Friday

Kindle Author Interview: Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Jacqueline Lichtenberg, author of The Duschau Trilogy, discusses her books, her journey as a writer, and self-publishing on Kindle.

DAVID WISEHART: What can you tell us about The Dushau Trilogy?

JACQUELINE LICHTENBERG: The first book in The Dushau Trilogy won the first Romantic Times Award for Science Fiction. The review magazine renamed itself recently to RT Reviews as it now covers much more than romance. But at that time, it specialized and my agent was totally astounded that Dushau could even be read by that audience, nevermind win such a prestigious award (presented in the Twin Towers in New York City at a formal banquet, and I do mean formal.)

I mean, romance readers don't read science fiction—or so the Manhattan publishers thought. Boy, have THEY learned a lesson!

There's a long story behind The Dushau Trilogy.

The Dushau Trilogy originated during a visit to Andre Norton's home (she was a very famous writer of juvenile SF who moved on to adult SF/F, notably the fantasy universe titled The Witch World).

I had gone to Florida as a guest at a local convention, and Andre Norton invited me and my sometime writing collaborator, Jean Lorrah, to visit her home there. 

While leaving, as I was about to get into the passenger side of the car while Andre Norton stood on her porch waving goodbye (Jean was driving), I called back, "Well, if you won't write a sequel to Star Rangers, I will!"

To my utter shock, she said, "Good, do that!" in a tone that said she really meant it.

The image is flashburned into my mind, the large green expanse of Florida lawn, the porch, Andre Norton with her hand raised to wave, the sky, the trees—I barely remember the car though, just the image of that porch with one of my childhood icons of fame, glory, talent and sheer artistic brilliance standing there calling to me as if I were her equal.

Star Rangers was one of my all-time favorite novels when I was a child, more than any other book Andre Norton wrote.

At the airport, I bought a notepad and on the plane on the way home, I sketched an outline—well, several—for what that sequel would be. What did I really want in a sequel to a book I'd read 16 times in a row and then kept re-reading in parts for years and years?

I realized I couldn't do it in Andre Norton's universe. The flavor of satisfaction I wanted to create needed a different universe.

The flavor I needed to add was a dimension disallowed in the decade when Star Rangers was published and even in the decade when I would write it.

Star Rangers was actually aimed at adolescent boys whereas I wanted to aim at adult women.

Now, at the convention I attended during that trip, some fans of my own novels dragged me into a darkened hotel room where they had rigged the room's TV to a daisy chain of video recorders. They had hours and hours of tapes of Doctor Who TV shows, mostly with Tom Baker as The Doctor.

The tape they had was made in the format used in England, and they had a tech genius who was able to connect the player that could play those tapes to recorders that could copy the feed into our format. Several fans wanted copies—however degraded, and tape doesn't copy without degrading as digital does. So there was all this equipment laid out on the floor, and then a whole lot of hotel room chairs collected from other rooms, all full of people, and the double beds were also full of people, and people standing in every square foot of space.

It was stuffy and dark, and cheerful, and eager.

As my friends brought me in, they told people that I had no idea what Doctor Who was, had never seen it (it was really hard to come by in the USA at that time). When they said my name, suddenly there was a front-center comfortable chair vacated for me, a cup of soda, a bowl of munchies, and a whole lot of people telling me all about the Doctor universe background.

Then they cued up an episode—I don't recall which—and I spent the entire rest of that day in that dark room enthralled.

I came out a fan, just as my fans had predicted—later went to a Doctor Who convention just to meet Tom Baker, gave him a copy of Duschau, and had my picture taken with him. I still own a Tardis Key I got at that convention.

What happened on the airplane trip home was what today is called a "mashup"—a blending of two fictional universes into something new, in this case Doctor Who and Star Rangers.

What I added to that mix was the then-heretical, absolutely unpublishable, way beyond the pale, totally Star Trek fan fiction tone, dimension and element of the human-alien romance.

But I gave it my own twist, making the human-alien romance itself a current manifestation of a karmic backstory thousands of years deep. I just didn't let the characters themselves, or the reader, in on that secret.

My agent, to my absolute shock, dismay and astonishment sold the novel Dushau on chapter and very brief outline, and even worse, it was to be my first three-book contract with a very, very close due date—and I hadn't written the first draft of the first novel yet.

But I made every deadline, and hit the exact word-count.

DAVID WISEHART: How do you do your world-building?

JACQUELINE LICHTENBERG: I have a huge variety of methods for world-building, and use whichever method is appropriate for the material at hand.

I write incessantly and persistently about these various techniques and how to teach them to yourself and how to master each one on two blogs.

One is http://www.aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/ which is a co-blog of widely published science fiction and fantasy Romance writers. I post there on Tuesdays, writing not just for writers or would-be writers but also for readers who want to understand what writers do and what readers can get out of reading by understanding the writer's process.

The other is where I put more technical writing lessons of interest more specifically only to writers is http://www.editingcircle.blogspot.com/ where I'm the only one who posts unless I have a guest.

No two writers go about writing, or worldbuilding, in the same way, and any given writer probably doesn't use the same method or procedure every time. But the end result has to be the same for a novel to be publishable.

A story won't be comprehensible unless the background, the world surrounding the characters, is as much a part of the character as our own real world is a part of us.

The world surrounding the character shapes and sets the agenda for the character, but the character's view of that world, the character's interpretation of the world is the main key to the character's motivation.

The character's motivation is the key to drawing a reader into a story, and the world surrounding the character will deliver the resolution that satisfies the reader.

It's all connected. And when the reader can discern the nature of the connections in the fictional environment, the reader can come out of the experience feeling happier and more secure in their own personal environment.

The writer is an artist who can show a reader how the reader's own selective view of reality actually shapes the reader's internal experience of life. Armed with that understanding, a reader can change their life.

Good fiction empowers readers to live with zest and joy.

The signature of good fiction is the connection between the character's internal life and external objective reality that the character must contend with. Patterns, connections, views that make sense of life, ignite readers' real-world enjoyment of life.

So that's the objective of good worldbuilding—to create "show don't tell" connections between the character and his/her world.

DAVID WISEHART: How do you develop and differentiate your characters?

JACQUELINE LICHTENBERG: Every character came from somewhere, through events that influence and shape their view of their world. What the character knows, doesn't know, can or can't feel for whatever reason, wants, needs, and will or won't give, all these generally distinguish people from one another.

But what every reader wants to know first and foremost is what this character's problem is RIGHT NOW. And what's he/she going to do about it, then comes why, and what happens next, and what that means.

The writer has to know much more about the character, and especially about the character's past than the reader ever needs to know or wants to know.

So it isn't so much how you differentiate your character that matters to the reader. As long as that character's responses to situations are consistent, those responses will delineate an individual in the reader's mind.

Each character in a story has a past that the writer knows, a past different from the past of the other characters, a past that the reader isn't interested in and doesn't need to know.

So each character will respond characteristically to challenges, each in their own individual and distinctive way—consistently.

The big lesson in writing is "show don't tell"—and it applies to differentiating characters as well.

SHOW the reader the distinctive ways each character responds to situations, developments, challenges, and DO NOT TELL the reader all about the character's past that causes the character to respond in these ways.

DON'T TELL—SHOW.

And the reader will invent their own past for that character, and thus engage deeply with the story, and "walk a mile in that character's moccasins."

I learned this technique from Leonard Nimoy while we were interviewing the cast and crew of Star Trek for the non-fiction book Star Trek Lives! by Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Sondra Marshak and Joan Winston. Leonard is a very good teacher and his lessons stick as hard as the lessons that Gene Roddenberry taught me during those same interviews.

Leonard Nimoy calls this not-telling characterization technique "open texture." That's a stagecraft term that applies more and more these days to text based fiction. Learn it. It's what made the Spock character leap off the screen and into the hearts of non-science fiction readers. It's the source of all the Star Trek fan fiction.

And it's the source of the fan-fiction that readers of my Sime~Gen Universe novels (now in new paper editions with ebook, Kindle, Nook, etc. editions) have written. You can find that fan fiction posted online for free reading at http://www.simegen.com

DAVID WISEHART: Who do you imagine is your ideal reader?

JACQUELINE LICHTENBERG: I don't have to imagine because I have interacted with fans of my novels over the years until I have a good grasp of "who" they are.

They mostly have nothing in common, just like the fans of Star Trek have nothing much in common. I discovered that by circulating questionnaires while researching for Star Trek Lives! I was looking for a common denomenator to explain why fans love Star Trek—there isn't one.

So you could say I write novels for the Star Trek viewer who likes to read narrative fiction.

But I also tend to aim more at readers who prefer to look at life as requiring more raw heroism on the field of relationships than it ever can on the field of battle. The effort to be emotionally honest, honorable and trustworthy in intimate situations (intimacy includes a lot more than just physical sexuality; it requires redefining the notion "privacy") is what my typical reader admires the most.

Physical courage is cheap and plentiful among humans. Emotional courage is costly and rare. I write about people who reach deep inside themselves to find that endless well of emotional courage and thus overcome vast physical obstacles. My typical reader can easily relate to a person like that, even if that person is not human.

DAVID WISEHART: What was your journey as a writer?

JACQUELINE LICHTENBERG: I decided to make my living as a professional writer when I was a sophomore in High School. One day, walking to chemistry class, I was thinking about Andre Norton's Star Rangers novel, and about "Doc" Smith (Edward E. Smith Ph.D—author of the Lensman series), and I stepped across a crack in the walkway and said to myself, "Now I'm a professional writer."

Long before that, when I was in seventh grade, my father had bought the family a typewriter and taught me to touch type. As practice to build speed, I copy typed A. E. Van Vogt's Slan, and (you guessed it) Andre Norton's Star Rangers, and a couple of other novels. I learned style and internalized many non-verbal lessons on writing craft from that, so by the time I took the leap of faith and declared myself a professional I knew what I was doing, and I knew I could do it.

That afternoon I went to the library and checked out as many books and magazines on writing craft as they'd let me have—and kept going back for more until I'd read everything.

My Aunt Millie found out what I was doing and for my birthday she sent me a year's subscription to Writer Magazine. I began writing every day, seriously, not just in my head as always.

I read almost all the biographies in my (small) library, especially of writers. I researched it very thoroughly, and decided that to be a SCIENCE FICTION WRITER I needed to major in chemistry. I didn't know at the time that Andre Norton had been a librarian (another profession that attracted me) or that her specialty was anthropology and archeology.

But most of the writers I really REALLY admired (E. E. Smith, Hal Clement for example) were chemists. A lot of the people I knew in my area were or had been chemists. So I majored in chemistry with minors in physics and math, and took as much linguistics, anthropology, archeology, etc. as I could stuff into my schedule.

Chemistry and physics are things you can't learn without the laboratory resources of a university, I figured. But history, literature, languages, anthropology, archeology—that stuff you can learn on your own without paying the enormous university fees.

Also chemistry is a bread and butter profession. Science fiction writers rarely made their entire living at writing (still don't).

It was karma. Working in chemistry, I met my husband, married him, had two kids, and settled into a writing career using every single bit of my university education plus a whole lot more.

DAVID WISEHART: What is your writing process?

JACQUELINE LICHTENBERG: How I go about writing depends on what I'm writing—not to mention everything going on in the family.

I prefer long periods of silence, solitude, and concentration—weeks on end. Then a scheduled break for running around to appointments, errands, conventions, taking care of everything—then back to writing.

I usually work on only one project at a time—but not always.

See, writing is a creative endeavor, so you have to create it as you go along.

The real secret to understanding what you're doing when you're writing is to comprehend something I learned in 8th Grade.

In 7th Grade, when my dad taught me to type, I went from hand-writing letters to typing, and became a very active member of science fiction fandom (an organization of organizations called the National Fantasy Fan Federation (N3F)—a group founded by the same man who founded the Science fiction Writers of America). The N3F led me into an association of friends very much like today's facebook or twitter—lots of communicating.

In the N3F, there was a bureau for would-be writers run by a professional writer named Alma Hill. She taught me the most important lesson about what writing really is, and I've never seen anyone else teaching this.

WRITING IS A PERFORMING ART.

When you sit down to turn out text, you are PERFORMING—at concert pitch, as if on stage before an audience.

To be able to deliver, as I did The Dushau Trilogy, on demand, whether the family is falling on your head and the rent is due, or even if you have a fever, or are coughing your head off—you have to have been practicing-practicing-practicing.

And with all that practice, you "become a writer"—a performer who knows THE SHOW MUST GO ON—and nevermind how you feel or that the upstairs neighbor is teaching squaredancing to 20 teenagers.

The practiced skills and techniques come to the fore, and the performance goes smoothly, you make your deadlines and the result is professional (i.e. worth the money people pay to get it).

Writing isn't about turning out this particular story—it's about turning out a story on demand right now and at a certain level of quality.

Writing Is A Performing Art—and that is the process. PERFORM.

DAVID WISEHART: What authors most inspire you?

JACQUELINE LICHTENBERG: For the ability to perform and perform—no matter what, or where or when—Marion Zimmer Bradley was the one who set the standard for me. Pages per day no matter what (she taught me by trading "dailies" with me).

Today I admire people like Jim Butcher who writes The Dresden Files (and many other fantasies). He built his series up to becoming a TV Series, and to do that and keep meeting deadlines, he toured the country speaking and signing books and writing on a laptop in hotel rooms everywhere. I know this because, as a reviewer, I was invited to interview him by his publicist.

I also know the same thing about Gene Roddenberry because, while interviewing him, I ended up carrying his brief case around guarding it for a day because it had work on a new series (after Trek) in it.

The couple times I've tried working on the road, it hasn't worked.

But I usually come home fired up and inspired.

DAVID WISEHART: What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you'd written yourself?

JACQUELINE LICHTENBERG: Sword of Aldones by Marion Zimmer Bradley. That's another like Star Rangers that I read and read and read.

Marion was very disappointed in it as the years went by (the original idea for Sword of Aldones dated from her teens) and she became a better writer, and eventually she re-imagined this portion of Darkover's history and titled that story Sharra's Exile while she was writing Heritage of Hastur (you will find my name in that book because she used it to teach me writing craft.)

Frankly, and to her disappointment, I still prefered Sword of Aldones.

In disscussing that problem, she taught me a valuable lesson which she had learned from her teachers. The story the writer writes is not the story the reader reads.

MORE IMPORTANTLY: it shouldn't be!!!!

Your job as a performing artist is to entertain the reader, to ignite the reader's imagination not force the reader to see YOUR STORY.

It's the reader's own story that's important to the reader, not yours.

The story I SEE when I read Sword of Aldones is not at all what Marion intended to put into the book when she first wrote it, and not at all what she saw on rereading what she'd written decades later.

And in that, it's just like Andre Norton's refusal to write "the sequel" to Star Rangers—which was a book that, for her, had no sequel, but to me was merely the prolog to the real story.

So for that reason, I had to create a whole new universe to contain the sequel I wanted to write, and it became the science fiction romance, Dushau—when there was no such thing as science fiction romance.

But for me, the sequel to Star Rangers just had to be a romance.

DAVID WISEHART: How have you marketed and promoted your work?

JACQUELINE LICHTENBERG: I don't market or promote—frankly, I don't know how. As Dr. McCoy might have said, "I'm a writer not a publisher."

I do however make myself available online as much as possible, I network on twitter, facebook, MySpace, Scribd.com, gosh there's a lot and you'll find links to blogs and social networks in my friendfeed box on http://jacquelinelichtenberg.com where I list off currently available work.

I have concluded that social networking is not a promotional or marketing tool and I think I've figured out the reason for that.

Here's the blog where I discuss it at considerable length.

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2010/02/strange-benefit-of-social-networking.html 

I'm a member of Backlist eBooks (http://backlistebooks.com) which is an organization of widely published writers who have retrieved the rights to their books and set them up as ebooks themselves, without going back through the publishing system. This is a big, and I think important, trend.

I've been a member of EPIC http://www.epicauthors.com/—the organization of professional ebook writers and publishers, since my first ebooks came out from Wildside Press—Molt Brother and City of a Million Legends—which were originally mass market paperbacks from a couple of publishers.

And of course I've been a member of the Science Fiction Writers of America since I qualified with the sale of my first story (a Sime~Gen story which was bought by Fred Pohl for If Magazine of Science Fiction). I'm now a Life Member of SFWA.

So being in touch with other writers, I hear about opportunities to reach readers, and I take on as many of those as I can.

I'm also a professional reviewer for a paper magazine, The Monthly Aspectarian, and meet a lot of writers that way.

In the course of all this, I am often sent Advance Reading Copies (ARCs) soliciting cover quotes—and sometimes my reviews are quoted. 

I go to conventions and attend chats on twitter and join groups and goodreads and everywhere—because I like people, I like talking to people, I like especially talking to people who've read the books I've read or seen the TV shows or movies I've seen. I'm interested in what grabs a person's attention, whether it currently grabs mine or not.

Look, I "found" Doctor Who because fans of my books dragged me into it.

The result of finding Doctor Who is a novel which won an award and actually became a game-changer event in science fiction and romance—if not credited as such by publishing, I know it because I know readers influenced by it who became professional writers and now write this new cross-genre mashup I love to read.

Ultimately, that's how you find everything good in life—someone you know who knows you likes it and wants to share it with you because they like you, and then shares it with others who you then get to like too.

It's not about marketing and promotion, it's about love of LIFE.

DAVID WISEHART: You've had a successful career in traditional publishing. Why self-publish your backlist on Kindle?

JACQUELINE LICHTENBERG: When Kindle first offered writers an easy way to post their novels as Kindle books, I wasn't convinced.

But I watched the entire field of the ebook publishing (I've been a denizen of fictionwise.com almost since they started it) and I know that's where it's at.

I have been an Amazon customer since they started selling books.

I've given up looking for books in stores. I just get them on Amazon. I don't buy at conventions as I used to—why haul stuff home in suitcases when you can just get it on Amazon.

Amazon has developed the knack of pointing readers to OTHER BOOKS they want because they read this or that.

Nobody else is quite as good, though B&N is coming along.

So, a few years ago, Wildside Press (which had the reprint of Molt Brother and City of a Million Legends up on fictionwise and Amazon because the guy who owns Wildside likes my stuff) bought Borgo Press and made a deal with Amazon to supply reprints for Kindle.

The guy in charge of the Borgo program happened to be a fan of my work and a friend of Jean Lorrah. He came up to us at a convention, made an appointment to take us to lunch, and cut a deal for the Sime~Gen novels (12 of those) plus collections of our short stories—(2 collections of mine released so far).

And then things happened (complicated contract stuff), and we didn't proceed with the deal right away for a variety of reasons.

But I was still studying the development of the Kindle program, and in my judgement that's where it's at in publishing.

I wanted to see how it was done, and what would happen, and how hard it is, and what's involved, and so on.

That is, when you come to the Continental Divide, you toss some straw in to see which way the water's flowing—one side it goes one way, the other side it goes the other, and you understand something about the continent you wouldn't if you hadn't tossed some straw.

So I tossed some straw into Kindle—five novels, the three Dushau, and an omnibus of the two military science fiction novels I had retrieved rights on from Ace's mass market editions, Hero and Border Dispute.

Finally, the Borgo Press folks got back to us, and started cutting contracts and producing books.

Now I'm very glad to have the five books up on Kindle myself—but I'm also very glad NOT to be doing this for another 14 books (plus more I have in the pipeline).

Membership in Backlist eBooks has let me see what other writers doing this are going through, what hassles they have, what it takes to make it through Smashwords and into all kinds of formats and outlets. A writer doing their own backlist may make more per sale, but they earn it.

It's a lot of work—and trust me, publishers earn their cut, and as far as a reader is concerned, it's worth it to pay attention to the publisher's logo.

DAVID WISEHART: What advice would you give to a first-time author thinking of self-publishing on Kindle?

JACQUELINE LICHTENBERG: I think a writer with a hefty backlist needs to take a portion of those books to Kindle themselves. I think you need the experience, you need to understand it, to know what the publisher's various functions are, and what they're worth (in terms of their cut). You need to learn about yourself, just how much tech can you handle, how much promotion, how does this cut into your writing productivity—or for some people, doing this themselves actually spurs productivity!

You need to do it to find out about yourself in this new world.

Having done it, I am now completely certain we made the right decision for the set of Sime~Gen novels, and this experience will affect future decisions.

DAVID WISEHART: Thanks, and best of luck with your books.




ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jacqueline Lichtenberg, a life member of the Science Fiction Writers of America. She is creator of the Sime~Gen Universe with a vibrant fan following, primary author of the Bantam paperback Star Trek Lives! which blew the lid on Star Trek fandom, founder of the Star Trek Welcommittee, creator of the genre term Intimate Adventure, winner of the Galaxy Award for Spirituality in Science Fiction with her second novel, and the first Romantic Times Awards for Best Science Fiction Novel with her later novel Dushau, now in Kindle. Her fiction has been in audio-dramatization on XM Satellite Radio. She has been the sf/f reviewer for a professional magazine since 1993. She teaches sf/f writing online while turning to her first love, screenwriting focused on selling to the feature film market.

Screenwriting: http://www.slantedconcept.com where you can find a screenplay based on Dushau.

Visit her online at:
http://jacquelinelichtenberg.com
http://www.simegen.com
http://www.aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/ 
http://www.editingcircle.blogspot.com/

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