Category Archives: Editorials

‪#‎holdontothelight‬‪

holdontothelight

 

I write this on the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11. I remember that morning all too well. I was supposed to be on site, but had a short week to volunteer for an event that weekend, so I had stayed home. I had a small TV in my office in the house, that I rarely turned on.

I’d scheduled myself a pretty light week, and flipped on the news for background noise a couple of minutes before 9 AM that morning, and the first cameras were reaching the Trade Towers. I sent messages to a few people in the office as we serviced several companies in the area around the towers, and activated some of our internal business continuity processes.

Like so many people, I was locked on the news, and saw the second plane hit. At first, I thought someone had found footage of the first crash, but no. It was the second hit, live.

I’d lived in Charlotte for less than a year at that time, but being a financial center, business around town began evacuating downtown except for critical personnel. It didn’t affect me as I didn’t work except out of my house when I moved here, as I was on the road most of the time, but it was all over the local news.

Before long, we had cleared out most of our offices as soon as we realized the United States was under attack. People were traumatized.

As I reflect on that day, and every day since, I look at where we are. We are still a nation existing in fear. We are in a fifteen year old global war with no end in sight. We entrust huge bureaucracies to keep us “safe” by treating every single one of us as a criminal.

And that’s before we get to our own personal lives.

I have had many friends in military service come back from their second, third, fourth deployments or more. So many of them show the signs of stress, of PTSD.

I then look at the people I know who have never been deployed. The friends I have going through the stresses of life – Illness, divorce, unemployment, trauma and so much more. I’ve had my issues with depression. With stress. With no longer giving a damn. I’ve always been able to get out of bed and put one foot in front of the other.

Unfortunately I have enough friends that can’t get that far. Friends for whom the burden holds them down. Or in some cases pushes them to a permanent solution. I just work every day to make sure I don’t let myself go down that path.

I think all of this has built to lead us to where we are now. We are a wounded and traumatized nation. We have had economic upheaval, riots in the streets, extreme fear and mistrust of our political and law enforcement institutions, and we barely trust our neighbor any more. We have emptied our packs of the tools that helped us thrive to load them with the burdens and stresses of the world.

It is no wonder so many of us live on the edge of paralysis.

I write all of this not to push you over the edge, but to say it’s time to get your shit together. Me too.

It’s easy to say, but hard as hell to do.

It can be easy to live in our pain, to revel in it, cherish it, and nurture it. When you do, you are building a time bomb that will take you with it when it goes off.  You’re feeding that inner demon a buffet. It may be fast, or it could be slow, but either way it’s destructive. Nothing good can come of it. And at some point, even your closest loved ones either run away to protect themselves, or get sucked in and go down with you. I sometimes wonder if we nationally aren’t bathing in our collective pain.

It’s time for us to all own up to our problems, and work on them. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither were you. You are made up of all of your experiences – good and bad, ecstasy and trauma. Just like me, and everyone else.  Learning to deal with your problems and accept your traumas in life take time. It takes having help.

Sometimes it’s a beer and wings. Sometimes that help comes in the form of calling a friend at 2 AM, and talking your problems through. Sometimes it comes in the form of a therapist or other professional.

Life won’t always be easy. Sometimes it down right sucks. Just don’t try to do it alone.

The other morning, I was having a hell of a time getting motivated, and something popped up in my Facebook feed.

 

These mountains you are carrying, you were only meant to climb. – Najwa Zebian

 

Since the first time I ever saw this, it seems to appear as a mantra for me when I need it. For me, it reminds me to drop all of the bullshit that weighs me down, and there’s plenty I carry with me every day. And as long as you put one foot in front of the other going upwards, you’re getting closer to the top.

I believe we all have a possible point of greatness, which few of us will ever fully realize. I also don’t believe there is an apex, just peaks we can reach to discover there is a taller mountain next. Like a mountain climber, you never can succeed alone. There are always sherpas (mentors) to guide you along parts of the path and help carry the burden. You travel with other climbers who can pick you up when you slip, and you do the same for them.

We have to help ourselves first to help those around us.

I sometimes have to remind myself that I’m up for the journey, and there’s still an occasional hurricane even when you’re just hanging out on the beach. Grab a surfboard, ride the storm surge, and have your lifeguards for the times you wipe out. And be ready, when you have a friend in need.

More contributors can be found by following ##‎holdontothelight‬‪ and through:

DisquietingVisions.com

MagicalWords.net

AscendantKingdoms.com.

-Jim

Resources:

 The National Center for PTSD

Anxiety and Depression Society of America

 

#HoldOntoTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.

Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Home for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

To find out more about #HoldOntoTheLight, find a list of participating authors, or reach a media contact, go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/276745236033627/.

 

Dive right in, the water’s….

I’m not the biggest fan of the Olympics. I’m not against the idea or the ideals, I’m just not all that interested in spending 24 hours a day for two weeks glued to mass media to watch athletic events I’d never watch otherwise. So far, I’ve seen a couple of hours worth, but mostly that was sitting at the bar to grab dinner while on the road.

 

And is want to happen, I started thinking even before the debacle in Rio started about how this really represents the current status of the planet and society.

 

Here’s a few highlights. The divers plunging into a swimming pool where the water was so green that Kermit the Frog could get lost in it. Kayakers ran into a couch. Distance swimmers being told they had a 99.9% chance of catching something nasty in the open waters. Body parts being found all around events. I think they could add the lumberjack events because the waters are thick enough to walk across.

 

You’d think this was Newark in the 1980’s.

 

But no, this is 2016 and Rio. Zika virus, the Olympic Village walls leaking like a horror flick, and the mayor rewarding the Australian’s complaints by suggesting a kangaroo might make them feel more at home. On the plus side, they did give every competitor 42 condoms. Not sure if that’s an answer to the universe, or just getting them ready for a big bang.

 

But I digress.

 

Why would I say this is an excellent microcosm? The world has brought their top performers at the peak of their game to represent their countries. Then they asked them to compete in what should be a showcase of pride and excellence, but thrown in the deep end of a cesspool wrapped in pomp, circumstance, and media. Instead of lifting up one of the growing markets of the world, they spent billions to still not create a safe and welcoming place for the world to visit. And in short order, I expect the temporary buildings will be reabsorbed into the muck and mire of Rio.

 

Rio is a beautiful city, with a vibrant people and rich culture. It’s government leaves a lot to be desired.

 

The IoC has proven itself to be corrupt and self serving. Now it’s on display for the world. I would not call for the Olympics to be disbanded because I believe it does create an environment every four years where countries and national pride can shine. People get to learn that it’s just people everywhere. Even in 1936, the Nazi’s awarded Jesse Owens trees in recognition for his accomplishments, along with every other gold medal winner that year.

 

I believe that there should be permanent sites for the olympics, built and maintained for competition. Different nations could host and put their culture on display, but not bankrupt them to have to build the extravaganza. And the IoC might be able to be cleaned up a little.

 

Beyond that, the competitors who have made their way to Brazil have proven something most of all. No matter the adversities, corruption, and adversities thrown their way, top performers will always work to excel.

Arrgghhhh, Pirates on the horizon

Here’s another drafted segment from the upcoming (and yet unnamed) Business 101 for Writers.

 

As you move forward in your career and get your work out there, you’re more likely to find your work borrowed, plagiarized, stolen, or outright pirated.
Arrrgghhh.
With the exception of a few Luddites and saints out there, we’ve all done it, whether it was copying a song off of a friend’s CD, ripping a movie from a torrent, or downloading a book. And I hate to be the messenger, but you stole it from the creator(s) and owner(s) when you did.
Now that you too are a creator of content, it can happen to you too. Once it happens, you need to carefully consider how you react.
If you are friends with or at least follow any number of writers and artists online, you may have already seen someone who’s not only had the problem, but has aired it out on their blog and all over social media.
In 2012 when I’d just started seriously writing again, a friend of mine who is a non-fiction writer posted a small rant about having found a book being torrented on a file sharing site. Then the second post hit. And the third. After a couple of weeks with at least one post a day, detailing what was a virtual seek and destroy mission, even tracking down some of the people who’d done the downloads and hitting them with an invoice.
Seeing this, I reached out to him and we had an informal chat to try and talk him off the cliff. As I dug in, it turned out it hadn’t been going on for weeks, but over two months.
I told him that as a friend and a writer, it it painful and feels like a violation. I then told him that if he was my client, he was being an idiot. For the record, it didn’t go over well.
After he calmed down and called me back, he told me that there had been over ten thousand downloads, and his percentage he wasn’t getting was nearly $30,000. His advance had been based on 5000 copies, and that still hadn’t earned out.
At that time, I made the following observations and I still think all of them hold true;
He had not written a word not aimed at the problem in over two months and was behind on deadlines.
His public reaction on social media had gone from where he had some sympathy to one where even his friends and family were tired about hearing about it, and he’d lost some followers of his work.
He had by far done more than required to protect his copyright, and had spent a couple of thousand dollars with his attorney in cease and desist letters.
And most of all, he hadn’t provably lost a dime.

I sense a number of you out there tensing up on my last statement. My argument is this. Having been in, around, and worked in technology for over thirty years, and raised in small business, theft is a cost of doing business. I’m not saying it’s right, but locks only keep out the honest and the lazy.

Having gone on this long rant has taken away sympathy for the problem, and makes you sound whiny and bitter. That doesn’t do much to keep customers and readers, much less attract new ones.
And knowing enough people that regularly torrent movies, music and books, I have a few observations:
A large percentage of material ripped from the Internet through file sharing is never seen, heard or read.
Of those who do consume the material, the ones who enjoy what they find usually also buy the movie or the book, or at least subsequent work.
Those who aren’t going to pay for it, never were anyway, and can always find something other than your stuff to rip.
Print media is not immune. Technology today makes it easier and faster than ever to scan and publish printed work.

Again, I’m not endorsing or condoning it, I’m just being a realist. And it may be a shock to you that it may not entirely be a bad thing when this happens to you. Just think, someone thought enough of your material to put it out there in the first place.

Now that we are all aware that some people in this world do not always act legally and ethically, here are some ways to take advantage of the systems and processes that allow for pirating of work.

Make sure all of your work includes links to your website, social media accounts, mailing list, podcasts, and anything else you can market.
Solicit reviews in your work. If they are going to steal it, at the minimum they can leave  you a review.
Use torrenting and other sites to circulate short stories and other mediums to attract followers and drive traffic to you.
Use the same sites to circulate promotional materials and solicit speaking engagements. Use it for free advertising.
Use them to circulate short videos and podcasts publicizing your work.
Circulate samples of work. I may, one time, have released a copy of a book where it cut off in a pivotal scene, and then had links where you could buy the full copy.

At the end of it all, you do have to protect your rights, and your property. In this case it’s your work, and your art.  At the same time, you can’t expend so much energy in the process, that you do nothing else. Creators must create. South Park may have given one of the best examples in the episode, “Christian Rock Hard.” One side was rampantly successful in spite of itself, and the other side refused to create in fear of theft and streaming.
But the good news is, if you don’t produce anything, there’s nothing to lose. And no way to gain either.
Arrgghhh, me maties.

Call me to swap blog posts

Yeah, there’s a point to this one. You just have to get past the rant.

For anyone that knows me, has met me, or simply asked directions, I’m willing to talk about pretty much anything and everything. I’ve been told upon occasion, I can even be entertaining, or at least a warning to young children about what happens if they grow up to be like me.

(Do your homework kids.)

At one point, I was in the media, and I have occasionally still contributed to a variety of publications, mostly on technology, project management, or professional development. Other times, I’ll do a little something about writing and fiction.

If you want my opinion on Cthulhu for President, I’ll probably have one. And be more than willing to share it. (For the moment, I’m waiting to see what an elder god’s opinion is on concealed carry and NC HB2.)

In short, if someone wants a blog post, article or interview, I’m pretty good about doing them as long as I see your e-mail. And you can put up with a smart ass.

Names from here on out have been changed to protect the guilty, but I’ve had a couple of people hit me up recently for contributions, but with a twist. They want me to pay them for the privilege of being interviewed.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no issue charging for services, and if everyone agrees, it’s like anything else. I’ve spent most of my career consulting. I understand charging by the hour, and both charging any paying for services.

The first person tried to explain how they charged to help defray their website costs. That makes sense, except they also ran a lot of advertising and affiliate programs. Again, I don’t have a problem with that, but I politely declined based on the numbers. If they have the volume they proclaim, then the “nominal fee” shouldn’t be a factor in running the site. If, based on what I saw, they need my nominal fee for operating costs, they don’t have enough volume to be of any benefit.

And oh yeah, don’t ask me to write a professional piece based on my own developed materials for you to run on your site, and then give me a contract taking ownership of my IP.

And the second case, I had someone talk to me, they enjoyed some work I’d done, etc., and came to me for a blog post. Nothing big. Happy to do it.

The response was “Great, when can you deliver it.” And attached to the questionnaire was an invoice for $100 for marketing services, and a rate sheet for other services.

Uh huh.

Needless to say, I again almost politely declined. Polite mostly because it was in writing.

Again, I have no problems charging for services. I do it myself. If I am working with someone, depending on what it is, if you want a significant amount of my time and expertise, yeah, I’m going to charge you. It may be a beer, or real hourly rates, depending on how much I like you. But I’m up front about it.

Back door sales stuff pisses me off. Almost as much as the guy that sat in the driveway last week honking his horn for me to come out for him to do a sales pitch. Yeah, it was too much work to get out of his truck until I put the conference call I was in the middle of on hold to find out what jackass was setting off the dogs.

He didn’t get the business either.

Among the creative community, we have all been asked to do something for the “exposure.” I’ve even swapped it off. And yeah, I’ve done free work as a contribution. And I’ll do it in the future.

Out of choice.

So why am I writing this little rant?

Whether you’re a writer, an artist, a musician, a magician doing kids parties, YOUR TIME AND SKILLS ARE VALUABLE. Spend them wisely. Time is not an infinite resource. Make educated decisions. Treat your endeavors like a business.

Even if you’re only engaged in your creative work part time and aren’t making a living at it, YOUR TIME AND SKILLS ARE VALUABLE. And so are the time and skills of everyone else.

I have a lot of fun doing posts, and contributing to other people’s sites. I’m always happy to boost the message for people who are getting work out the door. My door is always open for someone who wants or needs help, even if it’s just an encouraging word or feedback.

And I’m willing to pay for valuable services when I need to, because I know time and skills are valuable. But if you’re asking a creative type for time or money in a way that benefits you, ask yourself how it benefits them too. That couple of hours it may take someone two write some copy for you, the Photoshop and graphics work for your event, whatever it is you need and are asking for. Remember, that’s time the other person isn’t spending working on their own stuff, or binging on Netflix. Be thankful and respectful of what others do, and remember.

Exposure isn’t remuneration. I’m not saying don’t do free work. Just think about it like loaning $20 to a friend. Don’t plan on getting it back, but if it pays off, it’s a bonus. Do it because you want to. Not because of guilt, or some nebulous perceived payoff.

And yeah, I’d love to swap blog posts.

#HB2 #WeAreNotThis

HB2, Laws of unintended consequences, and rearranging the deck chairs on the NC Titanic

Last night, half paying attention, I was surfing ye olde book of faces and an article popped up North Carolina Governor Sets Up Hotline To Report Anyone Not Using Correct Bathroom. I live in Charlotte, and I have friends on both sides of the argument, and being the jackass I am, I reposted it with a generic comment.

Within a few minutes, I had a friend respond “Fake News Site,” to which to me, was mostly irrelevant. And that point was proven over the next couple of hours after I agreed, and even commented on a couple of times in the thread. It was the overall ire and rant the post triggered. What was most interesting to me was how believable it is that we have devolved to this point in our society.

For anyone not paying attention to NC and US politics, HB2 was a bill passed, that in my view, is a poster child for the marriage of ‘The Law of Unintended Consequences’ and ‘Knee Jerk Reaction,’ being babysat by ‘Small Minded Well-Sheltered Ostriches.’ And they all have their heads up their ass.

First, let me state, I believe the law was ridiculous in principle, much less in execution. Its stated purpose was trying to fix a non-existent problem that was already covered by existing laws, even if it were an issue. In my opinion, this is a giant publicity stunt gone wrong in an election season, and has the potential to become the biggest States Rights case in decades. Why you ask?

It totally blew past long standing Federal Laws, and we are already seeing blowback on the people who are the most likely demographic to have thought it was a good idea. For example, the age discrimination suits that now have to go to Federal Court: http://www.wsoctv.com/news/local/man-files-federal-lawsuit-over-age-discrimination/209361628 and http://wncn.com/2016/04/01/nc-woman-suing-for-age-discrimination-gets-caught-up-in-hb2-bill-fallout/ for example.

Before we go any further, let me state I am a firm believer in States Rights, and in many ways the Federal Government has overreached its authority. This being said, my view is the power of the states exists to protect and guarantee our freedoms as people, not exert more oppression. And have no doubt, this bill is oppression of all people in this state, and will be for the others who are considering or who have passed similar legislation.

My personal beliefs go to the point where I don’t necessarily have to like or agree with your personal views, but as long as you are not forcing them on others, or harming others through your actions, I will defend your right to believe them to the end. I don’t want to live in a homogeneous society of drones, ala a Stepford community or even worse, Demolition Man.

No way am I doing Taco Bell every day.

At times in my career, I’ve been in traditional media, alt media, politics, small business, and the largest corporations on the planet. With the exception of small business, and sometimes even this, they all rely on the same motivator. Fear.

If you’re afraid of everything and everyone around you, you are easier to control. Almost all of the news is bad. Fear porn.

Politics used to be about motivating you to vote for someone or something. Look at the current election cycle. All of the discussion is about finding the least of the evils, and getting you to vote to stop someone else from getting into office.

Businesses rely on fear to sell you goods and services. Fear your neighbor will have something you don’t. Fear you might miss out on the next big thing. Fear that if you don’t have their service, you’ll be a victim. Don’t go in the bathroom without a baseball bat and a genitalia cop.

Guess what. This law doesn’t mean any more to a predator than ANY OTHER LAW. It’s a piece of legislation to make self-righteous people feel better about themselves and a little more false sense of security, it gives the media a firestorm to latch onto, and it lets us do it on the backs of people who are having more than enough challenges in their lives (just like the rest of us) without trying to figure out where to take a whizz without it becoming a potential life and death situation.

No, we don’t live in a perfect world. The more we fear, the further we’re driven into out caves, starring from the darkness hoping we get passed by when the angel of layoffs comes to town, or someone wants to sell us the latest upgrade of smartphone or else we might miss out on something. Guess what, in the process, you’re missing out on a lot.

I have a very simple answer to it all. Be true to yourself. Respect others, especially the ones you don’t agree with. There’s a very famous, and simple rule… Do unto others… as you wish to have done to you.

If we all lived by this one, life would be a hell of a lot nicer. Stop throwing stones in your glass houses, and throw them at the people causing the real problems.

Just because it’s Halloween, doesn’t mean you can be a troll

I’ve seen an extraordinary number of stories, reviews, articles, Facebook posts, and even a few talks with friends recently that all center around one thing. I’m not talking about constructive criticism or critical evaluation. I mean people being nasty, negative, and non-constructively critical, i.e., TROLLS.  And more importantly, people responding to them.

As I read this article ‘Am I being catfished?’ An author confronts her number one online critic I felt a mix of what might pass as emotions. Its easy to see all of the ownership that goes into any creative effort. In this case, an author producing her first work. And is often the case, she got a bad review. Unfortunately, she became obsessed with it. Despite warnings about engaging, she did.

I get it. When someone likes and appreciate your work, you want to thank them. Maybe even engage with them as positive reinforcement and encouragement. And by human nature, when someone is negative, you want to find out why, and possibly even try to change their mind. In this case, her pursuit revealed a lot of disturbing potentials, including revealing people using something other than their own identity. Well, it’s the internet. I could as easily by a hyper intelligent trained alien marmoset. My wife will just tell you I’m a smart ass. Some days, it’s just an ass, but I digress. And only possibly from another planet.

But when I read this, here is what I saw more of. A great draining waste of time, energy and resources that could have been spent improving her skills, creating more work, or even simply enjoying life. I wondered what this personal trial meant for her, her career, and life.

Another one, this time a restaurant review where someone threw a tantrum because the establishment stuck to their business practices, was short, and to the point. The response was well crafted, and undoubtedly drawing a lot of good attention, but there will always be someone who will take the side of the customer. But at least it was a quick and direct response. The review system is a system that can be gamed.

So why am I going off on this? Some other personal family and friends have been victims of various levels of trolldom. So here is my message for anyone stressing over it. And I’m trying to keep this fairly clean. Take feedback for what it’s worth. Haters can F*** Off.

When I pushed out my first self pub story, it had been through numerous self reviews and an external editor. Since then, its had a couple more external edits and reviews. And every time I flip back to it for something, I find something else. The good news with ebooks, I fix em when I find em. And if you have refresh turned on for kindle, you’ll get the updates. The first version version let a couple of things slip through that would have sent my English teacher mother into apoplexy. But, its getting cleaner.  And for the most part, reviews have been fair. And I’m happy that most of my readers have forgiven a few sins in favor of enjoying the story.

I’ve gotten a few messages baiting contention. I deal with enough of that in the rest of my working life. I ignored them. On the other side, I’ve gotten more encouraging messages, and even questions about where my work is going. Those I’ll respond to.

I write because I enjoy it. It’s cathartic. I’ve written for most of my life, mostly to get stuff out of my head, and it lets me work through other events in my personal and professional life. I write for me. The fact that others are enjoying it is a bonus. And the idea that there are some haters out there? I have no expectation that everyone will love, or even like my work. No creative person should. Creativity is a drive to produce something of yourself. Most creative people are unwilling or unable to expose that part of themselves to the world at large. It is the few of that crowd that are willing to risk or tolerate the criticism that inevitably comes with opening yourself to the public, whether on an individual basis or in the greater electronic world.

I wrote this to give a little encouragement for everyone who is trying to bring life to their creative pursuits, whether personally, or because you are trying to make it part of your creative life. Take positive and negative commentary for what it is. Feedback. Use it to improve your skills, but don’t lose who you are, or your style. Be true to yourself.

And a message to any of you out there whose only creative outlet is being destructive to others. Make your criticism’s constructive. If you are going to take the time and effort to be critical of the work of others, do it with the nature of informing the creator, and their consumers. People are smart enough to recognize haters. And trolls.

And in the worst case, writers can kill you off in really embarrassing, creative ways. Or even worse, keep you alive.

An addendum from one of my favorites, Harlan Ellison.