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.

We all understand what it's like to be afraid.. We get it. We've been there. We've felt our stomach churn, felt our knees get weak, felt the jolt of terror run through our limbs. We've all felt it and responded in way 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.

That is 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 play day at an elementary school. But even the more complex works rely on fear as a driving force within their works.

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. 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. That such a thing is illogical (A Visa makes FAR more sense for a terrorist) has no impact on them.

They are afraid.

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 than listening to reason.

Or compassion.

This past week, a couple of local churches got together to sponsor two Syrian families. These churches are Mennonite in origin, and pacifists. A gun would never interest them, nor does military action. And yet, in the next two weeks, despite all the nonsense about terrorism and the fear being slung across the internet like a dog's drool, two families will have a new home in a new country.

They are not afraid.

Novelists understand this contradiction. However, we have to be careful. The obviousness of such things doesn't always 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, it will feel more like a Children's story than something for adults to consider.

So when you're doing your revisions, remember that fiction is unlike real life. Our job, as writers, is to provide a mirror for society, but if it's too obvious, too clean, people will reject your work because no one will believe it.

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.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Poppies: What People Have Forgotten

My great-uncle flew in World War II. When the war ended, my dad, who was born in 1941, did what most young boys would do. He asked his uncle to tell him stories about the war. But my great-uncle refused to say anything about the war except for this one story.

He was on a mission, and found himself adrift from the other fighter planes. A German plane saw him and swept in for the attack, but as my uncle prepared to fire, something made him pull his hand off the trigger. The German plane didn't fire either, and my great-uncle put his hand out the window and waved at the other pilot, who waved back. They flew away, and my uncle rejoined his squadron.

That was the only story my "Uncle Ferd" (short for Ferdinand) ever told. The only one. There was a sacredness and seriousness to what he'd experienced on the battle field. Watching his friends die, day after day, witnessing death on sometimes an hourly basis. What my father, like any kid, wanted, were the sensational stories. The ones we see in  movies where people die and then do interviews later about "getting into their character." Or the stories that come from "memoirs," stories about killing warriors and civilians from another country during a phony war and waiting to be called a hero.

My Uncle Ferd wasn't like that. He was from the Greatest Generation, and what he saw on those battlefields he took with him to the grave. The only ones he saw fit to share stories with were others that had been there as well. If you weren't there, you couldn't understand it. And he sure as hell wasn't interested into turning his experience into an entertaining dinner story, let alone a damn book deal or movie deal.

For him, Remembrance Day mattered because it reminded him of his friends. Because you paid your respects for those that died in service to their country. That was why he wore a poppy. It was simple and solemn, and in Canada, those poppies were all made by wounded veterans.


Most of the greatest generation has passed on now. So they haven't been around to witness the change in attitude regarding poppies. And war.

These days, many people and companies and politicians use the poppy as a prop. We have broadcasters facing abuse for not wearing one. We have private contractors and supposed charity organizations making a tidy profit from them. We have people castigating those who choose to wear white poppies instead of red ones, and both groups condemning those who don't wear one at all. Abuse and vitriol, all over a simple plant that used to (solemnly) remind us about those who died in war.

Today, it is a mark on how shallow our society has become. How narcissistic. How completely un-self-aware. People using social media to scream at one group or another, because they're so "outraged."

Here's the thing: it's not about us. It's never been about us

It's about the seventeen and eighteen year-old kids that were told to go slaughter one another, and if they didn't go, they'd be thrown in jail.

So they went. Many died. And every single person who fought in those wars lost friends and family. That's what the poppy is for. To remind  us of that. To step back for a minute and think about it, To really think about what that sacrifice meant.

It has nothing to with politics or how prominently we display the symbol or how self-righteous we are because  we're doing the correct thing or wearing the right fucking colour.

Dammit, it's not about us!

And every time someone posts about it or creates another damn meme, we lose sight of the whole point of Remembrance Day and the poppy.

My Great Uncle passed about ten years ago. He never had to listen or tolerate these narcissistic burst of faux-outrage from people who, for a single day every year, still refuse to consider, truly consider, the price that was paid on those battlefields and at home. Not just here, but all around the world.

My hope is that we can once again get back to the real meaning of Remembrance Day, that we will not idolize a symbol at the expense of that memory, that when we are called to silence, and when the bugle blows, we will indeed remember.

And never forget.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


My apologies, my friends.

I have not been blogging as regularly thanks to NaNoWriMo. I'm in the midst of completing a first draft that requires 2000-2500 words a day, which leaves me gassed for anything else. I should be done Storms, my current novel, in the next week. Once it is done, I'll be blogging regularly again!



Friday, November 06, 2015

Another Horrible Mistake by the NFL

Most people don't remember this, but in 1976, when the first Rocky was released, the most popular sport in the world was boxing. It commanded monstrous ratings in both television and radio, and its leading figure, Muhammad Ali, was the most recognized and popular athlete in the world. Forty years later, movie buffs still rave about Rocky, but boxing has long since been relegated to the sidelines. Deaths. Concussions. Stars reduced to shadows of themselves due to the nature of the sport. For most of the 20th Century, prize fighting held few peers in popularity.

And then it didn't.

It will never hold the sway it once did, though someone like Mayweather can still command millions for a fight. (Even if he's a giant douchebag) He is the exception, though. Boxing will never be what it once was because of the nature of the sport. It's two people literally trying to pound each other's brain. Morally, how do you excuse that. Further, would you encourage your son or daughter to box?

The NFL has ridden the rising tide of sports and their increased value for advertisers over the past twenty years to new heights. The most popular TV show for the past four years is Sunday Night Football. NBC pays a staggering $1B a year for the rights to a single game per week. One. Game.

And at least partly due to the violent nature of the sport, the NFL has been forced to reconcile with former players and concussions and basically the human scraps that are left behind when a player retires. They've handled that poorly, as anyone who follows the industry knows.

Worse, however, has been the way they have handled the rising wave of domestic violence among its players. (You could make the argument that things are simply more visible now, but we can't be certain of that, so it remains speculative.)

Last year, Ray Rice was caught on camera slugging his wife and knocking her out cold. Commissioner Goodell, who'd only suspended Rice for two games, suspended him indefinitely when the tape was released to the public, claiming he hadn't seen it.

If only Rice hadn't been at the end of his career and could still rush the quarterback?

Today, Deadspin released photos of the former girlfriend of Cowboys' defensive end, Greg Hardy. (They are graphic) Her entire body is a series of bruises. The NFL knew about this last year, had seen the pictures last year, and suspended Hardy for four games.

The Panthers released him, but the Cowboys got the elite pass rusher on a team friendly deal, because a number of clubs simply refused to pick him up. And rightly so. Even if the most calloused misogynist who doesn't give a rat's ass about women will tell you that guys like Hardy are a PR nightmare.

Not for the Cowboys. Their irascible owner, Jerry Jones, went so far as to call him a leader.

A leader.

You can't make this shit up. I write fiction, and I would have a hard time writing a character like that,, because no one would believe it. (For the record, if you beat up women and threaten to kill them, you're not a leader, you're a ______. Yeah, I'll let you fill it in.)

Here's the thing. The NFL is riding high right now, as it has the past two decades. But things are starting to coalesce. Between the increased knowledge of concussions, the suicides of former players, The increased visibility and rampant nature of domestic violence cases and other off-field issues, the grime is starting to leak through the cracks.

Most people won't see it. They'll see the shiny new car with a hot blonde singing the introduction and the fireworks and the money. So much money. They won't care that kids enrollment in youth football is down. Or that a number of pros refuse to let their own kids play the sport. They won't see it, the way we didn't see the end to boxing dominance.

The NFL can hardly control the problem with concussions, with the exception of a few minor tweaks. The nature of the sport is to pound the human next to them. But domestic violence? Guns? Murder? This they can control. But by allowing an owner to sign a player simply because that player hads talent, even if he's a terrible human, with no regard for the impact on society, is a huge mistake.

They won't pay for it this year or next, but a reckoning is coming. The NFL may be dominant now, as boxing was, and then it won't.

And they won't even have a movie to commemorate the downfall.


NOTE: In the Deadspin article, the author claims we "can't" know what happened. Yes, actually, we can and we do. That kind of bullshit, that unless you have video evidence, means you can't be "sure" is another example of misogyny. At some point, society needs to protect women. Right now, we're doing a damn poor job of it.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Find Your Voice

The National Novel Writing Month is an organization (website) dedicated to presenting writers with a monthly challenge, once a year, to complete fifty thousand words in thirty days, or roughly seventeen hundred words a day. It's fair to say that this site changed my life. No doubt about it.
Although I've been writing fiction for the better part of twenty years, and despite having read (and loved) Stephen King's book, On Writing, where he admonished writers for not producing more work, I had somehow fallen into the deep well that believed more time meant better quality. I thought the only way I was going to produce a classic fantasy novel was to spend years on it. The book was called Second Blood. (I spent ten months alone on the world.)
Month after month, year after year, I edited and cut, edited and cut, and edited and cut some more. I wrote well over a million words in various forms, never quite feeling like it was right, though I did send it out to agents a few times. With every new iteration of the book, it seemed a little bit better, and a little more incomplete. It was like playing writer Whack-A-Mole. And with all the time, the edits began to seize my brain, and my internal censors would not let go.
If you use coarse language, you limit your audience.
If you make it too religious, you’ll scare people away.
If you make the writing or world too complex, people won’t be interested.
How can you call this a classic? Everything has been done before.
What will your parents think if they read this? What will your friends think?
Questions rained down on me, and every day I slogged through them like a school kid holding a binder above his head to protect himself from a downpour. Discouraged, worried that I’d never finish the book, I came across the NaNoWriMo site and made a decision.
I would do the hardest thing that a writer, that any artist, must do. I would cut the line to nearly six years of work and begin a new project. A project that I would write in just over a month.
As daunting as it was, I felt something loose from my shoulders. Felt myself relax for the first time. At that pace, I would not self-edit. I would not hear the inner censor. It was too much work, too fast, for any of those concerns to bother me. More, I would have to live the story. Be absolutely absorbed into it. (Two thousand words a day is like a daily three hour gym workout. It is exhausting. It is also thrilling.)
When I began The Last Angel, I started with two images. The cover of Hugh Howey’s, Sand (the picture of a desert), and the notion of angels in the TV show, Dominion. That’s it.
A month later, my story was done. It needed a few more edits, but unlike Second Blood, I had finally found my voice, the most important, most crucial aspect of being a writer.
Over the next year, I wrote two more novels in the same world. I started a fourth, didn’t like it, and started a fifth. Turns out, Stephen King had been right. And with the help of the NaNoWriMo challenge, I learned that my tendency is not slow work (much of which is excellent, but it just isn’t me) but that I need to be prolific to be good.
Whether you’re a writer or a business owner or an entrepreneur, you must find what works best for you. That is, you must figure out who you are and how you work to maximum efficiency. For me, speed helped me get out of my head. It worked better that a story was ripped from me than for me to spend months and years on the same work.
Obviously, the years at honing the craft were necessary. Writing is not magic, it is a learned craft that takes thousands of hours to perfect. But I’d already put in the time, I just needed something to help me find my voice.
Whatever you’re doing, especially for my fellow artists, if things aren’t progressing the way you’d like. Perhaps it is better for you to slow down. In my case, the best path was to speed up.
Remember, everyone is different. Part of the problem in being “slow” for me was that there were too many voices, both around me and in my head. In writing, as in life, the more clear we become about who we are and our limitations, the better chance we have to be successful. The mirror is our friend, even when it tells us that we are not the fairest of them all.