Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Power of Fear

No one understands the power of fear better than a novelist. No one. We use it like a mathematician uses a calculator. It is part of our DNA, part of what create, if only because we understand it to be one of the most powerful forces within humanity.

Some would suggest that love is more powerful, and certainly, all novelists try to show that love is indeed powerful and redemptive and is the better choice. But nothing replaces fear.


A character motivated by fear will do anything, and they won't be rational about it. That gives an authour a great deal of room to play with, not because it's a stupid plot device, which it can be, but because it's true. A human reacting out of fear is unpredictable, because what we would deem as "logical" no longer applies. Now in fiction, you still have to be careful, but if you emphasize how frightened a character is, you can have them do anything.

And people will believe it.

Why? Because they get it. Because it's happened to them. Because they've watched their peers dissolve under fear and respond in ways that make no sense.

Take the current refugee situation. Many people in the West are responding in fear. They are saying things about the refugees that have no basis in fact. But facts don't matter when someone is scared. Think about it. That horrible little group of ignorant murderers called ISIS has everyone dancing. And not in a good way. They have Christians suggesting that poor women and children should be denied a home. They have kind people suggesting that the world has changed, so no, they won't help anyone either. They have people who have never cared about the plight of any foreigner being given a huge microphone.


The power of fear.

Fear is, without question, the easiest and quickest way to control people.

Again, this is something every artist knows, but in the realm of the novelist, it is an ancient truth. The simplest stories, those of serial killers and yes, terrorists, expound on this like its playday at an elementary school. But even the more complex works rely on fear as a driving force within their works.

The problem, at least in real life, is that most of these stories are false. Most of the memes and anecdotes regarding ISIS and the terrorists have no basis in truth. And yet, people spread them anyway. They don't care if the stories are true. They don't care if the facts don't match up with the truth. They don't care if they're being led like bulls with a nose ring to be slaughtered. They don't care because they are afraid, and once you get people scared, you can do whatever you want.

The irony is that most of these people claim to be tough. They want more guns. More military. More freedom to do whatever the hell they want when it comes to protecting themselves.

And yet... they're full of shit. The same people who advocate for guns want no part of starving children and women and refugees due to the minuscule chance that one of those people may turn against them. That such a thing is illogical (A Visa makes FAR more sense for a terrorist) has no impact on them. Why?

Because they are afraid.

That's the contradiction. The ones who advocate most fiercely for guns and violence are cowards. This is the power of fear.  The ones who act macho and with so much swagger and scoff at "bleeding heart liberals," are the biggest cowards you'll ever find.

Why? Because they've been raised in fear. Soaked in it. (Why do you think they protect the 'right' to not only bear "arms," but carry automatic weapons. Because they're tough?) They are more worried about protecting themselves then listening to reason.

Or compassion.

Novelists know all about this. However, when we write, we have to be careful. The obviousness of such things doesn't translate to the page as believable. And when you write about fear, you can't simply illustrate what is so obvious in society. If you do, no one will believe it.

So while you consider your next story, understand that fiction is not like real life, though those of us who write it understand it better than those who do not. (As we should. Our job is to be observers.) We are to provide a mirror for society, one that helps us reach for more, but if that mirror is to plain, people will reject your work. Why? Because no one will believe it to be true.

You can do it, but make sure it's subtle. Why? Because most people hate looking in the mirror, especially when they're under the grip of fear.


Thursday, November 26, 2015

Why Refugees?

Note: An apology to my Facebook friends. This was originally a Fbook post, but as this is a somewhat different audience, and due to the number of emails and questions I receive regarding this issue, I decided to post it here. Don't worry, i'll have something new in the next few days!


Look, I get that allowing "suddenly" thousands of people into the country might be a bit frightening, particularly when they come from the Middle East, which, we are told, is a breeding ground for terrorists. The numbers suggest that surely a few of those people will be terrorists, right?
The answer is "no." A resounding "no." First of all, it takes years to get through immigration, even as a refugee. And the vetting process is long and arduous. There is nothing "sudden" about this process, and when someone like PM Trudeau suggests that he wants to speed up the timeline, he isn't talking about just opening the doors and letting a stampede through.


Nearly all the news regarding the refugees coming from places like Fox news is racist propaganda. The information is as true as free swampland in Florida. Most (nearly all) terrorists are homegrown. Studies have shown that. Further, most of these refugees are women and children, mostly children. They have nothing. The places they have to live as they wait to get processed are a nightmare, so is their journey here. If you were to meet any of these refugees, most of you would be out the door in a second with blankets and water and food.
And as for those who do not want the refugees here, especially those who seem quite adamant about it, what's clear is that they have never spent one second working to help the poor. I see memes suggesting we should only help the poor born in Canada. The question is why? I know many people involved in working with the homeless and the poor here, and all of them are in favour of helping the refugees. Why? Because they work with the poor. They get it. They aren't fooled by the propaganda or the false dichotomies.
There is so little chance that any of these refugees are terrorists, that to even suggest such a thing makes me question how one leaves the house in the morning. Last year, in the US, 17 people were killed by falling furniture. 4 were killed by terrorists. At some point, we have to stop allowing OUR extremists dominate the conversation. It's as if we are determined to give Westboro Baptist Church the microphone, even though we all know what they are.
There's nothing wrong with being afraid. But in this case, those fears are being fanned by outright lies. And by not doing our due diligence, we are advocating that suffering people continue to suffer. That people who are dying continue to die. That may not be the intent, but the effect is the same. C'mon, folks. Let's choke the lies, and fan the flames of compassion with what's REALLY going on. You can do this.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Twenty Years to Learn This

As a writer, I'm always interested in watching people and observing human behaviour. Which makes sense, because that's essentially what writers do. We observe and comment on what we see. But this is difficult to do that when you know everyone around you. Sure, you can observe some things, but intimacy erases separation, and separation is necessary for art.

As a result, when I'm feeling a bit burnt out, I stay away from my favourite cafes or bookstores where I'm known and go to a mall or a big bookstore where know one knows me. A place I can hide in plain sight. This form of "hiding" is necessary for my work. Here I can observe human behaviour and maintain proper distance. It also helps me think about my latest story without being intruded upon to make small talk. (I enjoy interacting with people, but not during these times. This is actually a "work time" for me.) Somewhere in this balance of observing strangers and thinking about my story, I discover who my characters are and what I'm trying to say. In this, hiding is not only helpful, it's necessary.

However, once I'm sitting in front of the blank screen, getting set to write the next chapter or the next paragraph, I must do all I can to move from "hiding" to the "spotlight." Here, they can be no running away. No part of me can be shielded or protected or exonerated. Here, I must be completely transparent and own everything that light reveals.


If you think that this sounds faintly religious, well, you're right. Most faiths encourage us to do the same thing. They encourage us to acknowledge the worst of ourselves so we can change. And that is the tie between art and religion, because all artists act as "prophets," whether they're religious or not.

Society has always looked to their storytellers to explain who we are and how we should relate to the world. This is why all religions are built on story. (Myth is story. And no, I'm not suggesting a particular religion is true or untrue, only that all religion is myth-based. Jesus may or may not be the Son of God (I believe that he is), but it is still a story. the same is true of Buddha and Mohammed and Moses)

Whether it is life or art, the message is the same. We cannot produce good work (or a good life) if we do not understand this simple premise. Look, it took me twenty years of writing story after story before I finally figured out that I had to stop trying to please people in my writing. That I had to stop hiding in plain sight by trying to be someone else. I had to write what I saw in the mirror, and comment on THAT. I had to stop worrying about my parents or my church or my heroes. I had to be me.

Yes, I know that sounds cliche. Trite, even. But it was exceedingly difficult for me to understand what the blank page meant. If i was ever going to have any success as an artist. I had to stay in front of the mirror and record what I saw there, just as I did when I went to big bookstores.

I had to learn and accept that good art only happened when the artist (in this case, me) was willing to expose to put themselves on display

As in art, so it is true in life. When we are willing to expose who we are, we instantly disarm people. Vulnerability is a weapon against all kinds of things, not the least of which is cynicism. Think about the people you know who are vulnerable. Pretty hard to dislike them, isn't it? Now think of some artists that you admire? Do you know why? I bet I do.


For nearly two decades of writing, I struggled with this. I was embarrassed about who I was and the kind of story I wanted to tell, though i wasn't fully conscious of this. I was intimidated by writers who were so much better than I'd ever be. Who was I to impose myself? To expose myself. And what if I offended people? People I cared about?

A couple of years ago, I finally let go. I stopped worrying about what people might think, and stood in the mirror for a long time before sitting in front of the blank screen one more time.

The result? In the past eighteen months, and I've written four novels. THE LAST ANGEL will be published on December 21, 2015. I don't know what people will think. I don't know how successful it will be or if anyone will even be interested in my work.

But I know this: after so many years of being afraid. So many years of worrying about what I was doing, even while i was putting the time, I finally stepped from the shadows and took a good long look in the mirror.

No more hiding.

Not now. Not ever.

The result? Everything has changed.


Whether it's in your art or in your life, be free.

Now go get 'em.


Monday, November 23, 2015

Book Recommendations/ Newsletter/ Other News

I've nearly finished my first Authour's Newsletter, which I will send out at the end of this week. When I was putting the newsletter together, there were a number of things that I originally thought I would include (like a column on sports news, maybe a political corner, etc...) but in the end, what I really wanted was to create something for you, the reader. Something short and interactive.

Now, this may change in the future, but for now, the newsletter will be divided into three sections.

BOOK NEWS: This section will up date you on my books, news or updates anything related to my work that's been published. I'll also update you on current projects and take you inside a bit on what it means to be a writer.

RECOMMENDATIONS: Every newsletter (bi-monthly) I'll recommend one non-fiction book and one novel that I've enjoyed the past two months. The catch is that these recommendations are going to come from you, the reader. Email me your own book recommendations (it can be your own work) and if I choose your recommendation for the next newsletter, I'll send you a free signed copy of THE LAST ANGEL (Due out on December 21, 2015). As time passes, I'll include different prizes, like gift cards. The idea is to expose good authours to other readers and establish a community of sharing. As a reader, there's nothing more exciting than discovering a new authour, right? So here's our chance to help one another find new favourites!

INSPIRATION: In this last section, I'll choose one inspirational story, perhaps even just a quote, something to motivate and encourage you or just make you smile. Again, this is an interactive segment. Send me quotes or stories or something that inspired you recently. If I use what you send me, I'll send you a free signed copy of THE LAST ANGEL. 

By the way, if you'd like to sign up for my newsletter, you can click the icon on the top of my page or just email me. And if you'd like an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of THE LAST ANGEL, shoot me an email and include (ARC, THE LAST ANGEL) in the subject line.


Even if you publish traditionally, every artist now needs to learn a number of skills outside their chosen field. Most of the marketing must be done by the artist, and as Seth Godin says, "we must find our tribe." This creates problems, because while someone like my friend Caitlin Galway is as talented an artist as she is a writer, I have problems drawing stick people. So creating a website (this site is pretty much just a blog, I mean a website where I'll be able to sell my books) in the next month feels like I'm about to climb a mountain. (Seriously, I have no idea what I'm doing. Hell, just figuring out the newsletter was tough.)

But it only looks like a mountain right now because I've never done it. This is true of most things. And so, I'm committing myself to forty-five minutes a day to learning a new skill. The same is true for formatting the book. Again, I have no idea what I'm doing. But the publishing world has changed, and artists need to change with it.

I've never taken a writing course. I studied theology and adolescent psychology (and business and wildlife biology) at the variety of post-secondary institutions I attended. (Yes, I'm a geek, I love school) But writing? Nope. For me, it's been twenty years at the Desk, putting my time in, reading how-to books, and gradually getting better. I'm a big believer in the law of persistence, that if we put in enough time and really work at it, we become water over rock. What that means for this year, though, is that my website, like my skills, will be a work in progress.

Wherever you're at, why not join me in learning a new skill these next two months. Start today, and when I publish my second newsletter (On the day I publish THE LAST ANGEL) send me an email and tell me about it. If I mention it on this blog or in my newsletter, I'll send you a free copy of THE LAST ANGEL.


By the way, thank you to everyone who has shown interest in my work, and to the many people who are now reading an ARC of THE LAST ANGEL. After two decades, things are finally moving, and it's exciting. But I couldn't do it without the help and encouragement of so many people. So thank you all. And thank you for your patience in regards to this blog. As you can see, there are a number of plates in the air right now. Eventually I'll get a better grasp on how to handle them all.