Look, Ma, No Supervolcano!

The last couple of days have been beer-focused — delivering and selling, not drinking, you judgmental meanie! Well, not just drinking…

So, in the interests of not putting up a stream-of-consciousness post that I have to come up with on the spur of the moment, I figured I would trot out one of my shortcuts from the summer: the photo post!

I’ve posted quite a few pictures of Yellowstone. A lot of pictures, actually.* Living in the middle of a place that impressive will do that for you…but my regular home ain’t no slouch, either. Life in the Rockies, at least where I live, is a bit different from Yellowstone, however: drier, more open, smaller trees…and a lot less in the way of supervolcanoes.

*Yes, I am in fact too lazy to link to all of them. Just grab the posts tagged Photos and you’ll find ’em.

Keep in mind, these are just random snapshots I took on a few different hikes. I was not actually intending to do a photo post, so I didn’t really plan ahead. Anyway…ahem…a bit of lazy posting at its finest:

 

Dammit, Jim, I’m A Writer, Not A Thinker!

When did we forget how to think?

No, seriously — I just read a story about Google. The CEO was lamenting the fact that it was very, very difficult (read: impossible) to “teach” an algorithm to recognize “fake news” when both sides vehemently believed what they were saying.

No shit.

That’s what human brains are for, goddammit!

Why on Earth would you ever expect — why on Earth would you ever want — a computer program to determine “truth” for you?! That is utterly and completely asinine.

One of the hallmarks of being ostensibly intelligent, self-aware beings (besides opposable thumbs, and shit like the Kardashians) is the ability to…you know…judge for yourself.

That ability, that judgment, is both privilege and burden…which is as it should be. Anyone who expects someone else to lay it all out for them, to tell them what and who to believe, deserves the empty shell that their life has become.

Now, look: I know I’m an old, cranky bastard — shit, the fact that I actually remember the Ewok Christmas special is enough to tell you that! — but I simply can’t be alone in this. Do people no longer learn to assimilate information, weigh the evidence, and make their own judgment? C’mon, it ain’t that hard, folks!

The real problem, unfortunately, seems to be the same for people as it is for Google: when people disagree, it is hard to decide. Unfortunately, far too often “we” (as a people, not us in specific) tend to shortcut the judgment-thing and just go with what our “team” says.

“A conservative Republican/liberal Democrat said it, so it must be true.”

And of course, the converse: “those (other) evil bastards believe it, so it must be a nefarious plot…”

It goes back to something I harped on over the summer (while avoiding most of this crap by living in the wilderness): we, as a country and a society, are so polarized, so split and torn-apart, that we can’t agree even on a common set of facts. Black and white no longer have the same meanings to people on different “teams”, and 1+1 only equals 2 when it benefits one side over the other.

*sigh*

This is, by the way, how societies die: not in great, thunderous wars but in the pathetic whimpers of blind, narcissistic parochialism.

Those voices howling alone in the wilderness? Those voices trying to stand against the tide and scream “No More”?

Yeah, those are the voices of those trying to hold it all together. The voices of common sense and the good of all above the good of self.

The voices of those losing the fight.

Now a philosopher, or a profound thinker, would have a list of prescriptions and advice to try and address this problem. Me? I just want to slap the shit out of most of these folks.

“Wake up!” I want to scream. “Wake up and use your fucking brain!”

Hrm, didn’t seem to work…

Back to the wilderness, and to my solitary howling, I guess.

If You Love Me, Don’t Let Go

 

Yes, the title of this post is a line from a song…because, well, of course it is.  The song in question is “Unsteady” by X Ambassadors. Below is a post that has been sitting in my Drafts for…well, for a long time. Talking about this stuff ain’t easy. Not for me, and not for anyone.  But, sometimes you just have to…and in honor of Thanksgiving and the coming family-oriented holidays, it is time again…

There’s really nowhere else to start: I suffer from depression.  I’ve mentioned that before, but if there is any disease that gets pushed aside and forgotten, it is depression.  It especially is pushed aside and forgotten by family and friends.

“What’s wrong with you today?”

“What mood are you in today?”

“Why can’t you just fix yourself?”

For those who’ve never felt the stifling, suffocating, paralyzingly grip of depression…thoughts like that do nothing but make it worse.  A lot worse.  That feeling of being alone?  Of having nowhere to go, and no one to turn to?

Yeah, “checking on my mood” ain’t helping.

Why am I writing about this? I hear you ask.  Why, more importantly, am I writing about this again?

Because it needs to be talked about.

I’ve fought this demon since I was teenager.  I’ve fought this demon in the only way I’ve ever really had: alone.  I’ve lost more battles than I’ve won…but I’m still alive, and a number of my friends are not, so I guess the war itself is going okay…

“C’mon…just change yourself.”

“Turn to Christ” or “think happy thoughts” or “look on the bright side”…

It doesn’t work that way.

The reason I am writing this post is because…well…hearing other folks talk about their own struggles helped.  It helped tell me that I wasn’t alone {and remember the central theme to Wrath & Tears: alone is worse}.  It helped to tell me that, as broken as I am, there are others out there just as broken.

It told me, in the end, that I wasn’t a freak who had to suffer in silent solitude.

How can I not try to pass along that support?  How can I not, to throw out an over-used and tired phrase, pay it forward?

Carrie Fisher became very open about her battles.  Ashley Judd has become equally so.  Even so huge a figure as Winston Churchill had his struggles with depression.  NFLer Joel Klatt…NHLer Marek Svatos…actor Owen Wilson…Heath Ledger…Buzz Aldrin…Art Buchwald…Terry Bradshaw…Johnny Carson…Ray Charles…Dwayne Johnson…it ain’t a short list, folks, and these are just a semi-randomly selected handful.

I’m not alone, and that helps.  That is important to know…and it does help.

How can I not share my own experience in the face of that?  How can I not try to help — to support, and hopefully to save — just one fucking person, if that is all I can reach?

As many things as have gone right in my life, this is a demon that still hovers over my shoulder. He always has, and he always will.  Even as things got better in my life, he never left.  When things were bad, he was there…but when things were good, he was equally there.

Honestly, even today his voice still has power…and I still pay attention.

Depression, for those of you who just don’t know or understand, is very very real. Even those you think should never suffer problems of any sort — those with money and loved ones and lives to be envied — can suffer from depression. Trust me on this one: I’ve lost friends who had every single fucking thing in the universe to live for.

Hell…I have everything to live for, and still I hear that little voice: why bother? Who the fuck are you? Nothing will ever get better…

Believe me, I hear that voice. Far, far too often.

There ain’t much to hold on to in the universe for people like us…but what there is, is important.

And what folks like us have to hold to is simple: people.

Look, we know we’re annoying…we know we’re hard to deal with…but, holy shit, we have, in general, pushed away almost everything and everyone we know, and we need something. Trust me on this — it is far, far too easy to lose yourself in the isolating currents of your own thoughts and emotions. It is far too easy to drown.

When I’m at my worst, when I’m a drowning man at sea, I’ll clutch at anything. Unfortunately, far too often, that something is exactly the wrong thing. Whether it’s booze, or drugs, or isolation, or despondency…they all seek to fill the space that only friends and loved ones can truly fill.

Just one friend — just one loved one — can make all the difference.  Does make all the difference.

To those who fight similar demons, I’ll say this: I have my own tiny little list of those who have helped save me — some figuratively, but some very, very literally — and you need to find a way to create your own little list.  One name…one name, one person, is all it takes.  That being said, there also are ways to work yourself out: after so many years, I have learned to write my way out…or to hike my way out…or, in a very few instances, to love my way out.  So, please: find…something.  Some meaning, some tool.

And always remember the first rule: alone is worse.

To those who can’t even begin to conceive of the numbing pain, nor the suffocating isolation: I know we can be annoying, and challenging, and hard to understand…but we need you. Trust me on this one: we’ll push you away, we’ll isolate ourselves and say we don’t care, say that we don’t need anyone…and we’ll be lying.

We need some form of stability — some semblance of life — to hold to, or that little demon in the back of our minds will win…

…and when that bastard wins, you end up with a rope around your neck and a bottle in your hand.

Trust me on this one, I know.

Further reading here and here.

You Morality Is None Of My Business…

…and mine is none of yours.

Look, to reword and rework a tired, old phrase: morality begins at home. Morals and belief systems, as well as the personal behaviors to which they lead, are…well…personal. They are — and should be! — the intimate, immediate decisions only of the individual involved.

No one else need have input. Hell, no one else should have input. My morality — or the occasional lack thereof — is none of your business, thank you very much.

And that “no one else” goes double — goes ten freaking times — for the government! It is no business of the government’s what, or who, I do. Or how…or why…etc… Fill in your own damned blanks on that one.

Okay, let me back away from the confrontational and shoot for the rational…

I am a pretty moral guy. Yes, I drink too much. Yes, I cuss too much. Yes, I’m a cynical asshole. But…I don’t do drugs (anymore), I don’t steal, I don’t lie (much…and no, those pants DON’T make your butt look big!), nor do I rape, pillage or otherwise live a pirate’s life.

My stories aside, I’m actually pretty fucking normal.*

*My definition of “normal” may differ pretty significantly from yours, but…no harm, no foul.

But I live that “normal” life from choice, not because someone told me to. Hell, just about every time someone TOLD me to do something, I did pretty much the exact opposite. I’m not, it should be said, a terribly good follower.

I choose to be good, to be — in most senses of the word — moral. I make a choice to which I am neither commanded nor compelled. I CHOOSE TO.

And that makes a difference.

Every time a government — any government, take your pick from history — has tried to legislate morality, it has failed spectacularly. And it always will fail because normal, everyday people know and understand just what the limits should be, and those limits do not include telling us what we should and should not do.

Now, what got me to thinking about this?

Yep, you guessed it: more Roy Fucking Moore (again).

Beyond his need to grope teen-age girls, that asshole — judge or not — threw aside any semblance of legality and liberty with his statement that homosexuality should be illegal. He went so far as to imply that gays and lesbians should, beyond just jail, potentially face the death penalty.

What are we, Saudi Arabia?

Look, I’m a straight white guy: I have nothing to fear from people like Moore. But, many, many friends (and relatives) DO have things to fear from people that want to deny them their rights and their liberties. Hell, people that want to deny them their lives.

From a religious point-of-view I get it, I really do. Religious folks, especially Evangelicals, have very real problems and reservations in this area.* Fine, no problem. Your beliefs, like my morals, are your business. BUT, when you decide to start inflicting those beliefs on other people, THEN we have a problem…a very real, and very serious, problem.

*I understand these — I don’t agree with them in even the smallest way, but I do understand.

Then again, those folks seem to have all kinds of problems that they want to “help” with, things like: drinking, dancing, listening to music, watching movies/TV, science, history, education, the list goes on and on.

Honestly, I am NOT attacking these folks. I have far too many friends and family members to whom the label “Evangelical” applies to condemn them, just like I have far too many LGBT friends and relatives to condemn THEM. All I ask is that both sides let the other live in peace.

That, in the end, is the bottom line of my libertarianism: you leave me alone, and I’ll leave you alone. Call it the Revised Golden Rule for the Truly Cynical.

Now, that does cut both ways: when the LGBT folks attack those Christians who do not toe the line, it can be just as bad as what the Evangelicals want to do to them. Neve forget that tolerance is NOT the same thing as approval, and it never should be.

To put another spin on it: I’m a slut. I’ll sleep with any girl that will give me the time of day. My relationships have all ended as major disasters anyway, so why bother with the whole “get to know you” thing? Now, I don’t ask anyone to approve of my lifestyle — hell, I’m not sure I approve of it! — but I damn well do expect you to tolerate it.

See the difference?

Evangelicals: you don’t have to approve of anyone else’s lifestyle, of the “sinners”, but you damn well DO have to tolerate other individuals’ right to live the way they choose.

“Sinners”: YOU don’t have to approve of the Evangelicals, but you DO damn well have to respect TREIR right to live and believe what and how they choose.

It’s called Freedom of Conscience, folks…and it means a great deal.

Folks who have been reading this blog for a while know I have a real problem with how regular folks lack voices and input into society today. To be blunt, about the only control we do have is in our own lives, and how we choose to live is far too important to let someone else — anyone else — dictate and control.  That applies to other individuals just as much as to governments.

Focus on your own choices, and your own life, and let everyone else live theirs.* That is the foundation of a free and just society.

*And, no, I am not an absolutist in any sense of the word — there IS right and wrong in the world. Rape, violence, and the corruption of power (power of all stripes) ARE immoral and wrong from ANY perspective.

The 4 W’s: What

Look…you know I’m a character-centric guy. You know anything I write starts (and ends) with the characters, and the plot is just the Charlie-Brown-pine on which I hang the lights and ornaments and decorations that make it an actual Christmas tree. You know because, well, I’ve talked about it often enough…

So, for me, the what of my stories isn’t some big plot point, some stand-alone crisis & climax & resolution…it’s the story of the protagonist(s), and how they deal with with those plot points. I know it sounds semantic, but I can assure you that it’s not. It most assuredly is not — it is a very real difference in emphasis, and in execution.

Let me put it like this: as much as I love Star Wars, why did I hate The Force Awakens? Because the characters — with the exception of Finn & BB8 — were forgettable, 2-dimensional cookie cutters that meant not one damned thing to me. There is no bigger Mary Sue in the damned universe than Rey…and don’t even get me started on the uselessness that is/was Kylo Ren. Quite simply, the characters in that movie were there simply to serve the plot; they had no meaning and no life in and of themselves.

Contrast that with Rogue One. I bought into Rogue One…I bought all the way in. The characters in that movie existed, they meant something. They had more depth, and more reality, than the entire cast of TFA put together. Jyn and Cassian were, quite simply, more believable — more important — than Rey and Poe.

And that makes all the difference.

So, when I plan and design the what of a story, it is not a plot into which I insert my characters. Nope. Quite the opposite, in fact: it comes from the characters themselves.

I’ve mentioned before the rather extensive background work I do before I ever start writing a story. Part of that is just to help me fill in holes and answer questions…but just part. No, the majority of that comes because I need to think and live — I need to experience — my characters’ reality before I truly know where things are going. I need, when you get right down to it, to let them talk to me.

A real world example:

The story that evolved and grew into Wrath & Tears and Silence (and the planned third story, tentatively titled The Flicker of Ghosts) started life simply as a planned series of short stories I nicknamed Project Dock Rat. It was anticipated to be nothing more than the serial adventures of a homeless kid, scraping by as a thief with the help of his best friend.

There was nothing in the original conception about society’s sins, nor the exploitation and violence and ruthlessness that are so a part of the real world. There was, equally, nothing about suicide, or suffering, or the despair of the hopeless.

Then I thought and worked through the two main characters (a third got axed/changed…long story, there), the two who became Connor and Oz.

I had no idea when I originally dreamed up the idea that the protagonist would come to be a reflection of my own survivor’s guilt, nor that his best friend would come to represent those I’ve lost to suicide. I had no idea the story would come to mean something very personal to me.

But it did.

It became not the “adventures of a homeless kid,” but rather the story of Connor’s attempt to save his own soul…and Oz’s failure to do the same thing.

THAT is the what of a story, to me: the reality and evolution of characters that matter.

The 4 W’s: Where

Note — hmm, just got an idea to make this a (sorta) series.  The Who, What, Where and Why of a story…I’ll have to think about that one a bit, but I kinda like the idea.

I finished writing at the brewery the other day, then got into a conversation with some of the regulars. Now, these regulars are people I have known for a long time. They know me pretty well, and they have no hesitation about asking questions. Sometimes they ask a lot of questions.

Now, usually, those questions are pretty funny…but sometimes they actually get into more serious, substantive areas. Like whether Cascade hops are evil, or debating the relative merits of malty versus hoppy pilsners…

You know, the important stuff.

Oh yeah…and sometimes writing comes up, too.

Keep in mind: these are the people who got me to admit that my characters talk to me. As you might imagine, that particular little nugget still gets a ton of mileage in the taproom…

Well, the other day, one of those friends asked me about settings. “You make shit up, right?” he asked.

“Well…uhh…basically…” I stammered, still coming back to earth after a writing session.

“Where the fuck’s it come from? The weird sci-fi shit, I mean. The places, the atmosphere.”

Good question, that.

John Scalzi still has my favorite sci-fi quote of all time, and it fits for this topic just as it does for so many others {I’m paraphrasing from memory, mind you}: “They say you should write what you know. I write what no one knows.”

So…settings. My writing tends to be very visual, tends to focus on the immediate snapshot of a place. More than that, the look & feel of a place tend to focus very much on the contrast* inherent in the setting: the contrast of light and dark especially, but also those social and economic and personal contrasts that mean so much to my writing. I love dissonance in my settings just as much as in my characters…

*Remember, one of my “outside” loves is photography…mostly travel and nature stuff, but I will tackle almost any topic through a camera. When I take pictures, I intentionally look for the contrast in light & shadow…and also in subject matter. Those impulses, and that “eye” I use, affects my imagination and my writing a great deal.

The biggest settings are obviously made up out of whole cloth: from settled planets to FTL starships to massive space stations. These are the “big ideas”, the conceptual frameworks that hold together the “real” places where scenes actually take place (a room, a bar, a plaza, etc…). These “big things” are influenced by reality, but mostly just in terms of the feelings I want them to evoke:

Dockside was inspired/influenced by places like Marseille and Long Beach and Boston. Working ports with gritty, dangerous areas close beside areas of wealth and privilege.

The destroyer that is the centerpiece of an old “trunk novel” of mine (that may see the light of day in a completely re-worked fashion) was inspired/influenced by the old WW2 Fletcher-class destroyers…and by modern US nuclear subs.

But those are the “big things”, those are not the things of everyday settings and scenes…the places that help define the feeling of a story.

The smaller and more intimate places where the scenes take place, the “real” settings…well, they are based on places I know, on places & things that have had a very real affect on me.

Dockside’s res-holds are those tight, crowded, loud neighborhoods you see in Hong Kong and Manila and Bangkok and other massive Asian cities. But, and this is a big but, they also have a huge dose of the crowding and crime, and the grinding poverty, of the Brazilian favelas, as well as the southern European migrant “camps”.

A handful of scenes I am currently writing are set in one of the grimmest and most depressing places I can come up with: a place based on the old Soviet-era, Stalinist apartment blocks you can still find in central and eastern Europe’s old industrial areas. I once took a walk through one of these behemoths just a decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall…and, well, holy shit. Let’s just say, to a kid who grew up in Southern California, there was no place more alien…nor more unsettling.

From small, crowded izakaya in Tokyo, to beach front clubs in Spain…

From huge, luxurious mansions to tiny, filthy apartments that aspire to be called “slums”…

From corporate boardrooms to back-alley drug dens…

Pretty much every setting I create has at least an inspiration, if not a very real basis, in real world places I have experienced. And that experience, that reality, is important to me: every setting I use is intended to evoke certain emotions, and to communicate certain things about the characters, and the particular plot points, involved in that scene.

I could never hope to communicate the emotion of an overwhelming, monolithic concrete apartment block — and it’s depressing central expanse of a concrete courtyard — had I never stood in the middle of just such a place and experienced its reality.

All that being said…my friend was right: I make shit up. I make a lot of shit up. But — and this is the important but — even the stuff I make up is built around certain nuggets of reality. Every place, every setting, that I use has to have a feeling to it — has to have an honesty — in order to support and serve the tone of the scene itself.

And, yes, before you ask: the taproom at “my” brewery has made its own appearance…

Random, Pointless Post O’ The Month…

**Warning**Warning**Danger, Will Robinson!**Random Post Incoming!**Danger**Danger**

Speaking of Alec Guinness moments…

My God, what have I done?

I killed off my Amazon Prime subscription…the Prime subscription I’ve had since the damned program began.

Keep in mind, I’m “that guy” who spends more on books than most people do on rent. Who spends far too much, I should clarify.

Between the “free” express shipping and the streaming service, how could I not use my Prime to fullest advantage?!

Because it…well…it actually kinda sucks.IMG_0951

Do I really need to get my copy of A Great and Terrible King in two days?

Do I really need to binge watch old 80’s game shows?

Because those two things are about all Prime actually has. Ugh…a hundred bucks a year for shipping I don’t need, and shows I don’t watch?

It ain’t the useless insanity that my cable bills used to be, but it’s pretty damned close.

Especially when I can nerd-out on anime with CrunchyRoll and binge watch actual good shows with NetFlix and iTunes…

*sigh*

What has my life come to when this is the major event of my week?

When the hell did I start weighing the pluses and minuses like an…err…adult?

When the hell did I turn into my parents?!

I gave up adulthood when I gave up “business casual” attire and life as a sales & marketing weasel…

Look, I’ve got no kids — no dependents of any kind — and a complete inability to make any romantic relationship work*. Hell, I don’t even have a freakin’ goldfish, let alone any ties that, well, bind. In no sense can I be considered “grown up” or responsible. Quite the opposite, in fact…and I don’t give a damn what the grey hair is supposed to mean.

*I might be the only guy in the universe for whom the phrase “It’s not you, it’s me” is 100% true. If all my relationships fail, and I’m the one common element in all of them, well…even I can do that math.

But still adult behavior sneaks in…

I’m so disappointed in myself.

I have a choice, right now: go do something responsible and intelligent, or go to the brewery…

Hammerschlagen, anyone?

IMG_0952

Back To Our Regular Programming: Characters Matter

Okay, so instead of writing, I’m busy writing a blog about, err, writing.

I think I need to switch to decaf.

Lately I’ve let myself “go political” for a few posts. That was something I swore I would never do when I started this blog. Just like I swore I would cut back on coffee in 2017.

Yeah, both of those resolutions had about the same chance of success.

At any rate, no more politics. Not today…and hopefully not for a while.

Nope, today is all about taking the title of Saturday’s “bonus post” and putting it back into writing terms: character matters. On two levels that works…and you can figure them out just as easily as can I*.

most-interesting-squirrel*Squirrel Moment of the Day: one of the hardest things to learn in writing? DON’T OVER-EXPLAIN! Trust your readers and, most of all, respect them. As readers, we all (well, I think all) hate it when writers talk down to us, when they assume we can’t connect dots on our own. So, why then, is the urge to do the same thing so strong when we write? Words are precious things — no, really, trust me on this, your word count is a precious resource: don’t waste it on unimportant details and pointless background. Give hints, sketch a few lines, then let the reader fill in the details with their own mind. Trust them, in other words, and treat them like they have brains of their own.

I know I’ve talked about that problem with wordiness and over-explaining before, but crap…that’s worth a post in and of itself.

But not today.

Not today because that topic deserves some thought and planning…neither of which I have ready at the moment.

Nope, today I’m thinking about characters. About when characters speak for themselves, and about when they help dictate the story.

I need to rephrase that title I’m re-using from Saturday: Characters Matter.

Don’t use them lightly…don’t sell them short…and, for God’s sake, don’t railroad them! If a character does, or says, something totally outside of their make-up, you’ve failed them. I don’t care if it’s necessary to advance the plot…I don’t care if it’s something that has to happen…I don’t care if the devil makes them do it*, your character has to do what’s right for them.

*Although that, arguably, could be a fun little device to play with…in the right circumstances.

Want to know why I never got into GRRM’s Fire & Ice series? Because, too often, his characters do things that are alien to who they are. He has done a masterful job of creating deep, rich and engaging characters…then betrayed them by forcing them to do things simply because the plot calls for it.

That is, I should add, one area where the TV series has, for the most part, done a great job of “cleaning up” — HBO’s Game of Thrones adaptation is, I believe, only the second* instance where I’ve found the movie/show better than the original book(s).

*Jaws is the other one.

And, yes, Tyrion is still the best and most interesting character in either version…although Jaime has his worth, too. Remember my fixation with the broken and the flawed? Yep, it all goes back to the best chapter title ever: Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things. I will always love GRRM for that one…both for the title, and for that first glimpse of Tyrion as a hell of a lot more complicated and interesting than the reader’s initial impressions.

In the end, if you have to force your character to do something outside of themselves — something alien to who they are — you need to go back and either rework that character, or rework your story/plot.

By now, you probably know just where I come down on that particular decision…

Bonus Post: Character Matters

I’ll probably regret this, but…

…but I’m not very good at keeping my mouth shut, even when I should. Given the timing and nature of this post — and the topic which spurred me to write it — I have decided not to put it in the queue for Monday morning.  Nope, if I’m gonna tackle something timely, I might as well be…timely.

Keep in mind, this is a writing blog, not one focused on politics or religion or culture. Okay, well, that’s not exactly true: this is a writing blog, and writing is very much about those things.

Okay, so where am I going with such a roundabout start?

Roy Moore.

Roy Fucking Moore.

A few days ago the man was nothing more than a repugnant candidate for a short-term stint as junior senator from a state I have no intention of ever again visiting (once was enough). Honestly, I could never understand folks’ passion or support for the guy, but the whole thing was worth nothing more than a shrug.

Things changed.

Ladies and gentlemen, I shouldn’t have to say it…but apparently I do: CHARACTER MATTERS!

Support for the guy, and his regressive & repressive views, was at least semi-understandable a few days ago. But now? How could you? No, really: how the fuck could you?!

And not just support, but actively promote. Not just support, but bastardize your own faith to defend.

Even though I have said I try to keep my personal politics behind the curtain, I am pretty open about being a libertarian. It is a bit more than that, however: I am a recovering conservative.

Lest my Republican family and friends think I am just going off the political deep-end, let me point to a few folks who are still firmly in the conservative Republican camp…

The conservative, political view from Jonah Goldberg:

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve written about the unfolding corruption of conservatism these last few years, but the events of the last 24 hours have shocked me about how deep the rot goes. Forget the people who refuse to even give the heavily sourced and corroborated Washington Post account a fair reading on the tired and predictable pretense that inconvenient facts are simply proof of the conspiracy against them. What galls and astounds me are the supposedly conservative public figures arguing that even if it’s true that Moore molested a 14-year-old girl, it doesn’t matter because, well, because the Bible said it was okay or Democrats are eeeeevil or it was a long time ago. At least Roy Moore admits that the allegation is serious and has denied it.

Bless my heart, I assumed that people who are so much more sanctimonious and preachy than I am would be able to draw a line at plying 14-year-old girls with booze and molesting them, particularly when the guy they’re defending won’t even defend the behavior himself. You’d think this would be the Colonel Nicholson moment where, like Alec Guinness in Bridge on the River Kwai, they would mutter to themselves, “My God, what have I done?” and collapse to the ground.

Now, my formal, personal faith may have lapsed, but I am still a…well, I suppose you would have to call me a deist. Somewhere deep down I am still a believer, in spite of the hypocrisy of hate and intolerance that drove me from the church. With that in mind, let me give a view from that corner of the ring, as well.

The evangelical, religious view from David French:

Consider the challenge here: A king is told to shun a military alliance with a pagan power and to face death and destruction alone, trusting solely in God’s deliverance. I never forgot the lesson. I remembered the admonitions of Sunday-school teachers, my Bible professors at college, and my pastors: Christians, never forget, our ultimate hope is in the Lord. Be wary of an alliance with evil, even when the need seems overwhelming.

Obviously, these fools didn’t understand the importance of electing a junior senator from Alabama to fill out a partial term of office. Sure, Hezekiah faced the Assyrians, but by golly we face Doug Jones. We’ve got no choice but to ally with a dangerous, unfit man — a man who proclaims Christianity while systematically violating the law, seeks to deny the most basic civil rights to his fellow citizens, and now faces heavily sourced and corroborated claims of past sexual misconduct with minors.

I keep hearing these words from Evangelicals: We’ve got no choice. The Democrats are after our liberties. They’re seeking to destroy our way of life. Some even go so far as to say that even if the allegations against Moore are true, they’ll still hold their nose and put him in office to keep Jones from serving three years in the Senate.

I’m sorry Evangelicals, but your lack of faith is far more dangerous to the Church than any senator, any president, or any justice of the Supreme Court. Do you really have so little trust in God that you believe it’s justifiable — no, necessary — to ally with, defend, and even embrace corrupt men if it you think it will save the Church?

I’m beginning to realize that countless older Christians misled their kids and grandkids. They said that moral character matters in politicians. They said they were building a movement based around ideas and principles, not power and party. They said those things right up until the moment when holding firm to their convictions risked handing Hillary Clinton the presidency, and at that point the dam broke. Now, they’re willing to sell out for a lousy Alabama Senate seat.

The bottom line? Through word and deed they chose to trust bad men and not a holy God. Some apply double standards, granting the benefit of the doubt to ideological allies even as they condemn their opponents. Others distort biblical stories to rationalize their alliances. It was bad enough to see Donald Trump compared to King David. Now we have to endure an Alabama official’s comparison of Roy Moore to Joseph.

Who represents us, who we vote for, matters. It matters a great deal.

I don’t care how committed a Republican you are, there is simply no defensible way to put party over person and still maintain your integrity. If you are willing to support and vote for Roy Moore because you believe in him — in the entirety of him, mind you! — then that is your choice. It’s not one I can agree with, but I do understand.

On the other hand, if you are willing to sacrifice honor and morals to vote for the “lesser of two evils” simply because he is on your “team”, then you are a very, very big part of the problem.

Micro vs. Macro; or, It’s Not The Size Of The Lens, It’s What You Do With It

I’m thinkin’ about themes, and the subtextual messages we (well, most of us) try to communicate in our writing.

Well…more precisely, I’m working on the underlying themes for a new & totally unrelated project, and that got me to thinking…

Now, starting to conceive and develop a new project (however slowly) when you’re only halfway through your current one may not be the smartest thing in the world…but no one ever accused me of being smart. Honestly, at this point the important part is that the new project gives me different dynamics and pacing to use.  It also, it must be said, gives me the opportunity to play with some themes & ideas that have no place in Connor & Oz’s universe.

But…the question that kept coming up in the back of my mind as I worked was this: just how do you know when you reached that saturation point?  How do you know when enough is enough?

Okay, okay…so, even I know the answer to that one (with thanks to Julia Child for this): “when it is done.”

Part of the answer, I think, is just what are those themes you are trying to communicate. There is a certain amount of room & latitude for the small lens — for the personal — but far more for thoughts and insights through a bigger lens.

Literature in general, and science fiction in particular, have always been around to communicate far more than they say. Hell, for at least a century, sci-fi has been the go-to resource for social and political commentary on the problems and events of, err, “today”.

Don’t believe me? Read Brave New World, or The Forever War, or War With The Newts…hell, go back to Wells’s Eloi and Morlochs. Nope, no message there, no light shining on his contemporary society…

Ahem.

Sorry, about that — almost got started on a rant…and a reading list that might never have ended.

If anything, I would argue that today’s sci-fi and fantasy don’t have enough to say about the “big things”. Oh, there are all kinds of stories in the small-scale, but the number of books that criticize and argue — err, effectively criticize and argue — about the biggest things just isn’t anywhere near as large as it could be.

And…well…I’m part of the problem. My current project (Connor & Oz) is very much at the micro end of the scale. It is focused on the personal problems — and growth — of a troubled kid who is very much at the wrong end of that old truism that “shit rolls downhill”.

Thinking about that, and about Connor’s story as it evolves and grows, has me looking — looking very hard — at those bigger elements and threads that I’ve included in the world-building, but haven’t actually developed.  It’s got me thinking, at least a little bit, at the macro end of the scale.

I can’t complain about folks not tackling the “big picture” stuff if I won’t do it, can I?

Nope.

There are problems and challenges in the world today that just aren’t going away anytime soon — and certainly aren’t going away in the timeframe in which these stories take place (300-350ish years in the future). The trick and the challenge is to keep the focus tight and personal on my protagonist, but to use the end results and impacts of these issues on Connor to (hopefully) shine a light.

Oh, and before you ask: nope, the changes ain’t gonna make the tone any lighter. Repression & control, exploitation, elitism, the ever-present power of corruption and vice, and the willing heartlessness of “the many” that allows all that to prosper and grow…

Nope, not gonna get any lighter…but it will be fun*.

*And a hell of a lot of work.

I should probably add that Connor’s story was originally designed and intended to be purely personal, to be the reality of two kids who never had a chance. It is only lately that I’ve begun to think that, perhaps, looking at the universe through that small lens might not be enough…