Monday, 17 December 2012

Fools Rush In Where God Won't Deign To Tread

I remember being a primary school student in Scotland, and I remember on one particular day sitting down after lunch and having a pale teacher ask us all to stand and offer some extra prayers due to "something terrible" which happened at another school none too far from us.  When I arrived home my mother hugged me a little more tightly than usual, and I saw on the news that 16 children and one teacher had been shot and killed before the gunman killed himself.  It became known as the Dunblane massacre, and in its aftermath the UK government swiftly made efforts to restrict and remove firearms from the general population to attempt to prevent something similar ever happening again.

Why did it happen in the first place?  The reasons were complex and nuanced, explored through various enquiries over the next several years, but ultimately the issue at hand was that simply a mentally unstable man with a persecution complex who had not been sufficiently dealt with by authorities aware that he was accused numerous times of inappropriate conduct with youngsters eventually snapped and took out his frustrations on the children of the community he felt had all turned against him.  And he did it with guns, which were licensed and legally owned, but after such a swift and violent end to so many young lives, nobody could quite understand why.  Shooting was a hobby of his, but were hobbies really worth allowing all and sundry to easily access and store hand-held devices which could kill eighteen people in a few seconds?  The UK government decided no, and by the next year had banned the general population from owning handguns.

I bring this up because, of course, an eerily similar incident has occurred in CT, but sadly the response could not have been more different.  As the shock and pain subsided for much of the UK, the first thing on most people's minds was how to make such a thing unlikely to occur again.  Not to make it impossible, because it is nobody but a strawman impotently bludgeoned by the pro-gun lobby who argues that legal barriers would make obtaining a firearm impossible, but to make it less likely, more difficult, and therefore hopefully mitigated.  There have been numerous shootings in the UK since the handgun ban, including a handful of mass shootings, but these have largely involved larger firearms or gang-related violence, and not wholesale slaughter of random people within a few seconds.

In the United States, things have been rather different.  This shooting incident is one of a multitude this year alone, and after every single one little has occurred beyond hand-wringing and insisting that now isn't the time to talk about any political ramifications of such a tragedy.  Now that the latest shooting has involved very young children, a new sense of urgency has been injected into the debate, but the counter to that has been... unreal.

Literally.  The pro-gun lobby has invoked god, and essentially blamed him, because they would rather throw their beloved deity under the bus than their guns.  When the likes of Mike Huckabee and Bryan Fischer claim that the reason for massacres in schools is because their god "doesn't go where he isn't invited", he is too beholden to his Second Amendment fetish to realise just what a petty, vindictive and cruel master he makes his god out to be.  This meme has gained ground, appearing all over Twitter and Facebook, in the form of pictures and t-shirts bandied about by simple-minded Christians incapable of defending this vicious being whenever challenged.  For the most part they have not even thought about it, they simply are reacting the only way they know how, by obeying the authority figures they happen to trust.  And those figures are telling them now is the time to whine about the abundantly clear constitutional separation of church and state that prohibits public institutions like schools from establishing a particular religion.  Now, as bodies still lie in the morgue, it's time to score points for Jesus and drag the whole debate toward giving Christians their hard-earned privileged place above everybody else in society.  And they did earn it, they had the forethought to be born in the right place and the right colour and everything!

Beyond that, numerous suggestions have been floated that the real culprit in these deaths was gun control itself.  If only schools weren't gun-free zones, some lament, then the principal could have "taken the head off" of the shooter with her own assault rifle.  Because that's what schools really need on campus for safety - more guns.  And if you get into the teaching business, you better be prepared to kill somebody now and then.  War is peace.

Not enough guns and not enough prayer - those were the problems in this situation?  Earlier I talked about praying - in Scottish schools, prayer is perfectly acceptable in school, even led by staff.  I have political and philosophical issues with this, but that's another debate for another day.  The point is, we had prayer in public schools, and we had a school shooting just the same.  It is a childish fantasy to pretend that prayer protects against bullets, and it is a dangerous delusion to argue that a god must be appeased to prevent chaos and death in our schools or anywhere else in life.  Even if that were true - why worship such a monstrous, petty entity?  But it's not true and it's not smart to pretend it is.  Huckabee and his friends have let the cat out of the bag: they are authoritarians, pure and simple, and they believe might makes right.  If you do not do what they say, bad things might start to happen.  You've got a beautiful family, sure would be a shame if somebody were to shoot some of them, capice?  So you better give them what they want, otherwise their big bad bully in the sky will make sure something terrible happens to you and yours.  And the implement that maximises how terrible that something is?  Well, you should have asked Santa for a gun, so you could deal with the situation yourself.  That's all it will take to solve America's problems: more guns and more prayer.

I don't suppose praying to Darwin that the political ruling class of the United States grows the fuck up is going to be any help.  Until that happens, here's your much-needed moment of zen:

Friday, 7 December 2012

It Gets Better - Mormon Style

The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints has launched a website to herald the arrival of their new PR campaign (and I'm not just being cynical, they talk about PR on the website).  After spending enormous sums of money helping the poor, hungry and sick trying to stop gay people getting married, and after one of their own bishops narrowly missed out on becoming the President of the United States by a mere 126 electoral votes even though he managed to get the 47% he had written off as shiftless moochers to ironically vote for him, the Mormon church realised their public image was somewhat tarnished with a grubby film of bigotry, apathy and entitlement.  So they underwent sensitivity training and launched  It's not a new musical, it's the LDS' heartfelt attempt to reach out to homosexuals within their fold and encourage them to "stay with us".

Why stay with a church that has exerted stunning quantities of time, money and energy in trying to stop gay people getting married, adopt children and live in peace like everybody else?  Because... it gets better!

We believe that with an eternal perspective, a person’s attraction to the same sex can be addressed and borne as a mortal test. It should not be viewed as a permanent condition. An eternal perspective beyond the immediacy of this life’s challenges offers hope. Though some people, including those resisting same-sex attraction, may not have the opportunity to marry a person of the opposite sex in this life, a just God will provide them with ample opportunity to do so in the next. We can all live life in the full context of who we are, which is much broader than sexual attraction. (Emphasis Added)

See?   It gets better... and by it, I mean The Gay, and by better, I mean you get cured.  After you die.

Why am I not surprised that the religious version of the “it gets better” campaign has the caveat that you have to die first?

Here's your moment of zen:

Friday, 30 November 2012

Indie Games Rise Again

I have never played Super Meat Boy, but I really want to.  I probably should have got it during the Steam fall sale (autumn to the rest of us, except those crazy Australians who have spring right now) but I'm busy saving the world from vampires, or vampires from the world, in Skyrim's DLC Dawnguard.  I'm a little confused on whom I'm saving for what because no matter what limited choices offered to me, I seem to just go through the same labyrinths and kill the same mix of Dawnguard soldiers and vampires.  And killing is largely the entire point of the game.  I can turn into a Vampire Lord now, which is a killing machine (when it doesn't randomly decide to ignore my mouse clicks or flail futilely at empty air beside the soldier steadily chopping it into little pieces, or just freeze my PC), and while it's refreshing that it doesn't sparkle, I would have thought there would be something a bit more cerebral for these enigmatic, seductive creatures of the night.

But what does Skyrim, one of the biggest (in all senses of the word) games of the past decade have to do with a slab of meat hopping around platforms and Indie Gaming?  Well, for the most part I have found myself drawn to games made by smaller developers lately, and it is generally for one core reason.  Considering that I'm a writer, you can probably guess what that is: the story.  And not just the story within the game's universe, sometimes the story of the game and its construction and your experience with it is one that can be equally compelling.  I have been an avid fan of the Humble Indie Bundle, and have come across several gems that way.  I've also found indie groups developing the kinds of games that I have traditionally liked and miss on major platforms.  Turn-based RPGs, point and click adventures, space-trading sims.  Good Role Playing Games in particular are something I have just not found in a long time.  Skyrim is a lot of fun, no doubt, and with such an enormous world and so many quests there's always something new to see or do.  Well, new for a given value of new.  Sheogorath help me but if I have to kill another damn draugr I think I'm going to dragon shout.

And that's the problem - I enjoy gaming, but the common criticism of epic sandbox games like Skyrim and Fallout is that for all the quests to complete and enthralling locations to explore, there is a missing ingredient.  That ingredient is usually referred to simply as 'heart'.  When you have a thousand people working for years on getting the rocks to look like rocks, and you have a map that sprawls over a few dozen square miles, you can easily lose perspective and with it, the sense of intimacy and risk that's in a good story.  There are hundreds of NPCs and countless quests (limitless, technically, thanks to the Radiant Quest system), but a plethora of "kill and plunder everything" quests is no match for one complex, moving story.  I have lost many companions in Skyrim, usually because they are complete idiots who keep standing between my arrows and evil skeletons, but since they have about five lines of dialogue each I haven't really cared.  Accidentally shooting Lydia right off a mountain was a bit of a surprise, but it wasn't anything like the gutting feeling of watching Aerith die at the hands of my sworn enemy who was also trying to destroy the planet.  Slaying a world eating dragon probably would have felt a lot more worthwhile if there was anybody in the world I had spent a few dozen hours hanging out with and growing to know and love.  For now, I'd rather be Skyborn than Dragonborn.

Gaming isn't everyone's goblet of blood, but it is to me the crossroads of media, transcending passive observation with active participation.  It's more than a film, more than a novel, more than a choose your own adventure book.  This idea is brought up in the movie Indie Game, and the developers followed and interviewed truly believe they are making art.  Who am I to argue?  What they create is more than a prepackaged experience, more than an on-rails shooter or a slick, yet somewhat hollow adventure.  They are crafting the kinds of things that set their imagination on fire when they were children, and to be able to do that to a cynical, grumpy adult with a cane is quite remarkable.  I don't think this is mere nostalgia, there really is a fundamental difference in the approach of games made by passionate gamers and games made by mega corporations.  Not merely the stereotypical idea that soulless corporations don't understand anything ever, but I think a small team can really infuse some life and personality into a game that an enormous and expensive development process may not be able to.

There is something of a resurgence in the indie game market.  Once upon a time, pretty much anybody with a little knowledge and a desktop computer (such as the famed BBC Micro) could code their own games.  Companies like Codemasters started in a garage, best-sellers were written in bedrooms.  Even galaxy-spanning epics like Elite were written by teams of one or two people working at home.  That was when computing power was easily making its way to the hands of everyday people, a Gutenberg-Bible moment, before closed-source consoles and then the prohibitive expense of 3D graphics essentially closed off the gaming world to the layman.  Then came another reformation, in the form of enormous home computing power and simple tools that mean pretty much anybody can create and, crucially, distribute their own games.  The Internet, like the printing press before it, has knocked down many of the barriers between Us and Them, melding the customer with the creator.

So for all the fancy 3D graphics, the intricate dungeons and the spectacular lighting effects, I can't help but feel a bit dissatisfied in my vampiric power.  Like Louis in Interview With The Vampire, I felt hollow, eating without tasting, playing without experiencing, watching the world change but never really feeling changed by it.  It took a back to basics approach, delving into 16-bit style RPGs and quirky platformers to rekindle my love of gaming, and it was not merely the mechanics that warmed my cold, dead heart.  Now here it is, your moment of zen:

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Now at Twitter

And I always thought I was too verbose for Twitter, but you can follow me there @TheMikeWrites.  144 characters isn't a lot but how often do I blog anyway?  That will be remedied soon, though, as I have been concentrating on writing (actual writing rather than wittering online) and should have some exciting things to share quite soon.

Now here is your moment of zen:

Friday, 19 October 2012

Publish Or Perish?

I worked on my first novel for a long, long time.  I got the germ of the idea in the summer of 2001, which is a scary amount of time ago, and a core part of the story was radically altered by a seismic shift in history that autumn.  The first draft didn't take me particularly long to get down on paper (or on a VDU - yes a big boxy CRT monitor was still in use in those dark times).  It took maybe three months or so for that seed to sprout into a full plot, and then I set about tweaking it.  And tweaking it.  And tweaking it.  As a wise man once said, no novel is ever finished, merely abandoned, but when you're not yet a fully established author with no publishing house breathing down your neck with their deadlines, there can be a tendency and temptation to just keep fiddling with your story, rather than try to get it in front of other people.

And here we are in the year 2012, with Underworld finally available on Smashwords.  My question is, did I do myself a disservice waiting so long between writing it and actually saying "ok, fine, here you are world, this is what I have done"?  The novel could always use extra polish, what book couldn't?  And the second book I have written and am shopping around at the moment is definitively better, but that's what happens when you write a book.  You learn so much, then you realise after the second book you still have so much to learn.

So what do you think?  Should you publish (or try to) fairly early, or let a story mature and carefully craft it over a period of months or even years?

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Interview with Danica Winters

After The Red Queen was published at Books To Go Now, I became a BTGN author and like to hang out on their facebook page. That's where I met Dan O'Brien, who I interviewed a while back. Now I've been fortunate enough to land another interview with another BTGN author, best-selling romance writer Danica Winters.

Danica Winters is an Amazon best-selling romance author based in Montana. She is known for writing award-winning books that grip readers with their ability to drive emotion through suspense and often a touch of magic. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, Montana Romance Writers, and Greater Seattle Romance Writers. She is a contributor to magazines, websites, and news organizations. She enjoys spending time with friends and family, the outdoors, and the bliss brought by the printed word.

 1. We might as well start with the question writers always seem to get – what makes you write? Why do it?

There are a thousand reasons I am driven to write, but what keeps me going is the love of creation. I love creating scenes and people that entertain, that keep readers up and night, and that make readers want more. There is no better feeling than having a reader say, “I loved your book. Your characters were amazing!”

2. You’re clearly very active online, and a fellow Books To Go Now author. Do you treat your writing activities, such as marketing and keeping tabs on blogs and so on, like a job? Do you ever find it gets in the way of writing time?

 Great question! I think if you are serious about writing and want to make it a profession instead of a hobby, you must be serious about marketing and building your brand. So many doors will open for you both as an author and as a professional if you just ‘keep swimming.’

As far as writing time, yes it does cut into my time. However, this is a concession I’m willing to make. I love interacting with my readers as well as other authors. I don’t write only for myself. I like to talk about books, reader’s lives and the ever-changing ‘real’ world.

 3. Do you think having digital platforms like Books To Go Now and Smashwords has made a huge difference to the industry? Do you think this is bad or good for writers like us?

 I have been publishing now (in several different genres) for a while. I have to admit I’m a huge proponent of digital publishing. I have published in paper, I have published in magazines, and just about everywhere else you can think of, but the downside with traditional paper is that once it is printed and out there it’s gone. You have a short window of opportunity to sell a million copies, and for first time authors the promotion that is necessary to do this is almost impossible.

With digital publishing, your books never go out of print. They are always there on the shelf waiting for readers when they are looking for something to read. This gives authors a chance to build their reader bases and expand their reach. There are many success stories in which authors were turned down by large houses (they have specific needs at specific times, and often even if you write an amazing book, if it doesn’t fit they will not accept your work), only to go on and be digital best-sellers.

4. Is there a part of writing you enjoy the most? For myself, it’s the first draft, since I can just pour things out onto the page and create a new world. It’s a bit like being a god, not that I’m a megalomaniac or anything. Not at all. Anyway, what part of the process do you find yourself most looking forward to and having fun doing?

LOL I think there are those authors out there that are slight megalomaniacs, but I’m not one of them.

My favorite part of the process may surprise you, but it’s actually the act of closing my eyes and escaping into the world I’m creating. I like to get to know my characters, what makes them tick.

My friends in real life know when I’m starting a new project. I draw into myself. Or else, I’m asking a million questions about what makes them act and think the way they do. It’s almost like being an anthropologist—seeking answers about culture, lifestyle, and language.

The research aspects of writing absolutely fascinate me. This week, I’ve been working on research for my next book and had the opportunity to go horseback riding into high mountain lakes one day and then spend the next on a Police ride-along. The adventures I have the opportunity to partake in make this job (and all its pitfalls, rejections, and criticisms) worth it.

5. What about the worst part of the process? For myself it’s the marketing, trying to get eyes on my pages and my books into people’s hands or digital devices, but some people really enjoy the chase. What part of being a writer could you do without?

 I find that the first draft is the hardest. I’m a bit of a perfectionist and knowing that I have made mistakes and areas that will need rewrites bothers me. I have to stop myself from going back until I have finished the first draft, but the entire time I’m thinking about those little bits that need to be changed. I have learned that if I write myself digital notes then I won’t stress about the little things.

As for marketing, it is a tough thing to get used to. It would be great if I could simply disconnect from the world and focus on writing. Unfortunately, with the new age of technology and digital publishing authors must take an active role in marketing and promotion. Even the biggest authors out there (unless they’ve been doing it for decades upon decades) are visible—just look at J.K. Rowling.

6. Just as the writing industry is going through a transition between traditional publishing and a plethora of electronic outlets, the genre of paranormal romance is hugely in fashion and currently very popular. Do you see this as a bubble and do you worry it will burst? Do you think writing in a significantly popular genre makes it easier or harder to break into the market?

Wow, put me on the spot.

I think that there are waves in the publishing world. Paranormal is at the top of the wave right now, but just like everything that has been popular in the past, it will subside. The good news however, is that just like every other genre it will continue on in the background. There are those readers who will always love paranormal romance (and I’m one of them).

I have to admit I get tired of the same old thing. I like living in a bit of a fantasy world, where magic is real, and the unexpected can happen. The only thing that limits you in paranormal romance is your own imagination.

As for breaking into the market, I think it is possible to break into any genre as long as your writing is well done. Very few authors’ first books are amazing. In fact, very few authors’ second or third books are amazing either, but if they keep working on their crafts, attending classes, meeting other authors, and going to critique groups—then they can truly succeed. Like I said before, this is a business and to be great you must work hard and give it everything you have.

7. Paranormal romance, and romance in general, are sometimes stigmatised, or at best seen as a guilty pleasure. Does this perception bother you? Do you think it is changing as the industry and people’s reading habits are so radically changed by technology?

 I would be lying if I said it doesn’t bother me. My work is about 0.5% what people expect of romance (i.e. physical intimacy). The other 99.5% is made up of all the other aspects of writing, publishing, marketing, promotion, and research. (I wrote a funny article on the subject. Please feel free to check it out.

When people cringe or berate me for my job, I force myself to smile because I know what the sales figures are. 90% of all book sales are in romance. That means 9 out of 10 readers out there love romance novels. Therefore, it is likely that the person sneering at me (or their wife) goes home at night, snuggles into their bed and flips open one of my books.

8. Is there anything else you’d like to say, or an upcoming project you’d like to mention?

I have to share a little bit of fun news. This week, I signed the contract for my next novel, Secrets of the Labyrinth!

Secrets of the Labyrinth is an edgy paranormal romance novel about a shape-shifting Veela, Ariadne Papadakis, who is ordered to stop the American archeologist, Beau Morris and his delinquent son, Kaden, from exposing the Sisterhood of Epione and the Labyrinth (of Minotaur fame). In the end, Ariadne is faced with a choice: face her over-bearing leader, Katarina, and fight for what she knows is right, or let herself continue to be overrun, pushed down, and criticized for the mistakes of her past. If Ariadne follows her heart and attempts to help Beau, she will no longer belong to the Sisterhood and her life (as well as Beau's and Kaden's) will be in danger.

I would love it if you would check out my books. I have four currently available for download and my novel, Curse of the Wolf is available in paperback as well.

I want to thank all those who took time to read this interview. It is greatly appreciated. Also, thank you to Michael for hosting.

-Danica Winters

 First, I'd like to congratulate Danica on signing her contract for Secrets of the Labyrinth. You can find more of her books at Danica's Amazon Author Page. Don't forget to check out Danica's Paranormal Romance Fans For Life blog, and her own site. Danica's latest release, released September 10th (same day as UnderWorld was released, not that I'm making a cheap plug in the middle of somebody else's spotlight), is The Vampire's Hope:

 Ellie Smith, an emotionally stunted dancer, finds more than she bargains for after her human life is taken by the vampire, Master Liam. Once inside the Vampire’s underground lair, the Keres Den, she meets Ian, an immortal Viking warrior, who is infiltrating the soulless prison.

As Ellie begins her training, she learns that the dark tunnels around her are filled with even darker secrets. As the truth of her existence come to light, she is faced with a choice—does she let her past dictate her future, or can she begin to feel again?

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

All The World's A Stage

I've always been creating stories.  Even before I could write, I made stories up in my head, or more often dramatised the lives of my Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles* action figures, or seen heroes rise and fall in the rankings of a company of pro-wrestling toys.  My Star Wars Micro Machines smuggled spice and broke the record for the Kessel Run in the midst of a bedroom-engulfing civil war, and my Enterprise discovered strange, new worlds in the bathroom.  That imagination never really went away, it was just honed and focused into what one might call more adult pursuits.  Instead of going "pew pew" as tiny TIE fighters chase X-Wings across my duvet, I roll a dice as tiny TIE fighters chase X-Wings across a gaming board.  The "pew pew" is silent.

In short, I'm a gamer and a geek, always looking for an outlet to play games, but through these games I am given the opportunity to do what has long been my passion - tell stories, create characters, and see what they get up to in their own world with their own rules.  That is where writing is such a gift - it is the power to create your own world and its players, and trot them across the stage and manipulate them like a child playing with their dolls.  To be able to build a reality and hopefully share it with someone else is a remarkable capability that humanity possesses, and one I feel tremendously lucky to be modestly skilled at (if I do say so myself).

 Are you a writer?  Is creating a story something you can't seem to help, something that you just love to do?  Feel free to leave your story about creating stories.  Until next time, here it is for your quiet reflection on how awesome the power to create stories is, your moment of zen:

*Yes, in the UK they were called Hero Turtles, not Ninja Turtles, because the word 'ninja' was considered too violent for British children. But that's ok, because on International Talk Like A Pirate Day, I'd just like to point out that ninjas suck, matey.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Underworld: Available Now on Smashwords

This took me a while to get up because the Smashwords site kept having odd glitches that prevented me uploading (or even accessing the site at all, for a time).  Then they ran out of ISBNs, and I must admit I was starting to become concerned Smashwords was in trouble.  I've seen a few sites and services start to go down that way - a few glitches here and there, maintenance not being done, running out of stock or space, then boom, like the promises to yourself that you're going to stick to a schedule and really read all your textbooks at school this year... it's gone.

Fortunately my concerns were likely just me being a paranoid cynic who thinks everything is going to die someday (it is, you know!) and it might as well be now.  Now things seem to be ticking fine at Smashwords, and I'll not bother you with more rambling and instead bother you with an advertisement:

Available now, UnderWorld is a cross-generational fantasy novel set in a dystopian steam-punk universe where the oppressed population are kept underground after the surface was spoiled by war with magical weapons capable of destroying entire cities in an instant.

Here's the blurb.  Think of it as today's moment of zen:

It was war, and that made it all right. A servant girl is caught at ground zero of the Great Calamity, sparking a war that forces the inhabitants of a fractured world together underground in dreary subsistence. But her survival comes with a gift, and a curse, passed on to her bitter, cynical daughter who wants nothing more than to break free of the UnderWorld, and she's bringing down the house.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Another Day, Another Shooting.

This time it was at the offices of the Family Research Council, noted by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a homophobic hate-group whose campaigns against equality for same-sex individuals and couples pretty much guarantee a full house at a game of bigot bingo.  Interestingly I have noticed that as the lefty dens of iniquity I frequent cover the story, they are at pains to point out that no matter what they might think of the FRC, shooting them is wrong.  No shit!

Obviously much of this is to head-off accusations, from both the right-wing and the lazy, centrist media that can't think beyond binary because they are soulless robots, that the left must be pleased to see their enemies get mowed down or even had something to do with inciting it.  And naturally, Fox News and co are drumming up the idea that this attack was inspired by the SPLC declaring the Family Research Council a hate-group, which apparently just opened the door for somebody to think "oh, that means they have to be killed".

Naturally Fox are being enormous hypocrites, since they decry any responsibility of themselves or the right-wing echo chamber for putting the idea in people's heads that doctors or Mexicans or brown people are so dangerous that they have to be stopped - even if they literally do call somebody a murderer repeatedly on television and wring their hands about the fact that nobody is saving innocent babies.  But they have something of a point with the SPLC vs FRC issue.

Words have meanings.  Words symbolise things.  And when you call an obstetrician a murderer, you're saying they are killing innocent human beings repeatedly and getting away with it.  You're putting the idea out there that a mass murderer is operating in the neighbourhood unchecked.  If somebody takes you at your word, and they have the means and opportunity to stop the slaughter, what do you expect to happen?  Similarly, when you call an organisation dedicated to imposing selected parts of their particular dogma on people whose lifestyle they disagree with "a hate-group", you are expressing the concept that this organisation hates homosexuals and wants to interfere in their lives and make them worse.  Which is pretty damn accurate, as it happens.  The religious right have got to stop hiding from the terms bigotry and hate, because they are bigoted against homosexuals and they do hate them.  Their words say it and their actions say it.  Maybe they should look in another big, thick book for a change - the dictionary.

The Southern Poverty Law Center's description of the Family Research Council is accurate, because trying to make people's lives worse because you believe they're sinners is hate.  They have said this group hates gay people because this group hates gay people.  They have not said this group is trying to kill gay people, which makes claims of their classification of the FRC as a hate-group being the inspiration for somebody walking in and shooting at people somewhat hollow.  Even if the perpetrator were to cite the SPLC, their violent reaction to what the SPLC actually said is not supportable.  It doesn't follow in any real sense.  Again, words have meanings, and torturing something they didn't mean out of them is just as dishonest as trying to pretend they don't apply in situations that quite clearly warrant them.

Now before we go back to talking about writing (going well by the way, I have a honest-to-goodness novel in editing right now), here is your moment of zen:

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Kids Today, Eh?

I like to think I have a fairly balanced view of my own intellect.  It can't ever be objective and is highly unlikely to be accurate, but I like to think that acknowledging that makes me a bit smarter than a lot of people.  Growing up I was regarded as "the smart one" in just about any group I found myself, but while I am no dunderhead, the idea that I was smarter than most of my peers never sat well with me.  To my mind, they were not any dumber than I was, they just had a habit of not paying attention.  Surely if I could understand a concept in physics or see an allusion in literature, there was no reason others in my class couldn't as well?  They just might need a nudge, because they've spent the entire lecture trying to fashion a shiv under the desk.  Unfortunately, to my mind, nobody tried to give them this nudge before test scores suggested there was such a gulf between the smart ones and the rest that most students might as well not bother.

Now that self-indulgent claptrap is out of the way, let's get on with a rant.  My peers might not be much dumber than I am, but I worry that the average intellect is truly slipping.  Before I start crying that the sky is falling, I'll just say this is obviously based purely on anecdotes and watching too much news, so is meaningless beyond showing one perception of the world through one lens.  My lens is fixed on the fact that reading ability seems to have gone from ubiquitous in my teenage years to some kind of optional extra.  Old people always complained that txting and the Internet would do this, and I poo-pooed this as nonsense.  You can't be old enough to figure out how to boot a computer or use a phone and still be too stupid to know that we dnt tlk lk dis frrlz!xoxo.

Ugh, it makes me shudder just to look at it.  But, apparently I was wrong.  It might have something to do with the fact that I know a two year old who can use an iPhone.  Perhaps Steve Jobs should have reflected on the fact that just because you can make a technology idiot-proof doesn't mean you should.  Still, if you're taking shortcuts from the beginning of your life, it's only reasonable that you don't ever learn the proper way to write.

What really concerns me, though, is that this seems to have affected people's ability to read as well.  I don't have any statistics to hand, though since everything everywhere is fucked, I imagine illiteracy rates are climbing.  From my own experience, I have seen countless flame wars erupt on the Internet that start off with and continue to feed on the simple fact that somebody, somewhere, didn't read another person's post at all correctly.  You've probably all seen something like that, right?

ObamaGurl1987: I'm glad Obama finally ended DADT, wish he'd done it sooner.
Palinator53: I'm with you, Obama sux!
ObamaGurl1987: That's not what I said, I just wish he'd been a bit quicker.
DemoDogMA: Fuck you, ObamaGurl, you traitor!  If you want to insult Obama, go suck on Mitt Romney's golden cock!
ObamaGurl1987: I see where you could think it's a criticism, but really I'm praising him, I'm glad and I think he made the right decision.  All I mean is I would have preferred it to be done earlier in his presidency, but we all know Romney never would have repealed it.
Palinator53: How dare you call Romney homophobic!  WTF is wrong wit u?  STFU bitch, or I'll shoot you from my helicopter.
ObamaGurl1987: WTF?  I didn't say anything about Romney being homophobic, I just said he never would have repealed DADT.  He said that himself!
DemoDogMA: Typical progressive, never fuckin happy!  Make up your mind, what do you want, bitch, Obama or Romney?
 ObamaGurl1987: I never said I wanted Romney, and it's not as if... wait, what the hell are we even talking about now?

What indeed.  Somebody misreads a comment, or takes it completely the wrong way, and it snowballs into an orgy of profanity, vulgarity and ignorance.  I see it time and time again, and I really feel like I've been seeing it a lot more lately.  It's like a lot of people online just lost the ability to put text together into a coherent whole, and only pick out keywords and phrases, then react based on those.  It's horrifying to behold and incredibly frustrating to deal with.  How does one get it into somebody's head that words mean what they mean and not what they've decided to interpret them as?  Maybe old people were more right than they realised.  Maybe we've turned a generation of minds into walking search engines.

Though, I suppose ignoring the meanings of words and derailing conversations isn't exactly new...

Rant over.  Next time, some writing stuff.  I might even have some news on that front!  Until then, here it is, your moment of zen:

Friday, 13 July 2012

Once More, With Bigotry

It's time for another reprise of the classic showbiz tune "We're Not Bigots" by the Roman Catholic Church.  This time, in Scotland, where a frightening proportion of young people identifying as LGBT are saying they have self-harmed or attempted suicide due to the intense bullying and hostile atmosphere of homophobia in Scotland's schools.  This is particularly acute in Catholic Schools, where these young people and their peers are still being told that their nature is, well, unnatural, and disordered.  That giving children and teenagers a reason to be divided and despise one another is never a good idea doesn't really seem to gel with the far more important duty Catholic schools apparently have - getting their way all the time.

Personal anecdote time - when I was a lad at a Catholic school, the brain trust in charge were so backward in their mentality that, despite it being the early 21st century, they still insisted that girls must wear skirts.  A girl wearing trousers was an abomination, so you can imagine how a camp kid was treated and what nonsense we were taught about the grave threat of the gays.

Anyway, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, having already spent £50,000, has pledged another £100,000 in church funds to do something charitable and worthwhile for the comm--ok, no, he's actually going to spend it on a hateful advertising and lobbying campaign to try to bully the Scottish government into not allowing gay people to marry.  He even threatened an "unprecedented backlash" from Catholics if the change to the law were to go ahead.  One can't help but wonder how a threat of an unprecedented backlash from a certain other patriarchal authoritarian, homophobic religion with a historical disdain for democracy (and Jews) would go down, but somehow it's ok when a Cardinal says it.

Though, to be fair, Islam isn't quite as homophobic as the Roman Catholic Church...

O'Brien said:

Marriage is under threat and politicians need to know the Catholic Church will bear any burden and meet any cost in its defence.
And, after calling civil partnerships for same-sex couples a mistake:
 These measures were not in the best interests of our society. The empirical evidence is clear, same-sex relationships are demonstrably harmful to the medical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of those involved, no compassionate society should ever enact legislation to facilitate or promote such relationships, we have failed those who struggle with same-sex attraction.
The Cardinal is just determined to prevent homosexuals living their lives, to the point that he'd use church resources not for any kind of social good in a time of stark austerity and significant public need, but to fight tooth and nail to prevent them marrying, based on completely made up 'empirical evidence' that trots out the same old tropes that being gay is somehow bad for you, ignoring that the only way it's bad for you is that homophobic bigots might make your life unbearable.  But remember, he's not a bigot!

Now here it is, your not remotely safe for work moment of zen:

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Interview with Dan O'Brien

After my novella The Red Queen was published on BooksToGoNow, I came across another author on the BooksToGoNow Facebook page, a hub for the publisher's staff, writers and their fans.  Dan O'Brien is a psychology grad student, radio show host, magazine editor and author from California (he has a lot of proverbial hats), who like myself writes on a wide and eclectic variety of subjects.  Unlike myself, he trains extensively in martial arts, but I do have a cane so I think it could be a close contest.
I put some questions to him, author to author, to get his perspective on the writing process and the industry as it stands today:

Saturday, 9 June 2012

The Red Queen - Books To Go Now

A little while ago I mentioned I had landed a contract for publishing a story, but I could not go into serious detail.  Now my novella The Red Queen is available for Kindle and other e-readers courtesy of Books To Go Now.  The indulged princess Amelia finds responsibility for her kingdom thrust upon her when her ambitious brother ascends to the throne and proves himself a dangerous tyrant.  She struggles with the realisation that she can no longer hide in her bedroom with a revolving door of companions.  Will she be able to find a political solution that allows her to return to her life of sweet wines, sex and rising at sunset; or, as her confessor Cardinal Garnet suggests, will she have to take the reins of her kingdom force?

Friday, 1 June 2012

Coming Soon To Smashwords

I have had some very positive results with Smashwords recently.  My goal has always been 'professional' publication, something I have achieved on occasion and that I continue to pursue, but as the writing world becomes ever more saturated and publishers fly ever higher in their ivory towers, simply getting somebody to look at one's writing is like climbing Ben Nevis, with landing a publishing contract being at the summit of Mount Everest.  You might have a brace of short stories under your belt and be looking for markets to send them to, but each market requires that you read screeds explaining their submission requirements and that you spend an hour formatting your manuscript to their exacting, pedantic specifications.  Then to add insult to irritation, they will often demand that you don't dare submit the story simultaneously anywhere else, but wait three months for them to get back to you.  If you follow the rules, it might take you a year to shop one story to three or four publications.  Darwin help you if you're looking for an agent for your novel and don't spend hours writing the perfect pitch for each and every agent who might read the opening line of your book and decide it doesn't 'grab them'.

I actually did land a publishing contract recently, so perhaps I shouldn't be throwing stones while standing in this pretty glass house, but there will be more details on that later.  And of course there are plenty of agents out there who are not immediately dismissive, and publications that don't have such anal submission requirements.  That's actually becoming more popular as writers seem to flock to email submissions, which at least cuts down on some of the bureaucracy.

For now, I have a handful of stories on Smashwords: some for free and some for cheap, as well as an anthology of them all for a bargain price.  And people are reading them, and even buying them.  All I had to do was read the Smashwords Style Guide to make sure my manuscripts were correctly formatted (and at least I only had to deal with one particular format, even if the meatgrinder software is a bit of a pedant itself).  Then I uploaded them, detailed what they were and who they might be for, and the market came to me.  I obviously took my time in writing them and aimed for the same quality I would for a submission piece, but with my other submission pieces still out there in the ether of editors' inboxes, I figured "why wait?".  The stories are out there in front of an audience of millions, without taking all year to be accepted or rejected by one particular reader.  After having been conditioned by the industry to avoid and deride vanity publishers, it can be easy to feel like going to a service like Smashwords is admitting defeat, but really it is circumventing it.  My stories rise and fall on their own merit and a dash of luck with getting the right audience to find them - they don't have to wait for an increasingly busy, distracted individual to decide whether they happen to be what they are looking for.

So after this modest early success, I have another story up my sleeve, and I'm curious what readers would think about it appearing on Smashwords, piece by piece.  It's an episodic adventure story, a lovechild of the TV series 24 and NCIS, if that lovechild were somehow booted into a steampunk fantasy universe.  The first episode should drop sometime next week, and will be free, and I would naturally love some feedback on that and all the stories currently up on Smashwords.  Keep an eye out here for more info on something else that's about to be published.  Now, here's your moment of zen:

Monday, 28 May 2012

That's What I'm Talking 'bout, Willis

The above video is a perfect demonstration of the phenomenon I referred to in my other post on bigotry. Watch as the woman interviewed contents with her genuine hatred and revulsion for homosexuals (to the point of agreeing that they should be killed), while simultaneously recoiling at the suggestion that she's a vicious bigot who thinks gay people should die.  Anderson Cooper is shrewd enough to not use that terminology, which always gets those to which it applies into a bull-headed defensiveness.  Instead he just putting her own words (and her pastor's) before her and letting her indict herself, which leads to results that would be comical were they not so sad.  The defensive, passive-aggressive response demonstrates just how profound the conflict is in this unfortunate woman's head, and that conflict need not be there.  She knows perfectly well that it is not ok to want to kill homosexuals, that such a position is anathema to much of her own society, but she also knows (or at least, Deeply Holds the Belief) that her god really doesn't like them.  And thus she doesn't like them, and yet is in a world that doesn't like her because of her willingness to go along with the eradication of entire groups of people.  And considering she apparently has never heard of the Holocaust of World War II (which saw not only Jews, but homosexuals, gypsies, some Catholics, the disabled and countless other undesirables put behind fences and killed), what chance does she have of truly understanding the ramifications of her contradictory position?

It's true she appears quite ignorant, but there's no point saying "she's just stupid", because it's not as if generally intelligent people don't fall into the same trap.  The problem is she does not seem willing to accept what her own words (and those of the pastor, which she defends) actually mean.  This is not borne out of ignorance or stupidity, because it's not as if she is unaware of the words she just spoke, and from the ripple of revulsion across her face every time Anderson Cooper points those words out to her, there is clearly an internal struggle going on that prevents her from truly backing them up without caveats and excuses about how everything is being taken out of context.  Except it's not, and it's abundantly clear that she's defending the position that homosexuals should be executed and that this is, for some reason, such a primary driving force in her life and the life of her pastor and at least part of his church community that it has to be defended to the point of arguing that, yet again, words don't mean what they mean.

Round and round we go.  Here it is, your palate cleansing moment of zen:

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Short Stories for Small Change...

And some for free.

Dismantle (free)
Mother (free)
Good Enough (you set the price - for a limited time)
Last Confession (you set the price- for a limited time)

Or all available in one anthology - Fall to Climb ($2.99).

These stories are brought to you by Smashwords, where words are, presumably, smashed together.  Hopefully my words have formed a rather palatable soup for your brain to ingest.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

A Bigot By Any Other Name...

... would be just as cruel.  Yet that word, that charge, is something that many to which the label could be liberally (see what I did there?) applied strenuously deny, even as they fight tooth and nail to be allowed to act according to it. 

bigot (plural bigots)
  1. One who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices.
  2. One who is strongly partial to one's own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ.

Telegraph blogger and professional contrarian Brendan O'Neill is one of many people I have heard lately who is aghast at the use of the word bigot to describe people who are actively trying to make life difficult for others based on an innate quality they happen to posses.  He decries the vocal public and media reaction to North Carolina exerting enormous time, energy and expense in publicly reminding homosexuals that they are inferior persons by passing Amendment One, the second amendment to the North Carolina state constitution, which reaffirms that marriage in the state is between one man and one woman.  The original first amendment to the NC constitution was repealed in the mid 1970s, having previously declared that marriage was between one man and one woman of the same race, but for some reason O'Neill does not seem in such a rush to defend that one.

Apparently to describe anyone as a bigot for holding bigoted views is snobbery, a condescending elitism that holds its nose high in the air while looking with disdain upon people who are simply making a 'considered moral opinion' that happens to be contrary to what the intellectual mafioso believe to be objectively correct.  And it might well be true that many intellectuals are looking at North Carolina with disdain right now, but it is not as if they are doing it for no reason.  The fact is, this vote and all efforts to curb same-sex marriage is born out of bigotry.  No amount of parsing of terms will get away with that.  The considered moral opinion of these bigots is brought to them by reading a text they consider a source of morality, but it is a text they readily, every single one of them, pick and choose from.  That's not an exaggeration - it is literally impossible to be a biblical literalist, and the vast, vast majority don't even try.  Even the Westboro Baptist Church does not picket seafood restaurants or cheeseburger joints.

Bigotry stems from prejudice, and it is abundantly clear that those who stand against same-sex marriage are prejudiced against homosexuals.  What other reason could they have for choosing to adhere to that particular passage of Leviticus and ignoring countless others?  Even the few non-religious persons who are determined to block their fellow humans from being treated as such are finding their distaste for same-sex relationships comes from their biblically-informed culture.  Or are they going to claim they were born that way?

What bothers me about the word itself is that I see how much distraction and consternation it causes whenever it is used.  No matter how accurately it might be applied, it immediately raises hackles and draws defensive denials from people who in the same breath rush to explain exactly how bigoted against homosexuals they truly are.  Rand Paul, while calling Obama's stance on same-sex marriage 'gay', says that adherence to biblical tradition when it comes to marriage (the tradition being to ignore biblical tradition since modern Christianity frowns upon polygamy, unlike their holy book) does not "mean we have to be harsh and mean and hate people".  Sounds nice, yet the place he got his traditional view of same-sex couples says that they should be simply executed.  That seems, dare I say it, harsh and mean and hateful.  He's terrified of being thought a bigot, so he protests that there's no need to be mean and hateful, yet he refuses to acknowledge that his stance and its consequences are mean and hateful acts.

Of course, the classic defence is to turn the word around and use it against those who charge Christians, Muslims and so on with the term.  It is bigotry, surely, to be so intolerant of their deeply-held-beliefs™ that homosexuals should not be allowed to marry.  This is simply a canard, designed to put the genuinely tolerant person on the defensive because everybody wants to be seen as tolerant and nobody wants to be seen as a bigot.  Yet tolerance is not really relevant to the more liberal position on gay marriage - most people in favour of same-sex marriages are just fine tolerating religions not liking them.  Religions are free to not recognise same-sex marriages all they like, and to cry and moan about how they will be the downfall of society if that really is so important to them (and, presumably, more important than any other social ill, since neither war nor famine nor any other seem to get a tenth of the attention gay people signing a piece of paper appears to get).  The difference is that when these people use their 'considered moral opinion' to decide the rules that should apply to the rest of us, that includes people who have a radically different considered moral opinion.  Why, exactly, should a homosexual not be allowed to marry because the Christians in their community believe homosexuality is a sin?  What if he doesn't think so?  Should stores in the US not be allowed to open on a Saturday if the Jews vote for it, no matter what the rest of the country wants?  Democracy is not a synonym for mob rule, nor is it meant to be a tyranny of the majority.  Minorities count, and in fact a slim majority (in the US at least) are in favour of same-sex marriages anyway.  There is simply no defence for imposing one view of 'morality' on the rest of the country.  It may sound trite, but it truly is this simple: if one is against gay marriage, don't get gay married.  There's no need to take action to hurt people who happen to be gay, and when you expend so much time and energy in trying to take those actions and then justify them, to cry foul at being called a bigot is utterly ridiculous.

It is interesting that the term bigot puts people so out of sorts.  So many to whom the label fits will scramble to get away from it, even while acknowledging that they are actively trying to discriminate against homosexuals and should be allowed to do so.  They are terrified of the label, yet they are not remotely concerned about the act itself.  They revel in their targeting of the 'other' for lesser treatment, not at all ashamed to demonstrate that this is how they feel, but they refuse to own the logical conclusion of their behaviour.  They want it both ways.  They want to their intolerance to be tolerated.  I, for one, won't give them that privilege.  As long as marriage inequality exists, they have enough of those already.

Now here it is, your moment of zen: