Monthly Archives: August 2017

Is the Abyss evil?

For anyone who has read Abel’s Legacy, or who is likely to, I want to introduce the synthesis and ultimate goal of the entity/concept that I have labelled the abyss.

 

I wasn’t sure whether to capitalise it or not, because it was little ephemeral by design. At the moment it is all in lowercase but I guess if you’re reading the book and it’s capitalised then ta-da I was overruled by someone.

 

In Abel’s Legacy I use the abyss as the fountain of magical energy that Abel and his compatriots use. I didn’t want any attention drawn to the issue of religion, as I think that might have detracted from the message. The abyss is a reservoir of energy; when you ask for some the abyss simply requires payment. This means that no spell or ritual can be performed without a payment being made, severely limiting the scope of positive practitioners. Which is why practitioners refer to themselves as warlocks; the trope being that warlocks are basically wizards, except they use dark forces.

 

I would argue that an energy source cannot inherently be good or evil; just because the rituals require payment and not simple devotional behaviour does not mean that the abyss is in any way ‘ungodly’. The abyss is natural. What natural force would give you everything you wanted and not ask for anything in return?

 

This is what makes Abel different from his old master, Richard. Richard uses other people to make the payments for his rituals; he uses unsuspecting individuals and doles out the payments on them with little regard for how that will affect their lives. Abel is determined to limit the suffering of others as best he can, and to that end takes on the payments himself, or uses fully informed outsiders.

 

I was worried that this story might become something that deals with the concept of the end justifying the means; I’m glad it didn’t. Because that isn’t the point at all. The point is that it is how we use the energy/power/influence etc that we have, not what the energy is or where it comes from. A real world example might be that nuclear is not necessary good or bad; if it’s in a bomb it’s inarguably bad but if it’s in a power plant then the energy it outputs is incredibly useful and therefore it’s good.

 

Concluding: the abyss isn’t bad. The abyss isn’t evil. It is not a deity. I don’t even know if it’s sentient. Newtonian physics tells us that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The abyss is simply a force of nature.

The phenomenon of the fundamentalist

Fundamentalists are an unavoidable part of life. They can be religious, scientific, technological or even social. They live in a strictly defined reality and often they are predictable just as a virtue of the strength of the beliefs they hold.

 

There is nothing wrong with holding strong beliefs. Beliefs are very important, they give us context and grounding in a busy and ever-changing world. However, the flexibility that fundamentalists lack can make them dangerous.

 

Flexibility is something humans have in abundance but don’t often utilise. It actually takes less energy to be flexible than it does to be rigid; a sea wall is a lot stronger than a tall stand of kelp plants, and yet which survives better in a harsh storm? The kelp bends, allowing the waves to move around and through it, allowing the kelp to survive. The wall stands strong against the onslaught. It is the wall that crumbles if it is not strong enough.

 

NOTE: This analogy does not mean that kelp make better protective devices than seawalls. Don’t be ridiculous. Moving on.

 

When a human being is flexible, it means they are able to have a belief, have it challenged, evaluate the evidence, and then decide whether or not to change the belief they hold. This is a supremely rational process. It is also possible to hold both rational and irrational beliefs about the same topic; this is called cognitive dissonance and is relatively common.

 

When we decide to evaluate the evidence and throw it out, we are at least looking at the opposing side of the argument. We make a judgement as to whether or not the evidence presented is sufficient or coherent enough to change our understanding.



 

Fundamentalists, in my opinion, do not evaluate evidence. This is distinct from radicals, as radicals are fundamentalists but it doesn’t necessarily flow the other way.

 

The problem with trying to use what you perceive as evidence to convince a fundamentalist of something is not necessarily going to work. Evidence, unfortunately, is a rather loose concept and if someone does not consider the information presented to them to be evidence, then they obviously won’t evaluate it.

 

A good example of this is Donald Trump.

 

I have questioned his ability to rationally perceive reality for a long time, and since he’s been president my faith in him has dwindled to nothing. While the man’s beliefs seem to change a lot, there are a couple of constants, and nothing changes his mind except things he values. The press (minus 90% of it), popular people, and lunatics.

 

He might be a strange example because his doctrine is very difficult to pin down. Another example might be the Westboro Baptist Church. They have aberrant behaviours, yes, but their behaviours are consistent, impossible to sway, and passed from member to member like a brain dissolving fungus.

 

The fundamentalist is not a rare breed. We all have fundamental beliefs that form our unshakable foundation. But most of us have other beliefs that change depending on what challenges them.

Playing chess with pigeons

If you haven’t heard of playing chess with pigeons, then you’re missing out.

 

Debating creationists on the topic of evolution is rather like trying to play chess with a pigeon — it knocks the pieces over, craps on the board, and flies back to its flock to claim victory”

– Scott D. Weitzenhoffer

 

I have found, in the last few months, that this doesn’t just apply to creationists. I have often paraphrase the quotation, replacing the first section with ‘arguing with idiots’. If you’ve ever held an argument with an idiot, it is often very difficult to feel good about it. Winning is really only possible in any argument if one side concedes defeat, and both sides have the same definition of ‘rational’.

 

The only time I have ever actually WON an argument against what I perceived as an idiot was when said idiot deleted all of his comments from the thread, leaving me looking like a complete fool talking to myself about breasts and the elasticity of fatty tissue. I consider that a victory.

 

Sometimes, it is easy to get swept up with the emotion that goes into these kinds of debates. Because the idiot tends to get very fired up, so do you, and that can mean that you’ve sort of lost the battle. If you’ve ever watched the famous interview with Richard Dawkins in which a woman screams like a banshee, over and over again demanding that he ‘show her the evidence’, you might get a sense of just how futile playing chess with a pigeon can be. And, how ridiculous both sides can look when it happens.

 

There is of course inherent value in correcting misinterpretations that are harmful. Anti-Vaccine people for example are hurting everyone by lying to everyone. A small proportion of the population might believe them but that small proportion can damage the ability for society to have sufficient ‘herd immunity’.

 

You won’t always be able to change their minds though.

 

Imagine trying to explain to Queen Cleopatra of Egypt that the world was round. It doesn’t matter what evidence you gave her, she probably didn’t have the intellectual background to understand it. This isn’t to say she was an idiot; she just wouldn’t have been able to grasp the concepts you were laying down.

 

This isn’t to say that people shouldn’t try; education is supremely important. I am a huge supporter of education. Yay for school, best years of your life, etc etc etc. However trying to educate people about something relies on them having some sort of foundational understanding of what you’re talking about, otherwise if they do accept what you put down, they will still be blind to everything rather than having a considered understanding. I don’t know how to convince people they’re wrong; I can only hope someone finds a way.

Daemon Sadi – my favourite of Anne Bishop’s children

Anne Bishop is an amazing author. I’ve read almost everything she’s written and I love it. I doubt I would ever have the skill to write the complex worlds she does. I envy her imagination and her commitment and most of all, her characters.

 

I have many things to say about a lot of her characters, but the character that makes me think the hardest and gives me the most hope is Daemon Sadi. If you haven’t read the books I don’t want to spoil them in any way, so if you haven’t read them, go and read The Black Jewels Trilogy and then come back and finish reading this post.

 

I’ll wait.

 

Right now you’ve read that marathon of fantasy, and probably cried at least thirty times, I can keep going without fearing I will spoil things for you.

 

I wish I could write a character half as complete and complex as Daemon Sadi.

 

You see his many sides over and over again and usually he shows a new side, a different personality, nearly every time he interacts with a new person. I love him because he is ruthless, diplomatic, sadistic, gentle, kind, vengeful, loyal and cold. He has been treated with unspeakable cruelty his entire life and yet his foundation is so strong he is unshakable.

 

From memory there is a line somewhere in there akin to the hottest fire forges the strongest sword – or something. And I think that is undeniably true.

 

Everything that makes Daemon such a wonderful person is built into his genes and his unshakeable individuality. He is my second favourite fantasy male.

Pauline Hanson

If you don’t live in Australia, I don’t know if you will have heard about this woman. Pauline Hanson is a xenophobic anti-immigration anti-muslim anti-chinese anti-aboriginal senator in Australian politics.

 

Senator Hanson pulled something of a ridiculous stunt this week; to give her some credit, the stunt did get people talking, just not about the issue she wanted them talking about (which is a non-issue). Senator Hanson believes that islam as a whole is bad – think xenophobic and islamophobic and wildly racist and at the intersection of all three should be a little picture of Senator Hanson’s head.

 

So what did she do?

 

She walked into a senate session, late, wearing a full burqa. If this seems a little nonsensical to you, given what I’ve said about her thoughts regarding Islam, then you’d be right. It is confusing. I watched the video of her and I could not understand what her point was at first. I thought she’d actually lost the plot.

 

Actually, her point was something about wanting to ban the burqa because it’s anti-australian. A few people have pointed out that, yes, okay, we can’t cover our face when we walk into a bank, a burqa covers the face, etc etc etc, but that is not the issue people really wanted to discuss after Hanson’s stunt.

 

The insensitivity she displayed was staggering. Pauline Hanson could not have been less respectful if she’d come in completely naked or dressed in blackface.

 

Unfortunately, if you don’t already know, Senator Hanson is actually the LEADER of her own party; The One Nation Party. In the last six months her grating voice and ridiculous racist-grandmother views have expressed everything from the ban-the-burqa campaign to the time she accidentally mistook an ABORIGINAL for an ASYLUM SEEKER. The latter gaffe is ironic in the extreme considering that Aboriginals were not only here first, but in that case the ‘white man’ was the ‘invader’ that Pauline Hanson claims the asylum seekers are.

 

Senator Pauline Hanson is political poison. She is so un-Australian that we actually kicked her out

The last line

“Nathan? Evening. It’s Ashy. Wanna gather some guys and pop down here? We need some help wrangling some vampires.”

 

Last night, I wrote the last line of the first draft of Abel’s Legacy. It was profoundly difficult to write and I actually don’t think I like it all that much. This has been a problem for quite some time; I find the final lines of chapters very difficult because I often feel like it needs to have foreshadowing or some sort of strong sentiment. But that sort of ending is hard to manufacture. Many times I have found myself adding whole pages of text to a chapter just to eventually wind to what I find to be a poetic or poignant ending.

 

I would love to give other writers a solution to this problem, but I don’t actually know how to do that. I myself hesitate before declaring something is done because I don’t think my words summarise anything or really seal anything up. I found myself pretty pissed off about my attitude toward endings when it came time to end Abel’s Legacy. One of the very philosophical and slightly ‘mightier than thou’ plans I had for the book was that it wouldn’t necessarily have an ending. I thought that maybe it could just represent a moment, a moment in history, in space, whatever, that is experienced by different people who are all linked in some coincidental way. Moments don’t always have resolutions.

 

Partly, this idea came from living in a place like Canberra; we don’t have a huge population, and a lot of our population comes from outside the city, but we often have strange connections to each other. Three people might know the same priest, without knowing each other. A person might end up working in the doctor’s surgery they attended as a child. Six people who work in the same building might all come from the same high school. Things like that.

 

In Canberra we call it six degrees of separation. I know that phrase is not unique to us in any way, but I wanted Abel’s Legacy to reflect some of that. Abel and co. live in a deliberately ambiguous place. They, as people, are physically described very little. I focus on personality, rather than physicality. I wanted this to work in such a way that the characters gain a universality.

 

Now all of that sounds incredibly artististic and wanky when I say it out loud but I persist. I don’t want to come across that way and I certainly don’t want to appear lazy, like I haven’t described them because I couldn’t be bothered – I love describing things, to a fault. Trying to avoid using geographically specific language was challenging in and of itself: in Australia we call a place you park cars a ‘carpark’, whereas (according to American television) Americans call it a ‘parking lot’. I know using language specific to a culture or region limits the accessibility of the story but I really couldn’t find a non-specific noun for the place people park their cars.

 

Anyone who reads the book will note that I didn’t give anything place names; there aren’t even street names. This actually became quite difficult and confusing when describing where a character was going; I found myself having to rework entire paragraphs just to somehow not use the same word (there, here, the street, the next street, etc) over and over again.That was possibly the most challenging aspect of the anonymity and ambiguity I tried to impart on the world I created.

 

I am worried, obviously, that the ambiguity won’t work the way I want it to. I think all authors struggle to think about whether or not their audience can read their mind. I also know this book will not be everyone’s cup of tea. There’s a lot of misery at the start, gore in the middle, and some violence at the end. There’s also adultery, bloodletting, vampirism, gang membership, paedophilia and black magic. It’s a nice healthy spattering of things children shouldn’t read about.

 

But how do I finish a story that to me encompasses so much? I didn’t set out to make any kind of point about anything, except maybe the slightly laboured point that not all evil things can only be used for evil purposes, which means there is no neat ending. There is no witty conclusion. It’s quite frankly a pain in the ass, but this book is not a parable.

Leaf by bellabeat

If you’ve never seen a Leaf by bellabeat, then take a look at the link below.

 

I have a fondness for well-designed technology. I regularly look on kick starters and marvel at the designs and technological re-purposings that are taking place every day.

 

I have worn my Leaf for three days and two nights. When I first saw pictures of it online (before I bought it) I thought it looked pretty, but also pretty pointless. It popped up on my newsfeed again on Facebook a couple of weeks ago and I thought ‘why the heck not?’ So I had a look and decided to buy one. Mine is a Silver Nature one and I actually think it’s quite pretty. I thought I would wear it on the chain but it turns out the bracelet is quite comfortable.

 

I have yet to wear it to the gym (because of injury) but for day to day activity tracking it’s been surprisingly insightful. It is performing something like how I imagine a fitbit might, only it looks better and I don’t like the idea of wearing a fitbit. I don’t know why, it’s just unappealing.

 

I find one of the more useful features of it is its positive messages and the way it keeps track without being pandering or nagging. I also have a mindset where if I see something that says 10% complete, I really want to finish. I want everything to say 100% complete – which means when the readout on my phone says I haven’t done any meditation, and my goal (which I didn’t assign) is 10 minutes, I want to do 10 minutes of meditation just to meet whatever imaginary goals I have. This may seem silly, and I had a feeling it would happen, but it’s actually had a positive effect.

 

I wouldn’t have done any of that stuff (meditation, stuff like that) otherwise. I feel better. I feel more connected. I feel like the tiny device is working with my phone to help me feel better, like two tiny inanimate life coaches.

 

I am really glad I bought my Leaf.

 

 

Short Story Project

On Friday afternoon, I started a new project. It’s not anything that will ever get published. It’s not something that I ever intend to even bring into the world as a published work in any part.

It’s something like a professional development project; I take pictures from magazines and stick them into pages in a small notebook and then I proceed to write a very short story with that story as a stimulus. It’s not a complex idea. Here are some of my first attempts.

Instagram!!!!

I used to laugh at people who use Instagram. Actually, scratch that, I still kind of do, but I’m also laughing at myself now.

 

I got Instagram by accident; I posted a photo on my author page on Facebook and the new fandangled Facebook app asked me if I wanted to post it to Instagram as well. I hit yes and in thirty seconds I had an Instagram account and now I have duplicates of all the photos I post because for some reason when I post them Instagram creates a duplicate, whether I want it to or not, and saves it back onto my camera roll.

 

Since I have it, I thought it would be a good idea to use it for promotional purposes – why not? It’s just another tool – and quickly ran into some shortcomings. I’m an author (if you hadn’t caught onto that already then you really need to check in with someone because I don’t think I hide that fact in any way shape or form) and authors don’t take a lot of photos of their work. At least I don’t. I post a lot of photos of my cats. They are usually unrelated to my writing unless they’re walking across my keyboard, but they’re far more photogenic than a stack of scribbled notes about character development, pictures of word counts and shelves of blank notebooks.

 

How do other authors use Instagram? Frankly, I have no idea. I’ve almost given up on it as a medium for literary promotion to be honest, but I feel like I’d be copping out if I didn’t keep trying. I worked out Twitter – sort of – eventually, and that has proved to be, well, not a terrible disappointment. I still don’t really know what I’m doing (much like this blog), but people seem interested in some of the things I’m posting. I think.

 

Social media is a phenomenon I can understand from an academic point of view. I can understand meme theory and the way in which entertaining information spreads through the system. A celebrity can say something once and have it retweeted or shared hundred of times. Even thousands. This can be for two reasons: either the celebrity said something deeply interesting or funny, or, the celebrity said it. The problem with promotion is that us normal folk have to achieve the first thing. And even then, we have to do it over and over again to get recognition. Hence why I post lots of pictures of my cats; cats are universally loved on the internet and as all pet owners do, I think mine are truly adorable.

 

I’d love to hear your tips for social media engagement for non-photogenic professions. I know I could google ‘how to do Instagram for authors’ or some such but I hate those articles that tell me how to do it. I don’t want to follow some formula one person found useful. I want to engage the people who are already interested enough to read this article! So. You could comment below, or send a message through my facebook page, or post on my facebook page, whatever tickles your fancy. I would LOVE to hear from you.

 

Thank you in advance!

GAMMA.CON

Conventions are fun; popular culture conventions are even better. Nowhere else in the world will you nearly get flattened by a man dressed as Boba Fett, get a picture taken with a man cross dressing as Ariel and end up with bruises on your knees because a four year old dressed as Spartacus got a little too into character. And that’s just in an afternoon.

 

I don’t typically like crowds but the atmosphere at gatherings like GAMMA.CON is always fun. This year, like the past two years, I was invited to attend as a part of the ‘Author’s Panel’. Panels are like Q&A sessions about specific topics; usually the members all have a similar area of expertise and often discussion takes place not just between them and the audience but also each other. The thing I like most about panels, especially participating in them, is that while I do technically get my name out there, I don’t really have to talk about my work. I don’t have to talk about specifics of storylines and I don’t have to shout about how amazing my own work is – something I don’t believe and really don’t like doing. Panels like this offer a different kind of promotion. They promote you as a source of information; of an author, mostly separated from the specifics of your craft. The questions range from What inspires your characters to Is getting an agent a good idea.

 

As I’ve done three of these now, I have a relatively good sense of how they run. The first one was terrifying, but luckily there were a lot of people on the panel and I could lean on them a bit. The second one drew a tiny crowd but that was okay because most of the panelists got into a car crash a few hours before and though uninjured, couldn’t get to the venue. So two of us had a round table discussion with six listeners.

 

GAMMA.CON 2017 was a fantastic event; I enjoyed it thoroughly, though if I’m asked to help out next year, I hope I have something other than The First Tail to prop up in front of me on the table during the panel.

Have a look at it here