Sime~Gen Inc. Presents
"Doing Without Talent "
Change by Ann Maxwell, Pinnacle Futuristic Romance, 1996
Star Trek: Deep Space 9 -- "To Be Remembered" aired recently in rerun. The episode where a space-vampire seduces Jake Sisko with promise of fame as a writer.
Prayers for the Dead by Faye Kellerman, William Morrow, 1996 hc, a Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus Novel
Prince of Swords by Anne Stuart, Zebra Historical Romance, 1996
Nobody's Baby by Jane Toombs, Silhouette, 1997
Tonight and Always by Linda Lael Miller, Berkeley Romance, 1996
Every Page Perfect by Mary Lynn, Toad Hall Press, Toad Hall Inc., RR2, Box 16B, Laceyville, PA, 18623, 1997
Last month we examined three of my favorite television shows, exposing their Qabalistic underpinnings -- Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, Star Trek Classic, and Lois and Clark.
I've spent this month thinking about those shows, and Forever Knight and the long list of other favorites while trying to teach science fiction writing to the e-mail writing workshop filled with serious, budding professionals as well as selling authors, and doing a large astrology job, and writing the Biblical Tarot volume on The Wands, and working on a TV script project, and consulting with the fans on building the Sime~Gen fandom's network of websites, and being blown around by various astrological "White Tornadoes" cleaning my Houses, and I suddenly noticed something about my Life.
A lot of people think I'm a talented fiction writer. The fact is that I have no talent worth mentioning for writing. I do have a talent for tarot, and maybe a little for astrology, though that's largely untapped and untrained. But I write for a living -- and live for writing.
Most of the students in our writing workshop are very talented at writing, but not all. And you can't tell the difference between their products. The difference is how they arrive at the finished product -- not in the actual product itself.
One of my writing students, Cheryl Wolverton, whom I've been working with for years in her sf efforts has recently -- by dint of hard work -- sold her first novel -- a genre Romance. (You can read her earliest stories and a biography of her at Tecton Central -- a core website of Sime~Gen fandom -- http://www.best.com/~shadorat/sg/sgfr.html ) And now I've been involved in her attempt to apply the genre Romance formula to Sime~Gen -- and it's a real kick! (1999 addendum: the main entry to Sime~Gen fandom online is now www.simegen.com/sgfandom/
I've been reading and reviewing the multiplex field of "Futuristic Romance" -- fantasy romance, vampire romance, time travel romance -- you name it! -- for a couple of years now. It seems that fad has peaked and is waning. It's my first, and so far only real, interest in the Romance field, for the same reason that I have no interest in TV soap opera.
When I was growing up, my mother was a dedicated radio/TV soap fan. In seventh grade, I did a "study" of what she found so engrossing. Couldn't figure it out studying her, so I studied the soaps themselves, trying to figure out why I didn't find them engrossing.
Today, I still find the results of those studies perfectly valid. I dislike stupid stories about stupid people doing stupid things for stupid reasons, and that was (still is, to some extent) a requirement for televised soap. It's a simple matter of personal taste, not a value judgment on others who do like that type of story. Obviously, others don't find those stories "stupid." My mother didn't, and I didn't lose respect for her because of that.
Mentioning, to a fan of Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, my vast delight in the "final" KF:TLC episode where Peter and his father both accept new levels of mastery, I got a bewildered response. This fan loves this show so much that she writes fanzine stories set in that universe. She felt that, in that final episode, the way Peter became Shaolin was poorly motivated because he did it just to save his father, not because he himself chose that path freely. And as she sees it, Peter has shown no evidence of being ready to take his father's place in Chinatown and help people.
She felt his farewell was overly emotional and that the Astral sequence of running into a lake to look for his mother was inconsistent with the established fact that his mother died when he was barely old enough to remember her. She also felt that Caine's leaving was handled with no depth of feeling at all. The search for his wife was a stupid device, and nobody even mentioned the effect of his leaving on Mary Margaret. In sum, she felt that Peter should find his own destiny, not duplicate his father's.
This woman is a great writer, very perceptive and wondrously talented, though she's decided not to write for the commercial publishing industry. She dislikes the "magick" elements that were introduced into Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, elements which, for me, save the show from being just another cop show. She's fairly spiritual, but doesn't do tarot or astrology. To her, this particular episode of KF:TLC seemed like a stupid story about stupid people doing stupid things for stupid reasons -- unlike many previous episodes. To me this episode stood out from previous episodes as a story about smart people doing smart things for smart reasons.
I was using a totally different matrix of assumptions about reality to interpret the meaning of this fantasy than she was. Everything I said about this episode last month, stands. But I can see how, without a Qabalistic background, you would see an episode filled with idiot plot and dire inconsistency.
And we are, of course, both right. Equally. Simultaneously. Independently.
Running all this through the astrology part of my brain, I had a blazing insight into the problem of talent. Have you ever noticed that the leading characters of all these books I've recommended are almost all supremely talented? In fact, many authors use the word talented to mean having access to ESP of various descriptions.
A couple of years ago, I did a tarot workshop where I was given the subject "Talent -- How Do You Find Out What Your Talents Are?" I had a room full of eager people waiting to find out how to use the tarot to discover their talents so they could rush out and exploit those talents.
As a writing teacher, I have found that one of the most pressing issues on the minds of those who present me their first manuscript to evaluate is, "Do I have any talent for writing?"
Likewise, tarot students seem obsessed with the problem of whether they have the requisite ESP talent to read tarot.
So at that time, I gave the entire matter of talent a good deal of thought -- more than I'd ever given it. And I dispensed with the workshop's topic in the first few minutes of the three hour session. In essence, I asked, "If you knew what your talent is, what would you do with that knowledge?" Most of these young folks admitted that they were looking for their talents so they wouldn't have to work so hard to be successful.
I pointed out that the prevailing theory in astrology is that talent is indicated by the Quintile aspect -- 72 degrees -- and that Noel Tyl, in his wonderful book, Synthesis & Counseling in Astrology, The Professional Manual (Llewellyn, '94) cites Harding and Harvey as having identified the signature of the writing talent as hard aspects to the Mercury/Saturn midpoint. Tyl points out that he and Guy deMaupassant both have that signature.
I was not surprised to discover, I pointed out to this workshop, that I don't have this signature, nor do I have anything but the most vestigial suggestion of the prominence signature that Tyl has discovered (which accounts for the persistence of headlines about the British royals, Madonna, Jackie Onassis, et. al.).
Some workshoppers who have followed my career were astonished -- even shocked. Then I asked, "Where does talent come from? Where do you go to get some?"
I was giving this workshop in the context of a weekend of intensive workshops focused on the analysis of talent via many sorts of occult disciplines and a variety of paths. No one in the room could answer that question. My turn to be astonished. Even shocked.
One popular theory from esoteric astrology is that talent represents something you mastered in a prior life. They say, "You can't take it with you." But if you admit the theory of karma to your world view, there are things you do take with you. Along with all your karmic ties, and trouble from unfinished business, comes a set of talents. What's showing in your current natal chart isn't your entire set of talents -- just what's accessible to you from here and now. Another indicator of talent is the Trine aspect -- particularly the Grand Trine. Usually, without hard aspects to one of the points, a Grand Trine will just sit there doing nothing. And there's a good reason for that.
If you are "On The Path" -- that is, taking this incarnation to develop your spiritual maturity -- what point is there in repeating all the stuff you've already done -- already mastered? What good does it do you, or anyone around you, if you rely on past accomplishments to make your way in the world? That will only lead you around the same track you've been around before. "Been there; done that; got the beheading-nightmares to prove it." Most of us are here to do something new -- something you've never done before -- to add to your inventory of talents.
People who are living a life of rest, of vacation from the Path, can afford to sit back and make their way on their innate talents -- not adding anything -- repeating their old track. And some people -- the child prodigy, for example -- whose lives were truncated by karmic accident previously, access their old talent at a ridiculously early age, rise rapidly to extreme fame, finish the course of mastery started in the prior life, and die young. Or perhaps go on to live quietly to an old age, but without doing anything spectacular again.
With that one exception, it seems to me the "best" way to live any life is in the adventurous pursuit of new talents -- new things to master. The less you know about your talents the more likely you are to be successful in this life -- because you'll work hard acquiring new mastery.
What my friend the KF:TLC fan missed -- and which I saw -- in that key episode is that Peter wasn't acquiring a new talent with his Shaolin training. He was simply picking up threads from a past life. One way I look at TLC is that the soul that reincarnated as Peter is the one that I first met as Kwai Chang Caine the fugitive from the Emperor's justice. And Peter's father is another soul -- probably one of the masters at the temple who had trained the first Kwai Chang, the first Grasshopper. "The Ancient" is another such soul. Therefore, the "final" episode made perfect sense to me, and I wrote to my friend that I wanted to see a new version of this show with Peter as the Master in Chinatown that everyone came to for help. She was firm in her opinion that Peter is not ready.
As I see it, the only way he'll ever get "ready" is to take the position and that will activate the talent acquired in past lives. His current life is about something else we haven't seen evidence of yet. He has to set to work acquiring a new talent.
Which brings us to Anne Maxwell's futuristic romance, Change. It leaps right out at you from the blurb on the back cover -- "Selena Christian has spent her life concealing the awesome talents that make ordinary humans fear her." Change is a planet of refuge for such talented folk -- and unlike many "futuristic romances," this novel has a good deal of substance to a very strong plot. And the plot isn't the romance. The romance is the relationship that complicates the plot -- and to some extent drives it -- but this novel has a real science fiction plot!
This isn't surprising as Ann Maxwell has made a great name for herself writing action/adventure science fiction which I've reviewed in this column before. Usually sf writers who sell romances do so under a different pen name. Times have changed.
I recommend this novel for those who are interested in watching how the women's liberation movement of the '70s has produced a whole new generation of young women raised by liberated women to have a different concept of the place of relationship in life.
Despite that, the overall cultural assumption still seems to be that the presence or absence of talent is the most important thing about you and inevitably is the only thing of importance in shaping your destiny. While this book was a rip-roaring good read, I still don't subscribe to that view.
For a pure-sf look at this concept of the place of talent in life, consider Deep Space Nine "To Be Remembered" where Jake Sisko is willing to do anything to write something that will live on after him, something great, something to make him famous. The space-vampire creature seduces him with promise of mastery, talent, fame -- and he falls for it because it's easy. This is a little out of character, and a bit strange for a Trek episode (consider how early in Next Generation, Number One turned down Q's offer of omnipotence). The humans of the Trek universe are portrayed as having a culture which eschews the easy way in favor of real accomplishment -- while at the same time, food, clothing, shelter and education all seem to be free and easily come by.
To study the matter a little closer, you might want to read some or all of Faye Kellerman's detective series, the Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus novels, in particular the latest, Prayers for the Dead. This one seems the most intricately plotted of the series.
But the sheer weight of the plot seems to overwhelm the elements I read this series to enjoy -- the background of a cop marrying a religious woman as he gets more and more caught up in a spiritual view of the universe -- and it isn't her guiding him into that view. It is his karma beating him over the head just as Peter Caine's does.
What keeps me reading is that I keep expecting Peter Decker to notice what's happening to him as Peter Caine has. When that happens, Kellerman's series will become impossibly fascinating -- almost as good as Trek. Imagine, a Qabalistic cop as Peter Caine is a Shaolin cop. Peter Decker is almost old enough to qualify for study with a real Qabalist, so I keep hoping.
Meanwhile, this novel demonstrates that Peter Decker is Master of Investigating and has a talent for pattern recognition. These are skills very helpful in learning Qabalah.
Anne Stuart's novel, Prince of Swords uses that same kind of talent -- pattern recognition, on a number of levels. Set in London in 1775, you'd hardly think of it as science fiction -- but it is at least science fantasy where the science is tarot. I wouldn't term it a historical because the lead female character, an impoverished noblewoman who now hires herself out to read tarot for the English nobility at their parties (it is permissible -- even laudable -- to read tarot for money in order to feed your family when you have no other recourse), has the personality of a child of a modern liberated woman.
Though the prevailing culture and the real barrier that class formed in that culture is appropriately depicted, the characters and their motivations are modern. That's typical of the historical romance -- but it makes it alternate-universe fantasy, an old and honored sf sub-genre.
Although the tarot reading depicted in this novel is not quite the sort I do, it's closer than I've seen in a long while in a novel. And most refreshingly, the card reader is not a charlatan. The author presents the cards with conviction and a certain depth of understanding. It's worth reading -- and it's fun to read. And it makes a statement about the place of talent in a life that is worth considering. Altogether, the elements of action, adventure, occult truth and wish-fulfillment fantasy romance are nicely balanced. I definitely consider this book a work of art. (Which doesn't mean I agree with it.)
Nobody's Baby is a contemporary romance in a series of romances having Baby in the title. This one by Jane Toombs is a straight formula piece, but has certain Heinleinesque elements that intrigue me. There are two men, twins, separated not at birth but at an age when they can just barely remember each other. They share a psychic bond or link but otherwise believe the other is just a dream. A strange woman arrives at one twin's home with an infant in arms and slaps him with a paternity suit. Yeah -- a paternity suit. Romance is growing up!
I enjoyed this book -- it's a detective story, a wish fulfillment fantasy, and the romance has more relationship in it than I've seen in contemporaries. Jane Toombs is a famous veteran romance writer -- and can get away with things beginners can't -- mostly because she writes a very tight, clean plot and conflict using elegant, spare and wonderfully evocative prose. I like the way she almost always includes some element of the unseen.
Tonight and Always by Linda Lael Miller is in the vampire series I've been following in this column for some time now. It's a sequel to Forever and the Night; Time Without End; and For All Eternity. Those who don't follow the romance genre won't realize how unusual a series Miller has created here. Structurally it violates a lot of the rules. She plays with her vampire family the way an sf writer would in a fanzine -- not in print.
This novel is noteworthy on the topic of talent because the lead character loses her vampire abilities during the story -- essentially losing the talent she's come to rely on to make her way in a dangerous world. The mortal man she's falling in love with has no idea how dangerous. It's almost like an episode of Bewitched -- one of my favorite shows -- though it lacks the sense of the absurd that I delight in so much. (Yes, I confess, I was also a My Favorite Martian fan.)
On the subject of talent: should there be anyone out there who wants to develop a talent for writing by trying the commercial publishing industry, I strongly recommend that you get and read and follow the handbook, Every Page Perfect which shows you -- on full size manuscript pages -- exactly how to lay out a manuscript page for various fiction and nonfiction markets. It lacks only one essential for the modern writer -- a disk pasted inside the back cover with wizards for all the major word processors to force them to do the page layouts that the publishing industry still demands but no word processor I know of will readily do.
Still, the page layout of your printout is much more important than a beginner can possibly understand. Only after you get your book manuscript back as "foul matter" (which is really what they scribble on it in black felt-tip when/if they return it) do you begin to understand why the layout requirements are so specific and exact.
If, as a beginner who hasn't already learned manuscript preparation, you don't feel that acquiring this book is the most interesting and important thing you can do this week, then you shouldn't bother to try to sell your fiction or nonfiction to the publishing industry. You may have the talent which is lacking in many current best selling authors, but your karma is driving you in another direction.
Send books for review in this column to: Jacqueline Lichtenberg, POB 290, Monsey, N.Y. 10952.
Until I get the direct links installed here, you can find these titles by using copy/paste (in MSIE use right mouse button to get the copy/paste menue to work inside text boxes) to insert them in the search slot below -- then click Book Search and you will find the page where you can discover more about that book, or even order it if you want to. To find books by Jacqueline Lichtenberg, such as the new Biblical Tarot series, search "Jacqueline Lichtenberg" below.
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Reviewed by Jacqueline Lichtenberg