The Reason We Study History

In 264 BC, the ancient Roman Republic became involved in a series of three wars with Carthage.

Bear with me.  I’m going somewhere with this.

Carthage was a tough opponent, and Hannibal definitely gave Rome some problems in the 2nd Punic War, but the upshot of these things was that Rome kind of ended up conquering most of the known world in what it saw as self-defense.  It didn’t mean to take everything; that was kind of a side-effect of beating Carthage.  But, even though it was something of an accident, in 146 BC Rome finished off Carthage and became the sole superpower in Western Culture (yes, I’m ignoring the East here.  Rome didn’t know much about them.).

And it destroyed itself in the process.

See, all of the power, all of the money, all of the expense and all of the responsibility of running a massive conquest like this became a problem.  Because now that Rome didn’t have an external enemy, it fell on itself as the great Roman leaders began to vie for control of the behemoth, each one stabbing each other in the back in a vicious, brutal game of King of the Mountain.

The first to die was Tiberias Gracchus, murdered because he attempted to sway the people of Rome to his cause using handouts and class-warfare reforms.  Next was Caius Gracchus, his brother, and this time in the midst of a pitched brawl in the forum.  Every death caused an escalation, and soon Marius and Sulla tore the entire republic apart with massive civil wars, using armies to hunt each other down in a bid for power.  The Populari sought to buy off the lower classes with handouts–it is from this period of time that the “dole” emerged, the free corn for the poor, as a Grachii reform to gain support within Rome.  The Optimates sought to maintain power concentrated in the wealthy, and resisted any of these handouts.  Neither of these parties were truly benevolent; both simply used their lines of rhetoric to appeal to the base instincts of the people.

And both began to prosecute and to murder members of the opposing faction.  Caius Gracchus continued to run for office, knowing that as soon as he left office he would face criminal charges.  Marius was elected consul seven times before Sulla not only outlived him, but had his bones drug from his grave and thrown in the river as a sign of disrespect.  The Roman Republic system, the system that had seen Rome through the Punic Wars and had built this massively successful entity, turned and devoured itself from within.

A generation after Marius and Sulla, Caesar and Pompey took up their banners.  Pompey the Optimate, Caesar the Populari.  Both of them were assassinated, but not before completely destroying the Roman system and paving the way for four hundred years of imperial rule.

It was almost eighteen hundred years before a Western republic began to come to life again.

Throughout the nineteenth century, the United States was a backwater.  London was the financial capital of the world; Paris the cultural.  The sun didn’t set on the British empire; the Americans had four time zones.

Then, in 1914, a series of three wars started.  The two World Wars, followed by the Cold War, left America essentially in charge of the world.  We won everything.  We are the last remaining superpower.  Hooray us.

The Cold War, the last great threat to American dominance, ended in 1991.  Twenty-five years later, we find ourselves in exactly the position those Romans did.  We run everything, and vast amounts of both income and responsibility are ours to do with as we please.

So of course we’re destroying ourselves over it.

This week has been, bar none, the worst political week in American History.  There’s an election coming up, and I now have both sides posting in my Facebook feed that the other candidate needs to be prosecuted after the election.  I’ve got both sides talking about revolution, and both sides are simply bitter with the other.

And I can’t help but think of Tiberius Gracchus.

We’re there, folks.  This has happened before.  And it did not end well.  But we’ve forgotten that; we’re so focused in the here, the now, that we’ve forgotten the fact that this level of bitterness, of ad hominem attacks, of personal vengeance before reasoned debate is exactly the thing that destroyed the last world-conquering superpower.

Now, everyone reading this post may be sitting there thinking “Oh, he is so right.  Those other people need to stop being so angry and bitter.”  And if you find yourself thinking that, you are part of the problem.  If you find yourself thinking “well, my candidate shouldn’t go to jail, but the other one should,” you are part of the problem.

I don’t like Trump.  His policies are wrong, his self-control is terrible, and his prejudices are apparent.  He will make a terrible leader.  But stop trying to prosecute him in the week before an election.

It’s OK if you don’t like Hillary.  If you disagree with her policies, that’s fine.  I’d love to sit down and have that conversation.  But stop trying to prosecute her the week before the election.

We have entered a political phase where what people want done is no longer as important as who does them.  It’s about credit and blame, not about the good of the country.  It’s about saving your own ass while throwing your opponent as far under the bus as you possibly can.  The Optimates and the Populari are back to destroy another republic.

This post isn’t going to get nearly as much attention as all of the inflaming rhetoric.  People would much rather repost memes about how terrible the other person is rather than debate their policies.  And, as a result, our republic will continue its death-spiral, just as the last republic did two thousand years ago.

Hail Caesar.

No, I’m not doing NaNo. Don’t let me stop you.

No, we’re not doing NaNo this year.  We didn’t do it last year, either.   Fact is, I can’t foresee us doing a NaNoWriMo event ever again.  It’s simply not an event that has value for us at our current place in our careers.

Here’s what’s going on in our writing work at the moment:  We are working on Graceless, the fourth GoG book.  We’re also in the middle of revising Black Powder Goddess, a book whose submission has already been solicited by a major publishing firm.  We’ve just completed several short stories, all of which are already on their way to their respective anthologies.  The next one to be released?  Dragon Writers, an anthology which includes Brandon Sanderson, Todd McCaffery, Jodi Lynn Nye, and Frog Jones.  In short, we have a lot of stuff going on, and we’re not in a position to drop it all to focus simply on running up a word count.

We did try it back in 2014.  At the time, I wrote out a couple of posts dealing with what it was like to go through the experience.  We did it to meet other writers in our area; we left the month feeling a little ostracized and frankly not terribly excited about the social dynamics of NaNo.

It’s Nov. 1, again.  And so, again, my Facebook feed is flooded with writers talking about NaNo.  Now, while I appreciate the break from election spam, I still have to respond to this BS.  And every time I say I’m not doing it, there’s this assumption that I’m less of an author somehow.  I’m not; I just don’t need to add one more thing on my plate.  But, all of that said, I see the value of NaNo to beginners.  If you’ve never finished a novel, NaNo is a great way to start.  And if you’ve got a group of friends who like to write, NaNo could be a lot of fun, I guess.  I’m not here to wag my finger and tell you kids and your month-long writing marathon to get off my lawn.  It’s just that it’s not for either of us.

Here’s some tips, though, based on the one time I did do NaNo:

1.  If you’re doing it in a group, don’t be a dick.

We went to our first write-in and were immediately shunted off to the side.  Literally.  It was in a Shari’s restaurant, and everyone in the write-in was at a booth.  Except us.  We were told to go be in the other booth, where we could have no interaction with anyone.  Couldn’t be sure of the point of the write-in, but it became clear that everyone already knew each other and didn’t care about new people.  As the new people, this made us feel singularly…uncared for.

Esther and I ended up in a booth seat, having a cup of coffee with each other, but we’d honestly just wasted an hour of drive time to come meet new writers and be social only to be shunted into “not one of us territory.”

Here’s the thing about this:  I don’t think it was intentional.  Everyone who knew each other sat with each other, leaving us new folks out in the cold.  I’ve since talked with some of the folks who were there, and they didn’t even realize they were doing this.  But if you’re going to write-ins, then you need to make sure the new people feel like they’re included.  This is how you find a support system for writing, and without new blood your group will wither and fade.

2.  If you’re doing it then do it.

Don’t say “Oh, I’m doing NaNo tee hee,” plop out a 5k word count in the month, and then pat yourself on the back for participating.  NaNo teaches exactly one thing to aspiring authors; how to put your head down and write.  One of the most common questions we get at cons is “So, how do you keep yourself writing?”  NaNo will teach you the answer to that question (btw–everyone has their own answer.  Mine won’t work for you).

If this is just a hangout for you, join a local writer’s group.  Write the occasional short story.  Hang out.  Have fun.  But if you’re going to accept the 50k challenge, then you’d better make an honest effort at breaking that word count.  Otherwise, what the heck are you doing?

 

3.  Don’t publish it.

For the love of all that is right and good with the world, the first person (and there will be one) on my Facebook or Twitter who asks me to buy their NaNo novel for 99 cents is going to get an earful from me.  Because it’s not done.  When you’ve “won” NaNo, you’ve only completed a zero draft.  You have the roughest bullshit in the writing world.  It’s not just a draft–it’s a hastily written draft.  I’ve got actual, published books, and the thing I had after NaNo was atrocious.  What you have will not be professionally ready to see the light of day absent major revisions.  So don’t shine that light on it–start revising.

With those provisos, enjoy NaNo.  Have fun with it.  Throw down some word count.  Push yourself to see how far you can really do this thing, and get something on the page that you can revise later.  

Just–stop asking me for my progress.  I’m not keeping count.