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Watch This Space.

DARKER

I’ve been on vacation this past week. But I’ve not really been on vacation. I’ve been busy working on something. (And driving myself crazy.)

My moods swing from hopeful, to discouraged, to downright depressed. I’m finally attempting a finished illustration for Sly, rather than my usual screw-around preliminaries. What I have so far may do double duty as cover art and as a future paper doll. My big problem: I’d always envisioned something cleaner, more designed for the cover. My illustration is the visual equivalent of my writing – elaborate, packed with detail. No matter how I try to push/drag my style in another direction, it always weasels its way back to . . . well, you’ll see.

In my to-come image Sly, having finally been baptized, thus eligible, has been awarded Haute-Navarre’s highest honor. He has been admitted to an exclusive society, the Order of the Golden Ram, and he wears the order’s avatar on a chain around his neck. He holds one glove in his left hand, a convention of portraiture, a symbol of authority. It’s is not actually a glove, it is a fingerless gauntlet. In Italy (so I read) fingerless gloves were the hot new accessory. (Sly was always in the forefront of fashion.)

Sly determined to head north, King Jakome has had this formal portrait painted as a consolation. He’s lived with the animal for ten years and will miss him sorely. And I get to reinsert some of the nonsense I removed years ago depicting the cat’s interactions with a self-important portraitist and his (the cat’s) musings on his philosophy of art. This entire novella, without the baptism debacle, without the staged Virgin Mary visitation, with the Minister of the Treasury playing only a cameo role, once occupied three or four chapters, then we plunged immediately into the pirate episode. It’s all Book Country’s fault, scolding me for too much world-building, not enough action.

I am much taken with the cover of The Natural Philosophy of Margaret Cavendish: Reason and Fancy During the Scientific Revolution. It features a detailed period engraving. I am halfway inclined to mimic that serious-stuff-here look – an extenuation of my faux-historic slant – and to sub-title my story: Half-Baked Reason And Full-Tilt Fancy At The Dawn Of The Scientific Revolution.

I am going to take the drawing into work Monday night and scan it on our 11×17 bed scanner, darker and lighter grey-scale, at various sizes, to see how it reduces/reads. At present I view it as no more than a foundational drawing, to be digitally enhanced. Tuesday morning I will replace the current graphic with the scanned (but not yet doctored) image. I plan to experiment with digital color washes, etc.

This stage has always been my stumbling block, and the reason I quit an illustration major in art school. I have never felt that my natural drawing style was a viable illustration style. I felt it was too tentative. I’m working on that. I’m trying to punch it up. The pain I’ve suffered this week, the insecurity, the self-doubt, harken back to my anxiety-ridden schooldays. But I’ve got to develop a methodology that works for me. It’s now or never.

I’m still not happy with a cascade of sash slung across Sly’s trunk, copied from a seventeenth-century bronze bust of a bug-eyed, big-mustachioed Swedish nobleman. I don’t make stuff up if I can help it. But my cats are not going to pose for me draped in an appropriately-sized shawl. When you transfer an article of clothing from a human to a cat, the anatomy very different, the arms, for instance, erupting from a different area of the body altogether, you have to invent a bit.

Keep calm, girl. You’ll get it eventually.

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About Writers, book reviews, Research, Uncategorized, world-building, Writers Co-op

A Question For Mimi

Mimi Speake is an historian of sixteenth century Europe & therabouts. She delves into the private lives of such as Bernard Délicieux, the Friar of Carcassonne and Henry of Navarre. Nothing seems to delight Mimi more than to accurately include in her stories obscure details about the financial information of a walled town from that period, or a seminal work on algebra, or even lore about La Fée Verte, the green fairy.
And uh, Mimi is the only historian I know. So, I have a question for her.

Is Google messing with history? Not on purpose. But is that repository of human knowledge fatally flawed because of what it does not include?

I ask because I recently searched for early reviews of Arthur C. Clarke’s first book, Against the Fall of Night, published by Startling Stories magazine in 1948. Despite the story itself being vintage Clarke, the novella was initially panned for its word dumps of the author’s social theories. They added nothing to the story. I know this because I read it as a kid and I still remember my eyes glassing over the pages of preaching.
A few years ago, I re-read it. The book that I re-read said it had been published only because fans had expressed interest in reading Clarke’s first novel. It’s forward discussed Against the Fall of Night’s initial reception (dismal) and included some of those early reviews (bad.)

But Google has unwittingly rewritten history. I cannot find any of those original reviews. The Fall of Night is today presented as if it hadn’t bombed; as if it is just another good book by Clarke, even though he had to rewrite it in 1956 as The City and the Stars.

I know. I know. Google is not a complete history of anything. It is only a collection of whatever bits people put on the ‘Net. (But I wonder how many people think about things that are not on the Internet.)

So, Mimi, if I may follow-up, how do you find information that is not on Google?

And for everyone, a broader question:
To what extent are search engine results and social media the background against which we frame our questions? Do they guide the answers that we accept?
In short, does the Internet shape our collective consciousness?

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About Writers, blogging, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op, writing technique

Writing to Raise Consciousness—Meaning and Intent

“Writing to Raise Consciousness”–it’s my tagline, my author branding. Since I write both fiction and nonfiction, it might seem challenging to wrap both types of writing into the same package. Eyebrows raise, faces morph into puzzled expressions, and people ask the obvious: “What do you mean? What do you mean when you make a statement saying you want to write in ways that raise consciousness? Please explain…”

Ask ten people to define “consciousness” and you will likely get ten different answers. Even among scholars who study consciousness from scientific, philosophical, and metaphysical perspectives, there is little agreement about what consciousness actually is. Without agreed upon definitional characteristics, how do I attempt to raise or elevate something we are not clear about and may not even be able to measure or quantify at all? It isn’t like raising the temperature of something through a process of heating. It isn’t like inciting a riot with inflammatory rhetoric. Physics and sociology have ways of measuring those processes.

Is this a blind men problem—trying to describe an elephant, each with only a fragmented understanding? Is this some sort of dark matter/dark energy construct—useful in trying to understand something we really do not understand? Am I deluding myself in thinking I can write ‘stuff’ that is going to actually raise consciousness? To complicate matters further, while playing my own Devil’s Advocate, if one believes consciousness is infinite and beyond constructs of space and time, then you cannot raise, elevate, expand, or increase it in any way. X + infinity still = infinity. In some ways, it is a thorny thicket.

Despite these challenges, I do not back down from my intent to raise consciousness through my writing, nor do I move from my belief that I can actually do so. The method to achieve this works at different levels or dimensions. It also hopefully works on both individual and collective consciousness.

The first level is rather simple and straightforward. There is widespread agreement that a relationship exists between consciousness and awareness. Precisely what that relationship is can be difficult to say, but for purposes of this argument, let us simply posit that awareness and consciousness are related. If I write something about a particular social ill such as violence, or racism, or children sex-slaves, and my writing (fiction or nonfiction) calls attention to this social ill, makes people more aware of the problem, I have raised consciousness at this level.

There is a long history of literature calling attention to social injustice. To name a few examples:

  • The horror of war—Johnny Got Your Gun
  • Racial prejudice—To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Exploitation of immigrants—The Jungle

There is another type of ‘calling attention to an issue’ that goes beyond social ills. Authors often write about potential problems that might occur in order to raise awareness, to get readers to think about a particular issue. What if artificial intelligence got out of control as in Terminator? What would an Orwellian 1984 future of government control and propaganda be like? These topics are often explored in speculative fiction. Robert Heinlein, one of my favorite science fiction authors, often addresses social themes in his writing. In many ways, his writing helps to raise consciousness at this first level. My science fiction novel, Sentient, calls attention to certain social themes. Isolation/separation and how this contributes to competition over cooperation, how we treat people with mental illness, and acculturation to violence are just a few of the issues I touch upon. In my nonfiction book, Pathways to Health, I am asking readers to think about health in a different way, to recognize the distortions and limitations that characterize our beliefs about our own health and how we can achieve better health.

What underlies this first-level approach to raising consciousness is to call attention, to get the reader to notice or to think about something in an introspective way. The process is one of raising awareness so as to effect change. The change may be in a belief, an action or behavior of some sort. This touches upon the second-level, i.e. evolution. I’ll loosely go with a broad definition of evolution as the gradual development of something. The key piece here is “development”–something that occurs as change over time. In this sense, writing to raise consciousness represents an effort to support and promote the evolution of consciousness both on an individual and collective level.

This type of development follows a sequence, much the same as a child first learns to crawl, then walk, then run. This represents increasing motor skill and developmental maturity. On a psychological level, the ego develops along a sequence of self-centered ‘me’ to expanding awareness of others–family, nation, the world, the universe. This is a natural progression of awareness and an evolution of consciousness. This change is accompanied by new ways of thinking, believing, and behaving.

A similar developmental sequence occurs as part of spiritual growth and maturation. Some teachings explain this spiritual evolution as following a path toward enlightenment. I am particularly fond of Integral Theory and how it characterizes the different stages of growth and development along a psycho-spiritual evolution (outward) and involution (inward) path. I am also fond of David Hawkins’ Map of Human Consciousness that delineates characteristic thoughts, beliefs, and actions accompanying each developmental stage of the evolution of consciousness. When I write, sometimes I intend to raise consciousness by getting readers to think differently, to challenge beliefs, to expand and grow in their consciousness. In some ways this represents personal growth and transformation toward a higher level of consciousness. I have often had this experience myself when reading the wisdom of a variety of spiritual teachers. Some of the chapters in my book, Health Wise—Integral Lessons in Transformation, are specifically targeted towards raising consciousness at this second level.

I’ll touch upon the third level more briefly. I also write with the intention of raising consciousness in a much more indigenous way. My explanation thus far has focused on raising awareness and consciousness at the individual level and more broadly at the collective level of society. I also believe that there is a planetary aspect to consciousness that also follows a developmental or evolutionary sequence. The term, “Noosphere” was first coined by Teilhard de Chardin. Basically, you can think of this as not only our specie’s, but the entire planet’s collective consciousness. Such consciousness exists as part of an entire cosmic consciousness. Our planet’s noosphere is evolving towards an expanded capacity as part of the natural evolution of planetary consciousness. This theory/belief is expounded upon in some detail by José Argüelles in his book, Manifesto for the Noosphere.

Many have written about the great shift in consciousness occurring during these times. Rather than writing about this shift or about the noosphere, I am writing with the specific desire of facilitating the shift to occur, to making my small contribution toward the evolution of our planetary consciousness. My individual consciousness, my thoughts and behaviors, and specifically my writing are all generally intended towards promoting the expansion of the noosphere. In my book, Sentient, when I am writing about telepathy and collective consciousness, these are processes associated with the noosphere. Yet, whether or not anyone reads anything that I have written, anything that I do, write, or even think potentially influences the collective planetary consciousness at this third level.

Complicated…straightforward…perfectly muddy? I don’t expect the typical reader to really understand what I mean by, “Writing to Raise Consciousness”. In some ways, it doesn’t matter if a reader understands my intent, my goal. What matters to me is whether or not something I have written has the intended outcome. Does it work? Am I successful in achieving my goal? I don’t know for sure, but if you are at least thinking about these things, feeling a bit introspective, wondering about your own consciousness or the greater collective consciousness, then perhaps I have had some small success. I think of this effort applied in three different dimensions at which I can potentially raise consciousness. In some small way, I hope what I have written has been instrumental in raising your consciousness…

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Uncategorized

This Is Personal

I’m sitting in a coffee bar on G street. I’m not a coffee bar writer, or at least not especially a coffee bar writer. Truth is, I could always write any old place, and I often did: a doctor’s waiting room, a park bench, the front seat of a my (parked) car. Even at home. It didn’t matter. I always carried a crummy spiral bound notebook and a couple of ballpoints with me. I wrote six novels and a memoir using that method.

Things have changed. In truth, I’ve had to seriously consider whether I’m even a writer anymore, whether that’s really an accurate way of identifying myself. Not to others — I’ve rarely ever called myself a writer — but to myself. Is that still a defining part of my identity?

I’m not normally one for a lot of existential soul searching, and certainly not one for doing this kind of thing in public. It doesn’t interest me very much, and I’m damned sure it wouldn’t interest anyone else. But I’ve been pretty scarce around these boards lately. I’ve been a poor member of this community for the last year or so, and I think it’s time I explained what’s been going on, about what led me to this grim precipice.

And no, I’m not going to jump. The time for desperate measures has passed.

About a year and a half ago, my son was arrested. He had just turned 18. It was a violent crime. Mercifully, no one was hurt, but they could have been. People could have died, and he would’ve been at least partly to blame.

He sat in the local jail for almost a year waiting for trial. I visited him twice a week (which was about all that he was allowed). He called several more times a week. We didn’t talk about his crime very much. Everything you say on a jail phone is recorded; everything you write is copied and kept: it can all be used against you. He didn’t see his lawyers (he had three at various times, all public defenders) often, but the one thing they were adamant about was that he shouldn’t be talking about his crime. So we didn’t. It was okay. At first, of course, my curiosity was eating me up, but I understood the need NOT to talk about it, and after a while, I almost stopped caring, hard as that may be to believe. I’m still curious about what happened that night, but I don’t need to know anymore. I have assumed the worst. I’ve stared into that particular horror, and the truth is, I still love my son. I still hope and believe that when he finally gets out, he can still have a decent life ahead of him. I don’t think he is evil. I think he made a lot of stupid decisions, at an age when most people make stupid decisions. His were worse than most…

But I’m getting off the topic. About six months ago, he took a plea deal. His lawyer, incidentally, believed his story, but his partner-in-crime, his co-perpetrator, put all the blame on my son, and the lawyer said going to trial was risky. If the jury found against him, he could’ve gotten a life sentence. So he took a deal. It was a lousy deal. In truth, I think he got rooked by the DA’s office (who seemed to be highly motivated to show how tough she was on middle class criminals in our crime ridden city) but that’s off topic as well. He’s still responsible for his actions, and he’s the first to admit it. To his credit, he’s never tried to shuffle off blame or complained about the apparent unfairness. He wants to pay for his crime. And pay he will. There are still factors that could change his eventual sentence, but the most likely scenario is that he will spend about ten years in a state penitentiary.

That’s where he is now. We haven’t been able to visit him yet (there is a whole process of getting permission which is time consuming and bureaucratically convoluted). He has called once, but apparently gets few opportunities to use the phone. Even letters are infrequent and unpredictable, for various reasons. But he says he is okay for now.

Ten years to go.

I’ve never been a conscientious writer. There have been times when I have dutifully managed to produce a daily word count, but that hasn’t been the norm. I’ve had fallow periods before, but nothing quite like what I’ve experienced in the last 18 months. It’s hard not to blame it on my kid the criminal, my son the jail bird, my child the prison inmate. We’ve found out things about his life before the crime that we certainly never wanted to know, and that no parent should ever have to know, but all too many of us must. It has made me question almost everything. It certainly shifted the stupid novel I was working on to the back burner. Hell! Back burner? The whole stove was off. I wasn’t even going into that mental kitchen anymore.

Really, I blame him for a lot of things, but I can’t blame him for my writerly crisis of faith. Writing is a choice and a discipline. You can’t blame anybody but yourself, and really, you shouldn’t blame anyone. Not writing is also a valid choice, just a sad one — for the writer anyway. As far as readers go, well, there are plenty of other books to read. The world will get along just fine if I never write another word.

So this is really about me. And — spoiler alert — no, I haven’t given up. I haven’t jumped into that particular abyss of self. For the last couple of months, I’ve been making this daily pilgrimage to this charming, noisy, college town coffee shop. I have my laptop. I have my notebooks, in which are scrawled the words I wrote — some almost two years ago — the very rough draft of a novel that, it turns out, is probably nearly 500 pages long. I sit, drink a dark roast, and spend an hour, maybe two, unearthing this erstwhile corpse. It isn’t bad. I don’t know what I’m going to do with it when I finish it. I suppose I’ll self-publish it (I am so past the whole find-a-publisher part of the process, though I imagine I probably could. I’ve done it before.)

But that’s another topic, and for right now, it isn’t the important part. I need to finish this book. I need to do this every day. After all, I have other books to write.

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About Writers, Stories, Uncategorized, world-building, Writers Co-op

Useful Definitions of Genre

Hard Sc-Fi
The essence of hard science fiction is hope that given all we know, humanity will triumph in the end. Because the science we know is hopeful in that it presents no requirement for failure, we, certainly I, expect humans to outlast Earth. Reality is what actually happens, of course, but isn’t that what humans do, make things happen? In my fiction, the definition of intelligence is the ability to decide what ought to be and then make it so. To quote my own novel:
“The consequences of the Big Bang should have flowed like rows of falling dominoes; the physical universe should be predictable. But it ain’t, because intelligent life forms are messing with it.”
– Ambrose Phoenix, The Phoenix Diary

We all write our stories from some operational definition of our genre. The above is mine.
Let’s use the Comments section to add more definitions: How do you define your own genre in a way that helps you to write your stories?

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About Writers, blogging, publishing, reading, Research, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Online Montmartre

Imagine if you will, a gathering of writers, illustrators, publishers, editors, publicists, personal assistants & purveyors of writing paraphernalia sharing expertise and enjoying one another’s company. No matter what your writer’s question, probably someone here will happily reply based on their own experience.

Writers Groups exist online for you to join and interact with according to your own schedule. I belong to the SciFi Roundtable on Facebook, a group of writers serious about their work but with a hearty sense of humor and tolerance for the writing life. Different opinions are respected, even encouraged. (Avoid opinionated and competitive groups; they are vexatious to the spirit.)

While you can make connections and build rewarding friendships in writers groups, the real value of finding your own online Montmartre is the synergy of creative, hard-working minds similar to your own. The right group will teach, entertain and inspire you. You know it’s the right group when people take pride in helping others become successful.
Oh, and just sayin’, you’ll probably also want to join a readers group in your genre. 🙂

But, enough work. Go eat:

HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO YOU AND TO YOURS
From All Of Us Here At The Writers Co-op!!

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About Writers, book promotion, inspiration, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op, writing technique

A Chance Encounter With Author Eric Michael Craig

Note: Eric Michael Craig is a successful sci-fi author and publisher. The following is about the man, as a writer.

+++“That’s the science fiction author, Eric Michael Craig,” wait-bot Sally answered me.
+++I’d asked because at 4:AM, he and I were the only two people left in the bar. Outside, the wind howled but that was why they called this planet The Howling. “Think he’d talk to me?”
+++Sally giggled, “He doesn’t mind talking. I mean, about his work.” That suited me. I had a deadline approaching and an author’s interview would keep my publisher happy for… minutes. So, I walked over to his table and unceremoniously plopped into a seat. “Why?” I asked him.
+++In the tavern lighting, Eric has a Hemingway look about him, solid, bald with a standard circle beard, a bit scruffy. He wore a workman’s shirt with the top buttons open and a braided leather necklace.
+++“Why do you write science fiction?”

+++“My Father. He wanted to be a sci fI novelist since well before I was born. In fact he completed two manuscripts but never managed to get either one accepted. He submitted the first one when I was maybe 5 years old and got a form letter rejection because he hadn’t followed the guidelines for submission. After that he kept writing but never again tried to get anything published. He wrote because he was a fan of the genre (back in the heyday of people like Heinlein and Clarke and Asimov).”
+++We both genuflected.
+++“When I was old enough to read the very first books he handed to me were Rocketship Galileo and Between Planets. I was maybe 5 years old when I started into those novels, and from then on nothing else I ever read held my interest like Sci Fi. Dad gently encouraged me to write, but his own rejection made him a bit more cautious in how he pushed me. Then when I was in 7th grade, an English teacher I had, wholeheartedly started shoving me in that direction. Together the two of them tried to keep me writing, but I was a typical teenager and I had the attention span of a flea … so of course I went off in another direction with my life.
+++I started flirting with the idea of writing seriously only after my father passed away and my mom gave me copies of the manuscripts that he’d written. I was about to retire at that point in time (I was 41), but it wasn’t until my mom was diagnosed with cancer and she and I were talking about losing our dreams (and how it had affected my dad when he gave up wanting to be a writer) that I decided to commit myself to it. For him and for me too. My mom lived long enough to read the first draft of the story that became my first two novels.
+++You could say, if you forgive how this sounds like an epic fantasy theme, that this was a destiny I inherited from my father and denied for most of my life, only to discover after the trials I faced that it was indeed my inevitable path.
But I usually tell people, it was me just being too damn dumb to know better.”

+++I smiled. Sally was right. “Marshall McLuhan once commentated that artists and outlaws are on the outside looking in. He also said they see things as they are while the rest of us are looking at the world through a rear-view mirror.
What effects do you hope your books will have on your readers?”

+++“Sleeplessness?
+++Actually I hope my story will leave the reader thinking (and if that thinking keeps them up at night, that isn’t entirely a bad thing). I want my writing to engage their mind, not just entertain them. I think it is far easier to simply tell a story than to inspire a reader to keep thinking about what they read. If I can leave them wondering, “what if it really happened?” … then I have reached my goal.”

+++“What kind of world do you like to create for your characters?”

+++“I guess I am different in how I write because I tend to think of my world and my characters as an integrated single thing. The world is not so far extrapolated from the one we live in, so I tend to leave the world building to the current headlines, and then I just broaden the perspective to paint a complete perspective of the action. I can’t say I liked building this world because I really didn’t build one… Instead I focused some light into the more hidden corners of the world we already know.
+++Stormhaven Rising and Prometheus and the Dragon are very complex stories with multiple character sets interwoven in very broad ranging story lines. I have over 150 characters in the two novels and it takes all of them to tell the story.
+++I didn’t treat the characters as individuals, although they are fully rounded in and of themselves. But it is probably easier to think of them as character groups that work and act together, and in some ways represent segments of a culture that has its own personality (and purpose).
+++I guess I kinda took the question sideways, but world building is not something I have done in my most recent books. You might say it is more of a process of analysis, than creation of a world.”

+++“You like to work deeper themes into your novels. What themes, and why?”

+++“Darker themes? Hmm I don’t know if I would call them darker themes. Sure the idea of facing the potential end of the world is dark in and of itself, and it is bound to bring out the worst in humanity, but it also brings out the best. I think that what I write is based on a fairly accurate extrapolation of the world we live in. If it feels dark, then unfortunately that might be a reflection on the current human condition.”

+++“‘Deeper,’ not darker. But I like your answer.”

+++“Oh you’re right, how Freudian of me. Of course deep down in the ocean it’s pretty dark (even if it is teeming with life). Real depth sometimes can only be found if you’re challenging the dark.
+++I know that as I wrote the first two novels of ‘Atlas and the Winds,’ I tried to keep a balance between both the heavier elements and the lighter and more uplifting side of the story. With only a few exceptions I think I balanced the tragedy with the triumph.
+++In my mind, balancing triumph with tragedy is something that has to happen in life. When that balance is lost in one direction, hope dies a hard and bitter death. When it is tipped in the other direction, the victories become easy and meaningless.
+++In some ways I believe suffering is essential to finding value in those moments when you come out on top. That’s not to say I like to suffer, but when I do finally triumph, it makes the victory infinitely more meaningful.
+++As to the whole concept of balancing highs and lows in my outlook on life, I can say … maybe. Although ultimately it is the darkness that allows us to appreciate the light (however dim it is).
+++However, in writing if you only focus on one side, the story never spins well. If my books only told about how everything pounded the characters mercilessly and relentlessly (or how the characters were all indestructible), then I don’t think there would be much point in reading them. The closer you can keep to the point where the plot could go either way, the more intensely the reader is drawn in and compelled to invest emotionally in the arc of the characters.”

+++Good stuff, I thought as dawn lit the windows. I thanked Eric and left, feeling that I had just met a man worth knowing.

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