Sunday, October 15, 2023


Enunciation matters.

Enunciation is the art or skill or ability to pronounce words clearly. Some minor celebrities have it, and some don't. If, as an author, you are paying substantial prices to have your works put into audio form, even if a bot is doing it, you need to make sure that your voice-talent is adequate.

Take a current TV advertisement for a luxury, plumbing-related solution to a bathroom renovation. Do you know what grey water is?

Now, grey -or gray- water is fine and environmentally responsible for watering your garden, but there is a limit to its uses. It is not glamorous. Basically, it is used bathwater.

If you are hiring visual talent to pitch your product, you might want her to be able to enunciate "great" as opposed to "grey" or "gray" because great is fantastic, and grey in the context of water is... gross. 

Otherwise, change the script. "Grea..." could be "Fantastic" or "Amazing" or any number of more easily pronouced synonyms.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry

Friday, October 13, 2023

Karen S. Wiesner {Put This One on Your TBR List}: Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

{Put This One on Your TBR List}

Book Review: Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

by Karen S. Wiesner

Published in 2020, Piranesi by the celebrated author of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke, is labeled a fantasy, but it's far more than that. I purchased it because I love the previous novel by this author, which I reviewed earlier in my Alien Romances Friday column Put This On Your TBR List.

It's hard to even know how to review this story. It gracefully evades attempts at accurately describing and pinning down its premise or true nature, as the main character Piranesi himself does. Set in a strange, labyrinthine world called the House, there are seemingly infinite halls and vestibules that are filled with one of a kind statues, clouds, an ocean, along with a being called by Piranesi "the Other", a mysterious man who provides useful items from the outside world, though never explains where all these things come from (and Piranesi never seems to wonder, nor question where the Other disappears to half the time). Incidentally, I pictured the Other as The Architect from the Keanu Reeves' movie The Matrix and didn't trust him from the very first mention of him, though I couldn't really be sure at that point whether he deserved my swift judgment.

Piranesi fills his days exploring, gathering food and the items he needs to live, tracking the tides, and indexing and writing about his home and simple life in journals provided for him by the Other. This being has asked Piranesi to help him search for the Great and Secret Knowledge--whatever that is. In the process, Piranesi discovers journal entries in his own handwriting that he doesn't remember writing. The Other has told him that the House erodes memories and personalities, and that a being called "16" will seek to cause madness in Piranesi if they don't kill him. But Piranesi is a gentle soul, content to live where and how he does, in isolation except for birds that come and go, the tides that only he knows the rhythm of, and searching for signs of the 15 other beings that once lived in the House (two of whom are long-dead skeletons Piranesi cares for).

To say nothing is as it seems in the novel Piranesi is to imply that we ever truly know what reality is in this unique world. Readers will only ever glimpse fringes of such a thing through Piranesi's diary and the fragments of discovery he comes across on his journey.

When I picked up the story, I was keeping company with two people who were watching a football game I had absolutely no interest in. Would I have become so engrossed in the book if not for that? I don't know, but I'm so glad I did read it at that time when there was nothing else to do and therefore I could allow my interest to blossom slow but sure--because that's the unfortunate thing about this wonderful tale: It starts so incredibly weirdly, so sedately, I think anyone who doesn't give the story time and force themselves to push past page 100 may not continue reading. That would be a tragedy. It isn't until after the first and well into the second part of this tale that Piranesi and his unsettling life, as he begins piecing together a troubling mystery, really becomes something a reader can't put down.

The Los Angeles Times called the protagonist one "with no guile, no greed, no envy, no cruelty, and yet still intriguing." Piranesi as a character devastated me the further along I got into his story, discovering troubling truths, but more to the point, I agree with Lila Shapiro who said in her review of the book that "Piranesi will wreck you."

I can't recommend this tale highly enough, and, if I could giftwrap it and silently hand it to every reader, so (as Erin Morgenstern has said of it) "they can have the pleasure of uncovering its secrets for themselves", I would. In a way, that's what I'm doing here. Piranesi is an unforgettable treasure you may never recover fully from reading.

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, October 12, 2023

Learning Without Brains

Can creatures without brains think? Many of them can learn, so are they thinking? This article highlights several brainless life forms capable of learning:

Organisms Without Brains

Of course, this premise depends on what we mean by learning. If we think of that activity as a process that requires consciousness, a brain is probably essential. However, the article defines learning as "any change in behaviour as a result of experience." By that definition, creatures such as jellyfish, some plants, and even slime molds can learn, remember, and modify their reactions to the environment accordingly. For example, the beadlet anemone as a rule "violently opposes any encroachment on its territory by other anemones," yet it doesn't show aggression toward its genetically identical clones. Slime molds remember routes to food and use those experiences to guide future foraging. The Venus flytrap also acts as if it has a memory. Another article explores the potential "intelligence" of plants in more detail, discussing how chemical and electrical signals in their transport systems may carry information.

Can Plants Think?

I've probably mentioned in the past a story in which one character asks another, "With what does a plant think, in the absence of a brain?" The skeptical second character who scoffs at the idea of plant cognition might be wrong after all.

The concept of brainless organisms capable of remembering and learning raises the question, again, of how we could be sure of recognizing an intelligent alien if we met one. Suppose they have modes of intelligence that, unlike ours, don't need anything that seems analogous to a brain? How easily could we realize they are actually thinking?

If "learning" means "any change in behaviour as a result of experience," considering what we watch and read in the daily news, we might well doubt whether some Earth-humans with allegedly functional brains have the ability to learn!

Margaret L. Carter

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

Friday, October 06, 2023

Karen S. Wiesner {Put This One on Your TBR List}: Wildwood by Colin Meloy; illustrated by Carson Ellis

{Put This One on Your TBR List}

Book Review: Wildwood by Colin Meloy; illustrated by Carson Ellis

by Karen S. Wiesner

Wildwood is the first book in The Wildwood Chronicles, a 2011 children's fantasy series written by Colin Meloy (a member of the indie folk-rock band The Decemberists), illustrated by his wife Carson Ellis.

I found this beautiful little book with quirky artwork in an even quirkier bookstore. When I initially started reading it, I was reminded of a similar English children's series that I'd read to my son when he was young. Although it came out around the same time the Series of Unfortunate Events books were being released, I can't find them in my own library or in any successful internet search. In any case, the point is that I've never forgotten these uproariously hilarious stories filled with unlikely, improbable, and outlandish characters and situations. Everything in these tales was so ludicrous, there was nothing to do but laugh until you felt like your sides would split.

The crazy humor of the characters in Wildwood was a bit like that, enough to hope that good things were coming. But the thing this unforgettable series that I ironically can't remember the names, titles, or author of had one thing that I didn't find in Wildwood: There was a built in believability factor to them. I can't really explain why it was in that outlandish series other than that the reader was just never given a choice about swallowing the premise or any other part of those books. You went with it, and the fun insanity of it all carries you through the story without questioning the events that transpired.

Undeniably, Wildwood was well-written and I especially liked the unique illustrations interspersed throughout the off-beat tale. But the introductory scenario was one I just couldn't accept. In the opening chapters, a 13-year-old girl named Prue was handed off her baby brother by their parents to care for all day and night. This is done as if 1) it's Prue's job to do so, and 2) she has the degree of responsibility to do such a thing, whether she volunteered or not. Prue has a weirdly shocking sense of humor, which was appealing, and her laidback attitude was also a good setup. However, she had a blasé attitude about her brother. She thrusts Mac (an infant from what I'm understanding) in the naked "bed" of a red wagon which is attached to her bicycle. Prue proceeds to pull the wagon like a bat out of hell all over Portland. Readers are apparently supposed to believe no children could be seriously harmed in this way.

I found it harder and harder to suspend belief as the reader followed Prue around on her careless trek with a brother she didn't seem to want to be taking care of, nor really exercised any care in babysitting. I wasn't surprised because the back cover blurb of the book told us that Mac was stolen, plucked right out of wagon, by a murder of crows and taken into Portland's Impassable Wilderness.

I have a sense of humor. But, if any of this was supposed to be amusing, it simply wasn't written that way. But that's not the end of it. Add to this disturbing scenario yet another, equally unsettling and unbelievable one: Prue decides the best course of action after her brother is kidnapped is to go home, fool her parents into thinking Mac is already asleep in his crib, and she'll get around to rescuing him tomorrow.

First, I couldn't imagine the parents of an infant not checking on him personally before retiring for the night themselves, instead taking their teenage daughter's word for it that he was fine, fed, and off in la-la land, not to be woken by fawning parents.

Second, that Prue didn't think to involve her parents, immediately, who should have called the police, immediately, put me off entirely for anything like a fun, breathtaking fantasy fairy tale with a protagonist fitting the description of a young girl with an "admirable and amazing independent streak". (Prue is based on the author and illustrator's niece, who has these qualities, according to them.) While I was initially intrigued by Prue, I found that she didn't develop as a character in the ways I wanted her to. Yes, she did go after her brother eventually, proving that maybe she cared for him, though she initially seemed more concerned about getting in trouble for losing him, from what I could tell.

Perhaps Prue's unwelcome sidekick, Curtis, would have been much more sympathetic, compelling, and worthy main character, but he did get his share of pages in this first book of the series.

Explanations that could and should have come earlier in the story probably would have convinced me to invest more in the story, to see it as hilarious and entertaining instead of negligent and alarming. I think people of various ages who have no children might enjoy this sometimes violent, shocking story, but that begs the question: Who is the target audience? I wasn't entirely sure at any point, least of all now.

Aside from those aspects, the fantasy setting of Wildwood, which is based on the real Forest Park and much of its actual terrain, should delight lovers of Neil Gaiman-like, parallel world fiction. There are two more Wildwood series titles available now, along with rumors that it's being made into a stop motion film, coming in 2025 boasting a cast of all-star voice actors.

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, October 05, 2023

Mental Illness in Horror

The Horror Writers Association's monthly newsletter has started running a column about the treatment of mental illness in horror fiction -- how it's been done wrong in the past and how to do it realistically, sensitively, and compassionately. Too often in such stories, neurodivergent people or sufferers from mental and emotional disorders have appeared as stereotypically monstrous figures such as deranged serial killers. Yet it's hard to imagine the genre without Poe's neurotic or perhaps delusional narrators, Renfield in DRACULA, Lovecraft's protagonists driven mad by cosmic terrors, Robert Bloch's PSYCHO, and works such as Theodore Sturgeon's brilliant SOME OF YOUR BLOOD (a short epistolary novel featuring a rather pitiable blood-drinking sociopath, who, with only two exceptions, kills only small animals he hunts in the woods). THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS presents the sociopathic genius Dr. Hannibal Lecter, more of a fairy-tale monster with almost magical powers than a realistic criminal, and the serial killer "Buffalo Bill," murdering women to sew a "girl suit" out of their skins. The latter has been criticized for giving the toxic impression that transgender men are inherently unstable and probably dangerous. Lecter explicitly says "Bill" isn't really transgender and has been rejected by more than one sex change clinic (as the procedure was labeled at that time); nevertheless, the impression lingers.

There's little room to doubt that the innumerable fiction and film portrayals of people suffering from psychosis and other mental or emotional disorders as insane killers have negatively affected the public's distorted perception of actual human beings with similar problems. Also, the pulp fiction and horror film trope of the "mad scientist" probably reinforces too many people's distrust of real-life science nowadays, often with potentially disastrous real-world results.

As the panel discussion articles in the HWA newsletter point out, horror writers don't have to stop including mentally ill and neurodivergent characters in their works. Those characters can be drawn as three-dimensional figures with credible virtues and flaws, even if they're sometimes the antagonists in their stories.

I recently read Stephen King's latest novel, HOLLY, which I enjoyed very much. Like King himself, I've been fond of Holly ever since her first appearance in MR. MERCEDES. Through the rest of that trilogy, the spin-off novel THE OUTSIDER, and the novella "If It Bleeds," she has believably evolved as a character. When we first meet her, she's nervous, shy, perpetually anxious, and at least mildly obsessive-compulsive. Even then, her suppressed intelligence shines through. She also seems to be high-functioning autistic, although the texts never explicitly state that diagnosis. As seen in HOLLY, she has grown in confidence, competence, and bonding with people she has come to love, while her core personality remains the same. She still displays the same quirks, including that touch of OC, exacerbated by the need for COVID precautions. She's a well-rounded character whose strengths and weaknesses we can empathize with, yet a true hero when circumstances require. She strikes me as an outstanding example of a non-neurotypical protagonist done well.

Margaret L. Carter

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

Sunday, October 01, 2023

On Moderation

To the people who leave comments that get flagged by our host for moderation, thank you. Thank you for your support and for the very kind words.

We read and appreciate all the comments, but we cannot post them all, particularly if the comments contain links to third party websites.

There was a time when other people's links were perfectly fine, but laws have changed around the world, and if we publish a link on our blog, we assume some level of responsibility for it.

I apologize for the excessive overabundance of caution.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry

Friday, September 29, 2023

Karen S. Wiesner {Put This One on Your TBR List} Beneath the Shadows by Sara Foster

{Put This One on Your TBR List}

Book Review: Beneath the Shadows by Sara Foster

by Karen S. Wiesner

I'm a fan of Gothic suspense thrillers, and there aren't as many really good ones as I'd like out there. I read Beneath the Shadows by Sara Foster right after it came out in 2012. In this book, Adam inherits Hawthorn Cottage from his grandparents, and he and his wife Grace move there with their infant daughter, intending to leave the hustle and bustle of city life. The North Yorkshire moors set the stage for the opening landscape of creepy, moody desolation--with something scary lurking around every corner. Adam disappears abrupt, leaving his young daughter in her stroller on the doorstep. Everyone tries to convince Grace that he left her, but even a year later she can't reconcile what happened with what she knew of the man she loved.

Determined to find the answers the police couldn't uncover, she returns to the cottage. A winter storm effectively cuts her and Millie off from the rest of the world, and Grace finds herself in a spooky house filled with dark family secrets and maybe even a few ghosts. She's living in a small village with odd, taciturn inhabitants who give a semblance of friendliness that, in a room full of shadows, could just as easily be mistaken for menace.

The intriguing characters and atmospheric setting drew me in. Tension kept me riveted to the pages. This story has some minor flaws and inconsistencies that did little more than make me miss a beat. Nothing kept me from wanting to finish the slightly formulaic tale and reread it in the future--as well as look into discovering others that followed from the author. Lovers of Gothic suspense will find this the ideal story to read while housebound during a storm of one sort or another.

Check out my latest novel!

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, September 28, 2023

In Celebration of Happy Endings

In fiction, is a sad conclusion more "realistic" than a happy one? "The belief seems to be that tragic or unhappy endings are 'real' and therefore 'worthy' while happy endings are an easy cop-out." This essay on the Word Wenches blog strongly objects to that belief:

Word Wenches: Happy Endings

The insistence that happy endings are unrealistic seems based on the undeniable fact that the real world contains lots of horror and suffering. Yes, admits this blogger, but it also contains "a lot of happy stuff," which she wants us to "celebrate. . . not push it under the carpet and call it mindless fluff." People who hold the latter position apparently believe writers and readers of such "fluff" are evading reality, hiding from the grim truths of life. As if the grimness and suffering were somehow MORE "real" than the joyful bits. Is a house in the suburbs with two cars and a jacuzzi any less "real life" than a roach-infested apartment? (During our fifty-plus years of marriage, we've lived in both as well as various environments in between.) Every work of art constructs its effects by selecting elements from the total mass of lived experience. Why shouldn't we preferentially select the good rather than the bad sometimes? Dwelling solely on the bad and labeling it "realism" reminds me of a passage in C. S. Lewis's THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS: The senior demon advises the junior tempter to induce the human "patient" to consider his feelings about the impact of bombs on human flesh as a reflection of "reality" and his feelings about sunshine and happy children as mere wishful thinking.

I suspect a large part of "serious" critics' dismissal of romance arises not just from its predominantly female audience but also from its generic requirement for a "happily ever after" or at least a "happily for now." Yet if it's actually true that half of all marriages in the U.S. end in divorce (which I've read is a faulty claim based on a misinterpretation of the statistics), then it's also true that half of all marriages last a lifetime.

Not that the Word Wenches blogger is saying no fiction should conclude with a sad outcome. What she objects to are stories (in whatever medium) that "are needlessly miserable at the end." If the disastrous or tragic conclusion grows naturally out of the story, as an inevitable result of the characters and their situation, that can work for her. That's different from a pointlessly sad ending designed for shock value or to flaunt the author's commitment to gritty "realism" -- or "simply because the writer thinks it will make for a better, more dramatic ending." I agree. "Sad" fiction isn't necessarily depressing. The finale of a tragedy by Shakespeare feels uplifting, not depressing. Seemingly meaningless destruction of the characters and their goals, to me, IS depressing. The purpose of art is to impose structure on, or discover it in, the apparent chaos of "real life."

In one of his books on literature, C. S. Lewis approaches the issue of "realism" from the opposite angle, addressing critics and readers who think the down-to-earth content of comedy is more "realistic" than the solemn grandeur of tragedy. He points out that the zany coincidences required to make a good farce work are just as artificial and therefore "unrealistic" as the plot of a well-crafted tragedy. Every genre includes some details of mundane life and excludes others, according to its particular requirements.

So we have no reason to apologize if we love to read and write upbeat fiction.

Margaret L. Carter

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

Sunday, September 24, 2023

What's Moral Turpitude Got To Do With It?

Isn't "turpitude" sufficient? Isn't "moral turpitude" somewhat tautologous? In any case, it is all about when one's morals take a deep dive into unrighteousness, depravity, debauchery, libertinage, villainy, dissipation... and so forth. And in some form of words or another, there is very likely a "morals clause" in your publishing contract.

Mirriam Webster gives a great list of synonyms, and one antonym.
The Cornell Law School provides a fine explanation of the phrase with regard to criminal law and legal ethics. It's all about consequences.
The immigration attorneys of  Scott D. Pollock & Associates P.C., explain in fascinating and excruciating detail why "moral turpitude" is an enormous problem for would-be legal immigrants to or residents of the USA.

For example:
"Under U.S. Codes I.N.A. § 212(a)(2)(A)(i)(I) and I.N.A. § 237(a)(2)(A)(i), just having a conviction for a crime involving moral turpitude on your record can be used to dispute your visa or green card application. You may also be deported from the United States and have your visa or green card revoked."
They provide a must-see list of twenty-six examples of moral turpitude that is so offensive to the USA that one can be deported for it, and the list ranges from the obvious (murder, rape), to the rather surprising (prostitution, paternity fraud, theft...).

One is supposed to have been convicted of something (CIMT), that is a Crime Involving Moral Turpitude, before one's residency, employment, publishing contract et cetera can be suspended or terminated, but due process is not adhered to scrupulously in these Crucible days.

In some cases, an accusation, or a sustained scandal is sufficient cause for a publisher to invoke a morals clause and drop an author, as was pointed out by the Authors Guild in an important January 2019 article on why the AG opposes morals clauses in book contracts.

“In the event that Author is publicly accused of the violation of law, the infringement or invasion of the rights of any third party, inciting infringement or invasion of third-party rights by others, or is otherwise accused of libel, slander, or defamatory conduct, or any other conduct that subjects, or could be reasonably anticipated to subject Author or Publisher to ridicule, contempt, scorn, hatred, or censure by the general public or which is likely to materially diminish the sales of the Work, Publisher may terminate…”

Read more about the very important reasons why such clauses are unfair, rife for abuse, and likely to quash free speech here:

So, that's what moral turpitude has to do with all of us.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry 



Friday, September 22, 2023

Karen S. Wiesner {Put This One on Your TBR List} Book Review: The Ritual by Adam Nevill

{Put This One on Your TBR List}

Book Review: The Ritual by Adam Nevill

by Karen S. Wiesner

The Ritual by Adam Nevill is a supernatural horror novel published in 2011. Four males who were in college together decide to take a trip together on the cheap (because the main character Luke can't afford anything else). They strike out into the Scandinavian wilderness of the Arctic Circle. While the old chums begin with intentions of escaping their individual lives (and their problems that come to light as they spend more time together in a harsh environment) as well as reconnecting as friends, it soon becomes clear that these men can barely tolerate each other's company. With conflicts surmounting between and all around them in the deepening disquiet of gloom, they foolishly decide to take a shortcut to get out of the forest. Two of the members of the party are injured and none of them possess anything that passes as survival experience or skills. Soon, they're lost, starving, and all but swallowed up by the dark, ancient forest that's remained largely untouched for millennia.

The thing this book has in spades is atmospheric setting. Here, the natural world is depicted in such a way that the reader's breath is stilled in the lungs, hesitant to reach toward exhale or inhale for fear of meeting a monster whatever way is turned. One reviewer commented (emphasis mine) on the "isolation, dreariness, and enormous age of the Swedish forest setting", which I heartily agree with because I felt that almost tangibly. The isolated, primal world around the characters becomes oppressive, suffocating, blacker and more menacing the farther in they get, growing to almost painful proportions of horror as their waking and dreaming hours are filled with nightmares that are as real as the enormous trees.

I read through most of this book enraptured by the predicaments of the characters. Mainly, I was spellbound with the setting and the imagery the author conjured in my mind. The anticipation I had was buoyed by a strong sense of expectation about where everything was heading. That crawled to a very abrupt halt somewhere near the three-fourths mark of the novel, where I was filled with startled disappointment at unforeseen and unimaginable events that, for me, came out of nowhere and hijacked the story. One minute, I was hurling headlong into a reader's dream come true and the next I was staring dumbly, going, "Um…what now?" If you don't want a spoiler, skip the next paragraph, which I've placed in very small print so it'll be hard to read without concentrated effort. If you don't mind,  you can read on:

The main character Luke wakes in a strange bed in a house literally in the middle of nowhere, all his friends gone, only to find that instead of discovering the road to salvation and rescue, he's a prisoner of a heavy metal band that worships a creature that requires blood sacrifices. What the actual heck?!

Following the event you may or may not have read about in the last paragraph, the story did get back to something of the hopes I had for a clever twist ending. Other reviewers also found fault in this pre-cursor to the end of the novel, so I'm not entirely sure if I'm in the minority feeling like that aspect didn't live up to the captivating beginning. I also kind of feel like both the book and the Netflix film adaptation (which was pretty faithful) de-evolved into something of a gore fest, something that doesn't really appeal to me.

Here's a legitimate question: Is a book worth reading if the end is disappointing? There's another author I hope to review in this column in the future where it happens with every single one of his books: I'm enthralled all through the story, but the end is without fail a huge disappointment. Was it worth reading if I found out that it ultimately didn't live up to the promise it initially had? My answer is that, yes, if I've taken something worthwhile out of the reading, it is worth the time I've taken, and maybe even the investment. After all, I thoroughly enjoyed three-fourths of the story. In the case of The Ritual, I ended up liking the very end of the novel. It was just that weird blip that ripped me whole out of the story and kind of "harshed my buzz" for a short time before getting back on the road I was anticipating.

Check out my latest novel!

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, September 21, 2023

Character Brainstorming with AI

Here's a WRITER'S DIGEST article about how an author might use ChatGPT as an aid to composition without actually having the program do the writing:

Using AI to Develop Characters

The author, Laura Picklesimer, describes her experiment in workshopping character ideas with the help of generative AI. She began by asking the program how it might be able to help in character creation, and it generated a list of ten quite reasonable although not particularly exciting possibilities. She then implemented one of the suggestions by requesting ideas for characters in a thriller set in 1940s Los Angeles. The result consisted of "a host of rather stereotypical characters." When she asked the AI to suggest ways to subvert those characters, she was more impressed with the answers. Reading that list, I agree something like it might actually be useful in sparking story ideas. Her advice to writers who consider using such a program includes being "as specific as possible with your prompts, making use of key words and specifying how long ChatGPT’s response should be." She also points out, "It may take multiple versions of a prompt to arrive at a helpful response."

I was intrigued to learn that a program called Character.AI can be set up to allow a writer to carry on a conversation with a fictional character, either from literature or one of her own creations. The article shows a couple of examples.

Picklesimer also cautions potential users against the limitations of systems such as ChatGPT, including their proneness to "hallucinations." When she asked the AI about its own limitations, it answered honestly and in detail. Most importantly for creative writers, in my opinion, it can easily perpetuate stereotypes, cliches, and over-familiar tropes. It also lacks the capacity for emotional depth and comlexity, of course. If an author keeps these cautions in mind, though, I think experimenting with such programs a brainstorming tools could be fun and potentially productive -- just as a search in a thesaurus might not turn up the word you're looking for but might surprise you with a better idea.

It's worth noting, however, that this essay links to another one titled "Why We Must Not Cede Writing to the Machines" -- which Picklesimer, of course, doesn't advocate doing.

Do Not Go Gentle

Margaret L. Carter

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

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Defamation in progress

One of my favourite quotes attributed to Voltaire is, "If you would converse with me, you must first define your terms."
Of course, this exact wording is almost impossible to find, firstly because Voltaire wrote in French, so every quote of his has been translated, and then, his use of "would" is archaic, and has been simplified into "wish to" or "want to" (which might subtly change the tense), and "you must" has been dropped.

Just to go a bit further into the weeds of translation, there is an advertisement for a foreign language learning course where the leading character gets into a taxi in Paris, and the taxi driver says to her in French, "Where would you like to go?" using the verb "vouloir". 

The passenger ought to use the same verb, and reply "je voudrais aller..." but instead, she changes the verb and says that she "would like" or "would love" to go to the hotel.

Some would say that if you use the verb "to like/to love", you stress your enthusiasm or passion for what you are about to do, and if you use vouloir (want/like/will), your emphasis is on the rest of the sentence.
For would-be tourists, precision with language is not a priority. It is enough to convey meaning. For lawyers, precision is of the essence. For authors, it is probably somewhere in the middle, especially if one has a deadline. 

My terms for the day are as follows:

Libel  (If you write it... from the Latin, LIBER, a book)
Slander ( If it is oral and transitory, as in spoken)
Writers, authors, novelists, bloggers, journalists have to worry about libel. Standard contracts with publishing houses put the liability firmly with the writer if something in the work should offend, and a libel suit should be initiated.

Occasionally, it is tempting to "anchor" a novel by making explicit reference to a celebrity or public figure or institution or event. Even if the author does not specifically name the famous person, but makes it obvious to any reasonable reader to whom they are referring, the famous person could sue if they feel that the author was deliberately malicious. Mentioning the name of a well known corporation (or its iconic product) can also get a writer into hot legal water.
Legal bloggers Alexandra Perloff-GilesAmer S AhmedConnor Sullivan and Erica Sollazzo Payne for the law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP, recently compiled a very thorough report on defamation claims in the USA which is presented in a Q & A format (which is always an easy read and very helpful for finding what one wants to know, and skipping over what one doesn't.)

Find it here:
When thinking about defamation in the USA, it is important to recognize that different States and territories may have different standards --for instance, whether defamation is treated as a criminal matter or a civil one-- and also, sometimes, different standards apply depending on whether the allegedly libelled plaintiff is an ordinary person, or a public official or celebrity.
"... the Supreme Court held that a defamation plaintiff who is a public official – in addition to establishing that challenged statements are false – must prove, with ‘convincing clarity,’ that the defendant published the statements with ‘actual malice,’ meaning awareness that the statements were false or reckless disregard for whether the statements were false."

The passage explaining the five legal tests for whether or not published words are defamatory is eye-opening.

They also discuss the similarities and differences between Libel and Slander, and not all States make a distinction.  

In fact, this remarkable article covers almost everything a writer ought to know about defamation, and buried in the middle of a very long and useful work, is the most vital information:

"What key defences are available to a claim in defamation?

  • Substantial truth. In most states, it is a complete defence to prove that a statement is ‘substantially true,’ regardless of the defendant’s degree of fault. ‘Substantial truth’ does not require exact accuracy, so long as the ‘gist’ of the statement is true.
  • Opinion. In most states, it is a complete defence to establish that a statement expresses an opinion rather than asserting a fact. States may distinguish between ‘pure’ opinion and ‘mixed’ opinion, with only ‘pure’ opinion statements protected. Courts typically find that statements containing loose, figurative or hyperbolic language are non-actionable pure opinion, so long as speakers disclose all facts on which they rely and do not imply the existence of other, undisclosed facts.
  • Consent. In most states, it is a complete defence to prove that the plaintiff consented to the publication."
Find it all here:

All the best,
Rowena Cherry 


Friday, September 15, 2023

Karen S. Wiesner {Put This One on Your TBR List} Book Review: Rooks and Ruin Trilogy by Melissa Caruso

{Put This One on Your TBR List}

Book Review: Rooks and Ruin Trilogy by Melissa Caruso

by Karen S. Wiesner

Per my usual, I came into author Melissa Caruso's high fantasy work through the back door. In other words, I read the second trilogy before realizing there was even a first, also set in the world of Eruvia where there are two main established powers. In the first trilogy, Swords and Fire, the Serene Empire has an elected doge, a Council of Nine, and a general assembly. Raverra is the central city-state there. The second trilogy, Rooks and Ruin, the one I read, which takes place 150 years later, is set in Vaskandar, a domain ruled by Witch Lords (essentially, mages). These two empires are in conflict. However, the author intended for the two series to be "largely unrelated" aside from taking place in the same setting. She made sure there were no spoilers for the first trilogy within the second. She's said that the focus of Swords and Fire is "more political intrigue and fancy balls" while Rooks and Ruin has "more magical secrets and spooky castles". Caruso recommends reading the trilogies in order, but says either way works, which I did find to be the case.

Rooks and Ruin features Ryx as the main character. She's the Warden in her home domain, Morgrain, ruled over by her grandmother. Four hundred years earlier, the Nine Demons came into the mortal world and thrust humanity into chaotic horror and suffering. Since then, the creatures were trapped behind a gate in the Black Tower of Gloamingard Castle, which ended the Dark Days. Ryx's family are caretakers of the gate the demons are trapped behind. Not surprisingly, someone wants to open the magically sealed Door and bring forth what was banished.

Ryx is an intriguing character. From an early age, her magic has been "broken". She drains life from everyone and everything she touches. Her home is as much a prison as it is a haven--and a lonely one for her at that. Rooks and Ruin begins with the villain succeeding in unlocking the gate and Ryx, along with the Rookery (a "magical troubleshooting squad"), having to clean up and contain the mess made. A lot of destructive, twisting secrets are revealed along the way to this goal. The cast is compelling while the world building caused me to seek out previous stories set in this world. That's when I found out about the first trilogy I'd somehow missed.

In truth, the first book, The Obsidian Tower, is the one that captured me the most with the magical mayhem I'm always on the lookout for, compelling me to want to finish the trilogy. The two novels that followed, The Quicksilver Court and The Ivory Tower, were well-written in every regard. However, I found my attention less transfixed with them. I suspect this was the case, in part, because of what one reviewer called "empire politics and political intrigue" dominating subsequent entries in the trilogy. Since the author self-described Swords and Fire as also being focused in the same way, I do worry I might find myself withdrawing from them as well, but I do intend to read them at some point. In any case, lovers of quality fantasy should love all the related books in this series.

Check out my latest novel!

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

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Thursday, September 14, 2023

AI Compositions and Their Influence on Letters as Signals

In Cory Doctorow's latest column, he brings up a potential unintended byproduct of overusing "large language models," aka chatbots such as ChatGPT:

Plausible Sentence Generators

He recalls a recent incident when he wrote a letter of complaint to an airline, threatening to sue them in small claims court, and fed it to such a program for rewriting. He was surprised at the high quality of the result. The site changed his pretty good "legal threat letter" into a noticeably stronger "vicious lawyer letter."

Letters of that type, as well as another of his examples, letters of recommendation from college professors, are performative. They transmit not only information but "signals," as Doctorow puts it. A stern letter from a lawyer sends the message that somebody cares enough about an issue to spend a considerable amount of money hiring a professional to write the letter. A recommendation from a professor signals that the he or she considers the student worthy of the time required to write the recommendation.

One of Spider Robinson's Callahan's Bar stories mentions a similar performative function that shows up in an oral rather than written format, spousal arguments. The winner of the argument is likely to be the one who dramatizes his or her emotional investment in the issue with more demonstrative passion than the other spouse.

In the case of written performances, Doctorow speculates on what will happen if AI-composed (or augmented) epistles become common. When it becomes generally known that it's easy and inexpensive or free to write a letter of complaint or threat, such messages won't signal the serious commitment they traditionally do. Therefore, they'll become devalued and probably won't have the intended impact. The messages (like form letters, though Doctorow doesn't specifically mention those) will lack "the signal that this letter was costly to produce, and therefore worthy of taking into consideration merely on that basis."

I'm reminded of the sample letters to congresscritters included in issues of the MILITARY OFFICER magazine whenever Congress is considering legislation that will have serious impact on members of the armed services and their families. These form letters are meant to be torn out of the magazine, signed, and mailed by subscribers to the presiding officers of the House and Senate. But, as obvious form letters, they clearly don't take much more effort than e-mails -- some, because envelopes must be addressed and stamps affixed, but not much more. So how much effect on a legislator's decision can they have?

Miss Manners distinctly prefers old-fashioned, handwritten thank-you notes over e-mailed thanks because the former show that the recipient went to a certain amount of effort. I confess I do send thank-you notes by e-mail whenever possible. The acknowledgment reaches the giver immediately instead of at whatever later time I work up the energy to getting around to it. So, mea culpa, I plead guilty! However, the senders of the gifts themselves have almost completely stopped writing snail-mail letters, so in communication with them, e-mail doesn't look lazy (I hope), just routine. Context is key.

Margaret L. Carter

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

Sunday, September 10, 2023

For Art's Sake

I don't like gold.

I'm not talking about precious metals, investments, gilts, natural colours of Autumn, excessively ostentatious flakes  of soft metal in over-priced soups... but the colour in paint. I'm not keen on gold teeth or gold toilets, either.

However, I did purchase a fully furnished condo last week, and the previous owner loved gold. Very Auric. The gold cushions have zippers so can be stripped of the covers. Some of the gold wall decorations are obviously fair game to be taken down for a three minute squirt of chrome spray, but then there is a painting.

Am I allowed to over-daub the gold bits in it? Or must I store it?

I bought it. It is private, not public. It does not appear to be signed, but it does not appear to be a print. It is modern, so it is highly doubtful that it could be war-time loot. This brings me to the legal blogs about VARA. I doubt it (VARA) applies, but it is interesting, and it is copyright related.

Art Law blogger Nicholas O'Donnell seems to be an expert on all things Art.

He says,

"a “work of visual art” is defined as:

(1) a painting, drawing, print or sculpture, existing in a single copy, in a limited edition of 200 copies or fewer that are signed and consecutively numbered by the author, or, in the case of a sculpture, in multiple cast, carved, or fabricated sculptures of 200 or fewer that are consecutively numbered by the author and bear the signature or other identifying mark of the author; or

The Copyright Act also defines, interestingly, what a work of visual art does not include (emphasis added):

(A)(i) any poster, map, globe, chart, technical drawing, diagram, model, applied art, motion picture or other audiovisual work, book, magazine, newspaper, periodical, data base, electronic information service, electronic publication, or similar publication;..."

The case that the amazing Nicholas O' Donnell is discussing relates to a the Burning Man festival (that was in the news this week for being dramatically rained out, and before the delude, for the "climate" protestors who blocked the only road into/out of said festival, and who were dramatically removed by a local police officer.) However, the case in question is about a school bus that was creatively modified some years ago to look like a Spanish galleon, and -- I assume -- was not street legal owing to its size, and was therefore stored, with permission, on a nearby property.

Unfortunately, the willing host passed away, and the subsequent owner of the property upon which the land-galleon was stored did not honor the preceding owner's agreement, and demolished the work of alleged art. The artists sued.  It's a good story, and not mine to tell.

My painting is not a modified school bus, thank goodness. It is also not a a mural. 

Murals seem to be particularly tricky propositions for the owner of the wall on which they are ingrained (which is probably the mot juste for a mural, because I believe the technique for the mural involves paint becoming part of the fabric of the wall. Or maybe I am thinking of frescos.)

Legal blogger  of McDermott Will & Emery writes a very interesting analysis of what happens when a mural in a public building becomes an inconvenience to the hosts, but the artist is offended by the concealment of his/her/their work.

"The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed that the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (VARA) does not prohibit covering an artist’s mural where there is no damage to the mural."

This is an interesting copyright-related saga, as told by Vincent Li, but the bottom line is (as I understand it) that, regardless of complaints that the artwork offended the local community served by the public building, the artist sued that his rights were violated because his art was prevented from offending people.

"Under the relevant part of VARA, the author of a “work of visual art” “shall have the right”:

(A) to prevent any intentional distortion, mutilation, or other modification of that work which would be prejudicial to his or her honor or reputation, and any intentional distortion, mutilation, or modification of that work is a violation of that right, and

(B) to prevent any destruction of a work of recognized stature, and any intentional or grossly negligent destruction of that work is a violation of that right."

Under VARA, an additional brush stroke (among other things) would be a modification of a work of art. In the case of this mural, modifications do not include concealing the entire work behind a barrier.

So, it might seem that if the owners of the wall had changed the skin pigment of some of the depicted persons, that would have been an intentional modification and therefore a VARA violation. 

For me, that is a little worrying because I would like to overbrush the gold with silver or chrome. I probably shouldn't be blogging about this!!!!!

 All the best,

Rowena Cherry

Saturday, September 09, 2023

Do This, Not That

I am posting half a day early because there is a 24-hour, short story contest opening today run by Writers Weekly, a publisher and one of my favorite sources of "what-not-to-do" examples of bad query letters.

Danielle Hampson of The Authors Show (a fantastic promotional venue) shares some great "what-to-do" advice for navigating Facebook.

"Create a Captivating Author Page

Establish a professional Facebook author page with an engaging profile picture, cover photo, and concise bio. It should exude your unique writing persona and a link to your book interview.


Engage through Meaningful Content

Craft compelling and shareable posts. Include posts that mention your interview each time it is featured in a broadcast. Pose thought-provoking questions, share book excerpts, and host Q&A sessions to foster engagement with your followers.


Leverage Facebook Groups

Join and actively participate in relevant Facebook groups. Engage in book-related discussions, provide valuable insights, and subtly introduce your book interview when appropriate.


Host Facebook Live Events

Arrange live author readings, behind-the-scenes glimpses, or interactive Q&A sessions on your page. Mention your book interview and provide a link if appropriate. Live events can enhance your connection with readers.


Encourage User-Generated Content

Motivate readers to post reviews, share their reading experiences, create fan art related to your book or post comments about your interview.  Acknowledging and sharing user-generated content builds a loyal community."


More tomorrow... perhaps.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry

Friday, September 08, 2023

Karen S. Wiesner {Put This One on Your TBR List} Book Review: Bird Box by Josh Malerman

{Put This One on Your TBR List}

Book Review: Bird Box by Josh Malerman

by Karen S. Wiesner

Bird Box is a post-apocalyptic horror thriller published in 2014. Most people know of the story because of the 2018 Netflix movie starring Sandra Bullock, something that is actually a very worthy adaptation of the novel. However, being a proponent of "the book is usually better than the movie", I had to read it before I watched it. Discovering that this was the debut novel of a singer/songwriter in the Detroit band The High Strung was a bit of a surprise to me. Josh Malerman wrote 14 novels between shows on the road with his band. A high school friend of his in the book business encouraged him to submit something, and the rest is history.

The main character in Bird Box is Malorie. The present story--4 years into the situation referred to as "The Problem"--is woven with flashbacks from two other time periods. The first is when Malorie discovers she's pregnant from a one-night stand. This happens alongside international news reports of people seeing some undefined creature outside that causes them to go mad, then kill others before killing themselves. The second time period is after Malorie is forced to leave the home she'd been living in with her sister in order to seek shelter with other survivors. One of the other women in the safe house is also about four months pregnant (a bit unbelievable, if I'm honest, especially when the two women go into labor almost exactly at the same time). While sequestered with all the windows covered, they discover they can use birds in a box as an alarm system in case anything comes near the house.

In the present, Malorie is alone, raising another woman's child and her own and not distinguishing one from the other in any way. In fact, the reader doesn't know for most of the story which one is her kid. In order to keep them save, she's used harsh training techniques (one being the use of a blindfold) that have heightened the senses of the four-year-olds. She refers to the children as only "Boy" and "Girl". When they have no choice but to seek out a refuge Malorie has heard of that has medical supplies, food, and safety, they venture out into the world again--blindfolded the entire time they travel, even while in a boat.

This is a very intense, suspenseful novel centered around an unlikely scenario that wouldn't have worked at all if it wasn't written as a character driven story. The plot would have fallen apart in a second if not for that, in large part because, as one reviewer said, "The reason for all the bloodshed is never explored or explained."

The main character's choices do prove to be problematic for me, as do some of the scenarios that stretched belief a little too far. First, the "harsh training techniques" give me pause. Malorie is only once shown to be physically abusive toward the children. Outside of that, she's just cold with them, withholding affection. I'm bothered by this because, of course, it makes no sense to me why someone would think that treating others poorly actually makes them physically safer. Maybe it selfishly makes Malorie emotionally safer because she's lost a lot and it would be hard for her to trust again after that. That would have been a better motivation for her than that she actually thought it made the children safer. Additionally, after four years raising these children completely alone--raising them from newborns--I find it 100% unrealistic that she wouldn't have developed a strong, loving, affectionate bond with them. She must have had to hold and feed (breastfeed, I'm sure) both of them. It would have been nearly impossible for her to separate herself from the tenderness a mother feels naturally doing that. Also, because she can't draw attention to herself, she must have had to soothe them both often to prevent excessive crying. But the other part that didn't strike me as realistic is how she managed to keep them safe all by herself for so long. She would have had to either leave them alone or bring them along to get supplies. How she did that was skirted over by telling instead of showing, so it didn't play a large part in the tale. But I found it more than a little unlikely.

Still, as a whole I bought the premise of Bird Box and went along with it because it really is a well done story. I was caught up with Malorie's life and the situation, regardless of the dubiousness of the minor moot points I mentioned earlier. Many times while I was reading the book and watching the movie, I thought it worked extremely well that the source of the horror wasn't revealed in more than fleeting glimpses. Often, when a shadowy corner has been brought into the light, we discover there's nothing to fear lurking in it. Instead of heightening the terror by seeing it fully, sighting it dissolves the tension. In this case, it was much better to almost see the monster through the cracks between our fingers--or, more aptly, in peeks stolen through the top or bottom of a blindfold. That puts the reader on a constant knife-edge of uncertainty.

Incidentally, while writing up this review, I discovered a sequel was released in 2021 called Malorie, which I'll be buying ASAP, and hopefully reviewing here sometime in the future. It sounds like with that follow-up, "the reason for all the bloodshed" is finally explored and explained. Additionally, a spin-off sequel called Bird Box Barcelona debuted on Netflix in July 2023. It doesn't star the same cast, though it has exactly the same premise as the previous movie, only with a male parent and his child searching for a refuge from The Problem. I do intend to watch that as well to see if it's any good.

Bird Box is a unique take on horror that should have readers not wanting to put the book down.

Check out my newly released novel!

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: