Thursday, October 31, 2013

Villainous Motivations

Happy Halloween!

Preparing to revise my latest paranormal romance WIP, I’ve been thinking about the motivations of the antagonist. An effective antagonist must have believable goals. It has often been said that every villain is the hero of his own story. What makes a credible villainous motive? In the Dorothy Sayers mystery STRONG POISON, the heroine, detective novelist Harriet Vane, maintains that homicidal mania shouldn’t be used in murder mysteries because it’s “dull and not fair to the reader”—by which I think she means the reader doesn’t have a fair chance to figure out the criminal’s identity if the murder springs from madness. (How the genre has changed since then! Serial killers, the equivalent of the homicidal maniacs Harriet dismisses as dull, are all the rage in crime fiction.)

Okay, leaving aside pathological criminals, what about “rational” motives for villainy? Of course, the antagonist need not be a true villain at all. The plot might turn on a clash between two competing worthwhile goals. For instance, the heroine wants to preserve the local woodlands while the hero wants to build a housing development to provide homes and jobs. In my current book draft, though, the antagonist, an evil sorcerer, qualifies as a literal villain. One common motive for crime, of course, is greed. The criminal robs a bank. The murderer kills his wife instead of divorcing her, so he can get her money. Killing someone to hide a guilty secret would be another credible motive for murder. How about revenge? I’ve used it in my own fiction, such as in vampire novel CHILD OF TWILIGHT, where the female vampire antagonist targets the hero because he killed her brother (in the earlier novel DARK CHANGELING). She chooses to get back at the protagonist by kidnapping and attempting to corrupt his daughter, rather than committing violence against him directly. However, I must admit I have trouble empathizing with the revenge motive. I can visualize myself striking out in anger or fear at someone who’s hurting me or a loved one at the moment. I can’t imagine plotting over the long term to “punish” such a person in cold blood. I’d hope for his arrest and imprisonment so he can’t repeat the offense, sure, but what would after-the-fact revenge get me? What a waste of energy. In fact, if I think too hard about some other common conflict scenarios, I have trouble wrapping my head around them. Suppose a man jumps into my car, brandishes a gun, and orders me to drive somewhere, and suppose I’m alone in the vehicle so I don’t have to worry about anybody else’s safety. If I simply open the door and get out, is he going to shoot me? What would he gain from that? He’s got the car already. Granted, if this scenario happened to me in real life, I’d be paralyzed with terror and no doubt do exactly as he ordered. On a “rational” level, though, his shooting me for disobeying wouldn’t make sense. Another crime that doesn’t feel plausible to me is the “if I can’t have you, nobody else can” homicide, although I know it sadly does happen all too often in real life.

My evil sorcerer plans to open a portal to an alien dimension and invite Lovecraftian horrors into our world. He wasn’t always evil; in the backstory he was an ally of the heroine until their situation became desperate. What rational motive could he have for such an act? I’ve never been able to identify with a goal of conquering the world. What a lot of trouble to go through just to get a job nobody in his right mind would want. That scenario always reminds me of the evil cabal in a Saturday morning cartoon series (I can’t remember which one) that aspired to “destroy the world for their own gain.” Since my villain is supposed to be mainly rational, although slightly unbalanced from grief over his wife’s death, he has to be motivated by something other than the raw lust for power that drives the typical world-conquering dark lord. So he has no desire to rule the world, though he does intend to cooperate with the Lovecraftian entities that are going to overrun it. I hope I’ve managed to give him credible reasons for cooperating, one being that he considers their victory inevitable and wants to be on the winning side. In his home universe, he witnessed the catastrophic outcome of resistance, and the experience has made him bitter.

On a brighter note, my husband and I have collaborated on a fantasy-romance crossover novel, LEGACY OF MAGIC, published by Amber Quill Press a few days ago. It’s a prequel to our sword-and-sorcery trilogy that began with WILD SORCERESS. LEGACY OF MAGIC is designed to stand alone, so a new reader can pick it up with no problem. At the same time, readers familiar with the trilogy can enjoy anticipating the outcome of the events in this “previous generation” story.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Reviews 1 by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Reviews 1 by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

 
Eventually, we will very likely be discussing the anatomy and physiology of Jennifer Roberson's SWORD DANCER SAGA.

But for the moment, I'm putting this 8 volume series on your to-be-read stack in hopes you'll know what I'm talking about when I talk about it.

The series is collected in omnibus versions as The Novels of Tiger and Del, Volume I, etc. 

He was Tiger, born of the desert winds, raised as a slave and winning his freedom by weaving a special kind of magic with a warrior's skill. She was Del, born of ice and storm, trained by the greatest of Northern sword masters. Together, they discover a kinship and friendship that grows to love while facing dangers of both sword and sorcery.  

That's the blurb from the Vol 1. 

You'll find them in Kindle, and Nook, etc etc. 

This is a fantasy novel series, but it's not to be shrugged off and forgotten. It is rich in the kind of thinking English Professors write papers about but still have no idea why the books matter to the readers.

I highly recommend getting the entire Sword-Dancer Saga series.

Sword-Dancer (Tiger and Del) is where to start.
http://www.amazon.com/Sword-Dancer-Tiger-and-Del-ebook/dp/B00A4VMLFC/

Then, Sword-Singer, Sword-Maker, Sword-Breaker, Sword-Born, Sword-Sworn, Sword-Bound --- and forthcoming, Sword-Bearer.

Sword-Dancer Saga: two short stories also goes with the series.

In a while, when you've had time to read all 8 of those titles, and more that I'll recommend from time to time, we'll very likely get into a contrast/compare among them all, analyzing how these authors pull off "integrating" two, three, even four of the individual skills I've been discussing in isolation.


And while you're working your way through Roberson's titles, read her Cheysuli series, too. 

http://www.amazon.com/Shapechangers-Song-Chronicles-Cheysuli-Bk/dp/0886779766/

The reason English professor analytical tools fail to capture the reason for the success of novel series such as this one is that they are academics.

To be an "academic" in a topic, you have to stand outside the topic and analyze it objectively, without emotional involvement, and without the deeply personal, quirky, individual responses that readers/fans have.

That's the salient difference between scholar and practitioner.

You can write "creative writing" for professors, or you can write down-and-dirty genre novels for readers.  One audience is large enough to be lucrative, the other not so much.

Some writers can master both types of writing.  Some can't.

Finding out who and what you are is the adventure of becoming a professional writer.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg
http://jacquelinelichtenberg.com

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Deconstructing OKLAHOMA!

Jacqueline’s penetrating analysis of the new Superman movie somehow started me thinking about theme-plot-character integration in the classic musical OKLAHOMA. I think I may have discovered a flaw in it.

Set in 1906, the movie (which is the only version I’ve seen, but according to Wikipedia, it closely follows the stage play) celebrates the admission of Oklahoma to statehood. Near the beginning, “Everything’s Up to Date in Kansas City” expresses astonishment at the wonders of the modern world. So the story focuses on a new state in a new century. To move forward into this new world, the people of Oklahoma must resolve the differences between their two different subcultures, as highlighted in a song that tells the farmer and the cowman to be friends. These groups represent the perennial, ubiquitous conflict between nomad herders and settled agriculturalists. The theme appears to be the necessity for a synthesis between these factions to create a new society in a new era.

The love story between cowboy Curly and farm girl Laurey symbolizes reconciliation between the two subcultures. The secondary, comic romance between cowboy Will and Ado Annie (the “girl who can’t say no”) echoes this motif. The marriage of Curly and Laurey, along with the engagement of Will and Annie, wrapping up the story like a Shakespearean romantic comedy, demonstrates the blending of the two lifestyles (and perhaps the absorption of the herders by the farmers, since Curly will presumably settle down with Laurey rather than roam the range) as the title song celebrates a “brand new state.” So what’s missing in this summary?

Where does the antagonist, Jud, fit in? Apparently we’re expected to feel little or no sympathy for him, since the designated hero, Curly, can get away with verbal bullying that urges Jud to commit suicide. Jud almost appears dragged in as a pure villain simply to contrive a threat to Laurey and provoke her to admit her feelings for Curly, as well as to provide a dramatic action scene at the climax. Jud embodies the danger that must be eradicated for the marriage and the new society to thrive. Sure, he has a clear role in the romance plot. As the dream ballet sequence shows, he represents the dark side of sexuality, which stirs Laurey’s fears that she has to face in order to embrace her love for Curly. In that role, Jud is Curly’s Jungian shadow. But how does he fit, if at all, into the “new state, new society” theme?

It would help if we knew Jud’s backstory, which as far as I can remember (and learn from reading the summary of the play) we don’t. He’s just labeled “disturbed” and “a mysterious and dangerous loner.” Could he be a cowboy displaced from his job and reduced to the status of a farmhand? If so, he would represent the shadow side of the herding culture being marginalized by the dominant agricultural society and the increasingly urbanized, modern world of the new twentieth century. Or maybe—who else is missing from the musical OKLAHOMA? Completely invisible, in fact?

Native Americans! Oklahoma Territory certainly had a significant Indian population. In preparation for Oklahoma’s admission to the union, Congress dissolved all tribal governments in the territory and redistributed the land. Here’s a large group of people who had to be literally displaced for the new state to move forward into the new century. If Jud is Native American or of mixed-race parentage, his death at the movie’s climax (for which Curly is exonerated in an informal trial) represents the erasure of the people who posed an obstacle to the new society. Reaching a bit? Maybe—but Rodgers and Hammerstein frequently dealt with issues of racial conflict in their work. Could that subtext be present here, even if deeply buried?

Off topic: Last week I completed the first draft of a paranormal romance with Lovecraftian elements I’ve been working on. That means I’ve reached the stage of relief and pleasure in completing the hardest part of the project. At the same time, though, I'm in the phase where I contemplate the result with disappointment at how far it falls short of what I visualized when I started it. I know from past experience that in the process of revision I’ll veer between “why would anybody ever want to read this thing?” and “hey, this isn’t so bad after all, do I really have to mess with it very much?” On a brighter note, I’ve just proofread the galley file for LEGACY OF MAGIC, a fantasy with romantic elements by my husband and me, a prequel to our “Wild Sorceress” trilogy. I get a thrill out of reading galleys because that job means the book is almost ready to face the world. LEGACY OF MAGIC will be released by Amber Quill Press on October 27.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Converting Your Business Model to Self-Publishing Guest Post by Jaleta Clegg

Converting Your Business Model to Self-Publishing Guest Post by Jaleta Clegg

But first a note by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Making the Leap from publishing through a publisher to self-publishing is a lot harder than simply starting out aiming to self-publish.

When I started out, I thought I'd enjoy publishing a fanzine.  I tried it -- nope.  As Dr. McCoy would have said, "I'm a writer not a publisher."

Today, those who have multiple talents from cover design to marketing, and from fiction writing to copy-writing, are spending their young years honing all these skills and building the social-network following to make them pay off.

All of this broad-ranging talent development will eventually change the world drastically, a change I look forward to eagerly.  This is the way things started out, long before the fixed-type printing press, and only later became so complex a writer couldn't do it all alone.

Today, there are tools, websites, indie-editors, indie-book designers, indie-publicists, and so on combining skills to circumvent the large Internationally Owned publishing houses.

Bookstores are morphing as fast as they can, looking for a way around the collapsing marketing chains.  Distributors and warehousing, trucking and delivery services are all going -- "printing" is a thing of the past, as most of the operations are now computerized, and printing presses consist of huge buildings streaming tons and tons of paper through to get printed.

Well, then there's CREATE SPACE and many other Print On Demand operations that can make paper books to order, rather than warehousing them.  Most bookstores can't afford to carry POD books -- the margins just don't work with traditional distribution discounting.

But Amazon can and does make a profit on POD.  It's all in the business model.

Many writers off the New York Times Bestseller list, in Romance, Mystery, Western, Historical, Science Fiction, Fantasy, and general fiction, have also abandoned the big publishers and are releasing their own backlists, sometimes along with new novels in their series, self-publishing through smashwords and other outlets.  You'll find me on that organization's website, too, in the dropdown of authors listed.

They organized to help them promote their novels -- you can find their SALE ITEMS listed on this page:
http://www.backlistebooks.com/

There is a seething ferment of change coming at us out of the FANFIC communities, and we'll talk more about that in December or maybe January. 

Meanwhile, listen here to a writer who has been working with a small press publisher, and finally had her career swerve into the self-publishing Indie business model despite all her best intentions. 

-----------GUEST POST BY JALETA CLEGG--------

Hi, I'm Jaleta Clegg and I'm a self-published author now. (Check out my site at http://www.jaletac.com)

I never wanted to be a self-published author. I have a lot of author friends who love it and wouldn't have it any other way. I respect them. But I never wanted to be one of them. I published my first three books and lots of short stories through small presses. Sure, there were shortcomings and things that weren't as I'd envisioned when I set out to publish. But I was happy, satisfied with the choice I'd made.

Then it happened. My current publisher called me up. "Your books are great. Everyone loves them. They get great reviews. But no one's buying them. We're going to have to let the rest of the series go."It was a business decision, one I support. But not one I wanted to live with. After spending a week agonizing over my options, I took a deep breath and dove head-first into self-publishing. I'd dabbled before with some short stories, got deeper with two short story collections last June, but this was over-my-head jump-in-the-deep-end-and-hope-I-can-swim.

I won't lie and tell you self-publishing is all roses and loafing around on sofas watching TV and eating chocolate. It's a business. And sometimes you have to make hard choices. You have to do paperwork. You have to be your own cheerleader. You have to be your own boss. That's hard work.

An author writes, right? Yes. A publisher edits, does cover design and interior layout, writes cover blurbs and advertising blurbs, makes contacts for marketing, and gets the book out where people can find it and buy it. They also deal with taxes and business licensing and a myriad other business things. If you're about to jump into self-publishing, stop and ask yourself this question, "Do I really want to run a business and be my own boss?" If you thought meeting a publisher's deadline was difficult and put the pressure on, it's a thousand times worse when you're the boss. If you aren't self-motivated, don't jump onto the self-publishing bandwagon. You're the one who will have to poke and prod yourself into getting the edits done on time. You're the one who has to run naked in public, I mean make contacts for advertising and marketing your book. (Can you tell this is one I hate more than the others?) You're the one who will have to track income and sales and figure out taxes. It will eat your life if you let it. It isn't just about writing a great story when you self-publish, it's about taking care of all the details that publishers get paid to deal with.

Don't assume you can do it all yourself, either. I'm blind as a bat to many of my writing faults. I need a good editor to help my books shine. I haven't found one I can afford on my own yet, so I'm trusting my beta readers more than I should. That's another myth people think about self-publishing: It won't cost me anything to get this out there. That's true if you don't really care about editing it or creating a really nice cover. Don't do it yourself unless you're sure you have the skills and expertise to pull it off professionally. That said, there are many websites popping up that cater to the self-published author. The cover for Kumadai Run is directly from http://www.selfpubbookcovers.com/ and it's beautiful. It also cost me a small chunk of change. It was worth it, in my opinion. I've done cover design before and it's very hard. It takes hours to get those photos and fonts just right. I'm happy to pay someone else to make it for me.

It shouldn't cost you a fortune to get your book out, though. A few hundred dollars at most, all of which you can write off as a business expense, provided you've set up a business for your publishing. You haven't? Watch out for the government, then.

Would I go back to the publisher? Probably yes, mostly because it simplifies my life. Maybe I just haven't been bitten hard enough by the self-publishing bug. Maybe I really don't mind turning over control to someone else so I can focus on writing more books and taking care of my family.

But that's out of the picture now. What publisher would want books 4-11 of a space opera series, especially when the first three haven't sold well? No one. I could publish them myself or let the series fade and die unfinished. I couldn't disappoint the few rabid fans I've got, so I bit the bullet and put book 4 out there with the rest to follow.

So anyone want to read a fun space opera adventure series with a strong female lead character and a whole cast of sometimes kooky characters? The Fall of the Altairan Empire series is getting good reviews, especially from people who loved the campy golden age pulp sci-fi stories of the 50's and those who just enjoy a good fun beach read with plenty of action. Check out the books at http://www.altairanempire.com

Or look for my short stories at http://www.jaletac.com. They range from science fiction adventure stories that tie in to the series,  to fantasy, to silly horror, to romance, and even a couple of weird westerns.And if anyone wants to trade books for website design, I could really use a website designer's help!
You can find me on Twitter as @Jaleta_Clegg or on Facebook as Jaleta Clegg's Altairan Empire series.

Or look me up on Amazon - http://www.amazon.com/Jaleta-Clegg/e/B0036WC0FC

Good resources I've found for self-published authors:
Covers - http://www.selfpubbookcovers.com/

Smashwords for ebooks - https://www.smashwords.com/
Createspace for paperbacks -
https://www.createspace.com/

Kindle Direct Publishing for Kindle ebooks - http://kdp.amazon.com/

Supportive sites for indie authors:
Bestsellerbound - a wonderful community and a great resource.

Need help? Just ask. http://quietfurybooks.com/messageboard/index.php
Facebook has many many groups including the Science Fiction Romance Brigade and Author's Think Tank
BroadUniverse - supporting women authors of science fiction, fantasy, and horror - http://broaduniverse.org/

---------END GUEST POST BY JALETA CLEGG--------------------

All right, Jaleta Clegg has pointed you at a variety of resources.

Remember, no publisher DOES IT ALL THEMSELVES. 

The business model of publisher is that the publisher does almost nothing and makes a big profit doing it.  They out-source the specialty tasks, and hire "editors" to choose books that will sell well via the distribution channels the publisher has established.


Each publisher's imprint, and each line within a publishing house, is designed so that all the books are "the same but different" -- everything with a particular logo on it is designed to appeal to a specific market.  All publishers actually do is define markets, set up mechanisms for reaching those markets, and then feed product into the pipeline to those markets.

All editors do is conform the writer's product to the publisher's delivery channel's size and shape so it'll get to the reader the publisher targets (not the reader the writer targets; the reader the publisher targets.  You will sell well if your writing conforms to your publisher's delivery channel.)

If you are going to be your own publisher, you should be thinking in terms of the target market you need, how to reach that market, and where to get the individual Talents you need to package your merchandise to appeal to that market.  That is what publishers do - they package and deliver a uniform product. 

The more uniform the product, the more regular the delivery of it, the bigger the publisher's profit.  It's that simple.  Be your own publisher; pocket the publisher's share of what your book can earn. 

Think of this in two ways while researching: 
A) You are a writer looking at your publishing options;
B) You are a character in a novel about having to look at your publishing options.

Either way, you will learn a lot by clicking links in this post.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg
http://jacquelinelichtenberg

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Revising as You Go—Good or Bad?

The WRITER’S DIGEST website features an article called “7 Reasons to Write an Entire 1st Draft Before Going Back to the Beginning”:

7 Reasons

This author isn’t talking about whether to write your novel in linear order or skip around composing scenes out of sequence (although she would probably disapprove of that practice, too). What she advises against is backtracking to revise earlier passages instead of forging onward nonstop.

I disagree with almost everything said in this article, which is clearly written for extreme pantsers. I can’t imagine starting to write a story or novel without knowing how it will end! Also, while I’m a dedicated outliner, almost all pantsers whose process I’ve read about do say they at least know where the story is headed. As for that bizarre assertion about typically chopping off 35 to 100 pages from the beginning of the first draft—good grief. As a comment on the page mentions, outlining eliminates that hazard. Anyway, my revisions more often ADD to the word count, not subtract from it, since I typically need to flesh out sketchy sensory images and emotional reactions.

I do agree, however, that there are good reasons not to go back and revise during the first-draft process. A perfectionist, even one who’s a plotter instead of a pantser, could fall into the trap this author mentions—tinkering with the early part of the book for so long she gets discouraged and never finishes. More important, revision engages the editing rather than creative part of the brain, a reason I’ve often seen cited for not trying to do both at once. And even the most thorough outliner may alter the plot during the actual writing, so it makes sense not to obsess too intensely over getting every phrase and punctuation mark right the first time around.

That said, I still tend to fiddle with earlier scenes while composing later sections of the first draft. If I think of a line of description or dialogue I should have included, I insert it while it’s fresh in my mind. If a tweak to the plot requires a minor alteration in an earlier scene, same procedure. As for polishing word choice and sentence structure, I can’t help doing that as I go along. I’m an English major who worked as a proofreader for over twenty years. It’s too late to reform. The advantage of the extensive outlining and in-process tinkering is that my drafts (whether fiction or the rare articles I occasionally still write) reach stage 1.5 pretty clean. One more pass, and they’re ready to submit. Editors seldom ask me for significant changes.

Do you revise as you go along? Or generate the entire first draft in an uninterrupted forward-moving flow?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Theme-Plot Integration Part 13 - Superman: Man of Steel Action-Romance by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Theme-Plot Integration Part 13 - Superman: Man of Steel Action-Romance by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

This is actually a 3 or 4 way "integration" post, an advanced writing challenge that requires several skill sets in use at once.  Theme, Plot, Targeting a Readership, Worldbuilding, and even Character, Story and Conflict, to dissect and replicate Superman: Man of Steel.

We start, as usual, with THEME -- and of course without the foundation of Plot, you haven't got a story or anything else to hold an audience's attention -- but when you blow the "worldbuilding" element, the plot falls apart, the audience you've targeted is jarred out of the story, and nothing in what you've written makes sense to anyone but yourself.

Here are previous entries in the Theme-Plot Integration Series:

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2013/07/theme-plot-integration-part-11-correct.html

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2013/05/theme-plot-integration-part-10-use-of.html

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2013/05/theme-plot-integration-part-8-use-of-co.html

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2013/05/theme-plot-integration-part-9-use-of-co.html

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2013/05/index-to-theme-plot-integration.html

And here are the Theme-Worldbuilding discussions:


http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2012/09/theme-worldbuilding-integration-part-1.html

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2012/09/theme-worldbuilding-integraton-part-2.html

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2012/09/theme-worldbuilding-integration-part-3.html

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2012/09/theme-worldbuilding-integration-part-4.html

http://www.aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2012/10/theme-worldbuilding-integration-part-5.html

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2013/02/theme-worldbuilding-integration-part-6.html

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2013/10/theme-worldbuilding-integration-part-7.html


You can't accurately TARGET A READERSHIP (or audience) and hold their attention if the component elements of the Work are not wholly integrated with each other.

The previous parts of Targeting a Readership Series can be found in last week's Index Post:


http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2013/10/index-to-targeting-readership-series-by.html

By now, I'm assuming everyone reading this post who wants to see SUPERMAN: MAN OF STEEL has seen it, so I'm including "spoilers."

Here's a trailer for Man of Steel on YouTube:



This SUPERMAN film succeeds terrifically in ALL it's individual components, and fails utterly at the "integration" level. 

Before we consider the flaws I see (which are actually strengths from the Hollywood point of view), let's examine what it's done in the "real" world.

Firstly, this re-design of the entire myth of Superman is based on the DC Comics consolidation of the "Superhero" Vigilante genre into the Justice League.

That entire ploy was created to sell comic books, and has been an unqualified success, generating an entire genre of Superhero stories for every medium from print to TV Series, to theatrical releases. 

You can't fault the thinking from a commercial standpoint. 

All my posts on aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com since 2007 or so have been about replicating that kind of success that DC Comics has had but for the Science Fiction Romance genre, SFR.

Our objective in studying these writing skills individually and then studying how to integrate them is to replicate DC Comic's process, that Walt Disney Studios succeeded at, and that Glenn Beck has launched himself into (in another field, but it's the same process).  Beck is of little interest except in the business model transformation that he's experimenting with.  Today, his web-TV channel is filling up with a diversity of shows and has been picked up by a long list of Cable distributors including Satellite.

My thesis is that you can't argue with commercial success.

Romance genre itself is commercially successful to the absolute dismay of its opponents.

But so far the respect due because of that success is lacking.  Examine your respect for Glenn Beck and you will understand why Science Fiction Romance has its detractors.

Likewise 'comics" and comic fandom only gained grudging mention on TV news etc. with the advent of the commercially driven, gigantic Comic Con circuit where collectors bid up the prices of old comics to major investment decision ranges.

Money talks and money does get some respect, but not always the sort you and I are looking for.

Right now "Money" is not talking so much as it is gibbering in a panic.

The summer "blockbuster" films with Big Name Stars were flops at the Box Office.

But Superman wasn't a flop.  It's done respectably well. 

Here is a quote from imdb.com

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0770828/business

-------quote----------
As of MID JULY 2013 for Man of Steel June Release (as of mid-July it was still on several screens per multi-plex and pulling in audiences, which is success territory). 

Budget
$225,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend
$113,080,000 (USA) (16 June 2013) (4,207 Screens)
$116,619,362 (USA) (16 June 2013) (4,207 Screens)
HUF 56,995,608 (Hungary) (23 June 2013)
€900,007 (Netherlands) (23 June 2013) (118 Screens)
PHP 245,085,619 (Philippines) (16 June 2013) (469 Screens)

Gross
$271,188,450 (USA) (7 July 2013)
---------end quote-------

So you can see it made more than its costs, and will continue to earn on Netflix, Amazon, etc.  And all of that is gravy.

But is it worth our respect? 

Well, for me Man of Steel makes it in the HUNK FACTOR: Henry Cavill as Clark Kent/ Kal-El is terrific (but I prefer without the beard).  Russell Crowe made a lovely Jor-el, Kevin Costner's Jonathan Kent was thrilling, Amy Adams as Lois Lane worked well, and all the others were well cast, too.

The actors seemed to be aware they were playing characters, not that the characters were playing them (as seemed to be the case with Tonto in The Lone Ranger starring Johnny Depp as the sidekick.) 

Of course you've seen Cavill in THE TUDORS and IMMORTALS - not exactly a small name.  But  this movie does not look as if it is designed around what the Big Names in it are known for (unlike The Lone Ranger casting where Johnny Depp presented Tonto as if Tonto was Johnny Depp). 

Man of Steel didn't succeed at the box office because of the big name cast, but because it is Superman (and the release dates were cleverly orchestrated - check IMDB; there is a science behind that.)

It is a GREAT movie. 

So what's wrong with it?

For me, it isn't SUPERMAN. 

Part of that reaction is how I just don't think the Justice League approach works as well as the original (even though I'm endlessly fascinated with Justice League!)

The original Superman was, like the Lone Ranger, a champion of Truth, Justice and the American Way. 

All three elements of the Superman Character, truth, justice and the American Way, have been thrown out with this reworking of his past in Man of Steel.

What is inserted to hold up all 3 Pillars of Character is Defense of Earth -- not America, Earth.

America is left in cinders, and nobody cares. 

This Superman wears a dull bluish suit with a red cape, but it isn't the AMERICAN Blue and Red. 

One thing they did in re-designing Krypton actually cured some of the problems with the 1978-1980's series of films.

General Zod's motive in trashing Earth has been changed into the more honorable "Restore Krypton" motive. 

Jor-El's motive has been degraded into sending Kal-El to Earth for the purpose of "guiding" Earth -- instead of to learn to become more like an American, and less like those whose politics destroyed Krypton. 

In Man of Steel, Krypton implodes because the ruling council decreed they needed energy, so they mined the core of the planet, and the planet implodes while Zod attacks the ruling council.  This is an example of Hollywood ripping a theme (ecology) from the Headlines and throwing it into your face at any excuse. 

Another theme that coincidentally made headlines just as this film was being released is the Justice League theme of the Vigilante Justice which had America glued to the TV screens during the Treyvon Martin Murder trial.  That timeliness may have helped Man of Steel at the Box Office. 

But, the hook that has me glued to Superman is the Lois/Clark relationship -- and nothing was more satisfying than the TV Series Lois And Clark  (Lois, first, note!).  Not ecology, but Alien Romance.

The film SUPERMAN II definitely scratched the Alien Romance itch.

Here's that trailer:



Superman II has plenty of "action" to satisfy the action viewer, but it has the ROMANCE that makes the action make sense.  Kal El has to 'give up his powers' to marry Lois, and willingly does so - then the villains turn up (Zod and crew) (senselessly bent on destroying Earth and co-opting Superman to their own cause because of his noble birth) and to SAVE EARTH (not America: Earth) Kal El takes back his powers cutting himself off from nice, human sex with Lois. 

Notice how all the good stuff is missing from the Superman II trailer to sell it as pure action to Action audiences. 

In the end, Superman in Man of Steel does throw in with the Americans, but refuses to accede to American Law unless he agrees with the commands given him by a General. 

This ending seems NOBLE compared to the rest of the film, as if Kal El has values from Kansas.  In fact, it is antithetical to The American Way depicted in the original Superman as proceding from Truth and Justice. 

Note in Man of Steel, the S is cleverly redefined as an Alien Symbol of Peace. 

To remain thematically coherent, the S symbol should have been redefined as a symbol for Truth or Justice. 

The "America" Superman deals with (and this is where the original theme is massively changed) is General Swanwick -- not The President! 

This character (OK, it's a scripting efficiency problem, but it distorts the original Superman's thematic integrity) General Swanwick ends up unilaterally making live-or-die decisions for all Earth, not just the USA.

How insufferably presumptuous.  What do you suppose Iran would be saying in the U.N.?

In other words, Swanwick (without ever being challenged on it) institutes a military coups. 

Not one person in the audience that I saw the film with was groaning or booing about this.  It's acceptable for the USA to be taken over by the military.  Even Kansas farm boy, Clark, didn't seem to notice.

What has that to do with Romance?

Everything.

Hunk isn't just a matter of a square-jawed face.

Remember how I made the point about the crucial question that every Romance must answer:

"What does she see in him?  What does he see in her?"

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2009/08/what-does-she-see-in-him.html

A nice square jaw just isn't enough - helps a lot, but isn't enough! 

Strong character, with detail of what composes that strength, is necessary to ignite the flame of real Soul-Mate driven Romance. 

Lois and Clark have always been portrayed (from the 1930's radio shows) as Soul Mates, even when we didn't know Clark was from another planet.

Originally, they didn't emphasize the Science Fiction element of an Alien From Outer Space -- that wouldn't have been Romantic to people of the 1940's when Science Fiction itself had barely been invented.

What science fiction there was, then, was "neck up science fiction" -- without elements of Relationship other than adversarial. 

The B&W TV Series of the 1950's played Lois and Clark as foils, with Lois always trying to sleuth out the Secret Identity. 

SECRET IDENTITY (like the Lone Ranger) was the plot dynamic that drove the suspense, not Alien From Outer Space Falls In Love With Human.

The big reveal of Alien From Outer Space as the Secret (even from Clark, himself) came much later, because, given Clark's abilities, it was just logical.

Personally, I think Alien Romance is where it is at for Science Fiction and I always have, which is why it's always an element in my novels.

As Clark Kent's Alien origin was revealed, it was morphed and morphed to support various sorts of Superman Character definitions.

In other words, our Hero has been co-opted

Well, they did that on purpose.  They are risking huge amounts of money, so they want a known box office draw topic.  But Superman is old, worn, antique.  It's appeal was that it bespoke the yearnings of the audience of that day.  They needed to update it to speak to today's audience. 

And they did that!  They got everything in except the Alien Romance which needs a Kickass Lois.

And the reason the romance failed is a major gliche in the worldbuilding. 

Yes, Lois gets her moments, but she's relegated to fourth or fifth place in the B story, and doesn't even get to be the one who hammers home the key that stops the destruction of Earth.

Lois doesn't get to save Superman's Life -- doesn't get to Reveal His Past -- doesn't get to pass judgement on his moral fiber and trust him with Truth, Justice And The American Way, doesn't get to kick ass, doesn't even get to save Clark's human mom.

Clark doesn't act for Lois's sake.  Clark's father Jonathan Kent gives his life to maintain Clark's secret identity, and in his memory, Clark is moved to act -- not for Lois's sake, and not for the sake of his Relationship to Lois.  The action that Clark chooses for Jonathan Kent's sake is to adopt the guise of the mild mannered reporter and take a job at The Daily Planet where Lois gets to say "Welcome to the Planet."  And they share a secret smile, because she knows he's Kal-El.  But that's the ending. It should be the beginning. 

This movie is not the Romance you're looking for; move along.

If I'd been consulted (never likely to happen), on the script, I'd have pointed out that the entire composition falls to shreds because of a major gliche in the Worldbuilding. 

Fix the worldbuilding, and everything else, including the Romance, would fall into place.

I have this same issue with the DOCTOR WHO depiction of Gallifrey, and with the home planet of the aliens, the Tenctonese, in the TV Series ALIEN NATION. 

The Science Fails.

I'm an absolute, dedicated fan of both series.  And a lifelong Superman fan.  As a fan, I can and do "forgive" errors in the depiction. 

But such errors are the reason I wanted to be a writer with a published "voice" in the matter of how it should be done.  I've seen "it" done right in so many genres, which just etches my dissatisfaction in fire when I see the error in Science Fiction Romance, especially the Action Romance genre. 

And I believe that if Alien Romance is done "right" (i.e. with consistent worldbuilding, rigorous science), it will attain a position of respect as a Literature bespeaking the most valuable part of our 21st Century Culture.

So What Failed In The Worldbuilding?

It was a failure of imagination. And it was all the more glaring an error because we have occasionally seen it done right in film.

Here's Part 4 of Failure of Imagination, with links to prior parts:

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2011/01/failure-of-imagination-part-4-teasing.html

The movie DUNE did pretty well at avoiding this particular failure of imagination, but came up a bit short as it tried to stay true to the book.

We've seen glimpses in the newest Star Trek movies where they got it right - particularly the nearly invisible space suits.

The failure is actually a failure to show rather than tell.

It's a failure to integrate the science, the technology, and the civilization it belongs to, using visual methods to ILLUSTRATE that the science is what it is.

Any technology sufficiently advanced will seem like magic. 

 Here it is from Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clarke's_three_laws

--------quote------------
Clarke's Three Laws are three "laws" of prediction formulated by the British writer Arthur C. Clarke. They are:

    1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
    2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
    3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

....The Third Law is the best known and most widely cited. Also appearing in Clarke's Essay "Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination". It may be an echo of a statement in a 1942 story by Leigh Brackett: "Witchcraft to the ignorant, .... Simple science to the learned".[2] Even earlier examples of this sentiment may be found in Wild Talents by author Charles Fort where he makes the statement: "...a performance that may some day be considered understandable, but that, in these primitive times, so transcends what is said to be the known that it is what I mean by magic."

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

FAILURE OF IMAGINATION. 

That is our greatest problem with science fiction today, the lack of the kind of futurology we saw in science fiction in the 1950's and 1960's.  Even Star Trek as a TV Series was able to visualize futuristic instruments that acted "magically."

So what did I expect from this Man of Steel that it did not deliver?

I went into the movie without expectations.

But a few scenes into it, I saw the very clever, very elegant, VERY IMAGINATIVE devices, instruments, methods of living, used by the Kryptonian civilization.  And it was indeed a very solid extrapolation of our current science/technology into a possible future.

So I was blown away by this vision of Krypton.  (then we got to the politics and I was disappointed as I had been when The Doctor first went back to Gallifrey.)

The technology was depicted amped up to the level of what we see as "magic."

Great work.

But ....

After we get to Earth, the entire premise just falls to shreds.

And in it's fall, it destroys Clark's character.

The premise is that Krypton has this technology that seems like magic. 

Now, look at our technology over the last few centuries.

Up to the 1940's, technological advances were always made by the triggering of a war.

World War II triggered the creation of the Atomic Bomb (and its use).

From the Middle Ages (knights in shining armor) through WWII, all our advances have been in ways to deliver more and MORE kinetic energy to a target and destroy bigger and bigger areas at a swipe.

We used the Atomic Bomb and spread collateral destruction over two (huge) cities when all we needed to do was destroy the war-making-capability of Japan, not the population. 

After that, The American Way judged America's use of that weapon to be a major tragedy.

Subsequent military weapons development concentrated on delivering pin-point destruction, making smaller explosions right on exactly hit targets.

Today, we have the new term "collateral damage" -- meaning failure.  When we strike a military target, ONLY that target gets destroyed.  If even one non-combatant is killed, we failed. 

It's a trend, and it probably won't be linear, but all our technology (cell phones being an example) use less energy, and target that usage more precisely.

All our energy-usage trends are down, not up, in terms of productivity.

And that's true of warfare as well - drones being another example. 

The Krypton depicted at the beginning of Superman: Man of Steel indicates they had gotten to where we are going -- small, precise, exact, easy to use, technology, like magic.   

But then General Zod arrives on Earth (out of the Phantom Zone which is not as well done as in the prior Superman film where it's a two-dimensional spinning patch in space, a portal to another dimension), and proceeds to "terraform" earth never mind it'll kill the inhabitants, Clark Kent included. 

Jor-el hid the database of all-Krypton inside Kal-el's body cells, but if Kal-el is dead Zod intends to extract it from Kal-el's dead body so he can recreate Krypton.  Noble goal, -- maybe that means the theme of this film is "The End Justifies The Means."  But during the film, Zod goes from not caring if Clark dies to actively pursuing his death. 

Remember, Lois doesn't get to save Clark and dispatch Zod.

Remember, a few weeks ago, I discussed the contretemps that erupted over a SFWA Bulletin Cover with the typical Brass Bras Babe image?

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2013/08/theme-conflict-integration-part-1.html

Man of Steel is a perfect example of what everyone is yelling about.  The Lois that we have seen raised from a 1940's "save me Superman" girl into a "Pullitzer Prize" chanting woman hanging under the elevator cage of the Eiffel Tower is back to being a GIRL.

Why?

Because of the epic fail in worldbuilding.

What should have happened when Zod got to Earth to retrieve the database in Clark's body cells and terraform Earth into a replica of Krypton?

If imagination had not failed, we would be seeing Kryptonians wearing ordinary looking clothing that acted like armor and contained all kinds of instrumentation, not the clunky-ugly lumps they wear in this film.

The costumes are supposed to look formidable and scary; instead they look ludicrous because we've seen what their technology can do. 

Remember the ST:ToS episode Squire of Gothos where the Alien we think is a malific adult alien turns out to be a kid-alien eventually scolded by Mom for tormenting humans for fun?

Remember the Organians?

Remember ST:TNG episode 9 "Hide and Q" which introduces the Q dimension beings?

All those Star Trek conflicts pitted hugely superior technology against humans who had technology superior to that of the audience (1960's and 1980's). 

And the superior technology, the "instrumentality" of the Squire of Gothos looked like an ordinary mirror.  The Q invoked effects by a wave of the hand (which was optional.)

In each case, the humans with the lesser technology won by being clever. 

The worldbuilding in those Star Trek depictions was superb (the production technology minimal).

What is the underlying principle that film makers must apply to get this tech worldbuilding consistent?

Kinetic Energy Diminishes As Power Increases

In the opening of Superman: Man of Steel we saw a Krypton vastly superior to any we've seen before.  It was superbly depicted.

Then we saw that technology deployed against a nearly defenseless planet (Earth).

Technology that superior has to be able to accomplish goals without:
a) wasted kinetic energy
b) obviously applied kinetic energy

Note our trend after the Atomic Bomb -- pinpoint accuracy.

Reduce that pinpoint further than we can today to produce the "indistinguishable from magic" effect.

And you have an enemy that takes us out by firing tiny black holes (or Higgs Bosons) or something very small that just tweaks the tiny few atoms necessary to achieve the goal.

No wasted kinetic energy.  No destroying whole cities to "get" one man, not even Superman.

Quiet, simplistic elegance achieves the goal with the barest twitch of a fingertip.

That's worldbuilding, Arthur C. Clarke style, folks.

The opening scenes on Krypton set up the audience to expect that kind of elegance.

Instead, we got messy, primitive, awkward, and pointlessly ridiculous nonsense that just didn't fit the opening scene.

Why?

Think again about the trailers and "Targeting a Readership." 

They took away the Romance (Superman hardly got a chance to do any really interesting rescues), they degraded the Lois character into a girl who says she won a Pulitzer but doesn't act like it, they designed the alien costumes to look more like fantasy Brass Bra outfits, and proceeded to wreak collateral damage with stray kinetic energy for no discernible reason. 

What readership prefers non-characters destroying things others have built with blood, sweat and tears?

What kind of person does not value the blood, sweat and tears of grown-ups?

What kind of person is recruited for Army service because of that trait? 

Teenage Boys. 

Not men.  (I do so love men.)  But boys. 

Boys hate Romance.  Too tedious.  Men love Romance. 

I believe that's why "they" did this to Superman, targeting the boy in every man.  Against the backdrop of the re-emergence of sexism in all areas, but especially in SFR, it certainly makes commercial sense.  The fact that this movie succeeded where others have failed this past summer will definitely give us more sexist films next year and the year after.

But the correction is not to add back the Lois character.  Then she'd just be pasted on top of something that does not showcase her properly.  She'd look awkward and artificial - not plausible.

In fact, isn't that what the HEA, the Happily Ever After, ending is ridiculed for?  Being implausible?  There's the reason why it gets ridiculed -- pasted on top of disintegrated worldbuilding. 

So how do you fix it?

You fix Krypton and the worldbuilding, and that fixes everything.  The fight scenes take less time, cause less disruption and destruction, and more screen-time is then available for a real story.

By fixing the worldbuilding so that the technology shown in the early scenes produces warfare that looks more magical, more precise (and reaches its goal faster, more elegantly), you can then spend the screen time on the underlying science.  Superman: Man of Steel runs over 2 1/2 hours.  That's long for any film. 

By definition science fiction integrates the scientific puzzles with the characters, plot, conflict and story.  Battle scenes do not a plot make.  Scientific puzzles that must be solved against a deadline of certain death -- ah, that makes a plot, a story, raises characters to heroic stature, and spurs the audience to learn more science because it's romantic and impresses the women and the men.

Lois, the investigative reporter, solves a scientific puzzle (Clark's genes), and beats Zod, would make a great movie.

Apparently, those with $225 million to spend on a movie thought that story wouldn't sell movie tickets.  And they do have a point.  Young boys, and immature uneducated young men, won't notice the disintegration of the connecting links between Theme and Plot, and will go away raving about this film.

That connecting link is the Worldbuilding.

The Worldbuilding destroyed so much when it came apart that I'm not entirely sure what the theme of Superman: Man of Steel was supposed to be. 

I think maybe it's Might Makes Right, or perhaps Peace At All Costs where the "all costs" contains the "might makes right" philosophy. 

The Justice League central issue is the vigilante justice argument (which is "better" for society, or more efficient, Hired Law Enforcement or Vigilantes that don't have to worry about legal methods of acquiring evidence or the train of custody of that evidence and just cut to the chase.)

The Boy Mentality that prefers sex to love will prefer the Vigilante method over the more tedious and cerebral Colombo Detective method.  

Peace At All Costs makes a good theme for Boys because it lets you solve the problem of roiling emotions by hitting and destroying anything in your path (regardless of whether it is the source of the roiling emotions or not). 

Reconnect the theme with the plot in Man of Steel by upping the elegance of the battle-tech, and you'd get rid of the Boy part and have to deal with the Man part of the Steel.

What does it take to make a Man out of a Boy?

That's a question our society has ducked since the 1980's (Superman II), and as a result, the movie-going audiences don't want to know the question exists, never mind the answer is not "battle."

by Jacqueline Lichtenberg
http://jacquelinelichtenberg.com

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Bionic Limbs

The Bionic Man is almost here! In Chicago, an amputee is testing a prosthetic leg he controls with his thoughts, just as we move our biological limbs by thinking of the movement:

Bionic Leg

Granted, this patient has suffered only partial amputation. He still has most of an upper leg, whose nerves communicate with the artificial limb. Still, it’s a great start. Question: Could this mental control ever be made wireless? In the future, will we be able to move objects with our thoughts that are NOT physically connected to our bodies? If so, that technology would hardly be limited to people with missing parts.

Think of Captain Pike on the original STAR TREK, a prime example of “Technology Marches On.” With prosthetics already developed so far, it seems unlikely that in the century when the show takes place, Pike would be restricted to total immobility and non-communication aside from flashing “Yes” and “No” lights. Stephen Hawking already has more advanced assistive technology than that.

And consider the plight of the producers of STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE, a prequel made in an era when some of the "futuristic" equipment on the Enterprise in the original series had been superseded.

Many other examples of “Technology Marches On” with outdated fictional future technology in various media, on the TVTropes site. (See also “Science Marches On.”):

Technology Marches On

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Index to Targeting a Readership Series by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Index to Targeting a Readership Series
by
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

The previous 8 parts of this Targeting a Readership Series can be found here:

Targeting Readership Part 1 is:
http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2009/09/targeting-readership-part-one.html

Part 2 is inside this post:
http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2009/10/astrology-just-for-writers-pt-6.html

Part 3 is inside and woven into the following post in my Astrology Just For Writers series which by mistake has the same number as the previous part but is really Part 7:
http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2009/11/astrology-just-for-writers-part-6.html

Targeting a Readership Part 4 is:
http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2012/06/targeting-readership-part-4.html

Targeting a Readership Part 5 is:
http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2012/07/targeting-readership-part-5-where-is.html

Targeting a Readership Part 6 is:
http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2013/04/targeting-readership-part-6.html

Targeting a Readership Part 7 is:
http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2013/04/targeting-readership-part-7-guest-post.html  A guest post by Valerie Valdes on use of setting

Targeting a Readership Part 8 is:
http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2013/06/targeting-readership-part-8-anne-pinzow.html

In which Anne Pinzow directs our attention to THEME via the difference between 1955 and 2013 in terms of the themes exemplified in film:

Fifty's movie glorifies honor.
2013 TV series glorifies, well, Machiavelli and the uselessness of honor.

Targeting a Readership Part 9 - about Creating a Market
http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2013/07/targeting-readership-part-9-creating.html

Here is Part 10 of Targeting a Readership about the Sad Puppy Hugo Controversy:
http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2015/08/targeting-readership-part-10-sad-puppy.html

September 15, 2015 we have Part 11 of Targeting a Readership, about noting and using the connection between SCOTUS decisions handed down at the end of June 2015.
http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2015/09/targeting-readership-part-11-futurology.html
And readers of this series on Targeting a Readership will probably want to look at:

Theme-Plot Integration Part 13, Superman: Man of Steel scheduled for October 15, 2013 discussing a 4-way skills integration.
http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2013/10/theme-plot-integration-part-13-superman.html

by Jacqueline Lichtenberg
http://jacquelinelichtenberg.com

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Dog-shifting Librarians


Author Amber Polo enjoys incorporating serious issues, research, and humor into her fiction, and she was my guest on "Crazy Tuesday" (http://www.pwrtalkradio.com/page/r-cherry ) to talk about her Shapeshifters' Library series. The show can be heard "On Demand" for the rest of this year.

I put my foot in it immediately by asking what Amber Polo's extensive experience with doggy Obedience Training brings to her writing about romances between shapeshifters who happen to be part-time dogs. I was hoping that Amber might compare and contrast leash-and-collar wearing, and themes of dominance and submission.

Not so fast. Amber's dogs are closer to The Lady And The Tramp than to anything Dark Castle, and obedience training is more about understanding how dogs think than alpha/beta/top-dog machinations. Moreover, Amber hasn't (or hadn't) heard of the British dog trainer Victoria Stilwell and the series It's Me Or The Dog.... but no matter. The love affairs are all dog-on-dog (or dog-shifter on dog-shifter) so there is nothing to offend any gentle reader. However, Amber Polo offers interesting insights into how an author can build a plausible world where the shape-shifters retain human consciousness (at least in POV), even in dog form.

Once a librarian, Amber opines that dogs and librarians have a great many traits in common. They are smart, resourceful, persistent, and fun, for instance. Her villains, to date, are werewolves whose goal is to ban all anthropomorphic books. The werewolves' career paths are more varied, but still logical choices for bibliophobes.
Their day jobs include banking, demolition, armed forces, and architecture.

Apparently, according to Amber Polo, a librarian's greatest enemy is the person in charge of the purse strings.... funding.
We discussed guidelines for the suspension of disbelief. For instance, if an imaginary location is necessary to the plot, perhaps it can be based on a germ of truth, for example, a real Mississippi island further downstream. Location is important, especially real locations for anchoring the reader, and one of Amber Polo's favorite settings is the Chaco Canyon.

The third novel in the series, "Recovered" features a female greyhound. A couple of print copies are being offered in a GoodReads giveaway to members (membership is free) of Goodreads.com, as long as the members reside in the USA. The draw is Oct 15th. All authors who run giveaways hope very much that readers who enjoy the book will take a few moments to write a review.

All the best,
Rowena



Thursday, October 03, 2013

Alien Microbes in the Stratosphere

British scientists claim to have discovered extraterrestrial microbes in the Earth’s upper atmosphere, too high to have originated on the surface:

Alien Bugs

If accurate, this claim is exciting news that should have been splashed all over the media. Life from beyond our world? Evidence that we aren’t alone in the universe?

One statement quoted in the article, though, goes too far. It doesn’t in any way follow from this discovery that life “almost certainly did not originate here.” The existence of alien organisms says nothing about whether life on this planet evolved here or drifted to Earth from outer space. It may have evolved separately on many different worlds (and probably did).

Of course, the premise of living matter’s being “seeded” in widely distant solar systems by alien super-intelligences has appeared in lots of science fiction. This concept can be very useful to a writer who wants to allow interbreeding between Earth-human people and ETs. If all planets’ inhabitants evolved separately, we’re left with the problem that (as Larry Niven says in “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex”) Lois would have better luck producing offspring with an ear of corn than with Superman. And no Mr. Spock. Sigh.

Back to the reported discovery, the next question is: Do these alleged alien microbes have the same kind of DNA as organic entities known to us? If not, the difference would support the idea of their extraterrestrial origin—and open a whole new realm of exploration into the chemistry and biology of life as we know it and don’t know it.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Theme-Worldbuilding Integration Part 7 - Another Use of Media Headlines by Jacqueline Lichtenberg


Theme-Worldbuilding Integration Part 7 -
Another Use of Media Headlines by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Previously, we looked at how you can integrate current headlines into your writing by distilling the headline into a theme, then sinking it into the World you are building (e.g. creating objects, customs, Holidays, politics, in your world that illustrate your theme, so one single line of dialogue can crystallize that theme without belaboring it).

Below, we're going to discuss an example of that from the TV show Royal Pains and an illuminating article from Fortune Magazine on the famed 1% who are the subject of Royal Pains, and how to put the two together.

Here is Part 6 of this series with links to the previous parts. (Because I put lists of links in these posts, Google shuns them.  Google has a lot to learn.)

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2013/02/theme-worldbuilding-integration-part-6.html

Before we get to this (hot) topic of Theme-Worldbuilding Integration, here's an annecdote about the Sime~Gen RPG AMBROV X the story-driven Science Fiction RPG that could become the thin edge of the wedge to change the way the general public looks at the Romance genre (and its writers!). 

Recently, I was at a doctor's office, and there was an intern following the doctor around. 

I mentioned the elements of this blog entry flying into my face that morning ( while watching Royal Pains via DVR), and how the following range of topics dovetails into the whole Ambrov X video game project.  The Fortune Magazine article I want to talk about here was in the magazine I'd been reading in the waiting room.

This intern was a twenties-something woman, thin, attractive, with eyes dancing with delight.  As I was leaving, she came up to me at the counter and mentioned that she loves science fiction. 

Oh? 




I handed her a flyer for the Sime~Gen novels and again mentioned that they are the foundation for a video game. She said SHE PLAYS VIDEOGAMES!

There is a huge prejudice (well known in gamer circles) against the women-gamers and women-game-writers.

Ambrov X has a woman in charge of the story writing (not me, and not Jean Lorrah). This splash-back against women in gaming is something I also found in an exchange on the Science Fiction Romance Brigade Group on Facebook.

So I handed this young doctor a flyer for Ambrov X.



http://ambrovx.com

Her smile lit the room.

I also mentioned that I had been watching the TV Series ROYAL PAINS.  Turns out that, too, is a favorite in that doctor's office.

On this one particular episode of Royal Pains that I had just viewed, there was a bit of dialogue writing that was placed and framed to perfection, and forms the basis of this topic on the integration of Theme and Worldbuilding with the current NEWS HEADLINES.

Hankmed (the concierge doctor practice on this TV Series) is under threat from two sources. 

On the one hand, the zoning regulations have been used to threaten to close down Hankmed because the local hospital had been closed and bought by a national chain of hospitals and Hankmed had picked up the slack by hiring more doctors and running a kind of mini-clinic in a residence not zoned for business.

On the other hand, the new hospital owners want to buy out Hankmed, hire the doctors, and run a concierge practice out of the hospital.  (eventually they do that, but this episode was part of the debate -- see "debate" as one of the "beats" identified by Blake Snyder in the SAVE THE CAT! trilogy on screenwriting.)

So Hankmed is fighting on two fronts.  The CFO (Hank's brother) wants to hire lawyers to fight the zoning board issue.  His wife knows a more efficient way to deal with it.  She delivers the THEME STATED (see SAVE THE CAT! Beat sheet) moment at exactly the right "beat" in the script.

"New Money hires lawyers to settle disputes; Old Money does it over cocktails." 

She proposes throwing a cocktail party gala/extravaganza. 

They try it - preparing swag to give away to make their case with the rich neighbors that Hankmed won't disrupt the neighborhood and should therefore get a zoning exemption.

As they are staging a speech to make this point, one of the older women of the neighborhood preempts the speech and declares that Hankmed can't help but disrupt because patients would be running in at all hours screaming for help. 

As that is being rebutted, a patient (carefully foreshadowed earlier) runs in crying in pain, disrupting the party.  Hankmed mobilizes to the emergency, thus making their opposition's point for them.

Crushed, Hank's brother insists he must hire some lawyers.  Just about then, flower arrangements arrive thanking them, and Hankmed gets some new contracts from the rich neighbors, BECAUSE they responded to the emergency.

Old Money settles things over cocktails. 

And that is a relevant point I want to make about our society today that points you to how to build a world and its society in such a way that it is totally alien to your reader, yet familiar enough to make sense.

We are, today, an extremely litigious society - we settle things with Lawyers at ever-increasing levels of fees for the lawyers.  And we keep settling things by making new complicated laws that will make more lawyers richer.  It used to be that to get rich, you became a doctor.  Now, you must get a law degree. 

---A side note:---

Decades ago, families raised their children to "follow in their father's footsteps" -- to go into the family business, etc.  I'm not talking Middle Ages guilds.  This was the early 20th  century strategy for a cohesive family.  ( Duck Dynasty meets The Waltons ) The strategy for beating a path out of poverty -- however grinding -- was to build a dynastic fortune.  Each generation was tasked to take the meager inheritance, double it, and pass it on, again and again until the entire family rose to the top 1% .

The actual vision was that by building dynastic fortunes this way, that "top 1%" would become the top 10%, 20% etc -- and eventually everyone would be very comfortably rich.

It was a war on poverty with a multi-generation strategy.  The current legal structure of Welfare, Food Stamps etc etc. was launched as "The War On Poverty" right after the tax laws were changed to PREVENT the building of dynastic wealth (e.g. the INHERITANCE TAX was one piece of that strategy.) 

Most of your readers will not be old enough to remember the dynastic-war-on-poverty that was launched after the Civil War freed the slaves and created that dynastic view of wealth building out of the old Plantation Owner model.  Most of your readers will believe that repealing an inheritance tax would destroy all hope of the poor person eeking out mere survival on government assistance programs.  Your current readers don't remember how well the dynastic approach succeeded (which it did), nor do they remember any of the pitfalls created by dynastic wealth (the ne'er-do-well of the Victorian Romance was believable because people knew them in real life). 

The Art of the Best Seller is founded on the writer's ability to articulate the beliefs, yearning desires, and wish fulfillment fantasies of the primary audience.  And that Art is now finding its way onto the TV Screen in such bits of dialogue as: "Old money settles matters over cocktails."  Memorize that line, and then go search your current world and create a bit of dialogue that encapsulates your theme.  

---End side note---

So right after watching that ROYAL PAINS episode, I was reading this article from a very old magazine in the doctor's office.

You'd probably do well to read the whole article, if it's still available, but I want to particularly point out that it cites statistics indicating that the 1% Big Money Fortunes belong to people who have made that money themselves (i.e. NEW MONEY -- within one lifetime, not inherited.)

There is a rapid churn in "who" owns those fortunes, so the "money" is always "new" not accumulated dynasticly.

Those are the people with the money to BUY books (rather than borrow from a library or pick up a pirated copy.)  OK, not maybe the 1% -- but the middle-class on the way up, or struggling to hold their own against the down-rushing tide of fortunes being shredded by the business cycle coupled to inheritance taxes that force the sale of businesses to pay the tax on capital transferred. 

So here is the link and an excerpt -- and while reading remember that we already have a detailed history of "lifting everyone up" on record between about 1865 and about 1910 - 1935.

http://finance.fortune.cnn.com/2012/09/06/stop-bashing-rich/

SUBTITLE:  Instead of taking them down, shouldn't we figure out how to lift everyone up?

---------quote----------

FORTUNE -- Alexis de Tocqueville famously chronicled American society's love of equality -- and its equally passionate pursuit of money. "The love of wealth," the French historian wrote in the 1840s, "is … at the bottom of all that the Americans do." America stands out among Western nations for its grudging, and often fawning, admiration for the wealthy classes it produces. With the road to riches seemingly wide open, Americans favor aspiration over resentment, envy over animus.

Except when they don't.

Rebellions against the rich are as much a part of the fabric of American life as the Horatio Alger myth. One year ago this month, that rebellion crystallized at lower Manhattan's Zuccotti Park, with the start of a series of autumnal protests called Occupy Wall Street.

During summer organizing meetings, anthropologist and former Yale professor David Graeber had hit on a brilliant marketing formula for the rebels: "Why not call ourselves the 99%?" he recalled asking fellow plotters. "If 1% of the population have ended up with all the benefits of the last 10 years of economic growth, control the wealth, own the politicians … why not just say we're everybody else?"

In a hotly contested presidential election year, that formula found easy political resonance. The 99% doesn't just mean the poor or the unemployed or even the hardhat crowd. It includes the vast middle class of blue collar and white collar and pink collar -- even the upper middle class. It's the 99% that defined America's post-World War II economic might and remains the target of any serious aspirant to the Oval Office. With head-spinning speed, the 1%-99% divide entered the vocabulary of journalists, politicians, and voters. More than ever in recent memory, both a presidential election and critical policy debates in Washington are being fought through this prism.

Sadly, it is a confusing and flawed prism, marred by hyperbole, half-truths, and unnecessary pessimism about what it means to succeed in America. Yes, in politics, perceptions do matter. Reports of CEOs making 231 times the average worker's pay, news of fat Wall Street bonuses often unhinged from performance, and images of executives flying to Washington on private jets to beg for bailouts feed fears that the system is hopelessly rigged toward the rich and powerful. But it's wrong to lump the 1% into a monolithic group of greedy, tax-avoiding, selfish capitalists. They are a lot different from what you might think.

MORE: Obama - a president ready for a showdown
http://finance.fortune.cnn.com/2012/08/16/obama-election-economy/

Most of the 1.4 million taxpayers who make up the top 1% gained their wealth through their own efforts rather than by inheritance. This group consists of a large number of doctors, lawyers, engineers, and small-time entrepreneurs, many of whom are working hard to create jobs. To vilify them is the wrong debate. It's a conversation that tends to cast blame on people who have made it to the top or anywhere near it, since Obama's tax proposal labels as "wealthy" households making more than $250,000 a year -- a comfortable income in Indianapolis (where the median home price is $102,000) but barely enough to afford a studio apartment in Manhattan, where tax rates easily hit 50%.

It's also a conversation that misses the point. Stirring resentment and pitting Americans against one another distracts from the harder and far more important conversation: how to jump-start the escalator for 23 million unemployed and underemployed -- and for those whose incomes were stagnating well before the 2008 recession. Diatribes against the 1% are provocative and ...

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


Referencing my "side note" -- we want SCIENCE FICTION ROMANCE novels to "enter the vocabulary" of journalists etc with "head-spinning speed" and need a coinage like that "1%" concept. So study this article's notation about the origin of the 99% phrasing.  

Here's an article I found via a tweet from Random House that claims half of the adults in the USA read a book for pleasure last year -- a book?  Harry Potter?  Shades of Gray?  Who knows, but half is the highest figure I've seen.

http://www.latimes.com/books/jacketcopy/la-et-jc-american-adults-read-books-for-pleasure-in-2012-20130930,0,4379575.story

Usually, the figure I see (worldwide and including children) is that only about 5% of humanity (sometimes 10%) ever has read books for FUN -- or read "text stories" for fun.  But a much larger percentage will watch TV Series, movies,  videos, YouTube clips, and play videogames.  There's something about text as a delivery medium that just doesn't have the "reach" to get beyond that 10%.  And don't forget that is A BOOK, not "books" (as in every day spending 2 or 3 hours reading.)

Romance genre has a much bigger "reach" than the text medium can allow.  Our subject, here on this blog, for the last few years has been how to present Romance genre to that larger audience in such a way that the HEA ending seems plausible to those who have no real-life model for it (e.g. the Romantically Impoverished).

More reading on the Estate Tax:
http://american.com/archive/2010/december/the-roosevelts-would-be-appalled

So back to the FORTUNE article.
 
FORTUNE also covers the opposite side of the argument, as I keep telling you good fiction must. In Romance, that means any given novel or story must cover the inevitable plausibility of the HEA as well as the view that the most one can get out of life is a Happily For Now. 

http://money.cnn.com/2013/02/19/news/economy/top-income/index.html

Keep in mind, it's NEW MONEY that you are writing about and to. 

Since the advent of the Inheritance Tax laws (or Estate Tax or Death Tax), the entire concept of "ever after" has been erased from our purview (yes, it did dominate our views before 1910-1935).  Wealth, and thus worry-free living -- the feeling of stability, is gone, and we have only "for now."  

Your primary audience is probably lower-middle-class, flush enough to buy a book, but not to think of themselves as rich (yet.)

Your THEME to build into your WORLD can be fleshed out with the thought processes taught in the older book, Rich Dad, Poor Dad.



That book outlines how to answer the challenge in the sub-title of this Fortune Magazine article: 
SUBTITLE:  Instead of taking them down, shouldn't we figure out how to lift everyone up?

But I don't think that book highlights (it's not a Dad kind of thought) the principle illustrated by Hank's sister-in-law: Old Money Settles Things Over Cocktails.

That is a particularized statement of an even more abstract principle, or philosophical paradigm.  The theme element is behind that statement, while the statement is a particular application of that theme. 

Put another way: "There's more than one way to skin a cat."

That's to say that there are at least two ways to say the same thing.  The "same thing" you are saying is the theme, not the two different ways of saying it.  Get at the abstraction behind what you are saying with the way you arrange the history, architecture, laws, mythology and sexual mores of the world you are building.

Here we're discussing a theme about problem-solving that says there are many solutions to any one problem.

A "problem" is a PLOT-CONFLICT, a synthesis that arises from the main character's internal conflict and illustrates the philosophical lesson the character is learning because of the events of the plot.

I have often said here that the flaw in many books I read (well published ones, too) is that the Events of the Plot do not HAPPEN TO the main character.  The events happen, but not TO the character -- i.e. the character does not recoil under the impact of the event, then rebound along a different story-arc. 

To avoid that kind of failure, you take a character, and you present that character with a problem.  What the character does to solve the problem is the plot.  What the character learns from the mishaps along the way to success is the moral of the story, the thing that changes the character, matures that character and causes the character to "arc." That's what I mean by Events happening TO the Character.

So take a financially poor character, present him/her with a problem and a choice among solutions, then, via the events (and deeds of others in the story), teach your character to problem-solve like "Old Money." 

Consider the same Old Money/New Money dichotomy in another venue: the Martial Artist.

The beginner in Martial Arts, however fast-and-strong in a fight, goes into a fight with "something to prove" because his skills are New Skills.  The winner, the mature fighter goes into a fight with nothing to prove, just a problem (the younger fighter) to solve.  The mature fighter has Old Skills, and uses them differently.  The Old Skills allow the mature fighter to solve the problem more efficiently.  (remember the Karate Kid movies - or watch them again!)

Physical prowess, financial prowess, or romantic prowess, is all about how you apply power, not about how much power you have.  It's about cost-efficiency.  It's about elegance and strategy -- it's a video game RPG where you build a character who has Dynastic Prowess - training from the cradle in certain cultural attitudes. 

Another cliche I love: The Bigger They Are; The Harder They Fall. 

What Hank's sister-in-law (in the TV Series Royal Pains) said about how Old Money solves problems opened the possibility of solving the problem by a different (more cost-efficient) method than calling in the lawyers.  She found another way to skin the cat by saving the cat with cocktails.

The CFO of Hankmed loves cost-efficient.  In fact, your boss in any job will love cost-efficient because it's likely to get him (not you) a promotion. 

Which brings us back to the Romance element here. 

Common wisdom insists that what women want from their man is to be treasured for their personal, idiosyncratic, one-of-a-kind-among-all-humanity traits, not physical beauty which is an attribute of most adolescent girls, or barely post-adolescent women.

Physical "beauty" is generally speaking a trait that blossoms at puberty (called pulchritude for a reason), and fades with the fading of reproductive proclivities.  The flat stomach just begs a man to fill it with a baby.

But a marriage of Soul Mates can't be based on a trait that fades after a few years or few births.  "What worth am I after my beauty fades, if all you treasure in me is my appearance?"

Here is an article worth an in-depth discussion on the nature of sexuality in humans. 

http://news.discovery.com/human/smaller-testicles-linked-with-caring-fathers-130909.htm

One suggestion this article hints at is that male testicle size might be reduced by hands-on nurturing of their own children.  Smaller testicle size is associated with good fathering and faithfulness.  Maybe that's not true, but it's a dynamite plot thesis!  Which is the cause; which the effect?  A novelist can play that idea from every direction.

A science fiction romance novelist might conclude that all the cultural and religious systems created by and for humans are about domesticating the male of the species to fatherhood, and to that end, the building of dynasty is paramount.

Males must have a stake in their children, and their children's lives, so they won't run wild.  That could be a Worldbuilding thematic element.  A theme is a Philosophy, and Worldbuilding is the process by which a writer makes an abstract idea behind a Philosophy into something that the audience can SEE, something concrete, a symbol that has meaning. 

For example: 

If Life is all about offspring domesticating and taming the wild male, then the male of the species must build dynastic wealth ( create something to pass on to offspring ), so offspring will climb out of the inefficient beginner's mindset of New Money solutions and acquire the suave, smooth and efficient methods of the 1%'s  Old Money (or Old Martial Arts skills) method of problem solving.

A theme/worldbuilding structure could be built to argue that destroying Dynastic Wealth (shades of the TV Show DALLAS !!!) via the tax code has destroyed the nuclear family and increased the incidence of warfare or violence as a method of problem solving (violence being the preferred method of dispute settlement for the testosterone driven male, the victim of large testicles.) 

Read up on "performance enhancing drugs," which is a term I should add to the blog on misnomers. 
http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2013/02/theme-worldbuilding-integration-part-6.html

Here's a CNN article summarizing legal moves on steroids:
http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/06/us/performance-enhancing-drugs-in-sports-fast-facts/index.html

General theory is that such steroids in high doses have been responsible for uncharacteristic violent out-bursts. 

Just what kind of "performance" is being "enhanced" by the disproportionate elevation of male hormones?  If a little is good, does that always mean a lot is better?  Do they enhance a male's ability to be a good father?  Is being a good father what it really means to be a Man?  Is fatherhood manly?  These are questions that can become thematic statements in the hands of accomplished writers. 


Soul Mates mate not for "life" but for many "lifetimes."  Just as in Dynastic Wealth, the strategy is multi-generational, and you will remember the vast popularity of the multi-generation saga.  I expect that type of story to become very popular again, soon.  

Therefore the attraction between Soul Mates can't be based on something transitory and incidental such as appearance.

So a woman wants to ignite a man's ardor via physical beauty, but needs to ignite a man's loyalty because of a trait that becomes better with age.

And it should be a trait the man doesn't have in himself and never knew he needed in a woman.

Hank's brother and sister-in-law portray the potential for such a Relationship -- she is beautiful (now), and growing in stability and wisdom under the influence of the CFO view of the world in terms of cost-effectiveness.  And she is cultivating a career based on an interest in Art, and "now" works for an art auctioneering firm.

The TV Show Royal Pains is not a Romance per se, but it has Romances in it - one that seems to be succeeding after a rocky start, and another that has failed after a promising start. 

Royal Pains is a TV Series that is story-driven, and Relationship based, liberally decorated with bits of "science" (medicine).  Science, as a subject, is supposedly reserved for a 1% -- a tiny fraction of those who read. 

Royal Pains is not science fiction but has all the elements of science fiction (the science is sort-of real, the story fiction).  It has all the elements to intrigue and satisfy the Science Fiction Romance crowd without attracting the opprobrium we seem to be the target of these days, both in women writing Science Fiction and women in videogaming.

As I said above, thin edge of the wedge.  Easy Does It.  More Than One Way To Skin A Cat.  Old money does it at cocktail parties.

by Jacqueline Lichtenberg
http://jacquelinelichtenberg.com