This week’s update on everything I am writing.
Category Archives: Uncategorized
Writing Vlog – 02-22-2023
This week’s vlog update is very brief. I feel the creativity sparking through me right now and I’ve done a lot in the last seven days. Gonna try and do just as much over the next seven.
Writing Vlog – 02-15-2023
Lots of opportunities for short stories of late! I’m working on them as fast as I can. More in this week’s writing vlog:
Writing Vlog – 02-08-2023
A few updates, few details available now but projects are starting to unfold.
A Double Edged Story
The power of story to uplift often necessitates we first confront the darkest parts of the world, whether the real world we live in or a world that only exists in fiction. Depicting the darkness of the world is very difficult. It’s difficult for a number of reasons. You have to learn about the darkness, which is decidedly unpleasant, you have to depict the darkness without running off your audience and you have to expose the darkness without reveling in it. Beyond that there’s one final problem.
There may be nothing to learn from passing through the darkness.
Last year I was told that if I really wanted to understand scifi fandom in general and the Science Fiction Writer’s of America specifically then I needed to read a book called The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon by Moira Greyland. I had never been that interested in the SFWA and fandom has always struck me as a tad… obsessive. But I do enjoy scifi and I was given to understand Greyland had unique insights into what made some of the biggest scifi writers of the last generation tick. So I decided to check out the book by reading Amazon’s free sample.
Let me start at the end: I can’t recommend this book to anyone outside a very select group of people. Greyland has survived some of the darkest things I have ever heard. Her survival in and of itself would be a superhuman feat, the fact that she lives a wholesome life, creates beautiful music and has forgiven those who tormented her is truly, genuinely inspiring, a testament to the grace of God to redeem even the worst of circumstances. Many who have endured similar things say reading her book has helped them.
I believe this to be true, because I am in no place to contradict it. In fact, that testimony meshes well with what I’ve observed of human nature myself.
That said, I don’t know as The Last Closet has anything to offer anyone else who reads it. Those are my thoughts on the book broadly speaking and, before I delve into my reasoning deeper, let me give you a chance to jump off this ride here, dear reader. Greyland’s story is disturbing even removed by several layers of discussion. If you don’t wish to delve into very disturbing topics, now is the time to get off this ride.
Moira Greyland was the daughter of Martin Breen and Marion Zimmer Bradley. Breen was an early participant in scifi fandom, contributing to many fan magazines and appearing at many scifi conventions in the early years of these events, long before TV shows like Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica put the genre out for the general public. Bradley was an award winning fantasy writer – fantasy and science fiction have long been related genres and there was less of a barrier between them in the past – who published dozens of novels including The Mists of Avalon, which is her most famous work.
Breen was also a convicted child molester. His wife was aware of and covered up for his crimes, facts she testified to during Breen’s trial. If Greyland’s testimony is to be believed – and I see no reason it shouldn’t be – Bradley was also a child molester. Neither parent spared their own children their predations. The Last Closet is a complete accounting of their crimes, as far as Greyland can recall them and supported, as much as possible, from the public record.
To the extent I can praise the book, I find Greyland’s work in sourcing letters, articles and court transcripts to supplement her own narrative quite impressive. It speaks to her strong desire to be as fair as possible. I am also staggered by what reads as real, genuine pity and compassion that the author has for her subjects. Martin Breen and Marion Zimmer Bradley both suffered terrible childhoods and, as is so often the case, were themselves victims of the horrors they visited on others. These events doubtless warped their outlooks and poisoned their attitudes.
The prose of the book is very readable. In fact it feels very much like blog writing, a very folksy, easy to read kind of writing that blunts some of the force of the things it describes. Greyland does run a blog and her experience with this kind of accessible prose shows. She intermixes the factual narrative with pieces of poetry she has written over the years to help her process her trauma. These pieces are, frankly, terrifying. As someone who has never come close to the level of trauma Greyland has experienced, reading those verses felt a bit like walking over cracked ice, wondering if I was about to slip through into the trauma beneath.
As I said before, Greyland survived her childhood. Amazingly she even managed to live out her own dreams – she got married, had children and is a professional harpist with several albums of music available. She has forgiven her parents. Yet I cannot recommend anyone, outside her fellow abuse survivors, deliberately read her book.
Listen. The world is often a horrible, depraved place. Although it is rarer than it should be, people do survive the depravity of the world and bear witness to the goodness of God and the potential we all have to survive the worst circumstances. I have never doubted any of these things.
I wish that I could say Greyland’s story shocked me. Whether it is because I am cynical, jaded or just too aware of what my own sinful nature could do if unchecked, I have to say it did not. I always knew these things were happening somewhere. What it did do was sadden me and enrage me. Having read The Last Closet I now know a whole series of things about scifi conventions and the people who run them that only serves to stoke empty anger and grief. There is some consolation in knowing the victim has overcome these things.
However, I was not a victim of Greyland’s suffering. I have no one to forgive and only one lesson to take away from the story: Some things are beyond my control.
So I cannot recommend this book to most people. I wouldn’t even suggest reading the free sample – the story has that captivating quality of many horror stories that makes it difficult to look away once you’ve begun. It will leave you with very little deeper understanding of human nature, unless you are one of those who believes we are fundamentally good, and will leave a great deal of emotional baggage you’ve picked up quite vicariously. I’m almost certain that’s an unhealthy trade.
All that said, I also cannot suggest you avoid this book. In her introduction, Greyland states that she thinks one of the biggest benefits of her book is that it overcomes denial. It helped her make peace with what happened to her in part through her admitting it had happened. In the detailed recounting she stripped off some of the varnish she’d put over the ugliest memories. Abuse survivors also found it helped them admit the truth of their experiences.
One reason Breen and Bradley got away with their predatory behavior for so long was that so many people were in denial about it. I do not believe in widespread conspiracies to silence victims. I do believe that widespread abuse can be met with equally widespread denial that makes dealing with the abuse impossible. It is possible that The Last Closet can become a sword that helps people clear away denial that stands in their way. It may be that some will need to read it to convince themselves.
And some people will have to read it just so they know that the resource exists and how it can best be used.
So in the end, I find myself in a very strange situation. I can’t really recommend Greyland’s book but I also can’t say you won’t find a use for it if you do read it. So, for perhaps the second or third time in my years of blogging, I must simply place these facts about the book before you, dear reader, and leave them for you to make up your own mind.
Writing Vlog – 01/25/2023
A short examination of outlines, folk songs and found documents.
Story has the power to inspire, to enlighten and to persist in our minds far longer than simple learning. For these reasons many ancient cultures considered storytelling to verge on magic. Storytelling has kept all of that power through the ages and, even now, it endures as one of the most fundamental pillars that make humanity truly human. At it’s most simple, story is what points us to our highest potential and our deepest depravity.
As an author I am generally drawn to the inspiring side of storytelling. However as I have struggled to craft the most inspiring stories I can I have come to appreciate the importance of contrast in that undertaking. While a gross oversimplification, the idea that heroes are defined by their villains is a straightforward example of the utility of contrast in sketching a story or characters. However contrast is not limited to functioning in scenarios about good and evil.
You can contrast people’s goals, people’s actions and people’s reactions. The last is generally not something I think about – one of the hazards of “writer’s brain” is to think about your stories through a single lens. My preferred lenses are actions and goals. The ways different characters react in different ways to the same stimulus is not something I often think about and when I do it is as a matter of world building or as a subset of the character’s goals, rather than as a genuine intent to examine a character’s inner life. This happens in my writing, of course, but it’s rarely intentional.
The best stories need to be incredibly intentional.
I only started to think about reactions intentionally during the writing of my last project, The Gospel According to Earth. During this story I needed to show Lang, a returning protagonist, as he reacted to the death of another character. That brought me to the topic of today’s post – shame. (Yes, we are just now reaching the thesis statement.) You see, I wanted to end Lang’s story on a high note but I worried that I couldn’t get him there without a contrasting low note.
The general approach to creating a low note is failure. Your protagonist fails at something and then has to suffer the consequences and build themselves back up. That’s fine. However, a common error in approaching the building up phase of the story is to show actions that build the character’s situation up but not the introspection that repairs the character’s mind. I am guilty of this failure myself on many occasions, not the least of which was my treatment of Lang in Schrodinger’s Book. I decided to try and rectify it in Gospel by showing how Lang struggled with his new responsibilities after being promoted, as he would naturally feel his failures of responsibility directly led to the loss of his allies in the previous installment.
In writing these things out I was forced to examine how I process shame. It wasn’t a comfortable experience. And I do have a lot of shame to process, after all, I’m a writer with a good education in that field, ten years of work and very little in the way of audience or fiscal success to show for it. That’s just the state of my shameful professional career, before assessing all my personal shame on top of it!
Nor do I always process things in healthy fashion, in fact based on my own introspection I’ve realized I tend to offload my own sense of shame onto other things that are easier to ignore. This gave rise to Lang’s sudden onset thalassophobia. It also resulted in the roundabout boxing that Lang has with Priss on several occasions – it turns out shame is a thing that is hard to recognize in yourself and is probably best dealt with at a certain remove. Dealing realistically with these things is rarely direct.
Confronting shame in fiction is usually handled by trying to lift a person up out of it. I didn’t want to do that because I have found all the attempts to haul me out of my own shame – whether I recognized them or not – offensive. That’s in no small part because, on some level, I recognize my shame as rooted in something real. I’d rather deal with that real problem than have my injured feelings addressed. Hence my decision to have Priss push Lang towards active decisions, taking steps towards concrete, attainable goals rather than focusing on his very real but unchangeable failures.
My hope was to write a story where we could see Lang cementing his character growth and leaning in to growth and meaningful achievement while still acknowledging that he was hurt by the things that happened to him. I’m not sure I entirely succeeded on that front but it was an instructive exercise. My hope is to develop these storytelling techniques in further writings and develop clearer uses of shame as both a motivation and a contrasting low point against potential high points.
Writing shame proved to be a worthwhile endeavor, even if it doesn’t land as hoped and even if I didn’t enjoy the process of putting all this together. Writing isn’t the hardest job on Earth but its uncomfortable hurdles are unique. Turning away from them is a great way to ensure that your writing stagnates and fails to reach its full potential. Don’t be afraid of your shame, or any other unpleasant emotion you may need to explore.
Weekly Writing Vlog – 01-19-2023
I’m writing again, and working on my next major fiction project. Details in this week’s vlog:
Writing Vlog – 01-11-2023
A quick look at what I’m doing right now for the first normal vlog of the year.
Writing Vlog – 01-04-2023
Today’s vlog is all about this year’s goals!