Persuasive

One of the things I’m working toward understanding better is how persuasive a really well written piece can be. I’ve been struggling with some of my writing lately and have thankfully had good readers and editors that have helped me get through the work.

I almost always get caught up in the idea of people reading what I write. That sounds silly since I write and publish stories and articles. Every single time I want to put anything on line, on my web site or even on my Facebook feed where it’s only family and friends I have anxiety over my word choice, my punctuation, my lack of grammatical knowledge and my own imposter syndrome issues (not that I’ve really achieved anything to have that issue, but it’s there).

I know some really excellent writers. I am frequently moved by their descriptions of their travels, words written about the works they’re doing or even something as simple as a book review. I have put more than one thing up on my “to read” list because I read a review written by somebody I know – even if it’s a book about something I have no real interest in reading about.

Letting the truth and passion behind the typing is something I’ll be working hard at. I want to be that good – and that takes practice. Maybe I’ll even get persuade people to pick up a book with one of my stories in it…

Your Protest May Vary

This is a republish of my article from the March issue of Watch The Skies Fanzine.

“The artist is the creator of beautiful things.
To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim.”
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

“Protesting” by pouring thousands of words onto your blog or into your Facebook driven slactavism has become so knee jerk reactionary most people don’t give it any thought. I can’t stand it. I have outrage fatigue. The number of things I see raging across my screen on a daily basis is exhausting. Instant calls to action for the slightest affront. Demands that I join your current bandwagon, even it it’s nothing I’m interested in talking about. Boycotts for things I wouldn’t buy anyway. Petitions wanting my signature despite being something I have no experience with or connection to. It’s a bit like the tiny print that flashes past at the bottom of a car commercial, you see it, but you don’t read or understand it. You go for the flashy picture and the punchy lines. If you noticed the small print or actually stopped it and read the words it would undermine the whole commercial. That’s similar to how I feel about these new, first world, so called protests. The best description I’ve ever heard for this is “The burning of the library of Alexandria by way of the Hot Topic t-shirt printing press”. Grab the easy slogan and go with it. Make a t-shirt and ‘tag’ your friends.

I’m betting that within my first couple of lines here you’ve worked up a comment or two. You’ll soon discover a reason that I am wrong then the venomous words will slide out. By the time you reach the fourth paragraph someone will be trying to figure out what I look like so that I can be burned in effigy. Ready?

There must be both accountability and separation when discussing creators and the things they make. The creation can and should be judged separately from the creator. The creator should be accountable if they take their views public, but their creations can and must be considered apart from the creator. Long, important, creative and scientific endeavors can be brought crashing down in mere moments, potentially without hearing more than a slogan. Don’t believe me? Ask Tim Hunt. Think I’m totally wrong already? Point to Milo Yiannopoulos. Both really interesting examples to discuss.

What does this mean for me? I might go and pick up (or watch or listen to) things created by people who hold political or religious views I don’t agree with when and if I find them worthy of my entertainment dollar. I think Orson Scott Card works best as my personal example. I can’t totally back away from a man so totally intertwined with science fiction as I know it. Do I want to support him? No, I really don’t. For anyone that doesn’t know, Mr. Card is a very well known author. His writing, one of his stories in particular, is the basis for the relatively recent movie Ender’s Game. His list of accomplishments is many and varied. He’s famous. He’s also directly politically opposed to certain views I hold. Personal, important things to me are the opposite of what he wants. When the movie was announced a large and vocal group of people denounced his work based on his personal views. I couldn’t say they were wrong.

In all honesty I’m still trying to figure out where the line is that separates the creator and the work. I realize my personal example is old and out of date now when it comes to protests, but the principle remains. There are no easy answers when it comes to supporting what you believe in and laying out your hard earned money to buy something you enjoy. It absolutely matters, but everyone must consider these things in their own way. The current political climate makes this an even more dangerous place to tread. There have been lots of people smarter, more creative and far more famous than I am that have covered variations on this topic. Oscar Wilde went to jail. George Orwell tried to come to grips with it. I’d rather go with a much more personal example to me because that’s how I think each person should handle their choices.

Here goes –

I am lucky to have a handful of my works published and by way of those publications get invited to attend science fiction conventions. That was actually one of my earliest stated goals as a writer. I wanted to publish enough that I would land on the guest list rather than paying my way in (thus saving me a not insignificant amount of money along the way). In achieving that goal I also learned a great deal about the nature of the industry behind the genre I love that I have taken small, faltering steps into.

I was scheduled to be part of a panel at one of the first conventions I was ever invited to be a guest at. I had very little experience sitting on the presenter side of the table. I had done some research but I was anxious about the topic being presented. I was nervous about being an unknown person sitting before a room full of people interested enough to pick this panel over another. What reason did anyone in the audience have for caring what I had to say about anything, let alone the matter at hand? The panel got rolling and the moderator kept things on a steady path. He had bounced different questions around to the other panel members, then did something I totally didn’t expect. He asked me a direct question based on what he knew of me and what he’d read about me in the convention program. I was stunned. I almost dropped the ball on answering the question because I hadn’t expected anyone to know who I was or care why I was there. I managed to use words and form complete thoughts, but I can’t for the life of me remember what the topic was. I was just blown away.

It was a vital lesson in convention panel attendance. Know who you’re going to be working with when you’re up there in front of people. I had to go and ask somebody who he was when we were done because I’d been so wrapped up in the panel topic I hadn’t remembered I was there to share things with other fans. I had forgotten how many well known people started off as fans and convention attendees. I had no idea who I was sitting with.

Turns out that person was part of the editorial staff for Intergalactic Medicine Show. Somebody working in the industry and in a position to work with writers far better known than I am took the time to look me up and know something about me. He took the time and made the effort when others I’ve met have not. He was unfalteringly polite when we all got a chance to shake hands and chat at little at the end of the panel. It was moving to know he bothered. What I found out later was that he was working directly with OSC at the time. OSC is the publisher and executive editor of Intergalactic Medicine Show. Direct connection to somebody I didn’t want to like or like anything connected to him.

I don’t want to support views directly opposed to something important to me. If I lay out my hard earned money and the person directly benefitting from that uses the money to oppose me am I implicitly helping? My problem is multifaceted. I have never personally met the man. I have heard from many others that have met him and worked with him that he is generous and helpful. I’ve enjoyed his work in the past and often refer to parts of it in discussion with my friends. My direct experience with somebody on his staff was more than positive. Going out of your way to work with somebody that doesn’t directly benefit you is a good thing – and I have since continued to encounter folks directly connected to his organization who have been unfailingly polite, helpful and welcoming. They have always been good to me. Where is the line? This is my dilemma, but it also points to the bigger picture.

I am not a scholar of history by any means but it seems to me an inverted symmetry to have OSC trashed so completely in the same manner as Oscar Wilde more than 100 years ago. Wilde was put on trial and jailed for being against the moral character of society at the time and OSC has been attacked (if not properly tried) for being the diametric opposite of Wilde. The issue remains the same – the artist is not separate from his art. The problem as I see it now is that many folks don’t look beyond that flashy image or the catchy phrase they believe states their position so clearly. Hit the like and share buttons and move on. Mission accomplished. Trial by public opinion – no facts needed.

Much like Lord Henry living vicariously through Dorian’s hedonism most people don’t really commit themselves. They rely on the voyeuristic nature of the internet to maintain a safe distance all the while denouncing everything they watch. They add a virtual voice without any personal stake.

It’s beyond time for people to take a step back and pause before launching the latest barrage of indignation at the world. Did it truly affect you? Do you have direct experience with the subject? The consequences have become much more significant these days for even the smallest missteps. The current atmosphere will kill creativity and expression and discourage others from reaching out and making a learning connection if we are not significantly more cautious. Get out from behind your screen and go talk to people. Meet some folks that aren’t your normal circle. Stretch and learn and try to see things from a new point of view.

Today the pen clearly kills more than the sword. As for me, I’m going to keep working, keep writing and continue trying to find that line separating the artist from the art. I’m going to hope I can convince people to learn to trust and see value in differences. I want people to connect and I particularly hope they do so through the filter of science fiction. I suggest everyone take a serious look at things before denouncing them. Seek out articles and opinions from many sources, not just those that agree with you. Take your time. Do your homework. Step back and consider your reaction before you launch your words out there. Remember to read the small print; your protest may vary.

EDIT:

The creator’s work, judged without his name attached seemed to do OK – see File 770.

The New Year!

So here we are in the all new year – a happy, shiny, just out of the packaging 2017.

I’m pleased to say that part of the reason my posts here have been slow during the holiday season is that I am blessed with many family and friends. Part of the reason my posts here have been slow is that I have been working on things that don’t involve me being here and posting. Professionally (day job) things are moving forward toward a goal I’ve had for many, many years. It’s going to make things here slow. I’ve started moving toward finishing a lot of things that I’ve started. This should make for a very interesting year to come.

Yes it’s a convenient way to mark the time. Calendars are good like that. What it is not, is a time when I “make a resolution”. I’ve posted about this in the past. It hasn’t changed. If you want to be consistent, then what it takes is an ability to keep showing up. I have found that is one of the things I’m actually really good at. I can certainly keep showing up.

I look forward to seeing all the big things the coming year has to offer. Keep showing up. I want to hear what’s going on with you as well!

Random Bits and It Could Have Been Worse

I’ve made a sincere attempt to pare down the number of things going on in my life lately. I really want (and need) to get into more of my personal projects. I need to get more writing done. I’ve got a couple of year and a half old art projects that I’m desperate to finish. I’m working on it.

Little things keep cropping up. Thankfully all of these things land in the “it could have been worse” category. There are some that I won’t post here – stuff that won’t be public knowledge – but here are a couple of examples:

Just found out today that the washing machine needed a new pump. Why would it need a new pump? Because a sock go sucked into the impeller and jammed the whole thing tight of course. So – it’s 150 bucks, but it could have been a lot worse. I can tell you that we were able to cover that repair bill AND we don’t have to go shopping for a new and far more costly washing machine that likely doesn’t work the way we want. Happy with paying that money out? Not exactly, but it beats 500.

OR

Yesterday I got a call from my lovely wife that she had been in a car accident. That’s the sort of thing that immediately sets my world on “wobble” and I start to not think clearly. Fortunately it was an extremely minor fender bender – from her point of view. Somebody hit the car behind her really hard (hard enough for that guy to head to the hospital to get checked out) and that car bumped into hers. Loud bang, no real damage. What it cost was some time standing around waiting for the police to show up and get everything written up. Again – could have been significantly worse. I’m SUPER thankful that’s all it was. There’s a spot to buff out on the back of the car and a phone call to clear up some paperwork. I’ll take it.

I suspect most people wouldn’t land these in the “good” category, but I do. I’d much rather the lesser of the choices. What it has done is made a week when I had nothing really going on and was planning to write bunches much less hospitable to writing time. I suspect I’m going to squeeze some in while I’m catching up on laundry…

That’s where I am right now. I’m going to get some reviews done and posted to try to catch up as well – I’ve actually got a few to write up. I’ve got some promotional stuff I NEED to get posted as well.

Most of all I just need to get some creative stuff out there. Watch out – here it comes!

I’ll pencil you in…

I’ve been criticized lately for being too busy. This is not from my family, this is from other people. Friends of mine seem to think I do too much – and I will tell you flat out I don’t understand that criticism. Just don’t get it. How can I NOT be busy? There are not enough hours in the day for all the cool stuff there is to do in the world!

There have been many flavors of this critique of how I use my time, but the least flattering of them was something along the lines of, “go ahead, tell us again how big your junk is…”

Am I busy? You bet I am. I’m scheduled flat out until sometime in June. No, I’m not joking. There are times in there that are less busy than others. There are things I’ve lined up that have piled on top of each other, but that happens from time to time. I can’t say that I’m always happy with it. Sometimes the circumstances mean I miss something along the way. Am I doing this as some form of competition? Of course not. It’s not a win/lose kind of thing! Everyone should find stuff they’re passionate about and get out there and do it!

I can say for certain that I have no intention of changing. The stuff I do is based on people I have made commitments to. I am cautious about who I commit to when I’m asked to do things. I am busy. I am also connected to some amazing things and wonderful people. IF I say I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it – and I don’t particularly care what you think of my schedule. I love the things I do. I help with conventions, I write, I create art, I run professional organizations – and have a great time on the way. Stay home and watch TV if you want, I’ve got things to do and people to meet. I mean, seriously – how many people have you met that do old timey strongman stunts these days like, tearing a license plate in half, ramming nails through board using bare hands OR:

Seriously, would you want to miss out on dinner with somebody that has stories like that?

Put your finger on the problem

I’ve written about conviction and commitment before. It’s one of those things I’m learning about myself (slowly). It comes up a lot with wanting to do something, anything really, related to creative work. Art, writing, convention running – all those things take commitment. Consistency. Back when I wrote about my new secret writing project I was full of hope and really felt like this was the one that would succeed.

It didn’t. Well, at least not yet.

The thing I’m struggling to teach my daughter about is what it takes – that commitment to getting what you want. I’ve fallen back to what I know – sports. I actually wish I’d had somebody sit me down and break it out into simple terms then stick with it as much as I needed to get it through my head. I hope I’m teaching that. Being dedicated to what you’re trying to achieve is important.

I’ve heard a lot of folks talk about sports in a negative manner in the past. Many times deservedly so. Sports, and particularly American football, have become so ingrained in our culture that it’s very difficult to avoid. I am not part of the ‘cult’ of sports, but there are many, many good things that come from sports as well. They can certainly show you the good and the bad of commitment. Football players are frequently mocked – but any that reach the professional level have such commitment as to amaze a person. This is where both the good and the bad show up. Totally dedicated to success (awesome) to the point where it physically destroys you (whatever the opposite of awesome is). I’m putting this here as partially as a reminder about dedication and partially as a teaching tool.

How far will you go to succeed? What will it take to stop you? It’s a fine line between commitment and needing to be committed.

This is not for the squeamish but consider what level of commitment it took to go there…

Finger

A Passing Moment

I saw something depressing yesterday. It was a very small thing that likely wouldn’t have struck many other people the way it did me. I was in a store when I came across a used book that almost jumped off the shelf into my hand. I had to stop and look at it. It’s an old book that sent me down amnesia lane looking into the foggy memories of my childhood. It was in fantastic condition. It had to have been well cared for and held in high regard. I flipped it over assessing the spine and looking for damage. There was a white sticker slapped haphazardly across the back with the current shop’s price. That price was about forty percent of the original hardcover cost. That was disappointing. Being older, in fine shape and potentially more unusual (though, not particularly rare I suppose) I had somehow hoped it would have been taken as more valuable. That in and of itself wouldn’t have been bad but then I flipped the cover open. On the inside I could see the faint imprint of a name that had been erased. A name of somebody I knew.

This person, or somebody related to this person had taken something I believe had to be tied firmly in the past, very carefully attempted to erase their imprint and sold off a chunk of childhood.

Like I said, a small thing. The chance I would be in that store on a day when I would see that particular book, pick it up, open the cover and discover the name of somebody I recognized had to be diminishingly small. I probably should have bought a lottery ticket. It just made me a little sad to know that this person had let go of this book.

Clearly I was projecting. I have no idea if the book was as deeply meaningful to that person as it would be to me. I don’t think I would ever give up my copy. I suspect I will have my copy as long as I live (and if my daughter is interested it may stay in the family longer). I couldn’t imagine taking a part of my childhood and selling it off for a couple of bucks. The object holds value to me. Memories only have value to the people that keep them and they are not a commodity. The little steps we take each day with small choices can move us further and further down a path that may one day make us willing to part with a touchstone of childhood are easy to miss. It’s part of why I suspect people are surprised at certain parts of their life and have those times others label as ‘crisis’ when they suddenly try to retrace those steps and move back to a time when they wouldn’t have sold that book off. I hope that we all are able to retain that sense of wonder that a child has and never be willing to sell it off for a few bucks.

Happy New What?

Consistency matters – and not just when you’re cooking. It’s actually something I tend to be good at. I am consistent. I suspect that will make some folks think this “new” New Year’s post is somehow cheating, but it’s not. It’s consistent. That’s the sort of thing that make a resolution something more, makes it a real change. Another year down, another year sticking to a resolution I made many years ago…

Resolutions Past

Happy-New-Year-2016

Hindsight

Writing is a lonely business. It is you and your words. Art is not necessarily the same and film making even less so. It’s very easy to look backward and see what might have been. It’s the sort of thinking that can lead down the dangerous path of tailoring your choices based on proposed outcome. I don’t want to think to myself, “If only I’d gone and done… then I’d have landed….” I want to focus on my work (such as it is) and keep moving it forward.

Having said that I am going to suggest you watch a documentary out there called Jodorowsky’s Dune. It is the story of a film that was never made. It is the story of a visionary. The story of somebody I don’t think I would ever be able to understand – or deal with. It gives you a glimpse into a place that feels like it was flat out bat shit insane. It shows us in hindsight that total failure isn’t always just that.

There was music. Magma (a band I’d never heard of until today) and Pink Floyd mixing up a sound track for a film.

There was art that – looking backward is the sort of thing to make your head rattle just a little – put Giger and Foss together for concept art. At this point most people recognize Giger from the Alien stuff, but you might not know Foss by name. IF you are a fan of science fiction at all, you know his art. Seriously – I love his work and I have for years. Go and see it at his site, I’ll wait. Yeah, his space ships and Gieger’s alien bio-tech looking stuff together as concept art.

Then there was casting. Actors – or people that would be actors. Envision this group; David Carradine (from around the time of Kung Fu), Mick Jagger (when the Stones were at the height of their popularity), Orson Welles and Salvador Dali. Can you imagine the insanity?

Combine all of the ingredients listed, along with a few others, and mix until you have DUNE. Yup, that Dune.

That is why I started by talking about looking backward. Jodorowsky’s movie was never made, but here we are forty years later talking about it and everything that might have been. You recognize the names of people involved, but you might not have recognized them if not for this project. Things could have been very different if Giger didn’t make the connections he did during that process. It really is a fascinating documentary.

There have been a number of other pieces talking about it if you’re interested. From the NY Times to Boing Boing this has captured a lot of attention. I would say it’s definitely worth watching if you’re any kind of creative or at all interested in the possibilities of what might have been (like many fans of science fiction I know).

I’m also going to slide this last thought in here for fans of the written word. I read a book called Night Film. The plot involves a film maker that has an almost cult like following that would actually move in to his mansion during filming. This film makes me think it is only genre (science fiction not horror) that keeps Jodorowsky from being that character.

So – creators out there – watch this and get inspired. Go with your vision. Try. Make it happen. To paraphrase something a friend of mine said to me, “You can’t epic fail if you don’t plan big”.

It has even joined a meme.

It has even joined a meme.

Reflections on my Birthday

Today is my birthday, but I don’t celebrate much anymore. I’m in between the joy of being another year older you gain when you’re young and are desperate to reach all the milestones set ahead of you and whatever feeling accompanies the milestone birthdays as you age. I’m not 16, nor am I 60. At 45 I am right in the middle of everything and maybe that’s why I don’t see it as a particularly celebratory occasion?

I don’t want that to sound as if I’m unhappy (and text without emotion and facial expression is often misinterpreted) because I’m not. I’m happier than I ever understood I could be. I have so many things to be thankful for in my life that any list would be woefully short and inevitably I would forget something important (isn’t that a sign of getting old?). My family is healthy and happy. We have a wonderful home in a nice area with good schools. I have some success with work and such a myriad set of hobbies I can’t keep up with them all.

Maybe that gets to the crux of what I’m feeling today. It’s not so much a celebration as another distance marker. A warning if you will. Today is a great reminder that every day should be special. I have often said there are not enough hours in the day. I have, for the most part, said that in the context of another day with long hours at the office and a list of things I need to finish at the house, but the heart of the matter isn’t that at all. When I say that I think, “45 already? How the hell did that happen? I have so many things I want to do. I have so many things I want to share with my daughter. I have so many places I’d like to travel to with my wife… I’m going to run out of time if I’m not using every single day to the fullest!”

I am so grateful for all the good in my life. I’m thrilled to share that with my friends and family. I’m fine with being 45 – I’m right in the middle of all the things! I have a lot going on. I can’t wait to do more, be more and share more. There are so many places, people, things out there I’ll never get to them all – but I’m sure going to try. So in that sense, yeah – it’s a happy birthday.