Only someone who has been torn down to nothing can fully appreciate getting back up and pressing onward. Only someone who has been wounded to the core of their being can understand the slow process of healing. People who have been through desperate trials and have come through the other side possess a wisdom and regard for life that fills us with soft light. We often recognize each other with little more than a glance and subtle nod. I’m not talking about run-of-the-mill heartache or grief. Everyone goes through that stuff, and while it usually grows and matures the individual, it rarely fills them with the soft light. For it, I’m talking specifically about the people who have been through overwhelming grief, complete loss of self, or a literal near death experience. Those of us who have been through those fires and come out reforged as better human beings understand and relish life differently from most. Today, I’m asking my friends and readers who have been through those difficulties to step forward and help our country heal.
America is wounded right now, not just from the attack in Boston but from decades of political divisiveness and economic stagnation. As a nation, we are hurt and angry and on the verge of a complete breakdown. Our so-called leaders have failed us, concerning themselves more with special interests for the few than the well-being of the many. The church has failed us, focusing more on homosexuality than the care of the needy. Corporations have failed us, attending more to short-term profits than long-term sustainability. We as American citizens cannot count on these entities to help us rekindle and heal the American spirit. That onus falls to us as individuals, especially those of us who have survived real ordeals. We must reach out to each other on a personal level and communicate as individual human beings.
I ask each of you who understands what I’m talking about to reach out to someone in your community who opposes your viewpoint and have a real conversation with them. Not a political shouting match but a basic conversation about their children or grandchildren or jobs or dreams. Don’t push your ideology on them. Just listen. Share a story from your life. Those of us who have been through real ordeals can do a lot to help heal our communities by reaching out to those around us because we understand that healing doesn’t come from external sources. It comes from the inside, and the only way we will heal as a nation is on a grassroots level. It must begin with individuals.
Whatever darkness we now face, we can overcome it. People have faced much worse in the past. Whatever fractures in our society can be mended if enough individuals reach out to each other and find common ground. There may be difficult times ahead, but the basic human desire for individual freedom is still alive. The Civil Rights movement taught us that kindness and compassion can be contagious and are the best weapons against darkness and anger. Those of us who are filled with the soft light already know this, and it is our time to push back against the forces that want to rob us of our liberties and drown us in fear. Those of us who still believe in the promise of America must come together, regardless of political ideology, and help each other heal. The soft light is a powerful force. If you have it, now is the hour to let it shine.
I’m just a small voice from a small corner of a rural part of this big nation. I have no delusions that my opinion carries much impact or will be noticed by more than a handful of people. But a part of me hopes that somehow this message will reach the eyes of the person or people who planted those bombs yesterday.
You may believe you are carrying out some grand scheme designed to cripple my country, but you are simply a coward. You may believe that we will fall to our knees and quiver before your cause, but we won’t. I don’t care who you are or what purpose you had for this attack on unarmed civilians. Your plan has already failed. Sure, you may have taken lives and bloodied bodies, and we will mourn for those who died and cry with those who lost arms and legs, but we will not cower before you. Your plan failed because you don’t understand the human spirit, the American spirit, and certainly not the Boston spirit. You will be surprised by our response.
Since you don’t seem to grasp our spirit, let me explain it to you as best I can. In this nation, despite our fractured politics and very real problems we now face, we are a people bound by a sense of optimism. Nearly everyone who came to these lands did so to escape some form of tyranny, and we still carry the imprint left behind by our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents that America symbolizes something important. Our forerunners often faced situations far more dire and sinister than anything we face today, and if they can overcome the darkness they endured to reach this country and build better lives for their children, we can overcome the darkness of today. Their spirit lingers in us, whispers to us in our times of need, reminds us that liberty matters.
Sure, we quibble and disagree with each other, sometimes to an obnoxious level. Sure, we often appear disjointed and chaotic, but one thing I know about my country is that in our darkest moments, we pull together. It’s happened so many times I won’t bother recounting them to you, but yesterday is as good an example as any. Despite the fear, despite the chaos, despite the uncertainty, people helped each other. People, some first responders, others civilians, helped the wounded, carrying them to ambulances and getting them to safety. Many rushed to the hospitals to donate blood. That is America, and you will not change us.
America is not a land of laws, despite the beauty and precision of our Constitution. It’s the spirit behind that Constitution that makes us who we are. We are not a land of blind allegiance to one person or one way, no matter how our politics looks sometimes. In America, we are a people of courage, love, and compassion because nearly all of us are just a generation or two removed from famine, persecution, and tyranny. In our hearts we know, you might break our bodies but you will never break that spirit because it is the natural wellspring of humanity, the desire to live free. Whoever you are and whatever your plan, you will never extinguish that desire. Your cowardice will be rooted out, exposed to the world, and punished accordingly. Your failed ideology will wilt under the shining beacon of liberty that illuminates the souls of my fellow citizens. We will not quiver before cowards. We will stand tall, bind together, and build a better future for ourselves. We will do so because this country symbolizes something more than you will ever comprehend and because we are a stronger people than you will ever understand. We are the sons and daughters of freedom.
In 1801, at his first inaugural address, Thomas Jefferson faced a divided nation. The election had been highly contentious, the sides torn between those who wished to dissolve the union and those who wished to preserve it. After Jefferson won the election, thus saving the federal government, there were many who wished to run his opponents out of the country or in some way punish them for their opposition. In his address, Jefferson spoke these words:
“All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression. Let us, then, fellow-citizens, unite with one heart and one mind. Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things. And let us reflect that, having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions….If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.”
This is the guiding philosophy of my life, but unfortunately, today, too many Americans seem to have forgotten these principles of a democratic republic. Yes, the majority rules, but the minority deserves equal respect and protection under the law. Anything less is tyranny and oppression. Today, the words of Jefferson need to be heard and heeded more than ever. Even the most misguided fool deserves a voice in this country as long as “reason is left free to combat” them, but now as much as ever, we need to eradicate political intolerance from both ends of the spectrum and re-cultivate a culture of common ground. If the polar extremes continue to have their way, our democratic republic will die, and we will find ourselves under the yolk of a police state enforcing one side’s unbending rules.
Right now, the greatest threat to our nation is that the extremes are the voices most being heard. Those of us who still believe in the system set forth by our founders, those of us who still believe in true liberty, not a fascist facade prescribed by political allegiance, need to speak up. We must make our voices heard above the din of the extremists. Those of us who want to live in a country where we are free to worship as we see fit, speak our minds without fear of imprisonment, and live our lives as we best see fit must come together and demand that our elected officials and mass media stop promoting only the extremes. I still believe there is time to save our country, but we have to raise our voices now. We have to stop bickering over every divisive issue and demand elected officials who live up to Jefferson’s vision of following the rule of the majority while protecting the rights of the minority. We have to shine the light of reason on the irrational. If you agree, make your voice heard.
I feel a cultural movement brewing. For a few decades now, all of our music, books, and movies have been controlled by corporations more concerned with marketing and bottom-line profits than quality. Much of my generation was locked out, not because we didn’t have the talent but because we didn’t fit into tidy marketing pigeonholes, and we languished for years, wondering if we’d ever get our shot. Meanwhile, a new generation moved onto the scene, and many of us felt as if our moment had passed. All our study, all our hours of practice, all of our passion, all of our dreams seemed wasted. Some grew bitter and drifted away. Some became consumed by demons and succumbed to addictions. Some trudged onward. Some of us did all of the above.
But something amazing happened with the burgeoning of the internet and computers. Suddenly, we no longer needed New York and LA to pursue our dreams. Suddenly, the corporations could no longer lock us out because as long as we had internet access we had a potential audience of millions, so many of us started our own labels, presses, and production companies. Sure, at first we struggled. As we wobbled on unsure legs, our early efforts might have seemed like bad parodies, but we learned from our mistakes and pressed onward. We polished our chops, grew our networks, and expanded our base. We survived our early stumbles and the Great Recession. We banded together. On our own, we created new channels to reach more people and studied online marketing trends. We learned and grew and shared information and encouraged each other. Most of all, we survived.
Today, the movement of independents gathers momentum every day. We’ve gained market share and established our reputations as serious artists in our given fields. Through efforts of arduous determination, we’ve moved the mountain enough to be noticed by major media outlets as a legitimate force. The amazing thing about this movement is that most of us are over the age of 35, and we’ve done this while juggling jobs and families and lives. We’ve endured sacrifices corporate executives can never fathom, just to pursue our passion, just to chase our dream, and while we may not be there yet, we’re making great strides to that destination.
The cultural movement of the independents is upon us, and we’re here for the long-haul.
Sometimes it’s easy to let the naysayers bring you down, and believe me, there are plenty of naysayers in this world. For my part, I’ve always struggled with a sense of legitimacy and often find myself allowing negativity to create self-doubt, even when that negativity is dis-proportionally small. For example, currently on Amazon I have 80 total reviews for all four books combined. Two of them are 1 star; one is 2 stars; six are 3; and the rest are either 4 or 5. On Goodreads, I currently have 76 ratings with a total average of 4.2 stars, with four 1 and 2 star ratings but twenty-eight 4 and 5 star reviews on book one. Rationally, I look at this and understand I should be proud to have so many positive reviews, but that part of me which feels phony fixates on the bottom end. The self-doubt creeps into my consciousness and ignores all the positive. I know I’m not alone in feeling like this. Neil Gaiman, Bruce Sprinsteen, and Hugh Laurie have all spoken of it.
I think part of why this sense of illegitimacy affects so many creative people is the fact that artistic expressions are so subjective in nature. Mathematicians know for certain whether or not their formulas work. Scientists can prove or disprove a hypothesis, and their results can be tested and repeated by others. Business people can always look at the ledger sheet for validation of their ideas. But for artists, it’s so much more difficult to measure quality or define success. Works that are often commercially successful aren’t always the most well-crafted pieces. For instance, Fifty Shades of Grey made buckets of money, but few people consider it a well-written book. A Confederacy of Dunces is one of the best books ever written but was considered unpublishable during John Kennedy Toole’s lifetime, which in part contributed to his suicide. To get an idea of how maddening it can be for a creative person, just go look at the reviews of any famous work. Even revered classics will have scores of negative ones often filled with disparaging remarks that sometimes get downright personal.
Any creative person is trying to create something new where nothing existed before. There is no secret formula for how this happens, and often we are pulling bits of this and dashes of that from various disciplines and molding them together. Every generation or so, a paradigm will emerge that espouses the one and only way to create the proper way, and anything that doesn’t fit tidily into the dogma of this paradigm will often be dismissed initially as drivel. However, truly creative people typically reject dogmatic approaches because of the inherent restrictions, and this can generate backlash from the establishment. For someone such as myself, this backlash contributes to the feelings of self-doubt. Even though I know in my heart that my writing is solid, my characters are compelling, and my plots are intense, when I read a review that calls my writing “poorly written” because I “don’t follow the rules of a basic writing manual,” part of me rejects that outright but another part, the insecure, vulnerable part, questions my ability. These two parts of me, the bold and the insecure, are often at odds with one another.
The bold part of me, the part that had the courage to self-publish long before it was easy or hip, usually wins out. It does this by reminding me that I’ve survived much worse than anything a narrow-minded, so-called critic can throw at me. As a child, I developed a blood disease from a tick bite. At one point, I weighed about forty pounds and to this day have no memories for about a three month stretch of that spring and summer, but I survived. At sixteen, I was struck in the head by an eight pound shotput and not only lived to tell about it but walked off the field, albeit with a little assistance. If an eight pound cannonball didn’t end my life, the opinion of some piss ant sure as hell won’t. On Christmas day, my now ex-wife told me she wanted a divorce as I played with my sons. If losing custody of my boys didn’t crack my soul, there’s absolutely nothing some smug know-it-all can sling my way that could ever touch me. I’ve endured my share of real hardships and am still standing, still creating works that the vast majority of readers love, still growing my reader base.
I’m working on getting beyond my own insecurities and having more belief in myself, and for the most part, my confidence remains relatively strong the majority of the time. However, sometimes the weak part rears its head and makes me question whether or not I’m on course. Knowing I’m not alone in having these kinds of self-doubts helps. If people far more successful than I am deal with the same emotions, then I can accept their presence and forge ahead with conviction. While the external naysayers will always be present in some form or another, their opinions do not have to influence my internal fortitude. My voice is real. My voice is valuable. Not that I need this for validation, but I have forty-five 5 star reviews on Amazon to prove the worth of my creativity. And I have that calm center deep in my heart which whispers softly that what I’m creating matters, that my stories are good, that success is insignificant in comparison to authenticity.
That’s all for now.
When I was at Connooga at the beginning of the month, I gave a brief seminar outlining the writing process. It was an adaptation of the material I teach at the college, tailored for creative writing. Overall, the presentation was well-received, and several people complimented me on the content. Running the seminar reminded me what I used to love about education, sharing knowledge with people who want to learn, and it got me to thinking about possibly setting up my own writing retreats. There are pros and cons, of course, and I’ve not fully committed to it yet. So today, I’m asking for some input from my friends, fellow writers and readers. What do you think of the idea of me hosting a writers’ retreat and teaching seminars about various writing related topics?
Here’s my biggest hold up. While I’ve worked as a writing instructor for nearly 15 years, I’ve mostly viewed myself as a writer first, teacher second, and I purposefully eschew creative writing manuals, workshops, and writers’ groups because in my experience they end up being ego-fests. I have no interest in battling egos with anyone. Also, I’ve long believed that with a few rare exceptions, the people who write the majority of creative writing manuals do so because their own writing isn’t good enough to earn them a living, so they sell writing manuals to aspiring writers. Part of me feels like if I pursue this path I’m in part being a hypocrite but also in some way giving up on my own writing. Not that I would quit creating but more like waving a white flag that I’ll never be successful as a writer.
The biggest pro is that I know I have a great depth of knowledge to share on this subject, and I truly enjoy teaching. I like to think I could inspire others to create fantastic works, and it could potentially help me move away from the system, which at this point is damaged beyond repair. If there’s a market for this, I want to pursue it so that I can continue to teach without being shackled to the system. Also, I think I could do a pretty good job of developing one hell of a weekend retreat, one that could be truly beneficial to aspiring writers and maybe even some seasoned pros.
So please, give me your insights. Do you think this is a marketable idea? Would you be interested in attending something like this, if the price was fair? What kinds of topics do you think have the most demand? Let me know what you think.
Check out my guest post on Sheila Deeth’s blog for today’s stop:
This post is my attempt to put into words what I’ve been feeling about my life and career if for no other reason than to make sense of it for myself. Perhaps this is something I shouldn’t admit publicly, but the best word that comes to mind is desperate. I feel like my window is closing. That may just be a product of turning 40, but I truly feel like my chances of having a breakthrough during my lifetime are growing slimmer by the day. I still believe in the quality of my work and still maintain that I’ve grown and improved with each book, but what I’ve never had is that one big moment, that tipping point when word of mouth and momentum become self-sustaining. I used to tell myself it was just a matter of time, but now, I’m not so sure.
I don’t want fame or wealth, either. I don’t need to sell millions of books to validate myself. What I do need is to earn a living as a writer, but it seems like there is very little middle ground today. You either have a runaway bestseller or are mired in obscurity. At least that’s my perception. The bestsellers today are rarely the best books, either. Sorry Twilight fans, but those books always have been and always will be vapid piles of poorly written, steaming horseshit. The fact that Stephanie Meyer never has to work another day makes it hard not to be bitter. But I digress.
I feel trapped in education. Trapped. A suffocating kind of trapped. A long, slow soul crushing kind of trapped. Every single time I have to drive to and walk inside the high school, a little piece of me dies. I’m not a high school teacher in any way, shape, or form, and I can’t begin to explain how depressing the environment is. Every time I grade semi-literate, poorly organized, poorly formatted essays from supposed college students, I feel myself getting dumber. I feel my own writing skills eroding from the overexposure to inane shit. Every time I have to re-explain basic instructions to supposed college students, only to have half of them completely ignore me for whatever reason, I feel like screaming. I want out so desperately I can’t stand myself, but finding a new career is easier said than done in this economy. I’m also afraid that a career change now will mean the end of my writing career, as well.
I never expected a writer’s life to be easy, but I didn’t expect it to be this hard, either. The rules have changed at least three times already in my 20+ years in this business. What was once gospel is now obsolete, and no one I’ve met actually knows what the landscape will be tomorrow. It’s maddening to navigate uncharted territory with little more than a flashlight. Then, of course, as if things weren’t difficult enough already, Facebook decided to pull a bait and switch and betray those of us who had spent years building up our fan base on their platform. Now, I’m scrambling to learn the foreign language known as Twitter.
I’m trying to channel my feelings of desperation into a sense of urgency. Those who’ve worked in sales know what I mean. Urgency breeds excitement, and excitement is contagious. For the next few months, I plan to make a big push and use every sales, marketing, promotional technique I know. I’ll try to hit a few shows, pursue as many avenues as I can, and make my best possible effort to make this happen. One way or the other, I will not walk through the doors of that high school next fall. One way or the other, at least that part of my career will change.
My newest book, Between Dark and Light, book four in The Brotherhood of Dwarves series, will be available for e-readers early next week. The paperback and limited edition hard cover editions will follow shortly. I hope those of you who have been patiently waiting are pleased with this one. You can read the official press release here. I’d like to thank Philip Hopkins for all of his hard work editing it and Bonnie Wasson for the beautiful cover.
If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you may have noticed my attempts to reach the fans rushing to see The Hobbit this weekend. There are literally millions of people energized and excited about this film, and in this age, the internet offers us an opportunity to connect with like-minded people better than ever before. However, because this opportunity is available to everyone, it has become increasingly difficult for an individual to connect with the masses. One lone voice howling amid the din is rarely heard.
I’ve not been shy about expressing my desire to get away from education. The system is broken beyond repair and is only going to get worse. My goal for 2013 is to get my writing career into a position where I can support myself exclusively from it. With four books on the market and a few other opportunities on the horizon, I believe this goal is attainable. However, I can’t do it alone.
If you are a fan of the series, please make some noise about it online. If you are on Twitter or Google+, please use the hashtag #tbodseries if you mention me or the books. If you’re on Facebook, please share my links to the books as often as possible. The more noise we make collectively, the more likely the algorithms will pick up the series and spread it. The two major keys to making something gather steam are number of people and frequency of posts. I know it can be done because I’ve seen it happen, and I believe this series deserves a much wider audience. Together, we can push the name out there.
I realize I’ve pestered many of you to do these things fairly often, and if I’ve bothered you, please forgive me. I simply believe in the quality of my work and want it to be successful. I also recognize that I can’t do it alone. Without deep pockets to saturate the market with advertising, I have to rely on grassroots efforts. Many of you have been more than gracious with spreading the word, and for that, you have my lifelong gratitude. Now, let’s push this thing to the next level.