It's All Just Fiction, Right? Right?

A conversation popped up on Twitter not too long ago that left me thinking. Thinking isn’t a common occurrence for me, so my first worry was I have a brain aneurysm. That was followed up almost immediately by me wondering if I’d been a total dick and hadn’t realized it.

Normally I eschew political correctness. Not because I necessarily have anything against it, but because I feel it’s better to subscribe to the “Don’t Be A Dick” philosophy of living. That way when someone pulls a tweet years down the line, I can honestly say, “No, you’re the asshole! Very unfair!”

Just kidding. If someone pulls a tweet of mine years down the road and says, “Hey! This guy was being a dick!”, I can honestly say, “I’m really sorry. At the time, that wasn’t a thing, but I do apologize to anyone who I was a dick to.” And mean it. I really don’t go out of my way to be an asshole.

Anyway, I’m not going to reprint the discussion here, but I am going to reprint the tweet without a link so we can all start from the same page.

“When the walls are falling and the world is singing songs of doom and the record is skipping and everything’s about to go totally to shit, steal that kiss. Because that might be the last time you ever get the chance to.”

It was paraphrased from a short story I was working on. For the most part, people seemed unperturbed by it. There was one negative reaction, though. Fortunately, no one jumped on her for her response and everything moved along civilly. After a little back and forth, she apologized and I apologized and everyone went away happy.

The general gist of her complaint was stealing a kiss was wrong. To be honest, I can’t argue with her. Don’t go kissin’ folks that don’t want kissin’. Ain’t exactly rocket surgery. Just ask Greta Zimmer Friedman.

But it got me thinking about a couple of things. One is you can never be sure how your audience will react to your words. In communication theory we used a model called the Triangle of Reference to describe the phenomenon that different people will have different reactions to things based on past experiences. Think about this way: If you got scratched by a cat and the cut got infected and you nearly lost your arm and wound up with tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills and a hook for a hand, you’re probably going to have a negative view of cats. You also probably got treated in America.

Bottom line on that is words have meaning and it’s not always the meaning you think it is. And there is absolutely nothing you can do to control that. Even if it’s only fiction, words can have an effect you didn’t expect.

Which leads to the second thing. If we can’t control how people interpret our words, should we strive for avoiding all potentially controversial topics knowing full well we could be poking a bear? In other words, should fiction be safe? Or is it better to write with iron fists and damn the consequences?

I know what I think, but I’m interested in hearing what other think. Drop me a comment.

The Tesla Truck Is Gorgeous

One of the few popular posts I’ve made on Tumblr was from the set of Aliens, James Cameron’s epic tale of motherhood in space. Since time is short and no one has time to read a thousand babbling words of description, it was this picture:

Two lovely ladies

Aliens definitely pitted two devoted mothers against each other. It’s easy to defend Ripley – she’s a badass human, after all – but it’s more difficult to defend the alien queen. Some of that is the way the story was written. We’re expected to see the aliens as the antagonists because they run contrary to the human goal of staying the fuck away from monsters with acid blood and penchant for implanting their parasitic young in our chests through a process that’s not entirely unlike rape.

Turn that around a bit and you’ll see a young mother – the alien queen was probably less than a year old at that point – trying her damnedest to raise a family in a harsh environment and then a bunch of weirdos with guns show up and start shooting up the house she’s built for her kids. Then, in the ultimate dick move, the weirdos nuke the planet.

Jerks.

Now, all joking about motherhood in space aside, you have to admit the alien queen was remarkably good at her job. By our standards, she’s a hideous beast, but she was an efficient hideous beast. Before Prometheus and whatever the name of its sequel was came along, it was possible to see the aliens as the most recent product of their evolution. Critters that took reproduction to whole new levels. Amazingly tough, single-minded, and adept at fulfilling their biologically-programmed goal of making more of themselves. You can’t do that kind of thing and worry about how you look doing it. You just do it and if you’ve got an evolutionary advantage like acid blood or the ability to survive in the vacuum of space, you use it.

In their own way, the aliens were beautiful. The queen even more so. Not because of any fickle human concepts of beauty, but because they used their bodies to further their goal of reproduction like a bunch of drunken sorority girls with armored skin.

So, that picture was, indeed, two lovely ladies. You just had to get past the queen’s looks to see she was freakin’ beautiful.

Hold tight, here comes the segue.

Whoops. Wrong segway.

Last month Elon Musk and crew dropped the Tesla Cybertruck on an unsuspecting world. It looked like something out of the old Battlestar Gallactica, a brown, pointy thing with weird lines and not a curve to be found. Imagine if an F-117 had sex with a Lancia Stratos and the baby got the Nighthawk’s looks. Immediately, the world jumped on it. Hell, I’ll admit it, I took a few potshots at the thing’s looks, too.

But the more I look at it, the more I see the beauty of the design. It’s a truck. It’s meant to haul things. It doesn’t have to be a classic beauty. After all, who would you rather have carrying your stuff, Audrey Hepburn or Andre the Giant? Audrey may look better doing it, but I can guarantee you Andre could have carried more.

The world of trucks is the world of functionality. It’s the world where other people will judge you based on your truck’s towing capacity and ability to go off-road and save virgins from terrorists. Apparently, the Cybertruck can do all those things, although Tesla hasn’t published the results of the all-important saving virgins from terrorists test. But I’m cautiously optimistic.

Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that pickups were very much the realm of American manufacturers. The first full-sized pickups from Toyota and Nissan were originally shunned, but now they’re commonplace. I promise you, it won’t be that long before the Tesla Cybertruck starts winning people over. The lusty allure of not having to put gas in a vehicle coupled with the promised torque will be all it takes. Soon, you’ll see Cybertrucks with lift kits and Molon Labe stickers and bumper stickers that read “These colors don’t run”.

Just like with the alien queen, sometimes you’ve got to push past the initial looks to see the beauty. If Tesla can pull it off and make it do everything they say it can – tall order, I know – it won’t be long before people start looking at this thing and thinking, “Damn, this truck is freakin’ beautiful”.

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!

Powered by Linky Tools

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

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.