November 21st, 2015- FROM M.T. McGuire's Blog. (How We Should Respond to Murderers- that's my title)
21 NOVEMBER 2015 · 6:38 PM
↓ Jump to CommentsSurviving trolls, extremism and other curses of modern life<<<<POLITICS WARNING read on at your own risk, I can guarantee I’ll offend the entire world with this one.>>>>
A couple of weeks ago, I was standing on a rain soaked road in France in a Barbour which is not at all waterproof looking at this field. In all truth, I didn’t really connect. It looks pretty unremarkable but the odds are that if I’d been there 600 years earlier I’d have seen the bodies of several thousand French soldiers, 3 days dead, most stripped completely naked by looters from the desperately poor local population after the important stuff had been removed by the English (I bet those clothes lasted some local families a couple of generations). That’s because 600 years (and 3 days) previously we are about as sure as we can be sure of anything in history that the battle of Agincourt was fought on this particular field.
As I understand it, one of the defining aspects of the battle was that the ground became a quagmire. People sank in the mud and suffocated, just as they did 500 years later, a few miles down the road, on the Western Front. Once I heard that it made connecting a little bit easier.
There’s no hint of the carnage that took place there now. There’s a museum, a memorial and not much else. It was a bloodbath and it horrified the people of its time just as the first world war did, just as the deaths of those 60,000,000 victims of the second world war (if you count civilians) did, just as 9.11, 7.7 and last week do.
Those Agincourt deaths are not at the forefront of our consciousness any more. As I said, the area is not far from the fields which comprise what was once, part of the front line in WW1. Likewise, apart from the odd memorial and the war graves you wouldn’t necessarily understand the horror of war from what’s there now. Although the bucolic peace belies the truth, farmers are still killed and injured every year by unexploded ordnance buried under the tranquil landscape. They will be for some time. Things are not always as they seem.
Maybe, as wars pass out of living memory, they cease to be so real to us. How do we keep remembering, understanding?
When I grew up there were plenty of people around who had fought in the second world war and still some who had fought in the first. It was in their consciousness at all times, and so it was in ours.
As they die out there is one experience in my life that I begin to value more and more. An RS lesson I was given when I was about 17. It comprised my A level set, three of us, the teacher and a visiting Bishop. He was about 70, Mark Greene his name was, and he was sitting on a rickety arm chair which tipped up, dumping him onto the floor. I remember that. I particularly remember our poor teacher’s flustered efforts to help him up and his calm, unfazed reassurances that he was fine.
But what I really remember about that lesson was the story he told us. At the end of the war he was with a detachment of forces in Germany and on the day it was liberated, he was the 20th allied soldier to walk into Belsen.
We didn’t know that’s what he was, of course, I’m not sure the teacher even did. I don’t even remember how it cropped up. There’s a bit of a memory gap between the chair incident and it suddenly hitting me, very forcefully that this man was telling us what it was like to walk into a death camp for the first time, when you hadn’t realised they existed, when you didn’t understand, first hand, what human beings were capable of doing to one another, or at least, in an era when the general consensus of opinion was that we’d evolved past all that.
He proceeded to tell us about the experience. What he felt, smelled and saw. I have seen videos of what was there since which cast a whole new light on his words and made his understated, calm description of the facts all the more powerful. He wasn’t ’emotional’ as he described it. He cried no tears. But the strength of feeling in his voice was striking. He avoided emotional trigger words, he told us about the smell of excrement and rotting bodies but spared the grisly details. He talked about seeing piles of grey sticks and only realising, at second or third glance, that they were people and that some were still alive, just, and moving. I remember thinking that I was hearing about one of the defining moments of the 20th Century from a man who was actually there. I still get goose pimples when I think about it. Mainly because I suspect I am unlikely ever to come so close to history again.
And then Paris last week. And all the absolute tosh that’s been talked on the internet since about religion, and the Muslim faith. We don’t seem to be learning do we?
Aldus Huxley, I think it was Aldus Huxley, said, “Propaganda is the art of convincing one group of people that another group of people is not human.”
One of the defining things about the concentration and death camps was that the victims were stripped of all humanity. They were not to be dignified with a name. They were given a number. Their names were verboten. They all wore the same uniforms. They were as robots. Nothing.
And that’s how you hate. That’s how the Daesh are able to kill the way they do. Because to them a non Daesh child is not a human child. Then again, I’m not sure how the Daesh manage to have kids because as I understand the tenets of their extreme doctrine, their menfolk believe women aren’t human either.
So how do we beat them? Well, turning their victims away, or ‘Closing the UK’s borders until Isis is defeated’ is patently bollocks. Making all Muslims wear an armband, well, yes, Mr Trump, I refer you back to Belsen. We’ve done that before, quite recently and I don’t recall it working out well. You need to have a word with yourself mate.
Someone at church the other day who said there is an easy way to make all these memorials to past battles mean, or continue to mean, something. Give the dead names. Pick one solider, research him, find out who he was. Suddenly they stop being numbers and turn back into people. And after last week, in Paris, I thought that all the more.
It’s very easy to generalise about people, to isolate ourselves, to become ‘them and us’ about practically everything. Now more than ever we seem to be particularly vulnerable to a black and white generalist view of the world which is simply a lie, a fairy story totally removed from the truth which we tell ourselves because we cannot handle the uncertainty of grey.
I can see it in myself. When it popped up in the news recently that Jihadi John had almost certainly been killed in a bombing raid my first instant thought was,‘serves him bloody well right. You live by the sword you die by the sword.’ But then I thought about it some more. It’s hard to consider someone like Jihadi John as a human being. Really hard. But somewhere he has parents and family who loved him, some might even be anguished by what he has done. Somewhere there might have been a mother, a father, a wife begging him to turn to compassion and humanity again like the family of an addict begging them to forsake the bottle. We are all equal, we are all human. He was a sad pathetic thing, broken inside, but to deny his humanity, however much he seems to have forfeited his right to be seen as human, maybe that is the cause of the trouble.
People like Jihadi John, people like the lads who killed all those people in Paris, probably get off on the feeling of power or that they are physically doing something to make a difference than politics. It’s in our nature to want to change the world. That’s why we’re high achievers in so many ways. Their acts are inhuman so perhaps the only way we can defeat their inhumanity is by holding onto our humanity.
The minute we cease to see your enemy as a human being, you have given in to hate. In my view, if we give into hate, we’re no better than they are. An ability to love and respect others is what sets normal people apart from the extremists. The way to understand the gravity and the evil of war is not to look at the casualty numbers, it’s to remember that they are people. To give them names.
Every now and again, someone special comes along like Jesus, Budda, Mohamed and the like and they try to persuade people to treat each other as they’d like to be treated themselves. It’s ironic, isn’t it, how fast we manage to turn that into intolerance and hatred. If the devil exists, he must be laughing.
If we have a battle cry, perhaps it should be that of Antoine Leiris, whose wife, Helene was killed at the Bataclan.
“I will not give you the gift of hating you.”
It seems to me that, if ever we need to foster a culture of love and tolerance, it’s now.
I’m blogging -ripping this onto my website. If you would rather I didn’t let me know. I’m one hundred percent sure you’re exactly right- Personally, I am an eye for an eye person who knows that isn’t a solution. I’m not strong enough to lay down arms and embrace those that commit atrocities, but yes, I can forgive the followers, often victims of propaganda and fear just as we all are.
When I was a teenager, we had a visit from a door to door salesman. It actually wasn’t a common thing, partially because of our location, which looked like an alley, and partially for reasons like below.
The salesman was young, very handsome, and very charming. No doubt, he expected to find the woman in the family at home so he could charm her into buying the bottled water he was selling.
He got my father.
That should have told him right away to leave and go onto the next house. My father’s first words were, “We don’t buy door to door.”
That should have also told the salesman to leave. The good ones will, once they realize they’re not going to make the sale. No sense in wasting time. Either this salesman wasn’t good or corporate policy was to be aggressive.
He wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Finally, to get rid of the guy, my father bought the water. Once he closed the door, he went to the phone and called the water company. He cancelled the order and told them why.
So I have a cynical eye when someone asks me for money. Even so, it started out tough as a writer. Much of what I saw early on was marketed to beginners who didn’t have any knowledge and didn’t know what questions to ask.
I subscribed to Writer’s Digest and got put on a mailing list from an agent. He sent me a four-page advertisement for his agency. It was impressive looking. On the first page was pictures of authors the agent represented, none of whom I had read or heard of. Still looked impressive.
It was a sales pitch. The agent said he would look at my manuscript for a reading fee of $500. I didn’t have the money, so I didn’t get taken, but if I had, I would have sent it in. The brochure said all the right things and made me feel special.
Of course, it should have been a warning that I was sent it at all.
Then there’s editing. That’s a big business, where people make a lot of money off beginning writers. When I first got on line, there was a big scam where agents were rejecting writers and referring them to an editing service. Since the agent had referred them and knew what he was doing, the writers trusted this and happily paid for the service. The agent and service counted on the writers not educating themselves and reacting emotionally.
When I was ready to go indie, I didn’t even have to think: I was going for copy editing.
Not developmental editing.
I’ve had writers predict dire results or tell me I was cheapening my writing. I even had a panel at a con try to embarrass me into getting developmental editing. I had shown up for the panel early, and they asked me what goals I had. I told them I was looking for a copy editor. In front of the crowd of people that finally showed him, they admonished me about not going for developmental editing. Granted, most of the panel was developmental editors, so it wasn’t hard dismissing the source.
It bothered me that a whole lot that people had their hand out for potentially thousands of dollars (one I looked at would have charged me two grand for a 40K novel) for developmental editing. It reminded me of that door to door salesman coming to the front door expecting to make the sale on emotion and not facts.
The facts are that developmental editing is essentially paying for an in-depth critique. The person may or may not be qualified to do it. Some writers will look at one or two published books as proof the editor knows what they’re doing. But especially after taking so many writing classes given by writers with that qualification, I found out how little they actually knew. Because I didn’t outline, I often ended up with a front row seat to their lack of craft knowledge.
Besides, why should I pay someone to tell me how to write? Seriously, if I have a weak area, surely the money could be better served to buy craft books on that area, maybe take a really good class (not one of the ones above!), and spend the time working the skill.
That seems like a better investment of my money and time and would give me the most benefit.
Broad brush advice. Most writers can benefit from the right editor’s input, but finding the one can be near to impossible. A good editor for one writer, may be total disaster for another. Whatever they call themselves, the more they do apart from simple grammar correction, the more likely they are to do more harm than good. Editors is as individual as writers, and like writers, they are only as good as their last piece of work. Free help from friends and strangers in the writing community is often as valuable: beta readers, teachers, friends with an eye for grammar, feed-back from sites like Wattpad, and reading groups can be just as affective as $500 to infinity spent on an editor, all of which are by their nature self-opinionated, often arrogant, and invariable narrow-minded with their favourite bees- currently fashionable being for ‘active’ styles of writing. When you have the money for an editor pick one that has edited a book you love, even if that book was a friend’s ‘SP’ with a tiny circulation. The sales volume of a book is almost no indication of it’s quality.
Spiderworld fits genre, and it doesn't.
First, note well that this book has almost nothing to do with the natural history of spiders, well at least not those that live on Earth. They are mentioned on passing, but the arachnologist will nevertheless rest disappointed. My spiders are very much of science fiction, although what they talk about varies fairly widely across the genres. Of course, I hope that at least some bug scientists do enjoy my speculative fiction.
Anyway, speculative fiction is how I describe my book's subject matter. This one has a fairly strong science fiction thread running right through it, though most is of the soft rather than highly science based variety. Basically, Spiderworld is a space adventure set some distance in the future. There are no fantasy elements except in the remote way in which I take some character names from fantasy literature. My intention is always to write science fiction that appeals to the general reader rather than the science fiction buff, hoping that the 'scientists' don't find too that I take too many liberties with the laws of physics. This book is far more Ray Bradbury than Arthur C. Clarke, more Heinlein than Asimov. I don't pretend to walk in any of those great shoes, but merely try to give the genre reader a little help.
In this story, man is a subservient species to a race of spider-like creatures from a distant world. The spidernauts have been 'harvesting' humans from the Earth for some considerable time. This gathering is being conducted to provide both food and a source of cheap labour. The spiders have neighbours on another close planet in their solar system, which are more akin to ten legged caterpillars than spiders. I try to leave the minute detail of these creatures to the reader's imagination, rather concentrating on the cultural and social conditions of society in three sentient species, Aranians, Cheetans and Homo sapiens.
Logic seems to dictate that any species that visits us before we visit them is likely to be technologically superior. In many ways the spiders are more advanced, further down the scientific road, although the potential, the intelligence, of the two species is really not very different. This 'brain equality' proves to be vital as humanity strives to improve its lot in Spiderworld.
There are heroic deeds and cowardly acts, diverse allegiances among and between species, altruistic and selfish attitudes, philosophical thoughts and crude schemes, love and hate, animalistic and spiritual behaviours, and an adventure that is only constrained by the parameters of this invented solar system and those laws of physics that I partially understand.
As I hope you will discover, this book really needs at least a few influential readers to be influenced by its words. The why is in the plot! Than you so much for taking the trouble to read this blog post.
The book- Well, that is to be found at http://geni.us/uDv
Selling books without having shelf space in major retailers is as hard as pushing rocks up Everest. That has always been the case. Of course, we have the stream of web sales that seem to defy the laws of gravity, but only for those that have marketing skills, luck and/or influence/fame. In other words, gravity still applies. If you make it then it is near certain that you were lifted. It is nearly impossible to climb above the weight of others' good fortune, blocking your own path to success, on your own. There were a couple of good years when the early birds to on-line publishing did very well, but the path of those early innovators is chocked with earlier books making it a very hard climb.
We feel overwhelmed. A strange hopelessness of finding success is mixed with weak lingering belief in the theoretical achievable but very illusive ability to get there. Motivation is as hard to maintain as it ever has been at any time in the history of publishing. The same state of torpor exists throughout the wider arts. The quantity of artists is rapidly expanding but the slots for the successful remain doggedly limited. It is evermore likely that you as a reader are also an amateur writer, just as I am. I, like thousands of others, have a catalogue of books for sale, a brand new one, and more in my head. But is all the effort worthwhile? Well certainly not on an hourly money rate. A typical income might be one cent an hour and a minus at that, as the process of production always carries some real costs, even if only in computers and cups of coffee.
We have to write books for the love of writing, as others might compose music, paint, engage in equine sports, show dogs, garden. These sorts of activities are vital to us, they often define our being, give us a reason for living. However, the few that make a living from art or particular skill are, one here, one there and one on the road to Timbuktu. They are the million dollar lotto winners, which neither statistically will I ever be among and nor probably will anyone I know.
Fame is a constant sized cake that more and more of us are trying to eat. Only so many writers, painters or whosoever can exist in the public consciousness at once. So don't stand in the queue, walk away into a pleasant spot by the babbling brook to enjoy the play. Who knows what will happen. Our souls need that we keep performing, keep on being the people we need to be however distant the crowd. Just the dream that a fairy godmother is watching must be enough, as it was in our childhood.
As I write, there will only ever be me and dreams in my world. Even in a busy café or in the airport lounge, or on the bus to Timbuktu, there is only actually me and an out of focus, irrelevant, crowd. Every one of those passing apparitions is too busy to even glance at Cosmo, or Rushdie or some Kardashian or another. The drifting masses may never ever have time for us.
It is the private performance of our art that is needed, healthy activity for our souls, not the recognition. The money to perform- yes well- play lotto I guess. The flow and quality of our art is all that matters, because it matters to us.
..... As the author, the issue of how much one can afford to spend is crucial. If one wishes to eventually make a career out of writing then doing everything possible to spend money wisely may be particularly important.
The first target for most is either to at least try to cover costs, or to accept that for now writing is a possibly expensive hobby. Hobbies almost always cost money, from golf at one extreme to collecting beer mats at the other. Books can cost any amount to produce from absolutely zero, to, well, almost any amount. Most, self-published authors, traditionally published and the growing numbers doing both, need to keep cost down. But, however good you are your book needs editing one way or another.
Employing a good content editor and a copy editor is best if one can afford both, or if one is in the rare position of having highly skilled friends that are charitable. I produced a short story book through charitable help, for nothing- readers have to be their own judges as to whether that succeeded. I have also done everything in between, short of actually being fortunate enough to find a traditional publisher. Few self-publishers have spent as much as I have unsuccessfully.
There are other ways of getting free help, one of the best of which is on the Wattpad platform. Some authors have had considerable success from taking the judicious advice and help of their followers. Others use early ARC reviewers and amateur proof readers in one way or another to great effect.
In my arrogant opinion, which runs very much against the publishing establishment, if you dare then publish whatever. Nowadays we have been freed from the tight, sometimes abusive, and usually biased controls of powerful publishing businesses. That system was adequate and even sometimes good for readers, but dreadful for all but a tiny minority of writers. That system worked and still does, as autocracies can. I’m relieved that publishing is now a democracy in which everyone is free to publish. There is no greater freedom than to see ones word in print.
Writing a novel is very hard work and consumes vast quantities of time. Don’t hide your efforts from the world unless you really did write just for yourself. Even, ‘sacrilegious’ though the sanctimonious would call it, publish an e book and constantly edit it as you get feed-back. This used to be called producing second and subsequent editions. Obviously get your work as perfect as income and time allows from the start. Beyond that, remember to spend only as much as you can afford to lose. Being an unsuccessful author is nothing terrible, ninety nine percent of authors are, and ninety nine point nine nine could have made more money doing something else. Being an unsuccessful author who has taken food off the family table is the only really plausible disaster.
And the self-reveal, I don’t play golf or even collect beer mats any more and thanks to my wife we haven’t starved. And, yes, I’m far more likely to be a success with a full editorial team. Possibly even nought point nine percent more likely. So most of us must chose somewhere between paying a lot to publish and still not being terribly successful, and publishing be damned protected by a suitably thick skin. But whatever we do, we must publish. Not to publish when you have the freedom to do so is usually the only tragic outcome.
Some can write best sellers, not necessarily the most literary of books, without the help of editors. You aren’t one of them.
This was written in reply to the following excellent blog, taken from
RED MARKS DON’T EQUAL FAILURE: HOW TO CHOOSE AN EDITOR AND DEAL WITH THE RESULTS.
April 28, 2015 by Tahlia Newland
Some books require a lot of line editing, and some don’t. The difference is not always due to the author’s experience and knowledge of the craft of writing, sometimes it’s due simply to the fact that a book may have complex ideas and a trail-blazing or different approach. A book can be excellent in concept and story, but need some rearrangement and tightening of the expression of ideas to make them more easily followed and to make the book as readable as possible for the widest range of people. So if you get your book back from the line editor covered with red marks, don’t take it as a failure.
The purpose of copy editing and proofreading is to make sure that the writing is grammatically correct and punctuation and word usage in line with conventions, but the purpose of structural and line editing is to make a book better. And it’s a rare book that can’t be made better.
All books benefit from the eyes of a line editor, but the line editor might do some fairly big changes to your sentence and paragraph structure, so it can be a bit scary to hand your book over. It’s less threatening to your ego to just have your book copy edited, but a copy edit alone will not make your book better. It will only make it free of grammatical and punctuation and spelling errors, and a book free of such errors is not the same as a good book. A line editor can’t make all books great, but they can make all books better.
But what if you get a book back from the editor and you don’t like what they’ve done? What if you think they’ve made it worse, or you simply don’t understand how it’s better? Luckily I have never had this situation either as an author or as an editor. The way to avoid it is to find a line editor you can trust. And the way to do that is to read their information on how they work, read their blog to get a feel for their personality and, most important, get a sample edit. A sample edit should give you explanations for why they’ve done what they’ve done. And if you aren’t sure of anything, you should feel free to ask. You can also check things by doing your own research.
The big question is whether or not the editor understands what you’re trying to do. Do they respect your style? The last thing you want is an editor who will try to turn your contemplative romance into a fast paced thriller. A manuscript appraisal is a good place to start with an editor because their suggestions at the structural and conceptual level, will show whether they’re in tune with your vision or not. It will also show you how well they communicate and respond to your concerns.
I also feel that an editor who has reviewed a lot of books in a wide range of genres will have a better understanding of voice and style and how to stay true to it than someone who hasn’t actively reviewed books. I’m aware of how much I learned from formally evaluating other people’s books in this way.
If you’re happy with the sample edit—and remember that the editor will see things that you don’t, so expect to be surprised and educated—and you feel that you can trust the editor to improve your book, not mulch it, then hand it over. When you get it back. Take a deep breath before looking at it, remind yourself that the edits are to make your book better and tell your ego to take a walk. It’s time to be objective, not defensive.
Look at the edits objectively. Remember that the editor thinks they have improved your book, and since generally they have more knowledge than you and they definitely have a more objective eye than you, they probably have—unless you’ve booked someone who isn’t really qualified; avoid big egos, no actual editing qualification, little experience and few recommendations from other authors. If you can’t see why something is supposedly better, ask, and research their answer to see if others agree with their perspective. A good editor will leave comments to explain why they’ve done anything major, anyway.
What they shouldn’t have done is change your voice. A skilled line editor can cut words, reorganise paragraphs, combine or cut up sentences, and change your sentence structure without changing your voice. So don’t panic when you see that they’ve done a lot of it. It should strengthen your voice, not weaken it. And it doesn’t mean your book was bad, it just means that now it’s a lot better.
Have you ever employed a line editor? What was your experience?
A couple of traditionally published authors asked me recently: “Should I self-publish?” I was surprised at how quickly my answer came. I said, “No,” without a moment of hesitation. Then I added, “Unless you already have a strong fan base and you want to become a publisher and a marketeer as well as an author.”
Their faces showed their surprise. Here was someone who had self-published, and who helps others to self-publish and who runs a self-published books accreditation system saying that self-publishing wasn’t a good idea. Why?
Let me qualify it a bit.
It isn’t a good idea if you expect to sell your book, or even if you expect your book to be read. It’s a good idea if you just want your book published and you don’t want to jump the traditional hurdles. It’s a good idea if your book is so unusual that no publisher would pick it up even if you did go that route. And it’s a good idea if you look at it as a hobby and don’t mind that you’re unlikely to get back the money you put into it to make it a professional standard.
The trouble with self-publishing is twofold: the first challenge is getting your book published to a professional standard; the second, is selling it once it is published.
Step one: Getting your book published.
Do you want to be a publisher? Because that’s what a self-published author has to be, unless they get a self-publishing service provider to do it for them. You either undertake a very steep learning curve and do it all yourself—employing professionals for editing, formatting and cover design—or you pay someone to do it all for you. If you choose to pay someone to do it for you, you’ll find yourself navigating a minefield. There’s a lot of sharks out there preying on authors wanting their books published. Join the Alliance of Independent Authors, they have a list of partners who are reputable service providers and will alert members to scams.
Step two: Selling your book.
Say you do manage to produce a quality book, the next challenge is selling it, and there’s a major problem here: Every Joe and his dog are publishing books these days. The electronic shelves are full of them, and a lot of them aren’t very good. Some readers avoid self-published books. I do. I like the guarantee I get from a mainstream publisher that any book they publish will be of a professional standard. I may not like it, but at least it will have met basic editorial standards. Now that the prices of mainstream ebooks have come down, why would I choose a SP book by an unknown author when I can choose something from a mainstream publisher? If I know the author, okay, no problem; hence an established traditionally published author can move into self-publishing with a greater chance of success than a new author.
And even for the readers who are willing to read something from a self-published author, how are you going to get your book in front of them? How will you get them to actually see it amongst all the other books on those electronic shelves? It’s extremely difficult to get your book seen, let alone purchased, and these days, you can’t even give books away for free because there are so many free ones. Even if people do download them that doesn’t mean they’ll read them.
There are ways to get your book in front of readers, but it’s not easy, and it takes time and consistent effort to build a reader base. It’s not just a matter of advertising—any experienced author will tell you that paid advertising rarely covers its cost. Authors have to market their own books regardless of how they’re published, but at least when you have a mainstream publisher someone else has a vested interest in selling your books, and they do have systems in place designed to get your book in front of readers.
Depressing, huh? What’s the option?
The majority of authors taking the traditional route will fail to score an agent or a publishing deal (about 95% of them according to one Australian publisher I spoke to). If you do get a deal, great, go for it. You won’t get much, per book, but you should sell some. If you’re lucky, you might even make back your advance. If you’re really lucky and the stars align, you might hit the big time. The publisher wouldn’t pick it up if they didn’t think it would sell. If you don’t get a deal, then you either self-publish or you stick the manuscript in your archive folder and try again or forget the idea of being an author. Only you can decide.
I decided to publish my books, and I’m glad I did. I’ve achieved step one, and I have some great accolades and awards to prove it, but step two has me beat.
I’m not saying don’t self-publish. I’m saying do it with your eyes open.