Monday, March 12, 2018

Giving Up Ghosts

I am planning on giving away a few books to my good friend and fellow writer Desmond rather soon here.

I was very impressed by Alan Moore’s Neonomicon and Providence series. Like his other occult works (Promethea comes to mind), Alan is doing best what all writers do, which is justify their worldview through their respective mediums. After all, our desires inform our writings. We pen what we desire to be true. Grant Morrison took mushrooms and saw aliens and other dimensions. Neil Gaiman, a Journalist originally, wants normal folks to understand their sometimes almost supernatural imprint they make on the world, and why their uniqueness makes the world delightful. Alan Moore, is exactly who he appears to be in his writings: a disgusted and vengeful man that desires the upheaval of the status quo in favor of non-conventional society influenced by hermetic thought. (Given how DC and Warner Brothers have treated his intellectual property, I am not surprised in the least.)
                Providence and Neonomicon are powerful works. They are intertextual, metaphysical expositions on the nature of consciousness and waking madness. When I purchased them, I was solely throwing my money at Avatar Press on the basis of Moore’s reputation alone. Providence is in many ways a prequel of Neonomicon, following the exploits of a gay jew, who has eschewed a comfortable life in New York City as a Journalist to pursue a mystery cult after the death of his lover. The characters and overarching plot of Neonomicon find their fulfillment in Providence’s three volume narrative, consisting of a standard length comic followed by handwritten journal excerpts from the protagonist. The later aspect of the storytelling is, I suppose, the root of the elements of existential horror that are interwoven through the narrative. Robert Black, our protagonist, writes from his perspective completely unaware of the secret world of occultism up until the conclusion. It made me wonder how he could be so dense. But could I have been so willing to accept the cosmic nihilism awaiting the subsequent generations?
                 Horror as a genre today, especially in the context of film, is sort of a celebration of gross-out, grindhouse films of the 70s. But there is little about them that is “scary.” Sure, there are jump scares, moments where you need to catch your breath and take stock of your surroundings. But all these things are transient. If anything, they are cathartic, but catharsis implies an ultimate end to the experience. Moore’s horror is far different. So different, that I need to give up these books altogether from my library.
                Moore’s works are largely apocalyptic, narratives preoccupied with the end of things. This is both sad and fortunate, considering the bevy of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic narratives that have saturated the market. (I’ve made great effort in my own writings to not give in to the seductive hooks presented by this genre.) Many follow the formulaic establishment-being-overthrown narrative, and we watch society degenerate into a mire of violence and oppression. The saving grace is always the lone hero, who vows to restore stability. These stories dominate the market, obscuring the actual stories that truly horrify us, hence myself giving up Moore’s work from my bookshelves. His work is existential, of course, but also claustrophobic. You feel trapped in his world after reading, and after so much time spent in his alternative histories, the real and unreal blur.
                One of the aspects of Providence that really impressed upon me the most was the pseudo-biographical treatment of H.P. Lovecraft himself, revealing—very deliberately—his repugnant private self. Robert Black’s twice-made-outsider status conflicts heavily with the source material he is placed in. And Moore wastes no time in establishing the disillusionment of Black, a devotee meeting his hero and being gravely disappointed. I myself was enthralled with Lovecraft’s celebrated works, though very soon realized that I was enjoying the work of an anti-Semite and white supremacist. Moore and I seem to be on the same page, Black’s revulsion being Moore’s and vice-versa.
                Why then must I give up the text?
                There’s just so much anger buried in it.
                I don’t know how else to describe it. It’s too dark, too hopeless. As I aforementioned, an author’s work very much reflects who an author is, deep down. There are desires and motivations that go into drafting any story. I feel that when I write, for instance, that I am trying to investigate something about myself or the society that I find myself in. For Moore, in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, it was nostalgia and reverence for the penny dreadfuls and turn-of-the-century travelogue narratives of adventure and danger. In V For Vendetta, he was denouncing the seemingly authoritarian government of Margaret Thatcher. In The Watchmen, in the wake of 80s revisionism in comic books, Moore borrowed the identities of forgotten Charlton Comics characters and told the world what would’ve really happened if the Superman was American. All these starting points are acceptable and well founded. They are critically acclaimed for good reason. But Providence and Neonomicon is hardly that. They are something different, something darker. And they need to get the hell out of my house.

Monday, February 26, 2018


Ignore the title for now. It'll make sense later. 

Lots of good new this week. I’ve never ran Facebook ads before. I went in with little expectations. My results were a little too good to be true, though the actual book sales remain to be seen for week one. (I won’t know that for at least three weeks.) I reached a total of about 2600 people. 206 “Likes,” 8 “Shares,” the latter two are the most important. I had the opportunity to extend the campaign over the weekend, but opted not to. Typically the highest traffic days on the internet are Monday and Tuesday mornings between 8am and 10am. Between that and finishing Underground Airlinesa solid alt-history slave narrative—I feel fairly accomplished. All that is left is to finish Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, and I can finish book three and begin writing, possibly, a spinoff novel for Tall Men. The key, as I’ve said time and time again is being productive and not making excuses. Don’t call yourself a “writer.” “Writers” post their shit for free on Deviant Art. “Author” is a coveted title that I’ve always owned, because I believe in what I do. “Authors contribute to the cannon of Western/Eastern literature. They participate in the global discussion of genre and literary theory. That’s an extreme, zero-to-sixty mentality, but, then again, I’ve always been an extreme kind of person—all in, all out. But I digress.

It's bubble of non-offense I give offense to

I catch myself in the act often, that is agreeing with myself. This self-congratulatory exercise makes me comfortably numb, as in the Pink Floyd song about heroine. Being “on the same page” is an addiction that I find myself struggling to combat, especially within the medium of social networking. While I have some conservative friends, they aren’t really “conservative” in the almost pejorative sense that would inform the opinion of a “liberal” or a “democrat.” (In quotes as well because these terms too are just conventions used to typify the positions and beliefs of certain segments of social/political discourse.) Though I’ve met some of the conservative ilk (my father included), and had wonderful and challenging discussions with them, this line of open communication hardly lingers beyond conception. In fact, it disappears. Like the ephemeral dust devil in a vacant lot, there seems to be substance to the conversation, but only moments later it dissipates into nothingness.

This particularly bothers me, and I’ll list a few reasons why:

First, typically those who are “conservative” or “liberal” conceive of themselves as being agents on a larger political stage, burying their own identity into hot-button issues and fetishizing the objects of their unknowing worship (guns, birth-control, legislation, et. al.). While there are implied, expected behaviors that emanate from these exterior labels, the partisan participation in government stands as the most prominent feature of these two groups. Democracy, our current form of government, hinges on the open line of communication between all citizens (excluding members of the above terms, because they undermine this whole process). But rather than be challenged by opposing viewpoints, we consign ourselves to the echo chambers of our collaborators, engaging in one-sided, non-offensive exercises of mutual agreement. While there are a many things that “conservatives” believe, of which I do not, these beliefs are founded on life experiences and ethics unique to another segment of society that we, the outsider, have no familiarity with. For example, there is legitimate cause to value the hard work put into founding a farm or a small business, but we must attempt to understand the values of someone raised in section 8 housing and their position of continual despair and stigmatizing, how that affects their productivity and “success”. We must also not lie to ourselves (ie “I deserve X because Y” or “because of circumstance X, I should have Y”) and think that we, the individual, are outside of the mutual agreement made between each citizen—that is, to be putting back into the social, financial, and political systems what we receive. In reality we are all in the same boat, same country, same brotherhood/sisterhood. So we must listen to each other with empathy and patience, or else risk demonizing a person. Just like the army, we are only worth as much as our weakest member. Instead of ostracizing the weakest, we ought to invest into them and become stronger for our efforts.

Secondly, if we remain in our tight-knit circles of group-thought, the ultimate end is abject cynicism. Facebook is the most regretful offender of this as an unrelenting disseminator of information. Most of it is bad information, or poorly structured. Worse, our reputation is invested into our opinions, our “voice” is quantified to metrics, our validation meted out in concise, impersonal injections. So, in an effort to be right, we willfully take liberties with the truth, equivocate, and outright lie vindictively—most of the time, that is. Other times, when we share information that confirms our bias and worldview, the information may be correct, but the supplier poorly states it, thereby making it confusing and allowing all kinds of people to draw seemingly disparate conclusions. On the spectrum of news and content, we are sensitive to the most outlandish of this kind of information: some of it true and most of it false. I see it all the time in my feed. Hyperbolic bullshit of the highest order! What is more frustrating: seeing things objectively true, but the information being ignored and kept under the roiling waters of false information. When I earlier mentioned that cynicism is the ultimate end of being in a bubble, it is because of the above. Seeing the truth trampled, day in, day out, brings us to despair and disillusionment: the latter being the seed and the former the water. When it all blooms the cynic bursts forth into the light, then bitterly turns in having had enough of this shit.

The last aspect, of why living in a bubble is noisome and detrimental to being a human being, is that we always live long enough for us to be the villain. This requires less explanation, as it could just be another addition to my previous point, but typically, after seeing your own side “lose” so many times the next logical step is to become dissatisfied with the position. Sick of seeing your side unable to fix gun-control legislation? Eventually, the thought will enter your mind: “this party does nothing for me. I need to leave it,” and one will start actively looking for information that confirms their new bias. Conversely, one grows older, accumulate some modest prestige, some possessions, earns a promotion at work, and then disparagingly look down on those around you for their apparent inefficacy. (Looking back on the idealists, we scoff and call them naïve and positivistic.) Then, like a thief in the night, your sentiment for the poor disappears and is replaced by a nagging need to register for the Republican Party. I can’t think of a different scenario for the contrary position at the moment, but you can catch my meaning.

Why this is on my mind is because I look back on the great movements of history longingly, while participating in my own folly. The great movements and events of yesteryear (The Civil Rights Movement, World War 2, The New Deal, etc) where Americian came together to accomplish something, are long gone due to our willingness to participate. Even if we are, we focus only on those who share our views. I am reminded of this as I see people tearing each other apart and the future, once imagined bright by people such as Gene Rodenberry, now is murky and stagnant.

Anyways…  That’s it from me.

Back to work!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Video Games are Racist, Bruh

I have a sneaking suspicion that RPG games are inherently racist.

Hear me out.

I’ve thought about this for a while, and I don’t think it’s intentional at all. Or maybe I just read too deeply into things like this. If you’ve ever read Umberto Eco’s Inventing the Enemy you’ll know that we seem to naturally, throughout history, create enemies to propel our societies forward. We rely on differences (physical, political, religions, social, and economic) to separate the undesirables out. All this hinges on a lack of empathy toward this “other,” because once we feel empathy for the other, these differences can no longer be superficial.

From birth we are trained to recognize and pick out classes, like being a young kid and seeing a homeless person, and then—in the same day sometimes—going to a neighbor’s house of moderate wealth. Then, while still being kids, we encounter as we get a little older videogames of varying complexity that implement progression and class based forms of entertainment. Not only are they competitive, but each class’s specialization locks you into a certain path of gameplay. Fantasy roleplaying games take this concept further and suggest perks and disadvantages for playing a certain race. Elves may have bonuses to stealth and intelligence, or charisma even, evoking the image of an elite member of society, connected to social and political strongholds. Conversely, orcs may have penalties to intelligence and charisma, but they have proficiencies that boost strength and traits that are integral to physical combat. To add insult to injury, at least in the Dungeons and Dragons game system, orcs are also typically evil in alignment. (I once played a game as an orc paladin, and the whole time I was reminded by the dugeon master that orcs could not be paladins because they were evil and having a good, or even neutral alignment, was tantamount to breaking the rules!)

Race is an artificial term already, as there is no genetic difference between a human from Africa and a human from North Africa. While there are physical differences between someone from Africa, who has extra skin pigment after exposure to blistering, equatorial sunlight, and a North American person, there is no degree of separation that would deny procreation between the two. Race, if anything is an artificial moniker that human beings have employed to categorically separate individuals from each other whom hail from a variety of geographical regions on the planet. Yet there are stereotypes, not unlike the class based systems in role playing games and other video games that implement class and skill progression trees, which entertain the idea of “racial traits” (I.e. Asians are intelligent, Blacks are lazy (yet exceedingly strong), Caucasians are politically cunning). These racial stereotypes supplant the familiarity we all share as human beings with a veil of obscuring unfamiliarity and suspicion. This is how “others” are created.

So imagine the reality that as children, while we are still building a conceptual framework of the work through our observations and experiences, we are encountering the ideas, suggestions, that certain people are better at some things and others are not. Not only that, we are doing battle with, struggling for resources with, engendering a “race” based competitive ecosystem with complete strangers. The entire premise is literally Darwinian in nature.

Obviously, this is all introspective speculation and the strength of this argument depends on how willing you are to look into it. But I could easily write a book on my experiences, incorporating trolling, anonymity, death threats against female developers, and Varg Vikernes’ roleplaying game MYFAROG. The latter is funny, because on my way to Norway a few years ago I sat right next to a personal friend of Varg who told me that certain, less desirable races, were meant to specifically emulate the stereotypes of people of color (specifically blacks).

Anyways, food for thought.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Turning 30 This Year

I find that this year will be a highly thoughtful one as I approach 30 years old in July. While the 20s were an innocuous threshold wherein my youth was seemingly supplemented, the 30 year boundary is more foreboding and unknown. Considering that the largest event to befall me in my 20s was marriage, turning 30 is a different kind of strange, upon the cusp of which I experienced the death of my grandmother and the birth of my first child. This quality of “oldness” is amusing, if not revelatory, as I’m beginning to understand the apathy that comes with age. Apathy, I should clarify, not existential in nature, but a profound world-weariness. I spent much of 2017 embroiled in intense discussions of politics and culture, only to be rewarded with estrangement and utter fatigue. The stereotype that “old people” are out of touch with contemporary trends and movements is not rooted in their indifference, but the sheer exhaustion in keeping up, which to me is conceding defeat, though I empathize.

The boomers that were once so idyllic and now are complacent enablers confirm my theories. All this begrudged talk of millennials and their fickle sentimentality is just a cover for an aging generation embittered over their lack of contribution to American “greatness.” Their fathers and mothers advocated for the rights of African Americans and women, while they stood idle and fucked, smoked, drank, and embraced nuclear fatalism.

Though I admit I am being unfair, as the greatest generation was duplicitous and rank with hypocrisy, espousing a Judeo-Christian aspect while cavorting in the shadows. When it comes to progress I’m a utilitarian. At least they did something, anything.

I’m finding this all out now, of course. As an author I’m expected to be present and social, create tribes and foster communal growth. But, truth be told, I’m fucking tired. I work 40 hours a week. So my efforts, while lackluster, are genuine enough, just limited by diminished fortitude.

I should come back to my first point on age, for sympathy’s sake. Social and cultural fatigue does afflict me whether I admit it or not. I especially notice this in the kind of music I listen to at the gym. In high school, regular trips to the local record store would yield a bevy of new artists every week. Even though the albums were old, produced in the 80s and 90s, I felt connected to a movement, emboldened by the genres I listened to. Today, I can count on one hand the artists from which I still actively anticipate albums. My workout routine revolves around a heavy dose of thrash metal and Viking metal, and I don’t see it changing for the foreseeable future. With comics, it’s similar. I’ve purchased whatever I can find that is pleasant to read. All my heroes have stopped writing, and new up-and-comers to replace them are limited in supply.

The cynicism however, of old age, of change, or progress, is illusory and seductive. It requires effort to supplant complacency and look for new things. Becoming irrelevant is the thing we all fear most, and we unwittingly accept it because the alternative of keeping in contact with the rallying zeitgeist can often be tiresome and difficult. It is my strong belief that knowledge and scholarship (even if popular) can stem the tide of inefficacy. And so I must hold strong to the mast and resist the siren call of whatever-the-fuck being “old” is.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Shouting Into the Void

When publishing, it's easy to underestimate the extensive legwork required to get people to notice you. It's infuriating, because with 6 billion people on this planet everyone has an audience even if they're a piece of shit.

The last time I marketed my stuff I was at Comic Con back in 2014. I had a thousand cardstock mailers with a download link to my book via a link that I set up on my own. Everything was so touch and go, like having sex for the first time. Of the thousand, I was able to pass out almost 500. (Not bad for a first effort.) There were SDCC volunteers catching on to my schemes toward the end. I had to evade them like a cold war spy in Russia.

One thing they don't tell you is how to deal with rejection. I still remember to this day the feeling of passing out that first card, and someone declining, as if they wanted extra shit to cart around in an ever expanding grab-bag of toys, fliers, comic books, and so on. But still you take it personally. Today I kind of laugh about it, but back then I wanted to shrivel up and die. But to anyone passing out fliers just remember quantity is key. I estimated a 2-3% response rate (looking at the download metrics on Box). Of the 500 or so I passed out I got about 40 unique downloads. (A whopping eight percent!)

Marketing techniques have evolved over time, with Google AdSense and Facebook data mining to the infinitesimal, making advertisement the easiest in decades. The caveat to this is the saturation of ads. Just like Journalism, its easy for good content to get drowned out by every Tom, Dick, and Harry with a blog. (And, yes, the irony is not lost on me.) So you may have noticed two pages appear on my blog: two personal thank you notes to prospective buyers of my two books (one available, the other's sale date TBA).

It feels apropos to do this. Sony never thanked me for buying their bluray players or Apple, their phones. If you click on to these pages, my sentiment is sincere. I know that I can be an anti-social, cynical asshole sometimes. But I care about the people who care about good art. They are the human beings that need to keep breeding. These two projects, and all my future ones are my best effort at contributing to the great body of Western Literature. (Though I'm not above writing pulp drabbles time to time.)

So, like all authors, I begin my journey, my trek into deep space, shouting into the void for alien life. To bridge cultures and opinions with tales on the human condition. I'll need help. I am many things: Husband, Father, Christian, Author, IT Consultant, Avid Reader, Player of Beep-Boops, and Anxiety Medicated Agoraphobic. But I'm not good at being all at once.

It takes a village to publish a book. And I'm thankful to everyone who fights along side me.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

No Love For Wizardry

I hate Harry Potter because it’s a sham.

Like most children back in the late nineties, I was introduced to Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. It was immensely popular, and my grandmother was adamant about identifying a book that would get her grandchildren to read, pushing it on to us desperate and concerted. Truth be told, I was not an avid reader until I was out of college. Before all that, reading was a chore and something you did in school, not when you got home. I spent most of my time outside, turning rocks into spaceships and sticks into swords. Books never pulled me in like they do now. I was much more visual then. Converting and abstracting text into visual stimulus was only a recent development.

My vehement distaste for Harry Potter is inexplicable. Or was, until very recently.

I’ve never liked people pushing me into things, including hobbies. I’ve never liked musicals. (They want you to sing along, see?) I’ve never liked sports. (Competitive teamwork.) I’ve never liked fads. (Vapid, short-lived, things.) I’ve always been an insular, and supremely unlovable person. The idea that my cousin “Bucky,” the poster child of self-absorbed intellect, read it faster than my brother and I didn’t bother me either. What bothered me most was that I was expected to like it.

No. I don’t like Harry Potter because it’s too real to me. And I am not satisfied with the narrative that it pushes. (It’s about a young boy that discovers his parents were wizards, that he is a wizard, that they left him a fortune to allow him to board in an exclusive boarding school. His subsequent adventures are formulaic, and I wonder why his professors didn’t have a yearly meeting about the shit he was going to get into next.)

The origins of Harry Potter being raised by abusive relatives mirrors my experiences in subtle and substantive ways. While I have never been forced to live in a confined space underneath the stairs, I have a potently vivid memory of breaking my Dad’s VCR when I was maybe between 6-8 years old. I was so afraid that he would hit me that I told him from afar and hid in his orchard. And while he shouted vainly into the winds for me to come out, I stayed and waited. It eventually got dark but I was still hiding. I got into my Dad’s red Toyota pickup and slept in the cab overnight, and snuck into the house in the morning.

Another experience: We were at a local, independent grocer, one that I have scores of fond memories at their amazing deli and all the strange, foreign things they would buy and display at the front of their isles—food from Germany, Britain, Italy, etc. My brother had a quart of pasta salad that he was entrusted with, only to drop it on accident. My father flew into a rage and pushed him to the ground calling him “stupid” while he cried. There were people around us, aghast. Someone scolded my father, to which he replied, “mind your own business,” and we hurried out of there like cockroaches exposed to a bright, shining light.

And while, only by the Grace of God, I have forgiven my father of these things over the years of dealing with this—and there are many other incidents—I have no love for a series that depicts acts of abuse and mulls them over with discretionary wealth and elitism. I think my disproportionate response stems from my deep seated belief that the fairy-tale narrative archetype is a load of bullshit. Abuse never leaves you, it clings to you and stays with you. A moment of 1-5 minutes imprints upon your life a brand of shame and anger that never leaves, though over time the scar fades. I reject the Harry Potter narrative because in real life people that suffer that kind of emotional trauma, in many cases, never escape. And even if they do, they limp away and heal lame.

I recognize that now as much as I did back then. I stopped reading after the first book, not because I refused to continue reading the entirety of the series, but because I couldn’t accept its fantasy that seemed to ridicule my own suffering.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Fireside Eggnog Chats

I've started reading my bible again.

I'm reminded every once in a while that what I believe is technically crazy talk. Imagine a belief system that conquered the world, a singular faith founded on the teachings of a homeless Jew in Palestine roughly two thousand years ago. Now, imagine someone who is all in on that particular reality, and trying to make sense of it in the modern world. That's me.

Occasionally reading my bible brings new perspective to my life. Seeing through the eyes of a memoir, or a repetitive series of coined sayings recovered from oral tradition and framed to proclaim a gospel to a specific group of people. It's refreshing to go into it in what I call "easy difficulty," wherein the context and historicity of the scriptures gets completely thrown out, in favor of a layman's reading. I learn new things, like Jesus's cattiness or the urgency of those asking him for help. Jesus takes things slow, ramps up to the climax. It reminds me that our fears and worry are never as severe as they seem. Everything boils at 210 degrees, but our bullshit is lukewarm.

I've begun the process of putting together a second book in the interim, an anthology of works. I started writing them shortly after finishing my second novel draft, something to keep me active and fresh for when I got back my notes. The result was a meditation on Americana.What is the "frontier?" How has its disappearance changed the meaning of the "American Dream?" Is there even a dream worth pursuing anymore? Was there ever a "dream" to begin with? The novella includes 4 shorts and an epilogue. Currently, approximately, 82 pages. Included in the backmatter are a few shorts that I've written in the recent past that I will be revisiting. They all seem to originate on the eve of Trump's election, the catalyst of this whole period. I feel pretty good about the material and I'm hoping for a release early next year. Stay tuned...

That is how life is right now. It's tenuous, day-by-day, which is not all so bad considered the alternative. I like the flexibility and freedom to walk away from a project to bang out another. Its refreshing and constructive. I'll never be the person that "labors" over their masterpiece for a decade. We change too quickly. Our states of mind are too ephemeral to compose a consistent narrative. While the first draft is composed over a two-four year period, the second draft (the most important, also) is where the narrative coalesces. The hard days are coming, but I always find a way to get through them.

For Halloween I dressed up as our company mascot for a costume contest. Even though the prize was $100 and it cost me $200 to make, the admiration of my co-workers was payment enough. That's a bit of an overstatement, actually. But it was one of those moments in my life where I wanted to commit to a vision and see it through. Our swan song of present culture is one of defeat and taking the path of least resistance. In a way, the reality that my costume took third wasn't crushing at all. It was exhilarating that 11 people thought mine the one superior. (Not many actually vote--the winner had 14 votes.)

The "CIO Switch and Receiver Jr."
Better luck next year.