Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Pain of Reentry

I’m not going to do a con report for Miscon.  Miscon was easily the greatest con experience Esther and I have had yet.

This wasn’t because of the con staff (who were still great), or the hotel staff (who weren’t).  Miscon is the con where, for lack of a better term, the fact of our writing as a career really seemed possible.

That’s painful knowledge to have.

I have a good 9-to-5 day job that I don’t plan on quitting anytime soon.  I need the income on that to pay the mortgage and eat, both things I enjoy doing.  Esther is the same way.  And the proceeds we received from Miscon were not so extravagant as to replace those funds.  We didn’t sell enough to actually jump off a cliff and start our writing career.

We sold enough to make it seem possible.

Maybe it was headily spending so much time with A-listers like Kevin J. Anderson, Chris Paolini, or Jim Butcher (the last of which is basically responsible for us thinking we could become writers at all).  Maybe it was the fact that people were actively searching the con for our book, and pestering table dealers to find it.  Maybe it was the crowd of people who slowly filtered under the tent as I did my reading.  More likely, it was the combination of those things, but it made me really look at myself and say “Holy crap.  This, too, could be yours.

Miscon was work.  And Westercon is going to be even more work.  But we walked out of Miscon having, for a short window of time, played with the big boys.

And now I’m not.

Now I’m back at my desk.  I just had the asshole du jour who’s crashing off heroin tell me I’m an idiot because I can’t immediately get him out of jail.  And I keep thinking back to those three perfect days where I wasn’t Peter Jones, Public Defender.  I was Frog Jones, fantasy author.

There is nothing like hope to make a situation that much more painful.

So, here’s the thing.  Before Miscon, a career as an author seemed like a dream.  One of those things you talk about like you talk about winning the lottery.  Fun to fantasize about, fun to think about, not a thing that could actually happen to us.  Oh, we’ve got books out.  They’re even really good books.  But the idea of that being your life?  Of someone on the street asking me what I do and my knee-jerk response being “I’m an author” instead of “I’m a public defender?”  We did not, realistically, believe that day could exist at some point.

Now we do.  It has been demonstrated to us in the numbers of our sales, in the response of the audience.  It has been demonstrated to us in the respect of authors who write alongside us, and in the faces of fans who get excited when we sign a book.  Miscon is not the con that broke us loose financially.  It is the moment we broke loose emotionally.

Guess what?  We want it, now.  We want it.  And the fact that we now know it is possible means we want it that much now.

 

We will have the draft of Black Powder Goddess, our new book in an entirely new world, into the revision stage by the end of June.  Graceless, the fourth book in the Gift of Grace series, is next.  Esther and I are making a solemn, public pledge.  We will be writing a thousand words a day.  Come hell or high water, we will produce a thousand words a day, each.  And we will spend weekend time editing one project while drafting another.

Because you, the fans, have asked for it.  Have chased us for it.  Have pestered Kevin Anderson to tell us where our books are.  And that tells us that you, our fan base, want this for us as much as we want it for ourselves.

No, I’m not quitting my job.  Nor is Esther.  Our jobs are what make our lives possible.  But we aren’t going to be “too tired” to get our writing done.  We aren’t going to need to do something else first.  We have gotten a taste of what could be, if we work for it.  And coming back to our normal lives has only emphasized how much we want it to be.

So, thank you.  Thank you, fans, for showing us what we could have.  Thank you, authors who have been here before us, for accepting that we have the potential to walk among you.  For the first time it feels like we actually do.

And in that one chance, that one possibility, there is more exquisite joy and excruciating pain than we have had at any point in time.  But there is also this:  if we can, we will.  If that chance is there, we will seize it.  We’ve had a taste.

And we want more.

As a result, brace yourselves.  Black Powder Goddess is easily the best thing we’ve written yet, and it’s not edited.  Graceless is plotted, and the twists we have for Robert and Andrea should leave you breathless.  And we’re not stopping until enough people join your ranks to make sure that our time as authors is no longer temporary.

An Indie Author Deliberately Tries To Skew Amazon With The Help Of His Friends.

Marketing

Marketing.

It’s the doom of all of us.  Oh, there’s a hundred and one books out there about how to use social media to market your books.  Facebook’s crap for it.  Twitter doesn’t lead to sales, because it’s too short a form.  And Goodreads groups have taken to creating spaces for authors to dump their promotional material where nobody needs to look at it.

The internet is saturated with assholes like me, writing blog posts about writing and desparately trying to claw our way over one another to make a sale.  I’m no better.  I’ve got the Facebook page, the Twitter account and (ta da) the blog.  I’ve done it all.  And it’s led me to a moderate amount of success, but nothing where I can quit my day job.

how-this-author-got-10000-preordersThis has gotten so bad that people are selling snake-oil books to authors about how to do this kind of digital marketing.  Like this guy over here to the right.  If you got 10,000+ Preorders as a first time self-published author, then you don’t need to actually sell a book about how you got 10,000+ preorders as a first time self-published author.

But you’re hoping to sell books to desperate authors, because that’s actually an easier market to sell to than the flooded genre fiction market.

So we keep blogging, and tweeting, and it keeps yielding limited results.  Because this?  It’s not where the readers are.

They’re not even at the cons.  Bless the cons, I love them.  The fans you meet at cons are rabid and wonderful and the best people in the world.  And there’s marketing to be done there, sure, but it’s not going to make you a big seller either.

There’s one thing that will.  One place that makes the difference between selling your books, and not selling your books.  That place is the Amazon “Best Sellers” list.

See, if people are buying your book, then Amazon figures your book sells.  That means Amazon wants more people to look at your book, so you move onto their “Best Sellers” list.  The higher your sales rank, the more easily people can access your book.  The more easily people can access your book, the higher your sales go.  You can see the spiral here.

The big publishers have this figured out.  They run massive campaigns to make sure their material is cranked the heck up, hoping that they can breach that Top Sellers list and get that snowball effect of sales going.

layeredcrowds6000pxwideI don’t have their resources.  All I have is you.  If you’re reading this, and you’ve come this far in, you realize that you are the only hope that indie authors have of breaking their way into that list.  So I’m issuing a call.  I’m trying to do, with nothing but my handful of friends and the viral nature of the internet, what the big publishers are doing using all of their marketing resources.

We’re trying to, for one brief moment, punch into that “Best Sellers” list.

Falling from Grace lower res

Falling From Grace releases on February 12th.  I’ve got a number of fans who read our books.  If I can get all of those fans, all of the people who would buy the books over the course of the month following their release, to all purchase on the date of release instead, then there’s a good chance I break into that list.  It’ll be temporary, but once we’re there, others who’ve never heard of Frog and Esther Jones will notice us, and have a chance to keep us there.

So it’s an experiment.  Can we, using nothing but you, break our way through the corporate structure and make some sales?  I have no idea.

But damned if I don’t want to find out.

So, here’s a link to the Facebook Event, if you haven’t seen it already.  Chipping in is no more than your daily cup of coffee, and if we all do it together on February 12th, maybe we make a bit of a dent in how this marketing thing happens.

Thank you in advance for joining me in this effort.

Haters gonna hate

Rant time.

Jesus fuck, people.  Just relax for a second.  We’re all going to be OK.

It’s true.  There are some haters out there who have gotten on the internet and said bad things about The Force Awakens.  Since 99.9% of the world shares my opinion that this movie is (a) awesome, and (b) a worthy successor to the original trilogy, an interesting thing has occurred.

The portion of the .1% who didn’t like the movie, or who at least claim to not like the movie, have gotten the lion’s share of attention.

Have you seen the “debate” as to whether or not Rey is a Mary Sue?  Spoiler alert:  she’s not.  Not even close.  But, like, one dude made a Youtube video about why his thinks she is and suddenly the whole internet is on fucking fire.

Guess what that did?  Drew attention to that dude.

I’m not naming or linking him here, because the last thing I want is to perpetuate the cycle.  But the long and the short of it is this:  the way to gain attention on the internet is by taking a stupid and unpopular position on something.  There’s a million blog posts out there about why SW:FA is an amazing movie, and rightly so.  But those bloggers are getting zero draw for their little reviews, because they are preaching to the choir, wherein the choir is the vast majority of the world.

But someone takes a contrarian position, and now we have something to talk about.  Now everyone can start  debating something.

Except there’s nothing to debate.  It’s a non-issue.  Rey isn’t a Mary Sue.  There.  Done.  How long did that take?  Fucking seconds.  But still we have to talk about it, because OMG SOME DUDE SOMEWHERE POSTED A THING THAT WAS WRONG ON THE INTERNETS.

This works every time.  Every time.  Take the loudest, most vocal, most contrarian opinion you can and you will get attention.  Some people will love you.  More will hate you.  But all eyes will be focused on you, which means you get the ad revenues, you get the traffic, and you get all the benefits of internet notoriety, whatever those might be.

I wonder why our society is getting so divided, anyways.  Could this Mary Sue thing be a symptom of a larger, systemic problem?  Something to think on.

In the meantime:  haters gonna hate.  Fuck ’em and move on.  SW:FA is awesome, and that’s all that matters to me.

A Muslim Refugee Might Kill Me, and That’s OK.

Let’s start with this:  every religion has had followers who believe that God demands the murder of anyone who does not follow their particular overzealous brand of that religion.

Christianity not only included, but especially.  There’s a good millenium of history where the most murderous fanatics around were, in fact, Christian.  Doesn’t mean all Christians are murderers, just means that Christianity contains the potential for fanaticism just the same as any other religion.

Islam is not that different from Christianity.  Same God, same Old Testament, same basic principles.  Christians believe in the divinity of Christ, Muslims believe Christ was a prophet and nothing more.  Muslims follow the teachings of Muhammed, which don’t really look all that different from the teachings of Christ.  There’s far more in common here than different between the religions.

Of course, the last people to admit that will be the believers.

So what I want to address today isn’t that, but we need to start there.  There exist in this world Muslims who are good, peaceful, law-abiding people.  This is simply a fact.  If you disagree with this fact, you’re not going to get the rest of this post, because you are stupid.

Having accepted that premise, we now move to the concept of the refugees.

migrants-serbiaThere are thousands upon thousands of refugees pouring into the Western World from the violence in the Middle East.  From, largely, ISIS.  And that makes sense.  When you’re living in a brutal, fanatical fundamentalist theocracy who tells you it’s your duty to die for Allah, you want to get the fuck out of there.  I think we can all back that.

These are not, for the most part, extremists.  They are not jihadis heading off to war.  They are people who want to get the far as fuck away from war as possible.  They want to practice their religion in peace.

For those of you playing at home, this is exactly why America exists.  Welcome to the Land of the Free, right?  Land of the Free?

But there is an issue, and it’s one we need to be honest about.  Some of these refugees will not be refugees.  They will be terrorists, placed into the stream of refugees, to kill us.  If we accept the refugees from ISIS, Americans will die as a result.  This is also a fact.

MMRefugeesThis fact has led to what I will call the “bowl of M&M’s” hypothetical:

There’s a bowl.  It contains (a large number) of M&M’s.  Most of them are perfectly fine, but (a small number) are poisoned so that they will kill you.

How many do you eat?

I’ve seen various permutations with the numbers, but the basic premise is the chance.  And it’s this argument I want to deal with, because a portion of the basic premise is absolutely correct.

If we think of the stream of refugees as M&M’s, then some of them are poisoned.  There are a couple of those that will kill some of us.  But this analogy gets the risk/reward dynamic of the refugees entirely fucked up.  Here’s why:

lottery-headerThe Risk 
I’m not asking that you, personally eat the entire fucking bowl.  That would kill you, because it would guarantee you eat the poisoned one.

No, I’m asking that everyone in America line up a la The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, and we take our odds.  Each one of us is given an M&M.  Odds are, the one we have is not going to kill us.  We’re probably going to be fine.  Except that some of us are definitely going to die.  I’m asking each American to accept the relatively small risk that it will be them.  By doing this, I agree that I am asking us to put our lives on the line, because some of us will die as a result.  Why in the fuck would I do that?

Dabiq-Cover-3-150x212The Reward

Well, the reward is this:  that person is going to die if the West does not accept them.  ISIS will kill them.  How do I know this?  Well, because ISIS fucking published it.  There’s a magazine, it’s called Dabiq, and they have basically laid out their plans for everyone to read.

Oh, it’s sheer propaganda, but all you have to do is read their propaganda to figure out their goals.  And one of their major goals is for Muslims across the world to make the Hijrah to ISIS, a pilgrimage to join their Caliphate.

That would be exactly the opposite of what the refugees are doing.  That makes the refugees “infidels” in the eyes of ISIS, and we all know what they do to “infidels.”

So let’s get back to our M&M’s.  In this situation, I hand you an M&M.  I tell you that there is a small, but not impossible, chance that eating this M&M will kill you.  I then tell you that if you do not eat the M&M, ISIS will absolutely kill someone.  You won’t know them.  They probably won’t be of your religion.  Your life will go on mostly as it always has, except that you will carry with you the knowledge that you could have saved a life and made the conscious choice not to for your own selfish reasons.

And therein is the choice for us.  Some of these refugees will absolutely kill us.  But I don’t come from some weak-ass country, I come from America.  This is the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.  I accept that some of us will die as the result of allowing Islamic refugees in.

It is still the right thing to do.

Why do I not have more diversity in my books?

stop-talking-about-racismSome background, first:  Growing up, everyone around me was white like me.

That statement is not literally true.  The small, rural town of Colfax, Washington actually contained Asians, Hispanics, African-Americans, Native Americans, Indians, and Arabs.  Not in large concentrations, but they were there.  Hell, they were within one grade level of me at school.

But I did not realize it.  Understand something:  as a child, if someone had shown me the following picture, I would not have pointed out any significant differences between the people that weren’t gender, age, and maybe that one guy was really bald:

diversity 22

You see, the idea of “diversity” had never hit the little town of Colfax.  I didn’t hear the concept until I got into college.  Oh, I’d heard about black people and such, but throughout most of my grade school career through junior high I didn’t put two and two together on that one.

o-COLOR-BLINDNESS-570An example:  There was a girl in our graduating class (a class, by the way, of only 64 kids) named Alefiya Hakim.  I knew her skin was a little darker than the rest of us, but it never occurred to me that she was a different race.  We also had a Kiran Dhillon; I only figured out she was a different race when she came to a formal event dressed in a traditional Indian gown, which was gorgeous and awesome.

The point here was this:  I didn’t really see dividing lines.  I was incapable of forming the idea that skin color somehow affected an artificial division between people.  Everyone was just kinda…like me.  As an adult, I understand the concept, but it strikes me as a pretty silly and superficial way to judge.

RedTruck2Now, when Esther and I started getting into writing, we went with “write what you know” as our slogan.  We set out to make the completion of a good novel as easy as possible on us, which is why we set the initial books of the Gift of Grace series in Spokane; that’s where we were living.  Now, Spokane is a pretty white city to begin with, and we were white people living in a white city.  So all out characters pretty much ended up being white.  If I had to write it again, I’d probably do it exactly the same way.  Those stories work the way they are.  (Granted, Falling From Grace puts into motion some events that will probably change all that, but that’s later).

But I also look at the body of short stories, and I realize something:  I’ve been pretty lazy on this front.  I have yet to publish a story, long form or short, than involves any significant non-white character.  And that’s just flat-out racist of me.  It was unconsciously racist, but it was absolutely racist.

Oops.

So, here’s the thing:  if I continue down this path, I can no longer claim that unconscious shield.  I’m now conscious of the problem, and having become conscious of the problem I have to actively work towards the solution or just be OK being racist, which I’m not.  That means I need to write in, at least to some of my work, characters that are not white.

And so I look out at how to do that, and I have come to a terrifying conclusion, which is this:

I am more likely to be ostracized as a racist if I include multiracial characters than if I do not.

Now, I’m a white, educated, heterosexual, monogamous male.  When I was rolling my character sheet up at birth, I basically checked the “privileged” box all the way down, powergaming the system for all it was worth.  My parents were lower-middle-class, so I guess I didn’t grow up wealthy.  That’s about the only difference.  So I know that I’m the most likely target for anyone who wants to point the finger at me and call me racist/sexist/homophobe/whatever.  And I want to avoid that, though I know I’m exposing myself to it simply by writing this post.

Here’s the thing:  as someone who writes stories containing all-white casts, I’ve never been specifically called out for it.  I am calling myself out for it in this post.  But mostly, I fade into the woodwork of the vast majority of genre fiction, which also contains a whole bunch of white people and not much else.  If I continue to write all-white, I’ll feel bad about it personally.  But I won’t take a lot of shit for it, because I’ll just be going along with the flock.

tumblr_mdumflyBaC1qdx802o1_500If, on the other hand, I try to include, say, a black character in a role, someone is going to give me crap about it.  I’m using African-American as an example, here, but these problems are pretty systemic.  The first one, and most obvious, is that I will be consciously building the story to include these characters to avoid being racist.  This, of course, is a trope already, and one I am very conscious of.

That said, I don’t think that’s my problem.  If the story works, and the character doesn’t hang there like a vestigial appendage, then I can avoid a character falling into the “token black guy” trope.  That’s simply a matter of good writing, and it’s not the real problem I have.  I simply want to acknowledge that I’m aware, and that if I’m writing something like this I will build the story around the character in order to avoid the Token issue.

No, the problem I’m having comes from designing the character herself.  The reason for this boils down to the choices I have when writing the character.

Option 1:  I treat skin tone for the cosmetic difference that it is.

Remember, I come from a background where I don’t think about anyone as being other.  Skin tone seems a stupid cultural dividing line, and if I were to write an African-American character, my natural inclination would be to build a fully-rounded character with a series of personal motivations and behaviors that have little to do with skin tone.  The fact of race would be incidental to their existence as a person.

tumblr_no40koAe4i1sjsmtco1_500Of course, this is going to run me into some problems.  I will have written a character that could, in the parlance of our times, be referred to as an “Oreo.”  I will not have specifically added behaviors or motivations designed to enhance the perception of the characters as being black, and so they are going to come off as black on the outside, white on the inside.

In other words, I’m going to be a racist, because I’ve included a character and gotten it wrong.  I’ve ignored African-American heritage and culture, and I’ve completely minimized the intrinsic value that being African-American has.

I’ll be a racist because I’ve totally gotten the race wrong, which is insulting to members of that race.

So, I can’t do it this way.  I have to research the culture and include some motivations and behaviors that highlight the fact that the character is, in fact, African-American.  Right?

Option 2:  I include at least some portion of the racial culture in the character.

Option 2 is terrifying.

Because here’s the thing:  there is no part of a minority’s culture that one can include without being thought of as racist by at least a portion of the population.

stereotypes-and-identity-3-638Some African-Americans speak in a “street” dialect of some form.  True of some whites and some Hispanics, as well.  Some don’t.  Do I include that kind of dialect for this character?  Not without being called a racist, I don’t.  Hell, if I wrote a white character that talked street, I’d be less likely to get tagged as a racist than a black one.

Does my character like hip-hop?  Once again, I know a lot of people from many races that do.  But if I include it, am I including a cultural element, or am I reinforcing a racist stereotype?  Is there, in fact, a cultural element unique to any race that cannot be painted as stereotyping the character?

I submit to you that there are things that I, as a white person love that I still can’t write into the hands of a black person without coming off as racist.  To wit:

a8Y1w6Y_700b

At the end of the day, I feel terrified of writing a character from a different race.  I feel terrified because, in my opinion, people are people.  If I’m going to write a character, I’m going to write that character as an individual, and not as a stereotype.  And by doing that, I am going to get something perceivably wrong.  Either the character will be a stereotype, or “not black enough.”

And I have no idea if/how to walk the line in between.

So I’m back at the beginning, for now.  I feel like more of a racist for not writing any diversity into my stories.  But I’m afraid of doing so, because I know when I do that I’ll be called out for being racist.  The very thing I attempt to try to get past my problem will become a much larger problem.

So, I’m throwing it out there.  Other authors, or frankly anyone who’s got an idea on this one, please let me know.  How in the hell can I go about becoming less racist without appearing to become more racist?  Because I think there’s a real problem here, and I want to write past it.

Thanks for your time, and thank you in advance for the advice I’m sure to get.

On War

I hate doing things as a simple meme post.  The world is so much more complicated than that.

The attacks in Paris were a physical set of attacks made against a NATO country.  We here in America have sworn mutual defense with France, and so these attacks may as well have been made against us for our response.

These attacks are the direct result of a historical trend going back to just after World War II, and that trend is this:  We have forgotten how to go to war.

I can hear my mother’s generation getting pissed off at me as I write that.  Korea!  Vietnam!  Grenada, Panama, Desert Storm!  I can hear my own generation telling me about Iraq and Afghanistan.  We’ve been in so many wars since World War II.  How dare I suggest that we’ve forgotten how?

Answer:  Because we have.

The Cold War was amazing.  While we were in the Cold War, we could participate in these little side conflicts.  We used pawns in the Middle East (Israel for us, Egypt and Syria for the USSR).  We intervened in Vietnam, so the Soviets sold them weapons.  The Soviets invaded Afghanistan, we backed the Taliban resistance against them.  And we could never go quite far enough.

See, there was always this risk present during the Cold War.  Vietnam is the most well-known example, and I’ll use it, but just realize this risk was omnipresent in all these little brushfire wars.

In Vietnam, our military had certain things it could do, and certain things it couldn’t.  There were Rules of Engagement, and they had to be followed.  The reason?  Because, well…nobody wanted to be the next Germany.

Let me go back a little farther than that, actually.  Let me go back all the way to WWI.  In the early days, Germany had its Schlieffen Plan.  This was a plan to deal with the fact that it was essentially surrounded by hitting France as hard and fast as possible, with the idea that Russia would take a while to mobilize.  It was a plan based purely on military necessity, and it neglected politics entirely.  This was its downfall.

See, in order to execute the Schlieffen plan, the German Army needed to go through Belgium.  This was, in fact, violent, and Belgian partisan resistance proved rather nasty, so the Germans essentially got into a war with the Belgians before anyone else.  This was a completely neutral country, and the “Rape of Belgium” became a piece of propaganda that the Entente forces used throughout the war to villify Germany and turn popular opinion (from places like, say, the United States) against them.

This, of course, meant that Germany got the nasty end of the stick in not one, but two different wars; a lesson to be learned, there.

So, in the Cold War, two superpowers faced each other for domination of the world.  Neither one wanted to be the country to blame for war with the other, because whoever lost the public opinion battle lost everything.  Each one wanted to take a piece out of the other, but neither was willing to risk being the overt aggressor in a war, for fear that they would be portrayed as the great evil.

So we got the infamous Rules of Engagement.  And ever since, politics has mucked about in the way we do war.  Now, in counter-insurgency-land, we go for the Hearts and Minds of the People.  And just look at how well that’s worked for us.

Situation:  you’re a villager in Afghanistan.  You’re Muslim, but you’re not really into the whole violent-revolution thing.  You want to have goats, raise your kids, and live your life.  You are content to simply be a peaceful, poor farmer, and want nothing more than to go about your life in peace.

That’s not going to happen, because you’re in the middle of a war.  Every once in a while, the Americans swing through on an armed patrol.  They talk to you through an interpreter to gather intelligence on what the Taliban is doing.

Now, you know what the Taliban is doing.  You know this because, well, the Taliban has stashed a number of weapons on your land, and is using your goat trails to deploy IED’s in an effort to kill these Americans.  You think this is basically stupid, because the Taliban is a bunch of extremists trying to get themselves killed and doing violence in the name of the God of Peace.  You’d be perfectly happy to help the Americans, normally.

But the Taliban has told you that, if they find out you’re helping Americans, they’re going to kill you.  They will kill you, rape your wife, take your land, and turn your son into a bachi-bazi.  So you keep your damn mouth shut.  Let the Americans find the Taliban on their own; no sense sticking your neck out.

The Americans leave.  They encounter an ambush on the road through your land.  Some are killed by the IED’s you knew about, others are killed when the Taliban use those guns hidden on your land to mow them down.  The surviving Americans return to you, and ask you if you knew about the Taliban.  You shake your head “no.”  They know you’re lying.  You know they know you’re lying.  And they get angry with you, they shout, and then they leave.

At the end of the day, you are alive.  Your wife is still your wife.  Your son is still going to grow into a man.  You still have your land, your goats, and can live your life.  Sure, some Americans got killed, and that’s really too bad because they seem like nice guys.  But you had to look out for yourself, right?

Here’s the thing:  in this scenario, you the poor Afghani farmer made the best possible decision for yourself and your family.  Side with the Taliban, the Americans get grumpy with you but do nothing.  Side with the Americans, the Taliban inflicts horrible vengeance on you.  Side with noone, both of these things happen.  The absolutely rational response to this is to side with the Taliban.

Militaries do not exist to win hearts and minds.  They are a tool of diplomacy, but not of politics.  The only purpose for a military is to kill people until they stop trying to kill you.

We understood a thing in World War II that we’ve forgotten these days:  if you provide aid and comfort to the enemy, then you are the enemy.  War is a thing fought against an entire society.  The purpose is to hit that society so hard that they stop fighting.  War is not a thing fought against individual people.  If you’re in a war, and some parts of your enemy are still engaging you in combat, then the enemy must still be conquered.  You kill him, you kill everyone who helps them, you take all their stuff.  That is war.

That Afghani goat farmer?  If he understands that America is making war against all of his people, understands that the Taliban is making him an enemy of American as soon as they use his land.  He then either does exactly what he did anyways, at which point we shoot him.  Or he comes to us, because now he’s just as afraid of us as he is of them.  That is what a military is for.

Everything else is just really violent masturbation.

Now, I can hear my liberal friends bitching about this take on things.  The Afghani farmer is just trying to live a peaceful life, how can I advocate for his death?  What kind of an inhuman am I?

Here is where I take a step back and say this:  I am talking about how one makes war.

I am not advocating that we make war.  I am saying that we need to understand the basic nature of warfare.  And we need to understand it before we get into a war.  Because for the last sixty years, America has gone halfway to war.  We’ve gone to war with some of the people in a country.  And we have gotten our ass handed to us pretty repeatedly.

War is inhumane.  It is evil, and nasty, and horrible.  It is the creation of death for personal gain.  The moment we decide to go to war, we have decided that the gain is worth inflicting some serious horror on people.  War is the least moral thing one society can do to another, and when we decide to engage in a war we need to understand this.

I think we’d end up in far fewer wars if we did.

But if we did end up in one, we’d win.  If you are funding our enemies, you are an enemy.  If you are supporting the people trying to kill us, you are trying to kill us and we will kill you until you stop.  There is no such thing as a civilian in war anymore.

Historical example:  There was no society more fanatical than 1940s Japan.  You think the current Islamic Extremists are crazy?  No more so than Kamikaze pilots flying themselves into aircraft carriers for the glory of the Emperor.  And yet, within a decade of World War II, Japan was an emerging economy, a free democracy and a powerful ally of America.  The entire society flipped around and fell in line in less time than we’ve currently had troops in Afghanistan.

Why?  Because they did not have a choice.  We demonstrated, clearly, that their options were (1) Play Ball, or (2) Die Screaming.  Not shocking they went with choice #1.  We didn’t spare the civilians; we killed them all.  We inflicted horrors on Japan the likes of which have not been duplicated by one society on another since.

I don’t know if we should be at war in the Middle East.  I think the concept of war in the Middle East is terrifying.  But I do know that this just-the-tip halfway-war that we’ve gotten ourselves into is a political shitshow.  Either we go in hard, or we get the hell out.  Until that point, we’re just going to continue creating enemies for ourselves.

TL;DR?  There ain’t no such things as halfway crooks.

 

So, now we’ve been attacked.  Paris, but our ally, so may as well be us.  Our response should be swift, certain, and final.  There is no way to make war moral; the closest thing is to make it fast.  If you’re a civilian in this territory, well…sucks to be you.  But you’re supporting a war on us, and your government has shown an absolute lack of care for humanity.  The only way to deal with that is to fight fire with plasma.

We aren’t going to charm Islamic Extremists.  We are at war.  We need to recognize that, and we need to take the leash off already.  If this is going to get horrible, then let it be over quickly.  That is only going to happen with the application of swift and ruthless force.

I just hope we remember how that works.

On Finding Some Common Ground

Ladies and Gentlemen of America, I have a news flash for you.  The Constitution Is.  It exists, it is interpreted by the Supreme Court, and nothing short of a Constitutional Amendment is going to change that.  Stop trying to make arguments that it isn’t.

To the Left:  like it or lump it, the Second Amendment is part of that document.  It’s there.  We can debate whether or not it’s a good thing that it is there, but it’s there and you’re not going to change it anytime soon.  I know, I know, you love to cite to dissenting opinions in the Supreme Court, but they’re the dissent.  Without a Constitutional Amendment, the Second Amendment is what it is.  As a nation, we have decided that owning guns is really cool, and getting shot at occasionally is worth it so we can own guns.  Support it or not, that’s the constitution.  Deal with it.

To the Right:  All that shit I just said about the Second Amendment?  It’s true of more than just the Second Amendment.  You’re willing to trade corpses for guns, the Left is willing to trade inert fetuses for a woman’s right to choose.  And it’ll take a Constitutional Amendment to change that.  Also, it will take a Constitutional Amendment to change the fact that gays can marry.  Suck it the hell up.  Freedom of religion means more than the freedom to choose your brand of Christianity, Congress has the power to tax and spend, speech is still free, and cops can’t kick down everyone’s doors for the fun of it.  Deal with it.

See, this county is divided so thoroughly that we are never going to see a Constitutional Amendment on any of these issues.  It isn’t going to fucking happen.  Have you seen what it takes to get one of those?   Not going to happen on any volatile issue anytime soon.

And yet, it is these very issues that we see getting kicked up, again and again.  The Left wants to talk about guns, even though it knows damned well it can’t do squat about guns.  The Right wants to talk about abortion and gay marriage, even though it knows damned well those issues are settled.  They’re not fucking issues.  Absent a Constitutional Amendment, those issues are done.  Decided.  Over with.

So why the hell are they the ones we keep seeing politicians talk about?

Because there is nothing a politician can actually do about them.  You can rail on and on about an issue, and never actually do anything about it.  Just use the issue to whip up some votes anytime you need ’em.  And nobody can come down on you about it, because what could you do?  That pesky Supreme Court was in the way of actually doing anything.  But you still want the votes, and so you can flog these issues endlessly.

 

That’s a clip from the West Wing, obviously.  And it’s fictional, but only in the specifics.  The idea that you want the issue, rather than the solution, is the thing running our country right now.

So, politicians of the world.  Show me something.  Do something.  And that means stop arguing and raising issues you know you’re powerless to change, and start talking about the issues where you can make a difference.

Interestingly, one of those keeps coming up from the Right.

See, in their demagoguery over guns, the Right has been referring to mental health issues a lot, lately.  According to your basic conservative talking points, it’s not guns that go on these massacres, it’s people with mental illness.

And that’s statistically bullshit.  But I don’t care, because the gun thing ain’t changin’ soon.

Dear Lefties:  there is an opportunity here to address a major problem in this county.  You can do a thing.  A thing that will help a lot of people.  No, it’s not anything to do with guns.  And I know, I know you want to talk about guns.  You want to talk about guns because talking about guns lets you portray the Right as a bunch of cold-hearted murderers, and that’s good for a couple of points on the ol’ tracking polls.

But there is something to be done.  The Right is talking about the problems in our mental health system, and your response is to come back on them about guns?

Fuck that.  Call their fucking bluff.  Whether or not it is related to massacres, we have a massive problem with how we deal with mentally ill people in this country.  

Put it this way.  If I were to ask a Lefty whether or not we should fix our mental health system, and ask that question independent of the mass-murder context, that Lefty would invariably tell me that we need to update our mental health system.  Because we do.  The one we have is shit, ladies and gentlemen, the Right is not wrong about that.  So if the Left would agree we need to update our mental health system, and the Right is now saying that updating our mental health system would fix the ongoing massacre issues, then why in the fuckballs isn’t there a bill ON THE FLOOR OF THE CONGRESS RIGHT GOD DAMNED NOW that would fix our mental health system?

It’s probably not going to fix the massacres.  But it’s going to fix a shitpot of other problems we have, and it seems like something you could get the Right on board with at the moment.  This is a thing that you could get done.  So why aren’t you?

Because you want the issue.  Because you’d rather point fingers at the Right’s sad attempt to dodge the gun issue than seize the moment for what it is; a chance to fix an actual fucking problem in this country.  And Righties, you’re not off the hook on this one either.  If you’re going to point to mental health as the problem, then come up with a solution.  One that involves more than tax cuts for pharmaceutical companies.

But, no.  We won’t watch this thing get done.  Because it’s much better for politicians to talk about hot-button issues than to fix the ones we all agree on.  Welcome to America.

The Law of Superefficient Reactions

“For every internet action, there is a greater and opposite reaction.”

There.  I’ve boiled it down for you.  You want an explanation?  OK, let’s get into the math of this thing.

Let’s say Alex makes an argument on the internet, which we will take as A.  Now, A could be basically any position at all, and in order to avoid any particular political situation, I’m leaving it as a variable.  Alex takes position A.

Betty sees position A on the internet.  Now, Betty’s a consumer of information on the internet, which means she has a pretty short attention span.  Alex maybe simply posted a one-liner, and she doesn’t have much to go on.  Or Alex posted a tl;dr rant about a topic, and Betty skimmed it.  Point is, there’s a number of different ways A can be taken, because language is imperfect and people are imperfect.  So A can actually be represented as a set of interpretations.  {A(1), A(2), A(3)…A(infinite)}  Contained among that set is A(A), which is the position that Alex meant to convey.

Betty disagrees with Alex’s position, and wants to respond to it.  Now, Betty wants to make an argument, here, and the more extreme Alex’s position, the easier it will be to argue against it.  So Betty has a natural tendency to imply extremity to Alex’s position, and states for herself position B.  Position B will be a response to the interpretation of A we’ll call A(B).  A(A) will, because of this tendency, almost always be less extreme than A(B).  So, A(A) < A(B).  Therefore, we can also assume that A<B.  Position B will be more extreme than Position A.

The problem here is that Betty has now performed an action on the internet, and there are several possible interpretations of that action {B(1), B(2), B(3)…B(infinite)}.  Contained among that set is B{B} which is the position Betty meant to convey.  Remember that B(B)=A(B), so therefore B(B)>A(A).    Now Carl is going to come along, view Betty’s position, and disagree with it in statement C.  Of course, Carl will be selecting an interpretation of B we will call B(C), such that B(C)>B(B).  C will therefore be such that C>B.

And this repeats, ad infinitum.

This is a function unique to internet communication, wherein there is no dialogue being conducted between the two people, but rather is a function of each person performing their opinion for their audience.  The purpose of the increase in extremity is (oftimes subconsciously) to present a quasi-straw-man interpretation of the opposing position in order to rally like-minded people around the speaker, and not to directly rebut the holder of the original position.  This phenomenon is therefore limited to modes of communication that lend themselves to public demagoguery, and not dialogue.

There are a couple of corollaries to this law:

Corollary 1:  Arguments on the internet tend to become more extreme over time, not less.

This corollary seems pretty self evident.  If every internet action has a greater and opposite reaction, then we’re locked in a death-spiral of ever-increasing extreme stupidity, with each side cranking its rhetoric up more and more to combat each other.

Corollary 2:  As society relies more on the internet for communication, society will become more polarized.

This also follows logically.  If the internet produces an ever-increasing growth to extremity, and society relies more and more on the internet for communication, then it follows logically that society itself will become more extremely polarized.

Corollary 3:  As positions become more extreme, engagement in dialogue becomes less desirable by the holders of those positions.

Dialogue is the obvious solution.  But the more bitterly entrenched positions become, the less likely that open and free dialogue between parties is going to occur.  That means the Law reinforces itself as it spins out of control.

Corollary 4:  As positions become more extreme, opportunities for civil compromise decrease.

Yup.

Corollary 5:  In order to gain attention within one’s own social group, it becomes necessary to take a more extreme position over time.

So, this is a factor that’s adding to the issues.  There are a certain number of people that want to be seen as “leaders” in any given situation, to be acclaimed by their peers.  In order to stand out, though, they have to take things one step further.  This is where we get the Kim Davis’s of the world.  It’s also where we get the Columbia students who want a trigger warning attached to Ovid.  Both of these people are extremist nutjobs.
So, there.  I’ve boiled the math down for you.  Now you know why we’re fucked.

By the way, I’m not targeting one particular political group, here.  This isn’t specific to SJW’s, MRA’s, Sad Puppies, Rabid Puppies, Feminists, Gay Rights Activists, Democrats, Republicans, Tea Party, Coffee Party…it isn’t specific because it applies to all of them.  The Law has taken you over, and is driving you into positions that make it impossible to fucking talk to you.

The solution is to shut the hell up for a moment, then engage the person in an actual dialogue about their position.  This can be done in the comments, or privately.  Engaging in dialogue as opposed to performing as a demagogue causes positions to moderate instead of become more extreme.  We need social media to encourage cross-contamination of ideas, instead of what we have now.

Final Thoughts on Sasquan, The World SF&F Convention 2015

Frog and I had a wonderful, amazing convention.  We got to meet fans we didn’t know we had, sell many books, hang out with authors and friends, find more people who share our interests, and even attend a few room parties.  It was a beautiful, smokey, unforgettable experience.

Conventions always remind me why I started writing in the first place; why I love doing it so much.  But even more this year, it reminded me that you need to seize the opportunities as they come.  The chances to see your friends, love your family, strive for excellence, and be true to yourself.   I feel it even more keenly now, because on coming home after Worldcon, I learned that a beautiful lady who I have known for my whole life, and who was there for just about every pivotal moment I’ve had up until now, has passed away.  She lived 90 years with panache and passion.  I only hope when the time comes for me to tally my achievements, I will have done half as much.  My life thus far has been blessed with such lovely people and potential futures.  I am so grateful.

Cherish the moments you have, seize the opportunities as they come, and love life.  After all, no matter what the video games tell us, we only get one each.

On Collateral Damage

Let me talk to you for a moment about Jennifer Brozek.

Now, I’ve been going to panels with Jennifer for a couple of years.  She’s an amazing speaker, she’s a hell of a gamer, and she is amazing at what she does.  She has nothing to do with the Sad Puppy or Rapid Puppy or any kind of fucking puppy.

I am pissed off at the moment.  Fandom, fellow Hugo voters, I am talking to you.  You.  Fucked.  Up.

See, Jennifer was nominated for Best Editor – Short Fiction.  And rightfully so.  Her work on Apocalypse Ink Productions is fabulous, and I can’t recommend it more.  She didn’t have anything to do with the political fallout; she was there on her own power.

And you voted “no award.”

I get that Vox Day is a prick.  I’m not behind him at all.  And I would never encourage you to vote for him.

But “no award” is a vote that means I do not believe anyone nominated in this category is worthy.  It takes every nominee out, not just the ones you don’t like.

When you voted “no award,” you told the world that Jennifer didn’t deserve a Hugo.  Did you truly believe that?  Or did the Sad Puppy thing mean you just checked the “No Award” box all the way down?

I haven’t looked, but I’m willing to bet within hours of the awards closing, the Puppies will be claiming victory.  And that’s too bad, because there were gems hidden in this muck.  Gems that deserved a little recognition.  Gems who work hard to present good content to the fan community.

Toni Weisskopf has nothing to do with the Puppies.  Tedd Roberts had nothing to do with the Puppies.

So I am sorry, to all those who deserved a Hugo, who should have gotten a Hugo, and who have nothing to do with the political fuckups concerning the Hugos.  For what its worth, you had my vote.