Trans Day of Visibility

I don’t often post about topics related to equal rights, social justice, or related topics. If you follow me on Twitter, you probably know where I stand. I fully support equality for everyone, and I can’t understand the minds of some hyper-conservative or fundamental Christian people who try to force their “moral” views on other people. As far as I’m concerned, the way someone else lives their life, the way they identify themselves, and the type of relationships they have is no one else’s business but their own.

Sometimes, however, I’m prompted to open up and say a bit more. Sometimes a tweet about treating other people with respect isn’t enough. Sometimes blocking a homophobic or transphobic troll isn’t enough. Sometimes, I need to step up and challenge the negativity and flawed ideas that are out there.

Today, I’d like to talk about where some people get their morals, and how that applies to their ideas about sexuality, gender, and related issues.

Some time ago, I read an article by David Morgan-Mar, writer of Irregular Webcomic and the more recent comic Darths and Droids. (Side note: Darths and Droids recently posted a comic where, in their Star Wars parody universe, Darth Vader turns out to actually be Padme, not Anakin Skywalker. That’s right, they made Darth Vader transgender, and it was brilliant.)

In the article linked above, David Morgan-Mar discusses morality and religion, and he makes some pretty interesting points. I suggest reading it for the full story, but to summarize: He proposes the idea that certain highly religious individuals believe that all morals come directly from God, and that some people even say “If you don’t believe in God, you can’t be a moral person.” He goes on to discuss how one such individual he knew went on to say that if there were no God, there would be nothing preventing an otherwise normal, moral person from becoming a murderer for no reason.

Basically it leads to the question, “How do you know the difference between right and wrong?” The way I see it, there’s two primary sides to this (accepting, of course, that there could be infinite shades of gray in between these two views).

Side 1: Individual who gets their morals from God. This person would say, “God said, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ Therefore, killing is wrong.”

Side 2: Individual who develops their own internal moral compass. This person would say, “Killing someone would violate their right to life and existence. Therefore, killing is wrong.”

This entire concept has been on my mind a lot lately when it comes to LGBT rights and how certain hyper-conservative Christian groups will so easily discriminate against others. I wrote about this awhile back in my article, “The Normalization of Discrimination.” To expand further on the points I made in that article, I’d like to suggest that if you never question your moral views on a subject, then you don’t truly understand the difference between right and wrong. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong for you to get your morals from the bible. It means that you need to critically analyze your moral views, wherever you get them from.

Take, for example, the recent issues of bakeries refusing to bake cakes for a gay wedding. I recently read an article on a highly religious website arguing that people should have the “right” to refuse service because, as they put it, baking that cake would mean they were supporting a “sinful” act and risking eternal damnation for going against God’s word. Clearly, this is the case of an individual who gets their morals entirely from the bible (setting aside how such people pick and choose which portions of the bible to listen to and which ones to ignore; that’s a discussion for another blog post).

Looking at this argument as a person who rationalizes their morality internally, there is no logical argument against baking the cake. The gay couple getting married is not hurting anyone else, the cake will not infringe upon anyone’s rights or privacy, and no one will suffer in any way by having this cake made (except maybe if they eat too much and get a tummy ache). Therefore, baking the cake is not morally wrong.

If someone were to attempt a rebuttal by saying, “It’s infringing on the baker’s religious freedom,” I would counter by arguing that the baker is not being harmed in any way. Baking the cake doesn’t hurt the baker (unless they forget to use an oven mitt because they’re so mad over baking the cake). Baking the cake doesn’t infringe upon the baker’s ability to practice their religion. Baking the cake doesn’t prevent the baker from believing that the gay couple is living in sin. Baking the cake, in fact, does nothing to the baker except for making them angry, and making someone angry is not morally wrong. They’ll get over it, and if they need a way to calm down, they can have some cake.

Similar arguments can, and should, be made for transgender rights. Take, for example, the argument about transgender individuals being able to use the bathroom for the gender they identify with. Some people argue against this, by claiming that the other people in the bathroom will in some way feel threatened, violated, or uncomfortable. However, there is no logic behind this argument. When I go to the bathroom in a public restroom, I sit behind a closed door. My rights are not in any way violated if the person in the stall next to me uses different body parts to pee than I use. I will not in any way suffer harm if I have a penis and the person in the next stall has a vagina, or has a combination of male and female parts. My safety will not be threatened while this individual is peeing. Therefore, them using the bathroom cannot in any way be considered morally wrong, and it should not be outlawed. The only way you can say otherwise is if you think that anyone who has a penis is automatically a threat to anyone who has a vagina, just by being in the same bathroom as them while behind separate stall doors. However, having a penis does not, in itself, make you a rapist, regardless of whether you are a man with a penis in the men’s room, or a woman with a penis in the women’s room, or a gender-neutral person with a penis in either room..

I have never understood how any rational, intelligent human being cannot understand the need for equal rights in these situations. My only conclusion is that the people who protest against LGBT rights are not using their own intelligence (this doesn’t necessarily mean they are stupid, just that they aren’t applying their intelligence to the question at hand). They are, instead, accepting the words written in a book thousands of years ago and accepting them as infallible without question. I fully support people who look to the bible to better understand morality, so long as they do so in an intelligent, critical fashion, instead of through blind acceptance. I know a number of Christians who are members of the LGBT community, or who support their LGBT friends, because these Christians gave serious thought to what is morally right or wrong, and they came to the conclusion that discrimination is wrong.

If you disagree with these views, I urge you to look inside yourself and give serious, logical consideration to where that viewpoint is coming from. If you aren’t willing to critically examine your own existence, then you’ll never become a truly moral person.

I am not a Christian, though I do believe in God. I identify as a member of the LGBT community. And I support equal rights for everyone because it is the moral thing to do.


Job Hunting

As you may know, I’m currently a student in Rowan University’s Master’s in Writing grad program. I’m graduating with my MA in about six weeks. At which time, you will all call me Master.

Because I’ll have my Master’s Degree? Get it?


Anyway. While I’ve been attending Rowan, I’ve also been employed by the Rowan University Writing Center. My duties there have included tutoring students on their writing, running small group workshops for Composition I classes, running fiction workshops including out #NaNoWriMo Write Ins, and assisting with various presentations and seminars.

I enjoy this job. A lot. I can say, hands down, that it’s the single best job I’ve ever had.

Unfortunately, the position is classified as a “student job,” which means that when I graduate in May, I’ll also be leaving my tutoring job.

So, I’m looking for a new job right now. Ideally, something involving writing, such as copywriting, working for a college writing department, publication layout and design at a magazine or journal, or anything in the publishing field.

If you happen to know of any openings in the South Jersey/Philadelphia/Wilmington area, I’d appreciate any leads. I’m attaching my resume here, in case anyone is interested.

Jason Cantrell Resume

Also, if you want to support my publishing career, you can check out my novel, Manifestation. It’s an urban fantasy adventure about a teenage girl caught in the rebirth of magical powers. I think you’ll love it. And if you do, it’ll help me make sure my rent gets paid.

In the meantime, between job hunting, I’ll be continuing work on Contamination, the sequel to Manifestation. I just finished Draft Two and I’m getting critiques and feedback right now. Expect to see more on the upcoming release later this year.

mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

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and in ebook format through:

Kindle and Nook

One Black Wall

I recently read a book called Nothing But Blue, by Lisa Jahn-Clough (one of my professors at Rowan University). It’s about a lost girl taking a journey where she meets a number of people who live “unorthodox” lives. Train hoppers, hippies, artists, and others who don’t conform to society’s norms. The main character, Blue, is a bit unorthodox herself. One of the book’s memorable scenes tells how she painted forest scenes on her bedroom walls, then imagined little gnomes living among the trees, so she added mushroom houses for them.

I was never allowed to paint my walls. My mom had the final say in everything that went on in the house. When we were teenagers, my sister wanted to paint her bedroom black (because, teenagers). My mom refused. She said it would make the room too dark and dreary. They argued about it for awhile, and eventually my mom agreed to let my sister paint one wall black. The other three had to stay nice, bland, conformist white.

Except, even though my mom might have the “right” to make this decision since she owned the house, in reality, she had no reason to do it. She never went into that room. It was my sister’s room, where my sister should have had privacy and the ability to make her own decisions. And while the color of your walls might not seem like a big deal in the grand scheme of things, this is just one small example of the things parents try to control. I’ve known people whose parents forced them to go to the college the parents wanted, take the jobs the parents wanted, or plan the wedding the parents wanted. Even though they aren’t the ones going to that school, working that job, or getting married in that wedding.

Our society, oftentimes, supports this behavior. We seem to think that people in authority have some right to tell others how to live their lives. And that’s wrong.

Because it leads to churches trying to tell gay and lesbian couples that they can’t marry who they want, even when it’s none of their business.

Because it leads to senators trying to pass laws banning transgender individuals from using the bathroom for their identified gender, even when it’s none of their business.

Because it leads to people trying to tell others how they can live their lives, and that’s just wrong. You don’t have any right to tell someone else what color to paint their bedroom unless you’re the one sleeping in that bedroom with them. And you don’t have any right to tell someone about anything else they can or can’t do in that bedroom, because you’re not the one in there with them.

So next time you think about trying to tell someone else how to live their lives, just remember: they don’t have to have one black wall just because you said so.

mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

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and in ebook format through:

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Pilgrims and Stealth Blocking

Imagine you’re out on social media, socializing. You follow a few hundred or a few thousand people on Twitter. You don’t talk to all of them all the time, but you’ve got some close friends you talk to almost every day, and some other casual friends you like to keep in touch with.

Then, every now and then, you stumble across a random tweet from a total stranger. It contains a clever joke or something related to your interests. Or maybe they’re chatting with friends of yours and you think they could become your friend, too. So you reach out to make that first connection, by clicking the “favorite” button.

Then you receive the message, “Your account is unable to perform this action.”

Confused, you click on the person’s name, and, SURPRISE, they have you blocked!

Welcome to America, the land where we don’t resolve our problems. We run from them.

The first European settlers that founded the colonies that eventually became the United States came over here fleeing religious persecution (they also started wars with the people who already lived here and stole their lands, but that’s another discussion for another blog post). They could have stayed in England and continued fighting for social reform, but instead they decided to flee to a new land. Later, the colonies couldn’t resolve their problems of taxation without representation (among other things), rather than taking the time to resolve those problems, we had a war so we could be left alone to do our own thing. Then, years later, the southern states wanted to continue having slaves (among other things) and couldn’t find a resolution with the northern states and tried to just leave and start their own country.

…noticing a pattern yet?

As a society, we have a foundation based on avoiding our problems. You can see it in almost every issue that springs up in modern society. It’s why a group of senators sent a letter to Iran behind the president’s back, instead of working out their problems with Obama himself. It’s why our divorce rate has been so high for years. It’s why my mother, my sisters, and I haven’t spoken in eight years. We’re a culture of avoiding problems instead of confronting them.

Thus, we invented the “block” button, and we use it liberally.

I’ve blocked hundreds of people on Twitter. Most of them are random sexist, homophobic trolls that I just don’t want to deal with. But a few are former friends that I got into irreconcilable arguments with. Rather than resolving them, we block each other. I see other friends of mine blocking people all the time for similar reasons.

In a way, we’re making our own “countries” on Twitter. In my Twitter nation, most of the people are liberal, none are homophobic, all support equal rights for all races and genders, and most of us are writers. But sometimes I’ll explore some hashtag or another and find an entire nation of super-conservative Christian fundamentalists complaining about gay marriage, or another nation full of gun-toting militants who want to kick all Muslims out of the country and close our borders. While I block those kinds of people, they thrive together, and if I were to try to argue against their views, they’d swarm at me en masse. It’s hard to convince someone that their views are wrong when they’ve got a few hundred like-minded people agreeing with them.

So we don’t resolve anything. We don’t find a middle ground. We don’t figure out a compromise. We just separate ourselves from each other, form our own independent nations, and plug our ears so we don’t have to hear what the other people are saying.

Maybe one day we’ll form a colony on Mars. And then when we get into arguments about how to terraform the new world, half the colonists will blast off and head to another planet so they don’t need to deal with each other.

mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

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and in ebook format through:

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You’re the First I’ve Ever Met

I had an interesting conversation with a coworker today.

I was at the Writing Center at Rowan University, where I tutor students and help them to (hopefully) become better writers. It’s an interesting job with some interesting people. As often happens at Rowan, the subject made its way around to the most common question you’ll ever hear as a college student: “What are you going to do when you graduate?”

I don’t have a good answer to that question. I don’t know what kind of day job I’m going to be getting. Though the real answer–the most honest one–is that I want to focus on being a professional writer.

Naturally, she asked, “So you want to publish books?”

And of course, I answered, “I’ve already published one.”

I’m a bit of a shy person, so I don’t go around shouting about my book to everyone I meet. So even though we’d worked together for some time, this was the first she’d heard about it. We had a short conversation about what the book is about (a girl with superpowers trying to survive in a world where magic is returning and going crazy), how long it took me to write (two years), and how the sales are going (an awkward question I avoid as much as I avoid telling people how much my day job pays). Once I got going, I got over my shyness and talked a bit about my book. Then my coworker said something that left me a bit speechless:

“You’re the first person I’ve ever known who published a book.”

I wasn’t sure how to react to that. I think I kind of blushed and stammered a bit. And I tried to think about who I knew that had written books.

The first that came to mind were my Rowan professors. Just listing the ones whose books I’ve actually read, there’s:

Red Dirt by Joe Samuel Starnes
Nothing But Blue by Lisa Jahn-Clough
Mimi Malloy, At Last! by Julia MacDonnell Chang
In the Shadows of a Fallen Wall by Sanford Tweedie

Then there’s a book written by one of my Rowan classmates, New Life and New Civilizations: Exploring Star Trek Comics, edited by Joseph Berenato.

And that’s not counting people I know online, whether self- or traditionally-published.

It kind of makes me feel like I’ve joined some kind of elite club. Like a country club membership, only with less golf and rich old white men, and more awesome books for me to read. Which sounds like a really good deal to me.

And it’s not one of those “you can’t golf here if you’re not a member” clubs. Because people who read are totally a part of the club, or else there wouldn’t BE a club, right? So the only people who aren’t allowed in the club are people who don’t like books.

And they can join the club if they find a book they DO like, and they read it.

So that’s what you should do today. Read a book. Maybe one of the ones I just mentioned above. Or mine. Either way, you’ll be having more fun than playing country club golf.

mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

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and in ebook format through:

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Red Dirt: A Tennis Novel That’s Also About Sex, Drama, and the Human Mind

Red Dirt

I’m not a sports person, and I went into reading this novel knowing nothing about tennis beyond the basics: they hit the ball back and forth until someone misses and for some reason the score goes up by 15 at a time. For someone who knows more about tennis than me, there’s a lot of detailed descriptions of the various matches throughout the book, talking about backhands and deuces and sets and all the strategy and mind games that go into being a winner. I was a bit lost through those parts, but I really enjoyed the other parts of the book: the parts about this character’s life, his dreams, his psychology, and the friends and women he met along the way.

In between the tennis matches there’s sex, drama, battles with family, bruised egos, paparazzi scandals, and even a few life-or-death situations. The book follows Jaxie Skinner from age 3 to 38, through his early relationships and young tennis career, then into his comeback both as a returning tennis star and as a man who is finally figuring out what he really wants in life. He looks at people in a way that adds some new insight into their lives, and the analysis of people’s desires and motivations is what I found the most interesting. Even during the tennis matches, I was more interested in reading about how some players would get psyched out and succumb to anger, impatience, immaturity, or overconfidence. In most of the matches, I felt like these personality faults were what really led to someone’s defeat, more than anything about the actual hitting of the ball and whether you played close to the net or far back from it.

There were a few sections here and there that seemed underdeveloped and overdramatized, specifically when dealing with a couple of Jaxie’s relationships. On two separate occasions he gets involved with girls that are bad news, and he ends up getting in some serious trouble (once with a girl’s jealous ex, the other time with a woman’s husband when he discovered her affair with Jaxie). Since these relationships weren’t developed enough to really give me a strong investment in them, the resulting volatile endings seemed a bit over the top. By comparison, the two more well-developed relationships (one with a Russian tennis star, the other with a college girl when Jaxie is in his 30’s) were more integral and memorable. In the end, I felt like the book would have been stronger if it had only focused on the two more meaningful and important relationships, and if it had skipped over the two less important, glossed-over relationships. Four relationships (early teens, late teens, 20’s, and 30’s) is realistic enough when looking at this long of a stretch of someone’s life, but I think it was more than the narrative could support.

That said, the rest of the book was interesting and kept me involved right up until the end. The couple of slow spots didn’t take away from my overall enjoyment. And the fact that I don’t like tennis at all didn’t make me like the book any less. I read the book for the character development, not for the sports, and I enjoyed what I got out of it.

Sweeping Out the Cobwebs

For the past few weeks, both my writing and my blogging have been somewhat sporadic. I’ve fallen into, at any given time, one of two traps: the staring at the screen trap or the getting distracted trap.

Staring at the screen, most writers will tell you, is a waste of time. You’re not getting anything accomplished. Oftentimes, it’s better to just start writing whatever random crap comes to mind (kind of like I’m doing right now), with the hopes that it will start flowing and something good will come out. Typing anything is better than nothing at all. And, if it turns out that whatever you wrote really does suck, you can always cut it out later and move on. But you can never get to that point if you don’t start.

Freewriting is a good tool to use for this. Some most okay, probably all of my blog posts are written this way. I rarely have anything more than a general idea of what to write about. Sometimes, like today, I start off writing about how I don’t have anything to write about. But it gets the ideas flowing, albeit not always as effectively as my Water Muse.

I pretty much start all of my novels this way too. I just finished up some early revisions on my Rowan University master’s thesis project, aka Arcana Revived Volume Six, and I ended up completely cutting the first two chapters (somewhere around 2600 words). This is because those chapters were mostly just me thinking out loud on the page, figuring out where I was going, but not really writing anything all that interesting. I decided that the best thing to do was start the story with what was originally chapter three, since that’s the chapter where Tock and Gabby almost kill each other and some major tension starts to build up.

Getting distracted is my other main issue. Twitter can be a problem in that regard, as can Netflix. Though I think more than anything, the problem comes down to discipline. When I have a concrete goal, like writing at least 2000 words a day during NaNoWriMo, I’m better able to sit down and force myself to do it. But once I got out of the routine, it became hard to stick to a new goal, such as revising one chapter per day on Contamination. Which I should go do. Like, right now.

Do you have problems getting started? What do you do to get past them?

mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

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and in ebook format through:

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Revising for Patterns vs Revising for Story

I just finished some revisions on a section of Book Six, based on some feedback I’d received from one of my professors at Rowan University. But the changes I made were sporadic and spread out through the entire text, picking out individual errors and common patterns the feedback had pointed out. This led to a very different, and in some ways “incomplete” type of revision.

Most of the time, when I’m revising, I go line by line, chapter by chapter, reading the text through from beginning to end. This allows me to be immersed in the story as I’m going along, and in this way I can catch errors in the continuity. For example, I once caught a mistake where I had a character start a scene wearing a skirt, then suddenly I mentioned her putting something in her pants pocket, then later she was in a skirt again. Or other times I might mention the night sky, then later on mention the setting sun (this often happens when I rearrange chapter order, and one chapter is now later than the other). These kinds of errors wouldn’t be noticed by reading an individual page by itself. It takes a careful read through the entire manuscript to catch them.

But a careful read through the entire manuscript might not catch some patterns and bad habits because they’re easy to overlook. For example, the feedback that I got pointed out that, among other things, I overuse the word “then.” Here’s a case of overuse that I just recently had to deal with:

Adrianna frowned and lowered her head. She pressed her palms down flat on the papers that covered the desk before her. “I’m not an invalid,” she said. “I’m perfectly capable of being out on my own.” She glanced over her shoulder at Dr. Pavari. “I don’t need to be babysat.”

Dr. Pavari pushed his glasses up his nose and said, “We’re giving it a trial run. I think it’s good for her to get out and try to get into some kind of normal routine.”

Adrianna pressed her hands down harder on the desk. “Don’t talk about me like I’m not here.”

“I’m sure he didn’t mean it like that,” Gabby said. “It’s okay.” She paused, chewing on her lip. Then she nodded to the papers. “So, what are you working on?”

Adrianna cast a glare up at Dr. Pavari, the turned back to Gabby. “Food inventory. I used to do this at the restaurant.” She patted the papers before her, then smoothed them out, then patted them again. “I know how to do this. I used to do it all the time.”

Three times in two paragraphs, something happens, then something else, then something else again. And page after page, this is a pattern, a bad habit I have. My professor suggested trimming out as many “then”s as possible, so I started to do just that:

I’m sure he didn’t mean it like that,” Gabby said. “It’s okay.” She paused, chewing on her lip. She nodded to the papers. “So, what are you working on?”

Adrianna cast a glare up at Dr. Pavari, the turned back to Gabby. “Food inventory. I used to do this at the restaurant.” She patted the papers before her, smoothed them out, then patted them again. “I know how to do this. I used to do it all the time.”

It’s a small change, but it seems to help the sentences flow better. Once I’d picked out a few instances of it, I did a Ctrl-F search for the word “then” and edited it out over and over and over again. I did the same for semicolons (another bad habit of mine). And when I was editing Manifestation, I had to do the same thing with the word “just.” Everything just happened. Gabby just nodded. Callia just sighed and shook her head. It seems to take some of the weight away from the actions. I took out 90% of my “just”s before Manifestation got published. I’ll probably need to search for those in the other books too.

Issues like these–the difference between careful line-by-line edits versus global patterns–are a big part of the reason why I go over a manuscript multiple times before I’m finished with it. The first set of edits I finished yesterday are just one pass through the document. There’ll be another, then another, then another (see what I did there?). I don’t know how long it’ll take, but I know these are things that can’t be rushed.

Thankfully, word processor tools make it a lot easier. I mean, can you imagine going through a 160,000 word document manually looking for repeated examples of your bad habits? It’s a wonder people ever had the patience to finish a book back before we had all this wonderful technology.

mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

CreateSpace and Amazon

and in ebook format through:

Kindle and Nook