Monday, January 30, 2017

Tribalism & Bubbles

Human beings are, by nature, tribalistic. We evolved over tens of thousands of years in a very 'us v. them' mentality. Play a MMO with PVP and a faction/guild system and you can see how quickly we revert to this. How do some of us get out of this and empathize beyond 'us'?
We don't. We get out of our bubble and expand what 'us' means.
Hearing or reading reports about how jihadists are a small sector of Muslims that have perverted the beliefs of hundreds of millions of peace-loving people probably doesn't mean much to someone that's never known a Muslim before. Someone that sees terrible terror attacks on the news that are linked to Islamic extremists. Someone with no exposure to the rest of a culture that claims a huge portion of the world population.
Then we limit Muslim entry onto the country. Who are we blocking really? Even if we do end up blocking some potential terrorists, the vast majority of people we are blocking are students, workers, and tourists. Those very people that give us the opportunity to expand our version of 'us' to include good natured people of other ethnicities, nationalities, and religions. And the 'them' we are naturally against becomes even more faceless and ominous.
Get out of your bubble. One thing writers say a lot is that everyone is the hero of their own story. There are seven billion or so other stories than yours going on on this planet and, guess what, most of them star a decent person.
Or if you can't get out of your own bubble, try a quick mental exercise. The US is 320 million out of 7 billion people in the world: over 21 of 'them' for every one of 'us'. Now imagine they can't see the good parts of us that don't make the news, just like you can't see the good parts of them. They can't see you eating pie and laughing together at a family reunion, can't see you cheering your kid on at whatever your kid does, can't see you put money in the basket at church, or any of those good things you do.
What they can see is us electing a man that spews hatred for 'them', that wants to build a wall to keep them out; they see us murder our own at a rate higher than anywhere else; they see us armed to the teeth far more than any other country on the planet; they see the KKK and Westboro, scandals of molestation by priests, scandals of evangelists extorting money; they see all our high profile serial killers and our glorification of them on TV and in movies; they see us invading parts of the world over and over that want nothing to do with us; they see us as the only country to ever use a nuclear weapon against other human beings; etc., etc.
Justify any of those things whatever way you want, that's not the point. The point is what they see. And that there's far more of them. On the world stage, we're the minority. If you want to keep it 'us' v. 'them', that's terrible odds. If you think a majority makes something right, we're REALLY wrong.
Get out of your cave and realize they're just like us. Realize the distinctions that create 'us' and 'them' in the first place are pretty much arbitrary. Realize that those distinctions are underlined and kept in place by a tiny elite pushing their own agenda of personal gain, not your gain.
Wars used to be squabbles among nobles that took the ultimate cost from a peasantry that would see little change in life no matter which noble prevailed. What's more likely? That our modern nobles are now vested in the common man's life to the point of setting aside their own interests for what's good for us all, or that they're just like they used to be, stoking the flames of our tribal natures to motivate an army to fight for their own interests.
Or in other words, do you really think a billionaire playboy gives a shit about little ol' you, or is he just reinforcing your own bubble to further his own agenda?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Almost there...

Well, I spent a good deal of Nov-Feb sick, and then catching up at work from being sick, so this blog and my writing have been seriously neglected this winter.  I'm finally getting caught up at work (big ol' knock on wood), so I should really pick up again with the writing soon *crosses fingers* -- pretty impressive while typing.

It's been extremely frustrating not having the time to write.  I've managed only 50.5 hours of writing/editing so far this year (mostly editing), far below my goal of 10 hrs/week of ass-in-seat time this year.  I've got a lot of ground to make up in the rest of 2013.  Hopefully things keep going well... I hate to say it, but not being able to write has been making me very grumpy (far more than the usual level of grumpiness).

My original plan, before this damned winter, was to have the first draft of Bessitta completed well before now.  I abandoned my plans to begin submitting chapters to the writing group only after the first draft was finished; however, so the initial review process has started, at least.  My new goal is to have the first draft completed before the Writing Excuses retreat in June.  Hopefully, I can get back into the groove and get it pounded out quickly.

I've also changed my plans about what to move on to after the draft is finished.  Originally, I had planned to move on to a completely different work after this draft, so I could have different works to circulate to agents/editors instead of two books in the same series.  Now, I'm thinking I'll move on to books two and three when the first is done.  Once the first is polished, I'll start submitting it.  If no one's picked it up by the time the first draft of book 3 is finished, I'll start prepping the trilogy to be self-published.  That's the plan for now, but I'm sure it will change several more times between now and then. 

Here's to the best laid plans of cats and men.  (I don't think mice really plan anything, but I'm certain cats do.)


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Oh, November...

You're gonna kill me, November.

I'm doing National Novel Writing Month  (NaNoWriMo) this month for the first time.  For those that don't know, it's an event where the main goal is to write 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November, 1667 words per day.

You're supposed to start with a brand new novel, but as finishing works is my biggest problem thus far, I've decided to just write 50,000 in the book I'm already working on.  If I meet the goal, I should only have 25,000 or so left to finish it after November.

Unfortunately, I've been having migraine after migraine the past weeks as the seasons change.  I didn't get started on the writing until the 4th day (5th day by the website since I usually finish writing for the day after midnight, when they go on to the next day).  So, not only am I trying to write more in a month than I ever have (I think), I'm starting off in the hole.  I had another migraine last night, which knocked me out of commission for most of today, as well.  (Please realize that if I'm posting at 4am, today means to me what yesterday means to most!)  I'd hoped to do some catching up today; I did, but not nearly as much as I'd hoped.

So, if you see me (and if you case, i suppose), please give me some words of encouragement.  I'm going to be needing it later in the month I'm sure.

And don't be one of those tough love, motivate-through-derision types, because I'll probably punch you in the dick.  Right in the dick.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Oh, Thank God

Well, the 2012 presidential election has been called by just about everyone qualified to call it, and President Obama has, quite handily, despite how close the voting looked early in the night, earned a second term in office.

I was worried about this one.  Really worried.  In my life time I’ve noticed a surge of megalomaniacal selfishness in this country.  The gap between the wealthy and the poor widens more and more, and for some reason, the poor in this country are all for it.  It seems that the people of the United States are holing up in their bunkers and telling their neighbors to go fuck themselves.  It’s all about Me, Me, Me.  If You, You, You are having trouble, it’s all your fault.  You didn’t educate yourself enough; You didn’t make the right choices; You should have known better.

It’s hard to believe there have been people arguing seriously that the USPS should be shut down, that FedEx and UPS are good enough, better even.  Why subsidize the USPS when FedEx can get the same letter to the same place for $12.00?  People are actually arguing that even roads should be privately funded; the government has no place in anything.

It’s easy to believe that most people think this way too, since those proponing these arguments talk so loud.  It doesn’t matter if you’re right, just say it loud and say it over and over and over again.  If you say it loud enough and enough times, it has to be true.

However, today the majority of Americans went to the polls and let everyone know, that’s just not how things are.  Our neighbors are important, even if they have had a hard time of it lately; government still serves a great and higher purpose, even if it could use some cleaning up; there are some things more important than individual gain, especially when so many of us are hurting so bad.

It could have easily gone the other way.  We’re hurting, and have been for a long time now.  It’s easy to point a finger at a scape goat and forget that, sometimes, it’s simply not any one person’s fault, sometimes things are bad.  We have a tendency in this country to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it; if it is broke, throw the whole damn thing out and go buy something completely different.  When I voted for Obama earlier today, I wasn’t voting for his economic plan, his jobs plan, his race, or any other particular policy.  Why?  Because, quite simple, the President doesn’t control those things.  The President is an enforcer of laws, not a creator of laws.  When it comes down to it, I was voting for a very simple principle: there are some things more important than me.

As an attorney with my own firm, I have a pretty good earning potential.  If I thought it was all about me, a Republican vote would have been the logical choice.  Their party line, for as long as I can remember now, has been all about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, making your way on your own, and keeping everything you get along the way.  With my profession, and my fiancée’s profession, our kids will never want for anything.  They’ll have the best education, the best health care, the best food, etc.  That’s just not good enough for me.  Every kid should have that.  No family should have to worry about affording a hospital trip, or housing, or food, just because Daddy’s worked construction all his life, some bankers somewhere destroyed the housing industry, and he can’t find a job now. 

As a bankruptcy attorney, I see stuff like this every single day.  Conservative pundits like to blame it on any of a number of things: they didn’t work hard enough, they weren’t smart enough, they made bad decisions.  That simply is not true.  It’s a fallacy they propone, because they profit from the policies that fallacy leads to.  As someone who is involved in the last resort of some of those that are struggling, I can attest to the fact that, in the vast majority of those cases, that idea, that myth, is complete horseshit.

I am extremely happy tonight that the majority of Americans seem to feel the same way, at least a little bit.  Their reasoning might be different, but I feel that, down at some fundamental level, we all stood up today and said: There are some things that are more important than Me.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Two weekends ago, I went to Context25 here in Columbus.  It was my first writing convention, and I came away from it with, well, mixed feelings.

First of all, it made me want to write.  Great.  A lot of inspiration as far as ideas go.  A lot of excitement about my ideas.  I met a lot of good people and had a lot of good talks about writing.  My fiancée and I actually spend about 10 mins talking with Mike Resnick.  I said 'hi' in the hall as we were leaving a panel and he stopped to talk with us.  He was actually very encouraging about my goals, and spent a good deal of effort trying to convince her to submit something to WOTF.

Second, it made me really depressed.  I got a big, achy feeling of despair over the state of publishing and my chances at making writing a career one day.  Ugh... Don't quit your day job.  There was such a general sense of negativity from most of the rest of the panelists regarding the potential of making a full time job out of writing fiction.  And even if you do get published, be prepare to do all your marketing yourself.  If you're not the top 1 or 2 books, the publisher won't market you.  If you catch on, you catch on.  If not, oh well, they move on to the next wannabe author.  It really got me down; my fiancée too.

We started rationalizing, trying to pump our spirits back up.  The vast majority of the panelists were unknown to barely known authors whose books haven't come out yet or came out through local, small press, indie publishers.  This was natural, given the relatively low profile of Context.  These were people whom it hadn't happened for yet, at least not on that scale.  Of course they're going to present that view of the industry.

Then it struck us that, perhaps, a lot of them just aren't that good.  Well, that wasn't fair.  I've read enough crappy books from huge publishing houses, watched enough crappy TV shows on major networks, seen enough crappy movies from major studios, to know that sales ≠ quality.  Plus, the goal of a lot of these writers could be different from mine.  Maybe they just want to write, to be published.  Maybe they prefer the small press.

Then I remembered all my CLE classes.  As a lawyer, I'm required to take 24 hours of Continuing Legal Education courses/seminars every 2 years to maintain my license.  Every time I go to one of those, I come out with that antsy feeling that I'm doing it all wrong; I'm a horrible, half-assed, unethical attorney.  You have to take a conscious effort after a CLE class to remind yourself that, in a CLE, you're seeing lawyers at their anal utmost.  Panels at a CLE are a group of professional CYAers CYAing their best CYAing to a room full of fellow CYAers.  They have to avoid anyone ever getting in trouble and somehow linking it back to anything they may have just intoned in their presentation.  It's a presentation of the platonic ideal of ethical practise, but it's not at all practical. For example, if a bankruptcy attorney, such as myself, did every single thing they say you should do at a CLE, bankruptcy would cost $10,000.00.  (Yes, that's a made-up number, to illustrate a point... don't quote me, this is a writing blog, not a legal blog!) (And a little CYA of my own: if you ask my clients, you'll find that I do far more that a lot of other attorneys out there when it comes to due diligence, thank you very much.  See, it's ingrained.)  Anyway... maybe those panelists were being ultra-conservative when it comes to the publishing industry so as to not pump-up the expectations of too many wannabe writers.

Then I remembered the cover of the program... Brace yourselves:

Really?  WTF...

I remember during the opening ceremonies, someone praising the guy for the 'fine job of picking our outstanding cover art', while we were trying our hardest to act professional, not snicker, and figure out if we were still in reality or had slipped into some alternate dimension, populated with quirky, humanish-looking gnomes that really thought that was 'art'. Now, that someone was one of the other organizers of the con, but still, how can I take a group that thinks that seriously?  I'm not even going to bother analyzing that picture.  Apart from the glassy-blue tiger (which is rather awesome, i have to admit), it's got just about everything that's wrong with every crappy fantasy cover (and romance cover) I've ever seen.  If you don't know what I'm saying, I don't think I'm going to be able to explain it anyway.  Or, if you think it's great, then... I guess I just don't get it then.

And now I know what my first cover will look like... Damn my impudent tongue!

My inability to pinpoint the reasons we felt disparaged after the con aside, it took me quite a while to write anything after that weekend.  A bad couple of weeks at the office didn't help either.  Despite wanting to write, being inspired as far as topics and finishing my story, whenever I sat down to do it I was overcome with that other feeling.

Whatever... No matter what the reason behind that denigrating feeling of negativity my fiancée and I took from the con, I'm putting it behind me.  Yes, I get satisfaction out of writing.  Yes, I'll be doing it no matter if I ever make it a full-time career.  That's not the point.  My current career is draining, soul-sucking.  My goal is to make a living writing, a comfortable living.  One where I can raise a family, send my kids to school, with only writing as a profession.  I'll be a happier person that way. (Which, admittedly, has always been hard for me; I've never been a happy person)  And I'm going to make that happen, no matter what all you naysayers, umm... say.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Writing: Scott's 3 Rules

Every writer seems to love to talk about writing rules: all encompassing, unbreakable rules on how to be a good writer.  Every author teaching a class, holding a seminar, publishing a book on writing, or offering a workshop has a set of them; every aspiring writer touts someone's rules, whether on forums, in critiques of other's works, whatever.  So, since I've spent a great deal of time over the years studying all these rules, I thought I'd consolidate them all into my own comprehensive, all encompassing, categorically final set of writing rules.  Here we go:

#1: A writer must write.
Duh, right?  If you don't write, you're not a writer.  You're someone that wants to have written. 
That's the basic rule, but it's more than that.  If you want to be a better writer, you have to keep writing.  It's practice.  It's not the only way to get better; however, it is the essential way to improve.

#2: A writer must read.
This isn't rule #1 because, technically, you have to have written something to be a writer.  However, I feel that apart from this technicality, reading could potentially be rule #1.  It's the starting point.  Has there ever been a writer that wasn't a reader first? (Besides maybe that first guy a long, long time ago.  Someone had to be first, right?)  It's how you keep up with the field, how you make sure you're not copying or being derivative, and it's a great way to get inspired.  It's how you learn most of your tricks; it's how you consciously or subconsciously soak up all the fundamental rules of structure and language that you use in your own writing.  I think it's how you find your style, or how you remind yourself what you want your style to be.

#3: Everything else is just a suggestion.  You have to discover what works for you.
I think this is really important for a beginning writer.  Too many people that offer instruction or advise to new writers propound their system as the only way to write, and I think that's dangerous.  A beginning writer needs to realize that a lot of what is offered may not work for them.  For example, look at Stephen King's On Writing.  According to that book, discovery writing is the only way to go.  Mr. King's opinions about writing (and most everything else) are very strong, and reading that book, you're left with the impression that is the only way you should do things.  Tell that to Brandon Sanderson, who if you listen to Writing Excuses or watch his lectures online, is almost purely an outline writer.  I'm not comparing the success of the two authors' book sales, or the longevity of their careers.  I'm speaking only of their processes.  If I'd read On Writing and thought that was the only way I could write, I'd be extremely frustrated as a writer now, because I've found that my writing process is very similar to Mr. Sanderson's.  I started as a discovery writer, a long time ago.  And I never finished anything back then.

A lot of these writing 'Instructors' use phrases like I've used in the first 2 rules: 'a writer must...'  A beginning writer reads this, or hears this, looks at the person saying it and how successful they are, and thinks that must be the only way.  But, when you start to compare the multiple sources, you eventually find that what Instructor A says you must do is polar opposite of what Instructor B says.  They're both successful authors, so who's right?  Most likely: Neither and Both.  Both are right because they are offering helpful tips to beginning writers.  Both are wrong because they are propounding that advise as the end-all-be-all of the writing process.  This is why I recommend Writing Excuses.  (Forget Howard's insistence on pronouncing the 'h' in every wh- word like Andy Samberg in Hot Rod.)  They do a great job of consistently offering alternatives and pointing out that what works for one author may not work for another.  When they present discovery writing, they usually talk about the process for an outliner as well.

So, that's my version of the fundamental rules of writing.  I'm sure plenty of people will think I'm full of shit, not having published any fiction myself to date and all (I know: the gall! Right?),  and a lot of them will be able to point to their own Bible of rules for writers (just $19.99!).  Just remember, when you pick it up, it might not work for you.  And that's OK.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Welcome (Echoes in the Void)

I'm breaking down; creating a blog.  Thank you, insomnia.

I've read it's essential to maintain a blog if you want to be taken seriously by agents and editors as an aspiring writer.  Fantastic.  Another time sink for me to piddle-fart around with in the few moments a day I have that I should spend doing the writing that really matters to me.

And on that note, welcome to my blog.  Forgive me if it looks busted, incomplete, arranged by a four year old.  Hopefully, it'll come around as I pick things up.  Or break down a second time and pay someone to do it!

A little about me: I'm J. Scott Marlatt, an aspiring speculative fiction author, focusing mainly in dark fantasy.  I am never sarcastic, and I do not tend towards bitter sarcasm at times.  I always tell the truth, especially when blogging, which I have done now for about 89 years.  Most of my fantasy stories take place in a world dominated by the Council of Korumak, a group of immortal channelers whose influence permeates the culture.  I also write the occasional science fantasy story, usually set in the Murantian Empire, a vast galactic empire set in a galaxy far... Um... somewhere else, a good distance from us in space and time.  Hopefully, you will get to read one of them some day soon.

Well, the echos of my voice are finally making their way back to me from the far walls of this empty canyon (can you hear the wind? of course not, it's an empty canyon, you're not here!) and I'm getting self-conscious about it.  Until next time...