Depression – still stigmatized

I haven’t mentioned this yet, but I feel it must be said.

Note: this is not an endorsement of suicide. It is only my thoughts that I hope will help people for whom depression and suicide is but a theoretical or philosophical abstract concept. Not something they know in the most intimate terms.

The fear of death is a universal human fear. It is almost certainly the most powerful fear that is hard wired into our brains. Furthermore, the innate instinct to preserve ones life at all costs is the most natural instinct we have. That’s how professed and devout pacifists can become violent if threatened. (That’s what makes pacifism itself so incredibly hard.) The fear of death leads one to preserve ones life. At all costs.

For a person to breach that hurdle, to come to a point where they face down the dread of what comes next (if anything) and then take ones life, by definition cannot be cowardly. In fact, many people who seriously contemplate suicide but never take a step beyond contemplation don’t take that next step out of fear: fear of the pain, fear of what might happen, fear of non-existence. In short, they will often say they are “too cowardly” to take their own life. I repeat. Those that do NOT take that horrific next step feel cowardly for NOT doing it. They’ve looked death in the eye, and have looked away.

This may seem counterintuitive to many people, but this is the nature of depression and mental illness. Having known several people who’ve made suicide attempts, or contemplated them — and sadly one or two who have committed suicide — has given me insights to mental illness I otherwise may not have had. I do not know it all. Nor do I understand the depths people can sink in their own minds. But it is rarely an issue that can be parsed down to something as simple as the thoughts of a Fox News (or any news) commentator.

Here is what I’ve learned from people who battle depression: You haven’t walked in another person’s shoes or felt their pain, despair, and emptiness. And they do not want you to. They don’t even want it themselves.

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Why I read Epic Fantasy: Part 1

This is Part 1 of a 3 part series of blog posts about what I personally find appealing about Epic Fantasy and Science Fiction literature.

It began as a Facebook post, expanded into a full blog post, and now is part 1 of 3.

Life isn’t all about peaches and roses! I know that some people do not like to face this fact, but it’s true. It’s also about pain, sadness and hurt. It’s about love, passion, joy and happiness. It’s about the bluest skies, the darkness days, and the brightest nights. And everything in between. Life isn’t, as the song says, just about looking on the bright side of life. It’s about looking at the not so bright side of life and reflecting upon it. Dealing with it. And yes, confronting the hard issues of our time.

Life – and for that matter, faith in whatever one has faith in – is about embracing the full spectrum of what it means to be human. I embrace it all, or I try to, because it is all we have. I think this is why I read so much Science Fiction and in particular Epic Fantasy.

The SF/F genre has always been, and continues to be, on the frontiers of social and political thought. It tackles deep philosophical issues in ways that most people find relatable, precisely because it puts those issues into a mythic past or a yet to be future. It takes a tumultuous issue of our present time, like race relations, and extropolates it out into a world different from our own — and yet, not so different. Don’t believe that SF/F does this? Then you haven’t been paying attention to pop culture for the last 50 years. Star Trek: the Original Series did it quite successfully regarding race, women’s rights (despite the short skirts), and the complexities in learning to accept other cultures.

Fantasy literature does this in our time as well. It helps us to think beyond our own cultural and religious world view. It helps us to think past our gender, race, social system and political party. Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time shows us a world in which women have the power of magic, politics, etc. While men who use msgic go insane and eventually destroy the world. But because this exists in a “fantasy” setting we readily accept this seemingly counter intuitive world and begin to understand it.

Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s series does something else. It gives us one perspective on a war between humans and aliens and in subsequent books allows us to see the war from the “bad guy’s” point of view.

David Brin’s The Postman turns apocalyptic SF around and shows us how humans are built to rebuild civilization, in the aftermath of it’s destruction.

SF/F gives us the full spectrum of life. Tackles all the complexities of what it means to be us — and the other. From aliens who have come to destroy us, to aliens who’ve come to help us ascend to a higher plane of existence, SF/F embraces far more than just magic and wizards. It helps us live out other lives, cultures, religions, and worlds from the safety of our homes. And, the best SF/F also challenges us, sometimes in subtle ways, to think outside the box.

In the end, it shows us that life is hard. But in the end, it is the only life we have. We should enjoy it. Live it. But never be so far removed from the other that we forget it’s not all flowers and sparkles.

I guess in the end I agree with Carl Sagan, who says:

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

― Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

This of course isn’t the only reason I read SF/F. I also do so as a method of escapism, which some people deride, but which I have come to embrace. Stay tuned for a future post dealing with My thoughts on fantasy and escapism.

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Mark Driscoli and the gospel of manliness!

Holy masculine Jesus, batman!!!

From the world of mega-church stars and the modern day American Jesus (Terminator Jesus) we bring you mega-church pastor Mark Driscoli’s latest media controversy.

It amazes me that this guy is able to have a mega-church of thousands and sell hundreds of thousands of books. And it also terrifies me to think that hundreds of thousands of people probably agree with him and don’t see anything wrong with this sort of thinking. Here’s a quote from the dear Pastor himself:

“We live in a completely pussified nation.
We could get every man, real man as opposed to pussified James Dobson knock-off crying Promise Keeping homoerotic worship loving mama’s boy sensitive emasculated neutered exact male replica evangellyfish, and have a conference in a phone booth. It all began with Adam, the first of the pussified nation, who kept his mouth shut and watched everything fall headlong down the slippery slide of hell/feminism when he shut his mouth and listened to his wife who thought Satan was a good theologian when he should have lead [sic] her and exercised his delegated authority as king of the planet. As a result, he was cursed for listening to his wife and every man since has been his [sic] pussified sit quietly by and watch a nation of men be raised by bitter penis envying burned feministed single mothers who make sure that Johnny grows up to be a very nice woman who sits down to pee.” – Mark Driscoli

Like the author of the linked to critique points out, it is NOT about “how” he said what he said. It is about WHAT he said in first place. And it’s offensive on so many levels. Because I wouldn’t even know where to begin or how to tackle it all, I’m only going to tackle one issue . . . the obsession with “masculinity.”

Now, it is true that he said this stuff in 2000. And if he had changed his opinions since then, I’d think this whole outrage over Driscoli would be utter nonsense. The problem is he has just said (in the year 2014) that he doesn’t regret or apologize for what he said, only how he said it. Of course, it is completely misogynistic. But I’m probably not articulate enough to deal with that any more effectively that the critique I’ve linked to. Maybe I’ll tear apart his crappy theology at a later time, but for now, allow me to rant about the modern American obsession with “manliness” which itself is an ironic plea, a cry, a whine, for men to be more “manly.”

And why do men need to be more manly?

Well, I guess one isn’t truly manly unless one hates their mother, sister, and would never cry . . . or, something.

I thought American men had grown out of this childish obsession with looking like we are “real men.” I thought Americans figured out that the very act of being concerned about looking childish, wimpy, and not tough, was in fact itself a sign of Immaturity and — internal wispiness. But given the number of American males that insist on buying the biggest, loudest, and most expensive trucks around (to prove how truly “manly” they are), I shouldn’t be surprised. Now, if that’s your thing, then so be it. Your life, your choice. However, I’m bothered by this bizarre attitude, when Christians try to wrap up theor obsession with masculinity in a Jesus, church, and Christian theological ribbon. It’s almost as if these folks can’t come up with a legitimate defense of such an attitude, and instead decided to pretty it up with a few bible quotes and a nice Jesus bow in hope of giving their archaic attitude some sort of authority.

For people like Pastor Mark Driscoli, showing any sort of concern, compassion, tenderness, and gentleness is a sign one is ” effeminate” and by that, I suppose he means not a “real” Christian.

Hmmm….

Am I the only one who thinks Driscoli might just need a new and bigger truck in which he can squeal tires? Because, you know, nothing says “masculine” like shredding your tires just for the hell of it!

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Why I don’t care about the Star Wars Sequels.

Disclaimer: I’ve never read an EU Star Wars novel. So these are the opinions of a movie Canon only fan. Nor have I read very many of the Spoilers/leaks about the new Trilogy. As you read on, you’ll see why.

The internet is abuzz with anticipation for the upcoming JJ Abrams Stars Wars films. The YouTube Channel Screen Junkies has several videos discussing the upcoming films. Star Wars fans seem thrilled that JJ Abrams is taking the helm to captain the franchise into the 21st century. In fact, I don’t know a SF/Fantasy geek who isn’t, at the very least, intrigued about the upcoming film franchise. Lucas is gone. Abrams is on board. Members of the original cast are returning. What more could Star Wars fans hope for, right?

Well, I’m not with my fellow Geeks and Star Wars fans on this one. I have almost zero interest in this upcoming Sequel Trilogy. And what little interest I do have it is to see if JJ Abrams can do any better than Lucas did with the Prequel Trilogy.

In the past I’ve made no secret about the fact I’m not the biggest fan of JJ Abrams’ method of story telling. I didn’t care for Lost. I didn’t care much for Cloverfield (though the monster was cool) and while I enjoyed the first Star Trek reboot, I thought the second one was pretty terrible.

Yes, I’m one of those Star Trek fans, who actually likes Star Trek for being Star Trek, and not a Star Wars “rip-off.” Of course, since Star Trek pre-dates the existence of Star Wars, and always did something very different from pure Space Opera, making it “more like Star Wars” wasn’t my idea of a good Star Trek film. But, I digress . . . .

To be honest, my indifference to the upcoming Star Wars Sequels has nothing to do with the director. I judge a movie or TV show upon whether or not I enjoy it — and if part of a franchise — whether or not it does what that particular franchise is supposed to do. I actually Star Wars is where JJ Abrams’ skill set will shine. He’s said time and again he is a Star Wars fan (and not a Star Trek fan). And that’s great he’s on board. He just might pull it off. But, I do not have any sense of anticipation for these films — and here is why.

The Original Trilogy, regardless of the multiple and mutually exclusives claims about what Lucas and Co. intended, is a self contained story. It has a beginning, middle, and end. A satisfying end where the heroes essentially avoid the Apocalypse, or at least what the Apocalypse would look like in the Star Wars Universe. They defeat the bad guys, overthrow the Emperor (kind of the Star Wars version of the Dark Lord Sauron) and renew an age of peace where a revived ancient religion (I’m ignoring the Prequels now) has helped save the Galaxy.

And we follow-up this epic defeat of good over evil with . . . ?

Lucas already tried the internal “character stories” in the Prequels. Abrams isn’t going to try that, again. So what’s next? The revived Jedi will do some mop-up work across the Galaxy defeating a few nuts still loyal to the Empire?

Of course not!

The only way to make the Sequels interesting is to come up with an even bigger, badder set of villains to fight. Someone WORSE than Darth Vader. Worse than the Emperor! And that’s the problem. And frankly, it’s the problem so many Epic Fantasy novels have made over the years. Defeat one Dark Lord. And oh, look . . . there’s another, even WORSE Dark Lord waiting in the wings. You’ve averted the Apocalypse — but watch out! We have ANOTHER Apocalypse waiting in the wings. And now, it’s not just Galaxy at stake, but the entire Cosmos!

I personally don’t find this sort of story telling very interesting. It cheapens the original story (whatever it was) and ends up making the original villains (whoever they were) look weaker than they first appeared.

IMO, the best films and books — in which there is an epic consequence at stake — come to end when the epic villain is defeated in an epic manner. Star Wars already did that. So for me, there’s no place to go.

The Lord of the Rings ends after Sauron is defeated. Why? Because there isn’t any place (interesting) to go once you’ve averted the end of the freaking world! Tolkien never contemplated writing a sequel to LOTR. And while it’s not precisely a one to one analogy (granted, Sauron was for all intents and purposes a god, the Emperor is not) it does feel very similar.

But forget Lord of the Rings. Let’s take Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series (which I believe is often unfairly maligned, but just as often fairly critiqued). In the first book of the series we are introduced to a villain that, as Patrick Rothfuss once pointed out, is akin to the God Emperor of Dune. He’s the most powerful wizard in the world. He communes with Goodkind’s version of the Christian Devil, and if he opens up the Boxes of Orden, he will rule the world — forever! In book one, the good guys kick his ass! It’s actually a pretty decent book. And the villain is a pretty decent villain (by early 90’s Fantasy standards).

So, where to go after that? Well, in the next book we’re introduced to an actual god/villain (The Keeper) along with being told that the “world” we thought existed is much, much bigger and that there is a super-Emperor who is WORSE than the first and second villains put together. Goodkind was forced to continually ratchet up the villain’s “badness” until there wasn’t any place left to go. But this is not, in any way, Goodkind’s fault. That was the nature of 80’s and 90’s Epic Fantasy. And quite frankly, a lot of Hollywood movies too.

This constant ratcheting up is the same reason I do not want to see a sequel to certain movies, like (for example) Independence Day. Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum defeat an entire alien civilization. The end! Once you’ve escaped the end of the world, what is the point of continuing on? I just don’t care to see it. Next time it’ll be TWO alien motherships?

That’s not to say sequels to a movie or book, where the end of the world is averted, can’t be interesting. They certainly can.

The best way, IMO, to make it work is to push the sequel off into the far future — like Terry Brooks has done throughout his Shannara Series. We got an original Trilogy (only loosely connected) and then it pushes off to hundreds of years later. By then, it’s believable that some other menace could have come to fruition.

Brandon Sanderson is doing something similar with his Mistborn Series. Tell a single story, then move into the future by hundreds of years. That way people get the same world, mythology, magic system but the story itself isn’t locked into a single group of characters.

If that is what Star Wars was doing, I’d be excited. Instead, we’re going to get Han Solo’s kids! I for one do not care about Han Solo’s children. Frankly, I didn’t want to see Harry Potter’s kids 20 years after Hogwarts. I want to imagine what happens to these characters. I don’t want to see it. As a reader/viewer, I want to see them beat the bad guys, fall in love (when appropriate) and all that. I don’t want to see Harry pushing his kids in a stroller though. Just like I don’t want to see Frodo in Valinor. We know he WENT there, but I don’t want to SEE it. I want THAT to be left to my imagination.

Similarly, I don’t want to see Aragorn signing kingly decrees 75 years after the defeat of Sauron, and I don’t want to see him go on “one last quest” to take on one last band of Orcs in his declining years. The story ended where it ended. I want the rest of that to be left up to my imagination. We know Sam gets married and has children. i LOVE that aspect to the end of LOTR. But I do NOT want to see a movie about Sam raising his kids, even if his kids become awesome Hobbit warriors who fight . . . what exactly? They’ve defeated a GOD (yes I know, Sauron is not “technically” a god as there is only one “god” in Tolkien’s mythology, but bear with me here). Anything after that isn’t going to give me the same kind of experience. It might give me a DIFFERENT kind of experience, equally compelling. And that would be great. Just as a character driven story about Han’s kids would be compelling. But I don’t think that’s what Disney and Abrams are going to shoot for. I think they’re going to go with the “bigger, better villain than the first” thing. And that, I find a little ho-hum.

Of course, I WILL go to see Star Wars Episode VII when it comes out. But I cannot say that I’m excited about these films or am hopeful they will do something awesome. I think there will be cool space battles, light saber duels, and some nice homages to the Original Trilogy. But I personally see this akin to the Epilogue of the Harry Potter series — except with a new “evil Lord” to fight. Which really just kind of sucks.

Of course, only time will tell. But for now, I can honestly say I will have no problem waiting for this movie to be released. I’m not interested in it, in the least.

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New Interview with John Shuck’s Religion for Life!

 

Tonight my brand new interview on the syndicated radio program Religion for Life airs at 8pm EST on NPR affiliate WETS 89.5 FM out of Johnson City Tennessee. If you are not within broadcast range of Johnson City, you can listen live on their website.

For those who’ve not heard the broadcast, “Religion For Life is an exciting program that engages listeners in a subject few media hosts are able to discuss–religion. Religion is too important a topic to be left alone and too controversial to be left to the zealots. People do want to hear intelligent programs about religion as it relates to politics, sexuality, science and more. Religion For Life is a half hour program that explores the intersection of religion, social justice, and public life from an educational point of view.”

The host of Religion for Life, John Shuck, is a Presbyterian Minister who works with the Jesus Seminar. John has interviewed “religious scholars including Daniel Dennett (Breaking the Spell), Brene Brown (Daring Greatly), Harvey Cox (The Secular City), Candida Moss (The Myth of Persecution), John Shelby Spong (Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World), Barbara Kingsolver (Flight Behavior), Lawrence Krauss (A Universe From Nothing), and many more.”

The blurb about my interview says, “Charles “Chuck” Shingledecker cares about religion and about matters of faith. He cares so much that he is willing to engage in the honest searching tradition of apophatic theology. The fruit of this search is his book, Freedom to Doubt. He puts his inquiring mind to work doubting biblical stories and theological doctrines and shows that doubt, not fear, is the beginning of wisdom.”

I am humbled and honored to appear on John’s program that will air on multiple radio stations across three states (I will continue to post updates) over the next week. And beginning July 10 it will be available for download to listen to via iTunes and other podcasting media.

On this weekend, on which we Americans celebrate our Independence and Freedom from oppression, let us Christians always be reminded that Christ sets us free from the bondage of fear and grants us the freedom to question, the freedom to seek answers, and the freedom to doubt!

 

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The real reason publishers/editors reject 90% of the manuscripts submitted

I recently saw a self published author claim that the reason their manuscripts (be they novels, non-fiction, short fiction, or poetry) were constantly rejected by publishers is because traditional publishers (and specifically the big 5 New York Houses) “won’t take chances on new authors.” Contrary to popular opinion, publishers (even New York) do publish new authors — every year.

When someone claims that publishers refuse to publish new authors they’ve just shown, in one sentence, their complete ignorance of the publishing world — not to mention their lack of experience reading in whatever genre they’re writing in. And yet, they still expected a NY house to take a “chance” on them? Please!

This is not my attempt to trash self-publishing. I love self publishing. I’ve bought self published books that are FANTASTIC! The Martian by Andy Weir, was originally self published and it is one of the greatest Hard Science Fiction novels in at least 20 years (since Red Mars was published). This is not a knock on self publishing. But if you do self publish, claiming that the big publishers (or even small publishers) have it out for you and refused to publish your work because you’re new, makes you sound a little bitter.

The truth is, no one has it out for you. Assuming your book is written at a publishable level, the worst that might have happened is some editor let your manuscript slip through the cracks. That DOES happen. Probably more than it should. But if your book isn’t picked up by a publisher, 99% of the time it’s simply because, as a writer friend of mine (and slush reader) said, “The rejection isn’t because we’re not willing to take chances, it’s simply because the piece isn’t good enough.”

Yes, yes, yes . . . there is a subjective component to this. Editors have their specific tastes and what works for one person may not work for another. That’s why you have to keep submitting. Eventually you’ll get to an editor who likes your work and will want more. And if your work isn’t up to a pro-level quite yet, then take the next piece of advice of my writing/slush reader pal when he says rejections “shouldn’t make you bitter. Shouldn’t make you think we don’t want to take chances (because we do.) It should make you want to write more. Write better. And submit again.”

No editor or slush reader has it out for you. More than likely you began your book with a mirror scene, a guy waking from a dream, some dude sitting around thinking about his existence or any number of other boring cliches that editors have seen one too many times.

I’ve written all three of those boring cliches too. But now that I’ve become a better writer (by listening to pro writers teach the craft) I now see those cliches for what they are — stupid! You might find those cliches interesting. But would you really want to read about a character (other than your own) describing themselves while brushing their hair? I doubt it.

I’m not writing fiction at a pro-level, yet. But I will be, some day. I just need to keep practicing. (Or so I tell myself!) Do rejections get me down? Yup! But I might have a somewhat unique experience in that, even though I’ve not had any of my fiction published yet, I am a two time published author with two different publishers (small/medium presses). I was rejected by a a couple of agents — probably because I suck at query letters. But did that get me down? You bet it did! Did I “give up” — nope. And eventually both of my religion books were published. I’m not saying this to brag — I’m saying this to point out it is possible to get published, even if you’re a new writer. Even if you’re a nobody. It does happen. It happens every year.

Like all human endeavors, an in-group/out-group mentality can and does play a role in the publishing world. But seriously — this “NY has it out for the little guy” spiel is the biggest load of crap I’ve ever heard. New York publishes new authors every year. And if you hone your craft, you will more than likely be one of them, eventually. Could you be one of the people that slips through the cracks? Yes. In that case, go self publish. But do it because you WANT to. Because you’ve studied it. Researched it. And have concluded this is best for your and your work. I have two writing pals who fit into this category. They don’t even want to try for a traditional publisher. They prefer the control self publishing gives them. That’s awesome! And I cannot wait to purchase their stuff and do what little I can to encourage others to purchase it too. If you fall into that group — GO FOR IT!!! This blog isn’t addressed to them. It’s addressed to those who try and set up an us vs them mentality or claim that the publishers just HATE the little guy, etc. That is simply not true. We are ALL writers. And whether we choose traditional or self publishing, we should be supporting one another and encouraging one another.

Editors want to see cool, well written stories. And if you study the craft, you’ll eventually get there. I’m seeing it at work with a significant portion of my fellow writers who attended The Writing Excuses Out of Excuses Retreat in 2013. Will ALL of us get published? I have no clue. (A few already are! At least one is a quarterly finalist in Writers of the Future.) But I do believe a number of them will get published — either self published or traditionally published. Will I be one of them? That’s my plan! And only time will tell.

When my manuscripts are ready (a long way off) I may decide self publishing is the way to go. But if I do, it will be because I’ve put a LOT of thought into that decision and I can promise you I won’t be arguing that New York had it out for me. It will be my decision and that manuscript will go through just as rigorous a process as it would have had I gone the traditional route — including the comprehensive editing process my editor at Tellectual Press walked me through.

But that’s still something many months away. For now, I’m just writing. And in fact, that’s probably what I should be doing now!

 

 

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Art is not free!

The more I read about the attitudes of people siding with Amazon, the more frustrated I get. If you want QUALITY entertainment then you need to pay for it! Too many Americans in the last 10-15 years have developed the mindset that the WORLD exists to entertain them for FREE!

You know what? The world really doesn’t exist for that reason. People complain that the publishers (and even authors) make too much money. Maybe that is true for some of the mega-stars. I would definitely agree that it’s true when people like Bill O”Reilly “writes” a book about Jesus every other month and rakes in $20 million dollars for his own spin on Christian apologetics. But generally authors aren’t making $20 million per book. Only celebrities who then become authors make that sort of money. Authors who become celebrities do not.

And yet if they did, this isn’t about THEM. It’s about the mid-lister who makes a living writing, but isn’t in any sense financially wealthy. THEY are the ones who are going to suffer — along with new writers like Brian McClellan author of Promise of Blood. (A book I didn’t care for but I HOPE he makes a solid living doing what he loves!) It’s about some of my favorite writers like Carrie Vaughn and Bree Despain, who aren’t mega-stars that can afford to have their pre-order and buy buttons pulled from Amazon.

I also scratch my head when I hear people (especially self-published authors) ask “well, what do publishers DO anyway?” What do they do? They employ hundreds of people. A minimum of 5 to 6 work on each and every book you see in a bookstore. Publishers have acquisition editors, content editors, copy editors, proof readers, art designers, type setters, computer software experts (for e-books) marketers, publicists, and dozens of other people that are involved to bring a SINGLE book into existence.

Some people claim that all of these people are unnecessary in our day and age, what with the ease of self publishing. But I guarantee you, you will NOT find a self published hardcover edition of a 1000 page book with magnificent cover art, beautiful typesetting on archival paper, art work, maps, etc. These books cost a LOT of money to produce because everyone involved makes their living doing these things.

Yes, there are TERRIFIC self published books out there! There are HIGH quality self published materials in book, comic, art, and many other forms. I am NOT trashing the hard working self published writer who works their butt off to produce quality stories and quality materials. But anything of quality has undergone the same rigorous process that a publisher will put a book through. And if an author has put the time, blood, sweat, and hard work into making a project the BEST it can possibly be, these people DESERVE to be compensated. The idea that we entitled Americans can just get all our entertainment for FREE or for less than it cost to actually produce the work is egocentric bull crap!

As a friend of mine once heard at a writers conference: writing is like prostitution. You don’t give it away for free!

The same goes for ANY art form. Artists are not the trash of society. Artists are the people who lift us up when we are down. They are the people who inspire us. Make us question our cherished beliefs. Artists are one of the things that makes life worth living. This goes for both traditionally published and self published authors. You WILL find poor quality in both. But when the quality is high, we should pay for it!

I’m not happy with Amazon. Yes, it is a battle between giant corporations. But the answer is NOT for every author to just flock over to CreateSpace. IMO this is precisely what they want. And of course, the moment that were to happen, they’d be like those big “evil” NY Houses — deciding who and what gets promoted. We need competition, if not for the sake of the art itself, for the sake of good story telling that is readily available EVERYWHERE. Not through a single vendor.

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Kim Harrison blogs about the recent Amazon/publisher war

Kim Harrison, author of the The Hollows series of Urban Fantasy novels, blogged about the ongoing Amazon vs Publisher battle. She raises some very interesting points in her post here!

I added a comment to her blog, and because I wanted to repeat several points here, I’ve decided to just copy and paste my thoughts here.

 

I didn’t read Kim’s post as her say anything negative about the quality of Indy published books, authors, or the worlds they create. The point is that they are two distinct methods of publishing. Just as there is no one way to right a book, in our day and age, one way is right for some people, the other way is right for other people.

I admit, I LOVE catching those e-book sales where The Hollows series was $1.99 or Way of Kings was $2.99. I also get frustrated by some books NEVER going on sale. That IS frustrating. But, the idea that I should pay $5 for a brand NEW release is just ridiculous. How are authors going to actually earn a living if they aren’t making any money? The answer is they won’t be able to make a living writing, which in turn means we won’t get their books anymore because now they have to go work at Wal-Mart (or teach, or whatever else.) We, as the reading public, will have just shot ourselves in the foot and killed what we love, simply because we thought paying $12 was too much for an e-book.

I get it. Sometimes that DOES feel like it’s too much, and that I’d be better off just buying the hardcover for a few dollars more. OTH, I can comprehend better reading on my Kindle. (Dyslexia, smaller screen, etc). Plus I can read my Kindle in bed and not risk dropping a book on my head. :)

And yet I, as an aspiring novelist myself, know writing is a LOT of work. I’ve attended retreats and studied the business and know just how MUCH work and how many people are involved bringing a project to the public. I know self published authors. I love the ease of self publishing now days. But thus far, no self published author (who wasn’t already BIG name via conventional publishing) has produced anything even remotely as beautiful as a brand new hardcover edition of The Undead Pool. Forget something gigantic like Words of Radiance.

If we SF/F fans — and book fans — want to be able to have these beautiful hardcovers, or even well put together Trade Paperbacks. we can’t refuse to buy a book because it’s $10 for an e-book, particularly if it’s a new release.

Like others have said, I LOVE my Kindle so I can just tear through a book anytime I want. I have far more e-books than I do paper books at this point. But . . . but, I buy older titles at the discount. And that’s so much FUN. It is what got me hooked on The Hollows not to mention other series and authors. But a brand new release should be a give away.

A book gives us anywhere from five to forty hours of entertainment (depending upon size of the book and the speed at which someone reads). If we just go by the length of time an audio book version of The Hollows, let’s average it to ten hours. Where else are you going to get 10 hours of entertainment, emotion, joy, sadness, desire, fear, release, and get to feel like you KNOW the characters — all for $10-$15 dollars?

Of course I admit, I’m somewhat of a hypocrite here because sometimes I do wait for the price to drop. It IS hard to see paying $15 for digital content and have nothing to show for it. OTH, isn’t my experience the content I’m looking for?

Perhaps that’s the publisher solution is to charge $25 for hardcover + the e-book for free. Or Else the e-book costs $15. I’d be willing to pay for that on a brand new titled that I really want to read.

Again, older titles I see as slightly different and I do love looking for those sales and new authors to try out.

It’s a complex issue and I’m GLAD Kim blogged about it.

****

 

I wanted to drive home the point that if authors cannot make an actual living anymore from writing the books which we love so much, then we will no longer get their books.

I’m not saying I know what the answer is (though I think that hardcover price, two for one deal would be sweet). But it’s important for people to understand the image of the multi-zillonaire writer working three days out of the year is simply a myth. Yes, some authors ARE quite wealthy. But writing seems to be one of the FEW business in which a large number of people think the producer of the work shouldn’t actually get paid.

Well, that’s fine. Don’t pay them. But if that’s how you feel, don’t expect them to produce anymore books either.

 

 

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Amazon playing hardball, hurts authors and readers

 

While in the midst of contract negotiations, online retailer and purported bookseller Amazon.com has attempted to make New York publisher Hatchette Book Group an offer it can’t refuse my making many of Hatchette’s titles (for example Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great) unavailable for timely shipping. And when I say unavailable for timely shipping, I mean you’ll have to wait 2-5 weeks. Not days. Weeks — even with the now more costly (and cost prohibitive) Amazon Prime membership.

Evidently, this is not a new tactic as you can read in this article from the New York Times.

I guess I’ve been locked away in the theological vault for far too long because this tactic, which I see as dirty pool, is news to me. And to be honest, I’m quite upset about it. I’m so upset that I’m asking everyone out there to please consider purchasing your physical books from places other than Amazon.com. Preferably Barnes and Noble AND your local Independent bookstores.

I’m not calling for a boycott. A full out boycott would only hurt independent, self published authors and small press published authors (like myself). I have a new Kindle Paperwhite and I LOVE it. I’m not going to stop reading my Kindle or purchasing Kindle e-books. However, if a physical book is available from somewhere other than Amazon, even if the price is a few cents more, I’m going to purchase at the alternative retailer. Yes, I might have to wait 5 days, but it’s worth it to me, as a book geek, to make it clear that I do not approve of authors being screwed and the reading public being screwed due to corporate negotiations.

Amazon is a great retailer. Their customer service has always been a pleasure for me. to deal with. I know many people who’ve self published through CreateSpace. I know many small presses also use the CreateSpace printers to sell their books. I’ve rarely had a problem with anything I’ve ordered from Amazon. And when I have,  they’ve dealt with it. I will still shop there. I’m not going to pay $30 more for some piece of electronics just to boycott Amazon. But I am going to try harder to find comparable prices for the same item elsewhere. And, with the exception of physical books that are ONLY available through Amazon, I will no longer purchase physical books from them.

Books, stories, and education are too important to be a part of the creation of a book monopoly. We need to do what we can to support our local bookstores and B&N. Yes, I know B&N has it’s own problems, but they are still a bookstore. If we, the reading, writing, and author community loses B&N, it will be one more check in the Amazon power box.

However, if you don’t like B&N then please at least buy from a local bookstore. They do still exist and we need to support them. Now more than ever. Is it more expensive? Sure. Sometimes it is. But you know what? A three to five dollars more for a gigantic hardcover edition of Brandon Sanderson’s Way of Kings at your local, Indy bookstore, isn’t going to break you. Yes I know that five dollars can be a LOT of money. Believe me, I understand this far more than I care to discuss. But at some point we have to prioritize. And I’d rather give up $5 worth of something else (an extra pint of ice cream, that $5 movie in the bargain bin) to support authors, literature, book stores (especially in our local communities) and BOOKS!

I’m not hating on Amazon. I’m not asking people to boycott or throw away their Kindles. I love my Kindle and will continue to love it. However, what I am asking is for us all to be more cognizant of what we buy and where we buy it. It doesn’t take much extra time. It really doesn’t.

Support Amazon as much as you want. They’re still a good retailer. But as a book geek I implore you to please support BOOKS first, along with those who dedicate their lives to writing, educating, and entertaining us all.

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My Interview with Strange Frequencies Radio is now online!

Last Sunday afternoon I was interviewed by Strange Frequencies Radio. We discussed my books The Crazy Side of Orthodoxy and Freedom to Doubt. We tackled the nature of faith, doubt, and whether or not Christians can and should doubt their religion’s teachings. We dove into my personal struggle out of fundamentalism and into a more progressive form of Christianity and it was a fun time. My interview starts the second hour of the program.

It is always interesting to discuss religion with those who now identify themselves as non-believers, but seem to appreciate those of us in the Christian world who can be honest and open about our struggles and doubts. Both hosts are really great guys. I’ve often found that non-believers are often more open to where I am spiritually than many believers. (Though that’s not always the case.)

This week I also recorded another radio program, but since it won’t air until sometime toward the end of June, I’ll keep that under my hate for the time being. But stay tuned.

PS: Content Warming for Strange Frequencies: they do not shy away from using curse words (typically in a humorous context) though I don’t recall that during the interview. So if that is a concern for you, you may just want to skip ahead to the second hour when my interview begins. But really, it’s not that bad and all in good fun.

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