C’est en Septembre

There are science fiction stories that I remember more in aggregate than in individual, which start with a place/date thing to avoid having the characters tell you when this takes place.  This is often true if the story involves multiple centuries.  I’m finding myself doing it in this time travel thing I hope to finish today after writing a bit on Through Fire (only 10k words yesterday, but things are beginning to fall in place and the story to be functional.  Apparently it’s a bad idea to write while profoundly depressed and tired from being ill.  Then the story is just blah.  Who knew?  Maybe the people writing grey goo are chronically depressed?  No?)

The device goes something like this “It was the twenty-second century and we were all mourning.” Or “It was May of 1534 and we were all dancing.”

So, it was September and there were terrorists under every bed. It was enough to make one wonder what was Isil and what was over here.

It was September, and it was a time of pleading.  The family of an hostage pleaded for his life.  England pleaded that Scotsmen might accept the proffered near independence, instead of independence. Our “friends” in the Middle East asked for us to help them combat Islamic extremism (possibly the same exact Islamic extremism they funded.  The Middle East is like that.)  Liberia pleaded for help with Ebola. But the only plea that worked as cold hard cash, even if we all know what  happens when you give Dane Geld.

It was September and the Western world was losing faith in its institutions. From health to care nothing worked as advertised. Finances were in disarray. And we couldn’t help but wonder if the elites were as smart as they claimed to be.

It was September and Russian Putin was blustering.  Pushing the limits of what he thought he should be allowed, and trying to terrify the rest of Europe, which one fears might not be very hard.

It was September and the  cry of the SJWs was heard in the land, and this author was sick and tired of her colleagues with Stockholm syndrome.

And she put this post up, and went back to pounding on the keyboard, which is the thing for which she actually gets paid.  Have fun in the comments.

The Very Late Post And Writer’s Report

First, I’ll try to have a chapter of Rogue Magic sometime this week.  Please forgive me, I’m still battling Through Fire and can’t get my head away.  Except there will another chapter of To The Dragons in subscribers area sometime this weekend, because the whole thing has downloaded itself in my head.  I think the plan now is after through fire take a couple of weeks and finish the d*mn thing, and see if Toni wants it, and if not bring out on my own.

Yeah, I should be writing The Haunted Air (sequel between WF and RM) and finishing my books for Baen.  Now you know why the muses used to be thought to drive people mad.  Getting the idiot in the Greek robes to get the needs of business is beyond me.  If someone has an idea, let me know.  For now, I’m keeping To The Dragons quiet by throwing bits of chapter at it, so it will let me work on what I’m supposed to.

Part of the reason almost nothing happened on Through Fire this week is that I got very sick.  The problem is between my being allergic to something in this neighborhood (reminds me of when we lived on the west side and the neighbor’s yard was full of ragweed.  Every time they mowed, Dan’s face swelled up.  Took us forever to figure the link.) I live in a baseline of “somewhat stopped up” and this illness was gradual, so I was just getting mad at myself for wanting to sleep all the time, and not getting anything done.  Until I realized a) I was feverish b) friends scattered throughout the state had the same symptoms.  I’ve been using the inhaler, for the first time in months, but I AM feeling better.

I’m now almost well, though this is why I slept 12 hours last night.  I’m now going to get more tea and actually sit down to work.

Because stuff must be written.

And yes, there’s other stuff going on, which I’ll report later, maybe.  It’s not bad and it’s a personal thing.  (And no, I’m not knocked up, though if any of you wants to pray for a miracle similar to oh, the parting of the sea, go for it.) We shall see.  We’re starting a new venture and there’s plans crackling about.  Depending on how it goes you’ll hear about it later.

Now, having saved the worst for last, Cyn Bagley’s husband passed away from cancer.  If you’re praying people, please keep her in your prayers, as her health is far from good, and she needs strength through this time.  She’ll be moving to be near family and away from the net for a few weeks.  I told her to let us know if she needs anything, and that we’ll be here when she comes back, because she’s family.

And all of you, go and hug your loved ones right now.

 

The Most Fundamental Right

 

As I’ve admitted here, I’ve been reading an awful lot about psychopaths and mass murderers. At least all of it I can get on the KULL program. (It’s not that I don’t need to read the other kind, particularly the way investigators get clues, but it’s not urgent, and for now this is just something to read “while working.”)

Anyway, one pattern stands out whenever the victims are transients or the downtrodden, like the women Jack the Ripper killed, there’s always… How to put this delicately?

I’m not saying the women deserved to die. Of course, they didn’t. Most of them were, apparently, fairly inoffensive.

But it still strikes me how weird it is that even in those days, under much worse circumstances for society as a whole, women and men who ended up in the East End (or its equivalent. I’ve read other historical stuff) were alcoholics or otherwise had behavior-control issues. Now, some of the alcoholism, at least, might have been attempts at self-medicating. And some of the behavior issues were almost certainly due to undiagnosed mental illness.

It was, in fact, the same mix we find with our own homeless/marginalized people. They might have had bad luck, and they might have been very mistreated. But in the end, almost always, it’s their own personal behavior that got them where they were.

Perhaps because I’ve been mainlining these books, while working, I really saw it when I hit the sentence in today’s book about how this poor woman, like all Jack the Ripper’s victims was an alcoholic who had left her husband and how it was almost like this place was a pocket for society’s rejected women.

Immediately, I wanted to say “Society’s rejected women. My. How posh that sounds.”

Look, I’m sore some SJW or other has written a dissertation on how what brought women to that extremity was the Victorian repression of women’s sexuality or what have you. And to an extent they were right, in the sense that a woman who transgressed and was discovered couldn’t hold up her head in that community again. (At least for a while. Having grown up in the same type of environment, I know that society had a convenient case of amnesia if the incident wasn’t repeated.)

What modern authors/academics tend to underestimate is how comparatively big and opaque that world was. Move away from that area; change your name (which all of these women seemed to do just like our transients seem to have five or six aliases) and you can start afresh with no issue.

Yeah, if your desire is to have sex with lots of guys indiscriminately with no discretion and no consequences, you might have serious trouble, but at that time and in that place, I don’t think many women would want that. Look, put way your academic hat for a moment and think about this as a woman of the time: think of the hygiene, the conditions, the state of medicine where any infection could be fatal, and, unless you were sterile, the almost inevitable pregnancy. (For the morons who believe in the “herbs” you could take that acted just like the pill. That only works in fantasy novels. There were herbs you could take (and also stuff like lead.) but they weren’t contraceptives, they were abortaficients, and carried considerable risk, particularly over time.)

Maybe it’s being me, and judging on the hygiene and the medicine and the possible pregnancy, but let me say I’d be inclined, given the consequences that any woman still hot to trot with any and all strange men in those circumstances had to have something very wrong with her head.

Not saying it didn’t happen. Just saying what drove women there was more than “society.” It was either mental illness or, absent that, their own actions and decisions.

In the case of at least three of the victims of the Ripper, they were thrown out by their families for not giving up the bottle. In one case, she seems to have separated from her common law husband, and while it’s not clear whether she drunk or not, (she was said to be drunk the night she died, but there’s evidence she was simply very ill) she grifted from her daughter so much that her daughter had moved without leaving an address.

Now, once these women were addicted, could they have broken the habit like that? Maybe not. Particularly with the nasty rotgut stuff of the time, the only “cures” known were cases of sudden religious conversion. (Though those proved it could happen, given sufficient fervor.)

Now Victorian society did indeed set standards in a much harsher way. You were either a good woman or not. But in practical reality things got fudged, as they always do, among humans.

If you want to read a completely unlikely sexual history, read the free sample (if it’s on kindle) of Our Bones Are Scattered. I can’t remember the woman’s name (great book, btw) who appears in the book, and my copy is boxed, but there was a woman, wife of a military man, who had been married something like three times and shacked up in between and while her husband’s very proper (and noble) family didn’t like her, she was still a lady and certainly not “thrown away by society.” (And she didn’t start off a lady.) The poor creatures in East end were the other extreme.

How much of that was luck? How much behavior?

I’m going to risk saying that a lot of them probably had rotten luck, but that without their choices and behavior aggravating it, they wouldn’t have ended up where they were. They might be lower class and near to starving, but not in the East End, and not selling it for a living.

Look, for drunkenness to be a problem in the lower classes of the time, it had to be a really big thing. Most people drank more than we do, and if the lower classes of that time and place were like the lower classes of the sixties/seventies in the village, weekend drunken brawls and entire families drunk off their behinds weren’t considered abnormal. Abnormal was drinking so much you couldn’t hold it together during work/child rearing hours. I’d think from the histories it was much like that.

What kind of mother hounds a daughter (who from the depositions after, did love her) so much the daughter moves to avoid being bled dry of money?

Beyond the alcohol the other thing was how many of these women had had the price of lodging earlier in the day but either spent it or somehow did away with it.

Again, they didn’t deserve to die for this. I’m not blaming them for the monstrous fate visited on them. I’m not even exactly blaming them for ending up in the East End.

It was a different time, options for men and women were not all that great; there would be a lot of medicating for undiagnosed mental or physical health problems.

I’m not saying it was totally their fault. I’m just saying it’s time to do away with phrases like “Victims of society” and “Thrown away by society.”

In any society some people will thrive, some will fail and most people will be somewhere in between. Often, at least in the west the ones that fail share mental problems, addictions, or a lack of ability to plan.

Saying “poor creature was driven to this by her alcoholism and lack of ability to plan” is one thing. Saying “Society threw her away” casts blame upon the hundreds of thousands of people who never did anything against her; who would have helped if they could; and who did the best they could in an era more harsh than we can imagine.

It is a facile judgment for us to pass, and it condemns all those people in the past who weren’t like us.

Perhaps it would be as well to remember that our own, therapeutic, accommodating age will pass, and after us will come an age that might be more or less accommodating. What are the chances the disastrous ends of people of our time will be referred to as “the victims society enabled to self-destruct?” Believe me it’s not impossible. And it’s not impossible that what we do to help the less unfortunate might sometimes hurt them.

This self-satisfied attitude that we now have all the answers and the harsh judgment passed on those who came before would be less reprehensible if our results were better.

As is, let’s admit that some individuals will always be problems in society. That is a condition of their being individual. They’re not widgets that society maliciously – or generously – casts away or keeps. They’re people who make their own decisions for good or ill. Society can lend them a hand, but ultimately society can’t make them be other than what they are.

The right to do stupid things, insane things, and things that might hurt us is ULTIMATELY the most basic freedom we can have.  You take away that right, and you’ve given someone the right to decide what’s good for you.  It always starts like that, with laws preventing you to get drunk off your *ss, say, or laws (social security) dictating you must allow your betters to save for you.  Next thing you know they’re controlling your salt intake according to outmoded theories and poking their nose into your family life.

If you’re a “victim of society” then the people who are heroic or achieve extraordinarily become “privileged” as though what they do has nothing to do with the results, as though they’re widgets totally dependent on circumstances.

Societies that fully embrace this don’t end well.

These women met horrible, dehumanizing deaths. And yes, at least some of the decisions that threw them in the path of the Ripper were their own.

They were humans. They had the power of decision, including bad decisions.

Let’s accord them that dignity.

 

When Nature Calls

My kingdom for a flush toilet, antibiotics and a warm bath!

My kingdom for a flush toilet, antibiotics and a warm bath!

This is not a literary criticism post, but I need to go through it to get where I’m going. Bear with me.

So, I have a mild fever. I have no clue what the heck this is, but my entire family has been passing something back and forth. I thought it was allergies, but I have the cottony-mind of fever. And I get tired very often. I’m trying to finish Through Fire, so of course, this follows.

Yeah, I need to get out of this house. It’s too big to dust every day, and I’m allergic to household dust. Which let me tell you, is a curse for a working writer to be.

Anyway – while on that – because I’m finishing Through Fire I can’t risk being captured by anything like a novel. I read a novel on Sunday and it kept calling me back when I went back to writing. So—

I’ve been reading a lot of historical stuff that’s free on the kindle KULL. Right now I’m in the middle of a biography of Edward III which is most hilarious for lecturing us on the judgmental ways of past historians, while, of course, being judgmental.

Though I’ll say despite the inartistic expressions and the idea that the historians whose perspective we really need to counter are those of the Victorian age (ah! I should check when it was written!) he has some points, and calls at least theoretically for understanding the person in his time and according to the prejudices of his time.

One of the things he goes on about is how the Victorians criticized Edward III for his unnecessary wars, but viewed in his time, status and power were necessary.

I can see this being true under the heading of being “the biggest fish around that you don’t dare attack.” When most kingdoms were small enough you couldn’t swing a cat without a passport, and when “nationhood” was tied to personal allegiance and honor of the king I think he has a point.

Another point – and I want to emphasize right here, because I KNOW some of you are medieval historians – that I know next to nothing about Edward III, which is why I picked up this book to graze while cooking or waiting for something in between fits of writing. I mean I know where he fits in, and a wiki version of his reign, but that’s it that occurred to me is if the endless small wars of the middle ages were part of acquiring enough surplus to be able to create surplus. What I mean is, back then economies were stuck in what I call “the newlyweds dilemma” – if they could get just a little extra, they could use it to get to a state where they produce extra.

So, in a way, the endless petty kingship wars could have been the precursor to the industrial revolution. By which I don’t mean they were needed to achieve the industrial revolution but that they led to it.

That whole idea of an arrow of history and of something having to had happened so that we could be where we are (in the sense that it was somehow directed this way, even though people at the time couldn’t have known where it led) is one of the things that the historian is yelling about in this book.

I’ve also read a biography of Leopold, the hemophiliac son of Queen Victoria, and I read a lot of stuff about serial killers. It started with the Black Dahlia and it went from there.

Sidenote – I have clue zero what the serial killer reading is about, though since I’m going to write the serialized story from the creation of the Mules to the departure of the Je Reviens, and one of the three voices I’ll use is Thena’s father, I suppose it helps.

The thing that has been hitting me through all of this – ALL OF IT – from medieval history to the Victorians to stuff from the fifties and sixties that are almost contemporary is … how different life was.

And no, I’m not going to talk about the great decay of morals (if you read about the underbelly of Victorian England or even Hollywood in the forties, you’ll realize we haven’t so much decayed as stopped holding up an ideal for fear of being hypocrites. I say we hold up an ideal, though it might be slightly modified and stop longing for the lives of the underclass, and things will be solved there.) I’m going to talk about simple, basic stuff.

Stuff like, how much cloth cost, leading to someone taking home a piece of fabric from one of the gruesome Jack the Ripper murders, for his wife, a seamstress. Think about it. At the time it wasn’t considered evidence. (They couldn’t do fiber evidence, they didn’t even have fingerprints.) And a piece of cloth, particularly a pretty one, was much too valuable to be left to rot just because some victim’s blood had spattered on it. (The cop’s wife’s idea was that it would be worth more as a curiosity so she saved it, but that’s something else.)

Another thing was not just how bizarrely painful, strange and probably counterproductive many of the “cures” for hemophilia were, as recently as the late nineteenth century. And what so many of Queen Victoria’s family ultimately died of, from her husband’s typhoid, to the type of diseases people in the village where I grew up only died of if they were very poor. Peritonitis. Whooping cough. Etc.

Also, when Leopold tried to have his residence (when he got married) improved to have running water, he was told it was too expensive.

What I’m trying to get at here is the following: in the last three hundred years or so, since the idea that “individuals” are merely cogs belonging to the family/tribe/sovereign has been fought back – not defeated, mind, but fought back – we’ve made such rapid progress that the past is not only another country, it might as well be another planet. Even in the forties, what was considered expensive and difficult are things we don’t even think about now – travel, books, etc.

Since we got rid of our overlords, who ruled “kindly” and from their “best judgment” and started allowing people of any birth condition and any ability to do the best they could (always realizing that of course there is more than intellectual prowess to how well one does) everyone has got much, much richer.

And those idiots who try to view the Middle Ages as a communist paradise are the same as the idiots who claim that people lived roughly the same time (not even in the sixties in the village. Yes, you had some very long lived people. That’s not the same as having similar life spans, and certainly not with the same degree of health) and the people who just want us to give it one more try and attempt to make us equal “serfs” (ah, proletarians, that’s what they call it now) under a wise “lord” (though it has many names from secretary to president.)

Yes, there were qualities that came with how harsh and brutal their life was: qualities of endurance and stoicism which we don’t have to have, and therefore don’t. Some of this can be remedied through education – and no, I’m not talking state’s education. I’m afraid for this you’ll have to roll your own.

But the qualities, the wisdom brought on by living lives of misery are not enough to justify bringing about equal misery for all. No, being poor doesn’t make you closer to nature, or happier, or more communal. Mostly it makes you hungry, desperate and ill.

Our environmentalists and airy dreamers can dream they’re better than their ancestors and those less fortunate people around them, precisely because they’re unimaginably richer and have never had their nose rubbed in reality. They can dream that third world countries are miraculous places because they never tried living there as natives.

Breaking out of the rule of the “strong lord” and considering that everyone not even how wretched has a value was a very unnatural thing for us monkeys – social animals with a hierarchy – to do.

Which is why nature keeps trying to drag us back and we – clever monkeys – keep coming up with new names and more interesting justifications for “rule by the chap who can decide life or death”: socialism, communism, fascism, fairness, social justice.

Then there are their enablers.  Those who think if they just let everything collapse a perfect “libertarian” state will emerge, instead of the same old thing we’re predisposed to by nature: rule by the one who can kill the most people.

Mother nature is a b*tch. She’s in everything and in us too.

But if we want to keep what we have an not go back to when running water was unimaginable luxury, we’ll tell her to call later.

Or give her a wrong number.

Sometimes the way ahead is to go ahead. Sometimes the way to deal with “unfairness” is to create even more wealth that people can howl is “unfair.”

And sometimes we have to tell would-be kings to rule themselves.

 

The Great Re-Weaving

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It was a time of catastrophic technological change. Long afterward, in the less regimented, more prosperous world that followed, people asked: how could they have been so blind?

It was a time of transparency. Real transparency, quite unlike the foolish promises of previous politicians blinded by their narcissism, and nothing like the rotten assurances of the decrepit Gray Lady who had, in her time, turned a blind eye to the Holocaust and hidden the horrors of Holodomor, the depravity of the Gulags to praise collectivist systems that devoured people and dreams and spit out nothing but misery and dehumanization and a boot stepping on a human face forever.

Now, suddenly, they couldn’t make their picked man, their chosen one into the harbinger of that great collectivist future.  They couldn’t snigger behind their hands at the unwashed people who’d never know of his faux pas. Oh, they did what they could, that guard of journalistic castrati protecting the corpse of a corrupt and bloated bureaucracy. But enough slipped through the cracks that most people knew something was wrong: the Summer of Recovery that resided in some unspecified future conditional; the idea that his face would appease Islam’s irate warriors was undone by the beheadings the Jihadists insisted on posting on Youtube; the way the Light Bringer seemed to be in the dark when bereft of a teleprompter.

It was a time of danger. The news in common people’s hands. This strange power of broadcasting to the world, of entertaining the world, of breaking — after so long — the monopoly of communication that the industrial revolution had brought with it, made it seem like the world was coming apart.

The president himself: that man of the last century, formed by two generations of devout communists, instead of facing the problems with an aggressive Russia; his loss of control in the Middle East; his inability to implement his cherished  –socialized medicine dream with any degree of credibility — not to mention efficiency, ability or financial sanity — his sudden realization that no, the American people weren’t hankering to be invaded from the South; then tilted that patrician nasal appendage of his to the sky and proclaimed it was all the fault of social media.

In this moment he admitted the truth. It was not unlike the moment in Scooby Doo cartoons when the villain howls “I could have got away with it if it weren’t for you meddling kids.” And why shouldn’t he feel that way? His idol FDR turned a recession into a depression but thanks to the lack of the meddling kids of blogs, Youtube, internet, no one knew. The eunuch press covered for him and held laurels above his inflated image for decades.

That the common man even knew the country was in danger now, and that the world was in the hands of an intellectual poseur who held no affection for America or the American people, was the fault of this rank, disorganized, non-hierarchical ability to report the news.  Those meddling kids!

Which meant everyone knew there was danger, but the danger the elites saw was, most of all, from those they wished to make their subjects.

It was a time of breakup. The industrial revolution required great territory, great influxes of raw material. Breaking out from the cottage industry of Europe and into something that could produce enough material goods to make the world more prosperous than it had ever been required an agglomeration of territories, a centralization of capital and of production. It was this centralization that allowed that madman, Marx — scribbling away, grifting off Engels, unable to produce anything or even support his own family — to dream that he could create a perfect system, that concentrating the decision- making power in bureaucrats, in intellectuals, in people like Marx would bring about utopia.

He could dream this because the technology of the time of necessity required big investment and large hierarchical ventures.

Then in the twenty first century, like a great wave receding, the tide was finally going out on all this centralization and top-down fabrication. Oh, not completely. It would linger for a while, just like fragmented, family agriculture lingered and was the occupation of most people for centuries into the industrial revolution. But slowly, inexorably, the great dinosaur of twentieth century tech was being replaced by the small, fast mammal of twenty first century customized, personalized, individualized, fabricated at home, 3-d printed tech.

An economy too long in thrall to the all-encompassing state could no longer function, and the replacements were of a different type.  The great edifice of socialist bureaucracy across the world was collapsing under the strain of those who could vote themselves bread and circus and the fools who would encourage it.  And the people who could still produce had to do it around the system.

It was a time of Kipling:

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”

And those that were working, even those who worked for others, were forced by  the bloated bureaucracy (and in the US the antediluvian structure of Obamacare and its long dreamed-of socialist work week of 30 hours), to become contractors, individual strivers cast into the merciless world to work or die. And such individuals were less likely to wish to vote for a distant, faceless authority or to submit to a government so distant from the individual and its surroundings as to know nothing about it. They weren’t looked after: not by their employer, not by anyone.

When you can’t trust the government to look after you, you realize the power does rest in “us the people.”

The threatened separation of a land annexed in the fire and blood of the English Civil war could be viewed as foolish or as a tantrum, yes. Or it could be viewed as the precursor tremor to the earthquake of demand for greater local power, for a reverting to more responsive national or even smaller authority in Europe and for a greater empowering of local authority in the States, an authority more conforming to the US Constitution which had been tramped underfoot for too long.

It was a time of elite triumph. A time when they tried to bind down the giant that was the USA. A time when they ran abroad blazoning their theories and doctrines, and their certainty that once the US was brought down to the level of every other country, the world would be a better place.

It was a time of elite humiliation. They followed their Marxist religion. They discussed it and argued it in their classrooms, in their select parties, in their editorial offices. For decades, it had been the underpinning of every news article, every book and every movie that was allowed out and in front of the public.

In this pretty bubble they’d constructed, the improbable seemed not only possible but inevitable. They’d humiliate the US and bring her down. They’d concentrate all the power in Europe in one great unelected body. They’d enhance the self-esteem of countries that hadn’t contributed anything to civilization for centuries.

And then peace would flourish and the land would run with milk and honey.

Instead, they got beheadings and crucifixions, they got tyrants triumphant, they got Putin rampaging and they got bloggers and youtube dogging their steps.

And they got scared. Really scared. So scared that they were willing to quote Kipling whom they’d long tried to banish from curricula for being imperialist, racist, sexist and, above all, for the triad of crimes of being white, male and dead.

They quoted him, but they didn’t understand him.

Which was why:

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

And it was unpleasant for everyone. And terrifying for the elites. Fortunately the elites weren’t the world. Out there, on the ground, the people they despised, had learned to strive and thrive for themselves.

In the world that emerged after the inevitable turmoil: a world more oriented to the individual; a world when the old lie of collectivism simply wasn’t feasible; they looked back and wondered how the elites could have been so blind and how they could have thought the sky was falling, when it was only their Marxist papier-mache sky and their gaslight false sun.

UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit Readers, and thank you to Glenn Reynolds for the link.

 

It’s all about the black swans- Kate Paulk

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It’s all about the black swans- Kate Paulk

 

Fifteen or so years ago I was certain I was going to grow into crazy cat ladyness as the eccentric maiden aunt (for modern versions of maiden) with the household full of cats and – I hoped – a career as a writer.

 

Today The Husband and I are about six weeks shy of our twelfth wedding anniversary (there goes the maiden aunt thing – can’t exactly do that while married), with three cats (but not, sadly, for long, since the twenty year old fluffy kitteh has cancer), more work than either of us can manage, and something that resembles a trickle of income rather than a writing career.

 

It’s progress. The Husband is a bonus I never thought I’d get, and I’m on a completely different continent than the one I thought I’d be living on, but that’s a benefit that came along with The Husband. Most of my friends have happened since I moved over here, too, mainly because the writing side of things has brought that into play.

 

The point being that you never know. No matter what things look like circumstances can change with what, in retrospect, looks like blinding speed. A hundred years or so ago everything seemed to be meandering along more or less as normal with tension rising in all directions but always managing to get defused before it could blow up, then some twit goes and murders some other twit who just happens to be the Hapsburg heir, and the next thing you know the whole of Europe is trying to beat the shit out of each other, and most of the rest of the world gets dragged in one way or another.

 

Or twenty-five years or so ago and the Cold War is burbling along in the normal fashion with maybe some hints that Gorbachev might actually mean this whole glasnost and perestroika thing, and then suddenly the Berlin Wall is gone and the whole Eastern bloc gets a serious outbreak of freedom.

 

Things change. It’s the nature of things with a crapload of momentum behind them the change very slowly if at all, but a spanner in the works at the right time and place can totally derail that train of events in ways that are often as terrifying as they are exhilarating (and if you think the fall of the Berlin Wall wasn’t terrifying, you weren’t listening to the British or the French who seemed sometimes to be convinced that the moment Germany unified Hitler would reappear in a flash of hellfire and brimstone and start the next world war. They didn’t. They just quietly and efficiently took over the European economy with the consent of the rest of Europe and the eager assistance of the French government, all in the name of unity or something. Time will tell if that little experiment works out, but my suspicion is ultimately, no. The long and uneasy mostly-peace since the end of World War 2 (and yes, by comparison, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc., etc were basically pissing contests. Not chew up a generation of young men and spit out their bones meat grinders) might have created a generation or two who think that you can solve anything if you just talk about it long enough and mean it enough, but it hasn’t made humans any less tribal. When it comes down to it, we’re always going to want to favor our kind over that funny lot over there who don’t speak right and whose mother dresses them funny).

 

Er. Anyway. The point in that little ramble is – oh, wait, there’s multiple points. Let’s see… Something you think is completely stable can change overnight. All it would take is a lucky (unlucky?) meteor strike and all the political dynasties in a country are out of business (kind of like an Australian ad I remember fondly. About a breakfast cereal if I recall, with claims about the cereal being everything you could dream of, and showed a kid daydreaming about the Sweet Meteor of Death making a flaming landing on his school. Try getting that shown on American TV). Drop it on DC at the right time, and the question of whether we get to choose between Billy-boy’s sloppy seconds and the Establishment’s least likely to piss off the media at the next election is suddenly not an issue any more. And if I could drop meteors where I wanted, that would be so tempting.

 

Alas, I’m an evil genius, not a mad scientist. There is a distinction. And evil geniuses need mad scientists to aim their Sweet Meteors of Death properly (DC would not be the only temptation). Besides, I wouldn’t want my mad scientist to miss and land the thing on the wrong town. Let’s face it, New York is so close the karmic attraction would probably pull the thing there: it would be like trying to drop a giant monster anywhere in Japan that wasn’t Tokyo (I’m reliably informed by the Internets that the reason Tokyo has such an issue with giant monsters is a quirk of city planning. Apparently the city lights spell out “good eats here” in giant monster lingo. More proof you need to do your research, or possibly of the power of advertising). Anyway, Tokyo attracts giant monsters. New York attracts everything else. (Little known trivia: the towers were actually part of a top secret meteor repulsion plan. The antennae on top were supposed to focus giant lasers running up the elevator shafts to completely destroy any meteors or alien invaders. They weren’t intended to deal with giant monsters because they head for Tokyo).

 

Er. I’m an evil narcoleptic genius who’s just a little short on sleep. Let me try to haul this back to something resembling a point.

 

Things change. Fast. You don’t know what will hit next or what kind of mess it will make of your plans. So build in flexibility, be ready for anything, and figure out if you need to thank it or shoot it when it happens.

 

Oh, and the black swans? That’s the stuff that you can’t predict because it’s fundamentally unpredictable. Supposedly rare, but in Australia black swans are the norm – and yeah, unpredictable stuff that’s supposedly rare happens a lot more often than you’d think.

Upon Reflection

*For those curious about the Meet The Character Blog Tour, to which I was challenged by Jagi Lamplighter, they are up at Amanda’s Post, Jody Lynn Nye Doug Dandrige and Dave Freer.  My own post is here:Meet His Grace, Seraphim Ainsling, Duke of Darkwater.

Because of today’s post, I feel required to say: I don’t know if any of these people agree with me politically, and I couldn’t care less.  (Actually I do know. Most of them don’t agree with me.  And I’m cool with that.)

For those who are looking for Kate’s post — she forgot and I forgot to remind her.  I’ll try to get one from her for tomorrow.*

Upon Reflection

I’ve been following #Gamergate with some interest. I’m not a gamer. I’m really an incredibly stodgy person – no seriously – who only reads for entertainment. Okay, reads, does carpentry and crochet and disturbs elephants and goes look at dino bones, and—

Right, but when it comes to the triad of entertainment of the modern age, the video forms leave me blah (my dad used to introduce this characteristic to people as though it were a handicap, which in the modern age it probably is: this is my daughter, and she doesn’t like television.) And games… well, the last one I got captured by that cost me a full year was tetris back in pre-history.

I’ve tried others, mind you, but they fall into two categories “failed to capture my interest” and “this is too much like work.” In the later category fall the planet and civilization building games and the array of sims. If I’m going to be creating civilizations, I d*mn well want to be paid.

The same goes for RPG games, btw. I once – for about two hours – “gamed” to get out of a tight plotting spot, but the problem there is more that I’d have to assemble a gamer’s group (I only ever had the one friend who did a demo game with me) and then I’d have to block out time. Last time I had a steady group for anything it was a writers’ group and politics done nuked that deep and hard.

Which actually brings us to the post.

In the triad of entertainment I indulge in video narration only while working out (and during summer I prefer walking outside) and for the rest I read. I’ve said over and over again that it was pretty pathetic that someone like me who ONLY reads for amusement (and enlightenment and learning, but that falls under “fun” too) spent so much time having trouble finding anything to read on the shelves of bookstores.

That’s okay. That’s past now. I have three books cued on the kindle to read right now.

BUT I want to emphasize one thing. When I wasn’t finding stuff to read, I wasn’t rejecting stuff on the basis of the author’s politics. I was rejecting it on the basis of being boring.

Now, often the boring bordered on politics. If the villain/murderer in every mystery is going to be the white/well off/guy who approves of commerce, I already lost significant enjoyment in that book. If every alien species we encounter is an ecological saint and the humans are always evil, then you already lost me. Because I’ve read that story fifty times before. If every love affair will end indeterminately because well, yes, that’s the approved ending, you already lost me.

I don’t read to be lectured at or to have my opinions confirmed. If my colleagues who agree with some of my opinions wrote books over and over again to make only one or two points I approve of, I’d also stop reading them.

In fact, I don’t understand the mind of the people who only read people who agree with them IN EVERY MINUTE DETAIL.

This brings us to #Gamergate and this post: #GamerGate–the free ride is over

I don’t know the author. It’s possible if I asked my sons, who are partly immersed in the gaming world, or some of my friends who are fully immersed (it turns out my peculiarity is still a handicap) they’d know exactly who this man is.

However I read his post and I discovered he’s my brother at heart. Particularly this:

For the past half decade, those cliques focused on “social justice” have been insulting, smearing and misrepresenting individuals or groups they decided represent “the other”. Because they received little or no push-back, they wrongly believed they represented the majority opinion on a given issue.

As someone who’s maintained a blog for 15 years, I’ve written a lot of words. Some of those words have made these guys angry and thus, at some point, they decided I was some sort of crazy right-winger.  I’m only a “crazy right-winger” if objecting to one group coercing another group is “right wing”. I don’t like telling people what to do and I don’t like being told what to do.

And this:

Remember, the abuse I received had nothing to do with the quality of the book. If books based on a video game were regularly pilloried we’d have a never ending stream of Reddits.

No, the reason I was targeted is because SJWs, the people who now represent the bulk of the “anti-#GamerGate” crowd, are perfectly comfortable with harassment and abuse as long as it’s the right people doing the harassment and abuse: Themselves.

Now, this man asks the one, most important question – why do SJWs class everyone who disagrees with them about ANYTHING as “right wing” and “the enemy”?

It gets to the absurd point of having a group of largely white females running around accusing people who are both darker and of far less privileged background than they are (Larry and I come to mind, for instance) of being privileged and lecturing them about suffering and discrimination and, oh, yeah, respecting the other.

 

Like TinyLittleFrogs, I have tons of things in which I probably agree with the SJWs. Not his ecological stuff, because that’s just crazy talk. (Yes, my tongue is planted so firmly in cheek, it’s almost poking through.) However, tons of my opinions agree with theirs – only not to the extreme they’d take them:

  • I think race is only a data-point about a person. Important if you’re discussing matters of oh, tanning (my poor child went to a baseball game with a family of blonds and discovered they had this thing “sun block.” He was six, and apparently had never noticed daddy used it. It blew his mind.) Or particular genetic diseases. Or to an extent metabolism.

This does not mean I think there are no genetic differences between the races. I’d have to be insane to think that. I live with a biologist and one of my best friends is a biology professor. HOWEVER those differences are in terms of statistical distribution. What I mean is “on the whole, if you are black, you will probably be a little taller than white people.”

In the case of “black” (African-American is crazy cakes, particularly when used for EUROPEAN people of dark skin. No, it’s not precise and no, no one is black – though a couple of my friends come close – but then no one is white either. Or yellow. Or red) this is a little more difficult, because there are more differences between different parts of Africa/tribes are bigger than between black and white people.

For instance, people whose ancestors were mostly hunter gatherers tend to ADHD. But in Africa, some people have been farmers for longer than in Europe.

Where I oppose the insanity: People aren’t widgets. As I said above, some people from Africa are more different from other people from Africa than from a northern European villager. And even in more uniform groups there is enough admixture and the statistical distribution is just a statistical distribution. It allows you to say “People of x race are more likely to—“ but nothing about an individual of that race. Because individuals are different.

As I said, race is a data point. In most cases an irrelevant one.

 

  • Another place I agree with them is that men and women should have the exact same rights and the exact same opportunities.

Where I disagree is the idea that gender is a social construct. This was a bit of insanity propagated by a literal mad woman in the seventies, and everyone has piled on, despite some tragic experiments with sex-changing babies and its not working as planned.

Sweden is now attempting this bizarre experiment of raising genderless children.

This is insane because any biologist will tell you men’s brains and women’s brains are different. No, seriously, they are. The hormonal baths in pregnancy change the brain. Also some hormones influence the brain. For instance estrogen gives women better memories.

On average. Comparing most women to most men. Now, this has nothing to do with liking pink or (for other cultures) wearing a burka. That IS cultural. But some things aren’t. You’ll find for instance that most men have better spatial reasoning than most women; most men are stronger than most women; most men are more physically aggressive than most women.

While this doesn’t describe any particular individual, it does describe the group and it accounts for things like young boys liking to play with noisy, moving toys like cars.

Also most women tend to be better at multitasking than most men.

These things have applications for some careers. The fact women aren’t equally represented everywhere is not evidence of sexism. It’s evidence of the nefarious work of hormones before you were even born.

Is there sexism? Sure. There is sexism both ways. In the US it TENDS to be more of women against men. In the rest of the world it goes the other way around.

But again, it’s a statistical distribution.

The thing I disagree with the most is this determination to treat sexes (and orientations) as though the individuals who had them were widgets. “You need this in perfect statistical distribution or you’re wrong.” It doesn’t account for individuals.

  • I even agree with them on gay marriage.

No, I don’t believe that every gay relationship is loving and perfect. I also don’t believe that of heterosexual relationships. At any rate I believe in the culture-changing power of a commitment taken in front of everyone who matters to you.

Relationships are never easy, and if we hadn’t been married, and if my parents hadn’t spent a ton of money on the wedding, I might have walked out that first year (about a dozen times) and missed on the glorious 28 years since.

Where I disagree with the SJWs is the giving gay relationships primacy over heterosexual ones. I have enough gay friends I can tell you that it’s not more stable or less power-oriented or any of that. No, not even between two females.

The other part I disagree with is forcing people to approve of gay unions, including forcing people to bake a cake (seriously guys, do you want people who don’t like you to make FOOD for you?) or otherwise cater to gay weddings when they disapprove. No, refusing to serve ANY customer is not “hate.” Hate is dropping walls on people or hanging them from cranes. Commerce is a voluntary exchange. If these people don’t want to work with gay couples, fine, there are others who do and who should get the gay couples’ money.

In the same way, I don’t approve of gay couples forcing churches to marry them/host the ceremony on their facilities. To be perfectly clear, I’d disapprove in the same way of a Jewish couple forcing an imam to marry them, or a mosque to host their wedding. I’d disapprove of Baptists insisting on being married by a Catholic priest. I’d disapprove of a re-marrying couple or those within the degrees of consanguinity Catholics have an issue with forcing Catholics to marry them. I’d disapprove of Catholics demanding a wedding in a Lutheran church.

Religions are allowed to exclude for all sorts of reasons based on their doctrine. They mostly exclude those who don’t follow their faith. “But it’s discriminatory” is not a good reason to force people to violate their conscience. AND running around demanding that everyone vocally approve of you makes it annoying for people like me who support gay marriage, and for normal, sane gay people who spend half the time hiding for fear people think they’re like the crazies.

 

Note that I agree with them on the main points. I just disagree with them about… MAKING SURE PEOPLE DO EXACTLY WHAT THE SJWs WANT THEM TO.

 

It’s not even that I don’t realize/understand that if we don’t force people to act in a certain way there are going to be injustices. Of course there are. But if you force people to act in a certain way, there’s going to be injustices to, just different injustices. So outside of laws against things like, oh, killing the defenseless, laws should be deployed very carefully. And harassment, whining and throwing fits at various industries, even more carefully. (Mostly because sooner or later people get tired, like the gamers seem to be. But also because overall it hurts the INDUSTRY when outsiders see these prosecutions of people over minor differences.)

Take for instance how we more or less ran men off teaching for fear of sexual abuse, and are now seeing women sexually abusing kids.

I think the fundamental difference between the SJWs and the people they disapprove of is this: SJWs believe the world could be perfect, if only they got to dictate what happens.

The rest of us know the world and humans are imperfect, and there will always be injustices. We try to combat injustice in our sphere, and among people we know, but don’t fight for “broad classes” out there because the outcome is messier, and (individuals being individuals) there’s a greater risk of unintended consequences.

The only other big difference is that the SJWs like power. They really, really, really like power.

While the rest of us think the best way to achieve the fairest world possible is to allow for individual agency and for people to forge their own path.

It is an irreconcilable difference, but it’s not the one they think it is. And it doesn’t make either side evil. It just gives us an unbridgeable philosophical rift.

That said, I’ve read books of people they approved of, and enjoyed them. I count both Phil Dick (or is he now excommunicated for having had a penis?) and Ursula LeGuin as favorite authors for some of their works.

You see, I only require that a writer be interesting, or challenging or fun. I don’t require they agree with me exactly. WHY would I? I don’t really care what a writer believes, provided the book isn’t boring, and provided that the book is not JUST preaching stuff at me. The occasional bit that betrays a view of the world I don’t agree with? Guys, I’ve always known people are different from me. I don’t require they be the same.

 

Demanding to read nothing but an echo of your own beliefs is a good way to lose touch with reality and go around calling “evil” to everyone who is not your exact reflection.

It’s a good way to lose touch with the world and a reality where individuals persist in being individual.

It might make you feel good for a while, but it’s like drugs. In the end, it will drive you insane.

The Meet The Character Blog

The poor unfortunates I roped in with this: Meet His Grace, Seraphim Ainsling, Duke of Darkwater.

Are now posting.  This is Amanda’s Post.

Doug Dandrige and Dave Freer and Jody Lynn Nye will be posting later at the links.

And my blog is a little late, because Kate and I both forgot it was her turn. So, I’m writing as fast as I can.

Of Despair, Hope, and Climbing Paths

It’s not a secret to anyone that I’m of a depressive turn of mind. This does not mean I’m depressed – at least not right now – but that when faced with a stress, my mind tends to head down towards depression. When faced with a question of guilt, I tend to blame myself.

Now I hear you clucking and saying something about medicines for that. Of course there are.

But here is something our overly therapeutic age misses: guilt and fear of being terrible have a purpose.

I’m not going to link the book, because I think it would bring on us the mother of all trollings, but those of you who are on Sarah’s Diner on Facebook know EXACTLY what I’m talking about.

There is a man who wrote a book that he claims he’s been writing both since 75 and for twenty years. (We didn’t ask what year it is in his world, so it’s our fault.) He painted the cover himself, and the drawing isn’t bad for a 12 year old or so.

Anyway, he thinks the book is the best thing since sliced bread. You see, it’s not about one of them troubled teenagers. It’s about a good girl who does everything right. He thinks this puts it on a par with several greats of literature (though how he got there, since the greats of literature all write characters with flaws and the ones he mentioned surely didn’t write about good girls, is beyond me.) His book is so much better than all that trash featuring vampires and werewolves, because those are unimaginative. His is the first time that story got told. And it should be assigned to every high school student.

If you’re already seeing the several threads of delusion there, it gets worse. Though a lot of the comments made about his grammar do not in fact make any sense (and enlightened for me why so many people think that all indie books are full of grammar errors. It’s because they learned grammar on Mars or something) some are spot on. He certainly has typos. But beyond all that, his stuff is stilted and weird, impossible to follow and there’s no narrative line to attach to.

And then he put his magnum opus out. And waited for praise, accolades the Novel [sic] prize and the Oscar [?] to just roll in.

What he got instead was a whole bunch of people pointing and laughing. And he can’t understand it, because after all, his book is the most original, most uplifting, most everything EVAH. So these people must be jealous of his brilliance.

Some of the Huns had great fun baiting him in the comments, but here’s the thing: I could grin at their comments (and his behavior is horrible enough to make one want to hit him) but I also felt that little cringe one feels when one sees a bit of oneself in a crazy person.

Because I started out like that. Oh, not under the impression what I was writing was so original or that everyone who writes vampires and werewolves is “unimaginative.” I’d read way too much for that. (Which I think Mr. Original hasn’t.)

But I started out writing things that had no discernible plot, characters only I could love, and hamfisted prose. [Okay, the last one was not so much “started out” as “last week”.]

I got rejected.

And then because I don’t have a healthy self-esteem (or much self-esteem at all, really, though the audience is helping me) I bought a bunch of books on how to do it, and I started analyzing it.

So, I couldn’t just self publish them, and yeah, that’s a difference. BUT I suspect if I had self-published and no one bought, and I’d got awful comments (except given what I was writing at the time it would probably sell on kink. Aliens. No I’m not telling.) the process would have been the same.

Because my idea of myself is not diamond-hardened and fire proof, I’d have gone “Oh.” And I’d have considered the idea that maybe my stuff really did suck and I only didn’t see it because it was mine. And then I’d have got the books/followed the same road.

So, to an extent, this depressive turn of mind, and this self doubt serve a purpose. The reason I run so hard is that me is following me, and I know the b*tch. If she catches up to me with all her doubts and insecurities, I’m going down for the count.

But sometimes she does catch me. And that’s an issue too.

My books take an average of two weeks to actually write – active writing time. In between there is a needed silence of two weeks to a month. The “battery recharging/ideation” time.

So how come I average two books a year (and some years I write six?) Well that’s the silences that aren’t necessary.

This is going to sound completely crazy considering I make a living at this, but I go through entire months of being convinced everything I ever write is drek. And then I can’t write at all. Extracting words from my mind becomes sort of like passing a novel out through a narrow crack in a wall, in papers the size of fortune cookie fortunes.

I could do without those silences. I could do without the fears so bottomless that I will accept any suggestion/criticism, no matter how ridiculous. I’ve learned over the years to do nothing to past works when I’m in this mood, and certainly not to read reviews/comments. Because if I read them at that time and then go and change my work, I will kill it. At best, I make it into soup without direction as I try to be all things to all people. At worst… You don’t want to know.

Now imagine someone with this turn of mind and the years of apprenticeship required to write something halfway decent. (I think I achieved that last week!)

Don’t nobody call no ambulance (yes, the grammar is intentional. Yes, I know. Nails on chalkboard) because it’s been years since this happened – but sometimes I felt I was spiraling down, with each level of shame/guilt worse, and constant memories of every humiliating/stupid mistake I’d made, to the point where often the only thing keeping me from committing suicide was knowing I had kids, and a duty to them.

It occurs to me that most of you are more of my stamp than of Mr. Greatest Thing Ever Written and You’re All Envious Hacks. And also that even for those who aren’t writers, these are tough times.

Not only are many of us struggling to make ends meet in Summer of (no) Recovery Six, but technological change is doing to the texture of our everyday life what hormones do to a pre-teen boy just before the jump.

You know the change is needed and largely beneficial, but we’re not a teen boy, and we don’t know where it leads. Everything is changing, and we’re caught in the middle of it. Unlike our “elites” we aren’t trying to take the world back (way back. Into feudalism) to where we feel more comfortable. But we do get scared and confused and wonder if what we’re doing is really for the best, like a beginner writer caught between two ways of writing and not sure which one is best (since it’s not just what he likes.)

In both cases: be good to yourself. Do the best you can. Few things in life are permanent. If what you are trying proves wrong, try something else.

And yeah, most of us have been tightening and tightening and tightening and cutting out all entertainment. And no, it’s not by choice.

But here is a suggestion: let that belt out a little bit. Shop advisedly. Buy bang for the buck. Amazon Prime furnishes us with a never-end of free movies and tv series, for instance. They’re a little old, but hey, we don’t have cable (expensive) so they’re new to us. And I’ve just joined Kindle Unlimited Lending Library. Now I know they pay a little less to writers, unless the story is 2.99 or under but here’s the thing: with it I read more than I could otherwise. So I don’t feel too bad for my fellow writers. $2 or so is better than what I would pay them otherwise (nothing, pretty much) and it allows me to read back up to the levels I like.

We also got a zoo membership and a membership to a couple of museums. These are expensive, relatively, but they give us a chance to run away every time things get to be too much. Weirdly, my family (each working three jobs or so) hits that wall at the same time. Most weekends we’ll all be working, catching up on things, maybe stopping for a movie in the evening (though not often.) And then one Sunday, usually dark and dreary with snow on the ground, we all go “this just isn’t working. I’m not getting anything done. Let’s go to—” And at that time it’s good to think “sure” and not “Do we have the money.” (Besides, when you have four people, one entry to a museum for all of us is half a year’s entry.)

That usually keeps the worst of depression away, while you’re working and don’t see an end in sight, and aren’t sure you are any good or will ever get anywhere.

When it doesn’t…

We humans are tormented/followed by the idea that our life must have a purpose. What I mean is, even the most irreligious of humans feels that he must be here for some reason.

Last week I posted the free book by James Owen, which I really do think is a wonderful pick me up if you’re trolling the depths. A couple of hours later, I had a thank you in my email. One of you – not a commenter, but a reader here – thanked me, because he’d been spiraling down the pit of hopelessness and trying not to think of doing away with himself. The book came just at the right time, and it stopped the spiral.

And suddenly I thought “Wow. What if my entire life, everything I’ve done, everything I am, was just for that purpose? To give a man a rope as he was slipping down the slope?”

Then I remembered an Agatha Christie story (in her bio) which I now don’t remember if it was a family thing or something that was told to her (I know she used it in a short story, later on) of someone who goes out to a cliff intending to throw himself down. Only there’s a woman there, sitting and looking out at the sea. And he can’t kill himself in front of someone. So he doesn’t. He goes back to life and it gets better.

I don’t remember how she explained it, but the thing is that the woman was also there, contemplating ending it all, and then (she somehow finds out what happened) she realizes if she’d killed herself before he arrived, he’d have been lost.

What I’m trying to say is even if your purpose in life is to just sit there at the right time and the right place (or if you don’t believe in purpose, your usefulness) there is something only you can do. It might be what you intend to do or it might be an entire accident (Instapundit, asked how he became instapundit “Like most things in my life, it happened by accident.”) But just by being here, you can become a lifesaver, and the life you save might change the world for the better.

In the same way, just by trying the best you can – at writing or life or whatever – you can sometimes become extraordinary. Perhaps most times. Yes, there is survivor bias in stories of “I tried, and I succeeded” but perhaps the arrow goes the other way. Perhaps if you really try, and are willing to admit you’re not perfect and to see clearly, you mostly succeed.

It’s just most people don’t. Because either absolute self confidence or its lack (yes, even that) are in a way far more comfortable.

But if you neither leap into the abyss, nor stand there frozen at its edge, telling yourself there is no abyss, if you learn the paths down and up the cliff, and if you lend a hand to those on the same road… perhaps, just perhaps that black cliff can become an enchanted cove where many find solace and life.

It’s worth a try.

Unringing The Bell — A Blast From the Past Post from 6/2011

*It’s amazing how much of this still applies. I made comments throughout in square brackets for how it’s different/same in Anno Domino 2014.  An email conversation with a writer I admire brought this to mind.  It’s amazing to me how many people are still in 1999 or maybe in 2010.*

Those of you who haven’t read Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Writing Like It’s 1999, do so.

For those of you who read my blog this might seem like I’m harping on a theme, or like I’m getting repetitive.  Well I’d think so too, truly.  Except…  Except…whenever I’m at a con, someone – usually someone much less published than I am – comes back with a variant of “I’m going to keep my eyes shut tight and in the morning, this will all go away.”

Disruptive change is very scary and most people would rather pretend it will all go away, and we’ll be back to the familiar landscape and the familiar certainties.  Even if those are horrible.  Freed lions will often pace as though in the confines of the cage.  Those few of us who are awake and exploring every possibility, looking in every corner, searching for the way things will be are a small minority.

At cons, I still run into authors who look down on self-published authors.   I still run into authors who parrot the line about how much the publisher is investing in them: when it is patently obvious they’re lost in mid-list hell; I still run into authors who say “if you want to make a living at this, you have to publish with the big six.” [It's all just the same now.]

I had the dubious privilege of hearing a mid-press published author telling a self-published author whom I happen to know makes more in a month on one book than the mid-press published author has made for any two or three of his books that “most of what’s self published is crap and no one would buy it.  The future is finding a publisher and convincing them to accept you.  In two years, all this e-book stuff will be gone.” [I hear fewer publishers say that these days. Now they're more likely to howl about Amazon.]

It was breathtakingly bizarre.  Kind of like, in a fantasy novel, standing next to the hidden prince and watching the false king parade down the street looking down on everyone.  Like Saturnalia, with the fools reigning.

And then I catch myself – occasionally – thinking the old thoughts, too: “Well, what does he/she know.  He/she is small press published.”  Or perhaps thinking that some of my fledgelings will of course, eventually, follow the route I have.  And then I stop.  Because there are few things I know, but I do have some certainties. [I'm glad to report these thoughts are QUITE gone.  In fact I feel guilty if I advise someone to go traditional.]

These are the things I know:

Even if e-books all went away tomorrow, it wouldn’t go back to the way it was
Not the way it was in the early nineties, or even the way it was in the late nineties when I came in.  No way, no how, never.  Because there’s this thing called Amazon.  The publishers no longer control what’s on the shelves and what gets seen.  And even if Amazon died tomorrow, there would be other e-tailers.  Trying to control shelf space is not a winning strategy.  That bell has rung.

E-books aren’t going away
You can’t put the e-book genii back in the bottle.  I’m reading on kindle.  My kids are reading more on kindle than on paper.  So is my husband.  So are most of my friends. Barring some planet killing type of event, this is not going to go away.  No, the economic crisis won’t kill it.  Kindle books published by indies are cheaper.  The tighter life gets, the more likely we’ll buy those instead of the agency-modeled-to-death.

The hierarchies of prestige are gone
Because the big six no longer control access to shelf space (except in Barnes and Noble, and it no longer has the influence it once had) the safe hierarchy of self-published, small press, medium press, big press is gone.  We used to assume someone who self-published hadn’t even been able to get a small press to accept him/her.  We approached their work expecting it to be awful.  It often was.  That certainty is done.  A savvy author with time on his hands can decide he has a better chance going it alone.  Be careful how you talk to other authors.  That person with a single indie book out might have a larger readership than you could dream of.

Most authors have had a taste of freedom
I’m one of them.  Look, I’ve done next to nothing Indie.  A Touch of Night and a few short stories through Naked Reader Press. Interesting results but inconclusive.  However, just knowing I can write whatever and if it doesn’t sell I can put it up on Amazon and it will sell a minimum of x – plus be in print forever – has given me massive freedom.  I no longer feel like I’m blindfolded in the cattle car of a train over whose destination I have no control.  Even if indie proves to be less than half of my income, the ability to put out there what I think should be out there is slowly molding me into a different person: a much less fretful and worried one.  It’s likely to lengthen my life.  It will certainly make me easier to live with.  I don’t know how it’s taking other authors, but I don’t think it’s that bad. [From my experience with Witchfinder, it can make me a living.  Writing for two masters, though is ... argh.  But it will get done.]

We’re scared, but we’re not stupid
I know, I know, Dean says we’re stupid.  And he’s right in a way, but we’re a very specialized kind of stupid.  Also, he’s not seeing the pressures on my generation – those who came in after 2000 when the publishing houses looked at things ONLY through agents, and the publishing houses’ decisions could make or break your career, regardless of how good your book was.  We had to learn to shut up, no matter how stupid we felt what was happening was.  Not anymore.  And we’re losing the habit of silence – slowly.  The chances of a mass exodus back to publishers on the old terms because we don’t want to do everything ourselves is about … oh, look, do you see that flying pig?  Yeah.  Some of us will go back, of course – most of us who have made our name and can dictate terms, or the really small ones who couldn’t make it on their own.

And I’m not saying publishers are going away
Of course they’re not.  Though a few of the houses will vanish and almost certainly a few of the imprints will vanish.  What I’m saying is that the majority of the writers are NOT going to go back on the old terms.  You want us back, you’re going to have to do things for us that we can’t do for ourselves or hire someone to do for us.  I’m thinking this is the true “demise of the midlist” and not in the fake way you tried to do it before, where you simply announced the midlist was gone and kept changing midlisters’ names and paying them as beginners and not allowing them to build a following.  No.  I think the “midlister” the “shelf filler” the “person we print but don’t do anything else for” is gone.  You’ll have to treat every author as if he/she matters.  You have to make it better for them than they can do by throwing it up on Amazon.  I’m thinking good covers, publicity, limited contracts.

Make it worth my while
Or at least, don’t use aversion therapy on me.  You can’t keep me in the dark and feed me on shit anymore.  If the book is not selling, sure, I need to know, but don’t tell me it’s because it’s not a good book, when I know you did nothing to market it, not even get it on shelves.  And don’t, then, treat me as if it’s all my fault.  Because if you make things unpleasant enough and treat me like a serf, I’m going to think “well, I don’t need to work for you anymore” and I’m going to go Indie.

Give me a public
I’m thinking more publishers should look at Baen books, instead of turning up their noses.  Baen commands loyalty among its writers and gets dedicated readers who look for the brand.  Some of this is (good) marketing gimmicks: buttons saying “I read baened books”, book bags given out at cons, a slide show where upcoming releases are announced, a forum where fans can meet and geek out on their favs.  Part of it, though, the most important thing, is what none of the rest in sf/f or mystery has (I don’t know enough of Romance): a brand.  A unified taste.  For the big houses with multiple editors, this is difficult, of course.  But you can no longer be all things to all people.  Baen chose and does plot.  It does plot really well – whether it’s in sf/f or any of the variations.  “Things happen in Baen Books” would be a great tag line.  Mind you, if it’s one of my books (or Dave Freer’s, too, or a half dozen others) the books also have characters and feelings – but the “things happen” and “adventure” aspect MUST be there for it to be a Baen book.  When I started being published by Baen I immediately “slotted” into a pre-made public.  This, as a newby, gave me something to put my back against, as I grow the rest.  So, what can the big houses do.  I don’t know.  I don’t know under what constraints they operate.  BUT if I owned one, I’d give each editor an “imprint” and then give them the resources to publicize that imprint.  “Okay, Jane likes craft mysteries.  She can specialize in that.  We’ll call it Golden Brush books, and…”  Have them appeal to a segment of public, but appeal to them very powerfully.  It’s better to command 50k loyal readers and grow them slowly than to have most of your books bomb, except for a mega ultra blockbuster a year – which these days might not materialize.  (No power to push, remember?)  And meanwhile tell the editors that the house does… oh, pick one.  Beautiful, doomed adolescents.  Or perhaps more generally “character” or “angst” or “Beautiful language.” and unify that across your “imprints” which will maximize the chance of people reading the brand, not just the imprint.

Will there be a new equilibrium?  Of course there will.  And I think it’s about two years out, too.  But will things be the way they were?

E-books.  E-tailing.  Soon, the book printing machines in every bookstore.  Writers who’ve taken the bit between their teeth.  Will all that vanish?

No way.  You can’t put humpty dumpty together again.  And you can’t unring a bell.  So publishers and writers both will have to stay alert and change to survive.

UPDATE:  Ask not for whom that bell won’t unring…  I think what you’re hearing today, loud and clear, are funeral bells.  Or perhaps the woosh of the meteor falling to Earth.  The dinosaurs will never be the same:  http://www.thepassivevoice.com/09/2011/amazon-launches-79-kindle-and-99-kindle-touch-ereaders/