Don’t Know or Don’t Get It?

Write what you know.Write-What-You-Know

This old adage has been bantered around for many years. Some argue about who first said it, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s still good advice. This is why, for example, so many writers of military fiction served in the armed forces at some point. And it makes perfect sense, up to a point.

However, sooner or later every writer will end up writing something they don’t know. It’s inevitable. Even the writer in a tight genera – such as military fiction – will end up writing about some place or person or situation they have no experience with. And of course any fiction that deals with the supernatural, mental powers, aliens, monsters or magic will by its very nature be something the writer doesn’t know about.

To some extent, research helps here. Even the monsters, aliens and magic can be explored by folklore and mythology, so no writer has to start from nothing. Somebody, somewhere has already explored the topic you’re dealing with. This takes some of the pressure off of the writer. I know from my own experience that research is my friend, and even enjoyable when I’m writing something I don’t know. I just like learning new things.

So you can write what you know, and you can research what you don’t know. But what if you just don’t get it?

I have a friend who likes gambling. He likes to go to the casino and plunk down a bit of money. He especially likes card games such as poker.poker-cards

Now I have a very clear memory of my father sitting me down when I was about 15 and trying to teach me poker. We were sitting at this rickey little folding table in the basement, and he started showing me the different hands. I don’t remember how long he tried, how long we sat there, but eventually he gave up, packed up the cards and told me I was free to go. I don’t remember anything he tried to teach me because I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand at a very fundamental level why anyone would want to know what he was teaching me.

I have never understood the desire to gamble, and I’ve never wanted to compete against others, especially for money. If I have $10 in my pocket, I don’t dream of how to turn it into $30. I just don’t. That’s probably why I’ve been chronically poor all my life, but I can’t help it. Not only do I not know gambling, I just don’t get it! I don’t want to learn, and in those rare situations when I have to sit through something like a poker tournament, my mind isn’t there. It’s thinking of 1,000 other things I’d rather be doing.

Now mind you, there aren’t many subjects where I go glassy-eyed. Gambling, competitive sports, fashion, cars and car repair. So normally most people don’t see me drool when they talk. Even if I don’t know about, say Ukranian Easter eggs, I can keep myself engaged and actually learn something. Since I love history and sociology and psychology and science – yeah, there’s usually something I can latch on to. But not always.

So when I’m writing, if I find myself leaning towards something I really don’t want to write about – something I don’t get – I override my creative impulse. This is probably the only time I go against my instincts, but I can’t imagine how dull a scene would be if it involved something I can’t be bothered to care about.

This troubles me.

I trust my writing instincts. Really trust them. So when I think about it, I’m bothered by going against those natural creative impulses. I find myself wanting to write a scene involving a poker tournament and fashion show that takes place at a drag-racing competition. I don’t like anything to beat me. I don’t like to back down.

But I haven’t been that brave yet. How about you? Ever find yourself reluctant to write a certain scene because you just didn’t care about the subject matter? What was your solution? I’d love to know.

So…a professional gambler falls in love with a fashion designer. He asks her out on a date, and she suggests the car show that weekend…car-show

I’ll let you know how it works out!

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Lies, Damn Lies and #&*$@#*$ Statistics!

My younger brother and I don’t agree politically. I try not to get upset at him just because I see a smart man making poor decisions. It bothers me though because I believe he can do better. But that’s my admittedly subjective point of view. I have no problem with people holding different views than me. In fact, I’d be bored with a world where everyone thought as me. But if you hold a differing view than me, I expect you can defend it. My younger brother can’t. This is such an issue in my family that my older brother unfriended me on Facebook and we haven’t talked for eight months. I feel he’s made his feelings plain that he doesn’t want to accept his brother doesn’t agree with him. That makes me profoundly sad, but I can’t change his mind. He rejects me, and I’ll just have to live with it.

My younger brother is more willing to put up with my views, but he strongly disagrees with me. I keep asking him to defend his views as I do mine, but he doesn’t lift a mental finger. He just accepts what the right-leaning media tells him. But what he does actively do is post information he gets from somewhere in the InterWebs to his Facebook account. That’s his right, but my issue is he doesn’t verify any of the information. He just accepts it. That really bakes my beans! Here’s an example of what he posts. This chart below was up on his Facebook page when I sat down this evening. I knew at a glance it was wrong, so I did a little research. My findings – along with sources cited – are listed below.

obama economic record

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Actual Facts I found in less than 70 minutes of internet research. My apologies that the chart doesn’t fit my blog page right. I’ll try to correct it, but the data is still visible.

 

January 2009 Inauguration

Spring 2013

Notes

Source of Data

Unemployed Americans 9 million 11 million As high as 15 million in 2010 Research and Analysis Unit, Indiana Dept. of Workforce Development

[nidataplus.com/lfeus1.htm]

Unemployment Rate 7.8 % 7.5% As high as 10% October 2009 US department of Labor and Statistics [data.bls.gov/timeseries/ LNS14000000]
Gas Prices $1.86/ gal $3.62/ gal Was $4.10/ gal summer of 2008 and up to $3.90 May of 2011 GasBuddy.com [gasbuddy.com/gb_ retail_price_chart.aspx]
Federal Debt 11.9 trillion as of Sept 2009 16 trillion as of Sept 2012   TreasuryDirect [treasurydirect.gov/ govt/reports/pd/histdebt/ histdebt_histo5.htm]
Debt per Person $35,153 Dec 2008 $52,152 Dec 2012   Presidential Debt.org [http://www.PresidentialDebt.org]
Misery Index 7.83 8.56 Has come down from a high of 12.87 in Aug and Sept 2011 MiseryIndex.com [http://www.miseryindex.us/ indexbymonth.aspx]
Food Stamp Recipients 32 million 47.5 million   US Dept of Agriculture via Matt Trivisono’s blog [http://www.trivisonno.com/ food-stamps-charts]
Health Insurance Premiums     Unable to find good data on this. Not sure where they got their numbers as they site no sources.  
Home Values $210,000 $180,000 Average price was as high as $300,000 in 2006 and fell steadily until stabilizing under Obama JP’s [http://www.jparsons.net/ housingbubble/]
U.S. Global Competitiveness 1st (in 2008) 5th (2012)   http://neweconomist.blogs.com/ new_economist/growth_productivity _competitiveness/ and http://danieljmitchell.files.wordpress .com/2012/09/wef-ranking-2012.jpg
Americans in Poverty     Numbers listed in above chart are basically correct, but only through 2011. No more recent data was easily obtainable.  

[Disclaimer: I am not an economist, but I’d play one on TV if I had the chance]

The data I found is better in some cases, and worse in others. However, it’s obvious that the chart my brother found is trying to push an agenda. It minimizes subtlety in favor of bludgeoning you with numbers, hoping you’ll just agree and share it with your friends. Ugh! Really? Are Americans that stupid now that we can’t even think for a few minutes about what sounds right and what sounds like hogwash? Let’s talk about the economy for a minute, shall we?

Economists are well aware of something called economic lag. There is a period of up to four years in which changes made do not seem to have an impact, but up to four years later, changes can be seen. There are two types of lag; inside lag and outside lag. Inside lag occurs when a shock or boom occurs, until the governmental body actually takes action. Outside lag occurs once the policy changes have been made, until the changes actually affect the economy.

When President Obama was elected in November 2008, the US economy was already deep in the worst slump since the Great Depression. It wasn’t even known then just how bad it was. We were in the Inside Lag period as regulators and economists debated how to respond. Decisions were being made when he took office in January of 2009, and more were made in the first few months of his administration.

By late 2009 we were entering the Outside Lag phase, which lasted until well into 2012. The economy was a large part of the presidential election of 2012, and there were just enough positive indicators that Obama was re-elected. Since that time, despite some people crying that the sky is falling, the economy appears to be firmly in the midst of a recovery, although a very slow one. Most of the economic indicators above look worse than they actually are, as they were worse 1-2 years ago, and are now much better. They will likely continue to get better.

The chart at the top, the one that initially prompted me to write this post, is filled with errors and inaccuracies. Honestly, I don’t know who made it, but they were either incompetent or they were serving an agenda which caused them to fabricate answers that fit their motives. They were either idiots, or they were liars. There is no disputing that point.

If one wants to make a statement about the economy, the government, or frankly any other topic, please use actual facts. There is enough good data out there that we don’t need to lie. And if you feel the need to lie to serve your agenda, please consider the worthiness of that agenda. I don’t know if people are racist against Obama. I don’t know if Republicans are self-serving enough to do anything to reach their goals. I don’t pretend to understand the motives of either Republicans or Democrats or any other political creature out there. But I find it impossible to trust any political party that is so intimately tied to distortions of facts, and I don’t understand how others don’t see what I see.

However, I finally have some science to back up my admittedly subjective views. The Center For Media Affairs, a nonpartisan group, recently released a report analyzing truth-bending on both sides of the political landscape. Their findings were stark and unambiguous; Although both major parties were caught lying and telling the truth, Republicans in various platforms and situations have been more dishonest than Democrats, and by a great amount. Check it out yourself if you don’t believe me.

The good Lord gave us powerful minds with which to analyze and understand his creation. Let’s please use them. This is the solemn plea of the Technospiritualist!

Devil in the Details

Ever read a book and end up putting it down because you kept waiting for the actual story to start? If you have, then the writer was probably using too many details. But how many is too many? This is a vital question to ask, because details are little devils, and they can wreck an otherwise wonderful story. Even the writers who are actually lawyers don’t write their fiction using the detail-obsessive language of law school. Who would read it if they did?

First of all, if you intend to write – and let’s face it, fiction writing is, to quote Lawrence Block, “telling lies for fun and profit” – you’re in a position telling lies for fun and profitsimilar to any entertainer. You have to fool people into suspending their disbelief so they can enjoy your fantastic tale. It’s wise to remember the following quote, which may have been made by Abraham Lincoln, or perhaps not. “You can fool all of the people some of the time. You can fool some of the people all of the time. But you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” If you keep this in mind, then what I’m about to say will make perfect sense and not bother you in the least.

No matter what you write, or how well you write it, someone will really love it and someone will completely hate it. True story. Just ask Stephen King and Anne Rice. My good friend Eric doesn’t like King, who is one of the most widely read and widely lauded authors of our age. And I don’t like Anne Rice, who is a very popular author is several fields. I can’t speak for Eric, but I can tell you my issues with Anne Rice.

Details.

Boy does she love them.

imgAnne Rice6I tried to read Interview With the Vampire just before the movie came out in the ’90’s, and I have one word for it: Ugh. Let me explain.

No single sentence was bad. In fact, her writing style on a micro-level was very good. I enjoyed the structure of her work, and I could clearly see in my minds eye what she was describing. But that, in the end, was the exact reason I put the book down. Description. Page after page of Louie’s clothing and the plantation and the servants and the fields and the manor house and Louie’s clothing. On and on. It sure was beautiful, but I was waiting and waiting for the story to start and eventually I couldn’t wait any longer. She lost me as a reader.

But obviously lots of people like her books. So what’s the issue here?

She couldn’t fool me.

I have great respect for her as a writer professionally; she’s sold more books than I likely ever will. But that doesn’t mean I love her books myself. And I don’t have to either. There are so many writers, so many styles, that I just move on to the next author when I find one I don’t like.

But the subject of this post, the reason for putting this down and sharing it with the world, is details. Anne Rice might have too many details for me, and Harry Turtledove might have too many for you, and King or Grisham or Gibson or whoever might have too many or too few for any particular reader. But there really is a line beyond which lies “too many” details for any writer. The trouble is, it’s hard to know when you’ve crossed that line. I’d like to offer a few thumbnail rules that may apply.

1) Length: If you’ve gone on for more than a few paragraphs describing something, then it’s too much. In my writing, I try to include all the description I need in just a few lines. I like to keep a reader’s imagination active and not do all the work for them. Also, I’m not good with fashion, so when I’m describing clothing, I’ll often say something like “she stood there, her long red dress fluttering in the breeze.” That’s it. I tend to spend more energy on mannerisms than on physical details. Also, it’s bad to “info dump” when first introducing a character or a scene. If you feel the need to do that, break the details up over the course of several pages, or at least several paragraphs. You may really want to describe the castle on the hill in limitless detail, but please, please don’t. The reader will be making a sandwich before you finish, and they might never pick your books up again.

2) Technical: If your details are precise enough that only someone well versed in a certain field will understand, you’re giving too much information. Harry Turtledove does this with equipment, as many military fiction writers do. I tend to gloss over those parts because they only thing I know about guns is which end to point at a bad guy. This issue trips me up personally when I’m dealing with clothing (what is a juliette sleeve? What is a french cuff?), styles of dance, and a few other topics I’m not really good with. You will have your own areas, and when you write, you might avoid these. So the areas you are good in (Ukrainian Easter eggs, for example), you might give excessive detail. Be aware you may lose – or at least temporarily bore – some readers when giving too much technical detail.

3) Extraneous: Not every detail you give will matter directly to the flow of the story. In fact, the fact that a character is wearing a long red dress might not matter to the story at all. However, it might matter to the reader to properly understand the character, and in that case, the detail is not only relevant, but actually vital. However, knowing that her dress size is a five will likely never be meaningful to the story, so don’t include it unless it is. This area, I feel, is where most people make detail mistakes. This would be my beef with Anne Rice, thought she would likely argue with me on it. The point is, think about the details you’re including and only leave them in if they add to the story directly, or if they are vital to understand the character, or the ambiance of a scene, or in some other way are vital to the story. If not, cut them. As they say in the theatre, if there’s a shotgun on the wall in the first scene, it has to fire by the end of the play. We really don’t need to know what the wall was made out of, or how thick it was, do we? We just need to know there was a wall, and a shotgun was hanging on it.

As writers – and as readers – details are our best friends and our worst enemies. Treat them with the respect they deserve, and get rid of them if you don’t really need them.

This isn’t law school, after all!

My Fear of Romance

Did you ever have to do something really scary, and you just weren’t sure you were brave enough to face it?

That’s me and romance. romance

OK, let me be clear, that’s me and romance in my stories. Real-life romance I’m pretty good at. I have a wife and I love her bunches. We do all the things you would expect a happy couple to do. But in those moments it feels so natural and normal.

That isn’t how it feels when I’m writing. When I’m sitting in front of my computer, romance becomes the THING I MOST FEAR. So for those of you who find writing romance easy, I’ll take any tips you can provide. Honestly. Anything.

You see, when I’m romantic, it’s between me and that special lady. It’s very visceral, and I don’t have to think about it. I function on instinct. Also, I’m directly involved – emotionally speaking – and the benefits and rewards of being romantic are something I am personally invested in.

But when I’m writing a character who might fall in love with another character, there are several things that hold me back. Stop me if you’ve been here before.

1) It’s not me. I love my wife because she’s a good companion to me, and I think she’s beautiful. She says and does things that I find appealing and funny and attractive and, most importantly, I want to make her happy. When I’m writing a character, I’m not having that experience. In fact, it’s very likely something about one or both of the characters bugs me.

2) It’s detached. Holding hands, sitting close, smooching, these things are real and intimate and in the moment. Writing about holding hands, sitting close and smooching, well, that’s very analytical. And because it’s analytical, because it’s detached, I can’t get lost in it.

3) I have to plan when characters spontaneously fall in love. Love has always been a gut-level experience for me. I’ve never thought “This person would make a good marriage partner. I should consider fostering an romantic relationship.” Either I fall in love, or I don’t. I was never able to plan it in real life. In fact, the thought seems very alien to me. So planning my characters falling in love feels very artificial to me.

4) I’m afraid I’ll do it badly. This one is probably the hardest for me. I’m fairly confident in my writing in general, but with romance, I lack that surety. There are people out in the world who will judge everything I write by the one thing I write badly. But worse, if I feel the story needs romance, then that’s just it; the story NEEDS romance. I want to do it right, and to allow the readers to enjoy it.

So there are my issues. But they don’t change the fact that I will have to write romance sooner or later. In fact, the trilogy I’m working on right now has a romance occurring at the end of the second and into the third books. I know this has to happen. I just don’t know how I’m going to do it.

I am a huge fan of Harry Turtledove, the well known alternate history master. I only have two issues with his writing. The first is he could cut his number of POV characters in half and it would still be hard to follow. And second, his romances in-story feel like he said “Character A has to fall in love with character B for event R to occur.” The writing becomes rigid and stiff in these areas, and it’s hard to miss.

I want to do better than that. But how?

And so I ponder. I have an outline for the second book, but I haven’t started the actual writing yet. I plan to work on that later this summer, so we’ll see if I can improve by then.

And interestingly, I know full well I could remove the romance if I really wanted to. It gives the characters motivation and makes them deeper and more sympathetic (and one of them will really need your sympathy by then!), but I could remove it. I won’t, though. I’ll master this ogre called ‘romance’ and make it do my bidding. Romance shall serve ME! Ha! Haha! Muhahaha!

What does that say about me as a writer, I wonder?Shrek-Fiona-and-the-Babies-600x375

Horror versus Gore or The Power of Chocolate Syrup

[Bloggers Note: I did a post a few weeks back on Violence and Gore. This is similar, but different, exploring different angles of the subject.]

Do you know that crazy bunny from the Energizer battery commercials? The one that just keeps going and going and going? When he rolls off the screen and you go back to your TV show, do you think he really keeps going and going and going?energizer bunny

I guess since there have been many, many commercials featuring him, and he’s been going since 1988, you could argue that he DOES keep going and going. At least as long as Energizers advertising department sees a use for him. He’s sure lasted longer than the Verizon guy. Ok, so at least symbolically he’s still going.

But is he really? Is there some cage they keep him in and he keeps banging that drum 24/7/365? Of course not. He’s a TV prop. In fact, there have been several versions of him over the years. He’s going as long as the cameras are. Then he’s turned off, put in a box, and left to collect dust until the next shoot.

You already knew that, even if you didn’t actually think it through. It’s common sense. Knowing that, does it make the commercials less impactful for you? Perhaps you’re not one to get excited about commercials, but didn’t you instantly know who I was talking about? You didn’t need to hit the InterWebs to research the Energizer bunny. And if you instantly knew who he was and what he was selling, well then my friends he did his job. Even if he doesn’t keep going and going and going between commercials.

Would it help you to trust Energizer batteries if you knew somehow he did keep going? Well, it would raise some questions, like “What happened to physics that we’ve developed an infinite power source?” But I don’t know if it would make you trust the batteries; after all, the bunny obviously isn’t using Energizer batteries. Batteries simply don’t last forever.

You see, the bunny isn’t the product. Obvious, I know, but bear with me. Your brain is more than able to distinguish between an advertisement on TV and a pack of batteries in the local Target. You know that if you buy Energizer batteries, they aren’t going to last forever. They may last for a very long time, but not forever. So the bunny becomes a stand in, a placeholder for the actual batteries. The bunny isn’t the batteries.

And so it is with so-called horror movies. The events of the movie aren’t actually happening. The film is just a representation of the events, so you can better immerse yourself in the experience of being chased by aliens or haunted by a ghost or stalked by a psychotic murderer.

When you go to see a horror movie, you aren’t actually expecting to have the horror happen directly to you.

I want to make a sharp distinction between two very clear but rarely talked about sub-sections of the overarching horror genera. Psychological Horror and Gore.

Quentin Tarentino, this might be the time to tune me out. Of course, if you’re reading my blog, can you link me a few places? Thanks!

Ok, where was I? Right.  Psychological Horror vs. Gore in a Caged Death Match.

I really like psychological horror. Really, and I’ll tell you why.

1) It makes me think.

2) It engages my senses in ways they don’t normally get engaged.

3) It actually scares me.

I really dislike gore. Really, and I’ll tell you why.

1) It’s boring.

2) It’s boring.

3) It’s offensive.

4) Boooooorrrring!

According to special effects man Christopher Allen Nelson, reported here, over 450 gallons of fake blood were used on the two Kill Bill movies directed by Mr. Tarantino. Am I the only one who thinks this is excessive? That’s approximately all the blood in 300 adult humans. The original Psycho, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, used a few cans of Bosco Chocolate Syrup for the blood, mostly in the shower scene. That’s it. And I was much more engaged with Psycho than I was with either Kill Bill movie, or any Tarantino film at all. That being said, I fully acknowledge that he’s a great director. But I’d feel compelled to call him a bloody great director, and not in the British meaning.

kill_bill_blood

psycho-anthony-perkins-as-norman-bates

Also, he’s not alone. I just pick on him because he is often the most extreme of the high-profile directors working today.

And before you say anything, I am fully aware of Mr. Tarantino’s views on having his art messed with by others. I don’t mean to invalidate his artistic choices. I do mean to have an open conversation about the artistic merit of gore in movies and Television.

Take for example the zombie genera. I, by all accounts, should like that genera. I have all the qualifications of a good zombie-apocalypse fan-boy. But I don’t. One reason, which I will cover in more detail on my upcoming zombie post, is the nihilism of that genera. But my point for today is this; they are too gory for me to enjoy.

I’m not a prude, and I’m not squeamish. I was raised by a nurse and a paramedic after all. But perhaps because of my parents and their experiences, I am bothered by the pain such gore implies. Also, I’ve seen some horrible visuals in my day and when it comes to death and dying, I’m not excited by seeing it happen even if it is just make believe. I don’t even feel the need to go into – pardon the pun – the gory details because I know some folks are turned off by that. But my issue is even deeper that just gallons of fake blood, and it goes to why I think psychological horror is better. Not all experiences are good.

There’s a simple truth: If you imagine it, it’s more scary. Watching a horrible giant fish eating a man is gory; knowing there is a giant fish that wants to eat you, but you don’t know where it is – well then the fear is generated in my head using my particular twerks and quirks, and it can be terrifying. Thank you Jaws.

The same holds true for many of the best horror movies out of history. Psycho, Alien, Predator, Terminator and so forth. Many of those titles are action flicks, sure, but they are also horror flicks because you’re scared watching them. I’m sorry but, to me at least, that’s much more satisfying, and that’s why I watch movies after all. And of course we’re not talking about just movies. As I’ve indicated, this covers TV as well, but also novels and short stories, comics and animated shows. Engage my mind and scare me! alien11979movieposter

And just a final thought. Many people today, and young people in particular, are very jaded. In fact, it’s not just that they’re jaded, but there’s a cultural pressure to appear jaded even if they aren’t. I can’t say why this has happened; I really don’t know. But I do believe this has driven the “gore market” over the past couple of decades. Sure, there is psychological horror out there still, but much of it is drenched in so much blood that I can’t enjoy it, and perhaps that’s because here in America at least, we don’t want to face actual, real fear.

Just ask my 14 year old daughter how she feels knowing I’ll die some day. She doesn’t even want to talk about it. But she’ll watch My Little Pony fan videos that are drenched in the red stuff Mr. Tarantino so loves. That doesn’t seem quite healthy to me, and that makes me proud.

Bye, Polar Thinking

Opposites. Thanks to whoever made this pic - I sure didn't!

This is a concept we are taught very early in our lives. The opposite of hot is cold. The opposite of up is down. The opposite of light is dark.

Pretty simple, right?

Well, I’m here to tell you it isn’t always simple. Opposite thinking can be a very bad thing. In fact, I’m willing to bet this issue is at the root of many personal and societal issues we all face every day. And I find myself having to avoid this unintentional polarization when I write. It’s an easy trap to fall into.

First of all, let me say this is a normal way for a human to think. Our brains deal with vast, massive heaps of detail and must use some quick and dirty rules to even function. There is plenty of research on this on the InterWebs, and I encourage you to search on your own. There are also many shows, such as NPR’s Raidolab that deal with issues of how we think and how our minds/brains work. Just this Sunday they aired a fascinating story on how very fundamental language is to what we call ‘thought’. Check it out.

But back to the point. Our brains put things into categories as a way of managing the glut of data. If there is a bowl, a spoon and a container of milk on the kitchen table, then your mind will fill in some blanks and assume things like “breakfast” and “food” and perhaps “cereal” or “oatmeal” or “grits”. Nothing about the items on the table tell you that, and the assumption your brain makes could be wrong, but it helps you to make sense of random things. Think of it as a place marker for your brain: “I’ll assume cereal for breakfast until I have more data.”

Your brain does this with opposites as well. If you see a very heavy man walking down the street with a very skinny woman, you’re likely to think “opposites attract” when, in fact, this may not be a correct assumption of their relationship. Or it might. And we’re pretty good at guessing the right answer. The trouble comes in when we guess the wrong answer. That couple could be brother and sister, and he has a health condition that’s caused him to gain weight; he used to be a track star. The important take away is that you can’t be sure your brain is guessing the correct thing whenever its “auto-complete” feature is operating.

Corporations and political organizations know this. Religious organizations know this. Hollywood knows this. They know it better than you do, and they aren’t afraid to use it. The result of this knowledge – and the use/abuse of it – is the increasingly more polarized world we live in.

In politics, both major parties try to paint the other as the opposite of what they stand for. The opposite of Democrat is Republican. The opposite of political right is political left. Social organizations seek to do this as well. Radical Islam seems to say the opposite of of strict Islamic law is not having strict Islamic law. Pro- and anti-abortion groups do this; the opposite of making abortion illegal is allowing any abortions. And in business, the opposite of PC is Mac and the opposite of Abercrombie and Fitch clothing is any clothing that isn’t A & F.

I hope you see how dangerous this is.

An opposite is something that cannot exist in the same place or situation is something else. Night is opposite of day because night literally cannot exist when it’s day. They are antithetical. Wet is the opposite of dry because you cannot be wet and dry at the same time. But by having people play upon our concept of opposite, they are inducing us to make false assumptions. And when we make false assumptions, we make faulty decisions.

A democrat is NOT the opposite of a republican. I’m sorry, but they aren’t. This is clear to many people, and yet many of those same people still hold this view deep within their hearts. But most people who identify as democrat or republican – or tea party – don’t share every single view of that party’s platform. Being a democrat doesn’t automatically mean you want free abortions for every woman, and being a republican doesn’t mean you think firearms should be handed out in grade school. But let’s take a step away from politics and look at one of my biggest pet peeves.

Science is the opposite of faith. In other words, if you believe in God, you can’t believe in science, and vice versa.

So where did this come from and why, as a writer, do I care about it?

I do count myself among the faithful. Yes, I believe in a god. The God of Abraham and Moses and Jesus. I have also read and studied much science, and I accept that as the truth of reality. Where the two come into conflict – and I believe where the whole issue started – is when science seems to contradict or go against something written in the Bible.

As science began to mount in the 1800’s that life and the universe was much older than the Bible seemed to say, a fracture occurred. This fracture became a crack and – by the middle of the century – became a fissure so wide that people began to have trouble crossing back and forth. Camps began to form, shouting insults and math equations at each other. By the time of Darwin’s The Origin of Species in 1859, the fissure became a canyon so wide that the two groups began to develop independently of each other. This has only become more pronounced through the present day, and it has now become part of common culture. This is an opposite fallacy.

And this applies to writing, I feel, very much. In the 1800’s and early 1900’s the villains in stories were easy to tell apart from the heroes. The villains wore black while the heroes wore white. The villains were ugly, and the heroes were handsome. The villains were craven and the heroes noble and good.Ah, a classic old silent film!

We have – for the most part – shed those melodramatic trappings, but not the fallacy. We as storytellers have become much better at hiding it, and I understand it may never fully go away. But many people can read a story or watch a movie and be fairly sure who the villains are before the end, even if that wasn’t the writers intention. It’s almost required, because the audience needs something to hang the dastardly deeds upon, and if the character meant to be a villain wears all white, then the revelation that they are the bad guy (or gal) doesn’t make sense, and our minds reject it.

I’m currently working on a novel where apparently “savage” people meet much more technologically advanced people. The opposite of “savage” is “civilized”, right? Wrong, of course.

So this fallacy exists in our lives pretty much everywhere. The term ‘opposite fallacy’ is made up by me (I think), but it’s really just a simple term for the False Dilemma Fallacy. This is dangerous because it can sneak up on you so you’re not aware of it, or it can be used by others to basically control your thinking. The phrase “If you’re not with us, you’re against us” is a perfect example of the danger, and I urge you to look for this in your daily lives. Don’t let it control your writing and your personal actions, and don’t let others use this against you.

Please join me in saying “Bye!” to polar thinking, and let’s get back to enjoying and enriching the world. Because if you don’t join me in this, then you’re against me. Right?

Race, Color and Intent

I am white. I’ve been told people know that just by how I write. Perhaps. But when I say I am white, what does that really mean? I have less pigmentation in my skin than Will Smith. I have less than Jennifer Lopez as well. I’m pretty sure I have more pigment than Christina Hendricks. So, based on that description, and how culture currently refers to quantity of pigment, I am white.

I was raised in a small rural Pennsylvania town, side by side with country hicks and Mennonites both. I’ve read comic books and science fiction and fantasy novels most of my life. I am a Trekker and a Whovian. I also have this annoying – and some would say naive or even delusional – belief that everybody is equal and society (meaning you and me and every individual person) should act that way. I hold doors for people – not just women – because I like to be nice and I think it shows respect. So I’m pretty sure all of that makes me white as well. At least, what the greater American culture says is white. Perhaps nerdy as well.

Yes, I like Weird Al Yankovic.

You, too may be white. You may be African American/Hispanic/black/ Asian/Latino/Inuit or something else entirely. Based on what I said above, I don’t care. Welcome and thank you for being here. I really, truly hope to get to know you better, whoever you may be.

But I have done something that some of you might be upset about. I wrote a novel, and all the heroes are, at least by skin pigment parameters, black. To make matters more muddled, one of the villains is black, one is (again by appearance only) Hispanic, and one is pasty white with red hair and freckles.

This novel is a fantasy novel and I won’t bore you with unnecessary details. But I will tell you this; I’ve tried to include elements of real-world African culture into this novel. I know a little about this because my lovely wife lived in Africa for a time, and is in love with the place. And I did some research. But I’ve never been to Africa myself, and I have no friends who are black, or Hispanic for that matter. I have no reason not to except that none have crossed my path in that way. I would love to have some close friends of color, but I don’t. It doesn’t bother me because people are people. I have friends. They all happen to have low amounts of skin pigmentation.

Some people will read my novel and will take it for what it is. They’ll enjoy it for what it is or what it isn’t, and perhaps dislike it for the same reasons. I say people are people. Novels are novels. But there will be some who won’t even read this book and will judge it. They will say a white Pennsylvania boy can’t write about black and Hispanic people because he doesn’t know about them. He isn’t one of them, so he can’t properly write them. I don’t think they’re correct, but perhaps they are.

It’s my intent, however, that I believe matters. I intend to write stories that grip people, that bring some joy into their lives. I intend to portray my characters as true to who they are. I am not going to let some protean, transient definition of how a person of a certain level of skin pigmentation should act. I won’t and you can’t make me. But some people might try.

There are people, I’ve no idea how many, who feel uneasy with President Obama because he’s black. There are others who are upset with him because he’s too white. I say he’s the president, and I don’t care what his skin color is. I think that’s the majority view. So how does that effect my choice to make all my main characters dark skinned? How does it effect how I wrote them? I really don’t know. But I know they’re written the way they presented themselves to me, and as a writer, that’s what I have to be true to.

I have no way of knowing the real reaction my book might provoke, positive or negative, because it’s still a manuscript. But if I get it published, I’m sure there will be some reaction in the negative. I’m just fine with that. It’s a fantasy novel, and that’s how I dreamed it up.

Perhaps it’s a fantasy that I wish for a day where terms such as “racism” and “inequality” are only found in dictionaries and history books. It may be a fantasy, but I prefer to call it a dream. And in this dream of mine, I’d like to believe my two very white children will be evaluated for who they are as people, and not which pigment-coding genes they have. Wait, I think someone else said it a bit better than me, right?

Martin Luther King Jr.