As an author and freelance editor, I’ve had the privilege of knowing and working with a lot of writers, and I’ve discovered most have one at least one thing in common: a sense of urgency to publish.
Since the majority of my writer friends are Christians, I’m not sure if the rush is unique to Christian authors or universal among all, but I do suspect that believers may feel a bit more hurried, what with the need to get the message out there and share the truth with the world.
Would that we were all so eager to witness to our neighbors, but I digress.
Whether you’re published or not, you may feel a sense of urgency about your writing projects. Maybe you worry that somebody else will come along with the same idea and beat you to it. Maybe you worry that by the time your book reaches your audience, the perfect opportunity for your message will have passed. Or maybe the worry is more personal than that. After all, none of us is getting any younger.
With the explosion of indie publishing, impatient writers don’t have to wait any longer. All it takes is a few clicks of the mouse, and you can load that book on retail sites, making it available to your adoring public.
You can indie publish, but should you?
I’m not knocking the process. I’m indie published myself, so I consider this a valid option. The question I want to tackle isn’t whether or not you should take this route. The question is when. Even if the Lord handed you the story, the image for the book cover, and the title, that’s not proof He wants you to rush out and throw it on Amazon. Not sure I’m right? There’s plenty of biblical justification for waiting:
Abraham was told he’d have a son and then waited 19 years before little Isaac was born.
Biblical scholars estimate David waited 10-15 years after he was anointed king before he finally ascended to the throne.
The apostle Paul didn’t begin preaching until more than a decade after his conversion.
I’m sure there were times when Abraham, David, and Paul felt the waiting was unnecessary and wished God would hurry it along. Abraham and Sarah did hurry their promise along. We know how that turned out. David not only waited but, for much of that interim, had to battle just to stay alive. The time wasn’t wasted, though. Lessons are learned in the waiting. Patience, perseverance, and faith, of course. But I suspect some of those lessons were more basic than that. For instance, David learned how to be a leader others were willing to die for. If he’d been crowned sooner, he may not have become the greatest earthly king in Israel’s history. After all, he began as a shepherd, lowly and obscure.
Maybe you have a book you believe needs to be published. Maybe it’s a book you think the Lord gave you, and maybe it even came with a promise. If so, be patient. The anxiety fluttering in your stomach when you think about this project—that isn’t from God. When you pray and trust, you’ll be filled with peace, not worry. But if you force your way through doors He hasn’t opened, the anxiety will likely grow. And the book will not have the impact it could have if you’d remained in His will.
I’ve seen too many books brought to the light through indie publishing that weren’t mature enough, weren’t seasoned enough, weren’t ready to be there. Instead of jumping ahead, trust that when God wants you to publish your words, He’ll make it clear. He’ll open the right doors and lead you to exactly the right the people who can help make it happen.
In the meantime, move on to other projects. Build your newsletter list, learn new marketing strategies, make connections with other authors. Mostly, keep learning, keep growing, and keep improving your craft. It may be that if you come back to that project in a year or two, you’ll realize you can make it shine.
I speak from experience. The Lord gave me a book almost four years ago. It’s the only time I’ve ever felt one of my stories came from God, and, still, it was the hardest book I ever wrote. I believe that with the help of a great editor, it can be my best book. But that story has been pitched and pitched, and nobody’s interested. I write and publish other books and help other authors do the same while that book languishes silently on my laptop. When I pray about it, I don’t have a clear direction. I don’t feel free to indie publish it, and no acquisitions editor has shown any interest. So I wait. The last thing I want to do is treat His gift with haste and carelessness. I trust that God has a purpose in the waiting and a plan for the story He gave me.
The Lord may make you a promise, give you a vision, or impart to you a message, and then ask you to wait. He’s been doing it for thousands of years, and He’ll keep doing it today. You could choose to be like Abraham and Sarah and rush ahead, or you could trust God’s timing, which is always perfect.
Today, Americans, do your civic and public duty to Vote.
But far more importantly conduct yourself as an honorable and upright Free Man or Free Woman who needs no president, no congress, and no court upon your own best natures
For the Good and Free Man needs no real government to govern and tax him, no master to enslave and rule him, and certainly never a single corrupt criminal to deceive, domineer (domina), manipulate, and debase him.
Vote to be Free of All That, but no matter what happens make sure you become once again free of all that – even if that means you must Overthrow all of that.
Be not a coward, but a Free Man!Be an Actual American…
Last night my wife, youngest daughter and I went by my parent’s house. My old man wasn’t there as he was at his Masonic lodge meeting but my mother had recently had my parent’s genetic ancestry typed (both my father and my mother’s genetic backgrounds) and wanted to tell me and my daughter what our ancestral backgrounds were.
(I had been thinking of doing the same for me and my wife but with all of the other work I’ve had to do recently have not yet proceeded on the project.)
Anyway the results of my parent’s typing were quite fascinating to me.
If Jung’s basic postulate that people “inherit” ancestral, ethnic, or racial memories (though the last two ideas are really somewhat a stretch of his theory) is true then my ancestral background certainly seems to have had some interesting and even dramatic effects upon the manner in which my life had developed thus far.
Now to be honest I am not at all sure of the idea of “ancestral memory” as Jung conjectured, it seems far more likely to me that ancestral effects would have been carried through to descendants via epigenetic and genetic mechanisms, rather than as actual inherited “memories” (though lacking genetic and epigenetic information current to our time he might have meant basically the same thing just lacked a mechanism for describing the likely cause). I am not wholly discounting more mystical effects and affects via “inherited memory” upon a person through their ancestral background; indeed I have a few somewhat metaphysical formulations and speculations of my own when it comes to genetics. I am however not really a big believer in what might be more commonly and popularly termed “Fate” and more a proponent of Wyrd. That is to say I think Wyrd more in line (as a working and workable metaphysical formulation) corresponding to epigenetics as a viable and valid mechanism for the future influence of genetic changes upon a descendant population than I am comfortable with the idea of some type of mystical and unavoidable fate as a metaphysical conception of ancestral influences or “memories.” Though I do not wholly discount the possibility of some type of ancestral “memory” being written into a person’s genetic code either through recombinant experiences or through epigenetic influences. It’s just that the scientist in me thinks there is a far better method implied in epigenetic processes and that rather than memories being passed along from our ancestors that instead both weak (recessive and passive) and even strong (pronounced and active) tendencies and traits may be written into future genetic expressions via genetic recombination or through epigenetic processes. Or through the actions of both.
That all being said, however, and with that viewpoint in mind, I found the following typing results to be of especial interest to me.
I knew I had a great deal of Anglo-Saxon and British (Celtic) ancestry through my father’s side of the family. That proved out true and I’ve often wondered if that is why I learned Old English (Anglo-Saxon) and for my long standing (since I was a young boy) interest in all things Anglo-Saxon and Celtic. Including the language, the myths, the lifestyle, the history, warfare practices, and the conditions of that period of history.
I also have a great deal of Irish in my background (which I’ll return to later) and Western European in my blood, probably Germanic and Bohemian. I was also aware of Eastern European lineage, though that turned out to be much less than I had anticipated with one exception which rather fascinated me. That being Northern Russian and Finnish.
Now, much like Tolkien, I have had a near lifelong interest in three things from that area of the world and that basic timeframe/era of history: the stories involving Baba Yaga, the Eastern Vikings (the Rus, and their river explorations of Russia and Eastern Europe), and the Kalavala (I first read the Kalavala as a kid). But it never occurred to me that I would have either Russian or (especially not) Finnish ancestry. As a matter of fact despite my interest in all of these things I would have bet before these results that I had no Russian or Finnish ancestors at all. But I do.
I also knew that I had Greek ancestors and again I have had a lifelong interest in Greek and Latin (Greek being the first foreign language I ever studied in college, because of my pursuit at that time of the priesthood, and German being the second), and that proved out true as well. I do have Greek ancestors. But to my amazement and shock I also discovered I have Italian ancestors. Which again, I’ll return to in a moment. Which could account for my long time interest in Roman military matters and Latin. (Both Latin and Greek seem “familiar and comfortable languages” to me. Natural to me. The ideas and terms used in both languages seem so natural and familiar that when reading them it often seems to me more like a process of “rediscovery” than the study of foreign concepts or terminologies.)
Finally, and to my greatest shock and surprise my Scandinavian ancestry is quite high. Somewhere between 15 and 21%. Again, as with the Russian and Finnish, which is a much lower percentage, I would have never guessed I had any Scandinavian heritage or ancestors at all. (Though, logically, this only makes real sense, since anyone with high concentrations of British and English ancestors is bound to have at least some Scandinavian ancestors due to the invasions of England by the Vikings.) But again, it was unexpected to me and I was particularly shocked by the high concentrations of Scandinavian heritage in my blood. But again that might go a very long way to explaining my interest in the Vikings and my intense lifelong interest in Vadding and exploration and my keen concern with the Navy, sailing, and in nautical matters in general. But now that I know both about the Scandinavian ancestry and the Russian and Finnish links it is entirely possible that I had both Western and Eastern Vikings in my ancestral background.
All of these things were entirely fascinating to me, to say the least, but now we enter fields of an almost bizarre and uncanny nature, some of which I had previously suspected, some which were entirely new to me, and some of which might prove that Jung was even right in his assumptions and theories, at least to some degree.
For I also discovered three very odd facts regarding my ancestors. For of all that at least some of my Irish ancestors were Black Irish (as I had long suspected from my family’s jet back hair and dark eyes) though I had assumed that was possibly Spanish Black Irish. That may or may not be true but through my mother’s side of the family, at least, it appears that they were Italian Black Irish. Through family and genealogical research it was discovered that the Irish family name was actually a modified Italian place name. It turns out that a distant Italian ancestor once fought a duel and killed a man. Fearing being hunted down and killed as a result he fled Italy and eventually made his way (perhaps through Iberia – more on that momentarily) to Ireland where he dropped the Da (denoting place) and modified his (last name or place name apparently) to adopt the eventual Irish family name of Adair. (Originally his last name was probably Da Dare.) Black Irish, no doubt but from a totally unexpected source to me, from Italy. Though I have no idea as to the particulars of the duel, what it involved, or whom, it occurs to me now that this might be at least one source for my hot (and at times in my life violent) temper that I have had to work so long to master. For again, though I know not the details I can become almost instantly furious and even dangerously angry when I see injustice and evil perpetrate upon another. So although I do not know the details of this duel, or if my ancestor was in the right or in the wrong, I do now know I apparently have at least one hot-blooded, violent ancestor who was willing to kill a man in a one on one stand up man-fight. On my mother’s side of the family. As for how many of my ancestors also killed men on my father’s side of the family given their likely martial and military history, well, I imagine it was certainly enough.
Which brings me to the second ancestral odd point (from my point of view and given the course of my own life) of correlation. The Iberian Peninsula. My father’s side of the family has ancestors from Iberia but so did my mother, possibly from the Italian fleeing the duel. I have often suspected, with no real evidence at all, that at least one of my ancestors was a Sephardic Jew. Due to my intense interest in Judaism and the Kabbalah and the Sephardim in particular. Going back to when I was a teenager and later in college when I read all of the Sephardic literature and works (such as the writings of Moses ben Maimon – Maimonides) that I could lay my hands on. Which eventually became quite a lot. Now that I know that both sides of my family had ancestors from the Iberian Peninsula, and that the percentages are rather high relatively speaking – from 5 to 7% – it seems indeed logical that I might very well have at least one Sephardic Jew in my ancestry. If not more. This has been, at least, a long and very strong suspicion of mine, and indeed I have often wondered if it were not at least one genesis point for my investigative and research and scientific prowess.
And this brings me to the last truly curious and peculiar possible connection between my ancestors and myself. My father has North African ancestors. At about the same level (percentage wise) as my Russian and Finnish ancestors.
Now anyone of my family or friends who knows me well knows that going back to my early childhood (and this became prominent in my teenage years) I used to have recurring dreams about being a priest somewhere in North Africa (perhaps a Coptic priest, perhaps Byzantine, likely in the vicinity of Egypt but maybe also in Libya) in ancient times (late antiquity or early Medieval ages) and that in these recurring dreams I was almost always abandoning a young women with whom I was involved. Dark skinned, dark eyes, long hair, possibly Egyptian. I was almost always riding away on a horse because I was either already a priest and felt our involvement somehow interfered with my duties to God, or because I felt that my obligations to God and to her would somehow interfere with each other. Indeed I would often recount and talk about these dreams to various friends of mine. Sometimes also to my mother.
When in college the first time I was indeed once again contemplating being a priest and again I wrestled in my own mind and soul long and hard could I be a priest and serve God and God alone, or would I be a priest who could also be married, or would I seek only marriage and not the priesthood? It was a personal struggle of priorities for about ten years for me. Eventually I abandoned my studies for the priesthood but have maintained lifelong friendships with priests and nuns and monks and I still intend to become a Greek Orthodox priest late in life, before I die. If my wife pre-deceases me, and I actually hope and sometimes pray I die before her, I will retire to a monastery or possibly a hermitage.
Now I have long suspected that I had North African heritage and at least one ancestor who was a priest but I could not account for this suspicion nor could I find prove of it in my family history or genealogy. And I would have never suspected that if indeed I had North African ancestors it would be on my father’s side of the family. Rather I suspected if any such ancestor existed it would have been on my mother’s side of the family. But there it was, North African heritage and from my father’s side of the family.
Coincidentally, if you believe in that kind of thing, I have always preferred dark skinned women with long dark hair and dark to black eyes. Spanish, Egyptian, Italian, Greek, Indian (India Indian) – those types of females. As far as physical appearance goes. And I dated Greek and Italian and Spanish and Egyptian women when younger. Eventually though I married an American black woman. And I am happily married.
However, and perhaps due to these experiences and impressions I even named my daughters after famous Italian and Greek women.
But I have often wondered if these dreams I had so often as a kid and if my preferences for a certain type of physical appearance might have not have indeed stemmed from some ancestral experience that became deeply lodged in my genetic code through some epigenetic event that was profound to my ancestor. (After one such dream as a teenager I wrote a thirty page long poem about the dream and everything I could recall connected with it. I still have that poem.) This idea seems likely to me because even though I have much higher percentages of Scandinavian lineage in my background yet I have only very rarely ever been attracted to fair haired or blue eyed women. Though I do find such women physically attractive on occasion, I am more instinctively drawn to darker women, and prefer them.
So, given the genetic percentages in my background it seems very likely to me that if my ancestors did influence my choices in women and their physical appearance then it must have been due to the intensity or profundity of the experience rather than to the percentages of the women available. Something about the interplay between the Priesthood and the “Dark Woman.”
Oddly enough, or perhaps not, these dreams completely ceased after I got married, and have thereafter never recurred. Not that I could ever recall anyhow.
In any event, having gathered this information from my parents regarding their background, and my own, certain things about my life now seem to make much more sense to me and many things I have often suspected now seem likely confirmed.
I have often had two separate natures. One very active in the world, physical, sensual, outgoing, entrepreneurial, logical, concrete, scientific, militaristic, risk-oriented, and even violent in nature (which I call the Detective and the Scientist and the Adventurer side of me), and the other part of me which is very much mystical and metaphysical and philosophical and peace-loving, withdraw from the world, otherworldly, Godly, and of an introverted nature (which I call the Priestly or Monkish side of me). And in truth I’m about 50% introvert and 50% extrovert. So often these two very different natures have sort of waged war against each other in my inner soul or inner man. I’m not gonna say for dominance, for that would be untrue and an exaggeration, more like for accommodation and peace with each other.
But now that I know more of my genealogy and more of my ancestral genetic background many of my lifelong interests and quests – my desires to explore and to Vad, my detective and investigative occupations, my inventive concerns, my historical pursuits, my artistic inclinations, the subject matters upon which I write, my poetic and songwriting abilities and capabilities, my linguistic fascinations, my scientific experimentation, my entrepreneurial occupations, my metaphysical, religious, and spiritual curiosities and pursuits, even such things as my avocational and personal interests and habits – all of these things now seem more and more logical to me in nature and scope. And many of my prior suspicions about myself and my ancestral background seem either confirmed or likely confirmed, though I am the first to admit in an often unanticipated and unlikely manner.
If, as is often said, “the child is the father of the man” then it is equally true that, “carpent tua poma nepotes.”
Now I need to have my wife and children so tested and typed to see what can be learned of them and for their future benefit.
These are things that I either like or love to do. I try to do many if not most of these things for at least a few minutes every week, depending upon my Work Schedule and other matters. Some I can only get around to about once a month or so. I like or love all of these things, some more than others, but I do not consider any of them contradictory to my Nature or Personality or in any way contradictory to each other. This is me as I am and in a nutshell:
Analyze and study Criminal cases and Terrorism (though I much prefer to prevent and thwart either if possible)
Attend and listen to a lecture
Clear and tend my land
Cruise the internet – see what I can find
Design and build things
Do something athletic (hit baseball, play ball, run, swim, etc.)
Do something for someone else – assistance, charity, etc.
Draw or sketch or map
Engage in science (study, conduct experiment, develop theorem, make observations, write papers)
Explore and if possible Vad, sneak around places
Geochache (though I don’t use GPS)
Get together/hang out with friends, drink ale, talk
Go see a movie (about once a month)
Have sex with my wife
Hike in the woods
If possible destroy or at least hamper or cripple evil
Invent and/or Innovate
Listen to a radio play (especially old ones)
Listen to music
Listen to my scanner or CB or HAM radio
Play and design games (board, chess, D&D, RPGs, etc.)
Play the piano or my harmonica
Play video games (although I only do this about once every three or four months)
Play with my dog Sam and my cats and explore with them
Play with my kids
Pray, meditate, etc.
Promote Right and Truth and the Good
Read a graphic novel
Read and Study the Bible (especially in Hebrew and Greek)
Read for pleasure (genre works and fiction)
Revolt against wrong and injustice
Shoot (my guns)
Sit naked under the stars (if not too hot or cold)
Star and moon watch with my telescope
Study a different/foreign language
Study and do research (on all kinds of things)
Sword and knife fight
Talk to God
Track and study animals
Visit an old church, historical building, site, monument
Visit a museum, see a play
Watch TV (though only on the weekends)
Write a book
Write a novel
Write a poem
Write a song
Write a story
Steven Pressfield is giving away a free download of his new book, Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit.
You should download a copy before the free offer expires. I really like and admire Pressfield’s work, both his historical fiction and his non-fiction.
The War of Art was superb. I added it to my personal library. Everyone should read it.
This will likely be another excellent tool for writers.
I can’t wait to read my download of this new book. I’ll start it this weekend. Afterwards I anticipate that I’ll add it to my personal library as well.
A lot of my buddies have military and law enforcement backgrounds.
Because of that one of my friends brought this article to my attention and a few of us discussed it since it is of more than passing interest to many of us.
It gave me an idea for a new science fiction short story about the same subject matter which I’m going to call Jihadology. (For the Jihad of Technology.)
I going to completely avoid the whole Terminator and tech gone rogue approach though of modern sci-fi and rather take a particular variation on the Keith Laumer BOLO theme, though there will be nothing about BOLOs or other such machines in the story. Those stories though were as under-rated and prophetic as was Laumer himself.
Anyway I want to avoid the whole world ending, unrealistic bullcrap kind of story (both from the scientific and military standpoints) and focus more on a very tight interpretation of what might actually happen if technologies such as those listed or projected in the article below were employed against an alien species in the future.
What would be both the operational and eventual ramifications, good and bad, of such technologies,and how could such technologies get out of hand or evolve beyond specified tasks and design parameters to become something completely new in function and focus?
I’ve already got the first few paragraphs to a page written which is based loosely upon this observation I made about what the article implied:
“I’m not saying there are any easy answers, there aren’t when it comes to technology, but technology can at least potentially do two related and diametrically opposed things at once: make a task so easy and efficient and risk-free for the operator that he is never truly in danger for himself, and secondly make a task so easy and efficient and risk-free for the operator that he is never truly in danger of understanding the danger others are in.
And if you can just remove the operator altogether, and just set the tech free to do as it is programmed, well then, there ya go…”
If the stories work well then I’ll add them to my overall science fiction universe of The Curae and The Frontiersmen.
By the way, as a sort of pop-culture primer on the very early stages of these developments (though they are at least a decade old now as far as wide-scale operations go) I recommend the film, Good Kill.
Anyway here is the very interesting and good article that spurred all of this. Any ideas of your own about these subjects? Feel free to comment. If your ideas and observations are good and interesting I might even adapt them in some way and incorporate them into the short story series.
Czech writer Karel Čapek’s1920 play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), which famously introduced the word robot to the world, begins with synthetic humans—the robots from the title—toiling in factories to produce low-cost goods. It ends with those same robots killing off the human race. Thus was born an enduring plot line in science fiction: robots spiraling out of control and turning into unstoppable killing machines. Twentieth-century literature and film would go on to bring us many more examples of robots wreaking havoc on the world, with Hollywood notably turning the theme into blockbuster franchises like The Matrix, Transformers, and The Terminator.
Lately, fears of fiction turning to fact have been stoked by a confluence of developments, including important advances in artificial intelligence and robotics, along with the widespread use of combat drones and ground robotsin Iraq and Afghanistan. The world’s most powerful militaries are now developing ever more intelligent weapons, with varying degrees of autonomy and lethality. The vast majority will, in the near term, be remotely controlled by human operators, who will be “in the loop” to pull the trigger. But it’s likely, and some say inevitable, that future AI-powered weapons will eventually be able to operate with complete autonomy, leading to a watershed moment in the history of warfare: For the first time, a collection of microchips and software will decide whether a human being lives or dies.
Not surprisingly, the threat of “killer robots,” as they’ve been dubbed, has triggered an impassioned debate. The poles of the debate are represented by those who fear that robotic weapons could start a world war and destroy civilization and others who argue that these weapons are essentially a new class of precision-guided munitions that will reduce, not increase, casualties. In December, more than a hundred countries are expected to discuss the issue as part of a United Nations disarmament meeting in Geneva.
Last year, the debate made news after a group of leading researchers in artificial intelligence called for a ban on “offensive autonomous weapons beyond meaningful human control.” In an open letter presented at a major AI conference, the group argued that these weapons would lead to a “global AI arms race” and be used for “assassinations, destabilizing nations, subduing populations and selectively killing a particular ethnic group.”
The three added that “autonomous weapons are potentially weapons of mass destruction. While some nations might not choose to use them for such purposes, other nations and certainly terrorists might find them irresistible.”
It’s hard to argue that a new arms race culminating in the creation of intelligent, autonomous, and highly mobile killing machines would well serve humanity’s best interests. And yet, regardless of the argument, the AI arms race is already under way.
Autonomous weapons have existed for decades, though the relatively few that are out there have been used almost exclusively for defensive purposes. One example is the Phalanx, a computer-controlled, radar-guided gun system installed on many U.S. Navy ships that can automatically detect, track, evaluate, and fire at incoming missiles and aircraft that it judges to be a threat. When it’s in fully autonomous mode, no human intervention is necessary.
More recently, military suppliers have developed what may be considered the first offensive autonomous weapons.Israel Aerospace Industries’ Harpy andHarop drones are designed to home in on the radio emissions of enemy air-defense systems and destroy them by crashing into them. The companysays the drones “have been sold extensively worldwide.”
In South Korea, DoDAAM Systems, a defense contractor, has developed a sentry robot called theSuper aEgis II. Equipped with a machine gun, it uses computer vision to autonomously detect and fire at human targets out to a range of 3 kilometers. South Korea’s military has reportedly conducted tests with these armed robots in the demilitarized zone along its border with North Korea. DoDAAM says it has sold more than 30 units to other governments, including several in the Middle East.
Today, such highly autonomous systems are vastly outnumbered by robotic weapons such as drones, which are under the control of human operators almost all of the time, especially when firing at targets. But some analysts believe that as warfare evolves in coming years, weapons will have higher and higher degrees of autonomy.
“War will be very different, and automation will play a role where speed is key,” says Peter W. Singer, a robotic warfare expert at New America, a nonpartisan research group in Washington, D.C. He predicts that in future combat scenarios—like a dogfight between drones or an encounter between a robotic boat and an enemy submarine—weapons that offer a split-second advantage will make all the difference. “It might be a high-intensity straight-on conflict when there’s no time for humans to be in the loop, because it’s going to play out in a matter of seconds.”
The U.S. military has detailed some of its plans for this new kind of war in aroad map [pdf] for unmanned systems, but its intentions on weaponizing such systems are vague. During a Washington Post forum this past March, U.S. deputy secretary of defense Robert Work, whose job is in part making sure that the Pentagon is keeping up with the latest technologies, stressed the need to invest in AI and robotics. The increasing presence of autonomous systems on the battlefield “is inexorable,” he declared.
Asked about autonomous weapons, Work insisted that the U.S. military “will not delegate lethal authority to a machine to make a decision.” But when pressed on the issue, he added that if confronted by a “competitor that is more willing to delegate authority to machines than we are…we’ll have to make decisions on how we can best compete. It’s not something that we’ve fully figured out, but we spend a lot of time thinking about it.”
Russia and China are following a similar strategyof developing unmanned combat systems for land, sea, and air that are weaponized but, at least for now, rely on human operators. Russia’sPlatform-M is a small remote-controlled robot equipped with a Kalashnikov rifle and grenade launchers, a type of system similar to the United States’ Talon SWORDS, a ground robot that can carry an M16 and other weapons (it was tested by the U.S. Army in Iraq). Russia has also built a larger unmanned vehicle, the Uran-9, armed with a 30-millimeter cannon and antitank guided missiles. And last year, the Russians demonstrated a humanoid military robot to a seemingly nonplussed Vladimir Putin. (In video released after the demonstration, the robot is shown riding an ATV at a speed only slightly faster than a child on a tricycle.)
China’s growing robotic arsenal includes numerous attack and reconnaissance drones. The CH-4 is a long-endurance unmanned aircraft that resembles the Predator used by the U.S. military. The Divine Eagle is a high-altitude drone designed to hunt stealth bombers. China has also publicly displayed a few machine-gun-equipped robots, similar to Platform-M and Talon SWORDS, at military trade shows.
The three countries’ approaches to robotic weapons, introducing increasing automation while emphasizing a continuing role for humans, suggest a major challenge to the banning of fully autonomous weapons: A ban on fully autonomous weapons would not necessarily apply to weapons that are nearly autonomous. So militaries could conceivably develop robotic weapons that have a human in the loop, with the option of enabling full autonomy at a moment’s notice in software. “It’s going to be hard to put an arms-control agreement in place for robotics,” concludes Wendell Wallach, an expert on ethics and technology at Yale University. “The difference between an autonomous weapons system and nonautonomous may be just a difference of a line of code,” he said at a recent conference.
In motion pictures, robots often gain extraordinary levels of autonomy, even sentience, seemingly out of nowhere, and humans are caught by surprise. Here in the real world, though, and despite the recent excitement about advances in machine learning, progress in robot autonomy has been gradual. Autonomous weapons would be expected to evolve in a similar way.
“A lot of times when people hear ‘autonomous weapons,’ they envision the Terminator and they are, like, ‘What have we done?,’ ” says Paul Scharre, who directs a future-of-warfare program at the Center for a New American Security, a policy research group in Washington, D.C. “But that seems like probably the last way that militaries want to employ autonomous weapons.” Much more likely, he adds, will be robotic weapons that target not people but military objects like radars, tanks, ships, submarines, or aircraft.
The challenge of target identification—determining whether or not what you’re looking at is a hostile enemy target—is one of the most critical for AI weapons. Moving targets like aircraft and missiles have a trajectory that can be tracked and used to help decide whether to shoot them down. That’s how the Phalanx autonomous gun on board U.S. Navy ships operates, and also how Israel’s “Iron Dome” antirocket interceptor system works. But when you’re targeting people, the indicators are much more subtle. Even under ideal conditions, object- and scene-recognition tasks that are routine for people can be extremely difficult for robots.
A computer can identify a human figure without much trouble, even if that human is moving furtively. But it’s very hard for an algorithm to understand what people are doing, and what their body language and facial expressions suggest about their intent. Is that person lifting a rifle or a rake? Is that person carrying a bomb or an infant?
Scharre argues that robotic weapons attempting to do their own targeting would wither in the face of too many challenges. He says that devising war-fighting tactics and technologies in which humans and robots collaborate [pdf] will remain the best approach for safety, legal, and ethical reasons. “Militaries could invest in very advanced robotics and automation and still keep a person in the loop for targeting decisions, as a fail-safe,” he says. “Because humans are better at being flexible and adaptable to new situations that maybe we didn’t program for, especially in war when there’s an adversary trying to defeat your systems and trick them and hack them.”
It’s not surprising, then, that DoDAAM, the South Korean maker of sentry robots, imposed restrictions on their lethal autonomy. As currently configured, the robots will not fire until a human confirms the target and commands the turret to shoot. “Our original version had an auto-firing system,” a DoDAAM engineer told the BBC last year. “But all of our customers asked for safeguards to be implemented…. They were concerned the gun might make a mistake.”
For other experts, the only way to ensure that autonomous weapons won’t make deadly mistakes, especially involving civilians, is to deliberately program these weapons accordingly. “If we are foolish enough to continue to kill each other in the battlefield, and if more and more authority is going to be turned over to these machines, can we at least ensure that they are doing it ethically?” says Ronald C. Arkin, a computer scientist at Georgia Tech.
Arkin argues that autonomous weapons, just like human soldiers, should have to follow the rules of engagement as well as the laws of war, includinginternational humanitarian laws that seek to protect civilians and limit the amount of force and types of weapons that are allowed. That means we should program them with some kind of moral reasoning to help them navigate different situations and fundamentally distinguish right from wrong. They will need to have, embodied deep in their software, some sort of ethical compass.
For the past decade, Arkin has been working on such a compass. Using mathematical and logic tools from the field of machine ethics, he began translating the highly conceptual laws of war and rules of engagement into variables and operations that computers can understand. For example, one variable specified how confident the ethical controller was that a target was an enemy. Another was a Boolean variable that was either true or false: lethal force was either permitted or prohibited. Eventually, Arkin arrived at a set of algorithms, and using computer simulations and very simplified combat scenarios—an unmanned aircraft engaging a group of people in an open field, for example—he was able to test his methodology.
Arkin acknowledges that the project, which was funded by the U.S. military, was a proof of concept, not an actual control-system implementation. Nevertheless, he believes the results showed that combat robots not only could follow the same rules that humans have to follow but also that they could do better. For example, the robots could use lethal force with more restraint than could human fighters, returning fire only when shot at first. Or, if civilians are nearby, they could completely hold their fire, even if that means being destroyed. Robots also don’t suffer from stress, frustration, anger, or fear, all of which can lead to impaired judgment in humans. So in theory, at least, robot soldiers could outperform human ones, who often and sometimes unavoidably make mistakes in the heat of battle.
“And the net effect of that could be a saving of human lives, especially the innocent that are trapped in the battle space,” Arkin says. “And if these robots can do that, to me there’s a driving moral imperative to use them.”
The U.N. has been holdingdiscussions on lethal autonomous robots for close to five years, but its member countries have been unable to draw up an agreement. In 2013,Christof Heyns, a U.N. special rapporteur for human rights, wrote an influential report noting that the world’s nations had a rare opportunity to discuss the risks of autonomous weapons before such weapons were already fully developed. Today, after participating in several U.N. meetings, Heyns says that “if I look back, to some extent I’m encouraged, but if I look forward, then I think we’re going to have a problem unless we start acting much faster.”
This coming December, the U.N.’s Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons will hold a five-year review conference, and the topic of lethal autonomous robots will be on the agenda. However, it’s unlikely that a ban will be approved at that meeting. Such a decision would require the consensus of all participating countries, and these still have fundamental disagreements on how to deal with the broad spectrum of autonomous weapons expected to emerge in the future.
In the end, the “killer robots” debate seems to be more about us humans than about robots. Autonomous weapons will be like any technology, at least at first: They could be deployed carefully and judiciously, or chaotically and disastrously. Human beings will have to take the credit or the blame. So the question, “Are autonomous combat robots a good idea?” probably isn’t the best one. A better one is, “Do we trust ourselves enough to trust robots with our lives?”
This article appears in the June 2016 print issue as “When Robots Decide to Kill.”
I wrote an excellent set of lyrics to a Blues song today I’m calling I Done Paid (In Full).
Started a second Blues song (though I may make it a rock or even a pop song) called Stop Dis Missing Me.
Which I’m pleased with thus far but it is far from finished and I got two or three different ways I can go with it, and just haven’t decided yet.
I also have a backlog of about 150 to 200 songs (the lyrics that is) completed now which I have been unable to compose the music for. Unfortunately I have had no time to compose in the past year. Between my wrist surgery and working on my novel, my book of poetry, my start-up, helping my wife with her new career, and my inventions I have had no time to compose music at all. (I’m a slow composer anyway.) All I’ve had time to do is write the lyrics.
So, if you are a composer looking for a lyricist, or even a band looking for a song-writer then I’d like to talk to you. We can enter into a joint songwriting agreement.
But I’m only looking for serious and ambitious people who want to produce and sell finished, entirely completed songs. I write in a variety of musical styles and genres, everything from Blues to Rock, from Bluegrass to Opera, Pop, and even Religious music. I have a wide range of musical interests, plus I have some unfinished compositions that I’d be willing for others to take a look at right now and finish if they wish. Splitting the Work and the Profits evenly, of course.
I would prefer working with people in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia, so that we can meet and even work some in each other’s company but I’m not necessarily limiting myself to those in SC, NC, or GA. With the right composer or people, and if we can establish a good and productive working relationship, then I could work with anyone in the United States, or even in other parts of the world.
I’m not gonna set artificial limits on this, the important thing is that we are good at what we do and can produce excellent Work together.
If you are interested then leave a message here or contact me by email.
P.S.: you can see some prior examples of my song lyrics in this archive category: My Writings and Work
You’ll have to look for them though. All of my work is listed in that archive, not just my songs.
The other day someone asked my advice on how to conduct myself as a writer. Or actually, to be more accurate, my advice on how they might better conduct themselves as a writer based on my prior experiences. Since writing is basically a “lonesome occupation” requiring a great deal of commitment, isolation (to a degree I’ll explain momentarily), focus, determination, self-discipline, and real work. They were having trouble dealing with the “lonesome” part of the occupation.
I repeat my advice to them here in the case this assists anyone else. Of course this advice could just as easily apply to artists, inventors, poets, songwriters, and even (to some extent) entrepreneurs of all kinds (all of which I am) with but a few minor modifications. So this is my Highmoot for this Wednesday.
THIS IS MY ADVICE
This is my advice after having worked for myself for decades. I’m about evenly matched between being an introvert and being an extrovert. I too do my very best work alone. However I prime myself by going out and observing people. Going to places that are active, like labs, industrial complexes, malls, museums, libraries, city streets, performances, college campuses, Vadding, to shops, exploring other towns, theaters, etc.
I do this for a day or two about once every two to three weeks. Although depending on my work schedule I may not be able to do it but once a month. Nevertheless I do this as much as I can and regularly schedule such things.
(Aside:One place though I never go to is coffee shops. Everyone there is on their computers or cell phones and the interactions are limited and about all you see anyone doing is staring at a screen. Coffee shops are, for the most part, horrible and pretentious work environments, with people tending to merely congregate together in order to appear to be working, when in fact they are not truly working – they are seeking to socially escape real work by the public appearance of a displayed but primarily unreal act of “business.” On this point I entirely agree with Hemingway, coffee shops and cafes are the very worst places to do any actual and real work, though they give the plastic social facade of appearing to be busy.
The very same can be said to be true about coffee shops as “observation posts” on true human behavior. The types of human behavior evidenced in most coffee shops is unnatural, artificial, pretentious, deceptive, and rehearsed. People in coffee shops and cafes are extremely aware that they are being observed, indeed this is one reason so many go there, to observe and be observed (in a sort of pre-approved, socially accepted and promoted play-act), in the place of actually working. I almost never trust the close observations of human behavior I make of people in such environments. Such behaviors tend to be no more “real” than the work supposedly occurring in such places, and just as artificial as the plastic illuminated screens they seem so utterly devoted to, and the technological implements they are eagerly seen to be worshiping. My advice is to skip such places entirely if you can and go rather to where real work can be done and you can make true observations about actual behaviors, be those human or animal. Places like I mentioned above. End Aside.)
Then I come home and my mind and soul are primed with observations and ideas and stories and poetry and songs and invention concepts and business proposals.
When I’m at home and working, and tire, or am bored, then I go outside and clear land, hike in the woods, explore the nearby lands (I live out in the country), go fishing, track and observe animals, climb trees, cut down trees, cut the grass, etc. I said I do my best work alone, but actually I do my best work alone while doing something physical, and then I work in my head as I labor. Both because it is excellent practice to work in your head as you labor (the bodily labor frees the mind to wander and work) and because working while you labor is an excellent Mnemonics Technique. Sometimes I’ll write entire poems, songs, scenes from my novels, sections of business plans, create prototype inventions in my head, etc., then memorize the same and store them in Agapolis, my Memory City as I am physically laboring and only after I quit and go back into the house will I write down what I created.
I know modern people are not big on memory or Mnemonic Techniques (so much the shame for them), but I learned such things from the Ancients and the Medievals and if you ask me a superb memory and good control over your own memory is a far better set of skills and capabilities for a writer (or most anyone) to possess than a thousand cell phones or a hundred laptops or tablets or even a dozen internets. A good memory increases not only your overall intelligence but is fundamental to establishing, developing, and properly employing an excellent vocabulary. So practice writing or creating first in your head (after all you can do such things even when you have no access to even pen and paper), then fully memorize what you do, and only then write it down. Such exercises are not only important to do (because of what I mentioned above), but will pay many dividends in any of your creative endeavours and enterprises. Rely not just upon mere technology for your best creations and for your most important works, but rather upon what you most deeply impress upon your own mind and soul. That is both where creation begins and where it will be properly shaped and forged and worked into worthwhile and well-crafted final products.
I don’t know if this helps you any in your own creative enterprises but my advice is go out at least once a month, or as often as you need it, and do nothing but observe and generate new ideas. Then let them ruminate and percolate through you and within you.
If you thereafter feel all cramped up and unable to work smoothly then do something strenuous and physical outside. The labor will do you good and also set our mind free to wander. Then when you are primed and relaxed go to work.
To simplify to a very basic formula: Prime + Observe + Labor + Work + Memorize = High End and Valuable End Product.
After the necessary revisions for proper refinement, of course.
But just because you work alone doesn’t mean you are a prisoner of your environment and just because you work alone doesn’t mean you always have to be alone.
Go wander, go labor, go explore, go meet new people, go people watch, memorize, and then actually Work. Don’t just wade into crowds and pretend to work.
Be extremely good for ya. And it will probably make you a helluvah lot better writer than you’ve ever been before. No matter what you’re writing. And it is awful hard to be lonely, or a slack-ass, when you are actually doing Good Work.
Some people think that I am primarily a mental man, or a “man of the mind” because I spend a lot of time studying, reading, attending and listening to lectures, mastering languages, writing stories and poetry and songs, conducting scientific experiments, etc. Some people think I am primarily a man of the spirit because I spend a lot of time talking about God and to God, examining scriptures, praying, meditating, etc. Some people think I am primarily a man of the psyche (of the soul) because I closely observe my own behavior and the behavior of others, because I watch and take note of other people and am very aware of how they actually behave versus just what they say or proclaim or pretend.
And all of those things are partially true. Not primarily, but partially true. I am in some respects a man of the mind, in other respects a spiritual man, in part a man of the soul and the human psyche.
But there is another part of me that is very, very earthy and physical.
Because I love, and am highly attracted to, and have always been highly attracted to, physical activity and things physical. (Except for eating, I could take or leave eating and if something better than eating existed I’d never eat again. Waste of time to me, and extremely inefficient and wasteful.)
Actually I often do my very best work when hiking, running, clearing land, having sex with the wife, exercising, exploring, climbing, etc. I am attracted to and have always enjoyed physical activity – strain, pain, pleasure, sex, exhaustion, etc. and to me all of those things are drivers and motivators. I have had to learn to correctly control them all and use them wisely and properly but they are all very dear and useful to me. They make me feel alive and invigorated. They are also both stimulants and inspirations to me. Doesn’t matter what I am doing, inventing, working on a business project, writing, composing, drawing, investigating, doing science, etc. physical activity is a stimulant to me.
For instance this morning I took Sam (my American Superior) for a run in the woods (rather than a hike, he’s getting a little fat and I want to work him back into shape with me) and while doing so I developed in my mind six good scenes for my Kithariune novel, a science fiction short story, a Real World invention based around the subject matter of the sci-fi short story (actually the real world invention came first), and had an interesting idea for a scientific experiment. (Physical activity is also an excellent mnemonic technique to me.)
Had I done nothing but sit on my ass this morning and tried to just “Think” (I have nothing against thinking by the way, I highly recommend it to everyone, it’s just I’m not much of a sedentary thinker, I’m an “active thinker” – physical activity stimulates my thinking) I doubt that a single one of those ideas would have occurred to me.
Yes, I am partially a man of the mind, and the spirit, and the soul, but also of the body. My body stimulates the other parts of me. In many ways my body is perhaps my single most important tool of creative expression, either directly or indirectly (as it feeds my mind, soul, and spirit).
I might not have the most excellent body but my body has done me the most excellent service. And just to give him his due, considering what I’ve put him through, he’s been tough as hell and I admire and respect him for that.
Is the body or physical activity a stimulant to you as well? Do you also rebel against the idea of “thinking” as being a sedentary pursuit, or the “thinking man” as a sedentary creature?
I’m a relatively solitary writer but I do have a few people who are always in my corner ( ❤ ) and I was lucky enough to befriend a fellow writer on Twitter just when I was starting to think of taking this on. I tweeted in conversation to her about what, to me, was a crazy idea …
I’ve mentioned a few times now how I wrote the final 10,000 words-ish of my rough draft over the course of a weekend, something heretofore unheard of for me. I’m still a little disbelieving that it actually happened, but it did! I have the printed pages to prove it. As I’m getting back into editing them this week, I want to share with you how I managed to do this, in hopes it’ll help you bust through that unbelievably obnoxious end bit that seems to drag on forever and ever.
It’s time to get it done; let’s do it!
STEP ONE: DECLARE YOUR INTENTIONS
If you tend to keep your writing a relatively private affair, you can take this step by writing it down on a bright flashcard or piece of paper and sticking it up somewhere you’ll see it constantly: “This weekend, I’m going to write ‘X’ words” or “This weekend, I’m going to barrel through my list of remaining scenes.”
And so I did! I declared my intentions on Twitter and to my steadfast cheerleaders, and off I went. Well, almost …
STEP TWO: PROACTIVELY REMOVE OBSTACLES
It’s one thing to create make-work for yourself and do the dishes as a form of procrastination, but there’s something to be said, for me at least, in having things in a wee bit of order before you take on something as momentous as a 10K writing marathon. While I love a bit of cozy clutter, there is a tipping point, especially when I know I’m going to be mussing up my writing area anew with mugs of rooibos tea and peanut butter cup wrappers and empty plates. Before you settle in for the weekend, spend half an hour cleaning up around your workspace. For bonus points, run to the store and ensure you have supplies (tea bags are a big one for me).
Oh, and if your computer is as insistent and persnickety as mine is about doing updates and doing them NOW or I’ll slow your computer down to a turtle in a swamp race, do the updates before you start. The less reasons we have to lose momentum, the better.
STEP THREE: MAKE A LIST (OR TWO)
I work best with music piped in through my headphones. It doesn’t need to be instrumental or lyric-less, either, though I’m fond of trance, dubstep and chillstep for keeping myself revved up and typing. If you know it won’t hinder you, songs with the right lyrics can be key to knocking out those pages. Queue up whatever music inspires you and have it ready to go. Just make sure you don’t get caught spending three hours making a YouTube playlist, needing to get it just right.
The second list that made a tremendous difference for me was one I’d started a week before, of scenes that still needed to be written. Depending on how much of a planner you are, you may already have something like this, or maybe you’re just going to wing it. I find it helps to have at least a line or two written to summarize each of the scenes beforehand.
And the satisfaction you get from crossing the scenes off your list as you go? Priceless.
STEP FOUR: WORK IN SPURTS
Tempting as it may be to motor through without pause or sleep or stretch, this does not necessarily a successful writing weekend make. We need the occasional break to rest and refuel, to do Downward Facing Dog or the Cobra, to make a fresh pot of tea or look out the window. It feels scary to step away from it, I know, but it will feel a lot scarier to be going, going, going, GOING and then THUMP to a halt when you’re only halfway there. Finish your thought, carry through your spurt, then walk away for a few minutes, or at the very least get out of your chair and stretch a little. Your story isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it might even have a little treasure waiting for you upon your return, just waiting to be unwrapped. Why deny it the pleasure?
STEP FIVE: DON’T THINK TOO HARD
Probably the biggest anvil to fall on your head and derail your writing will be your own self-doubt: what if the ending sucks? What if the whole thing stinks? I don’t know what I’m doing! I’ll never finish this properly. I’m tired. I’m a crap writer. I don’t know why I ever thought I should write a book.
Right here, right now, make a commitment to yourself to just keep moving until you feel yourself fading. When you fade, take a break. Do something else. When you’re writing in spurts, you don’t give yourself time to think, and that’s crucial. What’s even more crucial is doing something energizing and awesome in those mini-breaks so you don’t have the chance to go all cerebral.
It’s a rough draft. It’s not going to be perfect, unless you’re one of those writers. (I jest, I’m sure they’re lovely souls!) You just have to keep moving, past your self-doubt, past your self-limitations, past every roadblock you’d fling in your way. This is where that list of scenes to write comes in handy, because you can just focus on the one you’re writing until it’s done, cross it off (yay! celebrate! briefly!), and move on to the next one, and the next. One scene, one paragraph, one sentence, one moment at a time. This is how we write. This is what it takes.
STEP SIX: CELEBRATE YOUR AWESOMENESS
When you’ve crossed off the last scene, written your 9,967th word, do yourself a favour: before you do anything else, drop down a few lines and write “THE END” in big, bold letters. Let it sink in. You made it!
Seriously, if there was ever a time to feel proud of yourself and celebrate how awesome you are, this is it. Don’t you dare downplay it. Taking a rough draft from start to finish on anything, let alone a book, let alone finishing in a weekend, is a remarkable feat. Gather your cheerleaders, bake cupcakes, do a little dance; whatever you want to do, do it! You deserve it.
BONUS MISSION: BE READY FOR THE AFTERMATH
I’m not going to lie: like anything that you pour your heart and soul into, especially in such a concentrated period of time, it’s going to leave you both euphoric and ragged. Once you’ve set your book (you wrote a BOOK) aside for a week or two to let it, and yourself, rest, you might feel a bit of a letdown, like you’re not sure what to do with yourself. Your everyday routine is waiting for you, and you’re reluctant to go back to the status quo.
Chores, work, kids, Life, that has to happen, and it’s going to happen. But there is joy in that, not to mention fodder for our writing, and we owe it to ourselves to embrace it. We can also, though, start a new story, or write a poem, or work on a scrapbook. Something creative to sink our teeth into while that book rests and waits for us to return.
In the meantime, have a bit of rest yourself. You’ve earned it!
(Psst! If you’re antsy to get writing but are still a little unsure about this 10,000 words in a weekend stuff, check out Rachel Aaron’s post on how she went fromwriting 2,000 to 10,000 words a day – your productivity will soar! Janna Kaixer also has a brilliant post on writing 10,000 words in a day, with some great tips about setting yourself up for success.)
Do you want to virtually ensure your chances of being able to power through your next writing session? Build a solid character foundation first with my free email course. It’s a fun, inspiring process, and the results will see you through oodles of writing blocks. Click here or the image below to find out more!
Since I began recuperating from the operation on my wrist in July until today (Sunday, 1/31/2016) I have now conducted three experiments on how valuable the internet is to me compared to how much time I make use of it. (For researching, as a networking vehicle, source of discovery, blogging and communications platform, marketing venue, commenting base, etc.). This includes all aspects of the internet from email, blogging, networking, facebooking, pinterest, exposure of my work, marketing, etc.
I have averaged the three experiments together and have found that I should safely be able to dispense with somewhere between 75% and 90% of my total internet time (depending upon what it is being used for), time that I can far more productively devote to my inventions, writings, songwriting, and businesses. Not to mention the time I can devote to other things like my artwork, my scientific experiments, and even my recreations. These are the results of my experiments and analyses.
What I found the internet to be almost entirely useless for:
1. indirect and inbound marketing – almost entirely unprofitable hype
2. Truth discovery
3. discovering subjects of real interest that could not be accessed elsewhere
4. politics and influencing others
What I found the internet to be only moderately useful for:
1. staying in contact with family and friends
2. growing a network through indirect contacts or comments
3. Direct Marketing (email, sometimes blogging)
4. gaming, hobbies, recreations
5, selling and buying
What I found the internet to be useful for or even occasionally profitable for:
1. research and concept and idea and article discovery
2. idea generation, invention generation, story generation, etc.
3. education through lectures, eBooks, etc.
Nevertheless if you average all time spent on the internet versus the return on time invested it is blatantly obvious to me that most of the internet (the vast majority actually) is over-rated hype and highly unproductive and a distraction from Real Work and achievement. Just as much as is say television and the desire to be constantly entertained or drugged or drunk, etc.
Therefore, that being said I have am giving up about 75 to 90% of what I do on the internet and of the remainder of my internet time I will redirect my efforts into other and more productive and valuable venues.
Otherwise, as regards the internet, I will do exactly as I did with television and video games. I will give them up completely or only indulge those things on the weekends or holidays.
Therefore as of Monday, 2/1/2016 the bulk of my time saved by dispensing with the internet will go to far more productive and useful activities and outlets. And into time spent with family and friends.
Due to a recent internet conversation on constructs I’ve decided to write a new series of short stories to add to my science fiction universe that will involve androids, drones, and robots whose primary function and programming is to provide protection to clients or organizations. Or even to protect specific areas/locales/geographic points.
These “danger droids” are designed to “sense danger” and respond by warning away potential threats. If the warnings or interferences fail, or are repeatedly ignored, then the Danger Droids are designed to respond in a defense pattern of three escalating steps: Disable, Cripple, and eventually, to Kill (or DCK).
If disable fails then crippling is applied and if the threat continues thereafter then the Danger Droid will kill the threat.
The story will center around the activities and experiences of these danger droids and how others attempt to overcome and thwart them and how the droids themselves adapt to these new threats and methods of attack.
Another set of stories, running parallel to those concerning the Danger Droids will involve the so-called “Murder Machines.” These are simply machines designed to exploit security lapses or human/target weaknesses and destroy/murder specific targets without being traceable. However if the machines are somehow located and trapped they are also designed to destroy themselves so as to make it very difficult to analyze and track evidence regarding who actually employed the “murder machine.”
In some ways the murder machines will be the exact opposites of, (although none of the machines or droids are actually alive) and the mechanical Nemeses of, the Danger Droids.
So much so that eventually people begin using the Danger Droids in an attempt to thwart and even anticipate the Murder Machines, destroying them before they can strike.
Of course in the stories these devices will not be called Danger Droids or Murder Machines, those are dumb and simple-minded appellations. Although they may, from time to time, be referred to Danger Droids and Murder Machines in a colloquial or slang fashion. No, I will devise basic and appropriate scientific terminology for these artefacts as my science fiction universe tends to be “hard and mundane science” in nature, and these stories will be no different.
Ah, Pinterest, you are both the bane and joy of writers the world over. On one hand we can use Pinterest to create stunning visual representations of the world we are creating with our words. On the other hand, we can distract ourselves for hours at a time in the endless sea of images.
But to me the price is worth it. There’s nothing I love more than creating storyboards for my novels. It’s in integral part of my creative process.
I also love following other writer’s on Pinterest, and glimpsing into the worlds they have created. Not only do other author’s boards inspire me and spark ideas, but I often find the perfect image on another writer’s board. (After hours of using the Pinterest search option to no avail.) We writer’s think in the same dramatic way. We’re drawn to the same types of photographs.
So I decided to compile a list of some of my favorite Pinterest storyboards. All of these are beautiful and inspiring. I’m mostly drawn to the historical, romantic, and dramatic, so that’s what most of these boards represent.
While you’re here please leave a link to your book’s storyboard in the comments!
Don’t have a novel storyboard?
No worries, these boards will be all the inspiration you need.
With modern men it’s Either/Or with everything they do
You must “kill your darlings” see or they will butcher you
You must “this” or you must “that” but never both at once
There’s no room for compromise, conform, or thus you’re done
In life you cannot do it all, in art you cannot be
(so they say)
You either choose to play it small, or choose you must agree
You’re told this way is for the best by popular decree
For if you vary from that plan then there’s no guarantee
Of course there never was a risk that came with sure success
It’s Either/Or you see my friends, surely you’ll confess
That every piece of sure advice was once just enterprise
If you do not know that word it surely still applies
Now Either/Or is half of chance, I’ll grant you that is true
And both together, certain not, do not success ensue
But if you think that Either/Or by either issues Fate
Then you will soon discover kid that both will come too late
See some things they are right and just and some things they are wrong
And some things they are short, or fat, and some are tall, or long
Now of those things most modern men they treat them all the same
Evil is the twin of Good because they have no shame
Yet many things in life are not so ease-ly misconstrued
Not confused by sorcery they need some close review, and
Of those things all Either/Ors are theories in the air
Either this or never that is just a fool’s affair
The Keepers of those Mighty Gates that tell us all what is
Rarely ever venture forth in battle to enlist, and
If they do they found one way, but many paths are still
Untrodden in the hidden wastes, and through the untamed fields
So Either/Or I say to you, yes, either may be best
But you will never know that friends until them both you test…
Posted: 09/13/2015 1:22 am EDT Updated: 09/15/2015 11:59 am EDT
No matter what experts tell you, no matter what trends, conventional wisdom, social media chatter or your friends in the Facebook writers group insist upon, do NOT write four books a year. I mean it. Don’t.
Unless they’re four gorgeously written, painstakingly molded, amazingly rendered and undeniably memorable books. If you can pull off four of those a year, more power to you. But most can’t. I’d go so far as to say no one can, the qualifier being good books.
Beyond the fact that the marketplace is glutted with an overwhelming number of books already (many of dubious quality), writing good books simply takes time, lots of it. There’s no getting around that time. It involves learned skills, unhurried imagination, fastidious drafting, diligent editing, even the time to step away, then step back, to go over it all again. And, unless you’re a hack (and we know there are plenty of those out there), isn’t the whole point of this exercise to write good books?
Our most highly esteemed, widely applauded, prodigiously awarded, read and revered authors know this to be true. Donna Tartt, last year’ s Pulitzer Prize winner forThe Goldfinch, took eleven years to deliver that masterpiece. This year’s winner, Anthony Doerr, had written only four books in his entire career before penning All The Light We Cannot See, wisely taking years to craft his stunning tale. The cultishly-beloved Harper Lee had only To Kill A Mockingbird in her catalogue before this year’s controversial release of Go Set A Watchman (which some are convinced was not of her doing). Even others amongst our best, who do put out work on a more regular basis, do so with focus appropriately attuned to the quality of the book, not the depth of their catalogue or the flash-speed with which they crank out product.
But, you say, I’m not interested in writing Pulitzer Prize winners; I don’t need to be on The New York Times bestseller list; I just wanna see my name up at Amazon and sell a few books to family and friends, and, hey, if I go viral, all the better! They say write to the market, so I gotta write to the market. I mean, look at E.L. James…she’s hardly Chaucer and look what’s happened to her!!
Point taken. Which actually brings us to the point: what is your point?
What’s your point as a creative, an artist; an author? A purveyor of the written word? Why are you here, what is your purpose, your goal as a writer? What do you hope to achieve? Is it fame and fortune at any cost, quality be damned? Or is it about finely crafted work? It’s important to know, to decide, because those principles will guide and mandate every decision you make from there on out.
I bring all this up because I experienced a snap the other day, one triggered by an article from Self Published Author by Bowker titled, Discovery: Another Buzzword We’re Wrestling to Understand. In it, the writer lists many of the familiar instructions toward procuring success as an indie writer — social media, book reviews, networking, etc. — but her very first suggestion to self-published authors looking to get “discovered” was this:
Publish. A Lot: For those of you who have spent 10 years writing your last book I have news for you. You have ten days to write your next one. Okay, I’m sort of kidding with the ten days but, candidly, the most successful authors are pushing out tons of content: meaning books, not blog posts.
In most categories, readers are hungry for new reads, new books, and willing to discover new authors. You’ll have a better time getting found if you continually push new books out there. How many should you do? At a recent writers conference some authors said they publish four books a year. Yes, that’s right, four. [Emphasis mine.]
So, her first piece of advice to self-publishing authors wasn’t to put more focus on fine-tuning one’s craft, it wasn’t about taking time to mull and ponder what stories, what narratives, most inspire you to put “pen to paper”; it wasn’t even a suggestion to be relentless about working with professional content/copy editors and cover designers to create the best possible version of your work. No, it was the insanely insane advice to pump out at least four books a year.
And people wonder why there are stigmas attached to self-publishing.
First of all, in looking at her point of reference, I suppose it depends on what you define as a “successful author.” I have a distinct feeling this may be where the disparities lie. Perhaps my own definition is a different one.
When I self-published my first book, After The Sucker Punch, in April of 2014, I had, by then, put years into it, doing all those many things I itemized above. Because I not only wanted to publish a novel, I wanted that novel to be a work of art, a book of depth and merit, one that would not only tell a compelling story but would meet standards of publishing that authors of the highest regard are held to. I wanted it to be a book that would favorably compare with anything put out by a traditional publisher. My choice to self-publish was a result of not having engaged a publisher by the time my book was done and I was ready to market it. It was not based on the notion of joining the “second tier club” where one is unbound from the stricter, more demanding standards of traditional publishing.
“Second tier club”? Yes. As insulting as that sounds, particularly in relation to self-publishing, there is no question that there are two tiers operating in the culture of the book industry. Take a moment to think about it: based on what advice is given to self-published writers, some of which I shared above; based on the”free/bargain” pricing paradigms of most book sellers hawking those writers; based on the corner (quality)-cutting measures required to pump out endless product to meet the purportedly endless demand of those sites and their bargain-hunting readers, “second tier club” is no misnomer.
Where the best of traditional publishers set their sights not only on commercial viability but award-quality work, nurturing authors with enduring skills and profound stories to tell, in a climate that is selective (perhaps too selective) and based on the notion that that level of quality and commercial appeal is a rare and valued commodity, self-published authors are advised to, “Crank out loads of books. if you have to write little teeny short ones to get your catalogue pumped up, do that! Don’t worry about covers; your readers don’t give a hoot about artwork. It’s all about genre, easy reads, and low, low prices! And speaking of low prices, don’t even think about selling your books for more than a dollar or two, because readers who do bother with self-published books are too accustomed to bargain-basement prices to spend any more than that. This is the 99¢ Bargain Circus Book Store, where we push quantity over quality every day of the week!! CRANK OUT THAT PRODUCT!!”
I’ll bet good money Donna Tartt, Anthony Doerr, and other quality writers aren’t getting that same message from their publishers. First tier, baby.
Look, if your point and purpose as a writer is largely related to the numbers — of books sold, of Amazon ranking, of reviews garnered, of Twitter followers and Facebook “likes” — then, certainly; follow the advice of the article quoted about. I know many self-published writers who are, and though I have no idea how well that’s working for them, it’s certainly the prevailing trend.
But if your point and purpose as a writer is to take someone’s breath away, capture a riveting story, translate an idea — whether fantasy, love story, science fiction, human interaction, tragedy, thriller, family saga, memoir, non-fiction — in a way that raises hairs or gets someone shouting “YES!”; if you’re compelled to tell that story so beautifully, so irreverently, with such power and prose as to make a reader stop to read a line over just to have the opportunity to roll those words around one more time, then don’t listen to that advice.
Instead, do the opposite: take your time, work your craft; look for the best possible ways to tell your story and allow yourself time to change your mind, sometimes often, until you know it’s right. Allow your editors time to help you mold your narrative into peak condition. Give your formatters and copy editors time to comb through your manuscript, again and again, to make sure everything is perfect. Work carefully with your cover artist to create the most gorgeous, most professional book cover you can. TAKE YOUR TIME.
Then take lots more to research marketing options; ask questions, weigh contradicting information, and come up with the best possible strategy for your book. Do what you choose with professionalism and without the misguided push to the “top of the list,” that pervasive attitude so rife with desperation and panic. You’re not in a race, with anyone. You are a professional author working your book your way. Be an artist, don’t be a carnival barker. Be a wordsmith, not a bean-counter. Be patient, not hysterical. Transact wisely, but don’t lose your soul in the process.
I know I’m bucking the trend, and certainly there are quality issues and dubious motivations floating around both tiers. It’s also certain that, if you follow my lead, you will not be able to write four books a year, at least not four full-length books. You will write, perhaps, one. But if you do it right, taking time and taking care, you will have written one excellent book. One you’ll be proud of years from now. One your friends and family will keep on their book shelves. One readers across the globe will talk about on social media. One that tells the world, I am a writer and this book is my legacy. Then you’ll go write another of those…and so on.
The rest of it — sales, rankings, reviews, viralness, likes, tweets, awards, kudos, peer admiration… all that? If you do it right, if/when any of those things come, they will be warranted and well-deserved. You can celebrate them authentically, because you did not sell your creative soul to get them. You actually made the far, far better deal.
CLARIFICATION- Because the last thing I want is to insult a fellow author, let me clarify, because it seems to be needed: This is NOT a screed against authors who CHOOSE to publish multiple titles annually (according to many, I’m faulty in assessing that that’s difficult to do well!), nor is it a suggestion that there is only “one way” to do things. In fact, it’s the opposite. The whole point is choice rather than mandate. When the mandate to publish in volume becomes the most prescribed way to reach success, it leaves many authors feeling pressured to publish more quickly and more often than they’d prefer, with some left feeling as though taking the time to craft a book is devalued. Neither should be true. I’m simply championing choice, the personal decisions every author makes about how they’ll reach success. For those who enjoy publishing in volume, who do it well and find it successful, that formula works. But for those who don’t, I’m suggesting forging your own way unshackled from the mandate. That is all. Best with your writing!
Thank you for your time in answering our questions about getting published. Let’s begin by having you explain to us why you decided to become an author and pen this book?
SW: I had once published a magazine, called Living History. With each issue I wrote a publisher’s letter and often “ghost” wrote a few articles. I found over time that I preferred the writing to the publishing. After the magazine went out of circulation, I decided that I would get to the writing I liked via my favorite reading genre – the historical novel. I grew up reading Thomas B. Costain, James A. Michener, Leon Uris, Wilbur Smith, and C.S. Forrester. Later on, I read many of Bernard Cornwell’s books. I learned a lot about history from those writers. Yet the stories entertained.
Is this your first book?
SW: No, The Cavalier Spy is the second in the Revolutionary War action and espionage series I call Yankee Doodle Spies. I know the name is a bit “kitschy,” but I like it. I plan on eventually writing eight books in the series.
With this particular book, how did you publish – traditional, small press, Indie, etc. – and why did you choose this method?
SW: I went with a small trade publisher, a small press called Twilight Times Books. A friend, the late Lee McCaslin, referred me to Twilight Times Books. He was a published author himself and was looking for a new publisher for his second non-fiction book. When he learned Twilight Times Books published mainly fiction, he referred me and I was accepted and given a contract for the first three books in the Yankee Doodle Spies series.
Can you tell us a little about your publishing journey? The pros and cons?
SW: Well, I did all the usual things. After my first manuscript was done, I went on line to search for an agent. I also met with Dave Meadows and Michael O. Varhola, both published authors. Dave has written several naval espionage novels. Michael writes popular history, travel and ghost haunting books. They provided me lots of insight and encouragement. Lee McCaslkin did as well. But most of our dealings were by phone and email. I actually wrote a chapter in his book, Secrets of the Cold War. Then began the long and frustrating search for a literary agent. Mostly by luck (or unluck) I found two and had contracts with them. They provided feedback on my writing but it was a bit of drag and die. I would get some generalized comments. After I would address them and resubmit, I’d get more (different) generalized comments. It was clear different folks were reading these, as occasionally the comments clashed. In any case, I never was submitted to a publisher. In one case I was dropped. In the other, I did the dropping. These were not paid agents but fairly renowned New York agencies. I’d rate the experience as extremely frustrating, not to mention nerve grinding, but I did learn from it.
What lessons do you feel you learned about your particular publishing journey and about the publishing industry as a whole?
SW: The most important thing I learned was to park my ego at the door. When you are writing, you have complete control of the world you are presenting. But once you get into the publishing phase, the situation sort of reverses. Editors and publishers now have a legitimate right to comment and suggest changing things. You have to trust them. And you have to let go of a part of the creative process. The author creates a work of literature for people to read. The editor and publisher have to turn it into a product for people to buy. The kind of fiction I write doesn’t really fit the cookie cutter mold.
Would you recommend this method of publishing to other authors?
SW: Yes, I would. I find the publisher accessible and well versed in all aspects of the business. And this publisher supports its writers.
What’s the best advice you can give to aspiring authors?
SW: I’ll say that there are a whole bunch of folks who will shut you down. For them, your work is a business decision. This is especially true of some f the agencies. I’d say – find your style… your voice, and hone it. But don’t try to change it. I’d also say be very patient…. And keep writing!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
S.W. O’Connell is the author of the Yankee Doodle Spies series of action and espionage novels set during the American Revolutionary War. The author is a retired Army officer with over twenty years of experience in a variety of intelligence-related assignments around the world. He is long time student of history and lover of the historical novel genre. So it was no surprise that he turned to that genre when he decided to write back in 2009. He lives in Virginia.
1776: His army clinging to New York by a thread, a desperate General George Washington sends Lieutenant Jeremiah Creed behind British lines once more. But even the audacity of Creed and his band of spies cannot stop the British juggernaut from driving the Americans from New York, and chasing them across New Jersey in a blitzkrieg fashion. Realizing the imminent loss of one of the new nation’s most important states to the enemy, Washington sends Creed into the war-torn Hackensack Valley. His mission: recruit and train a gang of rogues to work behind British lines.
However, his mission takes a strange twist when the British high command plots to kidnap a senior American officer and a mysterious young woman comes between Creed and his plans. The British drive Washington’s army across the Delaware. The new nation faces its darkest moment. But Washington plans a surprise return led by young Creed, who must strike into hostile land so that Washington can rally his army for an audacious gamble that could win, or lose, the war.
“More than a great spy story… it is about leadership and courage in the face of adversity…The Cavalier Spy is the story of America’s first army and the few… those officers and soldiers who gave their all to a cause that was seemingly lost…”
~ Les Brownlee, former Acting Secretary of the Army and retired Army Colonel
“Secret meetings, skirmishes and scorching battles… The Cavalier Spy takes the reader through America’s darkest times and greatest triumphs thanks to its powerful array of fictional and historical characters… this book shows that courage, leadership and audacity are the key elements in war…”
~ F. William Smullen, Director of National Security Studies at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School and Author of Ways and Means for Managing UP
“Within us all there is a Ghostland, but sometimes when we wander in the dark, we become the ghosts of a far stranger land.”
(Opening line of The Ghostland) *
Tonight I was walking Sam in the woods near sundown. I let him go ahead of me because I knew about a quarter mile ahead was the fenceline. When I caught back up to him it looked just like he was standing on the other side of a large steel gate and for a moment I thought, “Now how could he have passed through that gate and fence, and how will I retrieve him if he did (since the neighbors keep it chained and locked)? But as I got closer I realized it was just a trick of the light given his color as he stood against the fence-gate near sundown.
Then on the way back I thought to myself, “suppose Sam really had passed right through that gate, how would I have gotten him back and what would that mean?” And that gave me a superb idea for a short story. Which I originally thought about calling Ghost Dog.
Then as I walked on I began to see in my head I saw all of these scenes of places I’ve Vadded over the years. Especially deserted and spooky places I’ve hit at night or while working some case. Except these places and the things in them weren’t as they really are, and some were certainly weird enough just on their own, they were all changed in my imagination. Strange, surreal, and unreal places in which things like a dog walking through a steel gate was, if not normal, at least something that could happen. I kept seeing a Ghostland. And since the story kept expanding in my mind I renamed it Ghostland.
And then I started seeing weird and bizarre events in this Ghostland too. So I came home and sketched it out.
And yeah, I’ve been relistening to the Fourth Tower of Inverness lately too (it’s that time of year after all) but what I saw in my head wasn’t just weird, like the Fourth Tower, it was spooky and bizarre. I think it will make a perfect Halloween story.
1. BETA READERS for my fictional writings and novels and (if you wish) the poetry and songs that I intend to publish. I want only brutally honest opinions, and I want a wide range of readers/reader-types. (There will be no pay but I will exchange favors and see to it that you are provided with free copies of the finished works). Confidentiality regarding my writings will be expected of course, and I will restrict my beta readers to maybe 6 to 8 people, but I will treat you right. If you are interested in reading my literary writings, my popular fiction, my poetry, my song lyrics and my other Work then please visit my Literary Blog Wyrdwend at this link: https://wyrdwend.wordpress.com/category/my-writings-and-work/
2.A good, decent, hard-working, and ambitious LITERARY AGENT (to match myself). If you are interested in representing my literary writings, my popular fiction, my poetry, my song lyrics and my other Work then please visit my Literary Blog Wyrdwend at this link: https://wyrdwend.wordpress.com/category/my-writings-and-work/
3. An EMPLOYEE TEAM for my start-ups. (People to run the businesses, handle marketing, and run day to day operations while I and my partners handle funding and investors, etc.) More on that later. If you are interested in reading my business and career writings and in following my start-ups or my consulting and invention work then please visit my Business Blog at this address: https://launchport.wordpress.com/category/my-writings-and-work/
4. A TEAM OF BUSINESS BUILDERS/DEVELOPERS AND INVESTORS (start-ups primarily but we may also handle brokerage and turn-arounds on rare occasions) to be put together to found and profit from new business ventures. More on that soon. If you are interested in reviewing my business and career writings and in following my start-ups or my consulting and invention work then please visit my Business Blog at this address: https://launchport.wordpress.com/category/my-writings-and-work/
5. PARTNERS to work with me on developing and designing (CAD and prototype designs) my inventions and app designs. If you are interested in reading my business and career writings and in following my start-ups or my consulting and invention work then please read my Business Blog at this address: https://launchport.wordpress.com/category/my-writings-and-work/
6. GAME DESIGN PARTNERS who can take the games I’ve designed and/or written and either build physical products out of them or in the case of computer and video games program basic builds that we can use to pitch to game studios. If you are interested in reading and reviewing my game designs and work then please visit my Gaming Blog at this address: https://tomeandtomb.wordpress.com/category/my-writings-and-work/
A brief word of explanation on the above:
Beta Readers – I tend to write my fictional works, short stories, and novels in the following genres: children’s stories, detective and mysteries, espionage, fantasy and myth, historical fiction, horror, and science fiction. My current novel is a high fantasy/myth about Prester John and the Byzantine Empire. I tend to insert a lot of historical and literary references into most of my works. I would not expect my Beta Readers to provide me with detailed critiques or edits, though if you wished to do so that’s up to you. I’m really just looking for basic opinions and do you like the plot, stories, works, etc., and do you have any advice for improvements? As I said I’m open to favor exchanges and free copies of my works.
Also, when it comes to my songs I write the lyrics but I have no real time right now for composing. If you are a composer or lyricist and you wish to enter into a song-writing partnership with me then we will split the credits and your contributions and shares of any successful songs will be protected by contract.
Literary Agent – I want a literary agent with a wide range of interests and one with whom I can develop both a professional relationship and a personal friendship. (I much prefer doing business with people I enjoy.) I want a literary agent who is ambitious, as I am, and one who can help me make my writings successful so that we may both profit handsomely.
Employee Team – more on this later but I’m looking for a good employee team as well as a strong, tight, efficient, and profitable team of administrators, managers, and officers.
Business Builder/Investor/Investment Team – more on this later but I need good people from all areas/sections of the country, and possibly members from outside the US, who can look realistically at start-ups and help develop and fund them into successful enterprises. Backgrounds in brokerage, business building and development, communications, entrepreneurship, investment, and deal-making most desired. But we can also look at other backgrounds. Realistically risk will be high, and loss always possible, but profits should be considerable on successful ventures. This will be both a business creation and development and investment team, sort of like an Investment Club but with a far wider range of interests and with more hands on developmental involvement.
Invention Partners – partners in design and prototyping and product development. We’ll start out with my inventions and maybe yours as well and possibly graduate to taking stakes in other inventions and related businesses if the idea seems solid and viable.
Game Design Partners – people who can take my game designs, and your own, and build programs or physical products out of them. Depending on how much you contribute we’ll take profit shares on sales of the games, regardless of whether it is by the game or we sell the designs outright. As with the inventions your work will always be attributed in the design and protected as a share of profit by contract.
Finally you should know that in working with me my very basic and fundamental Worldview is that I am a Christian by religion, spirituality, philosophy, and nature, a Conservative (with some strong Libertarian leanings) in cultural and political and social matters, and a Capitalist when it comes to economics and monetary affairs.
Therefore I am a disciple and proponent of the teachings of Christ (Truth, Justice, Personal Honor, Honesty, and Fair Treatment of all based on individual behavior are extremely important to me, and I tend to like Charity and Philanthropy), God is my mentor and my best friend, I am Conservative in nature and very much believe in Hard Work and Personal Effort and Individual Initiative and Self-Discipline, and I am pro-Business, Development, Entrepreneurship, and Wealth. I also like to see people exploit their own talents and benefit and profit thereby. I set extremely high goals for both myself and others, and I expect much, but think I am fair and just to work with. I do discriminate and unapologetically so, but not regarding matters of background, class, race, or sex. I only discriminate between good and bad behavior, and between industry and laziness. As a boss or partner I will not long endure intentionally bad or destructive or self-destructive or foolish or apathetic behavior. I am not at all bothered by failure if you seek to improve and advance the next time.
If that all sounds fine by you and you are interested in any of these ventures then please contact me via email or by my Facebook or Linked-In pages or through my blogs or other webpages. We’ll begin Work.
I meant to put this up for Tuesday’s Tale, but work and other things interfered so I’m putting it up here today for Highmoot.
What you see below are the creation materials (or some of them anyway) for my four novels of the Other World, specifically the first in the series, The Basilegate.
Actually I have 1200 to 1500 pages of research materials (mainly historical but also containing other materials) for all four novels already, most of it on CD or DVD and on computer files on my main work system. The rest is in hard files, collected notes (post it notes in the big white container that say BOOK I), in my notebooks and sketchbooks, outlines, timelines, etc.
I laid all of that out on Sunday and had my youngest daughter take pictures of it. This week I am taking all of that material, my chapter outlines for the first book (Basilegate), my notes, etc. and transferring it all to my Chapter and Plot Board. You might think of this as a Case Board by which I’ll run the plot and structure of my novels (in this case, the first in the series) as they progress. I already have about a hundred or so pages of the first novel finished, and various sections of all of the novels completed (as first drafts anyway), not counting the various scenes I have sketched out for each of them. My overall aim now is to collate and compile and arrange all of these scenes and what I already have written into a coherent and consecutive and consequential novel storyline, and thereby push on to finish the first novel while simultaneously arranging all of the other serial plots.
In this collection you will see all of my files, notes, the plot board itself (before being arranged), notebooks, research materials (on CD and DVD), some of the maps I’ve created, and the poems, songs, and music I’ve written and arranged to be included in the books/novels.
(You might ask, “Why does he have the AD&D and 5th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guides as apparent research materials?” Simple, not for the research itself, but because these two books are the best fictional writing guides I’ve ever read. Anywhere and on any fictional subject. If you are a writer and you do not have these writing guides then you really should, they are simply superb and extremely useful for all kinds of story arrangements, including plot arrangements.
You might also ask, “why the harmonica?” Well, because I often like to play the harmonica when I become stuck on some aspect of the story. It helps me think.)
Once I’ve gotten everything fully arranged and up on my Plot Board in proper Order I’ll take a new set of photographs and post those here too. I’ve been working on this novel series for years now, and as a general idea for a decade or more, but I’m finally in a position to push on and finish all four books now. I’m now satisfied that all of my major research and preparation work has been properly conducted and finished and I’m now ready to finish the novels without anymore large-scale or wholesale plot revision. Just minor tinkering at the edges left really, and then the finished writings.
Which is a big relief to me as I intend this novel series to be one of my Magnum Opae (one of my major Life Works – I literally cannot say Magnum Opera as that construction seems wholly silly and inappropriate to me in English).
I’ve been having to spend a lot of time on the internet this past weekend, yesterday, and today (time I would have rather spent doing other things, but this was necessary) rearranging the work on my literary blog so as to make it easier for agents, publishers, business partners, investors, etc. to locate my work in a single locale.
I did have my stuff scattered about on various “categories” on my blog(s) but that was apparently making it hard for agents and others to review my stuff. So on each blog I created a new category entitled: MY WRITINGS AND WORK
Now anyone can find anything I have created, written, or posted on my blogsites with a single click. This should be much, much more efficient and useful.
But it has been hard work to go back through all of my old posts, locate my work, and collate it into a single on-line collection.
So it has taken days (literally) of search, edit, and reorganize. But I’m halfway done with Wyrdwend, my literary blog, and as of now my new category/collection contains 88 pieces of my work. Including such things as my short stories, poetry, children’s stories, children’s books, songs, invention sketches, business articles, criticisms, scripts, graphic novels, essays, novel extracts, game designs, etc.
Whatever I have so far put up.
I figure when I finally finish with my archives by the end of the week the category/collection/link will contain about 160 or so pieces of original work.
Once that is done I’ll do the same for all of my other blogs, including Launch Port, Tome and Tomb, and the Missal.
For the past few years I’ve been developing Tools to assist me in my career as a fiction writer, songwriter, and poet. In preparation for pursuing those careers.
I have decades worth of Tools regarding my business-careers as a business, copy, and non-fiction writer, and inventor (and as a poet, I’ve been a poet since I was about age 8 or so), many of which I have been posting to my Business Blog, Launch Port.
But here in Wyrdwend I’m going to start making it a habit to post some of my more useful Writing Tools in the form of Templates. I’ll arrange them all into a sellable book, or e-book, or workbook, something like that, maybe in a year or so. I’m too busy right now.
I’m giving you permission to use these tools, or to use them as idea-generators to make your own. Tools, as opposed to actual Works, I consider more public property than proprietary or personal intellectual property. Yeah, in book form I’d consider them mine, but in this form, if you find them useful, then use away.
Each week, barring some unforeseen exigency, I’ll be posting a different Tool, or a different kind of tool (writing, songwriting, poetry, etc.) that you can make use of in developing your own works. Some of these tools I modified from tools suggested to me by others, some contain partial information or design components from other sources, many are entirely my own creations.
To start I give you a very, very simple and easy to use tool. Nevertheless it should (if properly employed) contain vital and succinct information about your Work (Book or other Major Work) that you can use as an elevator pitch, to formulate a written pitch, or to simply keep the fundamental and primary elements of your work clear, distinct, and easily marketable.
Linn Ulmann spent her childhood trailing her famous parents as they traveled the world. As the daughter of director Ingmar Bergman and the actress Liv Ullmann, two legends of 20th-century cinema, her “home” shifted time and again. The one constant was a Swedish island, Fårö, where she returned each summer to visit her father.
Now, she’s fascinated by the way our surroundings shape us. In her interview for this series, the author of The Cold Song used a short story by Alice Munro to illustrate the way setting drives her writing, and how place and memory help dictate the stories we tell.
The Cold Song concerns a cast of characters affected by the disappearance of Milla, a 19-year-old au pair working in a coastal town south of Oslo. After two years, her body—and the grisly manner of its death—is uncovered by three boys searching for buried treasure. With this act of violence at its heart, the novel explores the unexpected ways a crime haunts people who knew the victim, inflaming their secret sources of guilt.
Linn Ullmann is the author of five previous novels, including Before You Sleep and A Blessed Child; her work has been translated into more than 30 languages. She spoke to me by phone from her home in Oslo.
Linn Ullmann: When my father died six years ago, and we were selling off his property on the island of Fårö where I grew up, I kept a diary in a big, black notebook. It was a strange thing: a book that mixed notes on practical arrangements with ideas for the new book I’d started writing then. (This book was a mix of the book I did eventually write—The Cold Song—and another book I didn’t write, about the death of a father.) The notebook was a reading diary, too. In between meetings about the funeral, and what to do with his things, and how we were going to bury him, I was reading Alice Munro.
I’ve read her in many stages of my life. I love the way her voice just sucks you in, the way her stories walk you as if to the unexpected edge of a cliff, towards moments that—in their violence or sense of life-changing possibility—are like sudden free fall. During that time of mourning, I’d written down this passage from her story “Face”:
Something had happened here. In your life there are a few places, or maybe only one place, where something has happened. And then there are the other places, which are just other places.
This quote—“Something had happened here”—resonated so much with me. I found it very moving because of where I was right then: starting a new book, having just lost my father, in the only place I had ever really called home. At the time, this was a very desolate island with a few sheep farmers living on it. Fårö was my home until I was three years old—and though I moved very, very many times, I returned every summer for the rest of my life, until my father died. These lines struck me on a profoundly personal level, and I had no choice but to write them down.
I’ve just re-read the story now, and am again blown away by it. It’s impossible to retell a story by Alice Munro, because there are so many ins and outs and digressions, before everything comes together in this surprising, magical way—but this is a strange love story about a boy who has a wine-colored birthmark over half his face. As a child, he’s friends with a girl about his age. Twice, she tries to make her face look like his—once, using red paint, and again later in a more permanent, devastating way. She does this out of love, or a destructive thing that love can sometimes be: “I love you so much that I want to be you.”
There’s so much else in this story, which gives the whole broad arc of the narrator’s life. We learn about his relationship with his father (who, moments after his son is born, remarks, “what a chunk of chopped liver”). We learn about his career as a successful radio actor, before TV—an industry his birthmark bars him from—takes over broadcast drama. But what sticks, in the end, is the moment in the basement of the childhood home where the little girl splashes red paint on half her face and says, all hopeful, “Now do I look like you?”
At the time, this gesture deeply wounds the boy, and his family interprets it as an act of terrible, mocking cruelty. The two children are never allowed to see each other again. It’s only as an adult that he learns—the afternoon of his father’s funeral—that she later used a razor to cut his same mark on her face. This act—of fidelity? Of shame? Of atonement?—casts the moment in the basement in a totally different light. Perhaps she was a person who identified with him so completely, that she was willing to trade her unblemished face for his. The narrator begins to realize that exchange in the basement was a crucial moment of his life; even though he didn’t realize it at the time, it may have been the closest he ever came to having his marred face looked upon honestly but without reproach, with something like love.
There’s no big sign saying Here’s the turning point. There’s no Sliding Doors scene that tells you, “Here’s the big moment!” But by the end of the story, we sense that this is what matters most to this character, as he looks back. After the revelation at the funeral, he decides not to sell the house where he grew up, where the exchange in the basement happened, as he had planned. Instead, he lives inside it for the rest of his life.
In other words, he comes to see that the childhood house will always be his reference point, his stage of greatest significance. I think it is this way for many of us: There is maybe one place, when we look back, where something happened. Or only a few places. “And then there are all the other places,” Munro writes: important too, but not distinct, not above all else. Those precious few settings where something happened are where meaning resides—they contain the story, they are the story. Yes, I think that, to Alice Munro, story is place—the two are that deeply connected. You do not have a story of a life without an actual place. You can’t separate one from the other.
I think that’s why she’s intensely local in her fiction, like many other great writers (Faulkner, Joyce, and Proust come straight to mind). Munro’s stories unfold in remote places in Canada that I’ve never been to—but in these geographically small places, whole worlds play out. The best writers provide a sense of events unfolding in this specific place, a place that informs and feeds the characters and events. What comes first: the place or the story? The story or the place? With great fiction, it can be impossible to distinguish.
I’ve been a reader of authors who have a strong sense of place, because in my own life I’ve been somewhat placeless. I always traveled as a kid, and went to a new school every year. I lived in New York, I lived in Norway, I lived in Sweden—we travelled around, we moved, and I continued doing that into my adult life. I have been something of a placeless person—so I try to find that in literature, I guess. I seek out books and authors who are very place-specific. For me, in a way, the experience of sitting with a book is the closest thing I have to “home.”
And this reminds me of another Munro line, from her story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain”:
There are places that you long for that you might not ever see.
Some places you never actually experience yourself, but are always important in your life anyway, even if you never go. Places you learn about through literature and other people’s stories can take on intense personal significance, as Munro’s Canadian hamlets have for me. I have this second quote written with the lines from “Face” in that big, black notebook; I probably wrote them on the same day. Somehow, I feel like these two passages—because they are about place in literature, and where things happened, whether a physical place or interior place—are what Munro is all about.
In my own work—the way I actually write—place plays an essential role, too. A choreographer I whose work I love, Merce Cunningham, was once asked, “How do you start a dance?” He said, “Well, you have to begin by showing up.” I think that’s brilliant, and it goes for writing, too. You can have all these novels in your head, all these characters and ideas, but if you don’t actually show up to your writing day—the physical place where you get the work done— you have nothing.
The characters, too, need to “show up”—the story needs to happen somewhere. Again, Munro: “Something happened here.” That line could be the epigraph to everything I write. The “here” is every bit as important as the “something happened.” For me, the two cannot exist without each other; setting and character respond to and inform one another.
When I begin writing, I need to have a place. It can be a small: even a single room, though I like to be able to see the layout, the colors, the objects inside. I need to have that stage so that my characters have a place to move around. If I can develop that sense of place—and that other crucial quality, the narrative voice—then I feel sure I will find a story, even if it takes some time. If I don’t have the place, and I don’t have the voice, I’m writing without a motor. It all becomes just words. But once the voice comes, the “here” comes next, and then the “something happened”—what we call plot—follows from it.
In this way, writing becomes a listening experience—a way of being responsive to what you have written, and letting it guide you. Some writers say “the characters come to me,” or the “characters become alive to me at night.” Bullshit. I don’t believe that my characters are alive. But the process requires a form of artistic listening, of understanding the consequences of the decisions you’ve made. If you are lucky enough to find voice and place, there are real consequences to those choices. Together, they limit the possibilities of what can possibly come next—and they help point the way forward. Your role, then, is to not stick to your original idea—it is to be totally faithless to your idea. Instead, be faithful to voice and place as you discover them, and to the consequences of what they entail.
That’s why it’s often more fun fumbling around with notes and good ideas before the writing actually starts—it doesn’t require as much intensive listening. Most writers start out thinking “I’m going to write about such-and-such grand idea.” That’s fine when it’s all up in your head. But the minute you start putting words down, you begin to confine yourself to certain possibilities, and you must be prepared to abandon what you thought you were writing about before.
There is a Norwegian novelist who says “Writers must beware of their own good ideas.” You have this great idea, and then you start writing—and maybe something happens, and your voice starts taking you places. But if you start to think, I’m going away from my great idea, I have this wonderful idea! I need to get back to my idea—you stop following the consequences of the place and voice you’ve chosen. This is a mistake. You see a lot of decent books and plots that are fantastic—the writing might even be really good—but still somehow feel completely dead. I think that’s because there’s a great idea, a compelling premise, but a lack of honesty that can only come from listening closely to your writing. Those beautiful moments when you’ve just got to put the book away for a while because it’s so intense—we have a Norwegian word, smertepunkt, which literally means “point of pain”—can only come from this kind of honest listening. And Alice Munro is an absolute master of it. She dares to take the consequence of a voice, and a place, and follow them to where it takes her.
Place dictates who we are and how we see—this is true in life, as well as fiction. I see it in the way my father wrote about his first impressions of Fårö in his autobiography, Magic Lantern:
If one wished to be solemn, it could be said that I had found my landscape, my real home. If one wished to be funny, one could talk about love at first sight …. This is your landscape, Bergman. It corresponds to your innermost imaginings of forms, proportions, colours, horizons, sounds, silences, lights and reflections. Security is here. Don’t ask why. Explanations are clumsy rationalizations with hindsight. In, for instance, your profession, you look for simplification, proportion, exertion, relaxation, breathing. The Fårö landscape gives you a wealth of all that.
He decided because of the shape and the light and the proportions that this was where he was going to live and work. And that place is the central place in my life, too. I think probably reading these Alice Munro stories right after his death was why I copied over those quotes. They struck me—because he was dead, and also because I was mourning the fact that I was also losing my place. The island, the house on it, that’s all going to disappear now—and all the memories there, too. You cannot separate memory and place. There are certain places, if we go there, either in our writing or in reading or in life, that conjure up our deepest memories. And memories are all about who we are.
I always wondered if it really was my place. That became the big dilemma in the years after my father’s death: Was it my place, or was it his place? Places are always complicated in that way.
The island is not a place that says “Love me. Look how beautiful I am. You’ll be happy here.” It is not a place that tries to charm or seduce you. It’s beautiful in its starkness, in all its different rocky greys. There are old stone formations, called rauks, that are millions of years old. Red poppies grow in the summer. In the winter, there are countless shades of white. The surrounding sea, the Baltic Sea, is a broken sea: it’s losing oxygen, is filmed with algae on it, and very still. A dead ocean. It’s beautiful, but severe. The nature and the temperament of the whole, stark place—yes, you might fall in love with me, but I don’t know if I’m going to return your love ever. I know that I love the place, but I don’t know if the place loves me.
With some of the greatest loves you have, that’s the dilemma you have to live with.
I used to breed Great Dane pups. Well, half Great Dane, and half Saint Bernard. I call them American Superiors.
So that I could keep one descendent from every generation and so that (going back four generations now) others who wished them could have one. Best dogs I’ve ever had. Best dogs I’ve ever seen.
But dogs are dogs. Their methods of breeding, reproduction, and birth are hardly easy, civilized, or elevated. Sometimes they’re just brutal. Which reminded me a lot at the time of things I’ve seen with and out of people too.
So I wrote this short story about em both: dogs, and people. Because when they are both high and elevated, they are both noble indeed. And when brutal and beastly I get good and damned tired of watching them kill (intentionally or otherwise) and of burying em…
So for Tuesday’s Tale I’m telling ya, sometimes I Get Sick.
I GET SICK
My bitch killed two of her own. There were only four to begin with, so it was a real blow. To all of us. As much as I love my bitch, and think she’s much smarter than average, it was totally unnecessary. Had I not been already exhausted with overwork I could have seen it coming. Could have prevented it. Should have prevented it, but truth was, I was just plain too late. I get sick of being too late. It always ends like hell, and the payoff is lousy.
With her breed of dog you have to watch the pups carefully. It’s not that she’s a bad bitch in any way, or an uncaring mother. She isn’t. Actually it’s quite the opposite. She cares a lot. Which is why she killed them. Too much of love is deadly in her kind.
We’d been through this before. It wasn’t our first rodeo, for either one of us. I knew how she’d litter, and what the follow on would be. She birthed for two days straight, but slowly. Very slowly. Again, normal for her kind.
Six pups in all, one blue, one brindle, one gold, three black. All of the coat combinations possible given her jet-black coat and the complex coat of her sire. But two were stillborn, a black female my kids named Zoë and a huge pup, twice as big as any of the other two combined, we named Goliath. It was bad he never drew breath. From his size at birth alone it was likely he would have been a prodigious monster. Maybe the biggest my bitch had ever bred.
But four lived. A black female we named Jade, a golden male named Leo, a brindle called Peter, and a beautiful blue (always the rarest in appearance) I named Seanna, meaning “blue gray wave.” They all thrived for five days. My bitch had more than enough milk to nourish them all. Leo grew the largest, Peter next, Seanna was the smallest, but fed the most, and yet Jade too did well. Her fat belly often swelled with what she ate.
On the fifth night I gave up watching the pups anymore. Just let their mother do all the tending. She was doing a superb job, and although I knew that being a Great Dane, and about two hundred pounds, she would be a danger to them until they were three or four weeks old, they all seemed well. I could go back to bed at night, let my bitch care for the pups alone and without my interference. I was already almost sick with overwork and lack of sleep. All night den-father to the litter seemed overkill.
The next morning I got up late, having overslept from previous lack. I went downstairs and looked at the thick blanket on my den floor where my bitch and pups should have been. But they weren’t there. She had moved them all up onto the couch. I ran over, afraid of what it meant, but it was too late.
She had two wrapped in front of her, her legs bent at an angle almost as if she were a human mother hugging them to her. She was licking and grooming them. I snatched them away immediately and placed them back on the floor. Then I looked for the other two.
Sometime after she had placed them on the couch they had slipped behind her. They were caught between the large seat cushions, dead and suffocated. One dead perhaps ten or twenty minutes, one dead probably not two or three minutes earlier. Both were still warm. Leo lay above Jade, a familial yet senseless fellowship of death.
I tried what I could with a syringe to resuscitate them both. But rigor set in quick with Jade. Leo stayed warm and pliant for nearly an hour. I thought at first he might have been comatose, instead of dead. But I could find no sign of breath or heartbeat, even a suppressed one. Eventually he too stiffened.
As best as I could reconstruct from what I saw their mother had probably went to get on the couch during the night to take a break from feeding them all. To take a little rest, maybe get some sleep. She’s used to laying on our couch or lounger as part of her normal routine. Then she heard one or more of them whine, demanding more milk, or her for her warmth. She had retrieved them all to be with her, carried them in her mouth to where she was, because after all she wanted them near and it was far more comfortable on the couch.
But they were too young still, and she far too large. Greta Danes bitches will often crush their young if left unwatched, and never even notice. An accident of nature they don’t think about until after death has claimed his prize.
She felt terrible afterwards, as did I. It took her awhile to figure out, but once she did she moaned and groaned. It was really my fault though. She’s a dog. But I’m a man. I knew what could have happened, and I had let myself become over-confident. That after a couple of litters she already knew all there was to know, and that with such a small litter to tend no real harm could befall form her loving but clumsy efforts at tending her pups. At two hundred pounds they were no match for her mass, and because of her breed, her unchecked affections were lethal and sure.
And, of course, I could have put up all of the cushions before I went to bed that night. That way she could not have placed them on the couch, where they could suffocate beneath her, caught between cushions many times their size, and crushed under a mother many times their weight. I could have also risen earlier. I had missed saving Leo by less than five minutes, and missed saving Jade by half an hour or less. But in all of these things I had been over-confident and stupid, had let exhaustion and lack of sleep and preparation blind me to risk. If anyone was at fault, it was certainly me. If anyone is to blame, the blame is all mine. And just as with any reckless, unnecessary accident or tragedy, there is always someone to blame. If you’re ever really willing to be honest about it.
That didn’t comfort their mother though, any more than it comforted me. Knowing how a sorry thing happened is very different from having prevented it. But at first she didn’t understand either. So she walked in rapid, worried circles around the small bodies, tried her furious best to lick them back to life, and when after an hour she finally realized they were absolutely dead, she demanded to go outside and tried to dig a hole to bury them in. I went outside and spoke to her softly, knowing she couldn’t understand me, but finally she looked up and left off her task. She didn’t need to understand me; she knew they wouldn’t be moving again. And so I guess she was sick of digging her holes.
Why is it that I’m the one that does all of the burying? I often ask myself that at times like these. I’m always the one putting the bodies down. I’m always the one digging the holes, or making the arrangements, or watching the corpses get planted.
Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.
I know my time will come. It’s inevitable. One day someone will plant my mortal remains, and that doesn’t bother me at all. It’s just a body, and well hell, I like it and all, but it seems a poor ride into eternity. It seems very fitting to me to shed it in time. I’ll have other places to be by then anyways.
But until then, on days like today, I have to wonder, what makes me so damned special? How come I get spared, how come I’m the one always left behind? As many times as Death has vested me, smiled, shook my hand, spoke to me like an old friend and wished me well, he’s never once asked me to follow him anywhere else than someone else’s grave. Just recover from whatever hit me so that I can be the one to execute his rites. His silly, tiring, pointless rites and rituals.
Friends, family, victims known and unknown, even my dogs and animals. I’ve inhumed them all. Planted them all. Entombed their last remains so often that all that remains to me is but a shadow of what I used to know. Used to feel. About them. About myself. I get sick of being the one to do all of the burying. I really get sick of it. A disease without end. A task without profit.
And so one day, one day God help me, just send me a cure.
I disagreed with him on many things. I thought him an outright fool on more than one issue and occasion.
(Yes, yes, I know how literary “icons” and the modern intelligentsia and the types of men who believe politics to be the answer to all existence – human or otherwise – like to cluster around each other to breathlessly and mutually glorify their own supposed genius. But I am far more skeptical of “modern genius” in all its many fictional forms. As a matter of fact I rarely see any real evidence of the supposed “modern genius” of self-styled “modern geniuses,” and their numberless cohorts, ever, or at all.)
But narrowing his views down to the strictly literary disciplines I did often agree with him on these scores: there is a new illiteracy (not in the inability to read and write, but in the poverty of having ever read or written anything of any real value at all), and letter writing is dead and with it much of higher human writing.
Otherwise the Grass is dead too. I doubt it will ever green again.
Author of The Tin Drum and figure of enduring controversy
Monday 13 April 2015 05.38 EDT
Last modified on Monday 13 April 2015 09.40 EDT
The writer Günter Grass, who broke the silences of the past for a generation of Germans, has died in hospital in Lübeck at the age of 87.
German president Joachim Gauck led the tributes, offering his condolences to the writer’s widow Ute Grass. “Günter Grass moved, enthralled, and made the people of our country think with his literature and his art,” he said in a statement. “His literary work won him recognition early across the world, as witnessed not least by his Nobel prize.”
“His novels, short stories, and his poetry reflect the great hopes and fallacies, the fears and desires of whole generations,” the statement continued.
Tributes began to appear within minutes of the announcement of Grass’ death on Twitter by his publisher, Steidl.
In the UK, Salman Rushdie was one of the first authors to respond, tweeting:
The Turkish Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk had warm personal memories: “Grass learned a lot from Rabelais and Celine and was influential in development of ‘magic realism’ and Marquez. He taught us to base the story on the inventiveness of the writer no matter how cruel, harsh and political the story is,” he said.
He added: “In April 2010 when there was a mushroom cloud over Europe he was in Istanbul and stayed more than he planned. We went to restaurants and drank and drank and talked and talked … A generous, curious and a very warm friend who also wanted to be a painter at first!”
A life in writing: Günter Grass
Grass found success in every artistic form he explored – from poetry to drama and from sculpture to graphic art – but it wasn’t until publication of his first novel, The Tin Drum, in 1959 that he found the international reputation which brought him the Nobel prize for literature 40 years later. A speechwriter for the German chancellor Willy Brandt, Grass was never afraid to use the platform his fame afforded, campaigning for peace and the environment and speaking out against German reunification, which he compared to Hitler’s “annexation” of Austria.
Grass was born in the Free City of Danzig – now Gdansk – in 1927, “almost late enough”, as he said, to avoid involvement with the Nazi regime. Conscripted into the army in 1944 at the age of 16, he served as a tank gunner in the Waffen SS, bringing accusations of betrayal, hypocrisy and opportunism when he wrote about it in his 2006 autobiography, Peeling the Onion.
The writer was surprised by the strength of the reaction, arguing that he thought at the time that the SS was merely “an elite unit”, that he had spoken openly about his wartime record in the 1960s, and that he had spent a lifetime “working through” the unquestioning beliefs of his youth in his writing. His war came to an end six months later having “never fired a shot”, when he was wounded in Cottbus and captured in a military hospital by the US army. That he avoided committing war crimes was “not by merit”, he insisted. “If I had been born three or four years earlier I would, surely, have seen myself caught up in those crimes.”
Instead he trained as a stonemason, studied art in Düsseldorf and Berlin, and joined Hans Werner Richter’s Group 47 alongside writers such as Ingeborg Bachmann and Heinrich Böll. After moving to Paris in 1956 he began working on a novel which told the story of Germany in the first half of the 20th century through the life of a boy who refuses to grow.
A sprawling mixture of fantasy, family saga, bildungsroman and political fable, The Tin Drum was attacked by critics, denied the Bremen literature prize by outraged senators, burned in Düsseldorf and became a global bestseller.
Günter Grass is my hero, as a writer and a moral compass
Speaking to the Swedish Academy in 1999, Grass explained that the reaction taught him “that books can cause offence, stir up fury, even hatred, that what is undertaken out of love for one’s country can be taken as soiling one’s nest. From then on I have been controversial.”
A steady stream of provocative interventions in debates around social justice, peace and the environment followed, alongside poetry, drama, drawings and novels. In 1977 Grass tackled sexual politics, hunger and the rise of civilisation with a 500-page version of the Grimm brothers’ fairytale The Fisherman and His Wife. The Rat (1986) explored the apocalpyse, as a man dreams of a talking rat who tells him of the end of the human race, while 1995’s Too Far Afield explored reunification through east German eyes – prompting Germany’s foremost literary critic, Marcel Reich-Ranicki, to brand the novel a “complete and utter failure” and to appear on the cover of Der Spiegel ripping a copy in half.
His last novel, 2002’s Crabwalk, dived into the sinking of the German liner Wilhelm Gustloff in 1945, while three volumes of memoir – Peeling the Onion, The Box and Grimms’ Words – boldly ventured into troubled waters.
Germany’s political establishment responded immediately to the news of Grass’s death. The head of the German Green party, Katrin Göring-Eckardt, called Grass a “great author, a critical spirit. A contemporary who had the ambition to put himself against the Zeitgeist.”
“Günter Grass was a contentious intellectual – his literary work remains formidable,” tweeted the head of the opposition Free Democratic party, Christian Lindner.
Günter Grass in quotes: 12 of the best
The foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was “deeply dismayed” at the news of the author’s death, a tweet from his ministry said.
Steinmeier is a member of the Social Democratic party, which Grass had a fraught relationship with – after campaigning for the party in 1960s and 70s, he became a member in 1982, only to leave ten years later in protest at its asylum policies.
“Günter Grass was a contentious intellectual who interfered. We sometimes miss that today,” SPD chairwoman Andrea Nahles said.
While there were plenty of tributes recognising Grass as one of Germany’s most important post-war writers, social media users swiftly revived many of the controversies of his divisive career, bringing up his membership of the SS and his alleged anti-Semitism.
Speaking to the Paris Review in 1991, Grass made no apology for his abiding focus on Germany’s difficult past. “If I had been a Swedish or a Swiss author I might have played around much more, told a few jokes and all that,” he said. “That hasn’t been possible; given my background, I have had no other choice.”
The controversy flared up again following by publication of his 2012 poem What Must be Said, in which he criticised Israeli policy. Published simultaneously in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the Italian La Repubblica and Spanish El País, the poem brought an angry response from the Israeli ambassador to Germany, Shimon Stein, who saw in it “a disturbed relationship to his own past, the Jews, and Israel”.
Despite his advanced age, Grass still led an active public life, and made vigorous public appearances in recent weeks. In a typically opinionated interview for state broadcaster WDR, which he gave in February after a live reading from Grimms’ Words, Grass called his last book a “declaration of love to the German language”.
He also talked about how the internet and the loss of the art of letter-writing had led to a “new illiteracy”. “Of course that has consequences,” he said. “It leads to a poverty of language and allows everything to be forgotten that the Grimm brothers created with their glorious work.”
He also remained critical of western policy in the Middle East (“now we see the chaos we make in those countries with our western values”), and talked about how his age had done nothing to soften his political engagement.
“I have children and grandchildren, I ask myself every day: ‘what are we leaving behind for them?’ When I was 17, at the end of the war, everything was in ruins, but our generation, whether for good reason or not, had hope, we wanted to shape the future. That’s very difficult for young people today, because the future is virtually fixed for them.”
Ten years after the publication of his last novel, Kazuo Ishiguro has come out with a new book, The Buried Giant. A former winner of the Man Booker Prize and considered one of the best British writers alive today, Ishiguro is a master of the understated. His works feature narrators that speak so simply and so plainly, they appear to have almost no affect at all. Still, their stories are dark and poignant, and it’s often not until the last few pages of an Ishiguro novel that we realize how deeply we’ve been moved.
In The Buried Giant, an elderly couple sets off on a journey through a mythical England populated by ogres, dragons, knights and giants. Axl and Beatrice are in search of their son, whom they can’t quite remember how they lost. This is because the inhabitants of The Buried Giant’s mythical world suffer a collective amnesia, a ‘mist’ that keeps them from holding onto certain memories, both personal and historical. As we travel with Axl and Beatrice, the novel asks us what memory (and forgetting) means to a person, to a couple, to a society. In many ways, the book is surprising (The New York Times calls it ‘a departure’), but it also showcases some of Ishiguro’s most essential qualities as a writer: subtle prose, a dreamlike atmosphere, and powerful questions about loss and memory.
I sat down with Ishiguro in Knopf’s office early on a Friday, just before it began to snow. We talked about his writing process, collective memory, Inglourious Basterds, and his new novel’s recent role in the conversation about genre.
Chang: Each of your novels is so unlike the one that came before it. The Buried Giant has surprised a lot of readers. Can we talk about what influenced you while you were working? What books were you reading, or drawing upon?
Ishiguro: Well, I did a great deal of research and read quite a lot before I wrote the book. But I don’t know that the books I read during the actual writing process necessarily have much to do with it.
I find that when you’re writing, it becomes quite a battle to keep your fictional world in tact. In fact, as I write, I almost deliberately avoid anything in the realm of what I’m working on. For instance, I hadn’t seen a single episode of Game of Thrones. That whole thing happened when I was quite deep into the writing, and I thought, ‘If I watch something like that, it might influence the way I visualize a scene or tamper with the world that I’ve set up.’
Chang: It sounds like the planning stage and the writing stage were two very separate parts of your process.
Ishiguro: Yes, it’s really when I’m planning the project that I actively look for ideas and read very widely. I spend a lot of time planning. I’m quite a deliberate writer in that way. A lot of writers I know just work with kind of a blank canvas. They feel it out and improvise on it and then they look to see what kind of material they’ve got.
I’ve never been able to do that. Even at the start of my career, when maybe I would have been a little more reckless. I’ve always needed to know quite a lot about the story before I start to write the actual prose. I’ve always needed a solid idea before getting started.
Chang: How do you know when you have a solid idea?
Ishiguro: It’s got to be something that I’m able to articulate to myself in about two to three sentences. And those sentences have to be compelling, much more than the sum of their parts. I should be able to feel the tension and emotion arising from that little summary I’ve created, and then I know I’ve got a project to work on. With The Buried Giant, for example, the starting point was something like: ‘There’s a whole society where people are suffering some sort of collective, and strangely selective, amnesia.’
Chang: And that was the summary you had in mind before you sat down to the page?
Ishiguro: Yes, but that’s not quite enough for an idea. That’s more of a concept. I guess if I had to write the next line of the summary, it would be, ‘There’s a couple who fears that without their shared memory, their love will vanish.’ And then the third line would be that the nation around them is in some kind of strange tense peace.
Alright, so I didn’t literally write those sentences down, but that’s how I start a project. I start with something quite abstract like that, and then I start to plan and do my research.
I tend to read quite a lot of non-fiction around the themes I want to explore.
Chang: Are you fairly careful about curating what you do read or think about while you plan a novel?
Ishiguro: Not necessarily. For this book in particular, I read a very good Canadian book called Long Shadows by Erna Paris, It was written in the early 2000s and documents her travels, looking at the various kinds of brewing or buried trouble. There was also Postwar by Tony Judt, and Peter Novich’s The Holocaust in American Life.
Now, those nonfiction books went into it the research part, but I find that almost anything around that point can be influential. Around that stage is when I’m most sensitive, or most open to influence. Almost every movie I see, every book I’m reading, I’m thinking: ‘Is there something here that might nudge me toward an image, or an idea, or even a technique?’
I remember I happened to be watching Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds at a formative point. There’s a long scene where the American guys are in a German bar, pretending to be German soldiers, and they’re playing this game and speaking in bad German, and it goes on for this incredible amount of time. You know it’s going to end in some terrible violence, but it goes on and on.
That seems to have nothing to do with my book. No one would detect Tarantino as an influence while reading The Buried Giant, but I thought it was such a great way to deal with an explosion of violence. You actually don’t have to spend a lot of energy on the violence itself. It’s the lead up, the tension. So, yes, I’m quite open to reading or hearing or seeing anything at that point in the process.
Chang: What was behind the decision in setting The Buried Giant in a mythical, medieval England? Did you know this would surprise people the way it has?
Ishiguro: Often the setting comes quite late in the process. I usually have the whole story, the whole idea, and then I hunt for the location, for a place where I can set it down.
It’s sort of like I’ve wandered into people’s countries without knowing where I’ve landed.
So I’m a little bit naïve, maybe, about what the finished thing will look like in terms of genre. It’s sort of like I’ve wandered into people’s countries without knowing where I’ve landed. And after I’ve been there for quite some time, someone says ‘you realize you’re in Poland now.’ And I say, ‘Oh really? I just followed this trail of stuff I needed.’
I didn’t wonder how people would define or categorize The Buried Giant until it was done. And then as publication approached, I started to see it from the outside. I’d been so absorbed with trying to get the thing to work from the inside.
I did think about setting it in a very real contemporary, tense situation. I considered Bosnia in the 1990s as a setting, and well, I thought about Rwanda but didn’t consider it for too long, because I feel unqualified to write about Africa. I know so little about African politics, African culture. The disintegration of Yugoslavia I felt closer to, because I live in Europe. These massacres were occurring right on our doorstep. I wanted to look at a situation in which a generation (or two) has been living uneasily in peace, where different ethnic groups have been coexisting peaceably and then something happens that reawakens a tribal or societal memory.
Chang: What made you ultimately decide on this more distant reality?
Ishiguro: Well, if I had done that you’d be asking me why I was suddenly interested in Yugoslavia, and if I have relatives that used to go there, and what do I think about what Milosevic did or said on this or that day. It becomes a completely different kind of book. Some people write those kinds of books brilliantly. It’s almost like reportage. They’re very powerful and very urgent books.
Maybe in the future I’ll feel compelled to write that kind of specific and current book, but right now I feel that my strength as a fiction writer is my ability to take a step back. I prefer to create a more metaphorical story that people can apply to a variety of situations, personal and political.
Setting the book in an other, magical world allows me to do that. Every society, every person even, has some buried memories of violence or destruction. The Buried Giant asks whether awakening these buried things might lead to another terrible cycle of violence. And whether it’s better to do this at the risk of cataclysm, or whether it’s better to keep these memories buried and forgotten.
The same question applies at the personal level, say, in a marriage. When is it better to just leave certain things unsaid for the sake of getting on together? Is there something phony about a relationship if you don’t face everything that’s happened? Maybe it makes your love less real.
Chang: Do you feel that the conversation about genre boundaries, which has been a major focus of the book’s reviews and press, has taken away from these questions the book is asking?
It’s a much broader conversation, isn’t it? What do we call fantasy?
Ishiguro: I didn’t actually anticipate that there would be so much attention paid to the genre of the book. I read Neil Gaiman’s review in the NYTBR which opens with the words, “Fantasy is a tool of the storyteller.” It’s a very interesting piece that, in a way, is much bigger than my book. It’s a much broader conversation, isn’t it? What do we call fantasy? What do we call sci-fi? I guess the subtext is that mainstream fiction and literary fiction look down on fantasy tropes but, as Gaiman argues, those tropes can be very powerful, and they’re part of an ancient tradition. There were a couple of other pieces that appeared like that. And of course, there was a bit of a spat with Ursula K LeGuin. Although, she’s since retracted what she said on her blog, which was gracious of her. I think it’s a much larger dialogue she’s been involved with in the past with authors like Margaret Atwood, for example.
I think the positive side of all of this is that it is quite an exciting time at the moment in fiction. I do sense the boundaries are breaking down, for readers and for writers. Younger readers move very freely between genres and between what used to be fairly strict categories of ‘popular’ and ‘literary’ fiction. My daughter and her generation, for example. They were quite literally the same age as Harry and Hermione when the first Harry Potter book was published. In a way, they kind of followed that whole storyline in real time, year by year.
For that generation, one of the coolest, most exciting things to happen in their young lives was reading books. Of course, now they read widely just like any person interested in literature, but their foundation, their love of books is based on Harry Potter, Philip Pullman—that whole explosion of very intelligent children’s literature that they grew up with. It’s very exciting, I think—this shift in what constitutes ‘serious’ fiction.
Chang: Even though The Buried Giant has arguably nothing to do with Japan, I love the way there’s still something Japanese that comes across in its style and tone. Are you very conscious of language and tone when you are writing or does that come more naturally?
Ishiguro: At the beginning of my career it was quite deliberate. A Pale View of Hills was set in Japan. My characters were Japanese, so of course they had to speak in a Japanese kind of English. And in An Artist of the Floating World, the characters were not only Japanese but they were meant to be speaking in Japanese even though it was written in English, so I spent a great deal of energy there finding an English that suggested there was Japanese being spoken or translated through. Maybe some of that effort has stayed with me. I use a formal, careful kind of English, but to some extent that may just be my natural or preferred way of using the language.
For example, the butler in Remains of the Day is English, but he often sounds quite Japanese. And I thought that was fine, because he is a bit Japanese.
Chang: Right, that’s one of the brilliant parts of his character.
Ishiguro: In The Buried Giant, I wasn’t thinking consciously about Japan or Japanese, but the priorities of the language, I suppose, are still the same. I quite like language that suppresses meaning rather than language that goes groping after something that’s slightly beyond the words. I’m interested in speech that kind of conceals and covers up. I’m not necessarily saying that’s Japanese. But I suppose it goes with a certain kind Japanese aesthetic; a minimalism and simplicity of design that occurs over and over again in Japanese things, you know. I do like a flat, plain surface where the meaning is subtly pushed between the lines rather than overtly expressed. But I don’t know if that’s Japanese, or if that’s just me.
Wow. While doing my research this morning I just happened (if you believe in that kinda thing) to run across Jeri Westerson’s Literary blog.
I have read several of her books, and as a matter of fact Shadow of the Alchemist was the last I read. I consider her one of the very best historical fiction authors (male or female) working today. I highly recommend her works, and her works have also influenced my own writings. So she is my Highmootpost for the day.
Well, King Richard III is now buried in Leicester Cathedral, when he really wanted York Minster. But instead of the royal family intervening, they stayed out of it, for many reasons. One, he was considered a usurper by their blood relation King Henry VII and one with a crown usually stays clear of any mention of “usurper.” And for another, well, it seems more in the realm of archaeologists at this point. But should it be? This isn’t some ancient Briton pulled from a bog. This is a famous/infamous king of England! And whether you believe he murdered his way to the throne or not (evidence can go either way), he was still an anointed king and as such, should be afforded the honors of a king.
And, in the end, he was.
The distasteful fight over where he should eventually land was amusingly medieval. After all, as my medieval detective well knows, there is much coin to be made by possessing the “relics” for a pilgrimage/tourist site. And coinage there will be.
I’ve only seen spits and spats of footage of the funeral and will likely catch more in the ensuing days, but it has been interesting to see how one goes about reburying a king of old–how to go about a religious exercise when the man was Catholic in a Catholic (at the time) England that is now Anglican due to his rival’s son’s marital circus. To see the armored honor guard on their horses, one with scoliosis as Richard had, and wearing proper fifteenth century armor seemed the right thing to do. Yet other re-enactors, who were in fifteenth century garb, were criticized for taking advantage of the situation and “playing” during such a solemn occasion. The man was medieval. I say lets have those trappings. Heck, the whole show was medieval, whether in a modern setting or not.
At least Richard has his honored place now, instead of the ignoble burial in a parking lot. His bones told us what he probably looked like and explained the medieval rumors of his physical crookedness. The DNA of his descendants told the story of the truth of the bones. Too bad the man himself cannot tell us the truth of his life and death.
Recently I have been involved in a number of different projects that have left me little time for blogging. I have been writing the lyrics for my second album, Locus Eater, I have been writing and plotting my novel The Basilegate, I have been putting together a crowdfunding project for one of my inventions and one of my games, I have been helping with and compiling material for my wife’s new career as a public speaker, and helping my oldest daughter prepare to enter college. In addition I have been speaking with and seeking a new agent. I have even been preparing a new paper on some of the work of Archimedes and what I have gleaned from it. Finally I have been preparing my Spring Offensive, which is now completed.
All of which have kept me extremely busy.
However I have not been entirely ignoring my blogging either. In background I have been preparing a much improved Publication Schedule for all five of my blogs, my business blog Launch Port, my design and gaming blog Tome and Tomb, my personal blog The Missal, my amalgamated blog Omneus, and this blog, Wyrdwend.
Now that most of these other pressing matters are well underway and on an even keel this allows me more time to return to blogging.
So below you will find my new Publication Schedule which I’ll also keep posted as one of the header pages on my blogs.
So, starting on Monday, March the 15th, 2015, and unless something unforeseen interferes this will be the Publication Schedule for this blog every week, including the Topic Titles and the general list of Subject Matters for that given day. That way my readers can know what to expect of any given day and what I intend to publish for that day. I will also occasionally make off-topic post as interesting material presents itself.
Wyrdwend – 11:00 – 12:00 AM
Monday: First Verse – Poem, Song, Music Tuesday: Tuesday’s Tale – Short Story, Children’s Story, etc. Wednesday: Highmoot – Reader Discussions and Commenting, Reblogs Thursday: Hammer, Tongs, and Tools – Tools, Linked In, Essay, Non-Fiction, etc. Friday: Bookends – Serialized Novel, Graphic Novel, Script Saturday: The Rewrite – Reblog best Personal Posts, Review Sunday – Sabbath
Real Reading is far more than just mentally decoding terms and words, it is psychologically apprehending and comprehending the very most subtle and sublime ideas and ideals that it is possible for man to ever understand.
Real Writing is far more than just encoding and transcribing phrases, it is transmitting, mind to mind and soul to soul, the very marrow of manhood and the very embodiment of human experience through script, so that it may be read again whenever needed into the design of the future.
My personal take on the true nature of real reading and real writing
We’re total suckers for self improvement: The self-help industry brings in billions of dollars each year from countless books. All that encouraging advice can feel empowering and commonsensical, offering a simple path to a better life.
But there’s a problem with this approach. “Reading a self-help book is like buying a lottery ticket,” writes social psychologist Timothy Wilson in his newest book Redirect. “For a small investment, we get hope in return; the dream that all our problems will soon be solved without any real expectation that they will be.”
While the power of positive thinking—the seeming bread and butter of self-help as we know it—is a nice thought, according to Wilson, there’s no evidence that simply thinking positively actually works. We can’t just will ourselves to be happier a-la The Secret. “Our minds aren’t that stupid,” says Wilson. “It’s not like you can just tell you mind, ‘Think positively.’ You’ve got to nudge it a little more along.”
In Redirect, Wilson offers an alternative he calls “story editing,” based on the research of social scientists over the years. This approach operates off the premise that we each have a core narrative or story that we tell ourselves about who we are and what the world around us is like. It’s a story that influences our choices and way of experiencing the world. But it’s also one we play a major role in shaping for ourselves.
Using specific writing exercises, according to Wilson, we can begin to shift that story and redirect our way of thinking. “Writing is an act of creation. You are creating as you go,” he says. “That’s what can make this personally so helpful.”
Write through a challenging problem
We can never simply write painful or difficult events out of our lives, but we can make them far more graspable and change our relationship to them, according to research by psychologist James Pennebaker. Over the years, Pennebaker has developed an approach he calls “Writing To Heal,” that uses writing exercises as a way to help people deal with difficult events their lives.
To try the Pennebaker writing exercise, think of an event or worry that’s been most on your mind recently. Set aside 15 to 20 minutes at the end of the day to write about that specific problem. Do this for four days in a row, setting aside at least 15 minutes at the end of each day to record your thoughts. As you write, don’t pause or second-guess yourself—just write without stopping.
Through his research over the years, Pennebaker found that this simple four-day exercise helped improve people’s health, and well-being in various studies. “It’s how we deal with setbacks that’s so important,” says Wilson, who has worked with Pennebaker over the years. While the writing exercise can be difficult at first, people tend to gain clarity as they continue doing it. “Often what they first write is jumbled and unorganized,” says Wilson. But eventually “they view what happened to them in a way that makes more sense.”
Distance yourself from negative experiences
Research has also shown that having some distance from a difficult event allows us to step back and better understand it. There’s a writing exercise Wilson calls the “step-back-and-ask-why” approach that allows us to create this distance and understanding in order to reframe negative events.
To do this exercise, close your eyes and bring yourself back to a specific moment or event that was upsetting to you. Then, in your mind, try to take a few steps back from yourself in the moment so that you can see the story unfolding as if it was happening to a distant version of yourself. Write about what that distant version of yourself is thinking and feeling. One way to do this effectively, suggests Wilson, is to write in the third person, rather than the first person, which automatically builds some seperation between you and the moment you’re writing about.
Don’t simply rehash a play-by-play of what happened; instead, try to explain why it happened. “Don’t recount the event,” Wilson writes. “Take a step back and reconstrue and explain it.”
Determine what your best possible self looks like
There’s a reason Saturday Night Live‘s “Daily Affirmations With Stuart Smalley” was such a hit in the ’90s. That focus on self-affirming mantras is practically begging to be made fun of, yet even today, you’ll find that same advice given in total earnest.
But as Wilson points out in his book, rather than telling yourself you’re doing the best you can and are the best you can be—a pretty text-book self-help mantra—try actually imagining what the best version of yourself might look like in the future and what you need to do to achieve those goals.
He calls this writing prompt the “Best Possible Selves Exercise.” Like the Pennebaker prompt, take 15 to 20 minutes a night for four nights in a row to do this exercise. Imagine your life in the future as if you’ve achieved all your life goals. Write not just what those life goals are, but also how you will be able to achieve them. “Focus on the process of achieving an outcome rather than the outcome itself,” says Wilson.
Imagine all the things that could have gone wrong
Gratitude journals are another self-help go-to, but research has shown they can actually have the reverse effect of making you feel less happy. There’s a pleasure to uncertainty—not being able to pin down the specific details of an event were was pleasing.
While reducing our uncertainty about negative events can help us bounce back from them more quickly, reducing uncertainty about positive events can take some of the pleasure out of them. Wilson calls this a pleasure paradox: “People want to understand the good things in life so that they can experience them again, but by doing so they reduce the pleasure they get from those events,” he writes.
For example, research has shown that asking people in a relationship to tell the story of how they met their partner doesn’t make them particularly happier. But ask those same people to write about the many ways in which they might not have met their partner or their relationship might not have worked out and they get much more pleasure out of the exercise. “People don’t like to do that, but when they do, it makes the relationship look special again, at least for a little while,” he says.
This translates well into a writing exercise Wilson calls the “George Bailey Technique” named after the protagonist in It’s A Wonderful Life. For this exercise, think of one of the most important or special events, relationships or accomplishments in your life. Then imagine all the ways in which it might not have happened. Doing this can introduce mystery and excitement back into the experience again.
Maintain a sense of purpose
These last two exercises aren’t so much writing prompts, as they are calls to action. In their studies of what make people feel happiest and most fulfilled, social scientists have found that having a clear sense of purpose is critical. This means reminding yourself of what your most important goals in life are and finding ways to move forward on those goals, says Wilson.
He identifies three ingredients to well-being: hope, meaning, and purpose. Writing exercises that help reframe the way you feel about negative events in the past can help create a sense of hope and meaning, but it’s also important to maintain goals that provide a sense of purpose in your life. “We all have some choice over what we want to pursue and those of us who are really lucky can get paid to do it, but plenty of people find other ways,” says Wilson.
Do some good in the world
Research has shown that it’s not simply having a sense of purpose that contributes to our well-being, but that those who help others are actually happier than those who don’t. These people have a greater likelihood of forming bonds with others and having a positive image of themselves.
“If you want to have a positive outlook and feel like a good person, go out and be a good person,” says Wilson. “The mind is a very good observer of ourselves.”
Starting last Tuesday and continuing today and next week I will be exploring the issue of author platforms and how to get one. At the conclusion of this series of blog posts, The Steve Laube Agency will offer a downloadable document that will include the three posts plus additional information and resources.
Last week, I talked a little about the need to develop a “message platform”, which must be in place before you get a website, Facebook page or start any social media effort.
Today I am still not going to talk at all about how to use Twitter or Instagram or any specific social media. Media is the vehicle to communicate. Maybe at one time “the media is the message”, but in the 21st century, with ubiquitous media, “the message is the message” and that is where it belongs.
Today we will continue to explore how to determine what your message platform is and what you need to begin implementing it.
Most people have heard the term “branding” or “brand management” as it relates to consumer products like breakfast cereal and cars. Simply defined (so even I can understand it), effective branding limits creative expression within certain boundaries. If you are a label designer for Campbell’s Soup, there is a template you use to maintain the Campbell’s brand so anyone can recognize a product at a glance. An artist who desires to express herself creatively would view that job as a start, but probably not last long in that highly controlled environment.
Authors are brands as well. When anyone, from an agent to a reader looks at an author some immediate thoughts will come to mind, whether positive, negative, clear or confusing. Of course, you desire to project a positive and clear image, but often times, the way we operate is contrary to that.
I am not talking hypocrisy or sinful behaviors or walking the talk. I am referring to having a consistent message, delivered creatively, one that attracts readers and followers and meets the expectations they have for you.
Toe-stepping alert#1: Many less-than-interesting messages from authors have been posted in various media because “I need to post something today, but I can’t think of anything right now.” Until you become truly a rock star and people really want to know what kind of shampoo you use, don’t lose focus and talk about things that lack connection to your message. (Unless your message platform is about hair care, then shampoo is fine)
Whether you recognize it or not, you have a theme to what you write.
A novelist might have an approach that shows how characters can learn from mistakes.
A non-fiction author might use extensive research to undergird whatever they write and is known for attention to detail.
Another novelist shows how people go about their lives unaware of the spiritual world in the background.
A writer of Bible reference works desires to make the Bible understandable to everyone.
A writer of children’s books might want parents and children to interact about important things.
None of the above are necessarily the topic of a book…they are an author’s approach to their writing. That is their message platform, which is the first step for developing the author platform we hear so much about.
Toe-stepping alert #2: Most authors have no idea what their message platform is until someone else tells them. If you try to figure it out yourself, you are engaging in a form of self-deception. We never see ourselves as others see us. Ask someone who will be honest. Don’t ask close friends or family. They will be nice and usually agree with whatever you say. “Of course, you are smartest person in the world”. Thanks mom.
Bloggers, columnists, talk-show hosts, comedians, teachers, pastors and others who are responsible to deliver regular presentations make it a habit to always be on the lookout for illustrations and content. In many cases, they carry a small notebook with them everywhere they go, ready to capture a thought. Of course, these days, a number of people use a notes app or voice memo function on a smart phone. Use whatever you want, but do it.
Eyes and ears open, antennae up.
Look for stories to support your message platform everywhere. Let’s say your message platform is to highlight the good things people do for one another every day. That’s an easy one. You look for people doing things for one another.
Toe-stepping alert #3: If you don’t write or record the idea immediately, you will forget it. I don’t care how smart you are or how much you can memorize, the first time your phone rings you’ll forget what you were thinking about and the thought will be gone like a coin dropped on the couch.
Suppose your core message is harder to define. This is where asking multiple people is extremely important. Tell people to be straight with you. Anything else will not be helpful or at best, will send you off on a rabbit trail.
Finally, the framework for all message platforms is a commonly used item. A calendar. There are dates that mean something, like MLK Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, your grandmother’s 100th birthday, the anniversary of the day you got your driver’s license, etc.
By mapping out your message framework with a calendar, you will have a much easier time acquiring a specific message than if you try to figure out something without it. An idea from this afternoon might be great for next Spring or two years from now.
Toe-stepping alert#4: If you do not consistently plan your platform messages, then you will have regular moments of brain-freeze and you will shelve your carefully crafted platform for something less-than-important. The more you waste the time of your devoted followers who expect something from your core message platform, the less devoted they will become. (Unless you are super-famous, then we want to know what flavor of hummus you like best)
Next week, I’ll close this series of blog posts with a specific approach you can view the way you conduct your author marketing.
But if I forget what to write, anyone want to know how I feel about buying food from vending machines at rest stops along interstate highways?
Edit: I have changed the name of the album from Lotus Eater to Locus Eater.
Baba Yaga (The Dead Witch)
Barden and the Serpent (The Viking Ship)
Cave of the Unknown Prophet
Cumhaill’s Causeway (Clochán an Aifir)
Fall of Sisyphus
Hephaestus and Prometheus (The Tyrant’s Overthrow)
Isle of the Invisible Darkness
Myrddin’s Castle – longest song
Myrddin’s Tower – spoken poem with musical background
The Four Rivers of Paradise
The Rape of Medusa
The Spider and the Bones – short instrumental
The Storm of Tiamat – long multi-instrument instrumental
White Stag – medium length guitar instrumental
I’ve bene thinking about doing this for awhile and last week, while out and driving around I began sketching out the titles and notes for a new album of songs I’m going to write.
Last year I finished writing my first album of songs, a country album I call “Going South.”
This year I’ve decided to do something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time but never got around to. Writing an album of rock, art rock, and hard rocks songs in the style of music from the 1970’s (if you ask me the most productive and artistic era of American music in history).
This will be my homage and tribute album to the best rock music of the 70s (and 60’s – Tales of the Brave Ulysses, etc.) although there will also be ballads and instrumental pieces and some experimental and even some Prog Rock pieces (Emerson, Lake, and Palmer).
It will be called “Locus Eater.”
I have listed the songs in alphabetical order as I haven’t yet decided on any kind of arrangement. These are the songs I have decided to include at the moment. It may change as I develop the album. It will be a double album of course, and loosely, even a concept album.
Many of the songs will be in written in these general types of styles, though the lyrics will be considerably different:
Last week I had intended to reconstruct all of my blogs. To finally finish them and put them into the final format and technical shape I had originally intended for them.
Unfortunately every single day something came up to consume most of my days (my cat was attacked by another animal – probably a coyote – and had to be taken to the vet, my central air unit failed and required repairs, other people asked me to do things for them, etc, etc.) and so I never really got to my blogs. By the weekend I was pretty much exhausted and didn’t lift a finger.
So, that being the case I’ve decided to reconstruct one blog per week in February and spend the whole week on that blog. And I’m going back in the meanwhile to posting other content as well.
It’ll be a slower process but probably a more thorough one as well. And in this way I might even learn a few things I wouldn’t have last week.
I just hope and pray all of this crazy crap and distractions are finally over.
For the rest of this week I will not be posting any original content to this blog or any of my blogs. Recently, due to my work schedule and other obligations, I have had very little time to work on the overall construction and the technical aspects of my blog(s). I had planned to complete those aspects of my blogs long ago but other things kept interfering.
So this week I have decided to spend the entire week finishing my originally planned construction-plans of my blogs to make it easier for agents, editors, publishers, and other songwriters and writers to find me and to communicate and work with me.
To that end I will spend the rest of the week finishing my original plans and retooling this site.
As I said, as it stands now I plan to add no more original content this week so as to finally finish my original designs without interruption or any more delays.
However you can still find a great deal of useful content in the various Categories already present on this blog, and on the Categories of all of my other blogs. Just pick the categories that interest you and browse at will. Uncategorized will allow you to find everything.
I will also be sharing useful articles, content, and posts I find on other sites as I run across them and time allows. But most of my time this week will be spent on blog development.
Thank you for being a Reader and Follower of my blogs, I appreciate your patronage and hope you find my blogs enjoyable, entertaining, and most especially, useful.
I write Children’s books. I do not have the time to illustrate them right now, so I’d love to find an excellent illustrator, but that aside, I write children’s books. So almost every time I go to the library I check out at least two children’s books (picture books I mean, I also read Middle Grade and Young Adult books but that’s another post) to read and study.
Last time I went I got books by Aaron Becker and Graeme Base. Becker’s book, called Journey, was flat out illustration, the entire story was told just in pictures. The book by Base, entitled Animalia, (another favorite of mine by Base is the Waterhole) was both scripted and illustrated, and the artwork must have taken a very long time indeed to perfect. But it is that, nearly perfect. Of the two I preferred Animalia, because of the artwork, but the story in Journey was superior and reminded me of the video game Ico, which was also gorgeous, and had a superb story.
I highly recommend both books.
These are the caliber of artists I want illustrating my children’s books.
In our latest Firsts in Fiction program, Aaron Gansky and I chat about how writers can set goals for the new year and how goals for writers differ from goals of others.
Firsts in Fiction is a weekly netcast designed to help new novelists and other writers of fiction get a proper start. It’s also a fun place to hangout. It is broadcast live at 6:30 pm Pacific each Wednesday on Google Hang Outs. The show is posted later on YouTube, http://www.aarongansky.com, and here at http://www.altongansky.com. The audio version can also be heard on iTunes or Stitcher. Click on the Firsts in Fiction tab above for more.