The Art and Science of Selling Out

Earlier in the year, some of my Twitter writing community friends and I were trying to pull a guy back from the ledge. We’ll call him Gunther because, for some reason or another, that name popped into my mind.

Gunther, it seemed, had a problem. His prose was weighty. Dense like a collapsed star, and about as fun to read as stereo instructions. His reviews were coming back with things like “Reading this was like wading through rancid molasses” and “This was so bad, I think it gave me cancer”. Note: not actual reviews, but those were the general gist.

Now, as every writer knows, reviews can be important things. They can help drive sales, but they can also give you an indication of what’s working and what’s not working. I got one a couple of years ago about head-hopping in a story. For the uninitiated, head-hopping is the process of switching back and forth between viewpoints in narrative. It’s part of the third person omniscient style of telling a story and, done correctly, it can be a useful tool because it lets the reader get into each character’s head. The problem is, done poorly, it can be jarring and leave a reader wondering which character was thinking what at the time. That leads to confused readers and the number one rule of writing is never confuse your reader.

Guess which way I did it.

Actually, when you get down to it, that’s really the only rule of writing. You can do anything you want in a story as long as it doesn’t leave the reader scratching their head and wondering where you scored the crack before you started writing. Tell an entire story without punctuation? Sure. Charlie Huston did it in his Joe Pitt books. (Fun fact: Charlie Huston is kind of my hero). Tell a story while you’re hopped up on every drug known to man and drunk as a skunk to boot? Go check out Hunter S. Thompson. (Also my hero). Make liberal use of the word “fuck”? Guilty.

Point is: Huston and Thompson and every other successful writer out there knew how to tell a story without confusing their readers, no matter what other weird chicanery they may have pulled. Gunther lacked that skill. So, not only was his prose dense as fuck, it was confusing to boot. Think of it as a weightier version of Sean Penn’s abysmal writing without the star power to drive sales.

While a handful of us were imploring Gunther to just, you know, change his style to something that people would want to read, he was busy complaining that he couldn’t change his style. And moping about it. And whining.

That was about the part where I checked out. When you’ve got a handful of people giving you some advice, you don’t immediately discard it because “you can’t change”. Advice is like a live-action review and woe unto the person who ignores the review that says a book was so bad it gave them cancer.

Here’s the deal: any writer worth their salt is going to be able to adapt. There’s nothing wrong with adaptation. Like the U.S. Marines like to say: Improvise, adapt, and overcome.

You can call it selling out if you’d like. You can even call that a bad thing if it makes you happy, but what’s worse: Writing exactly like you want and having no one read it or adapting and still getting your words out?

My grandfather used to love to say, “A piece of information is only good if you have a use for it”. Thomas Edison’s middle name was Alva and the Battle of Hastings was in 1066? Unless you’re really into history, that’s useless information. Knowing Edison was an inventor who’s credited with a short ton of inventions is useful. Knowing he was vicious bastard who happily stole inventions from other people and called them is own (*cough Tesla cough*) can be useful. Knowing his middle name? Who cares.

Writing’s kind of like that. You can either be the bit of information out there, all alone and screaming into the void, or you can be the thing that changes the way people look at the world. Gunther, if you happen to come across this post at some point, consider at least trying to do things differently. Trust me, you can do it. You can improvise, you can adapt, and you can overcome. Or you can be Alva. Your call.

WATWB – Your Monthly Shot Of News That Doesn’t Suck

Ask any good dictator or fascist regime what the single most important facet of maintaining control is and, without a doubt, they’ll tell you regulating the flow of information. Now, these are usually thugs and low-brained idiots, so “regulating the flow of information” may be beyond their vocabulary. Some will talk about outside influences, some will shout about fake news, some will simply shoot you for asking, but the general gist will always be the same. Control information and you can control people. It’s one of the things that all dictators have in common.

And, coincidentally, the free flow of information is one of the best ways to kick fascist regimes in the balls. For a fascist regime to stay in power, it requires the few to control the many. That requires a population that won’t fight back. Because no matter how many people you have on your secret police force, no matter how brutal they are, there will always be more people than thugs and as soon as the people rise up, the thugs tend to find themselves on the wrong end of a rope.

The question, of course, is how do you get the necessary information to the people who need it when there’s a functional information blackout? Think North Korea’s traditional model of keeping all foreign influence out by keeping all foreigners out or the Great Firewall of China or simply complaining about fake news at every opportunity.

In the case of North Korea, the rest of the world will periodically do things like drop DVDs, DVD players, cell phones, papers, books, and other things into random parts of the country. Such contraband will get the holder killed, but information has a way of leeching into the soil of society. It’s a long-term process, but it will slowly erode the stone bulwarks. But it doesn’t work in semi-open societies since they already have those things. The trick there is present the other side of the news – the one not allowed by the government – and to keep the people consuming that other side safe.

Here’s a fun fact for you: If it weren’t for Phil Zimmerman, the Russian Revolution might very well have failed. Zimmerman got hold of one of the early RSA asymmetric-key encryption mechanisms. He realized just how useful a functionally unbreakable code could be to keep information safe from prying eyes. As the NSA was breaking down his door, Zimmerman released the very first instance of PGP to the world. Much to the chagrin of people who liked to paw through your email to find out when the revolution was starting. By blocking that information, you make it much harder to keep control.

Crypto maintains the free flow of information by preventing its interception. Now, the really cool thing about good crypto is it can free information by preventing its interception on a large scale. As noted before, one of the biggest problems with distributing information that governments don’t want distributed is making sure the people consuming that information don’t get their teeth knocked for consuming it.

For that, you need some way to browse information safely without worrying about who’s watching over your shoulder while you’re reading about all the atrocities being committed by your leaders. That means something like Darknet and our good buddy Tor.

While Darknet has largely become the purview of drug dealers, kiddie porn, and assorted scoundrelry, it’s also potentially a powerful weapon for information warfare. The ability to get information securely to people who need it is immensely useful. Arguably, it’s a better weapon than any bomb or gun could ever be because gunshots and explosions are isolated things. Information spreads like a virus. It’s amazingly useful for tearing down walls and the dictators that built them.

So, you can imagine how my eyes lit up when I saw BBC News was mirroring its site on Darknet. It’s brilliant. It’s a perfect way of getting information past censors and firewalls and protecting the people consuming it. Putting BBC News on Darknet is a weaponizing information and pointing it straight at the fascists who would stop it from spreading. And that is a far better use for Darknet than slinging drugs.

Check out the story here.

If you’d like to connect your blog and help spread a little joy (or snark, like I do), it’s easy to sign up. Just ask and ye shall receive. Or go check it out here: here.

Our lovely and talented hosts of the month are: Sylvia McGrath, Lizbeth Hartz, Shilpa Garg, Mary Giese, and Belinda Witzenhausen

~~~GUIDELINES~~~

1. Keep your post to below 500 words, as much as possible. (Wow, I totally missed that mark this time around).

2. All we ask is you link to a human news story on your blog on the last Friday of each month, one that shows love, humanity and brotherhood.

3. Join us on the last Friday of each month in sharing news that warms the cockles of our heart. No story is too big or small, as long as it goes beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.

4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar, and help us spread the word on social media. Tweets, Facebook shares, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month most welcome. More Blogfest signups mean more friends, love and light for all of us.

5. We’ll read and comment on each others’ posts, get to know each other better, and hopefully, make or renew some friendships with everyone who signs on as participants in the coming months.

6. To sign up, add your link in WE ARE THE WORLD Linky List below.

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And now your moment of Zen.

WATWB – Your Monthly Shot of News That Doesn’t Suck

One of the things college debate teaches you is whatever argument you use has to have an impact. The bigger the better. That way, whenever the opposing team comes up with something else and says if their plan isn’t implemented it will lead to nuclear war, you can counter with “If our plan isn’t implemented, the Earth is going to spin off into the sun causing an explosion that will take out the solar system.”

You laugh, but the last year I was coaching and judging, one of our debate teams was researching HAARP and found evidence that said exactly that. It was bullshit, but it was published so it was considered valid evidence. The fact that it was published by a complete loon in Angels Don’t Play This HAARP was beside the point.

In case you’re wondering, yes, that team swept through their first tournament leaving bodies in their wake because no one had ever heard of HAARP at that point.

At any rate, the big harm if the plan isn’t implemented isn’t relegated solely to the realm of collegiate debate. It’s a common theme in most persuasive speaking to some degree or another. Religion loves to use it as do politicians and nosy neighbors. And so do environmentalists.

Now, here’s where this little diatribe is going to get kind of weird. Let me start by saying, I don’t think Global Warming is a hoax created by the Chinese. I’ll relegate that kind of thinking to low-grade morons. Nor do I think it’s a myth propagated to bring down America. I recognize it as a serious threat even if we’ve probably passed the point of stopping Global Warming and need to focus now on how to deal with it. Global Warming has a great harm – the destruction of all life on Earth – but it’s simply too big for most folks to comprehend. Plus, you have people saying things like, “How can there be Global Warming when it’s snowing outside?” and that kind of limited-use logic is hard to debate against.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think hitching the environmental horse to Global Warming might not have been the best idea. As I said, it’s too damned big to comprehend. What’s easier to comprehend, however, is that water you’re drinking right now? It’s not supposed to be brown and it’s probably giving you cancer. That deer you feel like eating? The meat has so much mercury in it, it’s poison. You like fishing? Sorry. All the fish are dead. Stuff like that is right in your face.

The corrolary to that is pointing out the good things that can happen when we keep the environment cleaned up. I get it; it’s a hassle to have to dispose of chemical waste properly, but think of this way: By containing chemical waste correctly, you’re keeping the possibility of getting super powers all to yourself. Seriously, it happens all the time. Read a comic book.

Anyway, one of the most polluted places in the world used to be New York harbor. It was so bad that pretty much nothing could live in there. And don’t get me started on the number of people who swam in the harbor and spontaneously developed super powers. Thanks to environmental regulation, though, those waters have been cleaned up and starting to see life returning. Teeny tiny life and really damned big life. That’s right: Whales have been returning to New York Harbor. That, in and of itself, is causing some problems and the incidences of spontaneous super power generation has dropped off, but those are easier problems to fix than a whole damned harbor made of poison.

So, the next time someone tells you environmentalism is a crock of shit, punch them in the nose. No, actually don’t do that. Just remind that a little effort has returned life to a harbor that was effectively dead. While fishing off the piers may not be the greatest idea yet, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that it could be someday. Plus, let’s face it, whales are cool.

Go check out the full story here.

If you’d like to connect your blog and help spread a little joy (or snark, like I do), it’s easy to sign up. Just ask and ye shall receive. Or go check it out here: here.

Our lovely and talented co-hosts this month are
<a Sylvia Stein, Eric Lahti, Shilpa Garg, and “https://www.authorlizbethhartz.com/blog/”>Lizbeth Hartz/a>.

If you’d like to connect your blog and help spread a little joy (or snark, like I do), it’s easy to sign up. Just ask and ye shall receive. Or go check it out here: here.

Our lovely and talented co-hosts this month are
Sylvia Stein, Eric Lahti, Shilpa Garg, and Lizbeth Hartz.

~~~GUIDELINES~~~

1. Keep your post to below 500 words, as much as possible. (Wow, I totally missed that mark this time around).

2. All we ask is you link to a human news story on your blog on the last Friday of each month, one that shows love, humanity and brotherhood.

3. Join us on the last Friday of each month in sharing news that warms the cockles of our heart. No story is too big or small, as long as it goes beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.

4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar, and help us spread the word on social media. Tweets, Facebook shares, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month most welcome. More Blogfest signups mean more friends, love and light for all of us.

5. We’ll read and comment on each others’ posts, get to know each other better, and hopefully, make or renew some friendships with everyone who signs on as participants in the coming months.

6. To sign up, add your link in WE ARE THE WORLD Linky List below.

This is a Blog Hop!

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And now your moment of Zen

Blurbing. Again.

Ask any author and they’ll tell you the most hated part of writing is the damned blurb. Something about condensing down 100k words into a few sentences is breathtakingly terrifying. Spend a year or so writing and editing and then cut that sucker down to something slightly longer than the TV Guide entry for Star Trek V. And don’t forget to make it exciting.

In the latest installment of the epic space series, the crew sets out to find God.

I usually don’t agonize over words in the book, but writing a blurb is a different kind of writing. It has to tell enough of the story that the reader knows what they’re getting, but it has obscure enough of the details that people want to read it to find out what happens. And it had better be coherent.

I’m not usually one to back away from a challenge, though. In order to get a little better at it, I’ve been writing imaginary blurbs in my head, trying to make the most mundane subjects sound dynamic and exciting. My old drama teacher used to say we don’t write plays about people brushing their teeth, but that’s not to say we can’t write a blurb about it.

In the harsh white light of the bathroom, Jake Hughes found a version of himself staring bleary-eyed from the mirror. He didn’t know how he got there or where he was going, but he had a brush in one hand and a tube of something in the other. Would he be able to solve the riddle in time or was his washed-out reflection right when it told him the woman he woke up with was about to burst in and shoo him out?

Jake Hughes was a legend in the cutthroat world of competitive solitaire until a string of harsh losses dimmed his star and left him deep in debt to the mob. He was about to play his last card when a hand with red fingernails stopped him. Now, to get back in the game, he has to learn how handle the cards and the woman who saved his life before the mafia shuffles his deck forever. In the process, he might just learn that even though it’s called solitaire, it doesn’t have to be played alone.

Jessica Hayha has felt the universe’s whiplash smile more than once. Down on her luck and running late for an interview, she feels the cruel hand of fate slapping her again. Of all the socks in her drawer, there’s not a single matching pair. Now, with time running out and the smoky voices of half-caf double-decaf lattes taunting her, she’s got one last shot at redemption before she resigns herself to being a barista forever. Find a matching pair or whither away like so many of her friends.

Anyway. Not perfect, but one of those things I like to do when I need to take a break from programming. And you know what they say, if you want to get better at something, do it a lot.

WATWB – Your Monthly Shot of News That Doesn’t Suck

Here’s an interesting tidbit of historical knowledge for you: America’s first “Drug Czar” was a guy named Harry J. Anslinger. He was the first commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics and held that post for an incredible 32 years. Prior to that post, he was deeply involved with the Department of Prohibition, those fun-loving guys responsible for smashing every bottle of bourbon in the country. During America’s brief flirtation with alcohol prohibition, Anslinger dismissed marijuana as a harmless weed, not a problem, harmless, and felt it was absolutely absurd that it caused violence in people. After the U.S. came to its senses and repealed prohibition in favor of getting drunk on the weekends, Anslinger saw his role in the Federal Government might be creeping to a close and did a quick 180 on the chronic. At the time, marijuana was largely the purvue of poorer classes and immigrants, so it was a relatively easy sell to say, “Marijuana users are getting high and raping white women.” Banning it largely impacted people who no one in charge cared about. It was the perfect bogey man. If you wonder why you can’t do a little wake and bake without the Feds busting down your door, you can thank Mr. Anslinger for his tireless devotion to keeping himself relevant and his career afloat by going after weed like it was slashing tires and knocking up little girls.

Another fun fact: In 2017, 1,394,514 people were arrested on various posession charges. Meaning they weren’t trafficking the stuff, just carrying. Not all were incarcerated for posession, but plenty were. All of them now have a record for violating federal narcotics laws, which means jobs can be trickier to come by. This, of course, means people have to settle for lower-paying jobs or no jobs at all. As a result poverty goes up, bringing its good buddy crime along with it. Now, you can conflate Mary Jane with poverty and crime and you’ve got a nice spiral of destruction going on. We won’t even bring up the amount of money the private prison system brings in by incarcerating people for getting stoned and listening to Pink Floyd. Money talks, cages lock. And all because Harry J. Anslinger didn’t feel like getting another job.

Of course, the recent trend – started by Colorado, which is frankly making a killing in taxing weed – is for states to start effectively decriminalizing weed. Thirty three states have effectively said they don’t care: Toke up. The Federal Government has not followed that trend, but it’s probably only a matter of time. So what about the people who got popped before the changes in the laws went into effect? Well, some of them are still in prison and most of them still have a criminal record for carrying a few joints. But all isn’t lost, states and private companies are working together to start puring criminal records for low-level posession crimes. To the tune of possibly hundreds of thousands of convictions being overturned. Cook County in Illinois, for example, is looking at expunging tens of thousands of convictions automatically. And that’s one county.

Now, all this doesn’t necessarily mean I’m saying go get baked or even that I’m planning on getting baked, I’m just saying we tried the exact thing with prohibition and it was a miserable failure. In fact, it could be argued that prohibition alone gave rise to the power of the Italian Mafia just like the war on drugs is giving power to a bunch of Mexican cartels. Too many people have been caught up in Mr. Anslinger’s desperate need to keep his job. Fortunately, that’s looking like it could finally be corrected. Without wasting time on weed, it frees the country up to deal with bigger problems like meth, crack, and opioids.

Go check out the full story here

If you’d like to connect your blog and help spread a little joy (or snark, like I do), it’s easy to sign up. Just ask and ye shall receive. Or go check it out here: here.

Our lovely and talented co-hosts this month are
Susan Scott, Peter Nena, Shilpa Garg, Mary J. Giese and Damyanti Biswas/a>.

~~~GUIDELINES~~~

1. Keep your post to below 500 words, as much as possible. (Wow, I totally missed that mark this time around).

2. All we ask is you link to a human news story on your blog on the last Friday of each month, one that shows love, humanity and brotherhood.

3. Join us on the last Friday of each month in sharing news that warms the cockles of our heart. No story is too big or small, as long as it goes beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.

4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar, and help us spread the word on social media. Tweets, Facebook shares, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month most welcome. More Blogfest signups mean more friends, love and light for all of us.

5. We’ll read and comment on each others’ posts, get to know each other better, and hopefully, make or renew some friendships with everyone who signs on as participants in the coming months.

6. To sign up, add your link in WE ARE THE WORLD Linky List below.

This is a Blog Hop!

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And now your moment of Zen

Dream Big, Sucka

Fun fact: The number one fear in America isn’t death, it’s public speaking.
Back when I was in college I competed on the Speech and Debate circuit. Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t a non-stop orgy. Rather, the circuit consisted of some fun and odd people who were just really good at speaking in public. My takeaway from the experience – other than a truckload of trophies – was a complete lack of fear about public speaking, an ability to analyze my audience on the fly, and the ability to think on my feet.
All that experience and a Master’s Degree in Speech Communication with an emphasis in rhetoric and persuasion led me neatly into my career as a programmer.
Anyway, part of competition was judging the state high school speech tournament that was alway held at my college because reasons. Some performances were great, some were abysmal, most were middle of road and fully expected for a bunch of kids that are trying to learn the art. No matter who it was or what they were talking about, I always had to give props to people who were not only willing to ignore their innate fear of public speaking, but to kick its ass and leave it bleeding in alley somewhere. Most performances blend into the background, there were a lot of speeches about banning nuclear weapons or how censorship is bad or the unreported number of people who are maimed or killed by farm equipment every year. I even saw a speech about how we need to change the metal used in keys because people chewing on their keys can get metal poisoning from them. It literally affects five or six people a year. Bad speech, good presentation.
But one of the speeches that stands out in my head was a young woman from some New Mexico high school who wrote a speech on why we should have easy-to-achieve dreams. Her general gist was it made life more interesting when you dream small because then you can achieve those dreams easily.

Interestingly enough, I see a lot of the same philosophy coming out of the indie writing community. We’ve all seen the person who says they’re happy if a handful of people read and enjoy their books and that’s enough of a dream for them.

I write about a book a year. I know it looks like I haven’t written anything in a few years, but that’s just because I’ve got one going through publication and another I’m editing. My average still hits right around a book a year, you’re just going to have to wait until next year to read the new one. A year doesn’t seem all that long, but it takes hundreds of hours to pull a book together, write it, edit it, leave it alone for a while, edit it again, get it read, edit it again, format it, edit it again, and get it out to publishers. After all that work, would you be happy with having a few people read and enjoy it? Of course not. I want the world to read it and enjoy. Preferably multiple worlds. That’s my dream. Having a handful of people read and enjoy something I wrote is great, don’t get me wrong, but having that as your dream is like setting a goal of getting the dishes into the sink every night.
So this is a little shout out to the indie writing community. Y’all are awesome. Don’t be afraid to dream big. Imagine the thrill of writing that best-selling novel instead of the thrill of just getting the dishes done. And don’t tell me it can’t be done or there’s too much competition or piracy or whatever. Quit looking for reasons why you can’t and start looking for reasons why you can.

Dreams are meant to be big. They’re meant to be grandiose and amazing. They’re the things we strive for and, if they’re important enough to us, the things we find a way to make happen. Don’t fret about chewing on keys and don’t waste your time with tiny dreams of getting to work on time or getting a raise or a better house. Dream of your work being you and your book. Dream of owning a drug-dealer-esque mansion filled with samurai armor and a pool with a swim-up bar in your living room. Go nuts. Then find a way to make it happen and instead of this:

You’ll have this:

Now go do it.