Friday, November 14, 2014

I'm Gonna Make You An Offer You Should Have A Hard Time Refusing

Well, folks, it's official. The fourth Bunnypocalypse book, Dead On Arrival, is out there, and with it, the world of Bunnypocalypse just got a hell of a lot grimmer.

Okay, technically, it's the fifth book, but Bunny didn't actually appear in Book Of The Hungry Dead, so I count it as a companion anthology. Which brings the series to four books, with a +1 coming to the party.

Now, of late, I've finally found a new way to describe Bunny to people who haven't read the books, and might be either curious about them, or have never heard of them. So, gone forever is the tag of zombie slaying lesbian stripper, replaced with strong gay female anti-hero. I'm happy about that change. I was never really fond of the previous manner of description, but it took me a while to figure out something new.

I'm a pretty decent storyteller, but when it comes to describing the stories I write, I'm shit. I can only talk about random observations and totally weird things in under 140 characters. Seriously, if you've never scrolled through my Twitter feed, give it a try. There may be mentions of unicorn farts, though, so proceed with caution.

For the past three years, I've felt that one of the big things always holding me back from getting Bunny more attention was that inability to really capture her in a brief way, to market her, her you might say. I know this was the issue that kept Bunny out of the realm of major publication, as I had a few editors tell me so. Not long after I started indie publishing the books, I realized they were right.

Bunny is a hard sell. Mostly because it isn't easy to sum her up in a way that will give her mass appeal. With the way we digest news and information these days in tidbits, little bite sized chunks, promoting a character like Bunny is even harder. She's complex, flawed, and at times, brutal.

I realized how I'd been going at it wrong recently when reading an article over at The Mary Sue. In it, actor Natalie Dormer talks about the lack of good female anti-heroes, which is a term I've long used to describe Bunny. She isn't a hero, at least, not in my mind, or in her own. She falls more into the morally gray area of anti-hero, because she will do what she must, even if it takes her outside of her own morality. She's always been willing to sacrifice her own humanity for the goal of staying alive, and keeping the people around her safe.

I spent some time thinking on it after reading that article, and it dawned on me that Bunny is literally everything I keep seeing people say they want. A deeply flawed, complex, strong, gay, female anti-hero, all rolled into a single character. So, if I've got what everyone is saying they want, why is it still so hard to get people to notice her?

It isn't the writing. As I said, I know I'm a good storyteller. Sure, I'm not going to be winning any awards, but I'm not that guy Glen Beck had ghost write his book. I'm a pretty middle of the road author, and I'm good with that. So, what is it that makes it so hard to get Bunny into the public conscious?

Besides the whole strong gay female anti-hero part, I mean. While that may be a huge draw for a lot of people, the mass audiences probably aren't going to like it much. Too edgy, or whatever they would call it. Too much of an attempt at diversity. I don't know. I don't get people who criticize things for not being formulaic.

For the most part, it's my inability to really market my work, especially Bunny. I've got very limited resources to work with, so ads aren't something I can afford. I have to rely on word of mouth, and people willing to take a chance on something called Bunnypocalypse. There is a major lack of opportunity to bring Bunny up casually in conversation online, as well. Which is another thing. I'm not a pushy person. I'm not going to spam Twitter, Facebook, and whatever else I can get my hands on. I know firsthand how that turns people off. I don't care what insiders and experts say, I'm not going to be a dick and shove my writing in your face nonstop until you give in and buy it in the vain hope I'll go away.

Which leaves me sitting here, with a character that has been, on many occasions now, lauded by those who have read the books. A character I see again and again an outcry for. A character that could, and should, be getting embraced. What I don't know is how to make that happen.

Well, I do. Or at least, I have an idea. It's kind of crazy, but at this point, with the reaction my editor had to the fourth book, something I feel like I need to try and do. I'm going to have to get a little pushy.

So, here's my plan. I'm going to give away .pdf copies of Bunnypocalypse, all five books, for the next week. My email address is right over there on the right side, somewhere, scroll around and you'll see it. Drop me a message with the subject line of Gimme Some Bunny, and I'll give you copies of the whole series.

Now, obviously, I'm also aiming this largely at the editors and contributing writers of The Mary Sue, a site I frequently see posting articles about how we need more strong female protagonists, gay leads, and female anti-heroes. I'm hoping at least one of them will take me up on this offer, and help me spread the word. It may not work, and I may end up shooting myself in the foot with this, but I've got to try.

Bunny deserves it.

I know, I know. Why .pdf and not Kindle? Well, I'm still working on getting my Kindle copies in order, and they probably won't be ready for a few months yet, so .pdf is what I've got. Hopefully, with a little luck, and some help from people whose voices are louder than mine, by the time I release them, Bunny will start really getting some attention.

Yes, I do realize that people are skeptics by nature. So, to help you make your decision if this is something you want to spend time on or not, I'm going to share some of the things that have been said about Bunny and the series below. Reviews and comments made by others.

Last thing. If you are editor at a website, contributing writer to one, or a book blogger, let me know in the email if you want the .pdf copies, or physical ones. I'll send you the paperbacks on my dime. I just want people to know about this character, that she's out there, waiting to be discovered.

The royalties I get from Amazon are never going to make me rich, so this isn't about money. This is about me trying to be part of the solution, and Bunny being the sort of character who doesn't deserve to dwell in anonymity.

If you don't trust me, then listen to what others have to say.

I'm a picky reader. A very picky reader. As a die-hard fan of a handful of authors, there are many excellent books that I have never even seen the second chapter of. If there are no exciting characters, interesting conflict or unique situations, there is no reason for me to invest the hours of time it will take to slog through the quagmire of an entire sub-par book.

What I'm trying to say is, this is a good book. I know, because I finished it.


~Willow Becker

As a genre, the zombie apocalypse may be a little tired, but when a book is this good, who cares? I like character driven stories and unlikely heroes. I like strong female characters and I like to be surprised. This book gave me all of that plus a lot more.

 I can't say enough about about how the author defies the conventions of traditional heroes or traditional literary women in creating Bunny. She's all the capable women I've ever known in real life and I'd happily follow her lead.

Why this book isn't already a cult favorite in the lesbian community escapes me. Bunny is the voice of all women, regardless of sexual orientation, and this is a book not to be missed. 


~Cairn Rodrigues

For those that enjoy the Walking Dead, pull up a copy and read. This is a character based story that rings very true. Bunny gets particular attention as she should. Cain has written a well-developed history for her which allows you to both understand and like her as a character. None of the characters, whatever the duration of their involvement in the story are flat. You're given enough detail to decide if you want them eaten or alive. Some you'll like, others you won't. The action sequences are both exciting and realistic. No super heroes here. Just real folks in an unreal situation. The action is broken up nicely with character development and back story. I especially liked the finale. The tension was quickly building until a brilliant plot development drove it over the top. A very good read. I heartily recommend!

~Joe Hagen

When the zombies came, Bunny did what was necessary for survival.  Her natural instinct is to protect those around her, with her own safety coming a pretty poor last.  Bunny had to adapt by being the strong one, even though she tries to hide her softer side. This shows through at times by Bunny becoming overwhelmed by the task at hand.  She doesn't want to be the leader but is thrust into the role, which she takes on head first because Bunny IS a natural leader even though she doesn't want to admit it.

She is an individual who doesn't take kindly to being told she isn't 'mainstream'.  No one can tell Bunny that she can't be who she is. Bunny is a contradiction all round, but that's what makes her Bunny.  She is so similar to a lot of women nowadays.

 ~Beth Harris

 Your writing is... hmm, I truly don't know how to put it into words... it's a feeling of being mind blown mixed with sex... plenty of ups and downs and "wow" moments.

~Nate Churchill

You'll pardon me using the same person twice, but honestly, this is one of my favorite reviews ever.

Cairn highly recommends Bunny. Cairn wants to be Bunny sometimes. Cairn is done speaking in the third person.

~Cairn  Rodrigues 

So, there it is. My attempt to get the world on board with this crazy little thing I call Bunnypocalypse. I hope you'll take a chance on Bunny.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Brutal Bunny

So, recently, my good friend Cairn Rodrigues (That's a link. You can click it. It will take you to a place where unicorns roam freely.) invited me to be part of a blog tour where authors, like me, talk about their characters.

Coincidentally, I'm less than two months away from releasing my next Bunnypocalypse book, so this seemed like as good a time as any to take a minute to talk about Bunny Beckman.

It isn't like I haven't done this a lot. I have. Here, here, here, here, here, and here. Actually, I talk about Bunny a lot. The thing is, despite how much I talk about her, I still feel as if I've failed to really capture the character in a way that can help people not familiar with her get her.

I often describe her as a zombie slaying lesbian stripper, which, in a sense, is true. What it isn't, though, is remotely accurate. Bunny is so very much more than that. Enough so that I have trouble really explaining her in a world where we do everything in as brief a fashion as possible.

You know what I mean. We want to deliver everything in brief summations. 140 characters or less. She's like Xena, only with guns. She's like Ripley, except with zombies. That sort of thing. Problem is, she's not like them. Not really. She's a bit more complex.

I cannot explain her briefly, using buzzwords, or comparisons. It would take me a lot longer than most people have the attention span for to even start delivering the basic gist of her character. I've written four novels now, and she's still unfolding as a character. Not evolving, not growing, just unfolding.

Of course, that's why I love writing her. Four books in, and we're still getting to know who she is. That's something. I mean, it's really something. I've never had to deal with that before, and yet, with Bunny, it seems to make sense that it be this way.

Point being, part of this blog tour is to address a series of questions designed to explore an authors character, and give possible new readers a chance to get invested. For me, it's a chance to explore Bunny through another persons approach, and maybe, find a new way to define her.

So, here we go. Let's get to know Bunny a little better.

Question #1: What Is The Name Of Your Character?

Bunny Beckman. Sometimes, Bunny fucking Beckman. Buns to her friends. God damn Beckman to pretty much everyone else. Why won't you die? to her enemies.

Question #2: Is She A Fictional Or Historic Person?

Fictional. Mostly. Some of her personality traits originally were borrowed from my girlfriend of 20 years, Storm DeVille. Others, from women I admire. In a way, to me, she's every strong feminine influence I've ever had in my life. So, a bit of both, in a sense.

Question #3: Where And When Is The Story Set?

Um... well... kind of all over. It's set in a sort of five minutes in the future modern day, post zombie apocalypse, and tends to roam about a good bit. The first book was in Chicago, the second bounced between California and Oregon, the third in Santa Fe, while the fourth is in Mexico. Bunny gets around.

Question #4: What Should We Know About Her?

Ho, boy. Here's where it gets difficult. So much to tell.

Bunny is the daughter of a wealthy Chicago family, born and raised in the lap of luxury. When she was six, her family was mugged, and before you think Batman, nobody was killed. A police officer, a woman, saved them. This was where Bunny first got the idea in her head of being more.

Her folks, decent people that they were, wanted her to grow up doing normal rich kid things, then marry a nice doctor or something, and just be happy. Bunny decided, fuck that noise. She stopped wanting to be a princess, and wanted to be a knight. She wanted to do the saving.

This lead to her becoming a police officer. It was all she wanted to do. All she wanted to be. A force for law and order, a defender of justice. She wanted to save people. Never mind how much her family fought it, or how hard her training officers made things for her. She stuck to her goals.

This is one of Bunny's most prominent traits. She refuses to bend. Ever. For anything.

When she made Sergeant, another officer, John Dyson, feeling he had deserved the promotion more, attacked and raped her. She retaliated a few days later by beating him nearly to death. For this, she was punished. She was stripped of her commendations, her trail made public, and her fall from grace as Chicago's hero cop named Bunny made a media affair. She was drug through the mud, and made out as the aggressor.

Go on. Tell me that isn't realistic. I dare you.

Bunny was outed as  a lesbian during the trial, disowned by her family, and became a severe alcoholic, the law she had sword to uphold turned into a weapon to destroy her life. The only person who would talk to her after that was a strip club owner she had befriended years before named Randy Cox. All he could do to help her was offer a job.

So, Bunny became a stripper. Somehow, through it all, she kept her head up. She kept going, because Bunny doesn't bend. Ever. For any reason. She struggled with her drinking problem, and just kept putting one foot in front of the other. It was all she had left.

Then, the dead rose. The night she came to call the Big End, when all of human civilization was erased in a single orgy of violence, blood, and terror. In the world that came after, Bunny was faced with the simple choice. Live hard, or die.

Told you it was a lot.

Question #5: What Is The Main Conflict? What Messes Up Her Life?

Simply put, zombies and monsters. They tend to mess up everyone's life.

Complex answer, Bunny herself.

See, from that young age, when she first started dreaming of being the hero, everyone around her told her she couldn't. That wasn't proper. It wasn't ladylike. Girls don't do that. It made her angry.

As a teenager, she struggled to come to terms with her sexuality, again always having society tell her no, that was wrong. This made her even angrier.

She was told no by her training officers. A busty girl named Bunny couldn't be a cop. The anger kept growing.

Dyson happened. That anger spiraled. Being disowned, having to take off her clothes, her friends turning their backs on her, the law turning against her, every major event in her life fueled that anger.

She always pushed it down. Buried it. Ignored it. Deep down, though, it festered, and grew. By the time the dead rose, Bunny stopped burying it. She let it out. Suddenly, she didn't have to play by societies rules anymore. So, she didn't.

For the first book in the series, she is still trying to be what she wanted to be, a force for good, saving people. By the second, that dream has become bitter and twisted as she finds herself constantly having to do things that stain her soul just to keep herself and those around her alive. The anger begins to take control of her as she grows to resent her fellow survivors for preaching morality at her, when they are only alive because she has done immoral things.

By the third book, her sense of morality is buried under a seething rage. She doesn't want to save the world anymore. She just wants to finish burning it. Be done with it all. Set the whole of it on fire and die herself. Her anger has turned her borderline homicidal and more than a little suicidal.

As we enter the fourth book, we see Bunny near the end of this dark spiral. She has actively considered taking her own life, and only can't because it would be too easy. In a life of hardship, she can't stand the thought of her death being easy. She wants it to be hard, because she feels it's all she deserves. She is well into being suicidal, driven only by the desire for revenge, and purposefully hurting the people around her to drive them away.

She is depressed, angry, bitter, resentful, and so full of self loathing for the things she has done, and the things she's thought of doing, she can't stand herself any more. She's in the darkest of places, the road pain, sorrow, suffering and loss takes a person.

More than that, though, is her revelation that she has never once identified herself as a lesbian. Not out of shame, or guilt. She's very open about it and has been for a long time. It's because she fears that if she says it, it will become all she is. A single word. Her whole life, everything she's done, summed up in a single word.

This also feeds her darker side, driving her into an even deeper despair. She is lost, afraid to ask for help for fear of rejection, unable to save herself, and has come to believe she is a lost cause, a damned soul not worth saving, so black with sin even hell won't have her.

What messes up her life? She does.

Question #6: What Are The Goals Of The Character?

Again, not so simple a question. Originally, her goals were to protect as many people as she could. As the series progresses, we see that change. The loss of the woman she wanted to be in love with drove her over the edge, and she abandoned that goal. Her experiences in Santa Fe left her with the goal of revenge.

Mostly, as we enter the forth book, Bunny's goal, at least in her own mind, is to just die. To make death beat the life from her. Nothing less will do now.

The thing is, Bunny has lost sight of her real goal, the one she's always been chasing, the whole of her life. The only goal she's ever really had. She can't see it anymore past the pain, anger, and despair.

Put simply, her goal is to know who she really is. Deep down, at her core, who is she? What kind of person is she? Hero, monster, savior, or martyr? This is what really drives her. It is her quest. To find herself.

Question #7: Is There A Working Title Of this Novel, Can Can We Red More Of It?

Bunnypocalypse. The books are Dead Reckoning, Dead To Rights, and Dead Man's Hand, with Dead On Arrival coming in November. All are available through Amazon, and linked for your convenience.

Question #8: When Will it Be, Or When Was It, Published?

Dead Reckoning came out in November of 2011, Dead To Rights in November of 2012, Dead Man's Hand in November of 2013, and Dead On Arrival will be here, again, in November of 2014.

Well, those are all the questions. Hopefully, you have a better view now of Bunny Beckman, who she is, what she's been through, and where she's going. I'm not quite half way through with the series, so there's a lot more Bunny to go.

As a last note, I’d like to thank Cairn Rodrigues once again for giving me this chance to talk about my favorite character, Bunny Beckman. Now, go visit her blog, and tell her I said nice things about her. She gives me cookies when I do that.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Life

Well, I've had an odd week. How about you?

Before I get to why, I wanted to take a little bit to talk about some other things. Stuff that matters to me. Things I find myself more and more driven these past few years to address in my writing, and in daily life.

Let me start by reminding everyone that my childhood was pretty much shit. I've not really ever explained that well, and this seems like as good a time as any to get into the details, as it has relevance to what I want to talk about. I'm going to just skim a lot of the more gory parts, though.

When I was around six, my folks got divorced. I didn't learn the whole story until I was about twenty two. The reason I was suddenly moving out of the nice three bedroom home I had known most of my life was because my mother decided she wanted to have an open marriage, and gotten pregnant by the guy she was sleeping with behind my dad's back. He was less okay with this than she thought he should be.

So, divorce underway, my brother and I were whisked away to live in a shed. You know, one of those corrugated tin buildings. Yeah. We lived in one. All four of us. Me, my brother, my mom, and her new boyfriend, who didn't have a job, and was a raging alcoholic. He wasn't a bad guy, mind you. Not a violent drunk. He was really pretty great. Just, you know, always drunk.

I have not so fond memories of stepping over him to catch my ride to school, where I spent the day around kids who's parents lived in mansions. Ever heard of Dunlop Tires? I went to school with their kids. Furr's Cafateria? Them, too. It was fun times.

Eventually, we moved into an actual house. Sort of. A shack would be a more polite term. The room I shared with my now two brothers had no coverings. You know, that stuff they put up over the studs? What's it called? Oh, right. Fucking drywall. None of that. Just the studs and the exterior siding, which you could see outside through the cracks of. Because there was also no insulation.

By the time I was ready to start high school, we lived in a better house, mind you, but only after my step dad had gone to Federal Prison for counterfeiting, which was also a wonderful way to spend my school days, as it had been all over the news. It wasn't a great place, and the bathroom didn't work right, so we had to take baths in washtubs a lot, but it had drywall, so it was fancy living.

One last thing about my grade school life. It was a private religious school my dad paid for, because he wanted me to get a decent education. While I respect that, he did not take into account the part where everyone knew my mother was sleeping around with anyone who would say yes. I was bullied mercilessly, as the son of the whore. I couldn't really argue, since I caught her screwing the church deacon in the church that one time.

I have a lot of issues with church because of that. I think it's fair.

I also had one particular teacher who went out of his way to make my life hell, to the point he encouraged me to drop out of school, on the grounds I would never amount to anything anyway. He handed me slurs on a regular basis over my mother, often quoting scripture that her sins were mine, too. He had something against me being predominately Irish, as well. Never have figured out what that was about, but he said it made me a white skinned nigger on a few occasions.

It wasn't all bad, mind you. I had one teacher, Mr. Reed, that really tried to help me get through it all. I remember him so clearly, even now. He was the spitting image of Christopher Reeve, and I thought of him as Superman. He really, seriously, gave me something to believe in. I will thank him to the day I die for being my first true superhero.

If you are wondering where my dad was in all this, well, he only got to spend a weekend a month with us, so I can't fault him overly much for the disconnect that grew up between us. He's a good guy, and I love him. We don't understand each other, and we never will. There's too much distance there. I've become someone he can't relate to, and after his job moved him to Louisiana for several years, during which I only saw him one time, for two months, we drifted apart.

I don't know how to bridge that. I'm not sure if I can, or even if I want to. It's weird, and hard to explain.

Anyway, my mom, she kept up her ways, drinking almost as much as my step dad, and being less nice when she was really sauced. Never physically violent, but cruel all the same. Then there were the drugs, as well. She wasn't a very kind person when she was messed up. She would often say things I had gotten use to hearing at school, about how worthless I was, how I'd never amount to anything. I remember her once telling me she wished she'd gotten an abortion instead of having me.

It was a hard childhood. I became very withdrawn. I didn't know how to interact with others. I had virtually no social skills. I was awkward, quiet, and very much an introvert. I lost myself for hours at a time in daydreams, which both my parents condemned. Ironically, my step dad stood up for me, telling everyone to leave me alone. As I said, he was a good guy. Soft spoken, typically drunk, but kind.

I developed a fear of women. I didn't know how to talk to them. I was afraid of what they might say, and always expected the kind of belittling attitude I got from my mother. This, of course, made me even more socially withdrawn. As much as I wanted to interact with people the way I saw others doing it, I just couldn't. I curled up in my shell, and stayed there.

Now, during these years, before high school, I was constantly looking for some female influence that was positive. I latched on to characters like Sarah Jane Smith of the old Doctor Who series, because she was smart, funny, kind, and capable. I was a huge fan of Uhura on the old Star Trek. Never occurred to me that she was black, I just liked her because she was smart. She could repair her own station, and Scotty could go play with his nacelles. I also gravitated to the old Red Sonya comics. They weren't very well done, really, but I liked her, and often found myself dreaming that she would be real mother. I was a kid, so it was what I did.

I didn't notice her boobs till later, which ended up feeling awkward.

I talked once before about my mom trying to get a child psychologist to put me on Prozac, cause Something Was Wrong With Me, and my later understanding that the Prozac was for her. How she wanted welfare to pay for her to get free drugs, while she garnered pity for having a kid on Prozac.

My mom was always trying to pull things like that. Using me, my older brother, and my two younger brothers from her second marriage to get free stuff. It was her thing. Because, you see, she went to a therapist once who somehow put the idea in her head that nothing in her life was her fault. Everything that was wrong, it was somebody else's fault. She was always the victim, and the world owed her.

She was seriously messed up.

Anyway. By the time I hit high school, I was still intimidated by women, and a full on geek. I read comic books, played D&D, loved Star Trek, and was just figuring out I could write down all the silly daydreams I had as stories. I was also a major Tolkien fan, and had read all of his stuff several times. All of this went over super well with the boarding academy my mom sent me to, again, private and Christian. Like, lead balloon well.

Faced with even more ostracization, this was also the point where I was first really starting to notice that I liked boobs a lot. I was a bit slow on the pickup with that, due to the fact I was largely afraid of women, and incredibly socially withdrawn. What I also noticed is that I was a horrid mutant freak that no doubt terrified women.

Now, a word about this. I'm not really tall, buff, and staggeringly handsome. I think I’ve mentioned this before. At the age of fourteen, I was still kind of short, and weighed in around two hundred pounds. I was a fat little pimply faced kid. Looking at the male imagery that was promoted around me, on tv and magazines, and so forth, I knew, I was a horrid mutant. I didn't have good looks, a toned bod, perfect hair, or any of that.

See, the good looking kids, when I reached high school, made it a point to let me know that I was beneath them. Due to the way I grew up, I accepted that without question. I was, and that was that. I'd heard it all for so long, I didn't argue it. I was a little troll, girls hated me for it, and guys pushed me around, or straight threatened to beat me up, because of it. Also, because I was very socially withdrawn, mumbled when I spoke, was really insecure, and generally, had no self worth, I accepted that that was what I deserved.

This happens more than you can imagine, to lots of young boys. This poor self image. We have unrealistic standards shoved at us twenty four seven, too, just as women do. It's how it's handled that is different. Guys get pushed around, talked down to, and threatened with beatings, or actually beaten up. Insults are thrown, usually fag, and our self worth gets shredded.

The thing is, for all of that, and how bad it seems to us when it it's happening, we have yet to walk a mile in the shoes of the women of this world. We have yet to walk a fucking foot. I'll get back to that in a bit, though. I don't want to wander off and make my point before I'm ready.

Now, around my sophomore year, I was all about Elfquest. I had a subscription and everything. I lived and breathed that world. To this day, Leeta is one of my favorite women in comics ever. She was just so awesome. The reason I mention this is because I remember one day, I was sitting outside, on a bench, reading the latest issue when a girl I kind of was sort of friends with sat down and asked me what I was reading. I showed it to her, and she read the issue, then asked if I had any back issues. I had all of them, and let her read them without hesitation. We became good friends over our shared interest in the story of Elfquest.

It was one of the first times I really ever connected with a woman, and it was over comic books. It was a first step, and a big one, for me. We never dated or anything, as I was too nervous about stuff like that, but we were friends, and it was good.

I did have a girlfriend my junior year, but that ended really badly. Like, volcanic eruption bad. Between my issues, and hers, we both made a lot of mistakes, hurt each other, and in general, fucked each other up even worse. Not something I'm proud of, looking back on it, but I didn't know what I was doing, and I know, she didn't either. We were both fumbling around trying to figure out what normal was, and how to be it.

Now, all during this, since I was about eight or so, I'd been playing Dungeons and Dragons a lot. The adventures went from the usual stuff of kick down the door and kill the monsters of my younger days to more sophisticated and philosophical stuff in my teen years. I was figuring out who I wanted to be during all of that. It really wasn't until my teen years that I started grasping it all, though, and began to see myself through the games we played.

I learned a great deal during those years, about who I was, and who I wanted to be. I gained a lot of insight, through rolling those dice, about myself. I want to be super clear about this, too. Dungeons and Dragons helped me come to terms with my self image, my self loathing, my crippling shyness, social anxiety, and my awkwardness. It was through that game I slowly began to see myself as a better person, someone worthy of being treated with respect. Someone worth being loved.

It was not overnight. It took years. D&D is probably the only reason I never became an alcoholic or drug addict myself. I know for a fact that it was the thing that finally helped me break free of my fear of women, and why I'm not a misogynist, which is where I was heading.

I say heading because I believe I was. My bad childhood, my lack of strong female role models, my fear of women, and my own internal issues was heading that way. I had been growing resentful in my teen years, you see, of the pretty people and how they looked down at me. How they sneered at me, acted as if I was a freak, and reviled me. I was growing bitter, and hateful.

My senior year, two things happened that changed all of that. The first was my friend and fellow D&D player Bruce signing me up for drama club without me knowing about it. I'll get into that more in a minute though, as it matters. The second thing is what I want to talk about first.

My D&D group had always gone with a rotating DM method, where we all took turns every few months, running a campaign. The start of my senior year, the DM who was just taking over wanted to try something different. Specifically, purely random character generation. Race, class, even gender, was all determined by the roll of the dice. He allowed us one do over if we got something truly messed up.

I used mine right away, when I got a wizard. I don't enjoy playing wizards, generally. I'm not good at them. I like fighters. There is a simple elegance to a well built fighter character I find enjoyable. Plus, I have a hard time keeping up with all the spells. So, I used my do over right away, and ended up rolling a thief, which was fine. I like playing thieves, too. Basically, I prefer stabbing over spellslinging.

At least, back then. I enjoy spellcasters a lot more these days. Probably some kind of growing up thing.

Anyway, point is, I used my do over. So, when I rolled a female gender, I had to take it. Again, fear of women, growing into resentment. Suddenly, playing a woman. There is no way this ends up being anything other than a terrible idea. I'm sure you can all imagine just how horrific it was.

Except, it wasn't. At all. It was eye opening.

Her name was Teresa, a Half Elf thief, and she showed me things I never expected. Sure, she started out kind of the way you'd expect, but as we played the campaign, I started understanding her, really seeing the world through her eyes. Her devil may care attitude, and general sluttyness masked deeper insecurities, and as the story went on, she changed, and so did I.

Our DM, he was a big believer in character driven adventures. He wanted us to develop deeper backgrounds, and guided us on an adventure that took us into the characters pasts. Teresa was a lot like me. A child of a broken home, unwanted, unloved, verbally and emotionally abused. I saw myself in her, all the things about myself I hated, and during those months, realized it wasn't women I feared. It wasn't women I resented.

It was me.

There was a lot of the guy stuff around the table, mind you. I was the only one playing a female character, and through her eyes, I saw how they treated her. The casual misogyny. The offhand cruelty towards her gender. The thoughtless insensitivity. It seriously changed my world view.

To be clear, I do not know what it is like to be a woman. I do know that. I also know that I had a taste of it, and it was not good. It made me seriously reevaluate my own dealings with women. More than that, it made me reevaluate my own dealings with men. It put a giant spotlight on everything I had been through in my life, and for the first time, objectivity jumped into my mind, and I really saw myself.

Thanks, Teresa. You were my angel in the darkness. You saved me.

As this was happening, I was also involved in the drama club. My friend, the one who signed me up for it, Bruce, did so because he felt it would be a good experience for me. A chance to really open up. He based that on my ability to play out multiple NPC's during my turn as a DM, and to be wholly in character at times as a player. Turns out, he was right. I took to acting with a passion I'd never known.

There were only a few people in the club, mind you, but two of them were women. Very pretty women. Which intimidated me. Until I was working with them. Going over lines, rehearsing scenes, so much of my anxiety and fear went away. They didn't look down on me. I wasn't a horrid mutant troll. We talked, became friends, and they were people, just like me.

Literally. They had their own fears, doubts, anxieties, and self image issues. I began to understand that it wasn't me, it was everyone. All of us. We're all messed up. Even the handsome jocks, and pretty girls. Under the surface, we're all the same. It was like having a beam of sunlight break through the clouds and fucking illuminate the world to me.

Sure, I was a dumpy kid. Taller by then, but still kinda fat and pimply faced. It was okay, though. That didn't make me a horrid failure of a human who never deserved life. It just made a person, like everyone else.

To this day, one of my favorite memories is of the big play we did. We had worked on it for months. Some story of a dysfunctional family moving to a rural community. I forget the details. Anyway, my buddy Bruce played the son of the couple, as he went through the various stages of teenage rebellion, and I played his friend, who never spoke, yet apparently, never shut up off stage. It was actually tricky, playing this character who stared at nothing. He was suppose to be zoned out any time he was on stage, and I guess I did well with it.

So, backstage, at the last minute, the two gals in the group decide it would be fun to have my character somewhat emulate Bruce's as he went through the various stages. Including the more or less skater punk phase. To do this, they decided to gel my hair back, to give me that look, I guess. I'm not sure. It was an idea, it was fun, I ran with it. For three bottles of hair gel. Which did not make my naturally wavy hair lay down at all. It just looked damp.

So, here we are, these two women desperately trying to get my hair to slick back, until they literally ran out of gel, when one of them looks at me and says, without any hesitation, malice, or judgment, “No wonder your hair always looks so messy. There's no way to make it stop!”

No, Amy, there wasn't. Still isn't. It's the exact same now. Bless your heart, though, for in that moment, I felt sane, human, normal, and accepted. Thank you for that. You were, and are, I imagine, a wonderful person.

Those two events, together, snapped me out of my growing resentment, my self loathing and the first stages of misogyny. I understood the world better because of them. They were, and remain, defining moments in my life. When I was able to see the world through different eyes, was accepted and treated with warmth, and saw myself differently because of it.

After high school, I set out to be a better person. To try harder to be open, and leave my social awkwardness in the past. I had a new view of the world, and of me, and I wanted to embrace it, because it felt good. I liked how I felt.

This was not easy.

My first job out of high school was working at Wendy's, where we had an assistant manager who was a short, fat, angry man. Very angry. Always trying to prove his manliness by demanding the employees meet him out back after their shift so he could beat some of his spare manliness into them. More than once, he threatened to drag me outside and beat my ass.

It bothered me for a long time why he acted that way. I was still kind of a quite person, now eighteen, but less filled with self loathing and fear of others. Slightly more outgoing, I made a good number of friends while I worked there. Except, this guy. Always pushing, always screaming, always threatening.

Again, I heard the slurs, the taunts of pussy, and faggot. The attempts to intimidate me and others into being angry men like he was. I had seen the world differently, and while I had a ways to go in coming out of my shell, I was doing a lot better at that point. The things he said bothered me, not because it made me question my own masculinity, but because they were just so full of bigotry and hatefulness. I saw in him what I had almost become, from his bullying tactics, to the way he treated the women who worked there.

I just didn't know what to do about it. I was still figuring all this stuff out. I tried, to the best of my still somewhat clumsy, awkward ability, to be supportive of the women he harassed. I tried to the best of my still somewhat shy capability to ignore his taunts. Eventually, he really lost it and punched a sixteen year old kid in the face during Sunday lunch rush. The store manager fired him instantly.

This was the early 90's. It took that, back then.

One of the friends I made working there was active in the local small theater and got me involved in it as well. I hadn't planned to continue acting after high school, but once he learned I had been in drama club, he begged me to at least come along and try out for a role. I did, and to my surprise, landed a part as Rev Humphries in the Phillip King play, See How They Run.

Best thing that ever happened to me. Ever.

I met my best friend of many years there, a guy named Kevin, who was the artistic type, and he really showed me a view of the world I never would have gotten otherwise. I went on to be in Come Back Little Sheba, and was set to be Arsenic And Old Lace, when my ever selfish mother intervened and I ended up not being able to do the play.

Okay, so, here's what happened. The producer on all three plays tells me right before we begin rehearsal on Arsenic that she has a friend who's an agent. She wanted that agent to come see me, because she believed I could really do something with this acting thing. In fact, she was so incredibly supportive, she wanted me to go to Hollywood and seriously pursue it, to the point that if the agent liked me, she was willing to pay for the airfare, go with me, and help me find a place to stay for a while.

I'd never had someone be so supportive of me like that, and really began to think I might could do this. I could be an actor. Not Brad Pitt or anything, but a good solid actor who got roles and did well. Also worth noting, a woman did that for me. Naturally, I tell my mom. After high school, I moved back home while I tried to figure out what to do next, since my dad was in West Virginia at that point. That ended up being a mistake.

True to fashion, my mom saw me about to take off and not be there, where she could mooch off me, which is what she was doing. She divorced my step dad a few months after I graduated high school, then cried to me about how she couldn't support my two younger brothers. Being of a new mind, and trying to let the past go, I told her I'd help till she got on her feet.

I tried. I really tried. My mom, though. She only knew how to take advantage of people, including her own kids.

By the time I was set to start in Arsenic, she went to my boss at the time and told him she needed me at home during the day to help my younger brothers with school. He moved me to the night shift, and my acting career ended right there. I found out about this later, from my boss, when he was telling me all about how nice it was that I was helping my poor sick mother.

She wasn't sick. She lied. She lied, guilt tripped me, and ended a chance for me to do something with my life I would have loved. Because, as she told me when I confronted her about it, I would have been wasting my life by pursuing a career in acting. Instead, I should go work with her new boyfriend, who was married, and my best friend Kevin's dad, and be a shade tree mechanic.

Let me sum that up. My mother's dream for me was to be a shade tree mechanic. So I could work on her car for her. For free. All while she was sleeping with a married man, and threatening me with physical violence if I told my best friend his dad was having an affair.

Folks, that is my mother. Right there.

It's a wonder I am as sane and stable as I am.

Anyway, with that dream murdered before I realized it, I turned back to my first love, writing. Again, to a great deal of insult and condescension from her. She refused to even read anything I wrote, since she already knew, I sucked at it, and told me so often.

I had a couple more failed relationships, struggled to find myself, and hang on to the vision of myself I had gained. During this time, I lost touch with Kevin, and about eight months later, finally managed to find him. Being the somewhat bohemian type that he was, I had figured he'd gone on some adventure and forgotten to tell me he was leaving. Turned out, he'd been in the hospital all that time, after being beaten nearly to death by three guys who had mistaken him for being gay.

Eight months in the hospital, had to have his entire jaw rebuilt, and his dad never said a damn thing to me about while he was running around with my mom. Some parents we had. It's no wonder we got along so well.

The reason this is important is because Kevin took me to a coffee shop after we started hanging out again, run by the nicest guy I'd ever met. I made a lot of friends there, all of them gay. They were supportive, thoughtful, and we often sat talking till late into the evening. Outside of the homophobic slurs I'd dealt with being thrown at me for not being man enough all my life, this was the first time I ever really had any contact with the gay community.

I liked them. A lot. I found myself so at ease with the lesbians that frequented the coffee shop, and could talk with them with so naturally it surprised me. Even at that point, about twenty years old, I was still too self conscious to really be comfortable with touching people, or being touched by people. One of the big reasons my earlier relationships had failed was because of this. I just wasn't comfortable with displays of affection, and it was very off putting. I know that now, but then, not so much.

The weird thing was how easy it was around gay women. There were two in particular I became good friends with, and they were very huggy people. It never made me uncomfortable, though. It was warm, comforting, and relaxed. I began to realize that I still had a fear, not of women, but of ending up with someone like my mom. I was standoffish because of that.

Worth noting, I never had any problem with the gay guys hugging me either. The shop owner was always flopping down in my lap, hugging me up, and claiming he was going to have my baby. It was completely comfortable to me. He was a peach, and I adored him. To this day, I'm more at ease around gay people than I am anyone else. They are my family, instantly, and I've never met anyone in the LGBTQ community that made me feel anything less than accepted, or that I had problems being around, of any kind. I love them, and I know, always, they are were I find my truest friends.

Storm and I met around that time, and built a friendship that turned into more. Though the issues I still grappled with, and the ones she did as well, caused us a lot of up and downs in those early times, we have been together for twenty years now. We have a good relationship, built on trust, honesty, and friendship. It's been great, and the next twenty will be, too.

I love her. I truly do love her. We both have our scars, external and internal, but we've learned to live with those. We've learned, together, how to live past them. How to be happy in spite of them.

So, here's how it is. My messed up childhood. Our culture of misogyny and how it made that worse. How I nearly became one of those trolls that hides behind internet anonymity to berate women. How I made my first real connection over a comic book. How D&D opened my eyes. How a simple matter of hair gel made me feel normal. How I saw that ugly misogyny for what it really was. How I came to care so deeply about gay rights. How I found love, and happiness.

How I ended up sane, normal, and well adjusted, in spite of everything arrayed against me.

That's not the end of this story, though. Not by a long ways. There is more to tell.

There are four people in my life right now I am so very close to. Kevin, sadly, is no longer one of them. We’ve lost track of each other over the twenty years since. I hope he is well, and if he should ever read this, knows that I miss him. He was a true friend, and taught me much about how a real man behaves, with respect, acceptance, and kindness for others.

The four people in my life right now I am close to are all women, three of whom are gay. This does not count, obviously, the many friends I have via the internet, and by no means, am I discounting them. I'm just counting the four who are part of my daily life, away from the internet. The ones out there, that I know through the waves of the ether, are just as precious to me, and cherished by me. If I could sit and have a cup of coffee with them, as I do the others, I would.

As for the four, though, yes, they are all women. Storm, clearly, but also my friend Sam, and the woman I love like a little sister, to the point I call her that, and she calls me her brother, Amber. Last, but not least, her wife, Jessie. This is my family. These are the people I love, would move mountains for, and know, would find a way to break the walls of the world for me.

They are all women.

How things have changed.

Here's where we get to the part that makes me angry. I know for certain that three of the four have been sexually assaulted. Think about that for a minute. Really think about it. Three of the four people I am closest too in this world have been sexually assaulted.

See, when I look back at my life, and the things I went through, I see how this casual culture of misogyny and false manliness forces people into thinking it is normal. How guys, like me, are figuratively, and literally, beaten into the mold that continues the culture. How we are emotionally, mentally, and physically blackmailed into going along with it.

Even worse is how men now are claiming it's the same as what women endure. Maybe even more difficult. To the point that there are these Men's Rights Groups popping up now, actually claiming they have it worse than women ever did, because of feminism.

I cannot begin to express how mind boggling I find that. Here's why.

For all of the pain, the hardship, the self loathing, the tattered self image that guys like me have been through, we can recover from it. I did. I know others who have. We can get past it. We can learn to cope, and even, speak out against it. When we do, we can find others who will join us, and many sympathetic ears in the male half of the population. It can be done, and it is done.

Women do not have that.

We allow a culture of rape to persist, where we shame and blame the victim. We make it their fault. We objectify them to the point that when they are raped, and by the way, most women will experience a sexual assault in their lifetime, we shrug it off. We have politicians who sit and debate the veracity of rape. Invent terms like legitimate rape. Call pregnancy via rape a Gift From God and demand abortion not be legal to protect it, while stripping women of their rights. Religious leaders who defend that. Men who excuse it.

I know how hard my life was. I know it was nothing, absolutely nothing, next to the kind of shit women have to live with, every day. It's excusable for me to not look like Brad Pitt. It is not excusable for women to not look like Angelina Jolie. That is the reality. That is why despite my mother, I actively speak out on the issue of feminism. Because it isn't about me, or her, it's about a woman's right, all women's right, to not be treated like an object that exists solely for male pleasure.

Yes, I grew up being beaten down because I wasn't macho enough. I was never raped. I was never blamed for getting raped. That makes it not the same thing. That makes it a totally different thing.

I had a good friend be beaten nearly to death for being perceived as gay. Nearly every woman I am close to in my day to day life was been raped. Many of the women I am friends with via the internet have been raped. Yet somehow, I'm suppose to buy this bullshit story that straight men have it the hardest?

Don't even get me started on “minorities” either. Since when are human fucking beings a minority? Oh, dear, their skin is a less than pristine shade of white! That makes it okay to marginalize, belittle, and oppress them while whining about how unfair they are to us!

Wow. Really? What the hell?

I see it all the time these days. Name calling, victim blaming, color shaming, and all while simpering about how hard they have it because they are straight, white, men. How everyone is against them. How the “minorities” are taking from them. How the gays are destroying their way of life. How women are oppressing them.

You know, my life has taught me something. Through all the shit, the hurt, the fear, and uncertainty, it has taught me something. Something it took me years to really understand, grasp, and come to terms with. Something that I am now proud to know, and in a way, thankful to have learned. Yes, in a way, I'm glad I've had the life I have lived, for it taught me this, above all else.

We all shit sitting down. We all bleed red. We all feel. We all hurt. We all cry. We all doubt. We all fear.

We are all the same. It isn't the color of our skin that divides us. It isn't who we pray to. Who we love. What's between our legs. What divides us is none of those things. It is our willingness to be divided. Our acceptance that we should be. Our fear that we will somehow be less special if we aren't.

We won't be. We can't be. Because we are all the same, and we are all unique. We all live alone in our heads, with only our own thoughts for company. We all see the world only through our own eyes. This is what truly separates us, and that's a beautiful thing. To be different because we are us, unique to the world, like no other before us, and none that will come after.

Why is that not enough? Why can we not be proud of that singular uniqueness? Why must we find more and hateful ways to divide ourselves? Are we so insecure in our own unique view of the world that oppression and cruelty are preferable to kindness and acceptance? Is that really who we, as a species, are?

More and more, it seems that way. Perhaps it is a loud minority clinging to ways that are fading. Perhaps it is that this culture of misogyny gets more press because we are becoming less tolerant of it. Perhaps we are on the cusp of seeing a new world, where we finally break these old chains that hold us back from looking at each other, and seeing through eyes of friendship, love, and trust.

Perhaps.

I can't say that for certain. What I can say is that almost every woman I know has been sexually assaulted. What I can say is that there are those who make excuses for it. What I can say is those same people attempt to defend it by making it about how hard men have it.

I'm a man. I know how hard we have it. I've lived it. Those guys are full of shit.

Until we are all equal, none of us are. It is that simple.

Over the last few years, as a writer, I have found myself drawn, more and more, to tackling these issues in my work. To writing female leads, and addressing this very topic through them. I will continue doing so. I will write Bunny Beckman without apology. I will cast women as equals to men. I will tell their stories, their hardships, without sugar coating it. I will do it, because I need to. Because it must be done. Because it's the right thing to do.

Because I can.

Because Teresa would expect it of me, after all this time.

The thing that spurred me to write all of this was two separate things, really. The first is a coworker of mine. A woman, whom I won't name, but reminds me of my mother. She belittles, she twists things, tries to push people around, is bigoted, hateful, and small. Racist, homophobic, and purposefully cruel, she waves the banner of feminism as her defense.

The second was an article over at The Mary Sue, linked here, talking about a Youtube user who attempted to wave off his casual misogyny and sexual assault as a social experiment that showed how men are victims too. What he was really doing was being a total twatwaffle, and a rape apologist.

I look at both of them, and wonder how such people can still exist in this world. How they can feel no kind of shame in their actions. How they can convince themselves that what they do, and say, is acceptable.

How do they live with themselves?

I wonder this because at the deepest, darkest part of my life, when my self worth was at its lowest point, when my anger was growing, I did not want to lash out at the world. What I wanted to do was end my own life. I thought of it often. I almost tried it more than once. Even in the midst of that fear I had of women, that was slowly turning to resentment, I never once thought of hurting a woman. I only thought of hurting myself. Because it was me I couldn't stand. It was me that I couldn't love.

I know now what I did not know then, what I was too deeply in the middle of to grasp. My life, up to that point, in my mid teens, had filled me with a depression so deep, I could not see the truth. The all important truth I began to grasp, little by little, over the years, from so many little moments. Through so many distant, yet interconnected events. The truth that ultimately did come to me, and I now share with you.

It's okay to be a flawed human being. It's okay to be weak, to cry, to be afraid. It's okay to be sad, and to struggle. It's okay to be angry. All of it, every bit of it, is all okay.

Provided you never stop learning from it all how to be a kinder person.

I don't hate my mother. I don't love her, either. I haven't seen or spoken to her in almost twenty years. I doubt I ever will again. I'm okay with that, because I understand her, and why she behaved the way she did. I get how her entire life was motivated by selfishness, jealousy and fear.

That's the thing that I've come to really understand, how fear rules people so completely. How at the root of misogyny is fear. The male fear of women finding them unworthy, the fear they have of being less than they have been taught to think they should be. How that fear makes them lash out, trying to improve their own self worth by destroying someone else's, by any means they can. How they never acknowledge that fear, letting it rule them for the rest of their lives.

Fear of that which is different. Fear of the unknown. Fear of themselves. It's about fear, and the inability to face it. It drives them to devalue women in order to value themselves. It succeeds because they are small, cowardly, and insecure. So much so, they are even too afraid to face their own fears, and by doing so, perhaps overcome them.

I was forty years old before I heard someone put it to words in a way that I cannot ever forget. The lesson of my life, summed up, by a Japanese manga writer. It was a profound moment for me, because I saw that I am not the only one to learn this, and it gives me hope that others will to.

I leave you with this quote, from Fairy Tail, by Hiro Mashima.

Fear is not evil. It teaches you what your weakness is. Once you know your weakness, you can become stronger, as well as kinder.”

Friday, September 19, 2014

How To Write Like A Madman

Generally speaking, I avoid giving people advice on writing. To answer the first question you have, yes, people do sometimes ask me advice. I am always hesitant to give it, too, for a wide variety of reasons. I want to tackle those before I post the only advice I'll ever give on the subject of writing.

The first reason I avoid it is because the manner in which I write runs completely contrary to the advice of more well know, better, and more published authors than me. I respect that the process they use works for them, and in fact, is probably the correct way to go about doing this whole thing we call writing. It does not work for me, and it never has.

Which brings me to my second reason, namely, every writer does things their own way. Even when there are similarities between processes, each author possess their own unique way of going about writing. Which means any advice I could realistically give, would be purely subjective. What works for me, as I mentioned above, doesn't work for someone else.

The third reason, the big one, is because we writers have a deep seated sense of insecurity about what we write. We want it to be liked. So, any time I have to point out where something doesn't work, or could be handled better, it tends to result in defensiveness.

Other writers I know do, now and then, ask my opinion of their work, and I always try to be clear about what they are looking for. Do they want me to comment on the themes, characters, plot, and general overall feel of the story, or do they want me to look at the mechanics? This matters, because the first one is easy, while the second one is hard.

Commenting on a fellow authors mechanics is where that defensiveness often crops up. Sometimes, it can also be brought out by pointing to places where the characters suddenly behaved differently, or the plot makes no sense. Point is, when I'm asked to give my opinion, or advice, I'm leery of doing it.

The thing is, I do want to help my fellow authors, though. I've been actively pursuing a writing career for 25 years now. I've picked up a lot along the way, and if anything I've learned can help someone else, I want to offer it. Just not at the expense of a friendship, which has happened.

Quick aside here, but it's relevant. A fellow writer I'd become friends with was writing a vampire novel, following a woman from the moment she turned, to the moment she cast off her humanity. It was a very good story. Towards the end, however, the changes her character underwent seemed out of left field, and did not fit with the rest of the story. I told her so, as she was asking my help. She became very upset, ripped into me, my work, my personal relationships, and ended our friendship by calling me a worthless hack.

It was pretty upsetting, since I really loved the story, and to this day, think she had one of the best vampire novels I've ever read. The last third of the book just needed a little work. I didn't think saying so was akin to offering to eat her children, but she took it that way. Since then, I've avoided giving my advice or opinion pretty much completely.

Still, as I've been building a relationship over the last couple of years with other indie authors, I've come to feel the urge to offer a few tips to anyone who might be interested in the particulars of how I write. Mostly because I see them doing the same, from the relative safety of their blogs, and want to offer my two cents up as well. The manner in which I go about crafting my tales is as different as night and day from theirs, of course, because I can't do anything the normal way.

Really. I can't. I think I may go the bathroom in a weird manner.

So, setting aside my reluctance, here are my tips on how to write. Granted, it's just how I write, specifically, so in no way is this meant to be an effective guide to becoming a successful writer.

#1: Do Your Thing

This might seem obvious, but it really isn't. The internet abounds with how to guides on getting in on the latest trends and adapting your sci fi horror piece into a vampire romance. Never mind them. Do not worry about market trends. Write the story YOU want to tell, not the story everyone is telling you to tell. That's the first, biggest, most important thing there is. Write the story YOU want to tell.

#2: Read More Books

Again, seems obvious. When I say read more books, I mean by authors you enjoy. Don't just read them, either, but study them. Look at how they do things. Examine the manner in which the write, how they structure their sentences, paragraphs, and plots. Study how they develop their characters. Learn from those you admire, because honestly, their work is right there, in front of you, and is the best how to in the world.

#3: Learn By Doing

The more you write, the better you get at it. Just like riding a bicycle, or juggling monkeys. Any skill requires practice and dedication to improve, and writing is no different. The more you do it, the better you will get at it. Compare the work you do today to what you did ten years ago. You'll see improvement. Never assume that that you are a genius right out of the gate, either. There is always room for improvement in anyone's work, from mine to Stephen King's. Nothing is perfect, and the best thing you can do for yourself is to learn how to accept that you will spend the rest of your life growing and improving as a writer.

#4: Be Objective

This is the hardest thing in the world to do. Learning how to step back, divorce yourself from your own work, and be critical of it. It took me years to manage it. Even now, I have my days where I miss something that should be obvious. By learning to be objective, however, you can see the flaws in your own plots, the weakness in your own characters, and the failure to communicate your own story before someone else points it out to you. Often harshly. Be your own worst critic, and your work will improve dramatically because of it.

#5: Find The Story's Style

I am a big believer that each story requires its own style. Some stories work better with a graceful, slow narrative style, while others work better as a fast paced, low descriptive one. Find what works for your story, and give it what it needs to be the best it can. Do not be beholden to the concept that everything you write must have a distinctive flavor to it. Adapt to the story you want to write, rather than forcing it to adapt to the way you want to write.

#6: Ignore All Advice

This is the last, and biggest piece of advice I can give. Ignore other people's advice, even mine. If it does not work, if it does not help you, if it makes you feel limited, ignore it. I've heard a lot of advice that just got me bound up in worrying over the most insignificant things. Adverbs are bad. Said is dead. I end up spending more time worrying over the use of a single word than I do actually writing my story. Use the words you need to use. Use the words the story needs to be told. Do not spend all of your time struggling to restructure a single sentence to avoid doing what someone else said don't do. Write your story. Edit it later.

Now, what follows is just how I write. This is my process. It is not the 'correct' process. It's just mine.

When I first started writing the Bunnypocalypse series, literally all I knew, from the first word, was that the main character was named Bunny, she was a stripper, and there were going to be zombies. I had intended a Shaun of the Dead style parody. I got Bunny fucking Beckman instead.

I did not plan anything. I literally made the entire thing up as I wrote it. The second book in the series, too. The third one I tried to plot out, had to restart it three times, gave up, and made it up as I went. Had to repeat this lesson for the fourth book now. If I am not making it up as I go, I cannot write a Bunnypocalypse novel.

Sure, there are things I know about the world, and in general, where the plot of the series is going, but the actual books, I have to make them up as I write them, or they don't get written. I also have to adapt to the ever changing nature of the world Bunny lives in, keep exhaustive notes of what's been established, and stay within the limits of the world I've created. It's sometimes a difficult process, but the versions of the books I make up are always vastly better than the ones I try to plan out.

So, yeah, I literally bullshit my way through writing these novels.

Which is not to say I do it that way with everything. Some of my non Bunny works I think through, plan stuff out, and plot things for. However, usually these are just rough notes, since I can't do an outline to save my life. Every book I've written an outline for, I've never finished. I feel like doing it kills my creativity. I've got no room to breath, explore, and neither do the characters, or story.

Point being, it's okay to not do an outline. Sure, you want some kind of an idea as to what the hell is going on, and where you are going, but don't be married to the idea. Events may transpire that change the ending. A character you planned to kill may end up surviving. One you planned to survive may die.

Live in the moment. Let the story tell itself. This is how I write. I've got folders full of abandoned plot lines, character arcs, and ideas, because somebody went left instead of right, or the ending didn't work anymore with things that had happened leading up to it.

If you are going to be creative, then be creative!

Again, this is what works for me. It isn't the only way, or the best way, or even a remotely sensible way, to write a novel. It's just what works for me.

Then again, I'm a madman with a keyboard, so you really should have probably expected my tips on being a better writer to make very little sense at all.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Setting The Mood

Having to do with yesterday's post, here's a little something else.

Basically, everyone knows how much I like to set music to what I write. The Mythic Age is no different. Basically, it's fantasy with a rock edge. To that end, I've put together some playlists of the music I'm listening to while I write.

Please, enjoy, and show some support to these artists, who do such an amazing job. They deserve tons of acclaim for being awesome.

There are two, because my original book one is too big, and will be the first two books. Rewrites are fun, aren't they?

War Witch: Rise

War Witch: Blight

Rocking out while writing a fantasy novel. I do things my own weird little ways, I know.

See ya soon!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

While I've Been Away

So, I think we've firmly established that I am not the most reliable of people to have a blog. Which is good. In a way. Mostly because I often have no idea what I want to talk about, so rather than ramble nonsensically, I just say nothing.

That aside, I have actually been up to stuff while I've been neglecting this. I read and reviewed my buddy Michael G. Munz's book, Zeus Is Dead, which if you haven't read yet, you should. It's funny as hell, and has a really cool plot. I've also read another friends book, Cairn Rodrigues' The Last Prospector, and the sequel she was kind enough to let me get into ahead of time, Travelers & Tramps. If you've not already done so, I highly recommend The Last Prospector. She weaves a beautiful, wonderful world, that I love dearly, and hope all of you will take the time to visit.

Though she didn't intend it, she also coaxed me into revisiting my own fantasy world, The Mythic Age. I've talked about it a lot in previous blog entries, and while I'd love to say the second Divine Agents book is going to be coming soon, it really isn't. In fact, I'm planning to pull the first one, so I can rework it a bit, and re-release it later, better than it is now.

Yes, I'm still working on the fourth Bunnypoclypse book. It's coming. Bunny isn't going to get sidelined. She'd never allow it.

What I've been doing the last few months is revisiting the series that was originally meant to precede the Divine Agents books, War Witch. Set 30 years prior to the Divine Agents series, it was what I had planned to introduce the world of The Mythic Age with, as it gives a much better view than the DA books ever could. Where they are anthologies, War Witch is an actual series, following the same characters, and because the world of TMA is a consistent one, effects the DA books.

I started War Witch not long after I originally conceived the idea of The Mythic Age, and planned to write it as a series of novellas that followed the adventures of two women on a quest to find and stop a very evil man. This was about 17 years ago, and I've grown a lot as a writer since then, so the initial draft of the series is clunky, filled with plot holes, and has the characters acting in very strange ways as the plot demands.

Still, I love the story itself, and have been writing an entirely new draft. Book 1 is pretty much done at this point, with just the final edits needed to make it less obvious I can't type to save my life. I can't, either. It's shameful, I know, but there it is. The overall feel of the story is much improved as well. I've rid it of the gaping plot holes that filled the original, but more importantly, I've largely tossed out the idea of the plot being central. This has allowed me to make the characters the centerpiece of the story, which is what I wanted to do to begin with, I just didn't have the skill as a writer to pull it off back then.

Basically, and this will only make sense to anyone familiar already with the basic concept of The Mythic Age, the plot revolves around a woman who was taken to live with the Gods after her village was wiped out by Demon Seed. Now a skilled warrior, and a Blessed of the High Gods, she has returned to hunt down the Dark Blessed who lead the attack, and exact justice for his crimes. Joining her in her quest is the other main character, a young woman from a tiny farming community, who wants to get out, see the world, and experience something more than getting married off to the butcher's son.

What's important about this is that both of the leading characters are women. Very different women. While the warrior is struggling to come to terms with life back among mortals, and her quest, the other is facing her own naivety, and trying to find her path in life, now that she gets to chose it for herself. Neither of them, though, are aware they are getting swept into events far bigger than either of them.

As I've been rewriting the first book, I've gotten to really kind of push the main plot into the background, and spend a lot of time focusing on the characters, which is where the real story happens. Their growth, their relationship, and how the events they are a part of shape and change them. How they relate to others around them, the mistakes they make, and how they deal with them. This, I've learned, is the real story, the one I always wanted to tell.

As I said, the important thing is that the leads are both women, a seriously under represented group in fantasy fiction, especially. Usually cast as the love interest or damsel to be rescued, the woman in TMA don't have time for that sort of thing. They got shit to do. Usually fighting the Demon Seed. Which both of these ladies do extremely well.

That's one of the things about TMA that keeps bringing me back to it, though. While the young woman from the tiny village is faced with societal expectations that are familiar, once she steps out into the bigger world, she realizes just how backwards her home town is. Women in TMA are every bit the ass kickers the men are, and no one bats an eye at it. That's just how things are in their world, and you never hear anyone make a snide comment about a girl with a sword.

Odds are, if that woman has that sword, she knows what to do with it, and you best be careful.

It's a more fair and equal world in that sense, and a number of others. Much as how women are treated as equals, so are people of color, and homosexuals. Actually, homosexual is a word that never appears in any TMA fiction, because it isn't a word they know. The standard sexual orientation of TMA is bi-sexual. Which isn't to say that there aren't those who veer one way or the other, since there are, it's just that nobody thinks anything of it. That's just how the world is.

Two of my favorite new additions to the cast in the rewrites are both women of color who happen to prefer other women as lovers. One because she's hysterically funny and has a pile of sentient trash for a pet, the other because she's a bad ass mother fucker who beats the bad guys down with fists that are literally wreathed in fire. She's a Blessed of Hepheron, so that's normal, and she's a skilled martial artist. And an Elf. Because I dislike stereotypes.

I've mentioned that I dislike stereotypes before, haven't I? Though so.

Now, all of this, so far, is based in my intention to show women as leading characters, strong, capable, bad ass fighters, and competent people. What I won't do, though, is render them as feminine versions of square jawed hero types who mow down hordes of enemies without a thought. These are people, and the story is about them. They don't always win easily. They get beaten up. They suffer losses. They have weak moments. They cry, grieve, and get back up to fight again, because they must. They are people. They are capable of experiencing a wide range of emotions.

Growth is especially hard for the young woman from the small town. She struggles to make the right choices, and often fails, finding herself forced to live with the consequences. The story is as much about her as it is the warrior. Not to give away too many plot points here, but she, more than any character, faces hardship, adversity, and the very real difficulties of being a woman living in a world where evil is literal, real, and out to get you.

Because, again, there are things I want to talk about. I've said this before, with Bunny, and I'll say it again here. There are real world issues that we can bring to the forefront using fiction, and I am a big supporter of women's issues. There are things, ugly, harsh things, I will talk about in this series. Nothing will be fixed with a hug, a good cry, a solid talk from a male authority figure, or gotten over in a couple of chapters. That's not how real life works, and with story turning to be focused so heavily on their lives, I feel strongly that this is an opportunity to address things that especially fantasy fiction often glazes over.

Obviously, I'm not a woman. Duh. I know that. However, Storm is, and she is very much my second pen in this tale. Her opinion is asked over many, many things. She has helped immensely in directing the story, and the characters. She knows how women are treated, because she is one, and if I'm going to use fantasy fiction to tackle big subjects about women, I'm going to ask a woman's advice. Probably several before this book sees print.

Now, admittedly, while it was Cairn's lovely world that inspired me return to not just The Mythic Age, but War Witch in particular, it's my favorite website on the internet that has inspired me to stand up and deal with the problems that I plan to address in this series. The Mary Sue, a place I spend a ridiculous amount of time anymore, is possibly the first website where I feel not only comfortable visiting and participating in the comments section, but straight up welcome.

I've mentioned in the past how I was always uncomfortable with being told I needed to act Manly. The ways it bothered me, chafed, and often, straight up repulsed me. It comes as no surprise, then, that the place I feel most welcome on the internet is a site dedicated to predominately girl geek culture. More than that, however, is the frank and honest way they discuss things, the community being made up of people who are calm, level headed, and not prone to screaming, flaming rants over even perceived insults. It's a great place, I love their writers, staff, and the whole community. I cannot recommend it enough for all the geeks out there who are tired of the bullshit that's become part of geek culture.

More importantly, it's their willingness to talk about the things that I feel strongly about, the previously mentioned women's issues. It's given me an incredible amount of insight into how the world not only really does treat women, but how they see the world, how they feel about it, and how they feel about how they are treated. A lot of you will remember that I became interested in this issue way back when I was a teenager, thanks to Dungeons & Dragons, something I talked about a while ago on this blog, but spending time at The Mary Sue has shown me that things haven't really gotten better, and that's not okay.

So, here I am, revisiting a world I love, and tackling the massive rewrites of a novel that brings women to the forefront as the leads, and as relatable people. Because I can. Because I feel like I should. Mostly, though, because it's just good storytelling. And like I always say, a good story, told well, is worth not just writing, but reading.

Last thing. Storm insisted that if I was going to do this, that I include the reality that women enjoy sex, too. So, there will be sex in these books. A fair amount of it. Because, hey, did you guys know that women enjoy sex, too? They totally do.

Just not always with you, or me. Because it isn't about us.

War Witch: Rise will be coming soon. Keep an eye out for it.