Kill Language – Kill Freedom

I love watching my son grow up. What parent doesn’t, right? The best part for me is how he develops, especially when it comes to language. When he was still a toddler, I was astounded at how quickly he picked up concepts, and how they all tied to language. For instance, I showed him an apple, and said “This is an apple.” He understood right away what I meant. He also didn’t get confused when I taught him colors. I pointed to a red apple to show him “red,” and he easily grasped the difference between “red” and “apple.” I understood then that language is built into our brains and develops naturally as we grow up.

Language keeps us connected to each other, and helps us learn about the world. Without language, we couldn’t build anything (consider the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9). Imagine trying to build a house with others without the ability to communicate what needs to be done.

Even math and music are considered languages, and while some believe they can do without math, most everyone needs music.

Mess with language, and we mess with the free exchange of ideas. People no longer understand their world or each other, and we no longer grow as a species.

George Orwell understood this better than most, I think. He expressed his concerns in an essay titled “Politics and the English Language.”

He dug deeper into and expressed it more in his book, “1984,” most specifically with the language he labeled as “Newspeak.”

According to a website dedicated to Orwell:

“The whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought.”

To expand the idea (on the same webpage):

“Newspeak was the official language of Oceania and had been devised to meet the ideological needs of Ingsoc, or English Socialism. In the year 1984 there was not as yet anyone who used Newspeak as his sole means of communication, either in speech or writing. The leading articles in The Times were written in it, but could only be carried out by a specialist. It was expected that Newspeak would have finally superseded Oldspeak (or Standard English) by about the year 2050. Meanwhile it gained ground steadily, all Party members tending to use Newspeak words and grammatical constructions more and more in their everyday speech.”

I ran into this article earlier today:

College Writing Center Declares American Grammar A ‘Racist,’ ‘Unjust Language Structure’

Which in turn led me to University of Washington / Tacoma’s University Writing Program and their Writing Center:

Under “Our Beliefs” of their “Statement on Antiracist and Social Justice Work in the Writing Center” it states:

“The writing center works from several important beliefs that are crucial to helping writers write and succeed in a racist society. The racist conditions of our society are not simply a matter of bias or prejudice that some people hold. In fact, most racism, for instance, is not accomplished through intent. Racism is the normal condition of things. Racism is pervasive. It is in the systems, structures, rules, languages, expectations, and guidelines that make up our classes, school, and society. For example, linguistic and writing research has shown clearly for many decades that there is no inherent “standard” of English. Language is constantly changing. These two facts make it very difficult to justify placing people in hierarchies or restricting opportunities and privileges because of the way people communicate in particular versions of English.”

I’m sure you can see the correlation between Newspeak and what the writing center is espousing.

What led me on this journey (thanks to LK Hunsaker) is this article:

According to the article, some publishers are hiring so-called sensitivity readers “who, for a nominal fee, will scan the book for racist, sexist or otherwise offensive content. These readers give feedback based on self-ascribed areas of expertise such as ‘dealing with terminal illness,’ ‘racial dynamics in Muslim communities within families’ or ‘transgender issues.'”

These statements are of special concern:

“Sensitivity readers have emerged in a climate – fueled in part by social media – in which writers are under increased scrutiny for their portrayals of people from marginalized groups, especially when the author is not a part of that group.”

And:

“It feels like I’m supplying the seeds and the gems and the jewels from our culture, and it creates cultural thievery,” Clayton [a sensitivity reader] said. “Why am I going to give you all of those little things that make my culture so interesting so you can go and use it and you don’t understand it?”

Also known as “cultural appropriation.”

As an aside, for me personally, I don’t care who writes about my culture, as long as they do so accurately. Not every person in a particular culture wants to write about their culture, so why limit themselves, and in the end possibly dooming their culture’s future to oblivion because no one dared, or was allowed to, write about it?

As another aside, the article included this:

“Despite the efforts of groups like We Need Diverse Books, ‘it’s more likely that a publishing house will publish a book about an African-American girl by a white woman versus one written by a black woman like me,’ Clayton says.”

I’m calling bullshit on that. During my own search of agents, I had to cross out quite a few because they are actively seeking so-called marginalized writers such as Ms. Clayton. For which I am not a member.

Most agents care only about the story and the quality of writing. They don’t give a rat’s ass about the writer’s race, gender, etc.

Even those seeking minorities still need a salable story, so although a person’s minority status may get them to the front of the line, he/she still has to deliver. Seems to me, Ms. Clayton is holding herself back, and using her race and gender as an excuse not to try, let alone succeed. Too harsh? Offensive even? Good.

Now back to the original subject.

All of this is political correctness not only run amok, but an attempt to control thought. When you control how language is used – eliminating certain words, or changing the definition of words in order to change peoples’ perception – you can control how a person thinks. When you control how someone thinks, that person loses their freedom to think otherwise. They can no longer think critically, because, in a sense, their words are chosen for them. The number of words – and ideas – they can use are curtailed if not outright eliminated.

If I offend you, or if you offend me, all the better. To quote (where it originated I don’t know): “The solution to offensive free speech is more free speech, not less.”

Writers especially need to protect all words and language – our tools of trade. We can’t allow any type of censorship, because once it grabs hold, we may lose everything.

Truth is most often found in offensive speech, because it forces us to think and respond. Human beings are experts at lying to ourselves, and lying to each other. By attempting to control words and speech, the truth gets lost and liars rule at the expense of everyone else.

Don’t Follow Me

I started watching a Netflix series called “Black Mirrors.” It’s a “sci-fi anthology series [that] explores a twisted high-tech near-future where humanity’s greatest innovations and darkest instincts collide.”

The first episode is about a young woman whose social media rating is at a 4.2, but before she can really get what she wants, she needs to raise it to a 4.5. I won’t give much of the details, but let’s just say it all backfires on her.

It serves, I think, as a warning to us all. How often to we post something and eagerly await every single like and comment. Even here, we are given ratings on our writing.

In and of itself, it isn’t a bad thing, especially here. Ratings help us to improve our writing. The problem comes when we take those same ratings and apply it to how we perceive ourselves as individuals. How much do we determine our self-worth based on how high (or low) our ratings go?

During the last writers conference I attended, I sat in on an agent panel, and one agent said, “If I am to look at two writers, and one has thousands of followers on Facebook or Twitter versus another writer who has only a few hundred, I will most likely sign the first writer.”

From the agent’s perspective, it’s not a horrible thing. As writers, our success or failures in readership will always boil down to the numbers. It may seem unfair, but that is the very definition of fair. Numbers don’t discriminate. They are what they are; how we feel about them is never part of the equation.

That said, I don’t want to succeed that way, at least considering the numbers first before anything else. I follow people on Twitter and Facebook because I care about what they have to say. I want people to follow me for the same reason. In fact, I have no idea how many friends I have on Facebook. I only know how many I have on Twitter, because it shows me every time I login. If it didn’t show me, I wouldn’t even care to look.

Some authors have followed me on Twitter. As soon as I decide to follow them, I get a standard private message stating, “Thanks for the follow. Please see my books and/or other products I have for sale.” Out of fifteen or twenty of those, guess how many books I’ve purchased? One. And only because the way that author asked it was so funny and unique, I had to check it out (I’m glad I did. The novella he advertised for was actually quite good). I know then that they’re not interested in my posts. They’re out to get a sale, to uptick their own numbers. As a potential reader, I feel more than a little used.

Writing and gaining readership aren’t solely about the numbers for me. They never were, and I hope they never will be. As other – especially Christian – authors have said and stressed, writing should be my ministry. For me, it shouldn’t matter if my words influence and comfort a mere 100 people instead of 100,000. Nor should any number of ratings or likes on social media determine how I view myself, or even in how others may view me (“Psh, she only got seven likes for that post. Must be crap. I ain’t reading that!”)

Now this last part may sound like a sales pitch in disguise, but it isn’t. I don’t want you to follow me — unless you really care about my words. Also know that if I follow you, it’s not to try to sell you something, or increase my numbers and/or ratings. I do so because I want to know what you have to say. It’s as simple as that.

Rolling in Poison Ivy

When a writer or author follows me on Twitter, I usually follow them back.

When I do I inevitably get a private message stating, “Thanks for the follow. Be sure to check out my book . . .”

It’s a marketing thing, I get it, and I try not to allow cynicism to take over in that they only followed me in the hopes of getting a sale. Have I purchased a book from a Twitter message?

Once.

And I did so because the author of whom I returned the follow messaged me this:

“I’d roll around in poison ivy to get you to read the free sample of my book . . .”

How could I not turn down such an offer?

At $0.99, I decided to buy the book before I even read the sample. I figured at that low cost, I couldn’t lose either way.

“The Scattered and The Dead Book 0.5” reads like a long prologue (as if the 0.5 didn’t give it away).

With some books, less is more, and the authors Tim McBain and L.T. Vargas proved that with this 162 page book.

“All my friends are dead. Everyone I’ve ever cared about is dead.”

Loneliness drives an introvert to write a letter to the girl in the apartment across the hall. He is anxious. Reclusive. Desperate for a friend. The apocalypse interrupts this attempt at human contact.

Now he watches out the window as the world gets gut to pieces by plague and riots. Buildings burn. Pedestrians vomit blood.

Soon bodies line the streets. Rumors of zombies spread. And then the power goes out.

Getting to know someone could be harder than he thought, let alone surviving in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

He might even have to leave the apartment.

The entire book is Decker’s (the main, and really, the only character) letter to the girl across the hallway. In it he describes everything he does and everything he sees out the window before, during and after the apocalypse starts.

On the surface it might sound boring. Where’s the action and interaction between characters If most of the book takes place in a single apartment through the mind of one person? Unless you count the girl, but we don’t meet her; we only know her through the main character and his imaginings of her. The authors don’t reveal how the apocalypse starts, but I don’t care. It’s not relevant to the story; what matters is how Decker responds to the challenges before him.

In order for a writer to build a character who’s believable and sympathetic, the writer must love that character — even if he/she is the antagonist. The love the authors have for Decker is obvious from the first page. He’s not only believable, but I could see a lot of myself in him. I felt as though he was talking and writing the letter to me. That, there, proves how solid the writing is.

The writing is smooth and direct, and I didn’t find a single error. The authors give just enough detail to immerse us into Decker’s mind and his world, but not so much it gets bogged down. I read the entire book in less than two days, and I honestly didn’t want it to end. Luckily Book 1 is out, so I can keep going.

I won’t offer to roll in poison ivy to get you to read it, but I recommend you check out the book nonetheless.

You can find out more here: http://www.amazon.com/Scattered-Dead-Book-0-5/dp/1523769025/

Respect the Reader

Part of a writer’s responsibility is to read. A lot, both in and outside the chosen genre.

Many have suggested that a writer should include published books similar to their own when querying agents and publishers. This helps the agent/publisher determine where the prospective book belongs on the bookstore shelf (or online category).

Along with researching agents, I’ve also been researching books in my chosen genre, so I can pick a few likely candidates similar to mine.

I found one that looked promising. Before I purchase any book, I look at the reviews, usually the negative, or more critical ones, and see if it’s worth my time and money.

The critical reviews of this particular book were few and far between, but what concerned me was one of the author’s responses:

Considering that the eight novel series has sold more than twenty million copies in 13 languages, and was praised as “Landmark Science Fiction” by Publishers Weekly and Locus Magazine, I suppose Chris and I were probably doing something a little bit right.

No one likes to be criticized, and this is especially true of writers. We are a sensitive lot. Because we pour so much of our heart and soul into our writing, it’s difficult not to bristle at harsh criticism. Lashing out at it is a near insatiable temptation.

But writers must refrain, and approach criticism with a rational and humble attitude. There is but one reason we must do so:

We write not for ourselves alone, but for the reader. Readers are the ultimate decider in an author’s success or failure. Without them, an author can’t succeed. Their opinion matters. Sure, not all criticism should carry such weight that the author must change how or what he/she writes, because not all readers share the same opinions about what’s good writing and/or storytelling.

It’s a matter of respect. The author’s response above was a figurative slap across the reader’s face. It shows both a lack of respect, and an arrogance. The author basically said the reader’s opinion wasn’t worth a fly’s poop, and worse, he accused the reader of not knowing what he was talking about; that he was stupid.

If it were me, I would have either not responded or said something like, “I’m sorry you didn’t like it as much as you expected. I hope that you’ll give my subsequent books a chance.” I would then offer them a coupon or free sample of the next book with the request for another honest review.

As a reader, I would not only gain more respect for the author, but would also take him/her up on the offer. And if I do like the next book, the author will have gained a loyal reader. Even if I don’t like the next book, I’d more likely try a third time if for no other reason than the author cared enough to appreciate my opinion, and responded positively to it (even if the author didn’t necessarily agree with it).

Because of the author’s response to the review, I didn’t purchase the book. Nor will I consider buying any of his others; I don’t care how good they are. No author who holds their readers in contempt deserves my money.

What I Miss — And Don’t Miss — About Facebook

November 30, 2015 was my official last day of spending time on Facebook.

After over two months of freedom from that site, I found there are both advantages and disadvantages to doing so.

First the disadvantages (because I want to end this entry on a positive note):

  • Daily happenings. I have little to no idea what my friends and family who don’t live nearby are up to. I’m way out of the loop, and feel a bit left out when people talk about the latest happening, or viral meme or video on Facebook.
  • No more writing ideas. At least as far as non-fiction is concerned. Facebook provided a lot of fodder for me to comment on, and inspired many a blog entry. It’s part of the reason I’ve posted fewer entries here since then. But only partly. The other reason is a big positive that outweighs this negative.
  • People miss me. More than one person has expressed how much they miss my updates — some of whom I see fairly often. I guess they like my stuff.

 

The advantages:

  • Writing and more writing. While I’m empty of ideas for inspirational blog entries, I have completed two novels, and am now working on completing a third. Since December 1, I have written over 110,000 words.
  • Reading. I have more books in the last two-and-a-half months than I’ve read the previous year, which further inspires me to keep writing. Which reminds me. I need to start posting reviews of said books . . .
  • No more — at least way less — anger and frustration with the constant flow of memes and angry proselytizing with regard to politics and religion.
  • No more pissing people off with my own opinionated opinions with regard to politics and religion.

 

At the end of the day, while I miss out on a lot, what I’ve gained is far more important. I may actually get a book published out of it. That’s the hope anyway.

Once I finish this third novel, I will have time to write and send query letters to agents (I’m not looking forward to it, but it’s got to be done. Maybe that’ll be the subject of my next entry . . .).

Since this blog is supposed to be about my writing journey, I will keep you apprised.

Swallowed Up

EmpireIt’s rare that I read a book in only two days. I managed to do just that when I read “Empire (In Her Name: Redemption, Book 1)” by Michael R. Hicks. Even though I spent hours reading it on my Nook, and gave myself a headache doing so, I didn’t care. It was that good.

What made it so good wasn’t the premise alone. He managed a perfect combination of exposition, detail and action that swallowed me up as a reader, and made it near impossible to put down. I even teared up at the sad parts, and for a book to do that to me, that’s saying something. Fair warning if you’re curious about the book. There’s a bit of profanity and explicit sex scenes (although thankfully few and short, and fit the plot instead of being — for the most part — gratuitous).

What I liked most about it is that the words disappeared in favor of the story. That’s something all writers should seek to achieve. Writers have to pay attention to every word they use and how they’re structured, so the reader doesn’t even notice them. It seems impossible, and even counter-intuitive, but every reader almost instinctively understands this, especially when it comes to science fiction, fantasy, and other “action” type genres. The last thing a reader wants is to be jarred out of a story because of a poorly written sentence or odd word.

Poetry is an exception, I think. In poetry, the words are supposed to shine. In other writing, whether it be fiction or even non-fiction, the words are the stage hands, not the actors. Mr. Hicks’ words were definitely the stage hands, the story and plot the actors, and he utilized both better than most. I’m a bit envious, but at the same time motivated. It can be done! With a bit more practice and study, perhaps I can achieve that balance myself.

Part of me wants to get the next book in the series right now, but I hesitate. There are other books on my list to read, and I don’t want to keep giving myself a headache because I can’t put down an eBook. If/when I do purchase the next in Hicks’ series, it’ll have to be paper methinks.

EDIT: If/when nothing! I just purchased the other two books in the trilogy (paperback!) and should receive them on December 30.

The main reason is because reading “Empire” inspired me to dive into my own unfinished novel that I haven’t touched in about a year. Gotta keep up that momentum!

Words Mean Things

How a person speaks, including the words he/she uses says a lot about that person’s thoughts and feelings toward a subject.

For example, I saw this in a local news item today:

“Approximately 192,000 North Dakota residents are renters. They are our construction workers and our nurses. Renters are our young families and they are our college students who are faced with increasing tuition costs. As the cost of living goes up and the price of rent goes up, they are the individuals who have been left out of the tax relief.”

One word in that paragraph (said four times) stood out at me. Can you spot it? I’ll give you a few spaces before I reveal the word below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When a person adds “our” to another person or group, what exactly is he/she inferring?

“Our” implies possession or ownership, right? So by that reasoning, the person who said the above thinks and believes (even though he would vociferously deny it should someone ask him outright), construction workers, nurses, young families and college students are owned by the State.

Now one could argue that the politician is implying “our” in the context of family, such as when a parent describes “our” children. Considering the bill being discussed, however, I doubt he’s thinking in familial terms. I won’t get into the politics of the bill, because that’s not the point of this entry.

Construction workers, nurses, families and college students don’t belong to the politician or the State, whether in familial terms or ownership. They belong to themselves. If he had left out “our”, the meaning of his statement would not have changed. So why add “our” in the first place?

A Microcosm of Human Nature – And It Ain’t Pretty

I often peruse a photography forum, and there are times when people post subjects that show me just how depraved people can be. Not by them posting pornographic or other exploitative pictures and calling it art, but — for example — discussing when it’s appropriate or inappropriate to take a picture. One person brought up a scenario:

If you’re daughter is being raped, do you take a picture, or do you drop your camera to save your daughter?

The answer seems obvious, doesn’t it? To me it did, but not to others. I was both disgusted and frustrated that people responded with such comments such as, “It only takes a second to take a picture. Afterwards, then you can help your daughter.”

Their reasoning? The photographer who took a picture of the man who jumped off the Twin Towers on 9/11/01. In doing so, the photographer captured a poignant and now historical moment of the horror of that day. By taking a picture of the horror of rape, the photographer can then share it with others so they, too, can see what a horrific crime it is.

Another comment went something like this: “You don’t know if the perpetrator has a knife. By interfering, you could put your own life at risk.”

So better to take a picture and walk away.

Human beings are selfish and self-absorbed by nature, which is why when someone does risk their own life to save another, we notice and call them heroes.

This particular thread showed that selfishness more succinctly than others I’ve read. No amount of appealing to their sense of empathy worked. They simply refused to put themselves in the shoes of the victim, proclaiming themselves victims when people “told” them not to take a picture and help, thereby violating their right to freedom of expression.

If you can stomach it, here’s the thread in question: http://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/55009360

This is the world we live in, and I am ever more grateful to those who help others without a second thought to their own well-being (or their “right” to take a picture), whether they be first-responders, family members, or complete strangers who happen to be in the right place at the right time.

Deep as a puddle in my driveway after a spring rain

I’ve been pondering what to write for the last few months here, and as is obvious my ponderances have lead to zilch.

My browser tells me that ponderances isn’t a word, but you know what? I don’t care! After all, all words are made up, and I am claiming that one as my own. If you want to use it for yourself, you’ll have to ask permission first. Be aware I may charge royalties.

Now where was I?

Oh, yeah. Not having anything to write about.

Not knowing what to write about is frustrating at best. But then it occurred to me. Not all writings have to be deep and thought-provoking. They can be fun, even nonsensical – like this entry for instance.

Consider this word doodling. No great thoughts; just a bunch of little ones. Hopefully not too much, because I don’t want to waste too much of your time.

I love watching my son play, mostly to see how much he’s learning while he plays. For instance, when he’s building things with his wooden marble-run, he’s learning about geometry, gravity, spacial relationships and reasoning. He also likes to write. What’s fun about that is he knows a lot of words, but the ones he doesn’t know how to spell, he spells phonetically. For instance, he spells picture, picher. In all caps. The only real trouble he has when stringing together words is he has no concept of spaces. It ends up looking like, “MYNAMEISTOMANDIAMNICE.” To watch a child learn and grow, though, tain’t nothing better.

Well, shoot. That’s all I got for today. Maybe all I need is a little more practice. Actually what I need is to read more. I’ve done scant too little of it lately. It’s difficult when my son wants my constant attention. I don’t begrudge the time, though, because in a few too short years, he won’t have anything to do with me. Then I will have plenty of time to read.

I’m always inspired to write after I read, so it only stands to reason I’m not inspired to write when I don’t read.

Back to my book, then. Thank you for taking to time to read my doodles. If I don’t return before the new year rolls around, have a wonderful Christmas and Happy New Year.

Part Two

I know I promised to talk about faith in my next entry, but right now I have no motivation to do much of anything but sit in front of the air conditioner.

However, I did want to point you to the second interview with Ashford Radio I did on Saturday. You can find it at www.ashfordradio.com. Click on the second microphone (Studio B) and scroll down to the On Demand Episodes.

This time I talked about my books, why I wrote them and writing in general. I tell you, those 30 minutes really flew by. I did stumble a bit at the beginning, but I again think I did well.

I’ll be doing three others, each on Saturday morning at 9am Central. I will continue to point you to the archives when they’re out if you miss the live feed.

Later and Happy Sunday. Stay cool.