Thursday, 17 May 2018

Ways To Separate The Malicious From the Ignorant

I was raised to believe that progress had eradicated prejudice and hatred, aside from a few small brush fires from those who really should be pitied for their pathetic, hateful lives.  But those teaching me were confident that humanity had collectively progressed and that as we gained access to more and more information, cultures, and knowledge, then we would get closer and closer to the Star Trek ideal of many groups working together without any one claiming to be superior to the others.

Not pictured: people

The last few years have buried the remaining shreds of that belief.  As much as I (and I'm sure many others) would like to believe that any remaining horridness is merely an education issue (i.e. show them in a constructive way why they are mistaken and everything will be better), the truth is that there are many who cling to their hatred and enjoy attacking others.

But here's the thing that keeps me going: it's not all of them.

There are still many people who spout or support prejudice and hateful ideas because they have been taken in by malicious individuals who use their audience's limited experience to present things in a way which seems plausible and then fans the flames of outrage.  It's effectively a magic trick in that it only works from very precise angles.  Step even an inch either way, and it's revealed as a complete fraud.

I still believe it is possible to reach many of those people through education and exposure.  However, there's a challenge in that many of the malicious will hide their attacks behind a pose of ignorance and use it as a shield for micro-aggressions and outright lies.  This gets exhausting for the targets of their anger and often provokes them into justified anger, which then gets interpreted as "oversensitivity" and "irrationality" by their attackers.

So here's the second thing: how is anyone supposed to be able to separate out those malicious attackers from those who can be educated?  There are actually some very consistent cues that I've found can help.

Is the information they present factual?

This is the basic line of defense.  When someone claims that 95% of all rape cases are dismissed because the police discover the victim is lying, that's an easy number to check.  Even a basic google search can reveal the common lies told by the various hate groups as part of their recruitment and justification strategies.  And most of them have clearly defined and researched debunkings.  This research is dismissed by these groups as part of a wide-spread conspiracy to keep them oppressed and people fooled.  That's a very simple litmus test: if someone's "truth" requires that large segments of the population be actively lying and withholding accurate information, then it's probably less truthy than they'd like to accept.

The ignorant can usually accept education (even if it is painfully slow sometimes).  There is a challenge in that many malicious attackers use a technique called sea lioning, where they will insist on endlessly cited sources but then refuse to accept any of them.

It can be tiring to have to constantly research to make certain that you're not falling for false facts, but if it means that you're also not supporting a hate group, I personally feel it's worth the effort.

Do they constantly change the topic?  

"Drunk driving is bad."  
"But what about people who drive while high?"  
"That's bad, too."
"But what about cultures where refusing hospitality is seen as rude?"

There can't be a discussion if the other party insists on either dragging in a lot of false equivalencies (like driving high) or completely unrelated topics (hospitality culture).  While discussions do naturally tend to follow tangents, if you constantly find yourself having to present more and more information on a wider and wider net, without the other person ever acknowledging the previous points you've made, that person is likely unwilling to be educated and is attempting to wear you down.

Do they use a lot of "But ...."?

You may have noticed that a lot of the previous examples start with the word "but" which is one of those critical words that can tell you what someone really thinks.  If a lot of statements start with but, then it's a deflection strategy.  If the but is in the middle of the sentence it can be a little trickier to figure out.  Generally, a person feels stronger about whatever is presented after the but; i.e., I think that restaurant is good but the waiters are really surly.  Most people understand that the surly waiters outweigh the goodness of the restaurant.  And most people saying that would be using "I think that the restaurant is good" as a social soothing technique to soften the upcoming criticism.

The other technique is to look at which side of the sentence has more detailed information.  If someone says "The last time I was at the restaurant, the waiter made a rude comment and they messed up my order, but I'm sure it's a perfectly good place most of the time."  then the specific complaints outweigh the generic reassurance.  This kind of sentence structure is usually a sign that the person realizes they may have gone too far and is trying to back-pedal to prevent exposure.

Sometimes people have mixed feelings or an issue is genuinely complicated and then they have to use a but to accurately express herself.  However, if there are a lot of buts and the emphasis is continually on a hateful point of view, then there is likely an element of maliciousness behind them.

Do they deflect, claiming to be joking or just asking questions?

Claiming to be joking and deriding the other person for not having a sense of humour is one of the oldest tools in the bully's tool kit, but it continues to be surprisingly effective.  It falls apart on closer view though.  Why is it funny that someone is hurt or upset?  Even common jokes lose their humor when viewed with empathy and separated from surprise: eg: A man and his wife are in the hospital and he's dying.  He tells her: "Before I go, I need to tell you that I had an affair."  She replies: "I know, that's why I poisoned you."  

When someone thinks about it, that's not terribly funny.  Murder, affairs, and painful deaths are sad, not funny.  And I say this as someone who constantly needs to double check my own gallows humour.  But I would be horribly hurt and embarrassed if I realized a joke of mine had hurt someone else, not dismissive of their pain.

A variant on the "I was just joking" is the "I'm just asking questions" technique, but too often it's a deflection from sea lioning.  If someone has indicated questions are intrusive, or have already been answered, or that the questioner is not acknowledging the information already presented, then they cannot hide behind "just asking."

The joking/question approach is often used as a silencing attack.  The attacker causes harm to the victim and when the victim tries to raise awareness or seek reparations, the secondary attack is intended to keep them from doing so again.  

Are there logic gaps in their position?

Dumb solutions follow nearly every exposure of hatred.  "If they just <blank> then it wouldn't have happened" is the time-honoured formula.  It's presented as simplistic and obvious and for those who have not been exposed to underlying issues, it can seem plausible.  But those simplistic solutions usually have some serious logic gaps.

Recently, an author has been attacking other authors for using a common English word in their book titles which she has also used in her titles.  She has defended her actions, claiming that there is no cost or penalty if those authors just retitle their books so that they cannot be confused with their own.  However, if she truly believed there was no penalty to retitling, why did she not retitle her own books with something unique?  Why attack other authors with threats of legal action if there's an easier solution that is entirely within her control and which she believes is harmless?

Or what about those who claim the men arrested at Starbucks should have ordered something before waiting or that the boys questioned by police during a campus tour should have worn a lanyard to identify themselves as legitimate prospective students?  They overlook the fact that minorities face much more frequent harassment and focus attention on those who were victims rather than on those who acted inappropriately by calling police.

It can be hard to pick up on the logic gaps sometimes, particularly if a person only has limited experience.  The best way to overcome that limited experience is to seek out alternate points of view from those who directly experience these issues.  It can be hard to listen without being defensive, but it can also be rewarding.

There's so much out there these days that it can be hard to know what's truth and what's not sometimes.  But we can't allow the malicious to be the only ones still talking.  I hope that some of you find this post helpful because I think we all need to work together.  And then maybe we can make the vision of a respectful and supportive society into a reality.

Book 4 of my Lalassu series: Judgment is now out!  And Book 1: Revelations is on sale for less than the price of a cup of coffee.

Previous Post: Heroine Fix: Celebrating Angry Girls with Meg Murry of A Wrinkle In Time

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Monday, 14 May 2018

Weekly Update: May 6 to May 12

Weekly word count: 6177 words

What a whirl last week was!  The final prep to get everything ready for Judgment's release today, presenting at Ottawa Comic Con (and spending a solid weekend immersed in my happy geekdom), and preparing for my presentation at Ottawa Independent Writers on Tuesday.  Whew!  I'm kind of shocked that I made it.

First and most important: Judgment (Book 4 of the Lalassu) releases today in ebook.  Unfortunately, there was trouble with the proof, so the print version is not yet ready but will be coming out soon.  And with all the whirl, I didn't quite get the chapter by chapter author commentary up on my website yet, but that will be done by the end of this week.  Judgment was probably the most emotionally intense book that I've written and I think everyone is going to be pleased to find out what happens to Martha and her daughter Bernie (from Revelations and Inquisition) and Lou (Lily's brother, first appearing in Metamorphosis). 

Next and still geeking out: Comic Con.  It was an amazing con this year.  I met Doug Jones, who was wonderfully sweet and gave me a hug as well as an autograph.  He is an amazing creature actor (Shape of Water, Hellboy, Star Trek: Discovery - to name a few of my favourites).  I also got to see Bruce Boxleitner, Karl Urban, Brent Spiner, Jewel Staite, Finn Jones, and Matt Smith.  I was disappointed that Jason Momoa decided to cancel his Q&A, and that Mike Colter wasn't able to come, but I had an amazing time.  Our panel on publishing (with the talented and wonderful 'Nathan Burgoine, Eve Langlais, and Lucy Farago) was standing room only and people seemed really happy to get books for asking questions.  There were some cautious inquiries as to whether or not we'd be willing to do it again, to which I reply: Heck, yeah!

I'm making sure that I'm fully recovered for my presentation for the Ottawa Independent Writers, happening tomorrow (Tuesday, May 15th) at the Hintonburg Community Centre, starting at 6:30.  I'll be talking about emotions and body language and how writers can use it to bring greater depth and expressiveness to their characters.

For my WIP, Deadly Potential, I've reached the point where I'll need to spend a day or two doing a detailed mapping everything out to make sure everything fits together, so my writing goal is 5000 words for this week instead of 6000.  We'll see if I make it.  Thanks everyone for all of your encouragement and to my readers for their loyalty and patience.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Heroine Fix: Celebrating Angry Girls with Meg Murry

Heroine Fix is a monthly feature looking at characters that I admire and who influence my own writing. (Warning: this article will contain spoilers.)

A Wrinkle In Time was one of the first books that came alive for me and that I connected to in a meaningful way.  I was hugely excited with the new Disney movie as it was so visually gorgeous and was a chance to bring this world to life.  However, I was a little disappointed that they shifted emphasis on one of my favourite aspects of the character: Meg's anger being a strength.

In the new film, Meg's anger and distrust is referred to as a sign of darkness inside her, which is a major threat within the Wrinkle universe.  Mrs. Whatsit expresses doubt and distrust about Meg and whether or not she'll be able to succeed in the mission to defeat the darkness in the universe (IT and the Echthroi for those familiar with the series).  She suggests leaving Meg behind multiple times.

One of the reasons why I connected strongly with Meg was because of her anger.  I was also picked on at school by teachers and students and I got so tired of the message that I needed to be calm and understanding and not do anything to cause trouble.  Meg's anger gave her strength.  She tells the Happy Medium: "It really helped ever so much because it made me mad and when I'm mad I don't have room to be scared."

Anger gets a bad reputation in our society.  In another Disney film Inside Out the characters learn the value of sadness: that it allows others to know when we need help and consideration.  But they didn't cover the value of anger: it alerts us to when something is wrong.

The actions we take when angry aren't always good choices, but anger itself is a valuable emotional tool.  There are many things in life that should make us angry.

In the original book, A Wrinkle In Time, (which I highly recommend reading even as an adult) the enemy isn't anger, it's hatred.  I think that's an important distinction to make.  The evil IT thrives on hatred, especially for anything that is different.  Anything inconvenient, inefficient or different is destroyed, creating the terrifying sameness of Camazotz.  In contrast, the creatures of Ixchel are truly alien but are caring and loving.  It was a very powerful illustrations of a person's actions counting more than their appearance.

Meg survives Camazotz and rescues her father and brother because she is angry and questions authority, something that children in general and girls in particular are discouraged from doing.  She doesn't take what the adults around her say on faith, demanding answers.  Part of her character arc is to learn that she cannot wait for adults to do things for her, when something is wrong she has to take action herself.  Her faults allow her to see problems that others don't and her stubbornness and determination allow her to fight for what needs to happen.  She's a magnificent role model, especially for girls, and has influenced all of my rebellious heroines.

The evil IT encourages Meg to relax and accept what's going on.  "On this planet everything is in perfect order because everyone has learned to relax, to give in, and submit."  Too often, we're encouraged to do exactly that.  Just accept the world as it is rather than going to the effort to fight it.  Meg doesn't accept it and she fights.  The book doesn't shy away from showing the difficulty and loneliness of being a fighter, but it also celebrates it.

Many of the modern YA heroines are emotionally passive, even when they are also revolutionaries.  They are numb to the outrages around them.  Meg is raw and unfiltered, demanding that things need to be fixed.  And I, for one, am glad that I found her.

Keep reading for more information on next month's Heroine Fix and a special offer on my books.

Are you addicted to strong and interesting heroines like I am?  Share your favourite heroines with me on Twitter (@jclewisupdate) with the hashtag #HeroineFix

And if you like to check out my strong, rebellious heroines who keep fighting until things are made right, right now you can pick up the first book in the Lalassu series, Revelations, for less than the price of a cup of coffee.  

A secret society of superheroes is living among us and someone is beginning to collect them.  Dani and Michael team up to find the ones they care about but the chemistry between them threatens to unlock an ancient and powerful threat.

Previous blogpost: Some Thoughts on Cliff-Hangers

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Previous Heroine Fix: Crafting A Great Bad Girl - Letty from Good Behaviour

Revelations is now available at a wide variety of ebook retailers for only $ 0.99 US.

Next month's Heroine Fix will look at Quake from Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  Join me on June 14th to celebrate one of the newest additions to the take-no-prisoners ladies of Marvel.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Weekly Update: April 29 to May 5

Weekly word count: 5975

There are ten weeks left before RWA Nationals and I've done the math on what I need to do in order to have a completed first draft done.  (And reaffirmed that doing the math is never a sign of something pleasant.)  I've got 57k done, and there will likely be another 50 to 60k for the manuscript.  So that means I need to do at least 5-6k every week and realistically, I should be aiming for 6-7k each week, because not every word that I write deserves to be kept.

When I first started, I thought I might be able to achieve 2k per day on weekdays.  If I had my scheduled 2 hours each day, then 2000 words is a possibility.  But I rarely get my full two hours.  Things nibble into that margin and I usually lose at least half an hour.

I'm fighting a bit of give-up-itis.  It's actually kind of impressive how far my brain can go down the cascade of failures:  I'll never get it done.  Even if I get it done, it won't be good.  Even if I think it's good, agents and editors won't want it.  Even if they want it, book sales are down... so on and so on.  I think I eventually get to the point where I'm hiding alone and unloved in a basement somewhere, having been exposed as a total fraud and hack.

Here's the thing: I know this is all garbage.  My goals are still achievable and while there's plenty out of my control, the parts that are under my control are very do-able.  So I'm going to go ahead and register to pitch to agents and editors at RWA and then it's going to be up to fate and the gods about what happens next.  But I refuse to let the dark little voice inside my head win.  It's stolen enough of my life with its false predictions. 

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Some Thoughts on Cliffhangers

The cliffhanger used to be a staple of story-telling.  Scheherazade used them to extend her life for a 1001 days.  The term "cliffhanger" comes from the old serial adventure films, which often ended with the heroes hanging off an actual cliff, the villain about to succeed, and the admonition to "Tune in next week!" to find out what happened.

I'm sure he'll be fine.
Today, though, they're not as popular, at least not on the audience side.  It can be incredibly frustrating to see To Be Continued... crawl across the screen when it's not expected.  Or to get to the last page and still not know who the Big Bad is, or what their plan is, or how our heroes are going to thwart it.

The issue goes back to story structure.  Regardless of whether one uses a three act structure, a five act structure or the 22 plot points of the Hero's Journey, a resolution is always the last step.  It's not always in the heroes' favour but it is an ending, one way or another.

There are points where I feel that cliffhangers are acceptable.  Some stories are too big to be told within typical page or time limits.  Dividing them into several parts is a valid choice but it's a challenge to make sure that the audience is satisfied at the end of each installment.  And it's critical that the audience knows that the story is ongoing.

I am not a fan of the start-on-a-cliffhanger technique, where the audience is shown the heroes in peril or doing something uncharacteristic, and then we flash back to "Two days earlier" and the creator shows how they got to that point.  It invariably feels like a cheap tactic to generate tension.  It's not even a particularly effective tactic since it's been used so many times. 

If an audience thinks the creator is stringing them along in order extort more sales, they will be rightfully furious.  It's a fine line between a hook and a cliffhanger, and it's mostly in the audience's perception.

Monday, 30 April 2018

Weekly Update: April 22 to 28

Weekly word count: 6329

This week's wacky adventure in my world involved losing almost all of my scheduled writing time due to several minor emergencies.  Which left me with a difficult choice: do no writing at all or lose sleep and stay up late to try and get some words down.

I chose stay up late.  So all this week, I've been starting writing around 10 pm and going until 11:30 or midnight, which requires a lot of caffeine.

That works in the short term but isn't sustainable for more than about five days.

I'm hoping that this week works better.  I'm putting the finishing touches on Judgment so that it'll be ready for release.  And I've got some swag to order for Limestone.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Ink Tip: But That's Not What I Meant! (Working With An Editor)

There are days when I wonder how anyone is able to communicate with one another... most of those days happen when I'm doing edits. 

Maybe I meant to say he grabbed a bear and took a drink!  It could happen!
Words are supposed to be straightforward.  Say the right ones and other people will grasp the information you are conveying.  This is the myth that we cling to and it's probably the basis for all civilization and culture.  But it's not quite entirely true, as is obvious to anyone who takes half a minute scrolling through the arguments on social media.

There's a lot of variation in interpretation of the words we use to communicate.  And often what we think we've said is not what we've actually said.  Editors and beta readers can help an author to narrow that gap, but it is an ego-shredding process.  

My rule of thumb is that I will not argue with my editor about a problem that she has identified, though I may not agree with her about the way to fix it.  This has saved a lot of headaches and arguments on both sides.  If she is asking why a character isn't jumping through the window to save the day, then I can't argue that I've laid out a dozen reasons already.  Either potential readers aren't making the connection with the previous reasons or those reasons don't seem like a sufficient excuse to avoid window-jumping.

That brings me to a choice: I can take out the window-jumping scene, I can tweak previous scenes to emphasize the reasons, or I can add a direct thought about why they're not window-jumping.  There are lots of options, I just need to figure out which one works best for my story and my style.

Sometimes there are other issues which can start to infringe on an author's voice.  Personally, I love using unusual words and descriptions but I know it can become off-putting for a reader to constantly have to guess what I mean.  So when my editor starts indicating that I need to take them out, it can feel like a personal sting.  But it forces me to consider each one: do I really need this? does it match the pacing of the story or am I slowing the reader when I shouldn't be?  I fight for the ones I really want and that I think are critical, but the vast majority get simplified.  By making me face how many times I've used the word "eeled" in a manuscript, I'm forced to hone my writing and avoid repetition.

One of the biggest reasons I use an editor is to ensure consistent writing style, i.e. use of commas, tenses, and italics.  There's a fair amount of variation in what is actually "right" in the English language (I have friends who will live and die in their defense of the Oxford comma) but it's inconsistency that makes most readers cringe.  My editor keeps my style consistent and I am eternally grateful, even if I sometimes go wide-eyed at the number of commas that I apparently missed.

None of these things are easily handled by an author on their own.  I know some authors who pay for three or four editors in the developmental stage, just to make sure they get a variety of viewpoints looking at it.   I know authors who do multiple line edits to make sure all of the typos, grammar and punctuation errors get caught.  (Though if you are going to do this, make sure that each line editor is familiar with the style that you have chosen: Chicago, Strunk and White, etc.)  An editor isn't your friend, but he or she is absolutely necessary if an author wants to move past the amateur stage.  It is a partnership and both sides have the same goal: to make sure a book is the best possible book it can be.  

My next best possible book, Judgment, will be coming out on May 14th and you can pre-order it now.  Sometimes the most ordinary people are capable of extraordinary things and you should never underestimate a mom with a mission.

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