Writing Dangerously

One of my social media groups was discussing an interesting topic the other day. One that I have an opinion about, as a matter of fact. Here’s the question that started the thread (I’ve paraphrased it):

Due to my trepidation about being attacked by members of another group for asking about this, I’ve come here to ask: How important is message in stories? There is a general relationship between message and theme, but I’d like to know how much of your personal or social values do you put in your writing?

I read through the thread and concluded that in general, the consensus was it’s okay to put your values in your stories as long as you don’t preach and actively shove them in the reader’s face. The responses were thoughtful and not hysterical. (You can see why I favor that particular group.)

Here’s my personal opinion on the question:

You cannot help but instill at least part of your own values in a story since your values are both a result and a cause of how you view the world and your worldview informs your imagination.

I’m not saying it cannot be done, but I think it shouldn’t. Trying to suppress who you are while writing is tantamount to lying to your readers. I think they will, at some level, realize that and feel your story is inauthentic. That may be enough to steer them away from your work in the future. That is a result an author should strive to avoid.

On the other hand, I think you shouldn’t proselytize. That quickly gets boring for most readers and at least some of today’s readers have become sensitized by both cultural trends and education to the point that they find something to offend them in any opinion or story that varies from what they’ve been taught.

Styles of writing change and evolve, however. Modern fiction is mostly intended to entertain, but in the past, novels focused on particular values and often dropped them with all of the subtlety of hitting the reader on the head with a hod of bricks. Mark Twain used this analogy in one of his essays wherein he writes of a man who was killed by a bricklayer’s apprentice accidentally dropping his load from the roof. Twain wrote that humans were susceptible to such events, but dogs were not. That is because, as he observed, a dog would know enough to look up and would then get out of the way.

I would suggest that same foresight on the part of overly sensitive individuals would forestall a lot of the criticism directed at authors who don’t follow popular guidelines. In other words, if the book offends you, just put it down, but at least have the grace to allow others to make up their own minds about the value therein. Screaming for help and working to assemble a group attack on the author is the act of a cultural barbarian. If humans always condemned creative or different ideas, we would be sitting in a cave watching a fire and scratching flea bites.

I would argue that communicating cultural values is the main point of telling stories. Authors write stories because they love to entertain others (and would like to make money at it). They usually don’t set out to create morality plays, except in the case of some factions. There are specific groups who are actively writing science fiction and fantasy (I speak of the genre in which I write since I don’t read much else) who find it necessary to slam the reader in the face with their ideas about inclusiveness and diversity. Generally speaking, I find that such tales quickly become tedious and are often unreadable. However, I will defend the author’s right to write what they want. Let them proceed and let the market sort out the winning stories from the losers.

Let’s approach the issue from another angle. It is possible to gradually move your readers’ worldview, provided you tell a compelling story. That’s why I opt for positive character arcs that allow the protagonist to develop more self-responsibility. I firmly believe that is the first step in taking control of your life–stop being a victim of circumstances and others. Victims languish and complain. Those who have a modicum of self-responsibility will take action to change their results in life. There is no honor or glory in allowing oneself to be a victim since we always have a choice.

I firmly believe that a great author will always intend that some good come to the reader from the story. I realize that this is subject to challenge, but, overall, I think it is true. It’s just that “good” can be defined in so many different ways. Readers of horror stories find some value for which they seek, just as do readers of inspirational literature.

This viewpoint has gotten me in trouble with some ideological readers who are intolerant of any challenges to their worldview. (Fair warning: My stories are based on my love of self-responsibility, liberty, and the belief that reality is what it is and cannot be denied.) That bothered me at first because I naturally want to please everyone. Then I decided that my primary position is that if they opt to be offended, it’s their choice, not mine. I’ve found that anything in life that you cannot handle — anything that upsets you — will continue to present itself until you learn to deal with it with equanimity. As a result of my decision, I sometimes describe myself as a “dangerous” writer in the hopes that sensitive types will be warned.

As an object lesson, consider that cats always try to sit on the lap of the person in a group who most dislikes them. They’re brilliant that way and will go to great effort to help humans cope with their biases. Some dogs do the same, but with less regularity and forcefulness. Basically, the correct response here is to accept the cat’s attention and pet them. They will consider that their job is done and get on with other catness-related activities.

Ignoring them can work, but they can become importunate. In that case, you can always leave.

This last strategy also applies to critics. The general rule that all writers should understand is basically the same one that should be used with trolls in comment threads. That is to say, don’t engage with anyone who gives a hateful review. It only serves to validate their feeling of self-righteousness and stimulate them to further attacks. Of course, ignoring them may incite them also, but you don’t have to suffer their insults that way.

A person actively decides to be insulted or to ignore perceived slights. One can be offended by an entirely innocent remark directed at someone else, but that is a choice, not a mandatory requirement. Many people don’t understand that self-responsibility is a requirement for personal growth, civil discourse, and progress.

Here’s the takeaway point: if this post makes you angry … you (it’s not my responsibility) have to work on some issues:-)

Namaste!

 

Free gift weekend: 5/12/18 and 5/13/18

Two day Gift for You
bit.ly/ParadoxBlade
Free on Kindle Friday and Saturday
5/12 & 5/13/18. How would you respond if you were faced with a personal disaster and then found yourself in the Pleistocene with no obvious way to return? Predators think you’re food, and then there’s that crazy, elusive girl who keeps showing up.

Brief Update on Writing Activity

Troll and girl

Cover concept for Cyber-Magic

I’m now working on my eleventh book “Cyber-Magic.” <see the cover concept to the left> It’s the sequel to my cyber-punk novel “Cyber-Witch”.  Which hasn’t been getting much attention, by the way, although the people who’ve read it like it (note the clever use of homophonic alliteration;-)

Anyway, this one has become a problem. I’ve ventured away from what I view as hard to semi-hard science fiction and fallen out of cyber-punk gritty reality (with a drug-addicted MC) into a post-modern world where civilization has totally changed due to A.I. mediated “magic.” It’s essentially a fantasy and this is my first foray into this genre. I’m finding it difficult to gather all the strings together.

One of the problems is that “magic” allows the author to define the rules of the world. My version of magic is so powerful that there are few rules. With enough ability, a character can do almost anything. That’s not a good story line. It leads to the reader thinking, “Why not just wave your hand and solve all of the problems in chapter one? Then I wouldn’t have to waste time reading the entire book.”

Well, it’s not really that bad, but I’m seriously having difficulty defining the scope of what is possible.

Today my goal is to get my WIP in progress again.

I’m sitting on 25k words, six magicians (1 evil, 1 bad, 2 neutral or possibly allies, and 2 superstars), trolls that breed like tribbles (for you Trekkies out there), one fairy, a were-bear, an A.I. creature in the form of a snake, and an implacable dark force in the form of a distributed AI and my plot line suddenly seems inadequate, so I’ve been wandering in the wilderness for a while.

Besides paying business has picked up greatly and gets in the way. Then I’m moving. It looks like it may rain and the grass might grow and need attention. <Delete more excuses and cue sad violin music.>

This is what writer’s block looks like and I DON’T LIKE IT. I don’t like it in a box. I don’t like it with a fox. I will not tolerate Writer’s Block. I will not, Sam-I-Am.

More about this struggle to come soon. <Provided the grass behaves.>

Namaste,

Eric

Some observations on Reader Feedback

It’s funny how many people read my books and yet fail to leave a review or even rate them. Amazon seems to run on ratings and I have very few. I keep searching for ways to get more, but nothing seems to work very well.

I read every reader’s comments, good and not so good, even the ones from would-be readers who are horribly offended by something I wrote. I’m sorry about that, but I’m not a ‘safe’ writer. I deal with reality as I see it and few topics are out of bounds as long as I’m enjoying the story I’m telling. Most readers seem to expect a riveting tale and various types of mayhem mixed with a little sex doesn’t offend them. I don’t pull punches, although I haven’t “killed the dog” yet (advice that is often offered to writers: Don’t kill the dog.” That’s probably because dogs don’t like that – neither do people. I don’t kill cats either, just in case you were wondering.) I just keep trying to become a better writer and tell compelling stories.

I’ve come to the conclusion that a reader shouldn’t have to leave a review – it’s an imposition to ask for some of someone’s time in this busy world. I opt out of Internet surveys from vendors when I can, so I can sympathize with my readers.

My only request is, if you like my stories, then please recommend them to your friends. I spend months creating the best story I can for my novels and then spend a lot on cover art and editing, because I’m dedicated to providing you with the best reading experience possible.

I still love feedback, though:-)

Namaste
Eric
—————————-
Here’s a review of my most recent novel: Cyber-Witch. The first cover didn’t work and I got very few sales. I’ve now changed the cover to one more representative of the cyber-punk genre andCyber Witch thumbnai newl I’m currently working on a sequel to this tale, since the characters weren’t content with where I left them.

***** 4.0 out of 5 stars
A thrilling cyberpunk tale
February 18, 2018
Format: Kindle Edition
In the not-too-distant future, Sophie, a young woman with a debilitating addiction to opiates, finds a new chance at life in a good Samaritan who takes her in and helps her battle her addiction. Cal, a hacker, also teaches Sophie how to code, and she soon becomes a decent hacker as well. But their cyber-adventures lead them to cross the wrong people… which leads to devastating consequences. Determined to get revenge, Sophie infiltrates the powerful company behind the attack — and learns that there’s more at stake than she bargained for.

Cyber Witch is a thrilling cyberpunk tale full of twists and turns. Sophie is an unlikely and sympathetic heroine — one who must battle personal demons as well as the external forces she stumbles upon. I don’t want to say too much about what happens because a great part of the thrill lies in the unexpected twists, but suffice it to say that this story didn’t go the way I thought it would… in a good way.

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A brief observation on writing for actual readers rather than yourself

Two philosophers were walking down the street when they passed between two houses. The owners of the two houses were arguing with each other from open 2nd floor windows. One philosopher told the other, “They’ll never resolve their argument.” The second one asked, “Why?” The answer was, “They’re arguing from different premises.”
How many readers assumed that the philosophers were both men? I didn’t specify gender. It’s funny how we make assumptions based on our own ‘premises’. Readers do the same, so as writers, we need to set expectations and define premises in ways that advance our stories without confusing our readers. (He says, having been guilty of confusing readers through his close personal involvement in his writing.)
Just because it’s clear to you doesn’t mean your readers will follow it in the way you meant it. The take home part: be aware of your reader and back away enough to see their point of view.
I find that I get better at this, the more stories I write. (Or at least I think I’m getting better.)
It’s been said that you have to devote 10,000 hours to become an expert in anything. I hope this doesn’t directly convert to books. I don’t think I can write 10,000 novels 🙂
Namaste.
Eric

On the Horror of being a “Sitting Duck”

One of my FB groups just posted a challenge to write a 100 word horror story. I posted one. I’ve got to confess I’m both lazy and often tend towards being silly. Anyway I thought I’d share it with those of you who missed it on FB. It is silly, but it’s exactly one hundred words.

 

“On the Horror of being a Sitting Duck”

The alien battleship is coming over the horizon!
Ten nine eight seven six five four three two one…
Ten nine eight seven six five four three two one…
Ten nine eight seven six five four three two one…
Ten nine eight seven six five four three two one…
Ten nine eight seven six five four three two one…
Ten nine eight seven six five four three two one…
Ten nine eight seven six five four three two one…
Ten nine eight seven six five four three two one…
Stop the count-down clock. The launch button is stuck!
We’re toast!

 

Author Bitz

Here’s a new book site that is just getting launched. Help make it a success, please.

Author Bitz

 

It will offer an alternative way to find out about new and upcoming authors, follow your favorite authors, and display your books. I’ve donated to the crowdfunding and would like to see it work.

Namaste!

Eric