The Danger of “Better”

world history mapI like history. In another lifetime I would have been an historian or a history teacher. But that interest came too late, and so now I write, using history where I can.

There are many lessons to be learned from history. I still can’t fathom why some people consider history as without value. But I also can’t fathom why people hang the toilet paper going behind the roll instead of in front of it – which is the only correct and proper way to hang toilet paper. But I digress.

History shows us again and again two major things;

  • People with differing points of view often fight each other
  • In the long lens of history, nobody’s point of view has more value than anyone else’s

To the first point, it is common for one person or group to believe that their ideas – no matter the origin, historical context or facts to the contrary – are somehow inherently better than anyone else’s. To take it a step further, they believe their ideas are better than everyone else’s. And, when taken to its logical conclusion, that anyone (and everyone) who doesn’t hold their views is not just “not superior” but is actually inferior.

To put it another way, culture A believes that you should plant your wheat in north-south rows. Culture B doesn’t. So not only is culture B not enlightened, they are degenerate. This is sometimes a fine point, but one I feel needs to be understood.

To the second point, history is clear that it doesn’t matter which way you grow your grain, or wave you Flimjaflammer, or paint your oxen, or follow your religion. In the end, they are added to the broad base of human knowledge, and mankind stumbles awkwardly forward.

It’s been happening since the first nomadic tribes of proto-humans bumped into each other in search of food, and it’s happening right now. And I am perfectly willing to admit that I am as guilty as anyone, at least in some areas of my life. Let’s just say that I’m not exactly level-headed and even-keeled when it comes to discussing politics. I challenge you, dear reader, to tell me (and the world) just what it is that you have a superiority complex over.

And then I want you to think of a couple events out of history; events that were caused by the exact same superiority complex – though with a different particular subject – that I have with politics, and you likely have with religion, or your brownie recipe, or your favorite band, or whatever. Let’s take an objective look at where that kind of thinking can take us Earth-dwellers.

  • The Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta. These two great cities had battled together to fight off the Persians years before, but once left with no major external threats, turned on each other. Athens believed it was superior because it was a center of learning and culture, and because of its great navy. Sparta believed it was superior because of its dedication to all things military. Sparta ended up winning the war in 404 BC, but that was really the end of the golden age of Greece, so both sides lost in the end and allowed Rome to rise in the west.
  • The Mongol Invasion of Asia, Europe and the middle east. It seems the Mongols believed their own culture (horse-riding nomadic warrior life)mongol2 was superior to all others, to the extent that they wiped whole nations off the face of the planet and razed entire cities, slaughtering whole populations, including women and children. There is no way to even estimate the death toll of these wars, but it’s a conservative estimate to say it extends into the millions of dead, and the world we live in today was shaped in large part by this invasion. And just a reminder to you history-haters, that means Genghis Khan has directly influenced your life, and he’s been dead for almost 600 years!
  • The Napoleonic Wars, which lasted twelve and a half years, were the result of Napoleon’s belief that France was a superior culture, and his military was a superior fighting force. These wars ravaged Europe and left between 3.5 and 6.5 million people dead.
  • The Cold War, which thankfully never became a “hot” war, still cost millions of lives due to proxy wars and espionage activities. In addition, there is no way to calculate the billions of dollars spent by both sides to oppose the other. And all of this because the ideologies of capitalism and communism were in conflict. The U.S.A. believed that communism was a cancer that would infect the world if left unopposed, and the U.S.S.R. believed the West to be debased and corrupt, using the common man like fuel to keep the fires of capitalism burning.

Believing in something is not a bad thing. On the contrary, I feel belief is only of the only true motivators in this world. If you have nothing to believe in, nothing to fight for, what gets you out of bed in the morning? Even if it’s looking forward to a good cup of tea or a new movie. We don’t do things without a reason, something we believe is worth doing.

The problem comes when your belief becomes more important than relationships with people. I know. Really, I do. People need people. We’re social creatures by nature, and without others to interact with – one hopes positively – we wither and die. When we interact negatively with the people around us, judging them to be inferior, or their views to be degenerate or somehow inherently faulty, we degrade ourselves more than anything else. When I lose my cool and go off on a Facebook Rant about some political issue I’m all hopped up about I cause – as my wife has pointed out more times than she probably cares to admit – conflict of a negative and destructive nature. In effect, I damage the relationships I have with my friends and family. And even those not involved in my ranting will view me as less kind, less caring, less wise.

And this is the same with you, dear friends. If you are, like I am, suffering from Belief Superiority Complex – also known as ‘yell at people until they believe you syndrome’ –  you need to think about whether it will help you – and whether it will help others. I’m here to tell you it won’t help anyone; this kind of conflict can only bring harm to you and your friends.

It’s difficult to stop. No, actually it’s easy to stop. I’ve done it dozens of times. It’s difficult to stick with it: Difficult to take that deep breath before sending a rant to someone who cares about you. But you must try just as I will try. Again.better

To Mark H. and Matt and Erin B., to Bob and Theresa P., to David and Karen H., and to any others who feel I’ve attacked them and tried to force my “superior” beliefs on them, I’m sorry. I can’t say I’m going to change my mind, but I’ll try again to discourse instead of shout. I would ask you to please do the same.

All of you. Everywhere. Can’t we please just talk?

Now I Own It

“You’ll read things and say, ‘this is a really good project and it’s probably going to be a hit, but I can see 20 other people ???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????playing that part.’ You have to have some sense of ownership to do a good job and be married to it forever.” Eric Bana, actor

Fun fact: Eric Bana and I are the same age. That doesn’t relate to this blog at all, I just found it interesting.

However, I totally agree with the above quote. And I’ve recently come to understand what it really means, what ‘ownership’ really implies.

Without going into the gory details of my private life, let’s just say that between 2001 and 2007 I had a series of personal shocks, including 9/11, the loss of both my parents and my last grandparent, a rollover car accident, and a separation followed by a divorce. These things happened fast. I am tempted to say ‘too fast’, but now I don’t think that’s the case. You see, such personal chaos forced me to grow in ways I didn’t really want to but sorely needed to.

I went through a lot of soul-searching (I hate that term: So over-used), and I had to ask myself who I was, what I wanted, and what I was doing with my life. I have two beautiful children, and some enduring friendships, but I felt unfulfilled. I reflected on my life.

I’ve been a tabletop role-playing enthusiast for, well, a long time. For Christmas 1980 – just before I turned twelve – my parents agreed to get me red boxthe now venerable and venerated “Red Box” Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) rules. They went to their graves regretting that decision because they never really understood what I loved about that game, and the other games I bought and played in later years. I bring this up because I realized role-playing games were the first thing I took ownership of. They were the first things that a could really call mine. This interest helped to shape who I was, and my identity grew to encompass these games.

Later, when I went to college in the late 80’s and early 90’s, I studied vocal performance. I had been singing with a children’s choir at my parent’s church since I was five or so, and I knew that I loved it. But I only took ownership of my singing in college, when I was able to take lessons and perform in front of my peers. This too became a part of who I was.

More things followed through the 1990’s. My love of the theater, my fascination with history and my passion for science all followed. I was learning more about myself by learning about the world around me, and what in that world spoke to my heart. Then 9/11 happened, and things began falling apart.Nine_Inch_Nails-Things_Falling_Apart-Frontal

My soul-searching was my way of working through the pain of all these losses. It took several years and another bad relationship (one of my friends said the relationship ended like an atomic bomb going off. That’s pretty close to right.) before I was able to identify the two things I needed that I didn’t have. I think it’s no coincidence that I met my wife right at the culmination of these years of struggle, what I now refer to as my “depression era”. She was there just in time to help me find the faith I had been lacking. And for those who poo-poo faith in a higher power, it’s really quite empowering. But don’t worry; I’ll never try to convert you. It works for me, and has made me a better person (I think) internally. I’d like to think others see the change as well.

So I found a faith in God that had never really been there before, and I “owned” it. I chose to make it a part of who I am, to take it into myself. And then there was the second thing.

Writing.

This isn't me or anyone I know, but they are a wonderful example of a modern gaming group. Thank you unknown gamers!

This isn’t me or anyone I know, but they are a wonderful example of a modern gaming group. My spot is usually behind the screen. Thank you unknown gamers!

Going back to the role-playing games, I realized I had been telling stories all my adult life. Whether as a player, or as the storyteller in a tabletop RPG, you are a part of the creative team that makes up the story you are all sharing. But I was most often the storyteller in these games, leading my friends through stories born in my feverish brain. I had “owned” my role as storyteller within the context of these games only. All these changes made me realize I was a storyteller in a broader sense. And so it was that in the winter of 2008/2009 I made the conscious decision to write seriously. I “owned” my storytelling nature, and accepted that I should write. I finally, after 40 years, took that into my soul and made it a part of me.

I am a writer.

You may not be a writer, but I hope you understand how my story can apply to your life. You may not be able to force yourself to be something you fancy, but if you enjoy something, and you let it become a part of you, you may also come to own it. And it took me a long time to reach this point, so don’t get discouraged. Please. We all have something to offer the world that wasn’t there before. You may believe it’s because God has a plan, or you may choose to believe it’s because of your unique set of random genes, but either way, you have something that never existed before. You may never be a movie star, or a president, but you can still have meaningful impact on the world. Be positive about it, and “own” it. Because I, for one, am waiting to see what you’ll come up with!

Sorry. I just couldn't resist!

Sorry. I just couldn’t resist!

Change for the Worser

One of the problems with reading a book and then going to see the movie is how the movie people change what’s in the book to fit a movie format. RingstrilogyposterIf you look at movies that are generally credited with performing this trick correctly – such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – they make changes that fit the feel and the concept of the story; they are true to the author’s intent. Without the author being available to add their input into a movie, it’s up to the author’s estate and to the actual writers to divine and defend that intent. It seems to work more often than not, but that might be because if the author is gone, their books are probably more than 20 years old, and are considered “classics”. I don’t know.

CarrieIn some cases, such as the above-named movies, the authors are long dead and their intent can only be divined from their body of work. In other cases, such as Carrie by Stephen King, the author may be very alive, but their intent is changed with little or no input from said author. Mr. King states clearly in On Writing that Carrie isn’t a movie based on his novel, but rather a movie made out of the novel. It’s an important distinction.

I don’t know Max Brooks at all – and odds are I never will – but I’m willing to bet he didn’t have much say in the making of the recent major motion picture release of World War Z. To say the movie was ‘made out of’ the novel is being generous. I’m not going to do a review of that movie (2.5 out of 5. Meh. I didn’t walk out, but I wouldn’t see it again), but it brings to mind the topic of good versus bad movie adaptations of books, and why so many of them are bad.

I know this is getting ahead of myself, what with all the not-yet-published-even-one-novel-in-my-life, but I have a fear I will someday be forced to watch one of my books made into a movie produced and directed by Uwe Boll (and if you read that link, remember that Wikipedia tries to be as neutral as possible…).

I love movies. Good ones, at least. I love books. Also, good ones. And I know very well that books and movies are quite different. You can do things with one that you can’t do with the other, and that’s as it should be. They both have strengths; they are both tools storytellers can use.

hunger-games-movie-image-jennifer-lawrence-03If you’ve read The Hunger Games and also seen the movie, you know exactly what I mean. The book is first person present tense. “I get up and walk over to the table” as opposed to “she got up and walked over to the table.” The feel the book has because of these tense and voice choices is quite distinct, and also very difficult to represent in a movie. Since you’re directly inside Katniss’s thoughts in real-time, everything is seen through her filters.

When they set out to make a movie, I was very skeptical. I was sure they would screw it up. But what the writers and the director managed to do was to pull the intent of the story from the mechanics of Suzanne Collins’s excellent novel and to retell the story through the mechanics of the movie medium. It was, in my opinion, well done. It’s no wonder that Mrs. Collins is listed as a writer under the movie credits. She was able to vocalize her intent during the process, and it shows.

So what can a writer do to make sure their work doesn’t get butchered? The answer as I understand it is ‘not much’. In the process of negotiating a book deal, movie rights are part of the discussion, and one that many writers don’t think about too much. If you’re offered a book deal (Yay! A book deal!) and one of the concessions you need to make is giving up the movie rights, most writers will take that deal. They’d rather have a published book that they don’t have movie rights to – in order to build their careers and get future books published – than an unpublished book that they retain movie rights to. Because who will care? No studio is going to call you to buy your unpublished book’s movie rights.

Part of the issue also has to do with the way Hollywood handles movies. From this Cracked article, it’s a funny but bleak outlook.

So the best thing you can do is to be aware of movie rights as part of the publishing process. Not many books get picked up and made into movies, but more than a few of them get purchased by a studio, and having some control over what’s done with your idea might just be important to you. Tell your agent you want to retain all possible movie rights; talk to them about your options. But don’t hold your breath, and don’t plan on having the next Twilight saga made from your books.

If you’re all excited about your book being made into a movie, it might also help to write your book with that in mind. I find myself doing that all the time. I imagine how a director might look at the scene I’m writing, and I try to remove anything that might get in their way. True, I’m not going to compromise my whole book for a movie that will likely never be made, but if I do have a choice between a few things, and one of them isnear_dark_ver2_xlg better for a movie, I’ll usually go with that one.

I have no idea if that will help me in the long run. But this I do know: Quentin Tarantino won’t be the director working on my film.

Please, please let it be Kathryn Bigelow!

Zombie Mamba

WWZWorld War Z is out in theatres now, and I thought this was a good time to write my long-anticipated (I hope!) blog on your friend and mine, the zombie.

Many people smarter than me have written detailed papers on zombies and why we as a culture like them. There has been a great deal of research recently focusing on why zombies have become so popular. The Brain-Eating Bro’s from Deadsville are far more mainstream than in previous years, with major studio motion pictures (World War Z, Warm Bodies) and even a television show, The Walking Dead. It’s a good time be love zombies, and I’m not going to add much to that conversation.

What I want to do is to give my personal views on why they are popular, and tell you how I feel about them. I’ll start there.

Conflicted.

Some of you may be surprised to know I don’t really like zombie stories and movies. 28 Days Later was so bad for me that I turned it off beforezombie-wallpaper001 the end. Shaun of the Dead was funny and I enjoyed it, but it was parody and comedy, so it wasn’t taking itself too seriously. Oh, and I recently saw Warm Bodies with my daughter. It was amusing, except for the brain eating parts. And yes, I am planning to see WWZ. I read the book, and I want to see what they do with it. Also, it’s PG-13, and that brings me to one of my problems with the genre, whether movies or stories.

I’ve talked about this before, and if you’ve been reading my older blogs, you already know what I’m going to say.

Gore. I’m just not going for it.

Sure, they’re walking corpses, so there’s a rot/stink element that must be addressed. And yes, they tend to bite people, which leads to horrible injuries. I freely admit these things, but I argue again and again that just because we can show realistic gore in a movie doesn’t mean we must show realistic gore in a movie. Same goes for the written medium. You can describe anything in as much detail as you like, but that doesn’t mean you should. I’m not going to take the time to go over that topic again, at least not here. Too much gore is a bad thing. Moving on.

NihilismThere’s another element of many zombie stories that turns me off for different reasons. Nihilism, or nothingness, is at the core of many zombie tales. For those of you who don’t understand what I’m referring to, I’ll explain using 28 Days Later as an example, and one scene in particular. If you’ve seen the movie, great. If you haven’t, then be warned. I’ll be revealing part of the plot. Spoiler Alert!

In the story Hannah, and her father Frank, are traveling with the main characters Jim and Selena across Rage-torn England. They have faced hordes of the Rage zombies and very nearly made it to the apparent safety of  a military camp in the north of the country when Frank becomes infected in the stupidest possible way (my opinion!). It isn’t when fighting the zombies. It isn’t while trying to save someone else. There is nothing meaningful about his infection when a single drop of blood falls from a corpse above him and lands in his eye.

The odds of this happening are so vanishingly small as to be laughable, so it must have been a specific choice on the part of the writers to advance the plot. But that doesn’t hold up either. Hannah is traumatized by her fathers turning and immediate death (he is killed by soldiers), but the writers could have chosen to have her father die any other way to achieve the same effect. In fact, he didn’t need to die at all. England is devastated at this point in the story, and everyone knows it. Tens of millions of people are either dead or Rage zombies. That alone is enough to drive someone over the edge, so the writers could have used that, or nearly limitless other options to cause her to become so traumatized. But they chose to kill off her father in such a meaningless, pointless way. The only reason I can see is to reinforce the Nihilistic view-point: Everything is nothing, and no actions you take have any meaning. Frank dies so you can feel worse about the world. I can’t think of another reason.

This comes up again in zombie fiction. Interestingly, the short stories written about zombies often have a much deeper, richer meaning to them, and it’s often more positive (or at least less negative). Some are even hopeful or straight-up positive. Why movies can’t seem to pull this off is beyond me, but I’m going to guess at a reason, and I think it’s one of the primary reasons – if not the single biggest reason – the zombie apocalypse has become so popular.

Hope. Or, more clearly, the lack of hope.

I’m not going to suggest that life is hopeless. On the contrary, I believe life is full of hope. But if you are over thirty or so, I want you to put yourself in the shoes of someone under that age, someone born after grunge rock was big, after Bill Clinton was elected. Here are a few points to ponder. Not all of them are true of everyone under thirty, but if they aren’t true for an individual, they can probably name people they know for whom it is.

    1) You don’t know a world without the internet.

    2) You don’t know a world without 9/11.

    3) It probably doesn’t bother you that you can be watched and tracked 24/7.

    4) You are isolated from the person sitting next to you because of the electronics you are both slaves to.

    5) You are confused why #4 is on this list.

    6) More – nay the vast majority – of your friends are people you’ve never actually met, and never actually will.

    7) You probably have to think hard about proper social interaction because you spent your formative years playing video games or watching TV in your bedroom.

    8) You think LOL and IDK are actual words.

So, life these days can easily be dominated by solitude, lack of communication or difficulty communicating, endless piles of information, and isolation. The only thing that separates you from others is that you are a Special and Unique person, just like everybody else. People under thirty have been brought up in an age when graduating from kindergarten is worthy of a celebration, and not breaking the rules earns you a reward. Many people over thirty might find it difficult to live in such an environment, but what if that’s all you’ve ever known? They only thing that makes you special is, well, you. Your mind, your internal dialogue with yourself, your hopes and dreams.

And when you become a zombie, what’s the thing that you lose first, before anything else? What defines a zombie? What trait makes them sohp-no-hope unique from other fictional creatures? What, in short, makes them frightening?

Loss of self.

And that’s why I think zombies are frightening, and more frightening now than ever before. We are forced to live in a world where we are basically zombies already. Only our minds make us special, keep us free. And becoming a zombie would take that one special spark away. Becoming a zombie would make us just like everyone else. We would cease to be us.

So the zombie hordes rise to devour ticket sales and book publication profits. And why shouldn’t they? They have exactly what it takes to make money today. They are plugged into a fear shared by many, but especially by today’s youth and young adults. They are the horror of the 21st century.

You remember how I said I’m conflicted about zombies?

I’m writing a zombie novel.

Victorian_ZombeeF

Curiosity Didn’t Kill Schrodinger’s Cat

I believe God made me.Einstein-on-religion

I believe He used science-describable processes, such as evolution, to bring me – and the entirety of creation – into being.

I do not blindly follow everything I hear related to science. I do research, I find verifiable facts, I cross-reference data. Science does not yet have all the answers and I’m not sure they ever will. The more scientists dig, the more questions they find. I figure this is because God is really smart and he made the universe really complicated to keep us curious.

I do not blindly follow everything I hear about God and faith. I do research (by reading what others have written), I find verifiable facts (this might involve talking to others), I cross-reference data (this is usually through prayer). God does have all the answers, but I couldn’t ever understand them all: My brain is finite. Because of this, I don’t always have the answers when it comes to faith and God. I’m ok with that because God isn’t explainable by science any more than a blacksmith is explainable by the horseshoe he made. My faith in God isn’t dependent on being able to explain Him, but I’m sure grateful he gave us such a cool sandbox to play in!

God made me intelligent. I’m not bragging; he made almost every human intelligent to a lesser or greater degree. My personal IQ doesn’t matter. However, the fact that I’m curious and I don’t take everything at face value is part of who I am. You have your own particular qualities, as God made you.

PicassoBW-portrait-778x1024Some people are born to play baseball, or to organize business conferences, or to compose music. To tell Mozart that he shouldn’t compose because you don’t personally like what he’s composing is wrong. To tell Picasso that he shouldn’t paint because you don’t like what he’s painting is equally wrong.

It is, however, perfectly right and good to talk to that person about what they are doing so you can understand it – and them – better. You might learn from them, and they might learn from you. This is the nature of discourse; this is the way we’re supposed to be in relationship with each other.

I have some strong opinions. If you know me at all, you’re rolling your eyes right now. If you don’t, just understand my biggest personal flaw and my most dangerous sin is pride. Sometimes, more than I’d like, I come across as sounding like I’m right and any other views are wrong. In short, I sometimes sound like I’m judging others. I really hate that I come across that way. It is my desire to be kind and open to people, and to treat them with respect.

If they’d just stop spouting their stupid ideas and listen to me, they’d know what was right and wrong!

Ahem. Pride.

Please forgive me if I’ve been prideful to you. But understand this: If you think I’m being prideful or arrogant, if you feel I’ve judged you, then it’s just because I feel strongly about a topic. If I didn’t feel passionate, I wouldn’t get all up in your grill about it.

When I was going to church as a child, I had some interesting experiences. I lived in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, and I attended St. Paul’s U.C.C. there in bucolic Kutztown. [Holy cow! I just discovered this church doesn’t seem to exist on the InterWebz at all! Not even a photo. And I was going to do a cool hyperlink to their non-existent website!]

Here's a random picture of Main Street in Kutztown, PA

Here’s a random picture of Main Street in Kutztown, PA

While there, I was told that the pastor was the one who could answer all of my questions. I was too intimidated by him to ask directly – and I could write a book on that topic alone, but I’m not paying you for a therapy session – so I asked my Sunday school teacher. After bringing her class to a halt one Sunday with “why, why, why?” she finally told me I couldn’t ask any more questions. I told her God made me curious, and she told me that curious children were dangerous children.

No kidding. No, I don’t remember the exact words 30 years later, but she told me curiosity was dangerous.

Perhaps you’ve read or been told the quote by Galileo regarding this topic. I’ll include it here for clarity and simplicity.

“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them [the above-listed faculties].”

So, I am curious. I am doubting. I am also sincere. If you don’t agree with my opinion on politics or abortion or religion or any other topic, talk to me about it. Don’t get angry at me because I don’t conform to your world-view. This is probably the single most horrible side-effect of the InterWebz on society. People have access to all the data accumulated by humanity over six thousand years, and what do we do? Ignore everything that doesn’t fit our world-view. This selective intake of information leads to self-fulfilled prophecies. When you only see what you want to see, everything else becomes scary. Everything else becomes dangerous.

diagnosis of curiosityThis is EXACTLY what the Catholic church was doing to Galileo, and to Copernicus before him. This is exactly what what led to World War II (the Jews are responsible for everything wrong today!) and to the Cold War. This is exactly what has led to the costly and failed War on Drugs. And this is exactly what caused nineteen men to kill themselves – and 3000 others – on 09/11/2001.

It is not by any means curiosity that is dangerous. It is the lack of curiosity, the lack of interest in questioning your world view, that is so very, very dangerous. There is nothing more terrifying to me.

I believe God made me. He made me curious.

Black Holes of Knowledge

Everybody knows something. Nobody knows everything. Between these two truths stand all humans, past, present and future.

There are two particular areas of knowledge that I am very lacking, and when writing about them, I encounter problems.

The two areas are Fashion and cars.

quadbigWhen it comes to cars, I find myself unable to care about them, and I’ve had little or no exposure to them. I have a brother who likes cars, and my father did try several times to teach me a little about cars. Also, I drive one, so I am at least somewhat familiar with what they are and how they work.audi-r-zero

When it comes to cars in my writing, I usually just avoid talking about them. I don’t write much taking place in the modern-day, so that’s pretty easy. And when I do need to write about cars, I can usually stumble along well enough with some internet research.

couture-fashion-14 (1)Fashion, on the other hand, gives me the fits, and there’s not much I can do about it. Like cars, I don’t have any interest in fashion. Unlike cars, I didn’t grow up with a sister who exposed me to fashion and my mother was way too practical to be focused on such things. Also unlike cars I don’t wear fashions every day. I wear clothing. Clothing is something to wear to a) be warm and b) not get arrested for indecency. Beyond that, I am mystified by the byzantine complexity of the fashion world. Until I started working, I wore only jeans and tee-shirts. My footwear? Barefoot or – if needed – sneakers. When I started working, I was confronted with “dress codes” – another arcane and mystical set of rules that made no sense to me. But I transitioned to khakis and polo shirts. From June 1st to August 31st I wear shorts and tee-shirts at home. The rest of the year I wear khakis and tee-shirts. Weddings and funerals cause me to dust off a pair of dress pants and a button-down shirt. Somewhere I own a suit jacket or two, and I’m aware you wear such things when you go to some important event like a wedding.

My wife, bless her soul, will often look at me and say “Are you wearing that to [function name here]?” And it’s not that she’s picky. I’m probably in an old stained t-shirt and a ratty pair of shorts when she says that. Going to a concert. Or church. Or the above-mentioned wedding. I’m not the worst in the world at fashion, but I’m pretty close.

I don’t do it out of some perverse sense of pride or rebellion. That’s why I have long hair. I really don’t care about fashion. Honest.download fashion jumpers

So what do I do when I’ve invented a whole new world that is a blend of several earth-based cultures, and several original ideas? How do I describe the clothing they wear?

No, really. I’m asking you! I really don’t know. How do I describe unique new fashions that have never existed before? I don’t have the language or vocabulary to do it. I don’t even have a clear picture in my head. Fashion, for me, is a black hole.

What have other writers done in the past? I’ve been looking around over the past couple of years, and the other writers seem to fall into two categories. The first seems to know about fashion, and I assume this because they often describe what people are wearing, and in some detail. The second group seems to describe things very simply, using generalized terms like tunic and robe and sandals. But in my writing, I need to describe the clothing my characters are wearing, because I need to evoke a certain feeling, to detail a new world, and I don’t know how.

Is this something editors help with? Do they employ people just to draw fashions for authors like me? I’ve never heard of it before.

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Is this hawt?

And how important is fashion to you, as a reader? My default setting is “skip over the clothey-bits” but I know others eat that detail up. I want to include it, but I lack the knowledge.

I am, very truly, fashion-blind. So how does a blind man describe a color? How does a deaf man tell you what he hears?