On Baltimore…

I’m an idiot for posting this. My only request is, if you read this Baltimore opinion, you take the time to read it straight through and process some of the twists and turns. I hope you find it constructive rather than destructive.

You will find that this opinion on the matter addresses and validates points on both “sides.” I phrase it in this manner because it appears, as it so often does with social and political issues, that people are trying to group themselves on one side or another, doing their best to solely support their viewpoint while discrediting or ignoring opposing points. This opinion touches upon rights and wrongs within both of these worldviews, and combines aspects to form my thoughts.

Here we go…

It is entirely possible to condemn the violence and looting happening in Baltimore while acknowledging the legitimate reason that it is occurring. Let me first start by expressing my view on the rioting: violence never has been, and is currently not the solution. Everyone who is causing such destruction should be condemned and held responsible for their actions. What some of these people are choosing to do is despicable and contrary to the principles one of greatest civil rights activists in the history of the world, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. laid forth.

However,

We must question why this violence is occurring. Anyone who thinks this is solely because of one murder is shortsighted and is missing the point. Freddie Gray was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Could so many people be inspired to violence, to chaos because of one single act? What is happening in Baltimore is a result of the frustration that comes from systematic alienation and discrimination. These people grow up in neighborhoods that are viewed as separate and lesser by society. They are not given the same educational or career opportunities. Their culture, pattern of speech, and values are looked at as lesser. Many of these people have lived through countless acts of prejudice and discrimination, large and small. Many cannot conceptualize just how dehumanizing and infuriating it must be to receive looks or hear comments on almost a daily basis. I have heard and seen so many awful things….and that’s just what I have witnessed. I cannot imagine how often some people have to deal with rude looks, comments, and assumptions, all of which that tell them they are “different.” They are put in a box and judged because of their looks. They are grouped in with the negative stereotypes the media portrays. How does that make them feel about society, about the ruling structure? Do they feel they have a voice? That they are represented? That who they actually are is cared about? That they are cared about when their schools receive no funding, when their infrastructure is crumbling?

You take people who have that lived experience in a nation with a rich history of racial violence and discrimination and one thousand percent get why they are out there rioting. They are sick of people like them being targeted by police because of how they look. They are sick of excessive force more often happening to the African American population (which, statistics say is true). They are sick of being treated as second class citizens, as less than people, and as being disposable. This is occurring because these people are fed up over years of systemic oppression and they don’t know what to do. They are mad as hell and they don’t want to take it anymore.

Now…

Because I think I understand why this is happening does not mean I condone it. Some of the people out there may be the troublemakers and vandals, just looking to take advantage of the chaos, but I suspect even most of the criminal actions are rooted in a sense of anger at the powers that be, a sense of alienation and hopelessness. We are different, we are treated as less, and we’re sick of it. We don’t know what to do besides release our anger.

This is a symptom of a broken system, of a nation that has to look in the mirror and see we still have so much progress to make. Their still isn’t equality in this nation. There still is institutional racism. We have made progress, but that doesn’t mean the work is done. There is still a long ways to go to equality in this nation. But here’s the kicker folks…

Black lives matter. Blue lives matter. The media is the devil in this situation. The media portrays the only cops who use excessive force and cause deaths and rarely the vast majority who protect and serve and promote harmony. The media portrays the rioters, looters, and criminals, instead of the black community members protesting peacefully and working to clean up the city in the wake of all of this havoc.

And do you know what this does?

It continues this fucking vicious cycle that our nation is stuck in. Because people who support the system as it is and the police see images of rioting blacks destroying their town, see images of senseless violence, and use this to affirm their preconceptions. Other people see images of police officers killing black citizens and use this to affirm their preconceptions about cops and white society.

The media portrays the extremes for ratings. There is no moral obligation. Two fighting sides and two opposing viewpoints draw ratings. Shock value brings viewership.

And this is fucked up. You know why? Because we’re people. We’re Americans. So many of those cops and so many of those protesters are people with families that just want to make a living and be happy. So many of them aren’t racist and don’t hate each other, but the media focuses on those who do, and the rest of us, who aren’t involved in the situation (and may not be involved in many situations involving race) come up with armchair quarterback opinions and misconceptions based upon these portrayals, as if we can understand the plight and viewpoint of another population raised in an entirely different socioeconomic situation…

It’s insane.

MLK set an example of how to bridge racial relations, of how to lay the groundwork for cooperation and equality through dedicated protest but nonviolence. We need more leaders like him, in both the black and white communities in our nation. Leaders who are willing to reach out and understand other viewpoints and lived experiences. Leaders who are willing to rally people of similar life experiences to help foster understanding, cooperation, and joint growth. Because what’s happening in Baltimore is a travesty. The actions of the rioters are not only unacceptable and horrid, but they only further the divide and make the cause of equality more difficult to obtain. People who are unable to see or understand the plight of the African American in this nation will see these images and they will affirm their prejudiced viewpoints. I’ve already read and heard horribly racist, dehumanizing comments using the footage as “evidence.” What’s sickening about that is how it reveals the level of racism that still exists (even among whites who are not actively attempting to oppress African Americans, but still hold preconceptions) but it also shows how so much of what we think about people is based upon a skewed view of such a small segment of the population. Those rioters, those ones causing that damage, they are a product of a troubled environment rooted in a flawed system. They are not right in what they do but we must understand they don’t represent all African Americans.

So my point, put simply, is this: I do not condone the rioting occurring in Baltimore, but recognize that it’s existence indicates the failure of our social political system to ensure inclusion, opportunity, and equality for all. Violence is not the answer, and those people causing that property damage are only making this entire situation worse. They must be stopped. However, we cannot let the portrayals of these people by the media divide us further as people. Do not let images of rioters confirm racism. Do not let images of rioters undermine the real struggle faced by African Americans today. Support and love black lives and blue lives, because there are countless African Americans and police officers who enrich our great nation and make it a better place to live daily.

We are all people, but we’ve all lived in very different situations. We all have lived through different struggles and developed our own unique lenses. Take a moment to try to understand how society looks to someone raised in a different area with drastically different experiences. I’m not asking you to agree with the actions or even the opinions of these others, but I’m asking you to try to understand why these beliefs and actions occur. Once you’ve taken time to do this, don’t list reasons why people who disagree with you are wrong, instead ask yourself this:

What can I, and society do as a whole, to fix this? How do we better America? Because everything is is self serving argumentative bullshit aimed at validating one’s self and viewpoint. So many of us would rather be “right” and have the other side be “wrong” than make any tangible progress towards peace, civility, dignity, and a just society. So before you go spewing hate rhetoric towards either side or viewpoint, ask yourself if you truly have a conception of how other people are thinking, why they are acting as they are, and if you’re at all apart of the solution, or just one of the many talking heads spitting out opinions that continue to keep us divided and far away from the potential this great nation has.

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On Baltimore…

Writing: Work or Play?

There’s a delicate balance to be found when pursuing a career in writing novels. We write because we are passionate, because we have a story to tell, and ideas to express. We write to inspire, to create wonder, to spread happiness. In a lot of ways, we write for us. We write to be expressed, to share, and to find a purpose, and those can all be beautiful things. I think many writers feel that surge of emotions and hope when they begin a project, those excited jitters, those feelings powered by the thoughts of what this novel can become.

But we also have to keep reality in mind.

And the reality is, if you’re really serious about it, writing is a job.

They say when you’re working doing something you love you’re never actually working a day in your life. There is some merit to this but I don’t think it’s completely true. Authors who make a living from writing LOVE what they do, but I think it’s a stretch to say they love every moment of it. I think it’s a stretch to say that sometimes sitting down and editing paragraph after paragraph isn’t tedious and draining. The author doesn’t do this because they love editing (well, maybe some weirdos do) but because they realize they have to make their work the best thing it can possibly be before it’s shipped out.

There’s commitment involved in this. A regimented process. It is hard work.

Now, some writers have writing schedules. They block out time of when to write so they sit down and work on their projects regularly. It is very much a work schedule. I am not this way, but I do make sure to constantly be thinking about my projects and finding time often to do work on my books. If the inspiration isn’t there maybe I’ll just edit what I have done instead of write, but the point is I’m making sure to go back and do SOMETHING with the work as often as I can. I don’t want to make writing a complete chore (as Palahniuk says, you don’t go sitting on the toilet if you don’t have to take a shit) but I also realize that if I am not disciplined and somewhat structured, the project may never get done or may never be as good as it could be. Every writer has their own method and balance, and it is key to find yours.

So is writing work or play?

Ideally the answer is both. We should be happy and inspired when making our works. The prospect of getting farther should excite us. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t sometimes force ourselves to sit down and look at the work when the mood isn’t ideal. That doesn’t mean if the spark isn’t there for three weeks we don’t look at the work in progress at all. If you want to be a writer, you have to write. You have to be involved, and in a world filled with deadlines and demands, it’s incredibly valuable building skills now. Get used to sitting your butt down and just writing. Get used to drawing creativity out of you when it doesn’t strike on your own. It’s possible. I’ve sat down thinking the last thing I wanted to do on that day was write and then pure brilliance came out.

There’s value to spontaneity, but there’s also value to structure.

Think about your projects. What you are writing and why, what you intend to do and why, and try to find your best balance. We have to work hard to produce truly magnificent works, and that is a beautiful thing. We will always be growing as a writer, and in that vein I think we should challenge ourselves to improve our craft and habits at every opportunity. I love writing, and I love how much I’ve evolved as an author, and I’m so overjoyed just thinking about how much better I can become and how much further I can go.

Love what you do, just make sure you actually go out and do it.

Peace

Writing: Work or Play?

The Waiting Game

My agent submitted my novel to editors at the Big 5 publishers, and I find myself playing a game I’m all too familiar with.

The waiting game.

Oh, that was the title, so that wasn’t so much of a dramatic reveal. Anyway…

Part of being a writer and pursuing mass publication is playing the waiting game, and growing thick skin as the tormenting silence is only broken when you feel the sting of a rejection (it’s happened to us all, and to me, too many times to count). I think it’s good to be prepared to wait and know how to deal with the anxiety that comes with it, so for what it’s worth my author friends, here’s my take.

Waiting during the query period is agonizing. I remember looking at my smartphone, checking my email every five minutes to look for results. I sent out queries in large batches (20 or so at a time) so I was expecting responses at any moment. Besides obsessively checking my email, I’d look up each agent to get an idea of their response times, and try to figure out if it was a good thing or a bad thing that they were taking as long as they were.

Talk about neurotic, I’m surprised I didn’t sprout a few grey hairs.

As authors, our works are very much like our children. They are something we create, raise, and care for very deeply. How they are taken and received very much affects our emotions, and thus, it is natural to worry so much when putting your child out there.

But obsessing that much just isn’t healthy, trust me. The answers will come when they come, and our efforts to glean the truth before it arrives only serve to drive us batty. I still am struggling with this (I just sent my agent an email the other day asking if no news was good news), so I get how difficult it can be.

My best advice? Put all that frustration and energy into your next project. Distract yourself with your artistic gift and make something wonderful come out of it. Fall in love with a new story, work on building your career while you wait to hear back. Just because one project is out there doesn’t mean you have to be on hold until you hear back. Plus, agents will be happy to hear you have a follow up project in the works, it makes you more marketable. Don’t have another idea yet? That’s fine! Work on editing a past project, write some poetry, or engross yourself in some reading (reading helps us grow as writers!) My point? Take this period and grow from it.

And you know? Rejection might be coming, but don’t let that derail you. Sometimes our current projects are just practice (Stephen King says the first million words are just practice) so if you’re putting your time in, developing new projects, and even learning how to query properly, this is all time well spent. I have multiple novels on the shelf (I tried querying all of my works) and you know, despite the fact I have an agent, two of my early works, honestly, probably will never make it out there. I love them, and am glad I wrote them (great practice) but I don’t think they are going to cut it.

And that’s okay.

As an author you will likely have a writing career, so don’t get caught up on one project. Who you are and the stories you have to tell are much grander than that. I have written 6 novels, and I only landed agents for two of them And even after landing my agent for my latest project, I’m still playing the waiting game! And still dealing with rejections!

It’s all a process, and I’m grateful to keep learning as I go on. Right now I’m preoccupying myself by diving into my latest work with great results (I’ve posted some excerpts) So this is energy well used.

And I’ll end on a humorous note. You know, sometimes it takes a long long long long time for agents to get back to you…

I just got a response on partial request I sent out to an agent…

When I sent the partial 14 months ago. For a different project. This rejection was a long long long long time coming!

Keep your chin up and keep writing friends. I’ll be sure to keep you all updated on the status of Murderers Anonymous.

Peace

The Waiting Game

Normal?

“Normal?” Laura asks, not averting her eyes from the road. “And just what is normal? Is normal the type of life where you’re constantly insecure of your body? Of who you are in a relationship with? Of how your house looks in comparison to the neighbor’s? Of what kind of job you have or what type of car you drive? Of what other people think of your children? Are these normal concerns? Because to me these sound like neurotic concerns, obsessive fixations on the most insignificant of details, the most desperate attempts to be validated by the outside world. Normal sounds like every fucked up person agreeing on what it’s okay to be fucked up about rather than striving for a little change. That’s it, you know what normal is? The enemy of progress, the bane of innovation, the cancer to the human spirit. You show me normal you show me mediocrity, you show me genius and you show me someone who dared to defy the standard. Normal is the blanket we think has been keeping us safe, but that’s actually been smothering us all while.”

Normal?

A “Romantic” Excerpt

Here’s an excerpt from my work in progress, Terminal, about a nurse’s aide who takes control of his own life by murdering patients. I’ll be sure to update you on the state of Murderers Anonymous (being shopped by my agent) as info comes in! Pardon the rough state of the writing, it’s still in it’s early drafts, but I like the feel to this scene:

“Sartre said the fear we get when we look over a ledge or stand atop something tall is not the fear of falling,” Laura says, “But the fear that we’re going to jump.”

We’re standing on the stone railing of the bridge, looking down into the dark scar of a river below. The water shimmers only slightly, casting the occasional faint twinkle through the abyss below.

“The fear that we won’t be able to stop it?” I ask. My body rocks back and forth.

Laura nods. “The fear that our anguish will take over and we’ll do what we secretly want to.”

The Delaware River lurks below. We’d driven nearly a half hour to get to this remote bridge on a state route in the middle of nowhere. It crossed the river, linking New York and Pennsylvania, but with no nearby towns or buildings, there wasn’t a car or person in sight. It was just us and the night.

And the drop.

I estimate it’s about eighty feet.

“What are we doing here?” I ask as if I don’t already know.

Laura smiles. “We’re jumping, silly.”

Falling into a body of water from a height of 150 feet has an approximately a 98% mortality rate. While falling from lesser heights increases the chances of survival, there are still a multitude of variables to consider when evaluating whether or not a fall will be deadly. Angle of entry to the water, possible loss of consciousness, swimming ability, and the body’s penchant to go into a state of shock are among the factors that can contribute to death. If one hits the water at a poor angle for example (see: belly flop) the high rate of speed the body is traveling (see: high way speed limits) will result in the an incredible amount of force taken by the body as it hits the water (see: concrete wall), resulting in broken limbs, ruptured organs, or a loss of consciousness, all hindering the ability to swim and thus resulting in death.

And this is all considering the water is deep enough to accommodate you; you might just splash right through it to the rocky bottom, breaking yourself into pieces (see: splat).

“This is a unique first date,” I muse. A cold draft of wind ruffles my hair, and I consider the temperature factor as well. It’s about fifty-five degrees out, with the water possibly near freezing. There was a chance that could get us as well (see: hypothermia).

Laura turns to me, her eyes showing the same fleeting twinkle as the dark water below. “Isn’t it just? This is what life is about.”

“Do tell,” I say.

Laura takes a deep breath before telling me that the only thing that gives life value is death.

“Without death, nothing is sacred. Nothing in life has value because we’ll never lose it. There’s no clock, no pressing reason to have moments or experiences. No reason to make memories with loved ones. Life breeds complacency.”

She goes on to tell me about how infinite life would be a curse, not life at all.

“If we have enough time to do everything, we’ll never do anything,” she says. “There’s no impetus, nor is there a sense of wonder. You live long enough you see everything.”

She goes on to explain how death is a blessing, the state of non-being that shows us how fortunate we are to have, that encourages us to appreciate and grow while we can.

“Deadlines are the bastion of human progress. They are what drives the engine of humanity. And every death we experience is a lesson,” she stresses. “We learn lessons from people’s lives and apply them to our own. Without a beginning and end there are no lessons, no reasons, no true joy, no true accomplishments. Death is what makes life beautiful; it’s what makes life worth living.”

“It’s the shared experience that makes us one with all of humanity,” I say.

She smiles. “Yes. Death allows us to be defined and known. It allows us to live individual lives. This is why I do this.”

“You try to kill yourself?”

Laura shakes her head. She explains she does this every few months as a reminder she is alive. She finds a bridge overlooking a body of water, stands over it, and jumps. She seeks out heights that are not likely to kill her and water with depths that will accomplish the same.

“But there are no guarantees,” she stresses. “It has to have a chance of killing you or it isn’t authentic.”

“What does it do for you?”

She smiles, but for the first time it seems truly authentic. “When you’re falling you have the time to appreciate what you have, even if it isn’t much at all. When you’re facing death, when your body’s instincts think it’s coming, you realize the wonders and joys you’ve had in life. As you’re falling time slows down, your entire life plays before your eyes, and you have a moment of reflection, of appreciation. You get to experience yourself.”

“To put yourself into perspective,” I say.

She nods. “You let go of that sense of control all of us so desperately fight for and let the laws of gravity dictate your actions. It’s liberation. You feel so small but so wonderful, and suddenly, that life you lived, it all seems okay.”

I stare down. “It’s one of those things I won’t get until I try it, isn’t it?”

Laura nods. She reaches over and takes my hand. I squeeze it, and feel warm inside.

“Have you almost died before?” I ask.

She nods. “The best part is scrambling out of the water, trying to keep your wits about you.”

“I might die,” I say.

She nods. “That’s what makes you feel alive. Are you scared?”

“Contemplative, maybe, scared, no,” I respond. In an odd way, the glowing moon combined with the gentle sloshing of the river below and the song of crickets, made the scene romantic. It was the type of date that could figuratively (and literally) take my breath away.

“If you’re living life afraid, you’re not living life at all,” Laura says as she moves her foot forward and takes the plunge.

Hands still locked together, she takes me with her.

A “Romantic” Excerpt

Romance and Metaphors

A short thought, one that may not make sense to everyone, but for those it does I think it will resonate deeply. My life experience of romance has been like this:

It’s like going to a free throw basketball competition and making the most free throws and then being told you came in last. When you ask why you’re told “just because” and finally, when you keep asking questions you learn you were never allowed in the competition in the first place.

Keep it real, peeps

Romance and Metaphors

On Extreme Writing

I write the types of novels that make people cringe. They are the types of novels that smack you in the face to wake you up or get a point across. There’s graphic violence, sex, and detailed description of perversion. I write the type of stuff that couldn’t make it into the movies. Sometimes that makes it difficult presenting my work to others. I’m a pretty positive, happy go lucky guy in my every day life, yet my novels are dark, saturated with what some believe is filth. I’ve had people wonder how a guy like me could even write that stuff.

Well, here’s how…

I believe that the best stories make us uncomfortable in some way (this doesn’t have to be grossing out or shock value) and that these stories show us aspects to society or reality we haven’t previously considered. The best stories live on in our minds and hearts and we grow along with the characters. We use the content to develop our own life lessons that will stick with us. Now, stories can do this in many different ways. The reason I have extreme events and characters in my stories is not for its own sake…it’s to convey points. It’s to wake people up to how others see the world and do. To what behaviors and perspectives really exist in our society. To what goes on around you every day without your knowledge. You might not like it, it might make you uncomfortable…

But you’ll learn something.

I find that this form is also good for satire. When you shock people with your characters and actions, they pay attention. They can more easily see the critiques on social contrivance or other’s behaviors. The protagonist with a warped viewpoint can challenge the reader and get across valuable messages.

So when I write a character who has lived through violent sexual abuse, and I describe aspects of it, I don’t do that for it’s own sake. When I write a scene with a grisly murder and provide details, it is not because I love gore. It is to open eyes, to catch attention, and make you think about some of the larger messages.

My mother read Murderers Anonymous (my novel currently on submission to the Big 5 publishers) which is filled with sex, violence, and foul language (I believe there’s 185 occurrences of the word fuck in some form, of course I hit control F to find out). I warned her about the content, I hoped she wouldn’t think her son was a perverted maniac. She told me, “I’ve been around the block. I’ve read and seen things.” Still, I was wary. How could a mother read a book her son wrote containing multiple graphic, detailed sex scenes?

She loved the book, and she loved the devices I used to get my point across. She saw the artistic value in them and didn’t think I was a weirdo. Maybe my worries were unfounded, but sometimes I still have people a little weirded out when I describe to them the type of books I write. But you know…

When most of them give the books a shot, they love them.

Keep reading, keep writing

On Extreme Writing