Dec 16, 2015

Watch & Learn - 6 Writing Lessons From Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

It's finally here. Star Wars: The Force Awakens has premiered. It is a new world, a new story. I won't get to see it until the 23rd, so you can rest easy and read this article without fear of spoilers.

We started this special Watch & Learn series with A New Hope, learning about making your world feel real, keeping the reader focused on character emotions, and an introduction to themes and symbols.

Next we looked at The Empire Strikes Back, and saw how to address character development, letting the reader see the villain's strength, and the continuing development of themes.

Today we reach the final chapter of the original trilogy.

The Force is strong in my family...

Class is in session, let's see what we can learn.

Dec 9, 2015

Watch & Learn - 6 Writing Lessons From Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits cinemas next week. I can't remember the last time I was so excited for a movie.

Continuing on from last week's post, today we'll look at The Empire Strikes Back.


Class is in session.


Dec 4, 2015

Watch & Learn - 6 Writing Lessons From Star Wars: A New Hope

We're on to the final countdown now. It's December. In just a couple of weeks, we will finally get to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Ba da-da daa, daa. Ba da da daa-daa. Ba da da daa- daa...
I cannot hope to contain my excitement. We have a diverse cast of new characters. We have the return of on-location shooting and practical effects. We have Han and Chewie, the Millenium Falcon blasting across the screen, Leia as the leader of the Resistance, and everything looks amazing.

So I want to indulge my reborn passion for Star Wars here, and devote the last of this year's Watch & Learn posts entirely to Star Wars. Since I have little to no love for the prequels, we'll be focusing on the original trilogy. And more to the point, I will not be including reference to any of the changes Lucas has made over the years. No young Anakin at the end of Jedi, no extra Jabba scene, no freaking Big No from Vader when he turns on the Emperor. Han didn't just shoot first in this classroom: Han shot, and then Greedo died. End of story.

With that out of the way, let's get stuck into Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.


There is NO WAY Lucas always planned for Leia to be Luke's sister...

Lock your s-foils in attack position, class is in session.


Nov 19, 2015

Watch & Learn: Ghostbusters

Our last lesson contained a lot of information, but not every movie has such a wide range of advice to give, or even needs to spread its advice out over so many topics. Sometimes the better lesson is to nail down a small number of story elements really well, and let them carry the story. When you have a strong core story and characters, the rest will become much easier.

For today's lesson, I'm taking you back to my childhood, and one of the classic movies of all time.

Who ya gonna call?

It's a simple movie, nothing too complex in terms of themes or issues. And it shies away from the grander existential moral quandary of imprisoning departed souls. But people love Ghostbusters. Most fans have a special place in their heart for this movie, and you want your own readers to regard your books in a similar way.

So strap on your proton pack. Class is in session.

Nov 12, 2015

Watch & Learn: Fame (2009)

It's November! That means all across the world there are countless authors hard at work on their NaNoWriMo projects.

To help get everyone into the writing groove, I wanted to post another Watch & Learn. I kicked this series off with the lessons we can take from the latest Star Wars trailer, but this time we're going somewhere a little different.

I'm gonna live forever...

Now, I'm going to come right out and say this. I am not a fan of the original 1980 Fame directed by Alan Parker. I've always felt it was never really able to make up its mind if it was meant to be a musical, a comedy, or a serious drama. It tries to be all three and while the few emotional gut-punching scenes are powerful, I feel the rest of the movie flounders.

While the 2009 remake is a lot less gritty and dark, and still has its flaws, I feel it has a much stronger sense of what it's trying to be, and is far superior in terms of storycraft and character development. We'll be looking at both the movie's strong and weak points today.

So take your places, class is in session. And spoilers ahoy.


Oct 27, 2015

Karen Walker Guest Post



Today I've got a fellow author paying a visit. Karen Walker is one of the first people I connected with when I first set out on my writing and blogging journey, so it's a thrill to have her here to talk about her new novel, The Wishing Steps.

-----------------------------------------------

Thank you, Paul, for hosting me today. 

2009 was a major turning point in my life. My memoir, which took ten years to bring to fruition, was published in February. My husband and I had a dream trip planned to go to Machu Picchu (high on my bucket list). Then I had to have shoulder surgery and we couldn’t go. We had a limited amount of time in which to use the airline tickets. The only places we could find to travel during the timeframe were Scotland and Ireland.

Terrified to tackle the narrow, winding roads on our own, and fearful we wouldn’t find any of the sites we were interested in seeing, we hired drivers. Our trip began in Edinburgh, Scotland. On the second day, as soon as I stood amidst the ruins of Balnauran of Clava, a 2,000-year-old burial site, I heard an unfamiliar inner voice say, “Tell my story.” Having never heard voices before, I was taken aback and wasn’t sure I heard what I thought I heard. So I said, “Sorry, I’m on vacation.”

The voice came again a week later when I was exploring the Wishing Steps at Blarney Castle in Ireland. This time, the energy I felt was stronger and harder to ignore. We finished our trip and when I came home I thought that was the end of the mysterious voice. But it wasn’t. As I said, I’d never heard voices before so when this voice/energy continued to plague, er, speak to me, I knew I needed to listen.
The writing coach and editor I’d used for my memoir (Mark David Gerson, www.markdavidgerson.com) wrote a book called “Voice of the Muse.” I decided to do the exercises in the book and work with him in private sessions as well. I might write a companion piece to The Wishing Steps detailing the journey from hearing that voice for the first time to finishing the book. But what I can say here briefly is that it became a deeply profound and moving spiritual journey to tune into this voice of wisdom, which I call Goddess, and listen to its guidance. What the book became is my imagining what it might have been like when Goddess came to the very first woman back in prehistoric times. The story took off from there.
Here’s the scoop on The Wishing Steps.

Three Women and a Single Story That Unites Them Across the Millennia
"Totally engrossing. A must-read for today’s wise woman!” Rev. Kathleen McKern Verigin, minister/priestess
Brighid, Ashleen and Megan: Bound through time by a curious light, a mysterious voice and a call they dare not ignore. Yet in obeying this strange force, the women must face soul-searing trials that call into question everything they know and believe — about themselves and about the world around them.
“Guaranteed to inspire you to a deeper level of spirituality and a new appreciation for Goddess.” Rev. Clara Z. Alexander
Karen Helene Walker is a widely published essayist and author of the 2009 memoir, Following the Whispers. When she isn’t writing, you will often find Karen performing in nursing homes and retirement communities as part of the Sugartime or Sophisticated Ladies musical groups, traveling with her husband of 20 years, Gary, or relaxing with a good book at their home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Visit the author’s website at www.karenhelenewalker.com

The Wishing Steps is available for purchase now at: Amazon.com (both print and ebook), Kobo, Barnes and Noble and iTunes.

Oct 22, 2015

Watch & Learn: The Star Wars Trailer

A little while ago I mentioned wanting to do a new series of posts extracting writing lessons from movies. Well, here we go. And I thought we'd ease into things with something short and easy to watch. Our first subject is the final trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Let's watch it again:


Confession time: I adore film trailers. When they're done properly, they can be works of art in their own right. And the trailer for The Force Awakens is one of the best I've ever seen. I'd go so far as to say it's a perfect example of how to make a film trailer.

But we're not here to look at how to make a trailer; we're here to learn how to improve our writing, taking lessons from one. So sit back, class is in session.

There are three lessons we can take from the trailer:


  1. How to evoke feeling without spelling things out.
  2. How to make something old feel fresh and new.
  3. Showing respect for your readers.
Lesson 1: Evoke feeling

The one thing everyone's saying about this trailer is how emotional it makes them feel. And I get it. From 01:22 when the Force Theme comes in (one of my favourite pieces of music of all time), I get tears in my eyes. On repeat viewings, we can see more points where we're drawn to care for these characters.

Early in the trailer, we see Rey, the scavenger who declares she is "no one." Her portrayal echoes Luke Skywalker's desperate wish to leave his home and make something of his life. Something every one of us can relate to. The sense of being a forgettable nobody is a universal fear. So immediately, the trailer connects with a deep, primal feeling, particularly in young children. 

Next up is Finn, the turncoat Stormtrooper. "I have nothing to fight for" he says. A lost sense of purpose is a common problem faced as we grow older, especially during our teenage years and early twenties. So here's an emotional hook for a slightly older audience. 

Of course, no story is complete without its villains, and so we are next shown the First Order forces. Kylo Ren gives a threatening promise of finishing what Darth Vader started, and we see that the First Order looks every bit as well-equipped and well-organised as the Empire. With the way the trailer is structured, despite not being told anything specific about the plot, we get the distinct impression that the Resistance forces are in trouble. 

Let's take a step back from the trailer itself and consider the naming conventions. The villains are the First Order, a name that evokes strength and authority, but is also deeply sinister, suggestive of ingrained propaganda and tyranny. Finn's words, that he was "raised for one thing" support this.

Meanwhile, the heroes fight for the Resistance. The idea of a resistance suggests a very weak force, compared to their opponents. Even the Rebel Alliance of the original trilogy had a more structured-sounding name. An alliance means command hierarchy, even political leaders. But a resistance is a rag-tag group who have banded together to fight back. The last hope against a superior, despotic government.

I'll finish up this section with Han's lines.

"It's true. All of it. The Dark Side. The Jedi. They're real."

This is the final part of the age progression. Remember that there are multiple generations who'll be seeing this movie. The very young, experiencing it for the first time. The ones Rey is there to reach. Then there are the teens and younger adults, who may have had their first Star Wars experience by seeing The Phantom Menace. The ones Finn is there for, who might be a little bit doubtful as to what they should expect. 

Han is the oldest. And he is there to connect with the older viewers. The ones who grew up on Star Wars, the ones who may have even seen the original trilogy in theatres. When he responds to Rey, he's literally telling old and new audiences "This story is here, and it's for you." It's reassurance for those who might still have doubts that the Star Wars movie franchise can come back from the disappointing prequel trilogy. More to the point, his words also hint that the Jedi have become even more of a myth, that the guardians of peace and justice have not been restored, and that now is the time for them to return.

Lesson 2: Bring old and new together

I've often said that pursuing true originality in fiction is a bad move. Strive to write the best story you can, and don't worry so much about whether or not it's been done before. Few places can show this like Star Wars. A 40 year-old franchise with countless stories across all forms of media, there is pretty much no way to be sure of telling a Star Wars story that doesn't resemble an older one. 

So how to make the story feel new and fresh, while still paying respect to what's gone before? Well, look at the trailer again. We first get Rey, a new character, then we see Stormtroopers, a familiar sight. This leads to Finn, another new character, and a hurtling TIE Fighter which mirrors the escape pod sequence from A New Hope that brought Artoo and Threepio to Tatooine. Subtle suggestions remind us that we're in an established world with a long legacy, but never let us forget that this is a new story about new characters. 

Look at how Han Solo and the Millenium Falcon are used. Han is the primary original trilogy character used throughout the trailers. He doesn't dominate, he supports. His presence reinforces the new elements. We see the new characters on board the Falcon, ready to set off on their adventure. But unlike the prequel trilogies, what we see is not dominated by callbacks to the older movies. This is Passing the Torch 101. Old and new coming together.

In a sense, we've seen this all before. Stormtroopers, lightsabers, heroes scrambling to repel an attack while TIE Fighters fill the air. It all harkens to the original trilogy, the desert planet, the ice planet, the forest planet, but in a way that acknowledges the relevance of the past stories but stands on its own, rather than trying to coast along, hoping the reminders of the original trilogy will be enough to carry the audience through.

Also worth noting is the title of the movie. This isn't Episode VII: The Force Awakens. It's The Force Awakens. The previous trilogies are done, they're over. This is not something trying to shove its way into that saga. This is a new saga, one that anyone can enjoy. There are things which are familiar, and all new characters and events to discover.

Lesson 3: Respect your audience

Han's lines are important in more ways than one. On the surface, he's establishing a major aspect of the setting. The ongoing absence of the Jedi and the passing of his adventures into myth. But on another level, he's giving a very important message to us, the audience. 

Everyone's made fun of George Lucas for how he changes things, seemingly on a whim. He's been accused of having no respect for fans of the franchise time and again. From the racist stereotypes to Greedo shooting first, the "Nooooo!" scene, Anakin's virgin birth and 'midichlorians,' it's safe to say nothing was sacred back when the prequels were being made. If Lucas wanted to change something to make more money, he did it.

But that isn't happening here.

It would mean nothing if JJ Abrams came along and said "I promise you guys I'm going to do a good job!" If anything, it would come off as desperate, and a sure sign that the movie was going to be poorly-received.

No, here, Han Solo himself tells us that the stories are true. Star Wars. Our stories, the ones we've grown up watching and loving, are all true. We're being assured that the people behind this movie care about those stories as much as we, the audience, do. They matter. 

"They're real."

Class dismissed.

Oct 20, 2015

Star Wars and Racism

First, let's all sit back and watch this:


...

Okay wow. Right there at 01:22, when the Force Theme surges in, has me in tears. And that shot of the Millenium Falcon blasting through hyperspace? Holy crap this looks like everything I've ever hoped it could be.

With that out of the way, the new trailer comes hot on the heels of the latest anti-diversity outcry.

There is a hashtag doing the rounds, #BoycottStarWarsVII. And it's about accusing Star Wars of promoting white genocide.

I can't even muster up the will to try and play nice on this stuff anymore. Having a lead cast of character who include a white woman, a black man, and an hispanic man is not the same as promoting genocide, it's realising that there are more people, more characters, out there than white guys. Star Wars has been made fun of in the past for how few women and black people there are, and now we have two non-white characters taking center stage in a movie and that's supposed to be worthy of a boycott?

Guess what? Like the people who complained about Star Wars: Aftermath pushing an SJW agenda for having gay characters, anyone who thinks there's a problem with non-white characters in Star Wars is one of the bad guys. I know, we're not supposed to see the world in simple Good vs Evil terms, but damn, these people are making it hard not to. The Empire is evil, we all accept this. It is also famously racist. Species are kept as slaves, and non-humans struggle to achieve any success or acceptance in the Imperial government and military. Racism is explicitly a part of what makes the Empire the bad guys.

The Rebels, on the other hand, bring together species from various worlds, uniting despite their differences.

Can the irony of this argument really be so lost on people? How can they claim to love a franchise where they exemplify the traits of the villains?

Well, whatever. Let them stamp their feet and shout from the rooftops. Let them shun everything that tells them anything other than that they are the center of the universe. More room in the cinema for the rest of us.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to watch the trailer again...


Oct 14, 2015

What makes feminism hard to accept?

It's on my mind lately. Feminism is the belief that men and women should be treated equally in the eyes of the law and society, with no special favour or discrimination based on gender. It has further development in LGBTQ feminism and racial feminism, as LGBTQ women and women of colour have their own challenges they face that other women don't. But at its core, feminism is still based on the idea that a woman should not be treated differently than a man simply because of her gender. It seems simple enough, but any time I post something about it, or see someone else talk about it, you could almost set your watch by the time it takes a man to object.

Why is that?

I'm opening this up for discussion. Let's get it out in the open. Now, as a primer for this, I want to address two things:


  1. Feminism is about hating men - False. While there are people who hate men, we're going to stick with the dictionary definition of feminism here, as it is what the overwhelming majority of people who claim the feminist title want (and besides, it's not comparable to misogyny, since women who hate men tend to avoid them or at worst hurt their feelings, while men who hate women do much worse...)
  2. What about Men's Rights? - Yes, men have rights, and a range of problems, such as male victims of domestic abuse not being taken seriously, higher chance of suicide. Being told that catcalling is inappropriate is not a men's rights issue.
With those out of the way, I'll open this one up to the floor. 

Oct 13, 2015

A big thank you

To everyone who helped make Octocon 2015 such an amazing experience!

This was my first time attending Octocon as a guest, and I enjoyed every moment. Every panel was compelling, and every panelist I shared the table with brought great insight to the topics at hand. I'm working on a post-con report for Writing.ie, due for next week, so I'll save a lot of the nitty gritty for that. Suffice to say for now that if Octocon ever want me to be a guest again, I'd be happy to do it.

I was on 7 panels over the weekend, and I've found that the busy schedule definitely suits me. I felt utterly energised every day and was genuinely sorry when my last panel ended. My only regrets of the weekend are the number of great panels I wanted to sit in on that clashed with other commitments, and not having more time to chat with old and new friends.

I can't stress enough how wonderful events like this are for any author. You'll never get the same opportunity to mingle and exchange ideas with your peers and your readers all at once anywhere else.

Here's a run-down of some highlights:


  • The staff and other attendees being so accepting of Jen and I having the girls with us, and helpful in keeping them entertained.
  • Selling a bunch of books to attendees. There's nothing like seeing a stack of books shrink to boost your morale.
  • People I didn't know coming up to me and asking me to sign books. One had even brought his copy of Lady Raven with him for me to sign. There were only copies of The Memory Wars available to buy at the trade stand, so this was a wonderful surprise.
  • Discovering that JRR Tolkien believed Ireland to be fundamentally evil. Nice chap...
  • Sharing panels with some of my favourite people in the Irish SFF scene, and finding more awesome people to add to that list.
  • Having the whole panel on Practical Magic disagree with my opening point, which led to some great discussion on the nature and history of magic, and the problematic side of decreeing one kind of magic is "light" and another is "dark."


And as a final note, thank you to Gar Kavanagh, who has now stepped down as Octocon chair. It was him who first suggested I volunteer to join panels for Octocon 2012. It was one of the best decisions I've made in my career and I'll always be grateful to him for that. He's done sterling work as chair for the last several years.

I can't believe I have to wait a whole year for the next one. I need to go to more cons...

Oct 5, 2015

Went the distance, now I'm back on my feet



Yeah, I've totally dropped the ball on my blogging, huh? I'm sorry, guys. I'm going to work at it, I promise. I have some fun ideas for topics, too.

Last month I talked about making a fresh start, and how I needed to increase my Lady Raven sales before I could make plans for the third book in the series. Well, that's still very much the case, but things have been getting better for us overall and I'm hopeful we'll see some movement there in the new year.

Keeping with the positive changes, I've started work on a new book, going back to urban fantasy with an all-new series set in my beloved New York. When you've just come through a rough patch and want to get things moving again, why not work with what you know best? I'll have some more details about that as I write, but suffice it to say it's about fears and dreams and transforming one's hardships into power.

I'm heading to Octocon this weekend, both as a guest and as a writer for Writing.ie. I'll be doing a report on the event afterwards, so if anyone wants to share their thoughts, come and find me. You can find my panel timetable here.

What else is there? Oh yes, I mentioned new blog topic ideas. I used to write analyses of movies where I broke them down into the Hero's Journey, and while I really enjoyed them, there's a limited about you can do laying a single literary device over different stories. So I'm going to go further with that, and start a series of articles where I explain the writing lessons we can learn from movies. Movies, particularly ones aimed at younger audiences, need to be easily accessible and keep the audience engaged. They are a wonderful source of inspiration and examples of storytelling techniques. I'm aiming to get my first one up next week. I just need to come up with a name for them. I'm thinking "Writing Lessons From..." or "Let's Watch and Learn..." Any preferences?

And since one of my panels at Octocon is specifically about magic and how the interpretation of it intersects across fiction, games, and pagan beliefs, I figure the time is right to be a little more open about my spirituality. I won't be preaching, don't worry (I hate being preached at, myself), and any such article will be clearly marked so if anyone has no interest in spirituality, or finds it uncomfortable to discuss, can avoid them.

I guess what I'm saying is, I'm back. I'm back writing. Back blogging. Back in the world. Back being happy.

Let's do this.

Sep 15, 2015

The Pressures of Fandom

Following my last blog post, about where I'm at in my career, and the delays to Blackened Wings, I'm pleased to say I'm actually feeling a lot better. I've got Octocon next month, a school visit lined up for November, and I'm working on plans for a new novel.

I've also been thinking a lot about pressure. Not the kind of pressure we put on ourselves, but rather the pressure that comes from others, particularly in SFF fandom. You see, SFF fans are nothing if not passionate. That passion can be a wonderful thing, when channeled positively. However, it can also lead to things like Gamergate and the Sad/Rabid Puppies.

But you also get something that falls in between. Circumstances where there's no ulterior motive at work, just a bunch of fans who think they're right and, en masse, insist that something has to be done a certain way.

What do I mean? Well, there are two main issues. The demands fans put on other fans, and the demands fans put on writers.

I got to thinking about this a few months ago, after reading this article on the pressure to read sci-fi novels by particular (usually male) authors. And it's all true. I've lost count of the times I've had someone tell me I "have to" read such and such an author's work. It's all well-meant, not judgemental or anything, but wow, it really is a stark look at how certain authors become etched in the community mindset as THE authors. Martin, Rothfuss, Heinlein, etc. Their fans can't understand why someone hasn't read their work, or may not even want to. I don't believe you need to have read a particular author to know whether you might not enjoy their books. I have particular issues with sexual violence and the reduction of women to mere spoils, so I know I should probably avoid A Song of Fire and Ice, for example.

Then there's the pressure fans put on authors. Not just on the authors they love (Neil Gaiman's famous "George RR Martin is not your bitch" remark springs to mind), but on the settings and properties they love, too.

Chuck Wendig's Star Wars novel, Aftermath, hit the shelves earlier this month, and the reaction has been quite mixed. Despite it entering the New York Times bestseller list at #4, it's garnered an astonishing number of 1 and 2 star reviews. The primary criticisms are being levied at Chuck's writing style, which is Third-Person Present Tense, the lack of the big heroes from the Star Wars series, and the inclusion of a gay main character.

What this amounts to, in my opinion, is people saying "This is not what I think Star Wars should be like." And insisting that their opinion must be the only correct one. I've seen people accuse Chuck's writing of being unreadable. Or that he's pushing an SJW agenda. Or people who "have no problem with gay people" but who don't want to see "real issues" like homosexuality in their fiction.

Excuse me while I clear up all this bovine excrement which seems to have collected after that last one.

Ahem, anyway, getting back to the topic. I understand that people are passionate about their stories. I am, too. And sometimes a story goes a way I don't like. And as much as it sucks, I have to deal with it. Supernatural still manages to screw up female representation. Arrow's third season was extremely weak compared to seasons 1 and 2. These are my opinions. Granted, I can back these opinions up with examples and argument, but they're still just my opinions. I can share my opinions, and I can decide to give up on these stories if I choose.

And that's okay.

What's not okay is coming down on someone because they choose to watch/not watch, or read/not read, something we dislike/enjoy. We're all different and all enjoy different things. That's one of the things that makes SFF so great. There's usually something for everyone. And if there isn't, there's literally nothing stopping it from being created, because anything at all is possible in this amazing collection of genres and sub-genres.

SFF can, and should be, the most diverse, freeing, and empowering collection of stories in the world. And that's a good thing.


Sep 3, 2015

Fresh Start

I've been debating whether or not to post this for a long time. I was worried about seeming like I'm moaning, or that it would be unprofessional of me. But when I get down to it, I've been dealing with some rough stuff for a while now and I want to make a clean break, start things fresh. So I need to get this off my chest. This isn't a plea for help, and I don't hold anyone to blame, it just is what it is.

The fact of the matter is my career isn't where I'd hoped it would be, three years on from my first book release.

When Locked Within came out, I was on top of the world. I watched sales drip in, figuring that they'd pick up as the rest of the series came out. They didn't.

I tried my hand at self-publishing with Lady Raven, attracted to the chance to have full control over things like release schedule and cover design. It was exciting and new. I thought branching into a new genre would open me up to more readers and help get my career break out. It didn't.

I released Red Skies, the second in the series, hoping that would prove I wasn't going to leave the series idle, and at least get me some more sales and attention. But it didn't.

Sales of Red Skies are the lowest for any book I've ever written. Practically non-existent.

I've messed up somewhere along the way. And now I have to figure out how to get back on track.

The upshot of this is I've sunk money into a series that hasn't paid out even close to enough for me to break even. And I can't justify that kind of spending anymore. So I don't know when I'm going to be in a position to begin work on the next book in the Lady Raven series. I had planned on having the third book out in time for Christmas, but that won't happen. I can't even commit to saying it'll be out next year, because I just don't know when I'll be able to afford it.

I've considered Kickstarter, of course, but I worked out that if the number of people I'd need to back a project were to simply buy Lady Raven and Red Skies, I wouldn't need a Kickstarter to fund the next book.

I may look into crowdfunding for a separate self-publishing project at some point, but I don't see the benefit in trying to convince a thousand people to fund the third book in a series none of them will have read.

I need a new plan, whether it takes me to querying agents and publishers or I keep self-publishing. I've got some book ideas, and I'm going to start work on one of them soon.

I've considered this from multiple angles, trying to work out the best course to take with my next book, but most solutions seem to involve galvanizing an existing readership, which in my case is quite small. I am very open to any advice or resources on this, as I'm still trying to figure out where I need to go from here to get my career to where I want it.

I want to go forward from this with my head clear and without any baggage. I've felt like a failure and I've felt like a fake, and neither of those is healthy. Neither of those will get my career going.

It's time to get back to work and move on.

Aug 28, 2015

What an Artist Owes

Earlier this week, Amanda Palmer posted an open letter on Medium, a response to a fan of hers who contacted her via per website to ask the following question:

"Are your patrons paying for new music, or are they paying for a new baby?"

The subject line of this message:

"Baby announcement right after joining Patreon?…Scam much?"

The full content of the message is in Amanda's Medium post. And I'll leave it to all of you to read through her (frankly astounding) reply. Seriously, Amanda Palmer shows more class, tact, and honesty than I think I've ever seen any artist give in response to such criticism as this person levied at her.

Aside from the blatant baby-shaming (because how dare a woman change her mind about wanting kids, right?), what really digs at me about the letter is the self-entitlement. We've seen it before. The behaviour which prompted Neil Gaiman to comment "George R.R. Martin is not your bitch." And we've seen other cases of artists accused of scamming readers by using money for something other than the creation of more art.

I brought this up before, and it's a question which has still not resulted in a satisfactory answer.

What does an artist owe?

Do people expect that the only thing an artist should be allowed to do with money earned from that art is to create more art? Or should they, like all businesspeople, be free to spend the profits of their work as they see fit?

Art is not a single, repeatable product. Every time an artists sets out to create something, it will be different than the things they have created before. If you no longer like what the artist creates, you're not obligated to expose yourself to it. You can listen to other music, read other books. You can even say "I prefer their older work" and yes, you can even tell the artist you no longer like their stuff.

But how dare anyone be so cruel as to think this is an appropriate way to address someone:

"You didn’t NEED to join Patreon, but you did anyway." (This fan has psychic powers that let them know how much money an artist needs to pursue certain projects.)

"you announced your pregnancy, after years of saying you didn’t want to be a mom" (Women are not allowed to change their minds about this, remember.)

"Chances are you’ll pass [hyper-sensitivity] on to your kid." (Because what a first-time mother really needs is someone seeding them with more fear that motherhood will be difficult, and then blaming them for it)

"did you do this on purpose?" (Women can't be trusted, naturally.)

"Is what you’re doing really fair to your fans?" (She should clearly have asked her fans' permission before being so inconsiderate as to have a child, and we all know no-one ever starts a family while also holding down a job.)

And this beauty:

"I need answers before I can feel comfortable giving you more of the money that I earned with my own sweat and tears." 

That's what gets me most of all. This person feels that because they've been giving money to an artist, that they have a say in her life choices. They feel that their money is more hard-earned than the artist's money. Because art's easy, right? Artists don't have bills to pay, food to buy, or private lives to lead. And no-one in any other field ever has to change their work routine and habits because of pregnancy.

While we're here, let's get really honest.

No-one asks a man if having children will affect his career.

No-one is emailing Neil Gaiman to ask him why he's been sharing photos of his pregnant wife instead of writing more books. Society says that women can either be successful and career-driven, or they can have children. They're not allowed to do both. And if they try, they'll be accused of being irresponsible and letting one suffer for the sake of the other.

If you like an artist, support them. If you stop liking them, stop supporting them. But don't send a passive-aggressive message full of threats, demands, and blame, and try to pass it off as concern.

It doesn't make you "Worried-but-Still-Devoted." It makes you an asshole. Don't be an asshole.


Aug 25, 2015

Diversity, Politics, and the Hugo Awards

Worldcon is one of the largest and most recognized yearly conventions in science fiction and fantasy. It is also home to the Hugo Awards, which has been a subject of controversy several times. Most recently, this year's awards fell victim to slate nominations at the hands of two groups: The Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies.

I'll spare you the details on the Puppies themselves. You can Google them. Suffice it to say that the very best of them are ignorant and misguided, while the worst of them have spewed what is honestly some of the most vile hate and bigotry I've seen this side of Gamergate.

In short, the Puppies claimed that science fiction and fantasy had become too political, too concerned with diversity and social issues, and less focused on rocket ships, 'splosions, monsters, and pew pew pew!

It's bullshit, of course. Because SFF has always been political, and has always addressed social issues, right back to arguably the very first sci-fi novel, Frankenstein. I mean, a book where a man uses science to create life? Literally replicating the power of the divine through technology? Creating a being in his own image, only for it to turn on him?

But in any case, the votes are in.

Not only did none of the Puppies' slate win their category, but in every category where only the Puppies' favourites were nominated, the win went to "No Award". No Award came out on top in an unprecedented five categories.

There will of course be much discussion over this result, now and as time goes on and we look to next year, to see will the Puppies make good on their threat to sabotage every Hugo Award from now on. There are some excellent articles already, from Chuck Wendig, Foz Meadows, Amy Wallace, and others.

The Puppies made the mistake of thinking that taking political action could remove politics from a genre which has built its foundation on tackling political and social issues. Opening up discussion is one thing. Extolling the virtues of a particular author or book isn't political. Organising a widespread attempt to rig an award, on the other hand, nevermind how much the rules allow it, is certainly political. Threatening to sabotage those same awards if people don't play your game your way is certainly political.

Why? Because the people being represented more and more in fiction are marginalized. They do not see themselves in stories. And they deserve to. Everyone deserves heroes and villains. Not because of political correctness or because there has to be a particular quota for representation, but because they're people, and people have a burning need to experience stories. We seek them out every day, and we seek out stories that speak to us on a personal level.

By saying that speculative fiction should go back to a mythological era when bare-chested barbarians swung swords while rescuing half-naked damsels, and clean-cut space heroes flew rockets and shot big-headed green aliens with ray guns, and no-one ever spoke of "themes" or "allegory", the Puppies are saying that only the stories they prefer deserve to receive recognition.

There's a word for that. When a group of privileged people look down on those who want what they have and tell them "this is not for you."

Prejudice.

The Puppies' message, whether they believe it or not, whether they even intended it or not, was basically to hang a sign up on their clubhouse reading "No girls, no gays, no coloureds". They can swing around that "we just want the story to be considered first" excuse all they want, but it doesn't change what they were saying. It just makes them sound utterly self-righteous, and ensures that sensible, rational people will not want anything to do with them.

And I know, because I used to be that person.

"I'm not a sexist author," I once said. "I'd totally write a book with a woman as the main character, if the story called for it." (emphasis 35 year old me, not past me)

That phrase, "if the story calls for it" needs to be stricken from every discussion about fiction. The story calls for whatever the author wants. That's all a story really is; the decisions of the author.

The simple fact is, diversity is worthwhile in its own right. The fact that a book tackles race, gender, or sexuality, assuming it does so well, automatically sets it apart from books that stick to tired old formulas about straight white men killing brown (or blue, or green, or insect) people and saving damsels from certain doom. We need diversity. We need authors willing to push the limits and expand the genre further.

The Puppies showed us how strong prejudice is in SFF fandom. The Hugo Awards showed the Puppies how strong the desire for diversity is. So let's keep this going, and keep making SFF a better, more accepting place for everyone.

Aug 17, 2015

Summer comes to a close

Inspired by my friend and fellow writer, Ellen, and her blog post today, I'm stirring myself into action again.

Like Ellen, I hated school, but loved the end-of-summer season. Buying stationery, getting ready for all the good tv shows to come back on, waiting to see friends I didn't get to see during the summer. When I went to college this became even more intense, because as much as I hated school, I loved college with a passion.

I'm a fan of new beginnings. 2015 was to be a new beginning for me, to get away from the negativity and hardship that had plagued me for years. It's been a challenging year, and I'd be lying if I said there was nothing I was happy to see the end of. So I like the idea of approaching the coming weeks as another new beginning. A new academic year is starting. A new learning season.

I always did my best creative stuff right at the start of the college year.

I'm also turning 35 in a few days. I've decided that one of the benchmarks for "growing old" as a writer is marking when you reach the age another author was when they had their breakout hit. That's what I'm working towards now. I've got five published novels under my belt. It's time to get more people reading them, and decide what my next book will be.

Lately I've been coming up with book ideas with the intent of tackling particular issues. I still want to do that, but I also know that the more passionate I am about a book, the more it'll show in my writing and the more readers will enjoy it, regardless of the issues being addressed.

I'm also hoping to launch a new website soon. Presently, www.paulanthonyshortt.com redirects to this blog, but I've decided I need to start thinking, acting, and presenting myself as much like a professional author as I can.

So here goes. Wish me luck.

Jul 21, 2015

We Need Labels

Labels are a touchy thing. Any time I see a discussion on a heated issue such as bullying, feminism, homophobia, or any form of prejudice, odds are good someone, either trying to act as a kind of peacemaker or, more commonly, trying to shut down the argument entirely, will pipe up with "this is why I hate labels" and "just don't be a dick."

Why do people shun labels? It's never fun to be stuck with a label we dislike, of course, but rather than kick back against the very concept, have people ever thought about why labels are so often used to address people and issues?

The fact is, we need labels.

Highlight Issues
At the most base level, how can you bring a problem to people's attention? You find an example of the problem in action and say "That's it, that is The Thing, right there." People need to be able to assess experiences, both our own and those of others, in ways we can quantify. Otherwise people trying to help would wind up running around going "Everything is terrible and I can't explain why!"

Determine Solutions
I've often said that you can't say to someone "build me a house" or "fix my car" and expect them to get the job done there and then. Every problem, no matter how broad or focused, has a range of issues and contexts which must be identified and assessed for a solution. The place you want to build your house might have water mains to work around. A specific part your car needs might not be in stock. The same applies to social issues.

Take domestic abuse as an example. Both men and women suffer from it, but the challenges they each face will be very different. A woman is likely to believe she brought it on herself, or that if she is only patient enough, things will change. A man, on the other hand, is more likely to be mocked for letting a woman inflict harm. Both will avoid talking about it, and remain in a toxic relationship, but each will do so for different reasons, and will need different kinds of help to get out of it.

So before you say you're not a feminist, but still believe in equal rights, remember that feminism is one part of the equal rights struggle, dealing with a particular subset of problems brought about by male dominance and enforced gender roles. If you do believe in equal rights, you are a feminist, by definition.

Sense of Identity
Labels don't only have to be used to address negative things. Labels can bring with them a sense of self, a strength of choosing an identity. They allow us to belong. If you're a geek, you can count on there being other geeks who should welcome you. Sports fans show supreme camaraderie. Book lovers can gather together to share in discussions. Rockers can share their love of music.

Most especially during our formative teenage years, but also still when we're adults, we need to be able to define who we are, and what our role is in society. Labels help us do this. When we choose a label for ourselves, we make it a banner, a mark of pride, a shield against those who would try to tear us down.

The Reality
As wonderful as the idea is that we could do away with labels and the words "treat everyone well" would be all we need for a peaceful, fair society, the reality is we don't have a hope of achieving that yet. Simply put, we are not at a stage in the evolution of society where we're able to give one straightforward rule to protect us from all social injustice.

Society has taught us to fear those things and people that are different from us. How many religions have spend thousands of years preaching to love one another? How many laws have had to be expanded and clarified so that people can't abuse loopholes and inflict pain and suffering on others?

Until we grow past that, we don't get to take the easy solution of saying "treat everyone well" or "don't be a dick." There are no shortcuts to a better society. It's hard work, and we've got a lot to do. So let's stick to what can actually help make things better and stop fobbing off our responsibility with lazy catchphrases.

Jul 16, 2015

What Have I Been Up To?

I've been very quiet this week, and I'm sorry for that.

Saturday was Conor's fourth birthday. He would have been starting school this year, so it's been particularly rough this time. We had our standard ritual of going to the beach to release a balloon for him, after which the five of us had chips in the car (because it was raining).

Added to that, I've been coping with a new source of chronic pain. It's a possible slipped disc, but I won't know for sure until I get another MRI. I need a walking stick to get around most of the time now, and have enjoyed the delights of all new levels of pain.

Now that things are settling down again, I want to get back into a regular blogging routine. So I'll see you all soon, and remember to pick up your copies of Lady Raven and Red Skies!

Jul 10, 2015

The Importance of Heroines

It's a pretty great time for heroines. We've got an all-female Marvel team in A-Force, the New Avengers features several women in the line-up. Mad Max: Fury Road boasts some of the best female representation in an action movie in years.

And a recent study has shown that a majority of children and teenagers want to see more women in games, and for those women to be depicted better.

But it's far from enough. Only 15% of movie protagonists are women. Women are automatically assumed to be inferior to men in certain film roles. One of the most popular and successful shows on television outright hates its women characters. And the books it's based on have some even worse treatment.

Heroines are important. A few scattered examples here and there aren't enough. For every Princess Leia, there are a dozen Han Solos.

We need more Princess Leias. It all started with her. Instead of sitting back and letting the boys do all the work, she grabbed a blaster got them out of an impossible situation. She carried out intelligence missions, co-ordinated assaults, planned battle strategies. She strangled the most dangerous gangster in the galaxy to death and is one of only two people known who had the guts to mouth off to Darth Vader, and the other one was nearly killed for it.

Princess Leia, Ellen Ripley, Tasha Yar, Buffy Summers, Xena, Lara Croft, River Tam, Kara Thrace, Imperator Furiosa. Why so few? Why so far apart?

"In every generation there is a chosen one"

Why do we allow ourselves to place all the responsibility of being a heroine onto the shoulders of one character at a time? Why does every new female character have to embody all aspects of being a woman at once? Why shouldn't we seek out more heroines, and create new ones whenever we can?

With Red Skies now over a week in the world, this has been on my mind a lot. As much as I dream of one day seeing people rank Cora Ravenell among the great heroines, I hope to see even more by her side.

Let's go tell some stories.

Jul 7, 2015

Chakras and Channeling

Anyone familiar with yoga, reiki, or any number of eastern beliefs will likely have drawn parallels between the channelling powers possessed by Cora Ravenell and the seven chakras present within each person.

This is quite intentional. I don't bring up my spiritual beliefs all that often here, but I've studied a wide range of teachings. From witchcraft to energy healing, law of attraction, all the way to ancient mysticism and mythology, I find myself drawn to all things spiritual.

I'm a reiki master, myself, and my love for reiki and its associated philosophies inspired me to draw on these elements when creating the magic system for the Lady Raven series.

In the series, magic, or channelling, allows a person to become a conduit for the energies of the universe. Drinking quintessence, the glowing blue liquid sought after by the Empire, can, if the person is strong enough, grant this ability. It does so by unlocking six chakras, or energy points. Once this is done, the channeller can harness their new power in a range of ways, calling on each of their chakras for different effects:


Root: Located at the base of the spine, the Root Chakra governs fight or flight, defence and attack. It allows the channeller to produce bursts of quintessence to attack and protect. As Cora is relatively undisciplined in its use, these attacks manifest as blue flame, but during Red Skies, she encounters channellers so proficient that their quintessence is pure blue light.

Sacral: The Sacral Chakra, between the navel and the groin, enhances the channeller's senses. Cora uses this chakra to improve her battle awareness and detect weaknesses others cannot.

Core: Found in the stomach, the Core Chakra empowers the body with strength, speed and reflexes. With it, Cora can become a demon in combat, able to take on multiple opponents.

Heart: The chest is home to the Heart Chakra, which, requires love of oneself and others to master. It allows the user to heal physical and mental damage in others and, for true masters, the self. When we rejoin Cora in Red Skies, she has not yet begun to practice such powers.

Truth: The Truth Chakra, in the throat, allows a channeller to see through, and cast, illusions and to manipulate the minds of others. This is another ability beyond Cora's level of experience at first.

Third Eye: Located in the forehead, the Third Eye Chakra, grants the user psychic awareness, and the ability to see places from a distance, listen to the minds of others, catch glimpses of the future or past, and even move objects with the mind. It is this chakra which guides Cora to join the Benin Rebels, as she becomes conscious of growing evil within the Empire, and a sense that there are far greater battles ahead.

Divine: Floating at the top of the head, the Divine Chakra is spoken of almost entirely in legend. It is said to connect the person to the cosmos and all its limitless power, uniting their soul with the Highers, the spirits, and the divine beings which created the world. However, no channeller alive can use its power. It is the one chakra not unlocked upon drinking quintessence. Its secrets were lost centuries ago, and no channeller has yet found a way to unlock it.

Jul 3, 2015

Interview

Earlier this week, Janet Ní Shuilleabháin had me on her new podcast, Worlds Beyond, to talk about my latest release, Red Skies, as well as my other books, love of storytelling, Octocon, and a whole bunch of other stuff. It was my first ever podcast interview and I loved it.

Check it out on Soundcloud.

Jul 1, 2015

Red Skies is out today!


Here we are at last! When I decided to branch into self-publishing, I genuinely had no idea how much work would be involved. I've learned a lot, and at times I'm astounded I managed to get Red Skies out at all.

I'd like to thank everyone who's seen me through this. It's been rough going, and I wouldn't have made it through without all the support I've received from friends and family. And I promise not to put myself under that kind of insane pressure again. Seriously, writing two books in four months is not something I recommend.

I'm keeping both Lady Raven and Red Skies at their discounted Kindle prices for a little while longer, so grab them while you can.

You can find Red Skies on Kindle and in paperback.

Jun 30, 2015

Red Skies is out tomorrow!

























What a year this has been.

Those of you who've been following me for a while will know I've had a demanding couple of years. Those of you close to me will know just how hard those years have been, for various reasons.

We are now halfway through the year. June 30th. I won't say 2015 has been easy. But it has certainly been victorious.

Red Skies is out tomorrow. This is my fifth novel to be released in the space of three years. It hardly seems real, and while I'm still a very new author, hoping every day for the breakout that'll allow me to make a real living from this, I am genuinely proud that I've managed to accomplish all this while working full time and helping my wife raise our three wonderful daughters.

I started the Lady Raven series with the intention of doing my part to bring more female heroes into the world of action and adventure fiction. I wanted someone my daughters could look up to. Someone that anyone, regardless of gender, could look at and say "This girl kicks ass." That girl, that woman, became Cora Ravenell, who takes the mocking title "Lady Raven" and turns it into a weapon against the oppressive Empire that destroys her life.

Over the next several days, you can look forward to some blog posts discussing not only the world Cora inhabits, but also what I feel is important about what a character like Cora says to readers. The decisions I make within every book are carefully considered, and I'd like to share that. Posts will include such topics as "The Importance of Heroines," "Chakras and Channelling", and "Sex and Relationships in Lady Raven."

So heave to and raise the colours. It's time for Lady Raven to fly once again.

Yo ho!

Jun 25, 2015

Pre-order Special Offer for Red Skies

In order to make my latest book available to as many people as possible, I've set the prices for both books in the Lady Raven Series as low as they can go for Kindle.

That means that Lady Raven is currently £0.99 on Amazon.co.uk and $0.99 on Amazon.com.

And if you pre-order Red Skies, you will likewise get it for £0.99 on Amazon.co.uk or $0.99 on Amazon.com. If you pre-ordered before now, Amazon will only charge you the lower price, so you won't have missed out. 

Spread the word, and let's see how high Cora Ravenell can fly up the bestseller list.

Jun 24, 2015

The Legend of Raven and Swan - Lady Raven Excerpt

Today I've got an excerpt from Lady Raven, in which Cora thinks over the legend of Raven and Swan. This myth is a key point for the series, and one of the foundations of the Empire's teachings.

In this scene, Cora, along with her friends Dee and Laden, have snuck into her mother's study during her father's wake. They hope to learn what Cora's mother is planning, but they have been discovered by a young priest, Astor, and Cora needs to distract him while Laden searches her mother's documents...




Jun 23, 2015

Red Skies Promo: Unbreakable

With just over a week to go until Red Skies hits the digital bookshelves of Amazon, I'm feeling very excited. Hard to believe we're nearly at the halfway-point for Cora's story.



Many of you will know that I use music as a major source of inspiration while I write. Usually I'll have a list of a few songs that form the soundtrack for the particular book I'm working on, but with the Lady Raven series, things have been a little different. Perhaps it's because I'm self-publishing, or because I've known for a while know how each book is going to go, but when I listen to music and think of these books, I find myself regarding the whole story, not just the individual books.

So, while the song I'm sharing here definitely portrays Cora's determination and attitude following the events of Lady Raven, it will also have an ongoing influence on how the story continues. Indeed, it's already inspired the tagline for the final book.

For now, though, this song, Fireflight's "Unbreakable", is Cora's theme song, as she comes to terms with the things she's lost and the battle still ahead of her.


Red Skies will be released on July 1st. Pre-order your copy now!

Jun 16, 2015

Red Skies, Two Weeks To Go!

We're two weeks out from the release of my fifth novel, Red Skies. Over the next while, I'll be discussing some of the elements of Cora Ravenell's world, and sending some exclusive content to my mailing list. This will include samples from Lady Raven and Red Skies, as well as details on some of the design processes I went through when building the setting and story. If you'd like to keep up on this, you can sign up to my mailing list here.

I'm also eager to hear what people think of Cora and her adventures so far. If you've read Lady Raven, please consider leaving a review on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk (reviews don't seem to carry over from one to the other). If you haven't read it yet, there's still time to grab a copy before Red Skies is released!

Jun 11, 2015

Christopher Lee

Minutes I go I read the news that Christopher Lee had passed away. He lived to be 93, and was one of the most accomplished and celebrated people in the film industry.

He was Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, Saruman, Count Dooku (everyone has to make at least one mistake, right?), and the voice of Terry Pratchett's Death.

He also served during World War II, forming part of the Department of Ungentlemanly Warfare, which has to be the best elite unit name in history.

He was an expert fencer, spoke multiple languages, and as if that wasn't enough, he also recorded several heavy metal albums.

If you wrote such a character in a book, no-one would believe it. He was as epic and badass as a person can be. And though he lived a full life, worth celebrating, the world is a less awesome place now that he's gone.

Of course, we all know Dracula is never really dead.

Jun 10, 2015

Tor Books, Inclusiveness Does Not Mean Permitting Prejudice

Yesterday Chuck Wendig blogged about Tor Books' recent apology for the words of their creative director, Irene Gallow.

Have a read through, and especially read the comments. It's a pretty hot mess, but as Chuck says, it comes across that Tor decided their creative director deserved to be publicly shamed for words posted on her private Facebook account.

Words, mind you, that amounted to nothing so much as a criticism of the motives behind the two groups responsible for the slate nominations of this year's Hugo Awards, the Sad Puppies and the Rapid Puppies. These groups believe that science fiction and fantasy have become too political, too caught up in social justice, that the desire to see diverse characters and authors has robbed the genres of simple stories of adventure.

For the purposes of this post, we'll ignore the fact that this assertion is just so much bullcrap. SFF has always pushed social issues to the fore and been a way to challenge prejudice and ignorance. Science fiction itself asserts that by broadening our minds and embracing all people as equals, humanity can evolve to higher, peaceful states of being. But I digress...

There is an erroneous thought drifting in the wind. This thought tells us that, in order to be truly inclusive, we must not only accept that there are people whose opinions are abhorrent to us, not only allow them to have such thoughts, but also grant them a stage for their thoughts, even if we're the ones who own the stage. More so, we're told that it's our responsibility, as fair, inclusive people, to even sit and listen while these attitudes are shoved in our faces. We're told me must defend these people from any critic. Not from people trying to stop them, mind, but from people disagreeing with them.

When you champion those who would close doors and hoard their power, you are not being inclusive. When you defend those who rail and abuse minorities from having their opinions challenged, on the grounds of "free speech", you are not being inclusive. When you shame a woman before the entire world, using your position as a bastion of your industry to reach your audience, just because she had the courage to come out and hold prejudice up for what it is, you are not being inclusive.

Shame on Tom Doherty. He has shown his company as promoting an environment where those who speak up against that which is wrong will be punished.

May 25, 2015

We said Yes! But we're not done yet.

It's not often you get to watch events unfold, knowing that your children and grandchildren will one day be learning about it as a turning point in world history.

On May 22nd, the people of Ireland voted 62.07% in favour of allowing couples to marry, regardless of their gender. Watching the tallies come in was thrilling. We got to see our country make history.

But we all know this isn't the end. There are still other issues to be confronted, more battles to be fought. We need gender recognition. We need women to have control over their own bodies. We need to make sure that no-one can be fired from their job for being an LGBTQ person. We need to stop future campaigns from being fought using lies and scaremongering, as the No Campaign did.

This referendum revealed many things about the Irish. Our belief in equality. Our determination to be heard, even if it mean travelling across the world to vote, like Big Damn Heroes. But we also had some of our old prejudices brought to light. I've lost count of the times I've seen someone say...

"I believe in equality, but..."

"They already have enough..."

"They can't provide a loving home..."

"We're being bullied into silence."

"People will vote no because they don't want to be told to vote yes."

I haven't always held my tongue, and now I no longer have to try.

If you believe somebody should have different rights to you, you do not believe in equality. There is no such thing as "enough" rights. People either have equal rights, or they don't. And if they don't, then we should all fight for those rights.

Acting and speaking in a bigoted manner is being a bigot.

But calling someone a bigot is not bigotry. Standing up to a bully is not bullying. Speaking against those who would silence a minority is not silencing them. Standing up for the oppressed is not oppression. It's just that the people who've been able to get away with their prejudice for so long are no longer being allowed to, and they're scared. Scared of what it means. Scared that maybe, it was wrong of them to treat people who are different as though they were less. And what that says about them, as people.

People wiser than me say that all hate and fear comes from a hatred of something within us. This can build over time, and when someone lashes out against what should be an obvious answer (ie: should we all have the same rights?), it could be that they don't want to believe they've been wrong. No-one wants to be the bad guy. So they fight and rail against the very notion that they could be in the wrong.

These people are our neighbours. Our relatives. Our friends. And one of the challenges now is for each of us to acknowledge those in our lives who voted No. Whether due to being misled by the No Campaign, or because they genuinely hold such prejudicial attitudes, we have to come to terms with it, and decide what to do next.

For some, we'll tolerate them, walk away from them. Leave them to their prejudice, and hope they learn in time that they were wrong, or at least not get in the way of the happiness of others.

Others we'll try and reason with. We'll explain why it's wrong to expect an oppressed group to withhold their anger and fear just because it might make others uncomfortable. We'll explain why the Yes victory is a good thing. And, hopefully, they will decide to change.

Some we will sympathise with. The ones taken in by the No Campaign's tactics, who believed the lies and became scared of what could happen. The ones who we hope will see, as time goes by, that this is not the catastrophe the No Campaign would have them believe.

And then there are those who will never change. The ones so entrenched in their prejudice that they'll use every tool they have to shield themselves from the truth. The ones who will still hold up their now-tattered banner and look for other ways to fight back. These are the ones we have to watch for. The ones we've beaten, for now, but will face again. The ones I will happily call bigot.

The referendum has also illustrated why "treat everyone equally" is not enough to solve society's problems.

The No Campaign was full of people saying they believed in equality, but didn't want same-sex marriage. To them, they did want to treat everyone equally, but they ignored the specific reasons why same-sex marriage was an important cause, one that needed to be won.

I believe wholeheartedly in labelling issues. When we give a name to something, we gain power over it. We will not cure the world of pain and suffering by covering it with a blanket of "be good to each other." We will only do it by getting down into each problem, rooting out the source, and fixing it.

It's a long, hard road, and there are no short-cuts. Whether it's gender-recognition, bodily autonomy, feminism, or any other cause, we have to approach each one in full understanding of its own unique challenges. Only by doing that can we hope to keeping making the world a better place.

We won this battle. But there will be more to come. It starts here. And monsters really can be beaten.

May 22, 2015

How #hometovote makes me feel

We all knew this was going to be a close fight. We knew we were going to need everyone we could get on our side, and even then, we knew it would be tough to call.

So when I saw that #hometovote was trending on Twitter, I took a look, and it felt like this:










May 21, 2015

Please Vote Yes

Tomorrow I'll get up early so my wife and I can get to the polling stations to vote on the single most important referendum of our lives. We're both voting yes to changing the Irish constitution so that people will be able to marry, regardless of their gender.

This is history in the making. We could change the country for the better, and become the first nation to ever declare marriage equality through popular vote.

I've watched people I care about suffer terrible pain in the last few weeks. So many are angry and afraid at what could happen tomorrow. So please, if you can vote tomorrow, go out and vote yes.

There is no logical reason to not vote yes. No legitimate argument against equal marriage has been presented, or indeed can be presented.

There has never been a time when people have looked to the past, and the fight for equal rights, and regretted granting them. Never been a time when historians have argued that it was a mistake to grant more freedoms and remove discrimination.

Think about the facts. Think about the lives that could be made better, both now and in generations to come. Think about how history will look at your decision.

Please vote yes.

May 19, 2015

Red Skies Cover Reveal and Release Date!

Last year I stepped into the world of self-publishing with Lady Raven. This year I am proud to say that the second book in the series, Red Skies, is all but finished, and will be released on July 1st!

*Bird image courtesy of www.obsidiandawn.com, lightning image courtesy of photoshopix.com

Driven from her home, labelled an outlaw, and cursed to damnation. Cora Ravenell leads a pirate crew aboard the skyship, White Raven, fighting back against those who framed her for treason and murder.  In the months since her daring escape from the capital, Cora's name has become feared by those who serve the Empire.

But Cora's actions have attracted the attention of others. War rages in the south, where rebels fight for their freedom. Joining this rebellion might be Cora's best chance for revenge, if only she can master her new abilities. Rage fuels her, threatening to consume everything she fights for. Only by learning the secrets of channelling can she hope to control her feelings, and harness her true power.

With Laden Fell determined to track her down, and Princess Idella furthering the Empire's plans, an angry, scared girl must become a leader, and make it known to all that she is Lady Raven.


May 18, 2015

Lady Raven Free Sample

This week I'll be revealing the cover for the second book in the Lady Raven Series, Red Skies. As a taster for anyone who hasn't yet read the first book, I'm sharing the first chapter of Lady Raven here. Please feel free to share this with anyone you think might enjoy the series, and if you like what you see, you can catch up on Cora Ravenell's adventure.



Cora Ravenell has already lost her father. Now she stands to lose so much more. With no male heirs, her father's estate is stripped away, and Cora's only chance to remain in noble society is to marry a childhood friend. 

But when her mother is accused of treason, Cora's world is shattered, and she becomes the target of a ruthless hunt. Chased through the darkest corners of the city, Cora discovers that not everything about the Empire is as it seems. In the darkness, Cora will find the truth, and a power she has never known. 

The law calls her a criminal. The church calls her damned.

Her enemies call her Lady Raven.

May 14, 2015

An Open Letter to Irish Voters

On May 22nd, the people of Ireland are being asked to vote on an addition to our constitution:

"Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex."

In the interests of openness, let me state, clearly, that I am voting yes to this amendment. I am straight, I am married, and I have three wonderful children. I don't believe there is any morally-sound reason for saying that a person should have fewer rights in their life choices than me on the grounds that their sexual or romantic preferences differ from mine.

In an ideal world, that is all this referendum would come down to. However humans are flawed things, and susceptible to the effects of fear and uncertainty. We resist change, particularly when it relates to something we consider "other", or different to us. 

And there are always those who will prey on those instincts to fulfill their own ends.

To say I've been emotive on this subject would be an understatement. The referendum will not affect me. But it will affect friends of mine, and it may affect my daughters in the future. I want them all to have the same rights I do. However I'm conscious that many people in Ireland are still undecided, or are deciding to vote no, or abstain, for various reasons. I'd like to try and set aside my emotional responses today and address, rationally, why I think voting yes is the right choice, in the hopes that people who do not want to vote yes will reconsider, or at least approach me to discuss their choice. 

The No Campaign's focus coming up to this referendum has been quite controversial. They, smartly, shy away from citing religious reasons for a no vote. The Irish people don't have the best relationship with the Catholic Church anymore. What the No Campaign has done, is to bring up rather chilling ideas, but ones that none the less might seem reasonable to many Irish people. The notion that a child deserves a mother and a father. That the purpose of marriage is to bear children, and as a same-sex couple can't have children of their own, allowing them to marry would cheapen or invalidate the marriages of different-sex couples. That marriage and civil partnership, which is presently available to all, regardless of gender, are functionally the same. And the concern that gay marriage will lead to women's bodies being "rented" for surrogacy. 

However, none of these arguments actually hold weight.

For one, same-sex couples are already allowed to adopt. The adoption process is not weighted in favour of married couples, but by the fitness of the individual(s) involved. It has been made very clear that the marriage referendum will have no impact whatsoever on the adoption process in Ireland, so that's that argument put to bed.

For another, ask yourself why the No Campaign, despite this insistence that children raised by a man and a woman are better off than those who are not, hasn't suggested that there's anything wrong with a single parent raising a child on their own? 

Why, if the No Campaign believes that the purpose of marriage is to bear children, do they not argue that the marriages of people who can't, or don't want to, have children be rendered null and void? 

There are approximately 160 differences between civil partnerships and marriage, many relating to matters of inheritance, social support, and constitutional rights. To say that they are the same is clearly false.

And there is no evidence whatsoever that children raised by same-sex parents are in any way disadvantaged compared to those raised by a man and a woman. Aside, of course, from the prejudice of those who view this as unnatural. 

In fact, even the Iona Institute, which champions the idea that only a mother and a father can provide a healthy environment for a child, released a report which admits that enacting any adoption laws in the future that would favour different-sex couples over same-sex couples would be unconstitutional, because it cannot be proven that having opposite-sex parents is necessary for a child's healthy upbringing. 

So with these points out of the way, where do you stand? Do you doubt the facts shared above? 

I'd like to take some time to look at history. This is not the first battle fought in the war for equal rights, and it certainly won't be the last. What occurs to me, though, is the side resisting change frequently uses the same arguments and justifications. We've seen these points made by the No Campaign:

"Gay couples don't need marriage, they can have a civil partnership."

"Two people of the same gender can't provide a suitable family environment for a child."

"Allowing same-sex marriage will lessen the meaning of different-sex marriage."

"We can't let same-sex couples marry because it would redefine what marriage means."

If you'll indulge me, here are some of the No Campaign's points paraphrased to suit other human rights issues:

"Women don't need to vote, they have husbands who can vote."

"Black people don't need to sit at the front of the bus, they can sit at the back."

"Black people don't need to go to school, they can do jobs that don't require an education."

"Two people of different races can't provide a suitable family environment for a child."

"Allowing divorce will lessen the meaning of marriage."

"Women don't need to work when they get married, they have husbands who can work."

"We can't allow a woman to refuse to submit sexually to her husband, because it would redefine marriage."

"An unmarried woman can't provide a suitable family environment for a child, so we'll take the child away and put her to work in a laundry until a man claims her."

"We can't allow Catholics and Protestants to marry because it would redefine marriage."

"The Irish don't need a language of their own, they can use English."

"The Irish don't need to own their own land."

"The Irish don't need their own government."

If you've been settled on voting no, I ask you to think for a moment what it must be like to know that your entire nation is about to decide on something that will have no effect on the majority of them, but will be a clear indicator of how they view you, as a human being. 

If you vote no, regardless of your reason, the message you send is that you believe people deserve less freedom and less choice about how to live their life, based on something that will likely never affect you. 

If you abstain, you're saying that there is something you alone gain from not voting, that is more important than using this chance to improve the lives of 1 in 25 people. Maybe that number seems small, but with a population of over 6 million, that means a yes vote could, in one moment, improve the lives of over 240,000 people. Because even if none of the estimated 240,000 LGBTQ people in Ireland choose to marry, we'll have told them, as a nation, that we see them as equals, and welcome them, accept them, and love them. That's to say nothing of the impact on future generations. 

If any of my children, or grandchildren, or (if I get to live so long) great-grandchildren, come to me and say they're getting married to someone of the same gender, I want to be able to say I was part of that. More, I want to be able to say our country wanted them to be able to do that so much, that we became the first nation in the history of the world to declare same-sex marriage by popular vote.

This is history in the making. What way do you want to look back on the next several days?