culture

The World Of The Songstress Murders: That Old Timey Religion! a.k.a. Religion, Culture, and Characters

This week’s The World Of .. focuses on fantasy gods and religions, as well as how those things can influence and inform us about the cultures and characters in those worlds, using examples from my next book, The Songstress Murders!

Remember, there’s a little less than two weeks left to get your pre-order of The Songstress Murders!

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Writing Is A Bad Habit: Crystal Dragon Jesus! a.k.a. Religions In Fiction

So religion.  Always a touchy subject, right?  Let’s get one thing straight from the get go.  You do not need to deal with religion in your writing if you don’t want to.  However, you might not be able to avoid it, so we should have a talk about using religions, both real and fictional, in writing.

Maybe you want to simply approach a fictional culture in a realistic fashion, thus want to explore said culture’s faith and religion.  Maybe you are dealing with a historical, contemporary, or future Earth and feel a need to address the faiths of the time.  Maybe you want to deal directly with issues of faith and religion.  Whatever the reason, there are some guidelines you should keep in mind when you do introduce religion to your writing.

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Writing Is A Bad Habit: Living A Little! a.k.a. Writing Research and Life Experience

As you may have seen from my Monday Musings, this week is supposedly a vacation week for me, so today’s Writing Is A Bad Habit might seem short.  Or perhaps not, because I can get rambling once I get started!  Regardless, today’s topic is research and life experience in terms of writing.  Even if you are a genre author writing about completely fantasy worlds and events, there’s still something to be said for the importance of both proper research and bringing life experiences into your narrative.

The research angle should be obvious.  The majority of fantasy and science-fiction concepts still stem from either our past or are extensions of our present.  Especially any book that still touches on the human experience in any fashion can benefit from research.  Humans work, think, and feel in a certain way, and any author can benefit from a deeper understanding of those things.  Research becomes even more crucial for any historical or contemporary fiction.  Whatever you think you know about your realistic setting, there are those who know more and the more knowledge you have, the more nuanced your writing will become.

Life experience also should speak for itself.  It’s always easier to write about what you have lived through and every author, consciously or not, invests part of themselves into their works.  However, the simplest and most pervasive element of life experience is one that is often discounted, and that is simply interacting with a variety of people from a variety of cultures.  How better to be able to write a variety of characters and understand their feelings, thoughts, and motivations than dipping your toe into the river of humanity that is all around us?  It’s even easier these days with the internet and the Information Age.  This goes beyond just reading about people and cultures.  Now we can interact with them without even leaving our computer desks.

Now, there is one ever-present pitfall when it comes to both research and experience: the desire to over-inform your readers.  When you gain knowledge, there is an instinct to want to share it.  Share ALL of it, regardless of the actual needs of the story.  Always be on your guard against info dumps and boring the reader with too much information.  Use your research and experiences to add flavor and realism to your writing, just be ready to cut back when you need to.

Knowledge and information, when applied to writing, is like any spice in a chef’s spice rack.  You need to use just the right amount.  Too much makes the reader feel overwhelmed and too little leaves him/her lost.

What are your thoughts about research, life experiences, and their application to writing?  Let me know in the comments below!  Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!

Monday Musings: Everybody Should Read Comic Books!

Welcome to the first weekly installment of Monday Musings, where I shake off the hunger pangs of another hardscrabble weekend to bring you whatever crosses my addled brain.  For this initial article, I want to tell everyone out there that they should really read some comic books already!

This may not be that left-field of a thing for me to say.  After all, I write in the superhero genre, one born from the comic books.  What’s different here is that I’m saying that you should read not superhero stuff, or watch comic-book-inspired movies, but to read actual, real comic books.  Why?

Look, they aren’t all good.  Many are actually pretty bad.  However, there are some truly remarkable stories told in those four-color pages and, more importantly, they are our modern mythology.  They are our Greek gods, our legend makers.  It isn’t ‘David and Goliath’ anymore, as much as Spider-Man freeing himself to save his Aunt May in Amazing Spider-Man #33 (websearch it if you haven’t seen the pages before and don’t be surprised if you HAVE, just didn’t know the exact source).

Just open your eyes and see that quite a few superheroes ARE the gods of old.  Thor, Hercules, Odin, Loki, Ares, and many more hobnob with the new colorful pantheons we have created.  Even more are closely connected with the old mythology.  Wonder Woman, Shazam, and countless others herald back to the Greek, the Norse, the Egyptian, and so many other collections of gods and heroes.  Our comic books are inheritors of thousands of years of tradition, history, and introspection.

Don’t buy it?  Comic books have been with us now for decades and those characters and stories that resonate with us have never faltered for that entire history.  The archetypes, the parables, the lessons those pages hold connect with the same stories man has told in thousands of ways since the dawn of time.  Comic books reflect the times they are written in, but still contain the same messages and characters they have held since their inception.

There must be something culturally vital for what began as children’s entertainment to still be so important to us over seventy years later.  There must be something critical for us all to glean from something that was considered as indispensable to many soldiers during World War II as anything else in their care packages.  Our culture, our history, our hopes, our dreams, and our nightmares are in the colorful pages you can get at any comic book shop.  We just have to take the time to read them and sort the good from the bad.

Politics and Culture: How can intelligent men turn into Gamergate-addled bastards?

You don’t need to be any kind of genius to know that I am a fairly liberal-minded feminist.  My few political posts and my most recent reblogging of coverage of the recent Gamergate idiocy should tell you that.  I wasn’t intending to write much original thought on that pile of crazy, but as an avid video game player in my free time and reading so much hatred and misinformation coming out of the mouth of men that seemed otherwise to be intelligent individuals, I found myself wondering about it so much I had to put it into an article.

How can men who have to be intelligent, who are obviously in-tune to some degree to the flow of information on the internet and in the world, be so easily duped into believing proven lies and, on top of that, to back up a movement that was founded on hatred of women?  What has made them so devoid of common sense to throw themselves behind a movement that is on the wrong side of the march of progress and history?

Almost half of the world’s video game players are women and that number continues to rise.  Do these men think that their supposedly beloved past-time will survive if they alienate half of the income their game designers rely on?  It defies logic on so many levels, then it continues to stomp on logic until it’s a bleeding, broken mess.  After that, the movement then proceeds to ambush morality for a second round of beatdown.

My first thought is that we are seeing a classic reactionary conservative (not meaning that in a political party sense, though they could be related, looking at overall Republican Party platforms in regards to women) action.  Quite often, when an entrenched group of people who enjoy privilege find that their culture and society are progressing past them, threatening their place in that culture, that group rebels and throws up every possible roadblock, no matter the logic or morality involved.  Most often, this is to do nothing else other than to silence their opposition through fear and intimidation.  They know, deep down, they are wrong, but continue to thrash like babies forced to take a bath, trying to stall the inevitable.

My other idea is that, for the rank-and-file of Gamergate, they are simply too trusting of what their fellow ‘gamer buddies’ say and think themselves ‘too smart’ to get duped.   Instead of actually looking into the issue through the majority of the world’s viewpoint, they instead ensconce themselves into the echo chamber of their friends, having the false storylines of the Gamergate movement reinforced in their minds to the point they see all outside information to the contrary as obvious falsehoods.  Here, too, their conception of their own intelligence is part of their stubbornness … to admit that they bought into GG’s lies and upheld them would be to also admit they were both intellectually and morally too lazy to question what they were fed.

So, there it is.  Those are my thoughts on it.  All I can ask is for those people who have fallen onto the side of Gamergate to wake up, stop supporting a misogynist, hate-filled cause that has made multiple terrorist threats, and, if you REALLY care about ethics in journalism, direct your ire and scrutiny on the oft-lamented connection between major gaming review sites and AAA developers.  If you decide not to do that and, instead, want to continue to whine, thrash, cry, and commit FELONIES, go for it.  The day will come when you’ll find yourself sincerely regretting your pride and foolishness.

Getting Political: What the hell, ‘gamebros’?

Reading the news is always something of a roller-coaster.  There are high points and low points.  Maybe I should say, though, that the news is more like riding a rickety roller-coaster, because at the end, I usually wind up feeling off-balance, confused, and a tad sick to the stomach, with little of the rush riding a good coaster gives me.  Today is sadly no different in that regard.

Maybe, if you’re a past reader, you will notice that I am something of a feminist.  I feel strongly about women’s issues and am not afraid to have my voice counted among others who share my beliefs.  Naturally, for whatever reason, I am a life-long fan of some things that do not normally fit into the feminist toolbox: comic books, video games, and pro wrestling.  All of those things have had more than a few problems in the realm of women’s issues, especially in the realm of sexist depictions and attitudes towards women in the industry.

So suffice it to say I’m pretty damn appalled at the actions of those who think that ‘Social Justice Warriors’ (which as a name is really quite awesome … please call me a Social Justice Warrior!) are ‘ruining’ video games and that they have to ‘fight back’ against their ‘oppressors’, which amounts of petty death threats, ruining reputations with false information, theft and distribution of personal information, and a host of other disgusting acts, quite a few of which are actual, you know, CRIMES.  ‘Gamebros’, grow up.  Seriously.

Whether you realize it or not, you are doing a fine job not at saving video games, but ruining them.  Gaming has the potential to be an incredible new media, at least as highly regarded as film and theatre, and the interactive elements present an unparallelled chance to bridge cultures and give people a glimpse into the life of others.  It should be PROMOTING equality and unity, not causing greater division.  If you knuckle-dragging fools would wake up and realize that, you wouldn’t be doing these horrible acts.  Instead, you’d be doing everything in your power to welcome the people that make up over 50% of the audience of the media you purport to love.

Instead … well … we get what we currently have going on.

So, in essence, what the hell, ‘gamebros’?  What will make you wake up and join the 21st century?

We’ve All Signed It: Authors and the social contract

I mentioned in a previous articles, as an aside, that writers are judged by what they write and how they write it.  At the time, it was merely a small comment relevant to the topic of the article but I realize that I want to revisit that and expand upon that.  Really, it goes beyond a simple matter of image, with authors judged personally by what they write.  I believe that authors, as much as anyone else who creates things for the public consumption, have a duty to their readers and to themselves to not spread certain harmful social constructs.  That sounds all academic, but it’s really something that should be common sense.

 

Books have many purposes: education and entertainment are foremost among them.  One can certainly argue that authors, like any artist, should have unlimited freedom to pursue their creative goals.  While I would argue we do deserve a huge amount of said freedom, at the same time, there is such a thing as harmful speech and what, if nothing else, is a book but written speech?  The point being is that books, like speech, have the power to spread ideas and emotion, both for good and for ill.

 

Going forward from that idea, can we not agree then that it is important for us as the generators of this speech to be held responsible for its effects?  Certainly, good works and enlightening works should be held up and respected.  Likewise, those who write harmful or slanderous tracts need to be looked on with scorn.  It is sadly easy for fictional works to be dismissed as ‘harmless’ when instead they spread harmful notions and ideas.  Sure, it may ‘just be a book’, but all books, fictional or not, plant the seeds of thoughts and ideas.  Maybe that harmful seed is ignored, expunged from the soil of the mind like the foul thing it is, but just as often it can take root and spread, plunging the garden of thought into a dark, weed-filled, and decaying morass.

 

Just as with the ideal government, authors too sign, whether they wish to or not, a social contract with the public.  I think it’s important for us to realize this and keep it in mind always.  While I certainly don’t wish to suggest that there shouldn’t be books that look at the negative parts of life, they should be handled factually and appropriately.  There are things that shouldn’t be glamorized or put on a pedestal.  There are cultures and activities around even today that, when brought to life on the page, should be cast in the dark shadows that they rightfully should be.  Rape culture, sexism, racism, injustice, slavery, any violation of human rights, murder … you may not be able to avoid them coming into your works, especially realistic ones, and there is good reason to confront these things … but it’s important to avoid the temptation to sensationalize or elevate any of these things into something to be tolerated, admired, or even loved.

 

No matter what you write or how you write it, remember what you signed before you even began to put a word on the page.  Remember your fellow man and the involuntary impact your word can have on his or her life.  Be responsible.