Scarlet Letters

The not-so-private thoughts and rants of Elizabeth Donald, journalist/author and founder of the Literary Underworld.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Heisenberg Compensator School

Chapter Ten of YELLOW ROSES is a royal pain in the ass. I had a version written, and it wasn't spectacular - owed more to LAW & ORDER than my own experiences with the law - but at least it flowed well.

Then I realized I was cheating.

I belong to the Heisenberg Compensator School of Science Fiction, you see. There are two schools of thought - the Asimov School and the Heisenberg Compensator School. In the Asimov School, everything must have an explanation. Everything works according to reality, nothing is left to chance. Tom Clancy follows this school to an extreme - his books are practically technical manuals.

But when STAR TREK first proposed the concept of the transporter, there had to be one smartass scientist who said it was impossible. His name was Heisenberg, or so the story goes, and it had something to do with the disruption of energy in the brain... I dunno. Transporter=impossible. So in STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, at one point they were fixing the transporter, and someone had to replace the Heisenberg Compensator. Ha!

What does the Heisenberg Compensator do? I haven't a clue. And I don't give a good goddamn. The Creators gave a nod to real science, but they didn't bog us down with twenty minutes about how Heisenberg was wrong, because we aren't here to learn the technical schematics of the transporter. The real story is in the human beings, the characters, the crisis and the aftermath. Screw the machinery.

I love the Heisenberg Compensator. And it's not just for science fiction. I had a good reason for everything about my vampires in the NOCTURNAL URGES series, and discarded everything that would make writing the series annoying. But I wanted to keep the lore that vampires do not appear in mirrors. Problem: There's absolutely no good scientific reason for it.

So when Isabel asks Ryan why they don't appear in mirrors, he says he doesn't know. How can that be? she asks. He shrugs. "We don't know why a duck's quack doesn't echo, either," he says.

This is true. A duck's quack doesn't echo. No one knows why. And you know what? That's all the explanation my readers - or my editor, a much tougher nut to crack - needed. It makes sense that way, for no good reason whatsoever. It's a Heisenberg Compensator.

But there's a fine line between the principles of Heisenberg and cheating. Cheating is when the movie serial ends with the car going over the cliff with the hero still inside, and at the opening of the next one, he jumped out of the car just in time. Cheating is saying "a wizard did it," or pretending the audience won't notice that Kyle Reese can't exist if he's his own father. (Just go with me here.)

Cheating is when you assume the reader isn't as smart as you are, and you can just skate by things that you know to be wrong and hope no one notices. Every time I've tried to cheat, my wonderful beautiful editor (Mary, I love you!) catches me and breaks out her patented cat-o-nine-tails she keeps on hand for author punishment.

I was cheating when I wrote Chapter Ten. I was cheating because I knew very well that the civil suit wouldn't be in place for years, and even the criminal trial would be months in the future, and we can't have a roomful of spectators with a grand jury investigation, and regardless Cat could not be sitting in the room listening to a witness if she herself is to be a witness. Even I know that much about court procedure, and I'm not even a courts reporter.

So I kicked myself, and enlisted the help of the marvelous Dawn O'Leary and Kimberly Hamm, attorneys at law. They gave me the idea of the preliminary hearing, which puts everyone I need in the room and talking about the things I need to talk about.

Unfortunately, I still couldn't get Cat in the damn room during Richard's testimony. Which meant half the scene had to be scrapped. Readers won't get to see Richard testify, or how Sapphire interrogated him, or what Serena was doing as he spoke. That was a good scene, and I hated to lose it.

But it was cheating.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

a tad chilly

It's cold in Illinois tonight, folks.

FOLKS: How cold IS IT?

So cold I can see the steam rising from my cup of tea - and the tea's not too hot to drink.

So cold the tip of my nose is numb and I have to cup my hand around it to keep it from falling off.

So cold I stopped feeling my toes hours ago - and I'm wearing socks.

So cold I'm lighting candles on the off chance they contribute some ambient heat to the polar air.

I hate the insulation in my bedroom. It's the biggest flaw of my apartment - my bedroom is on the first-floor corner of the building, and it has a big picture window with no storms or screens, just a single pane of glass between me and the outside world, and all the heat just sucks through the walls and ceiling.

It's a pervasive cold, just sort of sinks through your skin into your bones and you don't really notice it all that much unless you're thinking about it (or writing a blog post about it as you procrastinate on writing your new ghost novel). You can sleep in that cold, burrowed deep into the covers, and you curl up on your side to keep your core warm and sacrifice your limbs to the cold and let your nose peek out and freeze. But then you wake up in the morning and take a hot shower, and that heat sinks in like a nuclear blast flying through your body, and you think you'll never be warm again but it takes over in your bones - then you so don't want to get out of the shower.

I almost increased the thermostat. Almost. But I just can't afford it. Not given the reaming Ameren's going to give me come February's bill.

I compensated by a) turning up the wonderful, lovely, terrific heated mattress pad and b) leaving my bedroom door open. The closed bedroom door really succeeds in making my room a meatlocker. But it's extremely difficult for me to sleep with the bedroom door open. No, I don't know why, and no, there's no childhood trauma involved.

Still. In case I forgot to do so at the time, THANK YOU AGAIN to the wonderful elves who gave me this heated mattress pad for Christmas. Without it I might be suffering from frostbite.

Time to stick my cold nose in my hot tea again. Did I mention it's cold?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Attention Californians!

And New Age music fans, in case there are any who read this blog. :)

Michael Stribling, New Age musician extraordinaire, will host a launch party for his new CD, "Out of the Darkness, Into the Light" in Fresno, Calif. at the end of this month. This is the follow-up CD to his album, "Songs of Hope and Healing," which rose to #1 on the New Age list last year.

It's a meet-and-greet, food and drink, raffle prizes, etc. Admission is free, and any proceeds from the event will go to Tree Fresno, a coalition for trees, trails and greenbelts in the Fresno area.

The event takes place 6-8:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 26 at Perfect Balance Yoga, 5091 N. Fresno St., Ste. 133. For more information call 559-222-6212. The CD is available at or call 559-436-4994 to order.

Michael Stribling is a former drummer with Crosby Stills and Nash and toured with Johnny Mathis. He's returned to music after retiring from his career as a psychologist. And in the interest of full disclosure, Michael Stribling also happens to be my cool hippie uncle. :)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

among my New Year's Resolutions....

Post more in my blog.

So I'll begin with this:

About half the people I know have posted cheering on this fellow in his sporking of the Anita Blake comic book. Much of his commentary seems to be based on what he's heard of the later books in the series, which take a screaming left turn from the horror-mystery tone of the first five books and into paranormal erotica.

Even so, he's dead-on about much of his complaints. I was really looking forward to this series, because I'm a big fan of Anita Blake. Okay, of the first part of the series. I do believe my interest in the series has gone far, far downward as it's become much more erotic, which is funny for someone making her living, in part, from paranormal romance. But if anything, my work is going in the opposite direction: removing highly sexualized content because it was distracting from the story.

But hey, for once, it's not all about ME.

It strikes me that there is more than a little hypocrisy in the disgust of the general comic world re: the Anita Blake comic series. True, it's a disappointment. They're drawing the male characters with lookalike faces pasted onto bodies that belong on the front cover of a Harlequin romance novel. It's annoying, particularly when they're transcribing GUILTY PLEASURES, the first book in the series and arguably the least sexual in nature. This is back when Anita was kicking ass in a sensible pair of jeans and we read more about her ordnance than underwear.

And my other complaint? "Transcribing" is the real word here. It's practically word-for-word from GUILTY PLEASURES, and I've read this before. I didn't expect them to deviate wildly from the book, but this basically is an illustrated edition of a book I already own. Not a bad thing, but... not something I'm rushing to read, either.


The hypocrisy comes from the rampant complaints about the hypersexualized men surrounding Anita. Winter is a Schwarzenegger clone from his Conan days, all glistening muscle in a mesh sleeveless shirt and exercise shorts. Jean-Claude is a forlorn Anne Rice escapee in Parisian shirt with curling black hair around his brooding face.

Well, it's not like this has ever happened before, has it? After all, comic books are paragons of realistic depictions of the human figure. A female superhero has never been drawn in a glorified bathing suit while her male cohorts wear nose-to-toes body armor. She is never depicted with gargantuan breasts and hips with a tiny waist, a grotesque parody of the hourglass shape, and forced to stand with her ass sticking out in a soft-core porn stance before she breaks out the Superthingy to demolish the bad guys. A comic book character drawn as a walking sexual fantasy to appease the appetites of the sexually-repressed readers? Never!


Maybe Anita Blake is a bad comic book. You won't hear me argue otherwise, at least not until I see a few more issues.

Or maybe male comic readers just don't like it when the tables are turned. Just a thought.