Re: On Honesty and Self-Censorship

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My friend who is a great author, editor and publisher posted the above blog this morning which really got me thinking. One, I’m a bit shocked that writers are really afraid of government surveillance to that degree. While I think it’s definitely a bad road we’re going down, I don’t think there’s a danger right now of getting singled out for research or having written something in fiction. In fact, artists are a pretty protected class in this society, getting away with a lot of things that “mundanes” wouldn’t, if you look at the news following actors, musicians, etc.  Do not be afraid, my friends! And support each other! But that’s not the reason I chose to write this post.

As interesting of a poll as that was, I instantly honed in on the second point of the blog – about artists self-censoring coarse language, sexual situations and whatnot.  I balked nearly immediately at the premise. We have LESS of that going on than any time in history. You couldn’t get a book published a generation ago if it dropped a few F-bombs. Now people say it all over the place to the point where the word’s almost lost its meaning.  That said, I bet you’ll be surprised at the conclusion of this blog. Keep reading!

So the premise is a conscious decision to adjust one’s art for an editor, a company, public consumption, a name. Where does one say “this is a good idea and it’s not hurting my artistic integrity” vs. “this is a bad idea and it’s killing my story.”?

I personally don’t believe swearing adds much to a story. In my professional life I have to communicate without dropping f-bombs, so it’s unrealistic to have all of my characters running around in different situations doing just that unless they’re teenagers or not in a professional environment.  It can be realistic at that point, but does it add or detract from the story to say “screw you!” instead? I can’t see how it would.  Same with fading to black instead of really writing out detailed explicit acts. The bottom line is if you push the PG-13 boundary, you’re cutting off a large portion of potential readers both from those who are on a more conservative side of the moral scale, and younger readers.  Now if you’re writing horror or some other genre that the target audience would never be there, obviously it’s something to disregard, but for the rest of us, the vast majority of storytellers out there, thinking about this and cutting out unnecessary vulgarity is a good thing, and a smart decision.

I watched a documentary on Fleetwood Mac’s recording of the Say You Will album last night, and Lindsey Buckingham had these very grand and noble ideas of what he wanted the album to be. They cut to Stevie Nicks who said (somewhat paraphrasing but this is close): “Look, we all love Lindsey and want him to obtain his hopes and dreams, but this isn’t just some art project.”

That’s the key. If you’re trying to be a professional, and your goal is to support yourself and obtain sales, you DO have to keep editors, publishers, distributors and audience in mind when pursuing your craft. It is your artistic idea, but it’s “not just some art project,” you’re doing it to be a professional, and make a living at what you’re doing. It’s sensible to be mindful edit yourself, or as Dario would say, censor yourself, in some situations with your audience in mind.

Now there absolutely has to be a creative line that’s drawn at the same time, where you keep your integrity and say “this is crucial to the story, I will not bend here, because I MUST tell this story.” And as much as when I went into writing this, I wanted to rebut Dario’s point and say emphatically “Darn tootin’ right you shouldn’t swear or talk about mommy and daddy time!” I found that I have been struggling all week with EXACTLY what Dario’s talking about.

On Sunday, I came up with a story, that the entire nature of the story will likely be rejected and perhaps scorned by the target audience I’ve been trying to reach with my comic and my last couple of books. The whole concept will offend those who I want to be my loyal audience, likely piss them off and potentially scare them away from me. I’m waffling on whether to spend the hundreds of hours crafting a novel with that plot, theme and moral in mind because of that very fact. I also considered taking a pen name for it so I can disassociate my other work from it. And it took Dario’s post to realize this but that waffling, that idea of taking a pen name so I can hide myself from my story…

It’s disingenuous. I can’t do it. And I have to write this story.

A triumph for creative expression, but it’s very, very dangerous for the brand I’m building with my name.

So where do you draw the line? Where do you say “this is not just an art project, this is my livelihood” and when do you say “I’m going to go for it, be true to myself and put this out there?” At the end of the day, that has to be up to you. Seek advice so you know what you’re getting yourself into for whatever market you’re targeting, but don’t let anyone tell you what to do, or what to say.



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RustyCon 2014

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I have a tendency to walk away from most cons saying “that was the most fun I had at a con in my life!”  Well, I’m not certain anything can actually top Dragon*Con 2012, the last year where Anne McCaffrey’s Worlds had its own track, and I had the privilege of really dialing in the writing craft with the help of Jody Lynn Nye, Todd McCaffrey, Toni Weisskopf (my hero!), and an amazing presentation on communicating emotion in writing from David Gerrold. That combined with bar hopping with infamous Albedo One publisher/editor Bob Neislon… well, it’d be impossible to top.

RustyCon is tough to compare to Dragon*Con in a lot of ways, but in all honesty, the experience came close to being as cool. It’s a much smaller convention (Dragon*Con gets about 50,000 people, RustyCon I believe was around 600), which leads to different kinds of entertainment– by which I mean I think I probably made the most of what I imagine will be lasting friends at any convention I’ve been to. Because of the size of the con, I was able to spend quality time with a lot of people who deserve shout outs in their own rights but I won’t bore all my readers with name lists.

Like the idiot I am, I didn’t get any pictures of myself from the con to put up here, though I did video the Guest of Honor speech by New York Times Bestselling Author, Todd McCaffrey:

My first panel was “One Pun To Rule Them All” on Friday night — aside, I try to sign up for more “performance based” panels that are on the fun side to give people laughs. I think in general cons need to work to have more of this type of thing, since there’s only so many times we can be told “how to write.” Maybe it’s just me, but this was awesome, and the programming was pretty diverse considering how small of a gathering this was– I actually spent the majority of the day laboring over an opening grand pun, which went a little something like this:

“I was going to open this panel in a prayer… but I figured I didn’t really want to alienate some of the audience. On the other hand, we need Allah help we can get.”

I turned to Todd McCaffrey. “I figured you’d say, no way, but I say Yahweh!”

“I figure it’d be best to cover the Judeo-Christian God and Islam’s at a Zion’s Friction  convention.”  [credit to Spider Robinson on this pun which I always try to force my way into using in public]

That devolved into a bunch of God-based puns involving Thor, Buddha, and others. I think author Janet Freeman-Daily was responsible for bringing it to the Norse-God realm. In which I said “I’m glad we switched to the old gods, because I want to keep this panel Loki.”

Groans and tomato throwing abounded!

Other panel highlight had to be Delphic Oracle, as it always is. If you haven’t seen this, I won’t spoil it, but this should be a staple of EVERY convention. Hilarity ensues every time.

I’m notorious for trying to get off-programming programming, or unofficial panels/events going at these things, to which I’m sure convention organizers hate me at this point, but I did just that at RustyCon as well on Saturday evening.  At first, it started with a simple declaration that I was going to read my starting-to-become-infamous puppet murder story aloud at the bar in an effort to impress Evil Girlfriend Media’s publisher Katie Cord.  Author Timothy W. Long mentioned he had an even more ridiculous story, and I said “let’s make a thing of it.” Next thing to do, of course, is approach the Guest of Honor and ask if he’ll join for a reading, because at this point we have a couple good opening acts and I figure Todd McCaffrey would drive the performance home. I asked him to read his short, “Men!” which is fabulous and hilarious and you can find in his “One Tree of Luna” short story collection on amazon here:

We picked up a couple really good and more serious stories along the way from Janet Freeman-Daily and Tom Wright and boom, we have a couple hour long event.

As is typical with my lack-of-planning these things, we needed a venue.  The bar was too loud and busy but we found a pretty big table in the restaurant (that still had the bar serving) which worked for our devices. With the help of two wonderful young ladies, word spread around and we received a respectable audience.

For any folk who may try to take this idea and incorporate it, here’s a couple tips.

1. This is not just a “reading”. Panel readings already exist, have for a long time and aren’t necessarily the most fun events unless you really want to see a specific author read. Keeping content to really amusing or flash fiction is imperative. I also acted as toastmaster instead of moderator, in which I ensured everyone got the drinks they wanted, introduced everyone in a boisterous manner so it requires someone with a lot of energy and presence running to so it doesn’t turn into a library-style reading. Fun is key.

2. The bar or somewhere where alcohol/beverages/food is served is imperative. This makes it so it doesn’t feel like a panel, or a quiet library style reading (partially by forcing the authors to read more loudly), but feels like an intimate time hanging out with awesome authors. It hits the collective memory spot where beat poetry and other performance arts done in bars, taverns and speakeasies in our culture.

Well, it went awesome. All of the readers were incredible. Great stories all around. Everyone who came to listen was equally incredible. I may have gotten a little too toasty because I wound up at a local bar doing a karaoke version of Boehmian Rhapsody with the crowd, but that’s another story…

There were all sorts of other fun times, but these were the highlights. A great con, and I recommend it for anyone in the Pacific Northwest, or who wants to visit the Pacific Northwest. It was great hanging out with you all, and look forward to the future.

Oh boy, I’ve started to compose a “RustyCon” theme song in my head, I may have to bring my guitar next year….


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Why The State of Journalism Is SCARY or “Mick Fleetwood, the Mainstream Media and Me!”

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Well then, I’ve been super quiet on my blog which I’ve made an excuse before a couple of weeks ago, but things have just escalated more in life. First I was super sick over the new year, then I took a vacation to Maui, and then finally last weekend was RustyCon in Seattle (more on that in another post).  I experienced, for the first time in my life, something going viral in a big way that was initiated by me.

Now for you trusty readers out there — make Flying Sparks go viral for me! Link it to all your friends, tell them to do the same!   /shamelessplug

While I was in Maui, I stumbled upon Uncle Willie K’s Blues Festival one evening. If you haven’t been to Maui, it’s beautiful, but there ain’t a whole lot to do other than lay on the beach, swim, lay on the beach some more, drink, eat, repeat. So a few days in, ADD me wants to find something interesting to do. So I determined to check out this Willie K.

Well, a lot of rock stars live on Maui, it seems. Willie K was joined by the guitarist from the Doobie Brothers, another guitarist from ZZ Top, and finally, Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac fame on drums. It was a jaw-dropping performance to say the least, one I wasn’t expecting from a backwater blues fest.

Willie K and Mick Fleetwood performed Fleetwood Mac’s song “Songbird” off the Rumors album, which I found a strange choice, since it was a Christine McVie song, and a slow song as well. For those unfamiliar with the band and don’t follow their every move as I do, Christine McVie retired from the band to go live in the country in England in 1997.  It was beautiful, yet an odd choice as it really didn’t have any blueseyness to the song, and didn’t quite fit within the uptempo set.

After the song, Mick Fleetwood announced, “This may be the worst kept secret there is, but Christine McVie will be rejoining Fleetwood Mac!”

Which was followed by some soft claps from the mostly 50+ crowd, and me screaming like a teenage girl who just saw Justin Bieber walk down the street in front of her.

Naturally, the first thing I do was go to my little Fleetwood Mac forums, and report the matter. Hundreds of posts follow with excitement. It was great, and confirmed everywhere by the media the next day.  You could read all about it in Rolling Stone, HuffPo, The Guardian, Onion’s AV Club, and 100 other internet sites within one day of that show. So thrilling of a thing, right?

Well here’s the interesting part. Someone on the Fleetwood Mac boards started questioning that I had heard what I said I reported. Others on the boards there started following the links, showing the confirmation by the media. Well, if one actually looked closely at the links, all the media posts said “It was reported…” and linked a site called Fleetwood Mac News as their source.

Fleetwood Mac News linked DIRECTLY back to my post.

Now this was perfectly legitimate news. Mick Fleetwood did say what I said he said, and it was actually confirmed a few days later by the only apparent journalists on the internet, who called the Mac’s publicist to get confirmation.

The scary part is that all of these mainstream media websites jumped to the “scoop” based on one post on the internet from some guy who has a picture of a female superhero (Meta-Girl from Flying Sparks’ fame! READ MY COMIC!) as his avatar.

I could have completely made it up, and it would have been all over the world within hours. How creepy is that?

So next time you read the news, look at the sources. I’ve seen people demonized and lives destroyed in the public arena based on allegations, and when the follow up stories are done later, they’re buried. I proved myself that it just takes a post on a forum somewhere to spark a media craze if the topic sounds legitimate enough. Definitely makes me wary of our current society.

But the good news is, Christine McVie is back in the Mac!!!!!!  I expect a tour to follow soon, and you can quote me on that!

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