Hat-Tips, Links, and Shout-Outs, Inspiration, Matchmakers, Shifting Isles, Transitivity, Treble and the Lost Boys, Uncategorized

Crime and Punishment in a Free Market

I’ve had a few readers ask why “police” didn’t get involved in certain situations that come up in my stories, so this is a long-overdue response to those queries. The short answer is: There are no police. Nor jails. Nor courts.

Now for the longer answer…

(And warning here that there may be spoilers for various books mentioned below.)

***

One of the fun things about writing stories set within a fictional world is that I can explore possibilities that the real world doesn’t allow. Like magic, for instance. Or telepathy.

Or actual freedom.

Agoran, one of the lands in the Shifting Isles world, is characterized by having a free market. Namely, a complete absence of government. Also known as anarchy.

Quick vocabulary lesson: anarchy does not mean chaos. Anarchy means “no rulers”, not “no rules”. It means every individual human being has truly equal rights, with no group of human beings having more rights or power than another (unlike our real-world system, in which the government/tax-eaters have more rights and power than citizens/taxpayers). (I could go off on a tangent about how the only legitimate rights are negative rather than positive, which would eliminate a whole lot of the talk of so-called “rights” in our society today, but that’s a topic for another time.) Basically, a free market would be a far cry from what we have in the real world. The moment you have so much as one law or one government official, the market is no longer free, but regulated. (And have you seen a law library lately? Or the current tax code? All those pages! Our society and our market are far from free. Miles and miles from free.)

So I wanted to theorize how a free market might work. And one of the aspects of a free society would be figuring out how to deal with crime and punishment with no governing authority to handle it. Since a free market has never been tried, possible solutions to the problem of crime are all theory, and actual practice might lead to all sorts of different solutions I haven’t thought up.

First, there would be the matter of crime prevention.

This comes up in a few of my novels, but most obviously in S.P.I.R.I.T. Division (Shifting Isles, 2). That story centers around Hawkeye Insurance and Personal Defense Agency, a company that offers various insurance and protection programs. For instance, a life insurance policy could be tied in with a security package that offers various options: A client could have everything from a full-time bodyguard to an occasional drive-by checkup by a security officer. Or nothing at all. It would be entirely up to whatever contract a client signs with a particular agency, or what each individual competitive agency offers.

Does that mean a security agency wouldn’t ever come to the aid of someone who’s not a client?

Not at all. Yes, they’re in business to employ people and to make a profit (and I’m sorely tempted here to go off on a tangent about how profit is a good thing rather than the dirty word that people make it out to be, but that’s a whole article in and of itself, so I’ll leave it for another time), but it would also be good advertising for them to help when needed. Companies in all sorts of industries in the real world offer freebies or loss-leaders all the time as a matter of trying to create new business, and this would be the same thing.

S.P.I.R.I.T. Division itself (part of Hawkeye Insurance and the source of the novel’s title) is a free service because it has to be. In this particular instance, it involves Asenna’s telepathy picking up on victims of crimes as they’re occurring, so there’s no way to get those victims as clients ahead of time. It’s entirely unpredictable. They’ve had to figure out the protocol as they went because it was something that had never been dealt with before, but they eventually work out a system in which Asenna is able to identify the victim so the agents can determine if the victim is already a client, and if not, they can contact whichever agency the victim is a client of and work together to try to save the victim before he or she dies.

Sometimes, though, as in the case of Mistress V’dynos, the client refuses aid, and the agency has no choice but to stay out of it. Also, in reference to her case, sometimes there’s the complication of having to deal with a victim being the client of a competing agency, and the competing agency refusing to cooperate because of their contract with their client, which they have every right to do.

So crime prevention in a free market would be like using private security to replace all of our current police forces, but rather than people being forced to pay for such services by way of taxes, they would only pay for the services they specifically want.

Then there’s the matter of dealing with a crime after it has occurred. So what could replace courts in a free market? How about something we already have in the real world?

Mediation.

In Agoran, when a person is accused of a crime, that person will be called in to mediation with the victim, both the suspect and the victim being allowed to have their insurance agents present to assist them (rather like lawyers do in the real world) while an impartial mediator is hired to review the facts of the case and try to help both sides agree to a solution.

Is this objective? No. But neither is our real-world system, even though it’s supposed to be.

Is this fair? I would argue that it is far more fair and realistic than our real-world system because it allows the victim to truly have a say in what it would take to make him or her whole again, whereas the real world does not (and, in fact, punishes the victim by making the victim pay taxes to support the courts / prisons / etc., which, as the great Murray Rothbard wrote in For a New Liberty, would be utter nonsense in a libertarian society).

Would there be negotiation required? Absolutely, but this is also necessary. You couldn’t have a robbery victim asking for a death penalty, after all. That would hardly be fair. Thus, a mediator and negotiation between the victim and the suspect would bring about restitution for the victim without causing any cruel and unusual punishments for the suspects.

Unless the suspect agrees, of course.

Take the case of Broken (Shifting Isles, 4), for instance. In this book, orphaned Daivid is a repeat offender when it comes to theft. He started stealing to fund his costly search for his parents, and inevitably got caught. In order to afford to live while paying back the money he stole, he winds up stealing again. And then again. And so on and so forth until he’s constantly having to steal again in order to pay back old debts. Because of his record, he can’t get a job anywhere, but he still needs food and a roof over his head, as well as continuing to search for the parents who gave him up as a baby, so he keeps right on stealing.

Up until he gets caught stealing money from a gay nightclub.

Now, Daivid is straight. Very straight. But when the nightclub owner offers, through mediation, for Daivid to work off the debt by coming to work for him, he agrees.

Why? Surely, he’d be uncomfortable working as a stripper in a gay nightclub. But when he weighs out his options, the choice of being employed (able to pay off his debt and make enough to pay the rent) sounds much better than being homeless, jobless, and in debt.

Unusual? Yes. But it was his choice to agree to it.

But what about crimes in which restitution is not so simple? Theft is one thing. The thief can simply return the stolen items or their equivalent in money (as well as being responsible for the mediation fees, of course). But what about rape? Murder?

Those would go through mediation, too. As for the punishments? Again, that would be up to agreement.

A rape victim, for instance, could easily make a case for a monetary settlement that would cover therapy / treatment / etc. Same with an assault victim, who could seek out compensation for whatever hospital bills are involved. There could even be a case for emotional damages, just as is done in the real world.

Murder, of course, is a unique situation because the victim cannot be present, and, technically speaking, there are no other victims. However, a victim’s agent can try to argue a case on the victim’s behalf and come to an agreement that will help the victim’s family or heirs.

What about if a criminal refuses to come in for mediation? That is certainly a possibility, and the criminal couldn’t be coerced into attending (for instance, physically restrained and brought in), because that would be a crime in and of itself. However, in that case, it could be publicly broadcast that not only is this person a criminal but that he also refused to come in for mediation in order to make up for his crimes, which would very likely cause ostracism in society, such that people would refuse to interact with, sell to, or do business with him. He very well could find himself in the position of not being able to buy food because no one will sell it to him. Faced with that, submitting to mediation would be the better option.

One other solution I haven’t yet used in my novels, yet has been suggested in libertarian circles, would be the use of debtor’s prisons, which would allow such ostracized members of society a place to live while working off their debts to their victims. For more on this idea, be sure to check out The Market for Liberty, an excellent book by Morris and Linda Tannehill, available for free (at the time of this writing) at Mises.org.

Different types of situations and cases that have come up in various novels include the following:

Return to Tanas (Shifting Isles, 3): In self-defense, Dr. Graeden Crawford pushes his girlfriend away when she comes after him with a knife, and she winds up falling and hitting her head, causing irreparable brain damage. Being vegetative and having no family beyond Graeden himself, neither Lorel nor any relatives can seek restitution from Graeden, but Graeden’s own guilt drives him to take justice upon himself and do whatever he can to try treating her. It turns out being to no avail, since there’s not much he can do for her beyond keeping her comfortable, and she winds up passing away, but he does attempt to make it right in what little ways he can.

Second Chances (Matchmakers, 1): Remy is repeatedly molested by his step-father, but never pursues mediation because he simply wants to get past it and move on with his life. As for being drugged and raped by Matty, Remy was too torn up over losing Chance in that situation to even worry about the drugged assault, besides the fact that he doesn’t remember it and that Matty is his best friend (who then dies before the situation can be taken any further).

Heavens Aground (Treble and the Lost Boys, 2): Three-year-old Ryley’s parents are murdered right in front of him, and then Ryley’s magical powers manifest in his anger, and he turns the knife around on the murderer, thus killing the man. There are arguments in libertarian circles that “an eye for an eye”, when it comes to rape/assault/murder/etc., is not a legitimate solution, but I won’t get into the morality of that particular discussion. Sticking purely to the stated events, Ryley inadvertently takes justice into his own hands and murders the man who murdered his parents, so there is no case to be mediated. At least, not for him. As for what happens off-page? Perhaps Ryley’s aunt and uncle, who discovered the scene, had to go through mediation with the murderer’s agent/family, assuming he had any. Perhaps the murderer’s family didn’t seek anything since the entire crime was caught on tape and it was clear that the murderer committed the initial crime, and was unexpectedly punished for it.

Illumined Shadows (Treble and the Lost Boys, 3): Cam Lucius’s attacker is never identified until many years later, after Cam is dead and has become a ghost. Cam and his brother, Vic, go to face his attacker, but rather than pursuing mediation, Cam is satisfied with simply being able to face the man and tell him he’s no longer anonymous. Cam and Vic could spread the word at any time that the man was guilty of rape and assault, which would utterly ruin his reputation, so that people would ostracize him, but Cam decides to leave that as a threat rather than taking action because he’s had enough time to get past it, and seeing the look on his attacker’s face gives him enough satisfaction. Although, in his guilt, Cam’s attacker winds up donating a bunch of money to the missing persons department where Vic works, a voluntary restitution of sorts on his part.

(As a quick aside, remember how I mentioned earlier that S.P.I.R.I.T. Division’s services are free because of the unique circumstances? The same is more or less true of Vic’s job, with Vic being the missing persons expert at Sturmwyn Insurance and Personal Defense Agency. Because most of his “clients” are children who have run away or been kidnapped, they can’t very well pay for his recovery efforts, and sometimes don’t even have families who can pay on their behalf. As such, and as is mentioned in one of the books in which Vic appears, his department is funded both by charitable donations and by subsidies from other departments in the company. Anyone who purchases an insurance policy with Sturmwyn, for instance, is made aware that a portion of their premiums go to subsidize the missing persons department. There’s also the factor that sometimes the kidnappers aren’t caught or even identified, and so can’t be made to provide restitution to their victims, so the donations and subsidies allow Vic to continue doing his job.)

Yikes, this is starting to sound like a lot of people aren’t getting justice. So how about a case in which some do?

In the Transitivity series, Hunter Fitz is guilty of manipulating several of his students into sexual favors in exchange for various things they request (or even flat-out demand), such as better grades, exceptions to being late for class, missing assignments, etc. When Hunter finally confesses to his despicable actions, he offers mediation to any of his victims so that they can sit down and get his apology as well as determine an agreed upon restitution. Some of the victims come forward, but not all of them, the latter being mostly those who don’t want it publicly known what they did.

So do some people get away with their crimes in my fictional world? Absolutely, but so do people in the real world. Is a free market solution to crime a perfect solution? No, but there is no perfect solution. There will always be bad people, or good people who sometimes do bad things. Until human beings become gods, there will always be criminals. No legal system of any kind will ever change that.

And, in fact, our real-world legal system creates criminals where there otherwise wouldn’t be. It’s insane how many things are illegal that harm absolutely no one. And how can you possibly have a crime without a victim? It makes no sense. The free market solution is far more fair and logical because it only focuses on actual crimes rather than “crimes against society” (which is utter nonsense) or mere potentialities (for instance, driving under the influence, on its own, should not be a crime, since it harms no one–until and unless it does, at which point it does become a crime).

In a free society, individual human rights would be sacred. Specifically, each individual human being would have total rights to his or her body, mind, labor, and property (which we do not have in the real world; not even close!). Realistically, the only crimes in a free society would be theft, rape, murder, trespassing, destruction of property, and assault. Running a stop light wouldn’t be a crime (unless doing so causes you to trespass onto someone’s property). Doing drugs wouldn’t be a crime. Collecting rain water wouldn’t be a crime. Starting a business without a license wouldn’t be a crime (because there are no governing bodies to issue licenses in the first place!). Speeding, driving without a seat belt, or driving while talking on the phone wouldn’t be crimes. Building without a permit wouldn’t be a crime (because there would be no entity to issue permits, nor would there be a governing body that would have any say in what you can or can’t do with your property). Prostitution wouldn’t be remotely illegal. Arbitrary delineations between “minor” and “adult” wouldn’t be a thing, so there would be no legalities about underage drinking, for instance. Feeding the homeless or having a lemonade stand wouldn’t be a crime.

I could go on and on.

So it may seem, in my novels, like people are getting away with things, but that happens in real life, too. And you have to take into account that a whole lot of things that would be considered criminal in the real world are not even on people’s radar in my fictional world. They simply don’t matter.

I, for one, would much rather live in a free society.

I think I’ll go escape into one now and write another story. 🙂

***

(Hat tip to Storm Agorist for his insights that helped improve this post).

Hat-Tips, Links, and Shout-Outs, News, Publishing, Shifting Isles

What Matters Most

So, a funny thing happened on the way to this post. I was all geared up to go into some serious ranting. So much ranting. All the ranting. I had a whole list of people who needed to be eviscerated in print and I was ready to rip into them.

From the guy who got pissed at me because I couldn’t tell him why another business across town wasn’t answering their phones (Seriously? Am I fucking omniscient?) to the SJW morons who don’t know a thing about economics (Hello? Supply and Demand is called a law for a reason, and do you know what happens when you mess with natural laws? That’s right. Bad stuff.), from the woman who let her children run rampant around my office while I was trying to answer the phones and couldn’t hear a damned thing (Discipline, anyone?) to images.duckduckgo.comthe people who get pissed at me for not wanting to work late or on the weekend even after I’ve told them I’ve already been stuck in the office over 60 hours this week and I’m exhausted and can no longer think straight (Apparently I’m supposed to be a robot just because I work in customer service?), from the guy who threw a fit because we charged him for a service he agreed to, signed for, and we performed while he proceeded to tell us we were thieves and must be raking in the dough (What part of “We actually lose money on this service” did he honestly not understand?) to the guy at the parts store who had no fucking clue how to do his job and I wound up doing it for him over the phone (Seriously, what are they teaching kids these days? Nothing?), from the people who assume I’m a Democrat just because I’m trans to the people who assume I’m a Republican just because I shootback gadsend flagpractically run a small business in a conservative town (Actually, if you want to know, I’m neither. I’m anarcho-capitalist, the best of both worlds. I’m more economically conservative than the conservatives and more socially liberal than the liberals.), from…

Well, you get the idea.

Lots of people. So many people. I had a whole list of people who were two second away from getting punched in the dick. Possibly even myself (even though I don’t have one…yet) because all the noise and stupidity of the day had gone well beyond the limits of my high sensitivity (yes, apparently, it’s a thing – complete mental overload, and boy have I got it) and I was quickly turning into an asshole. Hence, the desire to punch dicks.

So violent, right? Like, so much violence. All the violence. There was going to be blood. So much blood. All the blood.

Alright, so maybe I’ve been reading a bit too much TJ Klune lately…

Anyway, moving along.

So I was in a fully misanthropic state of mind, ready to go on a rage-blind rant, because my life, when I got a phone call.

Let me back up a bit, first.

A few months ago, the outside sales rep for one of our suppliers came in for one of his usual visits. He brought along a representative from one of their manufacturers. This representative (read: Completely Stereotypical Salesman) proceeded to give his little presentation, all the while spewing obligatory compliments and flashing cheesy grins like any Completely Stereotypical Salesman would do. Since I have a little ad propped up on the counter for my first book, BookCoverImageThe Prisoner, he of course had to filter into his sales pitch some gushing remarks about how wonderful it was that I was a writer and self-published and how proud I ought to be of myself. I’ve had lots of salesmen behave exactly like this when they come into the shop, and it always falls flat. No matter how much they gush, it’s obvious they don’t mean a word of it. So I did the polite smile-and-nod thing like I always do in this situation, just knowing he was spewing bullshit (shows what I know), and the conversation went on.

At the end, just as he’s about to walk out the door, he turns back and pulls out his wallet, saying he wants to support a budding author and buy my book.

Now, I was pretty sure he wasn’t actually going to read it, but…hells, a sale is a sale, so I sold him a book and he left.

Then, yesterday, completely out of the blue, I get a phone call.

You probably don’t remember me, but I was in there with Larry…bought your book…finally got a chance to read it…”

I was just starting to get a vague memory of who the guy was when he completely bowled me over.

I just…wow. This book … It’s absolutely amazing. Like, I couldn’t put it down. I just totally got all the relationships between the characters and the tragedy of the guy feeling like he failed his son and how the woman died and it all just worked and…”

Jaw, meet floor.

Please tell me there’s another book out because I have to have more.”

Jaw now permanently married to floor.

The phone call left me giddy and grinning and, quite frankly, a little bit stunned.

And it made me realize a few things.

One, I did exactly what I accuse so many other people of doing: categorizing a person into a particular box just because of a particular trait. I should have known better, and I was wrong.

Two, all that ranting stuff, in the long run, doesn’t really matter. Yeah, stupidity and ignorance and rudeness pisses me off, but life is too damned short to be angry. Why let myself get sucked into those moments when I’ve got moments like this to revel in? Why let myself get mired in despair over the fact that this country is never going to be free and people as a whole are never going to understand how things work (though I keep trying to educate them even when I know better), when I could be enjoying what life I have while I have it? Why dwell on all the negative when I’ve got so much beauty in my life because of fiction?

Three, it made me remember just how great a story The Prisoner is. Not trying to be an egomaniac when I say that, but just reflecting the reactions to it that I’ve gotten over the past year since its release. The response to it, though small so far, has been overwhelming in its intensity. People who read the story call me at work to tell me how much the book meant to them, how great the story was, how much they want more. And it reminds me just how much I loved that story, how much I enjoyed writing it, how many emotions it invoked as I wrote it. The Prisoner is a great story, and I’d forgotten that.

I think I’ve pushed myself so intently on always getting to the next step, the next book, that I’ve lost track of the depth of feeling I originally experienced when I started the series. I got that back somewhat with the Matchmakers trilogy, even if those books did get me completely off-track, but when I try to think of continuing the Shifting Isles series, I get bored, to be honest. I’d lost my love of the series because I’d lost track of the beauty of the stories that I first clung to when the series started.

MatchmakersThat probably has a lot to do with why I got so far off my writing schedule when the idea for Matchmakers came along. The stories in Matchmakers just called to me in a way that the main Shifting Isles series no longer was, because I’d lost touch with the feeling that The Prisoner gave me, the feeling that carried me through to S.P.I.R.I.T. Division (S.I. Book 2) and Return to Tanas (S.I. Book 3), but started to slip away with Broken (S.I. Book 4) and The Five-Hour Wife (S.I. Book 5).

Clearly, I need to dive back into The Prisoner, reconnect with it, and get that feeling back. No wonder I didn’t feel as excited about books 4 and 5 as I did with the first three, nor as excited as I felt about Matchmakers (hells, those three novels went from Idea to Published in just about five months, so if that doesn’t scream passion and excitement, I don’t know what does). Outside of Matchmakers, I lost track of the emotion, the story, the experience. I need to reacquaint myself with those stories and those characters, or the next books are going to suffer, and neither I nor my readers will be happy.

So the next book, Betrayal (Shifting Isles, Book 6) will probably be even later coming out than planned, even though I’ve already pushed back the release date, but I’m not going to rush it. I’m going to dive back into the world, and instead of rushed and forced, it’s going to be good. It’s going to get to people the way The Prisoner does.

Because The Prisoner is a great fucking story. And I need to remember that.

Hat-Tips, Links, and Shout-Outs, Publishing, Shifting Isles

Broken — Now available!

41f+T193FWL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_Finally! It’s done! Wow, you have no idea how glad I am to have this one behind me. After having Return to Tanas absolutely explode out of me in a matter of days, getting stuck over Broken for over a year was beyond frustrating.

But, it’s done. It’s published. It’s now out of my hair.

And it turned out a lot better than I originally thought it would. This story line went through so many changes along the way until it finally flowed well and everything tied together. It still amazes me how moving a key event from one plot point to another dramatically changes the pace and tone of the story.

With Broken, we take a slight change of course in the world of the Shifting Isles. From Benash’s story in The Prisoner to his daughter Saira’s story in S.P.I.R.I.T. Division to Saira’s son Graeden’s story in Return to Tanas, we now drop down one more generation, but the Crawfords are now just supporting characters, and the protagonist is Daivid Thaton, a grown orphan who crosses paths with the Crawfords, and not always in a good way.

Daivid has committed several thefts throughout his life, and gotten caught every time, so he pays the price over and over. On one hand, he doesn’t mind getting caught, because he hates being indebted to people, and he always intends to pay back his victims, but each time he gets caught, he accumulates a new mediation debt on top of the amount he stole, so he’s perpetually broke and quite often homeless.

I got to amuse myself a bit with this one in terms of free market justice. There are no police and courts like we have in the real world, so crimes are subject to a mediated agreement between criminal and victim. Because of his criminal record, no employer will hire Daivid, but he does have a job — only because it was offered to him by his victim as a means of paying off his debt with his own labor.

And Daivid hates the work, but he accepts it because he’s simply thankful to be employed at all, and thus able to not only work off his debt but also (mostly) keep a roof over his head. Why does he hate the work? Well, you’ll just have to read it and find out (keeping in mind that he agreed to the mediation terms, since the alternative meant no employment, certain homelessness, and an even greater mountain of debt that he would have more difficulty paying off — his choice based on his subjective scale of values).

(Thank you, Ludwig von Mises.)

And on top of his debts, Daivid is also trying to track down the parents that abandoned him, not to mention trying to get through the drama of his upcoming wedding.

But then an accident puts a stop to everything…

Broken is now available at CreateSpace.com, as well as on Amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle formats. I’ve also unlocked the Pinterest board for the book if anyone is interested in a few visuals for characters or settings (as well as a few interesting articles on up-and-coming technologies that are used or at least hinted at in the story). The book is also listed on Goodreads for those of you book junkies like me who like to keep track of what they read.

Happy reading!

Publishing, Shifting Isles

Return to Tanas — Now available!

Return to TanasAnd here we are again! Wow, six books out now. This is crazy. It’s funny to look back at my life and think that I never imagined myself writing, whether as just a hobby or a potential career. I always loved English classes, but I was a total math geek all through school, so to have all these stories bouncing around in my head all the time is a bit surreal.

Then, to have a paperback book in my hands, with my name on it…

There really is no way to describe that feeling. It’s just incredible

Alright, so, third book in the Shifting Isles series, Return to Tanas follows the life of Dr. Graeden Crawford, second son of Charlie and Saira Crawford (from S.P.I.R.I.T. Division). Graeden is keeping a big secret from his family, and it takes getting trapped on the Isle of Tanas for him to finally find the motivation to confess.

Assuming he ever makes it back home… 😉

This book just absolutely exploded out of me. I literally wrote two-thirds of it in six days. The whole thing was just laid out in my head, plain as day, and my hands ached from all the constant typing I did that week.

Gods, was that really a year ago, now? How time flies.

Yep, just about this time, last year, I was writing this book, trying to keep ahead on my writing schedule. Ever since then, I’ve been absolutely stuck on the next book (Broken, Shifting Isles Series Book 4), but thankfully it’s finally starting to come together — and hopefully in time for its December release date. In the meantime, though, I’m so excited to share this newest baby of mine with the world.

Graeden was a lot of fun to write. He’s kind of an asshole, but with a reason. And the reason…

Well, you’ll just have to read it. But I will say this: The big reveal gets me choked up every time.

And I wrote the damn thing.

Still, every time I get to that line, the tears of joy and excitement and relief start welling up. Can’t be helped. It just gets to me.

I had a lot of fun with this one delving more into the comparisons of Tanas (a socialist country) and Agoran (an anarcho-capitalist society). The first two books did that a bit, each being set on one of the Isles, but to have both in the same story, it makes for a striking difference.

And lots of good tension. Oh, does Graeden ever love to argue with the Tanasians!

The book is now available in print at the publishing site, CreateSpace, as well as on Amazon.com in both print and Kindle formats.

I’ve also listed the book on Goodreads, and released the Pinterest board, for anyone interested in some of the visuals that go along with the story.

I particularly love the idea of holographic imaging for use in medicine — that concept was a lot of fun to play with!

87d3115e2ab62cdcd0625729e601ea0fSo, once again, enjoy! I’m off to get back to work on Book 4 while I’m stuck here in a hotel in a tiny little town in Texas.

Yeah, I really don’t do vacation right, I know…

Inspiration, Lethean, Shifting Isles

Epiphany, Self-discovery, and Other Writerly Insights

10857995_1655437044682890_3877588118554457830_nThe more time I spend writing, the more I realize the truth in this statement. It’s amazing how much I’ve learned about myself because of the writing process, and I keep having these little flashes of insight that jump out and surprise me. Sometimes, they even shock the hell out of me.

I recall expressing this very sentiment once, a few years back, about how I was learning about my own philosophical and emotional growth by watching how a particular character grew and developed over the course of writing her story. My sister’s response was, “Yes, but you wrote it, right?”

Right. Exactly. Which probably meant it should have been a conscious thing. Yet, the more I think about my writing, the more I realize there are things coming out that I never even really knew were in my head, and the meaning I’ve been able to derive from those things has impacted me in various ways over the years. Some, trivially. Some, of vital importance.

Somewhere in the middle range of that would be about where I’d put the insight I got tonight while thinking about the latest manuscript I’m attempting to wrestle out of my brain. After three solid months of flying over my keyboard and producing three complete 90-100k word manuscripts, I came to a screeching halt when I tried to attack the fourth. That was in November, and I’ve pretty much been dragging the brake pedal ever since. Four months of almost zero progress. Ugh.

It drove me nuts. (Alright, that’s already too many automotive-related metaphors. Clearly I’ve been working in the family business too long).

I feel a massive void when I get writer’s block, like a piece of my soul is missing. It gets to the point that I want to tear my hair out and throw a fit because I can’t understand why. And, of course, I can’t just step back and let it go, give myself a breather, and come back to it later. I keep trying to force it, which, of course, never works.

So, I start looking for excuses or explanations:

-I’m not exercising enough, so maybe I need that to clear my head. Except, well, really, I’ve gotten along with my writing just fine without exercise before.

-I’ve been under a lot of stress at work for the last year. And that’s an understatement. But now that stress is (mostly) behind me, and has cleared a TON of space in my head. So it shouldn’t be an issue, right?

-I’m suffering a bit of a personal crisis, one that is difficult to talk about in the decidedly red zone in which I live. Hell, it’s the kind of thing that’s not even often accepted in blue circles; and, since I quite decidedly subscribe to neither of those colors, it leaves me feeling a bit stuck in the middle. But, surely, since my writing has always been an escape from real life, why should this one issue hold me back when others in the past have not?

-It’s this time of year. I always get stuck this time of year. Right? Maybe? No, maybe not.

-I’m too distracted by excitement over releasing The Prisoner at the end of the month. Yes, true, quite true, but even that shouldn’t really be stopping me from staying on schedule with the rest of the series.

Well, then, WHAT THE HELL COULD IT BE?!?!

Thus, we arrive at a moment, earlier this evening, whilst in the shower (and, really, why is it that those flashes of insight or plot inspiration always happen when one is covered in soap and nowhere near a pen or a keyboard?!?! *sigh*). All along, these last several months, I’ve been laughing at myself over the fact that I can see bits of myself in many of my main characters in this upcoming series, and was inwardly joking about which one most closely resembled me.

Then it hit me: The protagonist in the current manuscript is someone with whom I absolutely cannot identify whatsoever.

*blink dumbly*

*stare at the wall*

*bang head against said wall*

Bloody hells, why did I not realize this before?

Then, in a rush of tumbled thoughts that followed that insight, it struck me immediately, over the course of all my work, which books were easiest to write and which were most difficult.

Wanna guess which were most difficult?

Yeah, the ones with protagonists I just couldn’t get into, because it was unfamiliar territory.

And if I as the writer can’t identify with a character, how in seven hells am I going to make him or her convincing enough for a reader to identify with as well?

So, not counting the first few novels I wrote a few years back and which will never see the light of day, I started really thinking about my protagonists:

In The Lethean (Lethean Trilogy, Book 1), both Victoria and Landon are bookish and independent. *insert big glaring sign over my head that reads, “That’s me.”*

In Hale and Farewell (Lethean Trilogy, Book 3), Hale is part of a team out of necessity but is naturally an independent player. She likes to work alone. Yep. Me.

In The Prisoner (forthcoming work), Benash loves his routine. Even though he really hates it, he also loves it because it’s safe and reliable. Yep. Me for sure.

In S.P.I.R.I.T. Division (forthcoming work), Asenna is a neat freak, a bit OCD, and a perfectionist. Sounds familiar.

In Return to Tanas (forthcoming work), Graeden doesn’t like restrictions and regulations, especially when the prevent him from doing the right thing, or something he wants to do that would harm no one. As a libertarian / anarchist myself, that’s remarkably familiar territory.

In The Five-Hour Wife (forthcoming work), Jani is a reclusive writer with a side job that’s her true passion, and she idolizes talented individuals from a distance. Yeah, I don’t know anyone like that. *ahem*

And so on and so forth. Then I compare these to the two books so far that have given me the most trouble.

In Uncommonly Strong (Lethean Trilogy, Book 2), I had a remarkably difficult time writing Joseph and Sati’s story. Joseph I could semi-sorta relate to, but writing Sati was like pulling teeth. With tweezers instead of pliers.

Thomas and Spencer, on the other hand…

I loved writing that couple. I loved their quirks, their relationship, everything about them. Thomas and Spencer were so ridiculously easy to write.

For a while, I thought I was simply distracted by the dynamic of Thomas and Spencer because of a few personal quirks of my own, but tonight it hit me:

Thomas was the real hero of the story. Not Joseph. Thomas. The one who was always supporting Joseph and doing everything he could for the sake of Joseph’s happiness. The rock in the family, despite his own sufferings. The one who always put aside his needs and feelings in order to make sure everyone else was alright first. Thomas was the one in the hospital urging Joseph to hold on, and there was no way Joseph was going to survive that moment without his brother’s support.

Why the hell didn’t I write that story with Thomas and Spencer in the lead roles? Looking back, that would have made much more sense, and it all probably would have fallen together a lot more easily than it did.

Then I look at this current manuscript with which I’m struggling (Broken, Book 4 in the next series), and I realize that there is absolutely nothing about Daivid that feels familiar. Nothing with which I can identify.

No wonder writing him feels like pulling teeth all over again.

Clearly, I’m going to have to go through a few dozen more “What if” scenarios to see if I can’t tease out the right detail to make Daivid’s story work.

Because, if I can’t, then the rest of the series either falls apart or remains at a grinding halt.

And I am so ridiculously eager to get to the book and series that follow this one (gods, I must be insane, juggling all these story ideas in my head), that I simply must make this one work so that everything will tie neatly together and progress the story along.

Lethean

Cheers to a Bad Review

Yes, you read that right. I’m actually pleased I got a bad review (note this particular review isn’t something someone posted publicly but sent to me personally after reading my first book, The Lethean).

Since we live in the real world, a bad review was bound to happen. It’s just a simple fact of life.

You can’t please everyone.

And that’s a good thing! You’re not supposed to please everyone. If you did, there’d be something radically wrong with the very fabric of reality and human nature. Human beings are unique individuals — no two alike — so we’re not all supposed to like the same things. We’re not all supposed to fall into the same categories. We’re not all supposed to agree. And that, my friends, is a beautiful truth.

This, of course, is the foundation of libertarian / anarchist ideology, to which I wholeheartedly subscribe. It not only accepts but embraces the fact that each human being is a unique creature with his own wants, needs, likes, and desires. Any other philosophy attempts to squeeze individuals into confining categories that don’t apply at all times and places, lumping people together under labels that aren’t truly accurate.

Thus, I embrace the fact that this particular reviewer did not like my book. That’s a good thing. I don’t want everyone to like it. Besides the fact that, if I did want everyone to like it, I’d only wind up sorely disappointed, I would also be guilty of denying human nature and my own individuality. I don’t want everyone to like the same things I do. I don’t want everyone to be just like me. I want to be myself, and no one else needs to be that but me.

Now, is that to say a bad review didn’t sting? Sure it did, on some level, but for that matter it also provided a good learning experience. Some of what this reviewer complained about told me that he didn’t give it quite as close a reading as I might have liked, but he also gave me some truly helpful feedback that I can put to good use. A weakness of mine was pointed out that I can now learn from and correct in my later works, and this will only help me build up my tool chest when it comes to crafting a good story. Thus, I am thankful for the reviewer’s constructive criticism.

So cheers to the (constructive) bad review! Now I’m off to continue working on the next series, and with every little bit I learn and discover, the better these stories grow in my mind. I can’t wait to get them down on paper!