book to finish this series became two, or one that will be presented in two separate parts. The two separate parts could end up novels or novellas, or one of each. At this point, I'm too early in the process to know how that will turn out. Bottom line: I definitely had a major setback to finishing what I wanted to in 2023.

At the six month juncture of 2023, I realized I'd fallen further behind than I wanted to be in my annual achievements by that time. I'd taken an entire month off because we had family members visit that we only get to spend a few weeks at a time with during the summer. While I had no regrets in doing that, it was a little depressing to think that my plan to finish writing the last books of the two series I have left to complete before I retire from writing might not get written this year after all. That means that my intention to begin illustrating children's books once all the stories I ever want to write are finished will have to wait. That was the second snag and undeniably a major setback.

In my discouragement (kneejerk reaction, I think, left over from my former superpower), I instinctively decided to pull the fire alarm so my goals for the year wouldn't be thwarted. Incidentally, I also had no time at all in the months of June and July to get any art practice in. Potentially, I might not be able to squeeze that time in during the months of August and September either, since I'd figured out during the first six months of the year that I was spreading myself out very thin with all I wanted to accomplish every month--between writing, art, articles for Alien Romances, and playing piano. Every single day was jam-packed, which is part of the reason why June ended up such a bust for me in terms of accomplishment. Even if I'd had time, I was mentally and physically too tired to do much of anything.

With a solid rest under my belt, I was determined to get back on track: I decided I'd write the two novels I'd outlined earlier in the year back to back. In July I would write the final book in my Peaceful Pilgrims Series. This was the shorter novel of the two and a pretty straightforward romance. I allotted writing 2-3 scenes on weekdays in July to the task of completing the first draft of that novel. The second novel would be longer and infinitely more complicated given that it would ultimately be a romantic paranormal horror suspense story, so I planned to give myself two months--August and September--to complete the first draft by writing only 1-2 scenes a day. That way I wouldn't become overwhelmed to the point that my daily writing would suffer.

July was, to say the least, an exhausting month. My writing quality each day was high, and that's about the best thing I can say. I was doing a lot, getting close to overreaching with how much I was producing on a daily basis (up to 27 pages/8000 words a day sometimes!). By the time the last week of the month rolled around, I was still looking at finishing the final eight scenes before the month concluded and several new things both writing and non-writing related threatened to give me even more to do each day that I wasn't sure I could handle.

The thought of finishing the Peaceful Pilgrims story in July and instantly moving into writing the next in my final series in August and September was intimidating, demoralizing. My brain screamed mutiny at the mere prospect. I was grateful that the last Peaceful Pilgrims book promises to become one of my best (after I wrap up the other steps I'll need to perform in the course of completing it). However, it was very clear to me even before I got to the last week of finishing the novel that I couldn't move into writing the next novel without a break. How much of a break, I wasn't exactly sure, but I knew burnout was inevitable. I was at a crossroads: If I couldn't accomplish all I'd intended to in 2023, my retirement and beginning my next career would have to wait, but I couldn't take the risk that my writing would suffer if I rushed ahead and forced myself to plow right into the next project without taking some kind of a break.

My poor husband heard my angst over this issue on a daily basis for the last two weeks in July, as I tried to decide the best course of action concerning my dilemma. He surprised me one morning when he told me about a weekly podcast he watches devoted to the discipline of swimming. In this particular video, the host talked about the pros and cons of taking a break from swimming. Although I've spent years thinking I understood the issue of the indisputable value breaks provide in writing, as well as the damage protracted absences can also do, I learned something as my husband summarized the points the swimming instructor brought up.

In next week's part of this article, I'll cover the general connections we can make and extrapolations that can be applied when studying the pros and cons of taking a break in nearly any discipline, and I'll conclude the status of my 2023 goals.

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.

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Thursday, August 10, 2023

He, She, It , or They Said

Nowadays a widely accepted piece of advice about writing fiction sternly rebukes any use of dialogue tags other than the simple, almost invisible word "said." No alternative verb choices such as "muttered," "snarled," "cried," "screamed," etc., and definitely no adverbs. Nothing like, "We must flee," Tom said swiftly. Resorting to dialogue tags to convey the tone of a character's speech is a sign of weakness, the fiction mavens insist. A skillful writer can accomplish this goal by other methods. But sometimes you can't, I protest, at least not so concisely. Can't your hero "whisper" or "shout" occasionally?

Anthony Ambrogio's "Grumpy Grammarian" column in the August newsletter of the Horror Writers Association rages against this alleged rule. In this columnist's view, the constant repetition of "said" makes a fiction writer's prose tedious and flat. He particularly dislikes the use of "said" with questions. The verb "asked" belongs there, he insists, and on this point I completely agree. I also advocate a whisper, shout, murmur, or mutter in the appropriate places. Ambrogio disparages the current fashion as "the unfortunate less-is-more, bare-bones approach to dialogue where everything is 'said' and writers don’t ever vary their descriptions of characters’ remarks." He concludes the essay with the exhortation, "You’re a writer. You have imagination. You have language. Use both (he demanded boldly)." To some extent, I agree with him. Sure, a beginning author may wander into a thicket of purple prose by becoming too enamored of flamboyant dialogue tags and unnecessary -ly adverbs. But potential abuse of a technique doesn't justify forbidding its legitimate use.

Of course, variation can be introduced by avoiding dialogue tags altogether and identifying the speaker through his or her actions. However, that device, too, can become tediously repetitious if overused. Sometimes, moreover, we just need to know that the character whispered a line instead of screaming it. I once did some editing on a novel that included a conversation where two women were drinking tea or coffee or whatever. The text repeatedly identified each speaker by having her fiddle with her cup, spoon, etc., often in almost identical words.

One stylistic choice I strongly dislike consists of line after line of quoted speech with no attribution at all, like reading the script of a play but without the characters' names. Supposedly, in well-written dialogue each character has such a distinctive voice that you can immediately recognize which one is speaking. Well, sometimes you can't. It breaks the flow of the story when the reader has to count back up the lines to the last mention of a name to figure out who said what. It's even worse if the author ignores the "one speaker per paragraph" rule, as some do.

In short, writers have access to many methods of distinguishing speakers in fictional dialogue and describing their manner of speech. Each one can be elegantly deployed or clumsily misused. Or, in the words of Rudyard Kipling, "There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays, And every single one of them is right!"

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Sunday, August 06, 2023

I Never Make Big Misteaks

When I was a Lower Sixth Former (penultimate year of school), I had an enormous pink rubber (by which I mean an eraser) bearing the printed legend, "I Never Make Big Misteaks". The misspelling was intentional; the play on words had more than one level... unlike the products available on E-Bay, which look similar, but the hubris-popper is missing.

One of the most interesting, copyright-related legal blogs of last week was about the top five mistakes made by denizens of the internet, and was penned by Griffen Thorne of Harris Bricken

Do check out the about Harris Bricken link, just for the fun of it. They have some very interesting expertise by no means limited to copyright-related matters.

Is e-commerce what we writers do? I think so, in part, at least. I looked it up, so you don't have to do so

A quick Google search offers many (similar) explanations, and I choose to point you to Donna Fuscaldo. Keep reading past the blocks of paid advertisements, because her entire article is well worth your time, IMHO, if you are in any doubt whether or not e-commerce is part of what you do.

And, so, to the big mistakes. (I am having a little fun with the so-versatile "so"... not least because some so-so wag claimed emphatically that "so" cannot be a pronoun, but I think he is so wrong!)

Griffen Thorne of Harris Bricken provides a list, all text links. I infer that it is fair use to share those, and I highly recommend that you click on them for his prophylactic advice on avoiding legal woes in connection with operating a website, selling works or stuff, shipping books or prizes, accepting --or not accepting-- returns, or running promotions that involve collecting contestants' --and newsletter-readers'-- contact information, or having trackers and cookies.

  1. #1 No privacy policy, or a bad privacy policy
  2. #2 Bad e-commerce terms
  3. #3 No cyber liability coverage
  4. #4 Advertising mishaps
  5. #5 ADA and TCPA
Part of Griffen Thorne's practice is to review websites and catch the legal pratfalls that webmasters and webmistresses often overlook.
By the way, (my aside) book lovers sites, such as Fresh Fiction and Book Crossing have been breached and email addresses and passwords are on the dark web. If you ever used those sites, you ought to log back in and change your password. If you have an automated mailing list run from your website, you might check on your own security from time to time.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry 
EPIC Award winner, Friend of ePublishing for Crazy Tuesday   

Friday, August 04, 2023

Medieval Art Celebration by Karen Wiesner

Art by Karen Wiesner

In celebration of all things Medieval, a simplified black and white sketch I did in 2022 of the painting The Accolade by Edmund Blair Leighton (1901).

@Karen Wiesner

Thursday, August 03, 2023

Retro Futures

Watching the first few episodes of STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS, which takes place during Captain Christopher Pike's command of the Enterprise, started me thinking about the phenomenon of science fiction set in the near future with technology that gets overtaken and surpassed by real-life inventions. "Retrofuturism" brings to mind elevator operators in Huxley's BRAVE NEW WORLD (a world that relies on reproductive tech far beyond our present capacity) or slide rules coexisting with a lunar settlement in Heinlein's HAVE SPACESUIT, WILL TRAVEL. It's an inescapable hazard of writing about the near future that "cutting edge" can quickly become dated. The TV Tropes site has a page about retrofuturism under the term "Zeerust":


The page includes examples from the Star Trek universe under "Live-Action TV." The best-known one from the original series, of course, is the communicator. To avoid having its communicators look outdated in comparison to real-life cell phones, the prequel series ENTERPRISE had to feature devices more "modern" than those shown chronologically later in-universe.

In the original series, Captain Pike appears after the accident that made him a quadriplegic. According to Wikipedia, he operates his whole-body automated chair by brain waves, a not-implausible distant-future invention, in view of the brain-computer interface devices currently in development. Captain Pike, however, can communicate only by activating Yes or No lights on his wheelchair. In our own time, the late Stephen Hawking used a computer program that allowed him to speak through an artificial voice -- although, toward the end of his life, at the rate of only about one word per minute. Thereafter, as explained on Wikipedia, an "adaptive word predictor" enhanced his ability to communicate. The system developed for him used "predictive software similar to other smartphone keyboards." Therefore, surely by two or three centuries in the future, Captain Pike could have equipment that would enable him to produce full sentences in a completely natural-sounding manner.

As the opposite of retrofuturism or Zeerust, much science fiction displays exaggerated optimism about the futuristic features of the near future. Heinlein, in THE DOOR INTO SUMMER, predicted that advanced household robots and commercially available cryogenic "long sleep" would exist in 1970. In the same year, he has the protagonist invent what amounts to an engineering drafting program, something we've had for decades although Heinlein's versions of robotic servants haven't materialized yet. TV Tropes references this phenomenon here:

I Want My Jet Pack

As Yogi Berra is alleged to have said, "It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future."

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.