To Celebrate or Wait

Almost every day on Twitter, I see people getting into arguments about LGBT issues. Most of the time, I see these arguments because I follow a lot of LGBT activists who tweet a lot of support and positive messages. These people then get harassed by trolls, and I’m pretty likely to stumble across the argument. It usually ends with me silently blocking the troll and going about my business, because I don’t want to get involved in the argument itself.

Sometimes, however, I read certain trending hashtags, like tonight’s #SCOTUSMarriage tweets. I scrolled through those tweets for awhile, favoriting and retweeting some of the tweets with uplifting and celebratory messages, and blocking anyone who had anything bad to say about marriage equality. Though while I was on my blocking tirade, even though I didn’t engage any of the trolls, I noticed a couple of patterns.

Probably 90% of the people I blocked tonight had either an American flag in their avatar or Twitter banner, or something in their bio that declared them as Christian, Conservative, or a “Patriot.” And it got me thinking about group mindsets, the way they foster negative attitudes under the guise of morals, and how those attitudes are still a source for a lot of very real danger and discrimination against a lot of people.

I’ve written before about how organizations can “normalize” certain immoral behavior, making it seem as if it’s perfectly acceptable. One point I made was that “When a group disguises discrimination behind their “ideals” and their “mission,” it makes it far too easy to convince people that this sort of thing is “normal.”” In other words, if a group, such as a church or political party, claims that they’re following a mission to bring God’s morals to America or to protect the nation from destructive influences, they can end up doing a great deal of harm while hiding behind those missions. People will continue to support these groups because the mission sounds like such a good cause.

Think about it. If someone asked you if you would support a movement to help make the country a better, more moral place, you’d say yes, right? If someone asked you if you would want to protect our nation and its people from harmful influences, you’d also say yes. Words like “protect” and “moral” and “our nation” are meant to stir up all of these unifying, patriotic feelings. They give people a sense that they’re in the right, that they’re pursuing a good, justifiable course of actions.

Except that the alleged “threats” that are supposedly “harming” our nation and its people are really nothing more than different ideas, diverse viewpoints, and much-needed changes to our laws and government. Someone who looks at an issue like the fight for marriage equality, and does so from a neutral standpoint, using critical thinking and careful analysis, should certainly see that the SCOTUS decision is the morally right one. People deserve equal rights to marry whoever they want to, and those rights are protected under the 14th Amendment. The ruling simply confirms this under the law.

And any time I see someone fighting against marriage equality, they always claim to be defending something that isn’t actually being harmed. Some Christians claim the ruling is a violation of their religious rights, even though it has no impact on them or their lives. Some Conservatives claim this will harm the integrity of the nation, though they don’t have any evidence whatsoever to support the idea of this supposed “harm.” But because these people see themselves as defending something that is important to them, they will never listen to reason. They don’t think of themselves as bigots, or homophobes, or people who are attacking the rights of others. They think of themselves as good, moral people who are defending their point of view.

And that’s really sad. Because no one should confuse defending themselves with attacking someone else. It seems like a lot of these people could become the good, moral people they are trying to be, if they just opened their eyes and understood that their actions are harming others.

It’s like a parent who punishes their child for rebellion by enforcing stricter and stricter rules. The parent may think they’re doing what’s right, by trying to protect their child from harm. But as a result, they don’t see the harm they’re doing by taking away a human being’s freedom for self-determination. Even more so if the “harm” is completely imagined, such as if a parent wants their child to go to college, but the child wants the freedom of becoming an artist and traveling the world. In their focus on the things they think of as important–financial stability, a career, and an academic education–the parent isn’t seeing the things that their child finds important–creativity, diverse experiences, and personal growth.

And the thing is, those closed-minded ideas are still out there. The ruling in favor of marriage equality is a great step forward, but there’s a lot of issues that still need to be tackled. Things like more diversity in books, movies, and other media. Violence against racial minorities and people from nonbinary genders and orientations. Discrimination and judgment against people who don’t fit the norm that most of society expects.

The Supreme Court may have given everyone the right to marry, but there are still a lot of places where transgender individuals don’t have the right to use a public restroom. And there’s still a lot of people who have to hide who they are, for fear of being attacked by “good moral Christians” and “proud patriotic Americans” who see anything outside of their binary, heteronormative world as a threat to their lifestyles.

And I don’t know what to do about that.

And it scares me.

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Writing Routines

I’ve blogged from time to time about my writing schedule, the routines I try to set for myself, and my attempts at self-imposed deadlines. I try to get myself into a regular habit, where I work on my writing every day, making continuous progress. The problem is, my schedule with work, school, and life in general lately has been very erratic. It makes it hard to get settled into a regular writing routine.

Most of the time, I don’t even realize how much time has passed until I look at my calendar. I use a system I adopted from other writers online, where I earn a sticker every day that I write. According to my calendar, I’ve only written five blog posts and only revised four chapters of Contamination during the month of June. That’s only nine stickers. This is unacceptable. But every time I try to get myself into a more regular schedule, something falls apart.

It’s possible that I need to try some new habit-forming techniques. My daily to-do lists and my calendar aren’t quite cutting it. But one way or the other, I need to get myself into a regular routine. One where I make steady progress at getting these revisions done. I’ve got what I think is a pretty good story here, but none of you get to read it until I finish the revisions.

If anyone has any suggestions on ways to develop a more regular writing habit, please let me know. What works for you?

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Magic In Your Face

Recently I’ve been reading The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. It’s an excellent urban fantasy series with a wise-cracking wizard protagonist who fights against vampires, werewolves, evil necromancers, faerie queens, and anyone else that decides they want to make his life miserable. Harry Dresden is the only “professional wizard” living in Chicago–he has an ad in the yellow pages, offering his services as a magical private investigator. Sometimes he investigates supernatural murders that the police can’t handle alone, other times he clears the name of the Faerie Queen of the Winter Court by proving she didn’t assassinate the mystical Summer Knight of the Summer Court. Think Sherlock Holmes meets Harry Potter.

I’m on the 8th book in the series, plus I’ve read a few of the separate graphic novels. And while I love the series as a whole, there’s one issue that I keep having a problem with.

Like most urban fantasy series, The Dresden Files gives us a modern day world where magic, faeries, vampires, goblins, ghouls, and every other supernatural thing you can imagine are all real. They’re just hidden from “normal people” (muggles) and no one accepts that there’s this entire hidden world out there beyond their perception. Over and over again throughout the course of the series, Harry encounters people who try to deny what they’ve seen. They try to rationalize the supernatural and magical things they experience by explaining them away as hallucinations, by convincing themselves they didn’t see what they thought they saw, or by flat-out denying everything.

There’s a certain extent to which this is understandable, on a case-by-case basis. Someone might be attacked by a ghoul, but convince themselves it was just a maniac wearing a mask. They might see a wizard blast an enemy with a dazzling burst of arcane force, but convince themselves that it was just a gun, a flamethrower, or something else technological. I could see an individual person rationalizing things for themselves so that they don’t come off seeming like they’re crazy. Even in my book, Manifestation, there’s a brief period where the main characters’ parents go through denial about what they’ve seen, saying “We don’t know what it really was.” So I can understand it on an individual basis.

The problem is when it goes on for so long that I no longer believe it’s possible to keep the magic hidden.

Harry Dresden has battled a werewolf (actually a loup garou, but that gets complicated) in front of witnesses at the Chicago Police Department, he’s gotten into magical battles in the city streets in broad daylight, he’s been chased through a hotel by a giant snake demon, and he once even used magic to reanimated a Tyrannosaurus Rex as a giant zombie that he rode through the streets of Chicago’s suburbs while it crushed and ate smaller, human zombies in a battle against a group of necromancers with nigh-godlike-powers.

Eventually these huge public spectacles reach the point where I’m convinced there must be witnesses, and those witnesses can’t all be in denial or considered crazy. Sooner or later, magic has to come out of the shadows and be seen as something real, something that exists, and something that cannot be denied.

I see the same thing happening in any modern setting where magic or supernatural forces are real, from Harry Potter to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to just about any vampire or werewolf movie ever made. While it might be realistic to keep things hidden and secret on a small-scale basis, these stories always up the stakes to the point where huge magical battles are taking place in front of hundreds of witnesses, where wizards on broomsticks and flying cars are soaring over the rooftops of major cities, and where there should be thousands of people grabbing their iPhones and snapping pictures of the mystical events taking place right in front of them. Once things reach a certain scale, when the magic is right out there in everyone’s faces, the idea that it can remain hidden just gets unrealistic.

I shrug it off when I’m reading a book like The Dresden Files, because it’s a good series and I can accept that this is the world the author wants to present to me. But sometimes I wish there would be a book where people are forced to accept that magic is real, where they can’t deny it anymore, and where the existence of magic starts to change the entire world. That’s one of the reasons I started writing the Arcana Revived series. Unlike other urban fantasy series, my world starts off as one where magic actually doesn’t exist. There’s no such thing as wizards, vampires, faeries, or anything else supernatural. At least, not before the story begins. Then little by little, the magic starts coming back (I didn’t choose the name Arcana Revived just because it sounds cool) and people are forced to deal with it, because it can’t be hidden and it’s not going anywhere. By the end of the second book in particular, magic is starting to change the entire world, and there’s nothing that anyone can do about it.

I find it more realistic, more fun, and a source of better conflict. After all, how would society react if people all around them suddenly started developing magical powers, and no one knew how to control them? That’s a question I find pretty interesting. And it’ll take me about six books to answer it.

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Review of Breadcrumb Trail by Adam Dreece

Dreece-YellowHoods02CoverI just finished reading Breadcrumb Trail, the second book of The Yellow Hoods by Adam Dreece. It was a fun story, with entertaining characters, and some pretty interesting steampunk-style gadgets and inventions along the way.

The story centers around a group of young teens who call themselves “The Yellow Hoods.” They’re all bright, resourceful kids who can handle themselves in a fight, racing through the woods on sail-powered carts and using electric shock sticks to duel against sword-wielding soldiers. The Hoods get drawn into a conflict between two secret groups of inventors that are manipulating events from behind the scenes, plus there’s a war brewing in the south, a group of dangerous red-hooded outlaws kidnapping children, and a conspiracy to steal the secret plans to the world’s first steam engine.

The writing style is upbeat and fun, with a sense of swashbuckling adventure behind a lot of the action scenes. There’s also a lot of subtle (and not-so-subtle) references to fairy tales and fables, from Tee’s grandfather putting on a red coat and handing out toys during Winter Solstice, to the home of the Ginger Lady and her kids, Hans, Saul, and Gretel. Add in a few puns here and there, and the story gives you plenty of chuckles during the more lighthearted moments, though there’s definitely a dark side to some of the conflicts.

The pacing of the story could use a little work, with some of the chapters feeling too short, or some conflicts being resolved before there had been enough tension built up. There were some moments that felt like they were building up towards some good dramatic tension, but some of the impact of that tension can be lost when a chapter ends without hitting the right “cliffhanger moment.” This didn’t take away from the fun of the story, but it did lead to most of the story having a more casual pace, rather than the high-energy, action-packed pace it achieves at certain points.

All in all, the book was fun, entertaining, and intriguing. The inventions and gadgets show a lot of style, from electric shock gloves to compressed air cannons to a rocket-powered whirly-bird. And Tee and her friends are characters you really end up rooting for.

Self-Imposed Deadlines

I just graduated from Rowan University with my Master of Arts degree in Writing. I’ve been in school since Spring of 2012, after going back finally after a long leave of absence. Being in school for so long meant that I always had deadlines and structure imposed upon me by the school. This was especially handy when working on the sequels to Manifestation, two of which were written as part of my school projects (I got A’s on both).

I’ve been trying for awhile to work on revisions for Contamination, the second volume of Arcana Revived. Since this one wasn’t something I was working on for school, there have been times that I had to find the balance between working on revisions on my own time and working on school work. Since the school work had deadlines imposed upon me by my teachers, it usually got the higher priority. Now that school is over, I’m putting Contamination above everything else.

The problem is, now I’m the only one creating my deadlines.

I just missed a self-imposed deadline last week. I’m currently about 1/3 of the way through my third draft of Contamination. I have some notes and feedback from critique partners, and I’m going to be getting more feedback from my Rowan classmates, since we’re keeping in touch and we will be continuing to work together on our writing projects as time goes on. But none of them can force me to stick to a deadline. I’ve got to handle that on my own.

Working through depression makes meeting a deadline a lot harder. I’ve struggled with depression for a long time, and it’s been particularly bad over the last few weeks. Part of the problem is that I’ve left school and as a result I’ve left the structure of my class schedule. I’m also only employed part time at the moment while I look for a more permanent position somewhere in the publishing field. As a result, I’m spending a lot of time at home, alone, with nothing but my thoughts, my writing, a stack of books, and the Metroid Prime Trilogy.

All in all, it’s been a struggle to meet my personal goals. I’m pretty sure it’ll improve once I’m back in a regular work schedule. When I’m home alone everyday, there’s an extreme lack of structure to my daily routine. This makes it easy to lose track of time and end up spending twelve hours straight trying to restore the Light of Aether to the Luminoth homeworld.But when I have a regular work schedule, it’s a lot easier to work my writing and revising schedule around it, such as by setting aside a couple of hours after I get home from work each night. I need that routine, and once I get into the groove again, my writing and revising process will improve greatly (and hopefully so will my blogging schedule, since I really need to get back into a three day a week blogging routine).

In the meantime, I’m going to keep plugging away as best I can. And if you’re a fan of my first book, I promise I’ll have the second one on its way before long.

mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

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and in ebook format through:

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