Category Archives: Research

For History’s Sake, Write Your Life

We’ve all heard the refrain that history is written by the victors, and as such, the entire story can never be told.

In a society where the loudest people get all the attention, and biases in news agencies grow more obvious and prevalent, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for those not in the literal midst of important events to know what’s true and what’s false.

I don’t recommend we ignore important events, but I do recommend we do our research, and see if we can find people who were there to get their perspective of what happened. And not only one person, but more than one, and from all sides. The truth will eventually be found.

Discernment is key. And honesty.

Yesterday’s devotional focused on Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) who “wrote books that shed a true light on what was happening behind the Iron Curtain.”

Without him and others like him who wrote and spoke fearlessly and honestly about what happened in their country, it’s likely the truth of that time would never have been revealed.

We must do the same.

With all the furor over so-called offensive statues with regard to the Civil War, and calls to rename everything because some people find it offensive is not only silly, but dangerous. As ugly as our history is at times (and no country can claim otherwise), destroying it is equally as ugly. If we’re not honest and open about our history, we can never learn and grow from it.

And where does it end? Will we now destroy the writings of people who lived during that time, because what they wrote offends some people?

Who ultimately gets to decide what’s offensive anyway?

Plenty of people find our founding documents offensive, including the Constitution, simply because it was written by people who did what many consider terrible things. Who wrote them is unimportant compared to the document itself. Should we ignore the wisdom of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. because he cheated on his wife?

But I get off topic.

We live in interesting times, sometimes dangerous times. If we don’t chronicle them, and do so with complete honesty, our children will never know what we accomplished — both good and bad — and they will in effect never learn from either. History will then be guaranteed to repeat itself.

It might anyway, but that’s another entry.

I believe that world literature has it in its power to help mankind, in these its troubled hours, to see itself as it really is, notwithstanding the indoctrinations of prejudiced people, and parties.

— Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Expanding Empathetic Horizons

I tried to find a synonym to "horizons" that started with an "e", because a little alliteration for a title is always kinda neat methinks. Alas, I found none.

Aristotle theorized that people who read fiction in particular are better able to understand and experience life, and empathize more with their peers.

Several studies have shown his theory has credence: The Neuroscience of Your Brain on Fiction

What I found most interesting in the article was how the mere mention of a word such as cinnamon or other smells lights up the part of the brain dedicated to smells as if that person actually smelled it. The same goes for how fiction describes characters, their thoughts and how they interact with other characters and their surroundings. Our brain activity when reading reacts as if we're engaging with actual people.

So if we want a more empathetic society, we need to read, and encourage others (children especially) to read more. It doesn't have to be fiction only, because some non-fiction is written in the same way as fiction such as describing the world around them, and interactions with others.

God's genius is obvious here, because he not only designed our brains to learn language at an early age, but the desire to share our lives and experiences through that language, whether written or spoken. He did so, because of our inherent need to understand the world around us, ourselves, and each other.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some reading to do.

"We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason why they write so little." —Anne Lamott

The Science in Morality

When thinking of the natural world — science if you will — we rarely tie morality into it. They should be mutually exclusive, because science is the study of the natural world, whereas morality is considered a construct invented by man (or God depending on your beliefs) in order to create civil society.

I watched a video where a philosopher contorted herself into a mental pretzel while trying to describe how some "early fetuses" have no moral status when other "early fetuses" do, and as such abortion is not a moral issue.

Aside: This post isn't about abortion, per se, but about how biological knowledge can and should, in many circumstances, define our morality.

Nowhere in the video did the philosopher or the two men interviewing her bring up the biology of said fetuses and how one — scientifically speaking — has moral status, and therefore a right to be born, when another doesn't. You can find the video here:

https://youtu.be/r5SQnQjryzI

This in turn reminded me of another conversation (paraphrased, because it happened a while ago) when someone argued that biology and laws have no bearing on each other, especially when it comes to human rights.

I said (again paraphrased), "Biology has everything to do with it. For instance, we don't give monkeys or dogs the same rights as humans. Why? Because they're not biologically human."

Humans have known that almost instinctively for thousands of years, even though they had no idea what a cell looked like, let alone a DNA strand that more definitively proves the differences between all species, whether animal, plant, or other.

I'll even wager most of our morals depend on our understanding of the natural world. They should be, and always remain, intrinsically linked.

A few months ago, I read portions of Leviticus. Many find it dry and boring, because it contains laws about holiness, ritual cleanliness, family life, and a slew of others.

What I found most interesting is many of the laws, especially with regard to sanitation, we use and take for granted today. The difference is, we do those things not for religious or moral reasons, but because we understand the science of how diseases spread.

If we choose to ignore biology, and try to make a "moral" stance based on how we think our biology should be instead of what it is, we do so at our own peril.

That society is trying to erase what it means to be human, man, woman, boy and girl, became abundantly clear with the reaction to the release of the so-called "Google memo." You can find the text of the memo below. I encourage you to read it, and not depend on my opinion of it (or anyone else for that matter, including the writer of the linked article):

http://gizmodo.com/exclusive-heres-the-full-10-page-anti-diversity-screed-1797564320

Mr. James Damore (who wrote the memo) made a valid point — which many scientists have proven time and again — that men and women are different. Men — on average — react one way to a particular situation, and women — on average — react another way. One isn't necessarily better or worse than the other. It should show, however, that men and women complement each other. Where one is weak, the other is strong, and vice-versa. When we work together as partners with different roles to play — other than having and raising children — we can accomplish great things.

In short, trying to make women and men, and boys and girls the same, we both ignore and destroy what makes each beautiful, unique, and strong. Morally, we should acknowledge, encourage, and embrace our biological differences, because if we don't, we will, in the end, destroy each other and ourselves.

Twenty-Two Days

That’s the average response time to short stories submitted to a magazine that publishes fantasy, science fiction and horror. I’ve read three issues so far, and think my short story that won 2nd place in last year’s Writers Digest competition would make a good fit.

We’ll see.

In approximately 22 days.

The worst part about the whole process of submitting articles and short stories is hitting that awful “submit” button (or dropping that proposal or query letter into the mailbox). Once I do, there’s no turning back. No more chances to edit out any mistakes, make any other changes to the plot, grammar, setting, characters . . . nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. It’s like sending a child away to school, or discovering it’s time he left the house to create a life of his own. My story is now out of my hands, out of my control. It’s my heart and my mind on display, and I can’t help but think, “Now I get to find out if the editors of this magazine thinks the story is good, or if it’s crap.”

Not submitting it is always easy, because in my dreams, my stories always find a place. They receive nothing but accolades.

But it’s not real, and reality can suck sometimes. I’m like most writers in that I often prefer my fantasies. In my fantasy worlds, I am in control. Submitting stories and articles for others to judge is purposefully relinquishing that control, and my opinions and biases are shown to either be spot on, or completely spot off.

It’s a terrifying thing to step out of my made-up world and take a chance that in reality, everything I created is nothing like I believed and hoped it was.

That said, in case my story is rejected by this magazine, it doesn’t make my story crap. It simply means they didn’t find it a good fit for them. There are other magazines out there, and in fact, I have another in mind (I went back and forth for a few days trying to decide which to try first. It boiled down to response time. The one I submitted to is a bit quicker). Like many others, neither magazine takes simultaneous submissions, so I have to submit it one at a time.

Time will tell.

I’ll keep you apprised.

10,000 Ways

One of my favorite quotes is by Thomas Edison when he talked about creating a light bulb:

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

With my first rejection letter out of the way, I can now say I know one way that won’t work.

But I am impatient. Always have been.

I buy a lot of books — too many of which I haven’t read — on subjects ranging from basic economics to warfare.

They collect dust, because for some reason I keep thinking that the mere presence of a book on my shelf means I can learn the subject, as if I can absorb it through osmosis. It’s a sad realization that I don’t necessarily want to learn new things; I want to know them without having to work to get there.

Unfortunately for me, to find an agent who’ll hopefully find me a publisher requires not only patience, but a lot of studying and research. I have to study each prospective agent carefully to see if they will not only be a good fit for representing my book, but also a good fit for me personally. I will, after all, be working with said agent — for years if everything goes right.

I must be like Thomas Edison, and continue to write, to pursue, and figure just the right combination for success, even if it means learning 10,000 ways how not to do it.

To quoth Mr. Edison again:

Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.

God willing, it won’t take me literally 10,000 tries. I’ll settle for 12. Okay maybe 20. 50?

Schmooze and Charm

Am I charming?

It’s a question I never before asked myself. I don’t recall if anyone’s ever accused me of it, either. Perhaps in my teenage years I tried to charm people, because who doesn’t want to be loved and accepted by his/her peers?

Now that I’m older, and I care quite a bit less about what people think of me; charming others is not even the tiniest of my many goals in life. Sure, I want love and respect – who doesn’t? What I’m willing to do to get it is the question. Truth is, not much. I simply don’t have the desire or the energy to schmooze people

ASIDE: Isn’t “schmooze” a great word? It goes great with – and can even replace – charming, because the simple definition of schmooze is “To talk with someone in a friendly way, often in order to get some advantage for yourself” (Per Merriam-Webster).

People are selfish, and I’m no exception. Too often, when someone describes another as “charming,” it’s not always a compliment. The term implies an almost dishonesty, that the charmer is only in it for him/herself – to gain something in return.

Unless the person wants to be charmed, or schmoozed.

Now why would anyone want that – to purposely be “taken advantage of”?

Feeling a bit overwhelmed with writing query letters, I purchased a book called “Rock Your Query,” by Cathy Yardley. It’s a short read at only 61 pages (Nook Book), but that’s its strength. The author’s advice was succinct, and as such took away all the mystery of what a query letter should contain, and what to avoid.

The second chapter focused on the opening paragraph. She suggests that it needs to focus specifically why the writer chose that particular agent. In other words, don’t be afraid to schmooze a bit. Be charming.

The agent in question, after all, wants to be schmoozed. Not to be taken advantage of, per se. The end result is a partnership between writer and agent where they both get paid from the profits of the published book(s).

So now I have to ask if I can be charming. Can I schmooze prospective agents enough to pique their interest?

I don’t know. And perhaps that’s even the wrong question to ask.

If I gained any wisdom from reading “On Writing,” by Stephen King it’s his advice to never lie to readers. They can always tell.

The same holds true with everything I write. All I can do while writing a query letter is to be as honest as I am with my fiction and whatever else I write. Everything else will simply have to take care of itself, because no matter how much I can schmooze (or not) someone, I can’t force them to do what I want. They will either be intrigued enough to ask for more, or they won’t.

I’m reminded of a line in the movie “Trading Places,” where Eddie Murphy’s character said (paraphrased), “What do they want from me, Coleman?”

“Just be yourself, sir. No matter what happens, they can’t take that away from you.”

Charming or not, all I can do is be me, because that’s what I’m best at anyway.

At the Precipice

I hate heights, and I know when it all started.

I think it was either pre-school or kindergarten, and the class went on a field trip. We went to a park, and at one point dug for tiny seashells near the bank of a river. The bank was very steep (and to my childlike brain had to be hundreds of feet high, but was likely no more than ten). While I stood looking down at the river below, another child pushed me. Not hard enough to make me fall, but certainly enough to scare me.

I’ve been afraid of high places ever since. What’s weird is I don’t mind flying and even took a hot air balloon ride once. Good luck getting me up a ladder, though.

With all my novels mostly complete, it’s now time to dive into seeking agents. I already found a few that look promising, so all I need to do now is write my query letter,  and synopsis. I don’t look forward to either, but it’s gots to be done.

The main part is how do you boil down a 100k book down to three pages, seven at the most (depending upon the agent’s guidelines)? Most understand that synopses don’t need to be perfect, as long as they know what happens from beginning to end.

The query letter I find most intimidating, because, like the cliché says, “You have only one chance to make a good impression.”

I want it to be interesting, and even engaging, but professional. Informative, but not boring or dry.

I stand at the precipice where I must dive into the dark below, not knowing if my efforts will succeed or fail.

Part of me wants to start another book so I can avoid finding someone willing to represent my finished novels.

Because dreaming is easy. Making it come true with no guarantee of success is hard, and downright terrifying.

Much like my fear of heights. If I want to fly and not merely imagine what flying is like, I must jump off that cliff.