[NOTE: This is the first blog post I’ve written while people watch via Google Docs! It was fun, if a little nerve-wracking. If you’d like to see this process and join in the conversation, support me on Patreon!]
My friend Joseph Rhodes (of Marlowe Kana soundtrack fame!) reminded me that today is the 65th “birthday” of MKULTRA (also called the CIA mind control program). Very shortly, MKULTRA was a program of experiments on human subjects centered around mind control using drugs, environment, and other factors to — among other things — extract confessions, implant suggestions, and otherwise fuck with people. It’s pretty gnarly shit, and well worth the read through the Wiki article (and deeper exploration is certainly fascinating, but get ready — it goes deeeeep).
He reminded me of this because, in my book series Marlowe Kana, the title character uses a flying “Superman Punch” move affectionately dubbed the MK ULTRA. He felt that was a neat correlation, and that I should make mention of it.
It brought to mind the whole point of my calling her flying punch the MK ULTRA: Because it sounded cool, and because her nickname in the books is MK, I felt that in the books’ future (100 years from now), people would have long forgotten what the actual MKULTRA Program was or what it entailed, and instead just consider it a cool sounding vaguely military-related name for a badass finishing move that their favorite soldier / celebrity used to humiliate her enemies.
It’s called “Semantic Change” and it occurs when words are redefined mostly by the way they end up being used, versus how they were originally defined. For example: we no longer use “decimate” to mean “Behead every 10th captured soldier to sow the seeds of doubt and fear in our enemy” (or, simply, “Reduce by 1/10th”). We don’t use “penultimate” to mean “the second to last item in a list” — we usually mean “MORE THAN ULTIMATE!” in the same way Ultimate means “MORE THAN EXTREME” (especially in taco and deodorant commercials). Fortuitous (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fortuitous) does not mean “lucky” — it just means “by chance.” And BAE now means “my significant other” instead of simply being an acronym for British AErospace (seriously, look it up https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bae), or a Korean surname. (Interestingly enough, I just discovered that Seth Godin covers some of this in his blog post today).
Hell, even the word “Literally” LITERALLY means “Figuratively” now (even though Mirriam-Webster tries to gloss over why, it’s still a travesty).
Language is weird. But, people are weird, so it follows that the thing they predominantly use to communicate with one another would, by default, also be weird.
So, that brings me to the point of this whole mental exercise: as a writer, do I have a responsibility to use words how they were intended to be used, or how they are colloquially used? Do I have an obligation to be right, or to be understood?
This topic is a fascination of mine. In fact, it’s the entire core of the podcast I did with Joseph in 2016 called The Joe And Joe Show. The idea: a podcast made in 2096, meant to emulate the culture, technology, and authenticity of the podcasts made in 2016 (arguably the heyday of podcasting). Much the way there are people who painstakingly recreate R&B studios to record music with the exact fidelity and sound of the classic recordings, or recreate 20’s radio dramas as accurately as possible to capture the period, we wanted to show that it is nearly impossible to recreate a time period accurately, including the vernacular and terms and social meaning behind them.
Think about how you remember, say, 20 years ago — 1998. You likely remember aspects from it as they happened, in context. I can remember three very distinct cultural acts in the 90’s — the holdover neon and metal days of 1990-1991, the shift from that into pure grunge and hip hop from 92-95, and the glossy repackaging of literally any band that wore plaid or copy the Wu-Tang clan. But if television and Netflix are to be believed, anything made now taking place in the 90’s like Everything Sucks!, Everclear and Nirvana’s Bleach shared the same airwaves. People wore neon green jumpsuits while others wore plaid and cargo shorts and Doc Martens, while still others were in JNCO jeans and Hot Topic shirts.
These things did not occupy the same space. But they’re all “The 90’s” to anyone who understands “The 90’s” through a vaseline-coated lens of either sub-preteen youth or Google searches.
If you want to refer to the 80s in shorthand, you say stuff like “totally!” And “gag me with a spoon” and call people Brad. And the truth is, no one really ever said gag me with a spoon, it was one line in one movie that people satirically began using as if it was a real term (and speaking of, as if is another of those delicious 80’s-isms that I just love bandying about in conversation to see if someone remembers it. The faces that I get from both boomers and millennials is usually worth the time it takes to explain what it means).
So, in hindsight, terms that developed in the 80’s and 90’s as jokes or simple in-jokes for shows, and terms that were used in general parlance, blend together the further you get from them. No one was actually telling teachers “Eat my shorts!” a la Bart Simpson. No one really asked “Where’s the beef?” (but ironically enough, WHASSSSUUPPPPPPP! Did become a full-on cultural phrase and my God, am I glad that shit’s over).
And this leads me to MKULTRA’s use in the Marlowe Kana universe.
There are a few avenues I can use to try to explain my use of the phrase:
- I’m so clever, I can see 100 years into the future that certain terms — in this case, MK ULTRA — lose context and blur into whatever meaning is grafted onto it much like our understanding of penultimate or decimate,
- I felt like Marlowe Kana’s nickname of MK would call to mind even the most infinitesimally small nugget of memory deeply lodged in passed-along history from parent to child, such that someone thought it was a vaguely government related term and she is a military person so it makes sense,
- It sounded cool, and then when the topic of it comes up, I retroactively attach all this weight and gravity around the topic of repurposed words and semantic change to justify it.
Believe it or not, three is not the answer. I know, normally I get super self-effacing when this kind of thing shows up, but no, really, it’s 2. I think it’s a strange yet prevalent enough thing that words change meaning over time that I wanted to include some aspect of it in the book. There’s also the devilish novelty of something so heinous as a government agency experimenting on humans with drugs to control their mind, willfully being made “cool” by attaching it to a military celebrity who competes in future corporate-military games like Next Top Soldier. Much like Jake the Snake Roberts’ DDT, or Adam Bomb , who wrestled in Japan quite often (Don’t even get me started on “heel culture” in Japanese wrestling — we’ll be here all night).
So, what’s the right call? I have to go ahead and say that my goal as the writer is to be understood. I think that it’s incumbent upon me to share with people stories that get them to a point of acknowledgement, rather than semantic correctness. If using a word colloquially does that, then I’m all for it. Of course, this does not give me license to simply use any word any way I want. That’s not the point.
The point is that sometimes, meaning is fluid. And sometimes, you try to let the fluid flow where it’ll do the most good, rather than where someone somewhere thinks it should be.
So, happy birthday, MKULTRA. Thanks for being so deeply disturbing that my books’ future finds it cool.
A lot of my creator friends (including my amazingly talented girlfriend Meghan Hetrick) have convinced me to use Patreon as a platform to build my “full time writer” business. So, I drafted one up, and asked them to check it out and give me some feedback. I plan to launch it May 1, and I wanted to accomplish two things: 1) explain the mission, and 2) offer people something exclusive at each tier, from $1 and up, that they would find valuable and interesting.
Not only did they like the rewards at each tier, the mission, and the layout, they even started contributing! So, it gave me a really great idea: I’m going to do a pre-launch signup bonus!
- Check out the Patreon — let me know what you think of the write-up, the rewards, the tiers, and the offerings.
- sign up before May 1, and you’ll get a copy of The Art of Marlowe Kana – Patreon Edition, an art book containing work from cover and concept artist Meghan Hetrick, character and animation artist Casey Edwards, and the genius website art of Alex Monik!
Even if you don’t sign up, I’d love your take on what I’ve offered and what else I could offer. Any idea is welcome, as is all feedback (and of course, donations!) And thank you very, very much for all your help and support!
If you want your passion project to fail before you even get out the gate:
- Combine “Make an impact with readers” and “Number of readers impacted” into the same goal.
I have a reader-friend, Rachel. She is on her third run through the first three volumes of Marlowe Kana. She loves the main character. She loves the dynamic between Marlowe and her sister, Jen. She loves the involvement of the President and the social commentary provided in his actions. She loves the universe. She loves that I let people figure it out as they read instead of providing massive infodumps and expository footnotes and technical manuals. She’s a fan. She’s precisely the person I’m trying to reach.
And you know what? Having reached Rachel, I am happy. Very, very happy. I have also reached Luca, Jessica, Joseph, James, Justin, Scott, David, Renick, Travers, Meghan, Rowena, Brandon, Chad, Jennifer, Nicole, and a few hundred others who have bought all three volumes of the book, left reviews, and dropped emails giving me feedback, almost all of it praise. This isn’t bragging. This is an admission. I never set out to do this.
Of course, this was a hope. But for the first time in my life, it was NOT the point.
Reach is not the same as impact. Even Steve Jobs knew that, and he changed the entire world three and a half times with his projects. He didn’t set out with the goal of creating Apple computers that end up on every desk right away. He had to iterate. First, build one thing. Make it the best you possibly can. Then, iterate on it. Make it better. And better. And better. Then, scale. Move up in numbers. Get your thing into more and more hands. And this is the most important: Make sure your thing is so good, people don’t drop it once its in their hands (metaphorically, of course… accidents happen, and I’m certain there are people who have physically dropped my books on the floor, but my hope is that they’re decent enough that they’ll pick them back up instead of leaving them there).
When I started Marlowe Kana in 2015, I didn’t expect to quit my job and focus on it full time. In fact, there was a time not too long ago where I thought my days of writing full time were over forever. I was satisfied with this. I was glad to have a good job, happy to have rebuilt my life, and pleased to be able to spend nights and weekends creating and writing about a universe that’s been in my head for years.
I think that’s the difference: I never once tied a metric to Marlowe Kana that wasn’t 100% about the quality of the writing. I simply wanted to learn how to write fiction that wasn’t pallid, hollow, self-serving, or boring.
Now, I am not saying I am the best I’ll ever be, or even great comparative to any other writer in the Cyberpunk genre or any other.
What I will say is that there was a bar I set for myself when I began this project, and I failed to reach it across several iterations. The version of Marlowe Kana that became Volume 1 is the third iteration on the universe and at least seven full drafts after beginning the process of writing it. I learned so, so much writing the first book. And when I was done, I read what I wrote and compared it to my checklist for passing quality:
- The universe makes sense.
- The characters each have their own motivation.
- No one is a vehicle for wish fulfillment.
- Everyone has their own voice, personality, morals, and objectives.
- The tech — arguably the most defining part of Cyberpunk — is not in the way, and has a clear path from something existing in today’s world.
- It discusses, through the plot, all of my concerns with today’s political, social, technological, and logistical concerns in a far more constructive way than blasting Twitter and Facebook ever did
- It’s FUN.
I am super, super proud that I reached those goals. And when I started on Volume 2, I created a new set of goals:
- More clarity.
- Divergent paths for characters and their motivations.
- Interruption of core motivations and surprises.
- Challenges to the genre and to the reader.
- No easy paths to victory.
- No expected endings.
- Constantly challenging my characters — and more, listening to THEM as they spoke in my head and keeping honest to who THEY are, not who I as an author want (or even conceptualized) them to be.
For Volume 3, I iterated up again, and decided I wanted to surprise myself with the ending. And I did. The ending of Volume 3 was a shock to me when I came up with it. I never saw it coming. It just… Happened. Because that’s where the story took me.
Now that they’re written and out there, I have new goals for all three volumes — find new people to introduce them to. Get them interested. Seek out the audience that’s ready and eager for what Marlowe Kana has to say. Sales figures, traffic, and reach are only NOW becoming a part of my strategy, because I want to do this with every hour of my day every day, and I have to be able to eat.
It’s a huge, huge difference. I believe fundamentally that the goals I set were vital to the success of the series, because my definition of success was never, ever once measured by any factor outside of itself. And I assure you, that will be true for volumes four through nine as well. I will concern myself with sales once they’re done and out in the world. For now, I only have one goal for the upcoming books: Make them worthy successors to the last ones.
I honestly feel that judging how important your work is by how many people have it is asking to be punished. If I can’t make this work financially, I’ll go get a job and write nights and weekends. I will not stop telling this story, because it’s saying what I need to say, and I’ve fallen completely in love with the vehicle I’m using to say it. Of course, I hope that I am able to sustain and keep this going as my daily, full time gig (and I’ve leaned up my daily life in order to achieve that. It’s a good thing I love ramen and peanut butter sandwiches…).
But if I can’t, that’s ok, because that’s not why I started. My definition of success for Marlowe Kana is not tied to reach. It’s all about depth. And if Rachel, Luca, Jessica, Joseph, James… All of them are happy with all nine volumes, I’ll have done my job.
PO Box 962
Atlanta, GA 30030
7 April 2018
Mr. Drew Holmes
Lead Writer, Far Cry 5
Ubisoft Montreal; Ubisoft Toronto
5505 Boul St-Laurent #2000
Montréal, Quebec H2T 1S6
Dear Mr Holmes:
I have reached a Leap Moment™ in my life.
It’s a huge one. I quit my day job. My last day is April 30. As of May 1, I will be, once again, a full time writer.
I can say unequivocally that this is the scariest fucking thing I’ve ever done. Even scarier than the first time, because in that case, I had a decent selling book out in the world and a little cash padding due to the Penguin deal for the follow-up. This time, that is not the case. There is no book deal. There is no major cash cushion. There’s no plan B. There’s no safety net (There’s a little savings, but not a ton — I’m not entirely stupid, just a little crazy).
There is, however, a book series that I’ve poured my heart and soul into the past year and a half, and it’s taking off. As of right now, there are already three books in the Marlowe Kana series (eBook and Paperbacks for 1, 2 and 3), a soundtrack for volume 1, an audiobook in the works, and a statue of the main character, as well as some amazing art created by Meghan Hetrick. On deck: 6 more books (three this year, three next year), 8 more albums, 8 more audiobooks, and a line of action figures. That’s a LOT to do, and somehow I’ve been able to make it work part-time.
Those things have helped me open the door to putting together some newer, pretty big projects. I can’t talk specifics right now, but trust me… You won’t be able to stop me from talking about them when/if they happen. (More on that very soon, I assure you). But in order to actually do any of these bigger, amazing things, I have to dedicate my full attention to them. I have to stop giving 40-50 hours a week of my life to anyone else and focus on the work I can do for myself, to take me where I want to be.
So, as I said, I have reached a Leap Moment™.
Behind me on the high ground, I have a lot of co-workers I have grown to consider real friends, a solid reputation, a decent paycheck, some semblance of job security, and the knowledge that without this particular job, I never could have rebuilt my life after everything exploded in chaotic hellfire in 2013.
In front of me, hovering well out of reach from where I stand, is a brass ring. A literal lifelong dream of mine could be fulfilled if I can make it all work (I’m trying to be coy, but I’m sure you’ve already guessed that there’s a chance Marlowe Kana could be turned into some other form of media. What the fuck else could I be talking about? It’s not a sure thing, but it’s a chance worth taking). All it takes is building up as much momentum as I possibly can, springing headlong to the edge, and leaping with all my might.
Below me: no cash cushion. No safety net. No backup plan. Just the jagged, painful rocks at the bottom of a long fall.
That’s why I’ve decided not to make that brass ring my only plan. Yes, becoming a full time writer again is do-or-die. But I’m not going to have just one path. It’s just… I don’t know what those others are quite yet.
I’m 41, and have been through the wringer more than once. I’ve had several chances to fulfill dreams, and I can say with a gigantic smile on my face and a single tear in my eye that I’ve achieved them, and then lost them due to shit well beyond anyone’s reasonable ability to foresee failure. I won’t get too deep into that whole story. I think by now, I’ve wrung my tear-soaked “My life fell apart” story dry.
Very related, I’ve reached a point in my life where I feel it’s time to leave the safe little alcove I’ve built for myself in order to re-establish myself with writing for a living. It’s time to get back on the field and be my own boss, doing my own work, on my own time.
It’s going to be hard. I know this, because it was REALLY hard last time, and I had the benefit of some insulation.
I’m going to be thinking very deeply about my strategy once I leave the daytime gig, and I hope to have a solid income plan built. I think the things I’ve come up with so far are pretty decent, but I know there are gaps and I need to sort those out.
Being very transparent: I have sorted my life out to a point where I have lowered my cost of living to an extremely manageable place. I’ve paid off a lot of debt and built my life in a way that it costs me very little to be happy.
But I still need to eat, pay rent, provide for my dogs and cats, and generally earn an income. And that’s what I’m going to be thinking VERY hard on the next month.
I make about $200/month on sales of the Marlowe Kana books right now. Hardly enough to live on, but it’s a start. I self-promote everything, and don’t spend much on advertising. I just keep the site updated and try to keep readers happy with a steady pipeline of print and eBooks. But it’s not enough, not right now anyway. I’m thinking on how I can make my daily writing habit a daily income. And I’ve come up with some ideas.
First, blogging. It’s my bread and butter, and it gave me a career once before. But this time, it’ll be a bit different. I think I’m well past the days where I can be the daily center of my own work all the time, every day. It’s just not healthy. And frankly, it’s boring. There are so many goddamn YouTube and Instagram and Facebook “celebrities” who simply babble on and on about themselves and their thoughts and reactions to basic bullshit, most of it dialed up to 11 for effect because if they don’t, they get ignored.
We absolutely don’t need another talking head. Besides, these days, I’m just no good at it. One could argue based on some of my past pieces that I wasn’t really great at it then, either. I have lost whatever it was in me that made me have to chase down jerks on the internet and yell at them. Having gotten it very wrong a few times didn’t help.
Where I WAS good was in teaching people things. Teaching the internet how to win a fist fight, how to actually get a decent tattoo, how to get over a divorce, how to deal with depression… these pieces are the ones I think back on immediately when I’m asked about what I’ve been most proud of. My random bullshit espousal about topic du jour? Not so much.
So, that’ll be the focus on this blog, from this point forward: Teaching.
I’m going to open the doors to my writing process. I’m going to record a series teaching folks what I have learned in the process of writing Marlowe Kana, about how to write fiction, how to organize a novel, how to structure plot, how to build characters, how to write dialog… I may not be MasterClass talent, but I can certainly share what I’ve learned about something I’ve dedicated the last year and a half of my life to.
I also want to dive deeply into the work that had to be done post-divorce and life collapse. I used to run a newsletter for people who were going through difficult life times. I miss giving the help and advice I was able to share there, but with a day job and trying to write a novel series, there wasn’t much room for anything else. Now, I can get back to that series and open those doors again. It may be in a different format than the newsletter, but I will be getting back to it.
There are a number of other smaller writing projects I’ve just not had time to dive into, that I’d like to explore again. Short stories and some screenwriting things that were once on the horizon, that I can bring back out of the “Maybe Someday” file.
I’ll also be updating you on the progress on any Marlowe Kana related projects, because of course I will. I’ll be proud. I have to share.
Now, as for the money part… That’s still up in the air. I am still shy about things like Patreon and Kickstarter. I’ve only ever used Kickstarter once, for the very first Art of Akira Exhibit, and it went okay. But I’ve never liked the idea of asking for money up front for something I haven’t done yet. It makes me lazy and builds too much expectation for me to ever make anyone happy. Prospects like Patreon or Drip are somewhat less cringe-inducing, but everyone I know has one… I dunno. Still thinking on that stuff.
One thing I do feel pretty strongly about including is the communal aspect of writing, like I used to do on Mentally Incontinent, the blog-turned-book series that Penguin bought. I wrote 5-6 stories about my life at a time, and then the community voted on the one that should be a chapter in the next book. Clearly that idea’s been done, and also I think it just doesn’t work for anything I’m doing right now.
So, I’m considering opening up the Google Docs access for every piece I write to subscribers and letting them see how I do what I do. It might be boring. It might be fascinating in a weird voyeuristic way. It might help someone else who is writing things get through a block or something. I have no idea. I just know I miss the community and collaboration aspects of what the internet used to be, and I’m going to be actively looking for ways to bring it back to my work.
So, there’s that.
(Also, I’m back. Hi.)
Changing The World, Starting With Myself (or, Dudes Behaving Badly Isn’t Just Dudes Being Dudes, It’s Assholes Being Assholes And I Know Because I Am One)
It seems like lately there’s a torrent of revelations about men — specifically white and straight men – behaving badly.
If you think the volume of revelations is staggering, imagine what it must feel like to live day after day, week after week, as the target of this behavior. And take a look at who is being called out — the highest of the high society; the most powerful of the powerful. They’re in the news because their names are newsworthy, but for every one of them, there’s ten thousand other BroDudes who have behaved badly.
I had a conversation this morning with my manager (a woman) and another coworker (a black millennial male) about sexual harassment, racial discrimination, and other bad behaviors. In that conversation, I shared that in 1996, when I was 19, I worked in the dotcom industry and was a witness in both a sexual discrimination suit and a racial discrimination suit, in the same year. The experience left me with one huge, important, written in ALL CAPS point: DON’T FUCKING DO THAT. Not at work. Not in private. Not ever. It’s just gross.
But it wasn’t the ramifications that impacted me so deeply. It was the emotional state of the victims. In both cases, the people involved were not maliciously litigating or trying to “milk the system” or any of the bullshit that my white, straight, almost entirely male co-workers would say they were. In fact, in both cases, the victims were pushed by their families and encouraged by those of us who saw it happen to tell their stories.
They were scared. If not for the lawyers and police officers in the room during both depositions, I would have been too — and I didn’t do anything wrong. I was a white straight male with youthful brilliance in an industry that rewarded (with gobs of money at the time) youthful brilliance, and I was terrified to simply tell the people in the room what I saw happen, for fear of losing my job, ruining my own career, and forever being stamped as some sort of “rat” or tattletale.
Mind you, I was not a victim. I was not on the receiving end of any harassment. I was not a woman who clawed and fought her way as far as she had to a position of some stature only to be leered at daily, catcalled in the office, and outright sexually harassed by her manager. I was not a young black man who was held back from a team lead position not once, not twice, but three separate times, despite being the most brilliant advice giver in the group and one of the best teachers I personally ever had in the industry.
And even I was scared to open my mouth and simply say “yeah, that happened. I saw it.”
I didn’t let the fear stop me. “Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes” is a thing my dad told me years before, and instilled in me from the day he adopted me. But I also have a white armor on my skin that didn’t make me a perpetual target my whole life. I had genitalia and spoke with a gruffness handed down from dude to dude across millennia which kept me in the company of a default safe space for bad behavior to even exist.
So I told the panel what I saw, in both cases. And in both cases, the one overriding thought that sat in my brain: “How the fuck did this even happen?” I was thankful that the harassers wouldn’t be getting away with it, and I was glad that the victims had the opportunity and support to speak their truth.
But what about all the people who don’t have that support? What about the people physically threatened by a larger, or more wild and threatening, harasser? What about the middle manager who is a mother of two supporting her kids, paying rent, getting food, and attempting to merely survive under the management of a man who thinks it’s ok to pinch her ass — or, even talk about pinching her ass — because opening her mouth and saying something would put her kids’ lives in jeopardy?
But it’s not just single mothers with kids that make my eyebrows furrow and fists clench when I hear about it. ANY MAN who thinks its okay to inflict himself on ANYONE ELSE pisses me off at my core. But that doesn’t mean I’m innocent. I’ve raised my voice at people in an attempt to get my point made — albeit, I never MEANT to intimidate them with my size and language, the fact that I am a giant of a human couldn’t help but play a part in that. I have pushed and been unrelenting in my arguments to try to get my way at work and in meetings and on projects. Never once was it with the idea that I could just “scare” someone into doing what I want, but by not being mindful of what I was truly communicating, I have no doubt that I’ve been on the bad side of that equation in my career.
And this is someone who is TRYING. Who is aware of the hurt harassment and threats can cause. I wrote an article in 2012 that completely objectified and diminutized women in the geek culture mainly just to make a point that my culture — a culture I felt that I took beatings for for being a young geek in a culture that didn’t, at the time, celebrate geeks and instead picked on them — was being invaded by “Normies” and the group I chose to point that fact out was “Fake Geek Girls.”
I was a fucking asshole. And I was the most shocked person in the room when people called me out on it. I couldn’t understand at all what I’d done wrong. “These people are charlatans and trying to cash in on a culture built on passion and love, that we SUFFERED at the hands of the Cool Kids to build! What did I do wrong?”
First, I picked on women. Of all the things I could have picked on, women became the target. Second, I didn’t get the memo that times had changed, and geek culture was cool, so anyone who wanted to do something cool got to be a geek if they wanted to. Third, I attacked instead of discussed. And fourth, I didn’t admit my mistake immediately, because I was ignorant to it.
All of this from a guy who, at 19, had to watch a woman and a black man both fight through hell just to tell people they had been wrong, and swore he would never, ever be a part of that problem.
Well, I was. Not in a sexual assault way, not in a racial discrimination way, but in many many ways typical of toxic masculinity and obliviousness to privilege, I contributed to a culture that can — and very obviously does — produce people whose blunders aren’t just dumb, poorly thought out articles entrenched in a mindset a decade old, that offended people because he’s a bit closed-minded about people who are curious about and want to check out (and hell, even profit from) the cool thing of the time. That attitude is the soil that the crops of harassment, assault, discrimination, and bad behavior grows.
Even when I thought I was the best of the bunch… I was still part of the bunch.
It took half the internet raking me over the coals for me to realize, no matter how great I thought I was for being one of the “good guys,” the mere fact I was unaware of my subconscious behavior from a societal privilege and toxic male bullshit made any attempt to be “a good guy” useless.
To say I couldn’t help it is only fair in the context of pointing out that a realization had to be made. But that was in a time (5 years ago) before “Woke” was a catchphrase and “Toxic Masculinity” was actually part of daily discourse. Thankfully, I had friends and people who, although offended and upset with me, listened when I asked them to teach me and help me understand. Even though it was challenging for them (sometimes, they had to have felt like they were talking to a wall), they did it. And it got me to a point where my eyes opened and I realized just how much a piece of the overall puzzle I am.
The real work took place when I issued a challenge to myself: “Can you change the way you think? And if not, can you at least acknowledge that there’s another way to see things?”
I am going on record that this challenge is harder than any physical, career, sports, monetary or social challenge anyone could ever go through. To climb Mt. Everest, it takes lots of money, lots of training, lots of guidance and practice. But all of those things can be acquired simply by pointing in the direction and getting them. They’re tenacity based.
Changing your own mind? That’s the hardest thing in the world, because it requires one to admit two things: 1) that the mind needs changing (which often times, we just don’t need or want to admit, because why bother? Clearly our mind has worked this wya this long, and it’s only for OTHER PEOPLE that I would need to change… This is a lie, but it’s what your brain would say) and 2) the change is worth making.
In this regard; in a society where we ALL benefit and ALL suffer by the overall direction we all take it, I argue that there must be a change in the minds of every single person in this country — and very esepcially the white and straight males among us. The idea that men are “just men” when they inflict themselves on another person in any way — verbally or physically — is folly. The idea that an alpha male mindset creates victory is folly. The idea that toughness has ANYTHING to do with how much you can beat another person at anything is folly.
Being a man is not about being strong at the expense of anyone else. It’s about being strong enough to be yourself in the face of pressure. Your TRUE self. The self that has feelings. The self that gets hurt. The self that recognizes the beauty in another person and their existence.
It’s the self that secretly feels gross and dark anytime you make a joke at someone’s expense just to get a laugh from your peers, because that makes you the alpha male. Its the self that knows it’s wrong to push a woman into saying yes for anything, merely because you’re bigger and stronger. It’s the self that laughs at jokes about those things. It’s the self that is crying out deep inside you to please, God, just stop fighting this dumb war of perception where you somehow seem stronger than you really are.
I share this now, with you here, not because I think I’m the guy to change anything or fix society or otherwise put his foot down against all these bad actors who have done terrible things.
I share this with you now because I’m doing that for myself. And I hope that you’ll do the same.
As I’m sure you’ve all seen in some form or fashion, I’ve been writing a new cyberpunk sci-fi series called Marlowe Kana. Fiction in general is a new genre for me, much less Science Fiction and Cyberpunk. It’s been a hell of a ride so far, and despite all the pain, fear, aggravation and suffering, I’ve loved every second of it.
So, for my first Book Report, I want to share some of what I’ve been going through, learning, and beating my head against.
Writing fiction is hard. Like, hard hard. Like, harder than anything I’ve ever written before, hard. Up until this book, I’d only ever written one other piece of fiction, and it was terrible. In fact, longtime readers will know that it was the very first written iteration of this novel, only with completely different characters and plot. Everything else I’ve ever written has been journalism, opinion pieces, blog posts, anecdotal stories from my youth, and silly things. A few trolling pieces here and there. Some loud and vitriolic stuff. Some really important stuff about social matters, and other really important stuff about divorce, depression, self respect and just about everything else.
Thousands of pieces over 16 years. It’s only now that I’m doing fiction, for many reasons that I’ll get into in another post sometime. And let me tell you, this shit is no joke. It’s work. Fun, joyous, amazing, hard, tiresome, sometimes-you-wanna-set-fire-to-literally-everything-you-have-written-and-give-up-for-the-rest-of-your-life-frustrating, hellish, heavenly work.
First, you’re responsible for the reality of your work. Not just the physical writing – which by itself is a feat. 25,000 words is a tiny novella, and it takes a month or two to write if you’re writing every single day – and I’m doing five of those, per book, for a total of 15 volumes and 300,000+ words. You also have to get it edited, re-edited, and copyedited. If you’re self-publishing, then you also have to get it typeset, printed/digitized, get a cover designed and made, published in whatever form and stores, and market the thing. But the writing itself, that’s hard hard work. The sheer sticktoitiveness it takes to just sit down and chop away at word craft is a lot.
But that’s not even one tenth of the actual work. That’s just the typing. the WRITING… that is the super hard part.
For every single writer, this holds true: you not only have to create characters, settings, technology, scenarios, plots, motivations, story arcs and events out of thin air, you have to make them all make sense. More than make sense – you have to raise these people like children and tend to their environment like a cautious parent, if that parent was Nicollo Machiavelli. If you’re giving even half a shit, you also have to make each character independent, such that you’re not FORCING them into things, you’re guiding them there and seeing what decision they make, and then acting accordingly. And if you’re giving a whole shit, you have to eloquently describe ALL of the above to the reader in a way that lets them know what’s going on, without being some voice in their head telling them what they already figured out minutes ago. And that’s just “Writing Fiction 101.”
If you’ve never written fiction before, the first time you let someone who is close enough to you to tell you the honest truth read your stuff, you’re in for one hell of a reality anvil to fall on your head. You will be called out for any number of things you had no idea was even part of the process. Things like the three-act rule. Plot cohesion. The story arc. Action elements and beats.
You may end up hating characters you thought were your favorite. You may end up loving characters that were tossed in on a whim. And speaking of whims, you will have more whims than you ever have plot points, and you have to beat yourself stupid to keep from including every single one of them – and the ones you DO include, you have to go back and research as thoroughly as you did all of your plot, characters, tech and settings. Then you have to make damn sure your whim didn’t just invalidate something you’ve already written. And INEVITABLY you will end up altering the course of your plot completely.
It’s a lot.
Some things that I’ve learned in the course of all of this have come from reading books on writing fiction. Others from great videos from other writers and directors and storytellers. Still others came from very honest people in my life with experience doing fiction work, who were honest enough and loved me enough to tell me the absolute truth about my writing.
And that’s what this series is going to be about: all the little things I’ve learned along the way that I wish I knew starting out. Now, I am only two volumes into a five-volume serialized novel, which is my first fiction novel. I am hardly any kind of expert. I don’t want anyone to think otherwise, or think that I think otherwise. But, something I’ve always known to be true: there’s no harm in sharing information. And doing something – pass or fail – qualifies anyone to share what they know of the experience, even if their perspective might differ from someone else’s.
It is in that spirit that I am going to write these Book Reports. They will detail lessons I’ve learned, videos I’ve found, books I’ve read, sources I’ve studied (and what I have learned from them), and tricks I’ve developed to get my ass in gear and get going even on the toughest days. I hope it helps, or at the very least, entertains. I’ll post #2 this weekend, and plan to cover basic action lessions I had to learn the very (VERY) hard way.
Fight Or Flight In The Modern World (Or, “I’ve Made Everything Matter Way Too Much And I’d Like To Stop That Now Please”
Our limbic system is hard-wired to make us panic. It’s the system in charge of, among other things, fight or flight. It’s been in us since well before we were homo sapien. We are a species into the six figures worth of years of existence, and it’s only been in the last several hundred years that we haven’t had to actively participate in our own continued existence beyond the minimum effort. And in this modern life, in this modern society, it is often hijacked and used against us.
You see it on every single news channel. There’s ALWAYS “Breaking News!” And it’s always presented as if the entire world was fracturing in half over the knee of this particular nugget of information. Dozens of pretty and handsome faces have careers around framing the information that comes at us daily in such a way that keeps us watching. In ads for things as simple as deodorant and snack chips, choices are framed in a way that make us think in a fight-or-flight way: If I don’t use this deodorant, girls won’t flock to me and boys might see a white ring in my shirt, exposing my flaws. If I choose the wrong mouthwash, I’ll be despised. If I feed my dog the wrong food, they will be lesser dogs. My cat will not live more than a few years if they don’t get the Sheeba stuff. This one brand of shirt will fix my popularity problems, because I MUST run with the proper herd.
None of this is new information. We all know it, and we’ve been dialed into it for years. But what I was blind to until this weekend is how deeply it has affected my own way of thinking on a second by second basis. It’s not just the Fox News and CNNs and Unilevers and Purinas of the world that do this to us. We do it to ourselves, subconsciously, every single day.
I look around at my desk and myself this morning. I am wearing pre-made clothing I got off a rack at a store. I am drinking pre-made tea out of a plastic bottle. I am typing these words on a pre-made laptop with lots of pre-made software. Essentially, the last hour and the next hour will consist of my making pixels appear and occasionally disappear on the screen. I will get up and go pee into a toilet filled with municipal water that I pay a very small sum to have piped into my house (with premade pipes, by the way). I will probably grab an apple or banana as a snack — hunting and gathering in the kitchen downstairs from a pre-made fruit bowl filled with fruits that I didn’t have to pick myself (outside of making sure the bananas were the right mix of green and yellow tint, and the apples had no bruises).
I am a human being in a modern first world society. And that, my friends, is a lovely thing to be. Life is fucking good. And yet…
I can’t go a day without overthinking about a transgression someone has performed. If it wasn’t in that calendar day, I’ll reach back a week or a month or even years, because my brain can’t just sit still and enjoy what’s going on in front of me.
- I constantly make the trivial into the monumental. Just this morning alone:
- I yell at drivers who cut me off.
- I scream when someone rides up in the left-turn lane in front of me, and then stops and puts on their right turn blinker, blocking me in while trying to get three cars ahead of another lane.
- I flip off people who ride in the HOV lane with only one person in the vehicle.
- I get angry when people don’t wait their turn at a four-way stop.
- I want to throw a brick at cars that take up more than one parking space in the lot near where I work.
- I get flustered when people don’t stand to one side on the escalator and let me pass.
And this is all just in the first 30 minutes of my morning routine. I could enumerate many more transgressions throughout my morning into lunch, and still more during the working day until I head home, and then the traffic ones fire up again, and then I’m home and on the internet to do the work I demand means more to me than anything… But first let me check my download stats on my book or see what’s going on in the feeds — why is there only 12 downloads of my book today? Why doesn’t anyone love my writing before they’ve even had a chance to read it? Why do I even bother? FML, I hate everything, blah blah blah. And this doesn’t even take into account my frustrations as a writer trying to make it back up a mountain I climbed years ago, or as a screenwriter breaking into an industry I’ve sat near and around for years, or as a happy human being in general.
So petty, right? It would be embarrassing to admit these problems to you if I wasn’t also keenly aware of just how petty and asinine they all are. And occasionally, I’ll catch myself in the death spiral of complaining about the injustices of daily life, and I’ll remind myself of this piece I wrote about the moment the house of cards that my life once was came tumbling down and I was left with nothing.
That perspective helps. And so does this one, which I wrote a few years later about how I’d come to enjoy peace and quiet and the simple things.
So, fast-forward to now, and I realize that 4 years out from the moment my life fell apart, I’ve rebuilt it decently and the struggle has faded… Everywhere except in my brain. I get stuck in survival mode because I’m wired that way. But that’s not my shrugging off responsibility for it, as if I can’t help it and I’m just going to have to live with it. I know I’m better than that.
So today, I tried something new. I decided to start from the other direction. Instead of being caught in the whirlwind of everyday life and reacting to every little thing, only to catch myself and have to remind myself of how hard it could be (and how hard it has been before), I am trying starting from the simplest assessment of my life.
This morning, I wrote out one paragraph that sums up my life:
I’m Joe. I am a web designer. My hobbies include writing documentaries and cyberpunk science fiction, as well as collecting cigars and whiskey. I have 2 dogs, 5 cats, and my girlfriend whom I love very much. I’d like to be in better physical shape and eat better.
By breaking each point that adds up to what is “me” I hope to keep them in mind when forces in my life and in my head challenge any of them.
I’m Joe. Easy enough.
I am an experience designer. This is what I do for my day job, and in some capacity my entire career since 1995. If it’s not websites, it’s video stuff, if it’s not that it’s books, but in some way i’ve been building experiences for people since I got a computer. It’s how I pay the rent.
My hobbies include writing documentaries and cyberpunk science fiction, as well as collecting cigars and whiskey. I want to be a full-time writer again one day, but if I’m being honest with you and myself, my career has not been fully about writing for at least 5 years. So, it’s my hobby, and I do love it. It pays, but not very much — enough to keep a little extra money around for cigars and whiskey, my other hobbies. These are the things I do because I love them, and will continue to do forever regardless of who gives me permission or money (or both). These can also become the source of a LOT of my irritations and frustrations, because this is where I let things matter way too much. I have hopes and aspirations and every day I’ve not achieved them, I make myself miserable by dwelling on the lack of advancement instead of focusing on the joy. This is where the most balance needs to be attained, and it helps IMMENSELY to remind myself that these are my hobbies. I do them because I love them. Having goals around reader counts and views of the documentaries I wrote and acquiring that rare cigar or whiskey is healthy. Making it matter more than it should is a recipe for pain.
I have 2 dogs, 5 cats and a girlfriend whom I love very much. This is the reminder that whatever else I do all day, every day, on whatever project with whatever goals, I have these lives in my life and they are what matter most. I put it in the middle because the rest of everything else revolves around this core.
I’d like to be in better physical shape and eat better. I have an impulse for survival buried deep in my primal programming, and when I’m not deeply engaged in a form of physical activity, it begins to work on me. The need to move. The need to hunt. The need to compete. The need to constantly be paying attention and surveying the world for threats. When I have a physical activity I participate in daily, that energy gets let out there. When I’m eating right, I run on clean fuel and don’t feel sluggish. I know I need to return to physical activity and proper diet. If I go all-or-nothing, I’ll probably succeed in the short term and then crash again when something big happens, because it’s ALL THAT MATTERS and if some unfortunate event occurs that derails it, then I get into “why bother?” territory. If I keep it like this — wanting to make sure I am physically active and eat right, instead of “I want to be the Crossfit Masters Champion in a year” or some shit, I can keep it balanced. If I want to dial up my activities and go after a fitness related goal, great. But I’m not a “failure” because I don’t (yet), nor is that a reason to give up on my goals.
It is something you hear about a lot — life balance, keeping things in perspective, etcetera and so on. We all know the words and the general theories. I think we all come to these kinds of realizations in life at some point, in our own way, in our own time. This was mine: I make EVERYTHING matter way more than it needs to.
Not that any of this is not important. It’s all important. But it doesn’t need to matter as much every second of the day. There’s no need to wind myself up and begin panicking because things aren’t going according to a plan that I made too grand and over-important.
I think it’s healthier all the way around for me to start with the basics and work from there. Should I want to add another sentence to that paragraph, so be it. If I decide I want to be the Crossfit Masters Champion, great — I can add that in. But I need to make sure it fits in with the rest of the paragraph. And that means keeping it at the same tone and level as the rest, and putting it in the proper place. Does it come at the beginning of the paragraph or the end? Where does it fit in my life? And should I remove another sentence to make room for it? These are all questions that are good to ask, and I will ask them if and when it becomes important.
But as of right now, it’s not. What is: I do good work in my job, I write fun things that I hope others like to read, and I spend time with my family. Inside of all of that, I’d like to eat better and work out more.
It doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that.
(UPDATE: Now it’s #6!!)
I haven’t blogged about it yet, but I’ve been working for the past year and a half on a novel. It’s called Marlowe Kana, and the first volume is now available on the website for the book, Kindle, Nook, iBooks and Kobo.
Here’s the cover, which was done by the lovely and talented Meghan Hetrick:
I started posting chapters to the site about a month ago (here’s Chapter 1; you can read all the way to Chapter 8 on the site right now, and Chapter 9 will go live Monday morning), and last week finally got the ebook for Volume 1 into the various digital stores. At some point on Thursday, Amazon finally got around to correcting the price and made it free. Overnight, the book went from #99,000 or so to #51 in Cyberpunk in the Kindle store. As I write this, it is now #8. This blows me away. I did NOT expect this.
I even got my first review — a lovely 5-star note on why this reader likes what he got:
What I’m Up To With This:
The strategy here wasn’t to have a huge launch or make a big splash. I want my books to ALWAYS be free on the web, no matter what the content, size, or format. So, I decided to post a new chapter every Monday from now until the book is complete in 2018. Every single Monday, you can go to my site and get the next chapter in the complete story for free.
I also want to collect the chapters into volumes — five of them, for the first book — and make them available to folks who prefer e-readers and collected formats (and also hopefully make a few bucks on my writing so I can get back to doing that full-time). My strategy is to give away the first volume (Chapters 1-10) for free, and then release the other 4 volumes at $2.99 each. The chapters will still be free every single Monday. Once all 5 volumes are complete, I plan to release the paperback of the full story for the regular book price of $14.99.
I want something for everyone: chapters every single week for those who like keeping up with things as they’re released, smaller volume collections for those who like reading in chunks and binging every month or so, and a full book for those who prefer watching 5 seasons of a show in a weekend.
The plan was to do my work and stay ahead of the curve, releasing things on a regular schedule and letting people who are interested know what’s going on as I do it. I didn’t plan any marketing blitzes or media outreach or review strategies or any of that crap until after the fifth volume is out. I wanted the full book to be complete and in the world before I began the hard work of trying to get attention for it.
But somehow, somewhere, someone beat me to the punch, and the free Volume 1 Ebook got linked somewhere. Amazon doesn’t show you where, so I guess that’ll be a mystery until the search results in Google surface it. But whoever did it: I’m super, super thankful! Thank you for getting some attention for my new novel!
Why I Have All The Feels:
It’s been 10 years since I finished writing my last book (The one I released in 2013, Everyone Deserves To Know What I Think, was a collection of prior writing. Nothing new. Doesn’t count). As a lot of you know, my previous books were all about my life, my adventures, and my friends and loved ones. Well, most of that life is gone now. Some of those loved ones are no longer in my life. I went through some serious growth and a lot of transformation the last few years. So, when I decided to return to writing, the one thing I knew I wouldn’t be doing is the same thing I used to do, because I’m just not that guy anymore.
So, I decided to write fiction. I was once told by a good friend that writing about yourself and journalism are certainly writing, but you don’t really know how hard writing is until you try to invent a world and all the people in it, and make it make sense. And man, was he ever right. This book is HARD. And the embarrassing truth is, I honestly thought when I started that it would be a breeze.
All of my experience the last 15 years has been in spinning yarns about the zany crap I have seen and been a part of. So, it’s easy to go “And then this happened, and then THIS happened, and THEN…” And if questioned, you get to say “Well, that’s just how it happened.” Your only job is to make people feel something about it.
When you write fiction, you still have the job of making people feel… But what they are feeling about? You have to make all of that up. You have to make it whole, interesting, and real. You have to give each and every person a personality, a life, a reality. You have to make them operate with other whole and interesting characters, in situations that you invent that must ALSO be whole, interesting and real. And all of it has to take place in a world you must describe without insulting the reader, but also without leaving them behind.
In fact, my first draft of this book was so viciously ripped apart by my friends who actually know the craft of writing that I deleted it completely and started over, but only after reading every book, watching every video and studying every work I could on the art of writing fiction. And it was an act of love when my friends criticized my work — they didn’t have to be honest, but they were, and I am a better person and writer for it.
It’s been a LOT of hard work simply making this book exist, in a way that isn’t complete crap. So that alone has been a challenge. But the other half of it is that I’m doing something I used to do, but in a different way… Which means the old ways don’t work. The entire world of publishing has changed. I no longer have the connective tissue I used to have on the internet to get things out into the world (and that’s very much on purpose… Who I used to be and the connections I used to have were built on a lot of immaturity, attention-seeking, balderdash and bravado. I never want to be or see that in me again, so I had to walk away from those old places).
Sitting down and writing for days and weeks and months used to be how I made my living. These days, I work full-time again, and my writing is the thing I do on nights and weekends because I must. It feels familiar, because that’s how my career began. Going back to the beginning is tough. It feels so familiar, but it’s all completely different. And there’s nothing more exhausting than standing at the foot of a mountain you once climbed and seeing that its entire face has changed, and knowing you have no idea how to do this thing you used to do all the time is scary.
But here I am, and I’m not quitting. No matter what.
So to see my book unexpectedly get some attention all on its own… and to hear from folks that it doesn’t suck… Well, that’s certainly a recipe for a little tear-shedding. So thank you all very much for sticking with me these years, and for checking out this new thing I’m doing. It means the world to me.
Writing, and a whole lot of it. This book is one of three in the complete story. At the end of it all in 2020, there will be three complete paperbacks, which will also be available as 15 ebook volumes if you prefer. And every single chapter of every single book will be available for free on the Marlowe Kana website (where I am also stretching my wings in web development and playing with CSS animations, 3D transforms, WebVR and other really neat web stuff! If you’re into rich digital experiences, it might be up your alley!). Volume 1 wraps on June 5 when I post Chapter 10. The next Monday, June 12, I’ll start Volume 2 on the site, and the ebook will go live in all the stores shortly after. If you don’t like waiting week after week, you can get it for $2.99 and get ahead of the curve 🙂 The same strategy will apply for volumes 3-5 — as soon as those volumes begin on the website, you can get the ebook and read ahead.
Once volume 5 is finished, the paper novel collecting all the volumes will be available for purchase, and I’ll begin working on Book 2, and then finally Book 3, each following the same strategy: Free on the website chapter-by-chapter, $2.99 for the volumes in the digital stores (volumes 6-10 for Book 2, Volumes 11-15 for Book 3), and paperbacks collecting the volumes for book 2 and book 3 available for $14.99.
I hope you’ll join me for the ride!
By now I’m sure you’re familiar with the Mandela Effect — a theory which explains the phenomenon of “collective misremembrance” (or more directly, group delusion). This effect has been discussed a lot as of late, mostly surrounding the conspiracy theory that The Berenstein Bears have had their name changed at some point to The Berenstain Bears (for the record, it was Berenstein!!!!), and that the comedian Sinbad starred in a movie about a genie called Shazam in the 90’s.
The bottom line: all of these discussions center around the idea that at some point, we entered an alternate timeline where reality distorted juuuuuuust a little and all the things we clearly remember being right in our childhood are slightly off in this new reality. And I believe this theory 100%. Maybe that makes me a whackjob. Maybe I’m delusional. I’m willing to accept those realities, provided someone can give me proof that I’m wrong and making up the whole thing. I’ll even voluntarily commit myself.
But I will submit to you that we are, in fact, living in a timeline that is 1% off from core reality (or at least, my core reality, and the core reality of everyone who knows in their heart that 1. it was The Berenstein Bears, 2. Sinbad DID star in Kaazam in the 90’s, and 3. Donald Trump should not be President of the United States of America). I believe that this alternate timeline theory is legit, and it all started when CERN flipped on the Large Hadron Collider.
Think about it… Haven’t all the weird things been happening since about 2012? My theory is that’s when CERN created a micro black hole and BLINK! We got shifted into a timeline with only the smallest variances. Things like the title of childrens’ books and silly 90’s movies and whether or not leaders of incredibly important causes died in prison. You know, the trivial stuff.
But as the people from this new timeline and the people from the REAL timeline (that is, MY timeline) began to co-exist, the cognitive dissonance began to ripple. Like the Butterfly Effect, those ripples emanated out in waves that began changing small things from the moment they started, cultivating in a collective reality of Reality and Reality Prime people who, at some point, decided it was a good idea to listen to, elect and support an idiot in the White House (among many other things… Like $600 juice machines that basically squeeze a bag, and internet-connected lightbulbs that collectively take down internet service and dishwashers that hack hospitals).
So basically what I’m saying is, CERN is the reason we can’t have nice things.
WAY TO FUCKING GO, CERN.
(Also, this reality is fucking stupid and I hate it and I want off at the next event horizon, please.)