Which Way the Wind Blows

I was watching a teen movie last night, and the class pariah and the literal prom queen got thrown into a situation together, and by end of the movie, they were besties, spending their summer together. I asked the closing credits, “Yeah, but what happens when the school year begins?” I asked because I had gone through this.

Halfway through my tour of high school, I was an undiagnosed bipolar going through a hypomanic phase. Things were good. My friends were good, my life goals were good, my job was good (well, not the work part, but the cash for movies, comics, and coffee was good), my prospects were good. Things were good. I went into that summer prepared to hang out with my merry band of misfits and just being good.

But there was suddenly a new kid in the group, and no one had consulted me about him. I knew who he was, and he was kind of a douchebag. He was reasonably popular—not the prom king, but he had his own clique and minions. His clothes were too neat, his hair had too much product in it, and his confidence was just a little too high for my tastes. But a prominent member of our gang vouched for him, and we let him in.

He quickly ingratiated himself into the group. He laughed at all of our jokes. He made his own jokes. He seemed to get us when we were sure that we were the only people who got us. I started to look up to him, as he seemed, despite being my age, older. He had a lot more experiences under his belt, some of which was girls. He helped me refine my music palate, he introduced me to horror movies, and he occasionally found us some beer. He had gone, in a handful of weeks, from being someone I would never associate with to a really close friend.

And then school started again, and he was gone. He didn’t return our calls, he didn’t acknowledge us in the hallways, he completely disappeared from our lives, like he was never there to begin with. The friend who’d vouched for him in the beginning of the summer would get really angry if his name were even uttered, so our entire summer became this taboo thing that had never happened. I had a brief conversation with our missing friend a few weeks after this had happened, and he acted like there was nothing to be done about it. Like he wasn’t in control of the loss of our relationship.

I think about it as an adult who has since learned that popular kids are people too, and I wonder how much control he did have over his relationships. Social castes are real. Even I, who didn’t have a lot of regard for what people thought of him, had immense regard for what people thought of him. Later, as a senior, I had branched out and made friends and acquaintances with representatives of different social strata, but I was successful in doing that because I knew my place.

A long time ago I forgave my temporary friend for abandoning me because he didn’t belong with us. I had three short months to get to be his friend, and I value that time. Each life that has touched mine is precious, even if it was only for a little bit.

My mind is on that movie again. Will the prom queen abandon her friends when school begins? Or will she throw her hard-earned class status out the window for new relationships? She’s got a lot of thinking to do, which is, I guarantee, more thinking than the writers put into this screenplay.

Blinded with Science

I’m a skeptic. I don’t really believe anything unless it’s been peer-reviewed and analyzed to death. I don’t have a lot of faith. A lot of people look down on me for this. They say I’m closeminded, that I’m disconnected from the wonders of the universe. To the latter, I say, the universe, as science sees it, is incredible. I don’t need ghosts, which can be explained through hundreds of possibilities that don’t involve dead people, when I have fire—the fundamental deconstruction and rearranging of matter, and it’s pretty; or water, which has a molecular composition so unusual that our entire planet is built around it.

As far as being closeminded, I can assure you that just about every skeptic I’ve met or read would like nothing more than to find Bigfoot. A primitive hominid wandering around the Pacific Northwest for hundreds of years, just out of sight of civilization? How cool would that be? But it’s 2020, and everyone has a camera in their pockets, and the best we can come up with is blurry images and inconclusive footprints? No scat? No carcasses? When we meet Bigfoot, we want to meet him, not just anecdotes and conjecture, and we are lining up around the block for it.

Skeptics and science-based thinkers love ideas that challenge their own—provided those ideas are credible. The Theory of Evolution is one of those scientific principles that faith-based thinkers believe that we’re so married to that we won’t accept alternatives. What they don’t understand is that Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is almost unrecognizable from the Theory of Evolution as it exists today. The theories have been challenged, and they have been amended. That’s why the story of how COVID-19 and coronavirus works has changed so much in the past ten months. We keep getting new information, and the doctors incorporate it into what they know. They’re learning. If you govern from unyielding faith, you get our current government, and is that really what you want to aspire to?

I’m afraid to bring this up because most everyone I know is a believer in something I don’t believe in. Mostly God, but ghosts and other supernatural phenomena, as well. The fact that I say I don’t believe as they do is considered an attack, like maybe I think I’m better than them or something. Trust me, I’ve Facebook unfriended all the people I think I’m better than. And I get it, most public atheists are arrogant assholes, and they don’t make it easy to be me. Or my friends will try to talk me out of my skepticism, which has been honed for years and won’t go easily, or explain to me that I can be faithful and scientific. It was easier to tell the world that I’m not into sex, even though that’s weird and unnatural, than it was to tell people that I’m a non-believer.

Why am I taking a chance with alienating you? Because of TV. I have been watching this Netflix show (I won’t say the title because spoilers), and it has blown my mind. It’s about three investigators, a skeptic, a believer, and someone on the fence. What we’ve learned from pop culture so far is that, in these cases, the skeptic is due for a very hard lesson in the power of the supernatural. The non-believers are always taught that they need to believe. Not in this show, though. Four episodes in, and the miracles and demon possessions have all been roundly debunked. Science wins! (It’s obvious that this show has a supernatural undercurrent that is going to show its face in the metanarrative, but on an episode-by-episode, the skeptic is right!) Science never wins over the supernatural, unless it’s the Ghostbusters. I think the show is a one-season wonder, so it didn’t make it, but for a little while, at least, I can cheer as the scientific method conquers evil.

And honestly, in day of QAnon and cries of fake news, a little skepticism is probably a good thing.

This Didn’t Have To Happen

Someone I know just died from COVID. We weren’t close friends—she was someone I knew from when I was wrangling editors at Author Solutions twelve-to-fifteen years ago. But she was one of my top editors. She was efficient, accurate, as well as friendly, funny, kind, and a little flirty. We’ve been Facebook friends since I left, and when I tried, unsuccessfully, to reignite my freelance editing career a year and a half ago, she was there to walk me through it to the best of her ability, even though we really hadn’t talked in an incredibly long time.

I don’t know the details, like, at all, but I know she came to the United States to visit someone, a friend or family, and she got sick and died. She was at risk, so it didn’t take long.

I’ve been taking this outbreak pretty seriously for the past six months (the first month, no so much), and I’ve been horrified watching the infection rate and the death toll rise while our populace walks around like nothing is happening. I haven’t been personally affected by it while some of my Facebook friends have been infected and recovered—as much as it’s possible to recover from this disease. But I’ve not seen anyone I know die, especially not someone I really liked.

I’m not trying to make this about me. It’s about her family—both genetic and adopted, who will most certainly miss her because she was one of the most sparkling editors I’d ever met (and editors aren’t people you’d really describe as “sparkling”).

But I feel this bubbling inside, and I apologize because I try my hardest to avoid using language like this in my feed, but fuck you, coronavirus for everything you’ve done to us this year. Fuck you Donald Trump, along with everyone else who doesn’t take this seriously/thinks it’s a conspiracy. If you’re one of those people, please unfriend me. Don’t say goodbye, don’t drop in and tell me why I’m wrong about COVID-19, just go. My country is a plague state that killed this incredible woman, and it’s all your fault.

And good bye, Karen. I know we weren’t close, and we weren’t really a part of each other’s lives, but now that you’re gone, I really miss you.

That Darn Cat

Newcastle just got back from the cardiologist, where I just spent a lot of money to get him checked out. They diagnosed him with congestive heart failure. Six years ago. When the doctor called me after the appointment today, it was clear that he was shocked that Newcastle was still alive (the usual survival after a diagnosis like this is a year, two tops), much less in great shape. At sixteen, there is no sign of arthritis, and he sleeps a lot, but he loves to play, with Henry and with the ribbon-on-a-string, he eats really well, he has no problem in the bathroom, and his coat looks like it’s been blown out recently by an expensive stylist named “Grigio.”

There’s something special about this cat, I tell you.

The Taste of Defeat

Life is a series of mistakes. We rarely ever get it right the first time, and the true measure of us is how well we incorporate the lessons learned from them into our lives. Mistakes are how we grow.

But some mistakes are just really stupid. In 2005, I made one of these. At the time, I was working for a self-publisher in Bloomington, Indiana in a small room, editing. One of my coworkers was fond of selling his own image as a man of many talents. Today, that talent was gardening. Wrapped in a napkin, he presented the editorial office with a small, yellow vegetable. “This is a Thai ghost pepper. I grew it in my garden. It’s the strongest pepper in the world, and you probably shouldn’t ever eat it—”

“I could eat it,” I said from my desk without looking up.

“You probably shouldn’t. This is hot unlike anything you’ve ever known.”

“I’m from New Mexico,” I said, getting out of my chair and walking over to his desk, “nothing scares me.” And I plucked the pepper out of the napkin and bit it.

In the time it took me to stroll six feet and deposit the stem in the trash, it hit me. I couldn’t see my own face, but witnesses assure me that the shade of it was crimson. Pure, ignited, liquid napalm exploded in my mouth, and a sound that came from my belly was, “Gurgle.” I hustled to the break room, where we had a vending machine that sold milk (this is the only time in my careers that I have ever encountered such a thing), and I bought every eight-ounce carton of milk in stock and chugged it. That provided relief for the ten seconds at a time that the milk was pouring down my throat. Again, more insistently, my stomach went, “Gurgle,” and reading the subtext of that, I knew I had to find a restroom immediately.

I’ve lived through a lot of things in my life, and I survived them with the knowledge that this would pass. It seemed horrible now, but in a few hours, days at most, it would be a memory, and I’d be stronger. On that toilet, I didn’t have that knowledge. My eyes were streaming with tears, my ears were ringing, and my mouth had been reduced to something that existed to inflict pain. In short, every orifice had turned against me, and it would never be better, ever again.

Eventually the agony of those first minutes passed, but it took days for my digestive tract to forgive me. I was a changed man now, a humble man, a cautious man. I still believed that my coworker was full of shit, but I would heed his warnings in the future. The most important lesson I learned from this experience is the one that I pass onto you: if someone says don’t eat this, for the love of God, don’t eat it.

Sweet Smell of Success

As you know, I’ve had my self-publication of my baker’s dozen of books on my mind. I’ve contacted three artists about covers, received two amazing ones back, and am looking into getting a real webpage. I’m not expecting to make any money on my books, and everything I’m sinking into covers is a luxury, not an investment. I don’t want to do what I’d have to do to to really sell myself, i.e. become an active presence on Twitter (Ugh) and shaking hands. I want to write. That’s all I want to do.

I’m a member of this FB group that makes me feel awful about myself. The focus of the group is how to make a living being a writer, and they insist on putting way more work that I’m ready into marketing and such, and if your book doesn’t sell a lot, then you’re a failure. Today someone made a post where he listed his mistakes when he started out writing, and the #1 and the most important was that he wrote for himself, not to market.

That really got to me. Because, in my mind, what’s the point in writing if you’re not writing for yourself? Nicole suggested I write to market, and the amount of not-being-able-to-motivate-myself-into-doing-that cannot be overstated. How do I measure my success, by having a webpage of thirteen (and counting) books with sweet covers that nobody will go to? Or by canvassing Twitter so I can retweet a bunch of authors whose books I may not have read and writing books so they’re exactly like every book out there? I’ve obviously found the FB group for the latter, but is there one for the former?

He Who Hesitates

I’m ordering a book cover, with more to come next month (Newcastle is going to the cardiologist this month, so my funds are limited in October). I’ve looked into some easy ways to do some marketing that won’t break my bank or my sanity. I am at peace with the fact that I won’t sell that many copies (I’m doing this for myself, not because I want to get rich). I will probably be good to go in January.

So the question left is, will I actually start in January? Will I be able to stare into the yawning chasm of Amazon and just throw myself in there? Or will I simply hold my breath and promise myself I’ll do it when I’m ready? Will imposing failure hobble me (I said I was at peace with not selling many copies, but I’m not going to like it)?

I’m running out of excuses.

Holy Crap, Batman!

I’ve decided what I really want to see. I really want to see the technicolor wackiness and goofy characters of the 1966 Batman TV series, but instead of Adam West, I want to see the Ben Affleck/Frank Miller sociopathic sadist Batman running roughshod over Groovy Gotham.

***

ROBIN: Holy street pizza, Batman, you’re dangling him over the roof by his foot!

***

GORDON: You can’t torture that man, Batman! He has rights, and as a duly deputized officer of the law, you have to respect them!

BATMAN: Sure he has rights. He has the right to ride in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. *CRACK! Henchman screams* He has the right never to hold a pencil again. *CRACK! Henchman screams again* Enjoying your rights, scum? WHERE IS THE JOKER!

***

POISON IVY: You wouldn’t hit a lady, would you, Batman?

BATMAN: *PUNCH*


***

I think I’m onto something here.

Oh, Mercy, Mercy Me

Here we are, six months into the pandemic, and a whole lot of people are acting like idiots. This spring, armed men invaded state capitals because they literally wanted to get a haircut. I was talking to someone about how this was the way life was now, and something occurred to me.

The last time that a major upheaval happened in our lives was nineteen years ago today. The whole country shut down under the weight of this horrible act of aggression. The peace and prosperity of the nineties was over (the prosperity had already ended pretty much as soon as Bush was sworn in, but that’s not how we remember it), and we were all going to make sacrifices of our old lives in the face of this new reality.

But in actuality, we didn’t. Life returned to normal pretty much instantly, and I’m not talking about extra airport security or Islamophobia or the incredibly unpopular president becoming a superhero to most of the country. I’m talking about day-to-day life. We could go to restaurants, go to movies, get the oh-so-important haircut. The words of comfort and aid from our president were not “Ask not what your country can do for you,” but rather, “Go shopping.” The MTA had an updated subway map out in about a week. We lost some of our freedoms, but we didn’t really miss them. The only people who gave anything up were those that rushed headlong into the recruiter’s office and found themselves in Afghanistan and Iraq, but, in general, those were the kinds of people who were going to join the military anyway, so no real difference.

Eighteen and a half years later, an invader came to our shores again to rob us of our way of life, and Americans, remembering how this kind of thing goes, were expecting a quick return to normalcy. We don’t like change.

But the fact of the matter is, everything changed, and it will be forever different. One day, in a year, maybe more, the stores may open up all the way again, and schools may be taking students in without having to go online again after a rash of infections pop up, but things won’t be the same. Many Mom and Pop stores will be forever shut down, to be replaced by a centralized, corporate structure. The kinds of people who are freaking out about masks will wield even more political power. We’re already seeing America’s billionaires getting exponentially richer over the past six months, and they’ll do anything not to lose their money. This is how life is now. We won’t be wearing masks forever, but the changes to the way we live our lives are fundamental. It is never going to be the way it was before.

And we, as Americans, can’t deal with that.

The Sanctity of Fictional Life

The Sanctity of Fictional Life

It’s no secret that I like the Urban Fantasy, whether in books or in TV. This doesn’t apply only to Urban Fantasy, but to all genre-style books, movies, and TV shows (excluding romance). These works of fiction tend to have a high body count. Whether it’s the victim before the opening credits of a TV show, or the innocent bystander being killed in the carnage of the two heroes duking it out above the city in a movie, or the person who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when the sexy rogue vampire is walking through the pages of a novel, genre fiction is a bloodbath, and life (except for the main characters) is cheap.

With that much death, it’s hard to comprehend how we’re supposed to feel about it. It should be shock value when the villain just lashes out and kills another hostage, is it? We’ve lost almost 200,000 people to a virus, and most of that was due to negligence and political infighting. Each of those lives means something, but the number is so staggering, we can’t comprehend it. It’s why people don’t wear masks anymore. They don’t see the lives, they see a number.

I write primarily in Urban Fantasy, and I’m really squeamish about killing people. I mean, I have. My nostalgia novel Infinity has a pretty shocking death toll, and the vampire in my vampire novel’s gotta eat. But usually I let people live.

Partly it’s because of logistics. For example, the population of Sunnydale, California, could have, in no way, supported the amount of people who died there on a weekly basis. And who would want to be a Gotham City cop or a guard at Arkham Asylum when anytime one of them appears on panel, they get their throats slit?

But mostly it’s empathy. Even fictional characters have a family who will miss them. They had favorite movies and food, and statistically, some of them have got to have pets. They may be made up by me, but they’re more than just a statistic to make the bad guy seem extra bad and for the heroine or heroine vow to avenge and then forget later.

Also, I found a lot of storytelling possibilities. In one case, a character who should be another dead victim is turned into a trauma survivor who becomes friends with the heroine. And when I do decide to kill someone, the loss of a life means something to their family, to their friends, and to the heroine who witnessed it. I’ve just made the on-the-cuff decision to kill a minor character in my current book, and it’s really allowed me to think about who he was when he was alive, and to get to know him, not just through his funeral trope where everybody stands around a hole while a priest drones on, but through the wake, a celebration of his life and his potential.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I don’t really have the stomach for the way non-main characters are treated in genre fiction, and the only solution to that is to do it better.