What They Want

They deride progressives
to demonize progress.
They use SJW as a pejorative
to demonize justice.
They sneer at triggers
to demonize empathy.
They call us snowflakes
to demonize individuality.
They loathe political correctness
to demonize kindness.
They invent alternative facts
to demonize reality.

They only consider these things weaknesses
because they lack the strength
to uphold them.
They don’t just want us silent
They need us subservient.
Crushed under a bootheel of authority
so fragile even our simple togetherness
erodes it.

But our reality is objective.
A place where
kindness is strength
individuality is sacred
empathy is powerful
justice is necessary
and progress is INEVITABLE

We Can’t Allow Ourselves To Forget History

I refuse to be open to the possibility of a milder, gentler Donald Trump. Everyone who opposes him should refuse.

Now, I’m not saying we should oppose other citizens of our country (unless they’re being bigoted, sexist fuckwads, then feel free to oppose). I do think that the swath of people who voted Trump into office voted for hatred, bigotry, misogyny, isolationism, and nationalism. I won’t give them leeway on that. But I also believe that they are not exempt from the fallout of Trump’s election. You can say all you want that “they” deserve what they get with Trump, but the problem is that we ALL get Trump, not just them. The focus of our ire should not be on Trump voters, but on the man himself.

The rhetoric Trump spread during his campaign is nothing short of disastrous. Given half an opportunity to implement the things he’s talked about, he will usher in an era of nationalism, isolationism, and bigotry scarily akin to Hitler’s Germany.

It sucks to say that. It sucks to think it, to feel it, to know it. None of us – not even liberals like me – *want* to think that of our country. It’s not just frightening, it’s demoralizing. It makes us feel filthy inside, even if we didn’t vote for him.

The internet is famous for its hasty and spurious references to Hitler. So much that it’s been immortalized in Godwin’s Law. And that might be the problem, actually: We’ve spent so much time hearing idiots and assholes use Hitler as a baseless troll or a joke that when his values and policies are echoed in the highest stations of our nation’s government, we are either blind to it, or willfully resist the association.

But the comparisons are too close. We can’t forget history, lest we be doomed to repeat it. Only this time, we’d be magnifying history through the lens of a country four times Germany’s size and with exponentially more global influence.

Austrians and Germans thought Hitler was a blusterous buffoon who was merely using rhetoric for political gain, thinking he wouldn’t follow through once in power. When he came to power, the politicians surrounding him thought it best to give him a chance, thinking he was inexperienced enough that they could control him. Media dismissed his racist, nationalist rhetoric as theater.

Sound familiar?

Take a moment to read this Daily Beast article about Hitler’s rise, and try to tell me the similarities aren’t striking and horrifying.

Trump doesn’t need to be experienced to become the next Hitler. All he needs is for media and society to attempt to normalize him and his positions, for politicians to go easy on him, for citizens to back off long enough to “see if his actions match his words”. The problem is that his actions are what will destroy us. If we give him that length of rope, he’ll hang all of us with it. Even if we don’t think he’s got the wherewithal to do it himself, he’ll surround himself with a cabinet that can. Hitler did. Incompetent people can make terrible history given enough power.

A lot of conservatives right now are drawing false equivalencies between Trump and basically any other conservative politician. As a liberal, I can tell you that I would absolutely not have this attitude if it were Jeb Bush or John Kasich or Marco Rubio up there right now (maybe Ted Cruz, though, but probably not even him). I would absolutely not have had this attitude with Mitt Romney or even John McCain. Trump is different. Equating him to other candidates isn’t just specious, it’s outright dangerous.

Giving him space emboldens his positions. Gives him the power to act before we realize what’s happened. Gives him a chance to become the fascist we all imagined he’d become. I know I’m not the first person to say this, nor even the most eloquent or educated. But I have to say it. I can’t just sit on it for fear of the response.

Don’t normalize him. Don’t give him space. Don’t offer him the chance to send us down that path. Stay vigilant.

Fear, Numbness, and Openness

Note: The feature image for this post has nothing to do with the post at all. It’s just a picture of the Yaquina Bay Bridge in Newport, Oregon. A place that equates to serenity for me, so the image reminds me of that serenity in a time where I’m struggling to find it.

I keep a word document on my desktop entitled “Blog Post”, formatted in a way that makes it easy for me to open up, write, and transfer the words to my blog. This morning, I opened up this document and deleted the text that remained there from my “I Voted” post.

It seems fitting.

I’m truly at a loss for words right now (at least, as of this sentence). I’m hoping I’ll find them as I write this, so just be warned this post might ramble a bit. I just don’t know what to think about my home country right now, or the future of the world we live in. Two days ago, I felt like we stood on a precipice, ready to fall. Today, I know we did not just fall, we jumped. The fear I felt before this election has been replaced by horror, and a strange grieving numbness I can’t seem to shake. I don’t even have room for anger right now.

We elected Donald Trump our President.

I feel like I have to put that down in words to make it real. Because it has to be real for me. I don’t have the luxury of ignoring it or pretending it’s a fantasy or a nightmare. It’s a real thing that has happened in my country, in my world. And I still don’t understand it.

If there’s one part of Trump’s campaign I do understand, it’s the message that drove it home. Not the overt racism and misogyny, but the idea of crumbling infrastructure and rural towns in danger. It’s a message that resonates with a lot of folks who’ve been led to believe that “liberals” don’t actually care about those things (we do). It’s a message driven home by the heads of the GOP for years, by more qualified and intelligent candidates than Trump. It’s a message driven home by (sometimes) legitimate fears (although bolstered by illegitimate fears of “outsiders”). And I believe the contingent of voters who are just looking for a way to change the paradigm in rural America won him the Presidency.

(But not without the help of people who were either purposely or blindly following their party line, regardless of the figure at its head.)

I won’t excuse the fact that those voters are willing to ignore Trump’s blatant sexism and bigotry, but it’s not the part that confuses me the most. The part that just baffles me to my core is that any of those people actually believe that Trump has the power, knowledge, wherewithal, or ability to actually make the changes he so cavalierly promises. He just plain can’t, and won’t, do the things he says he’s going to do. He doesn’t give a solitary fuck about the people of this country, and never will. Trump believes in only one thing: himself. It has always seemed so obvious to me. He’s a liar. A con-man. A classic huckster.

And our nation fell for it. Tens of millions of people fell for it, radicalized, and brought a Trump presidency to fruition, while enough of us who know better, who see him for what he his, failed to mobilize against that radicalized tide. We’re here, in numbers, I know it, but we were lazy and overconfident. We underestimated the power of willingly blind faith.

This was the first Presidential election I ever voted in. Never in the past has a Presidential election had much of a direct effect on my life. I completely understand that comes from a place of privilege, but as I looked upon our previous candidates, even when I saw policies and values I didn’t necessarily agree with, I saw men of intelligence and reason. I never saw a demagogue or a tyrant in the face of opposition like George W. Bush or John McCain or Mitt Romney. Opposing viewpoints, sure, but never fascism or even anything near its like. Austerity, at worst. I was moved to finally vote in this election for two reasons:

1. I did see fascism in Donald Trump’s positions, in his words, in his frightening echo of tyrants past. I saw his lies and his bigotry and the hatred and divisiveness in his heart.

2. I saw in Hillary Clinton a historic chance for this country to continue the progress we’ve worked so hard to build. To become “Stronger Together”. To elect our first woman President, and show the world we weren’t as problematic as everyone thinks we are. To move forward.

I thought, naively, perhaps, that if someone as ambivalent as I’ve been was moved to vote, certainly there would be enough others. I was so very wrong.

I never voted in the past because I – correctly or not – never believed my vote mattered. I was hypocritical in that way, because I disliked that opinion when others voiced it, but held that very belief in private. My wife very pointedly exposed that hypocrisy in me, opening a wound that I saw fit to close by registering to vote, and participating in my first election, with the intent to continue voting in the future. But there’s a new wound there, in my psyche, bred now of that same cynicism, telling me my vote doesn’t matter because in this case, it didn’t. This might be the hardest thing to push past, for me.

I know people who will be directly impacted by the hateful policies that Trump – with his now Republican-controlled Congress and whatever Supreme Court Justice he appoints – will have carte blanche to invoke. Even if Democrats take back the House or Senate in the 2018 mid-terms, that Supreme Court has the power to cause direct harm for decades coming. The only hope is that the moderate Republicans who opposed Trump during the election have the strength to stand against him when his policies are overtly harmful. But that’s a very, very slim hope.

Hope is what I lack. I don’t know how to move forward when I don’t see a clear path through. I don’t know how to continue trudging away at my daily life when it all feels so insignificant. I feel broken. Trod upon. And feeling that way as a relatively privileged white male, I can’t even fathom how women, Muslims, and people of color feel right now (and I won’t speculate, because that’s not my story to tell).

I’m horrified. I’m numb. The last fifteen or more years of my life has been about becoming better, becoming more open, and opening myself to the world through writing and social media. Expanding my bubble to become more inviting and inclusive. I still want to move in that direction, but now I’m so frightened by the presence of 59 million people who voted for fascism, I fear my only coping mechanism might be to simply contract. To build a shell and hide within it; to eschew trust in the absence of hope.

Because I have a reputation, you see. One that I’ve never been able to fully break. A stereotype of abrasiveness. A shadow of exclusion from my twenties that now, as I approach forty and have completely erased within myself, still darkens my path. If I haven’t been able to make those around me see the openness I’ve cultivated after years of living in a society that had finally started to praise it as a virtue, how am I supposed to leave myself vulnerable in a society that threatens to preach isolationism?

I know in my head I need to be strong. Both my head and my heart are failing to find reservoirs of strength to draw upon, though. My wife is a pillar of strength in my life, but she’s just as devastated as I am right now. Perhaps moreso, because this was also her first vote, and she was ecstatic to vote for the first woman President. Hillary would’ve been her President. We’re both broken stones, standing only by leaning on one another. And that doesn’t leave me much strength for anyone else.

All I can do is try. My life contracts down to very few things: caring for my wife, caring for our animals, putting words on paper, and recreation if I can bear it. I will try my hardest to be available to my friends, and fellow gamers and writers, to anyone I know who needs a friend. If you’re one of the people who thinks I’m abrasive or standoffish or intimidating, all I can give you right now are my words, to tell you that I’m here, I’m open, and I would rather move forward with you than suffer and stew alone, or let you do the same.

I’m not comfortable with vulnerability, so I’m not exactly sure what shape this offer will take, but I just know I can’t stand by and not make it. Beyond that, I don’t know where I’ll go or what I’ll do. Right now, I’m hoping this will be enough. It has to be enough.

It Is, After All, Just A Board Game

Today, while putzing around on Reddit r/BoardGames, the game Five Tribes came up as their “Game of the Week”. Five Tribes is a very fun tactical board game set in an Arabic-themed fantasy world around the time of the 1001 Arabian Nights.

There is a minor controversy (read: not actually a controversy at all) surrounding this game. If you’ve ever watched Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop, they did an episode on Five Tribes that addresses the issue: the original version of the game included Slave cards that were part of the game’s marketplace, and were used as a currency resource.

Thematically, the Slave cards fit the game alright, but many (rightly) found them distasteful. In subsequent printings of the game, Days of Wonder replaced the Slave cards with cards depicting Fakirs, lightly altering the cards place in the game’s theme without altering the game mechanics in any way. Overall, a positive change.


There is a vocal contingent in the board gaming “community” who are distraught by the change. Their argument – much the same as anyone who has ever used the term “politically correct” as a pejorative – is that the slaves were thematically appropriate and that Days of Wonder shouldn’t have “caved” to “pressure” by “sanitizing” the game.

As happens whenever the game is brought up in internet forums, this argument arose again in the r/BoardGames Five Tribes thread. I very nearly embroiled myself in an argument over the issue, but decided that my sanity and good mood weren’t worth the effort. I still have opinions jangling around in here, though, so here goes:

Within the context of the game, Slave cards are another type of resource or currency. They are acquired in a market alongside things like silk, papyrus, spices, and ivory. There are three ways they can be used in the game:

1) They can be “spent” to boost the power of Builders, earning a higher score for building. Thematically, the assumption is that the builders use slave labor for larger constructions.
2) They can be “spent” in conjunction with Elders to summon Djinn. Thematically, the assumption is that the slave is being sacrificed as part of the summoning process/ritual.
3) They can be “spent” to boost the effective range of Assassins. Thematically… well, fuck, I honestly have no idea how that fits thematically.

Fakirs, historically, are religious ascetics who, through their devotion to their religion, earn both power and authority directly from God. In a fantastical or mythological setting (like the one depicted in Five Tribes), they are powerful mystics whose devotion earns them God-granted supernatural abilities. Their inclusion in Five Tribes over Slaves alters the theme somewhat, but in a positive way.

Now, instead of using slave labor, Builders are calling upon Fakirs to augment their abilities to create even more grandiose architecture. Instead of sacrificing slaves to summon Djinn, Elders now enlist the help of the mystical Fakirs to use their powers to summon and control the Djinn. And instead of… doing whatever the fuck it is assassins might do with slaves, Fakirs lend their powers to augment the efficacy of assassins. This last one might be problematic for some people, but history and fantasy are full of religious assassins who believed themselves to be doing the work of God, and who were supported by both worshipers and clergy, so the idea of a Fakir helping an assassin isn’t too big a stretch.

So… yyyeaahhh… While Slaves may be thematically appropriate, they’re wildly insensitive and inappropriate in far more ways than solely the game’s theme. On top of that, their inclusion was off-putting to so many potential buyers that it was having a direct effect on the sales of what is otherwise an absolutely fantastic board game.

What’s worse, though, is seeing members of the board game “community” vehemently arguing that their removal was some kind of slight that ruined the game, and that their inclusion was a necessary component. Days of Wonder has no plans to reintroduce the Slave cards in future Five Tribes expansions, which one Redditor deemed “shameful”. Somehow, that’s more shameful than including a slaves-as-currency mechanic in the first place, or more shameful than wailing to the heavens that you don’t get to play with slaves in your game.

I guess.

Or something.

The Slave cards were an uncomfortable blight on an otherwise light fantasy theme. Their replacement has exactly zero effect on the game’s mechanics and, in fact, has a wildly positive effect on the popularity of an absolutely fantastic game. Vehemently arguing for the inclusion of Slaves is, quite frankly, GROSS, and makes you look like a nasty excuse for a human being. The arguments for thematic appropriateness of both Slaves and Fakirs weigh – at least for me – equally, so wouldn’t you rather be on the side arguing for positive inclusion rather than racial and cultural insensitivity?

It is, after all, just a fucking board game.

The Snowball of Inactivity

It’s amazing how inactivity snowballs.

As a kid I was horrendously, agonizingly introverted. It wasn’t until I got involved with LARPing – no joke – that I learned how to express myself externally and set aside silly concepts like “shame” and “embarrassment”. At some point during my senior year of high-school, the combination of having a job at a TV station and running around the woods hitting people with foam-padded sticks flipped a switch in my brain, and the little introverted bag of nerves that I’d been turned into a loudmouthed, abrasive, alpha-personality.

Over the years, being relatively extroverted has served me well; much better than introverted ever did. If nothing else, I learned to speak my mind, which alone has opened up a host of opportunities over the last two decades. My devil-may-care personality leveled up my flagging (at the time) self-confidence, and gave me the guts to pursue paths, both social and professional, that “the old me” likely never would’ve chased.

It earned me my marriage.

It made me a writer.

It has, perhaps inevitably, led me to be blindsided by a weakness I didn’t think I’d encounter.

Writers talk a lot about things like writer’s block and depression and distraction. About the need to overcome crippling self-doubt to make a run at writing for a living. When I started writing, these concepts were ephemeral things, ghostly apparitions at the edges of my consciousness that I cavalierly ignored, confident that I would be somehow immune to doubt’s paralyzing effects or, ideally, be able to simply power through them.

I still don’t believe in the traditional definition of writer’s block; this crushing inability to put words to paper, characterized as some outside force pressing in upon the besieged author. I’ve learned, however – and this might not be news to a lot of people – what writer’s block actually is: it’s not the inability to generate and record ideas, it’s the inability to set aside critical judgement of one’s own work in order to put words down, because they don’t live up to our self-imposed expectations.

Is that what’s happening to me, right now? I’m not sure. I do know that, regardless of the underlying reason I’m having trouble putting words to paper, the inactivity snowballs fast. I’ve been surprised at how insidious inactivity can be, and how it cascades into fear, depression, and even self-loathing. I sit in front of my computer and stare at the screen, and don’t write. I feel like shit for not writing. Which, in alpha-land, should kick me into gear and get me busting-ass on putting words to page when, in fact, it has the opposite effect.

Instead it sets me looking for distraction rather than fulfillment (or maybe fulfillment in distraction?). I look for those little things that provide the endorphin- rush of short-term gratification – crafting frivolous things (I’ve gotten into building custom inserts for board game boxes, of all things), posting to social media and waiting for Faves or Retweets or Shares or some such bullshit, reading articles on craft that just rehash the shit I already know and indulge my confirmation bias. Even doing housework – something I need to do anyway – has become a substitute for sitting at a computer and hammering away at the keys.

The worst part is that, intellectually, I know all I need to do to make it right is, well, write. While I don’t get the same short-term rush from writing a thousand words as I do from finishing a chore or interacting on social media, it’s a much deeper satisfaction that spirals upward into happiness and fulfillment and, above all, a completed project.

But it’s so much harder.

There is a kernel of doubt at the core of all of this. Like every other author, I worry that I will fail to live up to my readers’ expectations, and over time simply go gentle into the night. But that self-doubt is merely the falling chunk of ice that starts the avalanche – it’s really the disappointment that’s paralyzing. When I don’t write, I feel like shit. When I feel like shit, it’s hard to write. I’m disappointed in myself for not writing, which makes me feel like more shit. When I feel shittier, it’s harder to write. As that weight comes bearing down I go from opening the file and not writing to not even opening the file at all to not even opening my laptop for fear that I might find myself staring at the file and tapping keys.

And that’s something Alpha Me never expected to encounter. I strode into writing like an overconfident general, blithely dismissive of the struggles that other writers not only encounter, but told me about ahead of time. Not me; oh surely not me. These are not the trappings of confidence! And yet I sit in front of my computer, not typing, and have learned the hard way the paralyzing effect not of self-doubt – but of self-disappointment.

Why am I writing this? Probably because putting any words down at all is better than putting down nothing. In the hope, perhaps, that writing it down will, like all of my other ideas, get it out of my system and put me back on track. Because, at this point, I need to power through.

Taking A Social Media Break

So, I’m taking some time off of social media. I’ve done it once before, and the result was better than I could’ve expected. It’s a bit of an outrage-reset, if you will. So much of social media, any more, tends to be all about The Next Big Outrage. Peripheral, meaningless discussion turns into blathering, pointless rage (in the case of my feeds, nerd rage) at the drop of a hat… or quote… or piece of cover artwork.

It gets exhausting.

I’m on social media to have fun and connect with like-minded people. On balance, social media is a wildly positive experience for me. I’ve met some very good friends and had some wonderful interactions with some of my favorite creators of art on Facebook and Twitter. So, when it reaches a point where I start feeling put upon by my feeds, I know it’s time to take a step back.

Intellectually, I know that my (carefully curated) feeds are a positive force in my life. Emotionally, though, they can start to feel like a slog – an anger-ridden pit of hostility. And mostly, it’s because anger is easy. Ranting is the most simplistic response to stimuli. Anger is faster and more instantly gratifying than reason.

And even though I try to be reasonable – to look deeper into an issue before blowing my hate-wad all over the internet – I still find myself being sucked into the negativity vortex without really knowing it’s happened. I’ll hear a piece of news and start typing up my knee-jerk response, then immediately delete it (on a good day) or hit “post” without thinking (on the worst days).

It’s a hole that’s not easy to climb out of by degrees, because I’ll have sunk so far before noticing the pull that I can’t just inch my way back out. Hence, the break, a cold-turkey cutoff.

Although I’m finding the timing of this one to be a bit awkward. Initially, I picked April as my month off for two reasons:

First, absolutely despise April Fool’s Day. I’ve never been much for trickery to get a laugh at another’s expense, but before the internet April Fool’s Day was at least mostly tolerable. A truly good AFD prank use to require effort and planning, but now this stupid fucking day just turns the entire internet into an utterly untrustworthy cesspool. So I decided to skip it.

Second, I’m taking a vacation at the end of the month, and I wanted to do it without social media being involved. I wanted to focus on being away, to engage in experiences that were just for me and my wife, rather than feeling the need to share them with all of my Friendz and Followerz.

But here’s where it gets awkward: Emerald City ComiCon just wrapped up. For the first time in a while, I managed to meet a TON of new friends at the convention. I met fans of Trade Secrets, online buddies from Twitter, some of my favorite comic creators, and a group of speculative fiction authors with whom I’ve had varying levels of online interaction. And now, just after I met all these people, and have a chance to reinforce those friendships and interactions with social media (the whole point of social media, IMO)… I bail.

Part of taking breaks like this is learning to unplug, and learning that my social life isn’t going to fall apart when I do. My hope is that, in a world of instant gratification and bite-sized interactions, the new friends I’ve made and relationships I’ve kindled will still be strong when I return. For right now, though… I need some time for me.

So, I’ll be back in a month. In the meantime, if you really want to interact with me, feel free to buy a copy of my book, Construct, and – if you like it – leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads.

Or, you can e-mail me. One of the two (although, I prefer the former).

On Conventions and Complainers

Sigh. Yet another comic book industry professional has decided to project his lagging convention sales onto a segment of the community that has nothing to do with his lagging convention sales. In the tradition of ass-candy like Tony Harris and Denise Dorman, Pat Broderick has jumped onto the cosplay-hater bandwagon to whinge on Facebook about cosplayers ruining conventions and mucking with his bottom line.


I’ll have to admit, when I saw this, my very first reaction was “Who?” (Which, in all truth, is probably a bigger indicator of poor con-table performance than some outside force.) Worse even than the original post are some of the comments in the thread. Like, for example, a comic shop owner who, when confronted with a cosplayer looking to find more information on Doctor Strange, kicked said cosplayer out of their booth rather than take the opportunity to sell them some Doctor Strange books. Utterly. Baffling.

In any case, I’m not here to post a take-down or to wax on about cosplayer’s place in the comic community. There are plenty of bloggers and sites like The Mary Sue to take care of that. I’m just here to offer a simple, common-sense suggestion for artists like Mr. Broderick: If conventions aren’t profitable for you, stop going to them.

It really is that simple. We talked about this on the Trade Secrets Podcast shortly after the Denise Dorman incident, but I’ll reiterate here: From an artist or writer’s standpoint, convention attendance shouldn’t be looked at as a primary income stream. If you can’t afford to attend a convention – with everything that entails, from buying table space to travel to hotels and food – based on the primary income you make from your actual job, then don’t fucking go.

The benefits of con attendance are much more ephemeral than whether you can pay for your booth with sketch sales. Interacting with fans, taking pictures with the cosplayers who show up dressed as characters you draw and/or created, and signing books for people… that’s why you’re there. Conventions are for fans. They’re not for industry professionals. They’re not built for you to make money, they’re built for fans to meet and interact with the people who create the foundation of their favorite hobby. And, frankly, cosplayers are probably the most hardcore element of that fandom.

If I show up at your table at a convention, it is entirely likely that I already own a good chunk of your work. I’m probably not going to buy much merch from your table, because that’s not what I’m looking for. Sure, I’ll pick up the occasional special convention edition of a book or, when I’m extremely flush with cash, a piece of original art. But my con-going time is spent on interactions and signings, because I’ve already spent hundreds of dollars on a badge, hotel, travel, parking, and food just to be on the convention floor to meet you.

That time, that interaction, can make or break whether I ever buy your work in the future. I’ve had legendary negative experiences with the likes of J. Scott Campbell and Rob Leifeld, which led to me never spending a cent on their work again. On the opposite side, ECCC has given me amazing interactions with people like Cullen Bunn, Brian Hurtt, Kurtis Weibe, Ed Brisson, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Matt Fraction, Chip Zdarsky, Terry & Rachel Dodson, Brian JL Glass, Jordie Bellaire, and innumerable others that have solidified my desire to purchase every piece of writing or art they generate.

Those interactions are why you, the comics industry professional (take special note of that particular word the next time you feel the desire to rant about the fans of your work), are at these conventions. You may not directly pay for your convention attendance through sales at that very convention, but your appearance there and treatment of the fans both at the convention and online will have a huge effect on whether you sell more books to those people in the long run.

But it’s really not that hard to figure this out: If the math ain’t right, don’t fucking show up. If those intangible benefits aren’t worth the tangible hit to your wallet, then you shouldn’t go. Pretty damned plain and simple. Good fans – real fans – are never going to fault you for saying “Sorry, guys. I just can’t afford this one.” If your mindset surrounding convention attendance is “I better sell enough to pay for this trip.”, you’re doing it wrong.

Spend the time you’re not at the convention working on making yourself more relevant to the current state of the industry so that you can make more money creating art. If no one is coming to your table, it’s not the con attendees that are the problem.

I Am Luke’s Nagging Self-Doubt

Well, following the release of my debut novel – which isn’t getting much coverage, as expected, but is getting overwhelmingly positive reviews and feedback – I’ve now entered the debilitating self-doubt phase of my writing career. Work on the second book has stalled, primarily because I’m struggling desperately to force myself to put aside distraction and get back on the ball with writing.

And yet, the part of my brain screaming that I’m a fraud, that I got lucky, that eventually the 1 Star reviews will start boiling over, that my ideas for the furtherance of the series are trash, that I’m just going to trample over any goodwill built by the first book (if it’s even real) by writing down my shit ideas, that I can’t possibly follow up what I’ve started… yeah, that part of my brain is what’s dominating at the moment.

I’ve dribbled bits and parts into the new book. I’ve finished the first draft of the first two chapters, and I’m starting to feel like Atreyu’s horse in The NeverEnding Story. I’m hoping that putting this out there will spur me back into a rhythm of some sort; get me moving forward, even if it’s just a few hundred words a day.

What I don’t understand about this particular bit of brain-chemistry chucklefuckery is why I never felt this way when writing Construct. Having never published before, the writing process for Construct – while significantly more elongated than I intend with book 2 – was more… exciting. I was more driven, and never seemed to get mired in the sort of misgivings and apprehension upon which my head now bangs.

Now, having published a book that’s real and out and in people’s hands, and seeing that the people who are reading it legitimately love it (even though this same part of me tries to tell me that it’s all thinly veiled bullshit), you’d think all that would be a confidence boost. In actuality, I’m struggling more to get motivated now than I ever did with Construct. Was it ignorance, back then? Naivete? Has the pendulum of my confidence really swung so far opposite?

One foot in front of the other. I just need to try to get some words down. Something. Anything. Even if it’s crap, just remember that it can always be edited. Persevere. Overcome.


Curating Your Own Social Media Feed

I had an interesting experience on Facebook recently, that highlighted a topic I’d like to discuss: the curation of social media feeds.

A discussion began on Facebook regarding Ello, a new social network that’s gone viral pretty quickly, focusing on Ello’s (current) lack of a “Block/Report” function. A Facebook friend talked about how she has to deal with assholes in her Facebook and Twitter feeds all the time.

Side note: This particular discussion never entered the realms of gender bias, misogyny, or harassment that have been highly visible of late. This was just dealing with general asshattery

I entered the conversation to discuss how it’s an issue I rarely have to deal with. She, and another in the thread, discussed how they would friend people on Facebook, or follow them back on Twitter, who seemed initially normal, but then some national event would occur that would cause them to fly their douchwaffle flag high, and how every few months she’d have to go on a Blocking spree.

At this point, I said that I spend a lot of time and energy curating and pruning my social media feeds, specifically to avoid these sorts of encounters. She snarked that I’m “lucky to NEVER have to deal” with assholes. I replied by saying I don’t consider it “luck”, to which she took personal offense, blew up at me a little bit (lots of expletives were used), then unfriended me.

I hadn’t been Facebook friends with her long, but in that short time we’d had a ton of reasonable and fun conversations. She’s a fellow author and geek, and we have a lot of common interests. After months of positive interactions, this one seemingly trivial disagreement was enough for her to sever that connection.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m never going to fault a person for unfriending me. Especially after I’d just espoused the idea that pruning social media feeds is prudent and can lead to a better experience. I’m also not that broken up about the “loss”, because – as I see it – if you unfriend/unfollow me from your end, then you’ve saved me a click.

It does, however, serve to illustrate how my social media philosophy differs with many (most?) people. I see many complaining about the things they see in their social media feeds on a daily basis. It might be politics or entertainment or just frivolous crap, but a prevailing attitude seems to be “I can’t believe this bullshit shows up in my feed.” But, here’s the thing: YOU are the master of your social media feeds. You control what you see and do not see, and if there are people spouting shit that you don’t want to read, it is neither their fault, nor the fault of the social media platform. It’s all on you.

I will make one clarification: I understand that one does not necessarily control everything they see on Twitter. Without making your Twitter profile private, anyone can see what you post and anyone can @-reply you, so it’s pretty easy for asshats to harass people by posting ignorant bullshit in @-replies. This is difficult to control, and gets worse and worse the more popular you are on Twitter. So, when I’m talking about “curating your feed”, I specifically mean the people you Friend on Facebook – which is an entirely different, two-way relationship – and the people you actually Follow on Twitter.

A lot of people will complain that the people they follow on Twitter aren’t that bad, but the shit they retweet is crazytown bananapants. I hate to break this to everyone, but retweets are just as indicative if someone’s opinion as their normal posts, unless they’re retweeting ironically (which happens a lot, but usually you can tell). If you can’t stand the shit that someone’s retweeting – and you can’t tell if they’re doing it in a joking fashion – then, actually, you can’t stand that person’s Twitter feed.

It is, in my opinion, even worse to complain about an influx of ignorant bullshit or abuse on Facebook. When someone sends you a friend request, it requires your approval. You are responsible for any and everything that shows up in your Facebook feed, with the exception of the occasional post that shows up when one of your friends comments on it (and, in that case, it shouldn’t piss you off because you’re not directly involved in any way). But, in both cases, what you see in your actual feed is all on you.

None of this is to say that I don’t ever seen stupid shit on social media. The difference, I think, is that I research the people I friend and follow (unless I know them in real life). So, if that kind of garbage exists in their feed already, I actively work to prevent it from getting into my feed. On both Twitter and Facebook, this manifests in reading a person’s individual feed before following them or accepting a friend request and/or preemptively blocking asswipes before they ever become a problem for me.

The worst attitude I see regarding social media – and yet the one that’s probably the most common – is that a friend/follow relationship on a site is somehow obligatory. As though one needs to fight to maintain said relationships like they were a real friendship. Or that if someone follows you on a lurk site like Twitter, that you’re somehow obligated to follow them back without looking into them beforehand until the nature of their idiocy is revealed in full glory.

As much as I want to be sympathetic when someone talks about their feed filling up with detritus, I just can’t. You put yourself there. Just a bit more effort, a bit more due diligence at the outset, will prevent a world of annoyance and frustration later on. That effort has measurable results, which is why I don’t consider my social media feeds’ lack of choad-yodelers “luck”. It’s also why I didn’t take offense or, really, care much when I was unfriended for my opinion on the matter.

For me, social media management decisions are easy. I don’t agonize over them or worry about what someone thinks. I’m quick on the draw with the “block” button, and have zero compunctions unfriending and unfollowing people. It’s made my online presence a much happier place, and it’s a philosophy that I think more people should adopt.

Editing Is Not Adversarial

This article has been cross-posted to ChroniclerSaga.com.

A couple of weeks ago, the hashtag #EditorAppreciationDay started on Twitter. It primarily centered around comic book editors at first, either having been a direct response to this article on Medium.com (which was originally titled “Why Image Comics Needs To Stop Demonizing Editors Now”) or simply having fortuitous timing. From my standpoint, the article is rather absurd; a blatantly knee-jerk reaction from an editor who was obviously wound up and poised to spew that response at his earliest opportunity.

But the article – primarily in its knee-jerk nature – serves to illustrate a related, but slightly different, point: Enough arrogant, uneducated douchewaffles shit on editors that many of them have built up the same sort of auto-spew defense system which sent Mr. Kwanza on his tirade (I call it a tirade more due to the lack of inciting incident than the body of the espoused sentiment).

I encountered this issue most poignantly when I posted a comment on Chuck Wendig’s blog over at Terribleminds.com a few months ago. The discussion was about self-publishing, and the comments turned toward the subject of editing. Chuck made a comment about being able to find inexpensive editing services, or possibly finding editors who will trade their services. When I asked if he knew where I might find editors within my price range, another commenter butted in with the following:

“By editing, are we talking book doctors, or proofreaders? Frankly, if you need someone else to tell your story, you aren’t much of an author in my opinion. Nobody went back over Pcaso’s work and fixed his brush strokes. Indies may not be masters, but they should be able tomprovide abuyabke product on their own or they’re not very independant in my mind.”

[All errors in the above text are in the original post. Oh, the irony.]

Guys like this, unfortunately, are the people who put editors like Kwanza on the hyper-defensive. The arrogance of a stance like this is staggering, and is shared by far too many independent authors. The “gatekeeper” narrative has been threaded through so much of the self-publishing community that many authors have wrong-headedly learned to take the idea of editing as an affront to their creative freedom. As a lifelong artist – in some vein or another – I’m baffled by this attitude.

Any artist worth their salt will tell you everyone suffers from “art-blindness”. You work on a piece for so long – could be a sculpture or a painting or a manuscript – you become blind to many of its faults. For every one you catch, two will slip past, because you’ve been staring at the thing so damned much everything just seems normal, even if it’s not.

Before I sent my manuscript to beta readers, a friend of mine did a pretty extensive proofread, and tore it apart. When I sent the 3rd draft to beta readers, they tore it up, too; they found all kinds of issues. When I finished the post-beta-read revision – the 4th draft – I sent it off to my story editor, and she tore it up. The story edit resulted in my 5th draft, and I did a 6th draft before sending it off to the copyeditor, because I’m anal. The copyeditor tore it up.

Seven extra pairs of eyes on my manuscript, and every single one of them found faults. And not faults I would consider some sort of subversion of my creative vision (whatever the fuck that means), but faults causing me to say to myself “Holy shit, I can’t believe I missed that.” My story editor, Annetta Ribken, not only helped me unify the language in my dialogue and shave away excessive prose (I’m a wordy bitch), but she found weak spots in my plot which, had they been left in place, did a disservice to the rest of the story.

See, writing a book is hard. It requires constant, relentless critical thinking, and sometimes you’re not on your A-game. There were points in my plot even I felt were weak, but after cranking out 130,000 words and revising them three times, I looked at those passages as “good enough”. Until Annetta got ahold of it. When someone else looks at a piece of art you’ve decided is “good enough” and, in a professional capacity, tells you “It’s not good enough.”, you damned well best take note.

It’s not to say Annetta and I didn’t disagree sometimes. There were points of contention I argued for. There were changes she suggested I didn’t make. But in every single case, when she told me something needed changing, I had to argue with myself long before I started arguing with her. I had to take a critical look at every single edit and say “Is this up to my standards?” In most cases, I had to agree it was not, and had to look within myself to find a way to elevate it.

The same was true of my copyeditor, Jennifer Wingard. I learned more about the mechanics of prose from her copyediting passes than through anything else I’d done over the two years I spent writing the manuscript. I learned what my crutch words were (“that” and “was” need to be burned with fire), I learned the repetitive mistakes I make in sentence construction, and I learned no matter how many times I read over the same manuscript, I’m never going to find every extra space or misplaced quote or incorrect punctuation. I learned that “blonde” has a very specific meaning, different from “blond” (while seemingly basic, I had no idea).

And yet, through both of these collaborations, I never once felt like I wasn’t in control of my manuscript. At no point did the editing process feel as though either of my editors were trying to steer my story or fuck with my voice. You know why? Because that’s the whole point of being an editor. They’re there to make your work better – to make it more you. A good editor looks at your prose and works with you to find ways to solidify it without tinkering with what makes it yours.

And I learned so much. Probably the most amazing thing about working with these two wonderful women: I markedly improved my knowledge and execution of my craft because of these collaborations. There is no better way to become a better writer than to have a professional constructively deconstruct your prose. Which is why it’s such a damned shame there are so many authors out there with such an adversarial view of editing and, by extension, so many editors who’ve built this ablative armor against even the smallest hint of a slight against their profession.

Editing is not subversive or adversarial. If it is, you either a) found a really god-awful editor, or b) desperately need to get your ego in check. In most cases, it’s probably the latter.

If you’re in need of a substantive story edit, check out Annetta Ribken over at www.wordwebbing.com. Her edits are geared toward continuity and plot, and are well worth your time.

For a hardcore mechanical copyedit, get in touch with Jennifer Wingard at www.theindependentpen.com. You’re probably doing everything wrong, and she’ll show you how to do it right.

I highly recommend the services of both. They had a phenomenal impact on CONSTRUCT, and I couldn’t be happier with the result.