An interesting take on ancient Chinese myths, and the game of Mahjong
The Seed of Immortality is not a book you easily come across, it literally disappears behind all the naked torsos that dominate the Gay & Lesbian section. Yes, it’s on sale on Amazon, but I don’t think I’ve ever searched for a book under “Chinese” or “Historical” in my life. Instead, I happened to talk to the author, Wayne Goodman, about his writing after he’d interviewed me for his podcast Queer Words. Coincidences. He graciously made the book available to me and I read it with gusto over the Holidays.
I’ll be frank and admit that I have no clue how to play Mahjong and after reading the story, I’m no more interested to learn the game than I was before. To each their own. But even if you’re like me, you might enjoy this book for its story. This is an extremely well-written tale, and I don’t say that out of a false sense of gratitude toward Wayne for granting me a spot on his podcast. No. I really think this is an interesting story, in part because he so aptly captured the way Chinese conversation flows, how he depicts the time period and the flow of the narrative.
A great fan of China
The cover of The Seed of Immortality, by Wayne Goodman
The author is a China aficionado, he clearly loves the culture and the heritage that stretches thousands of years back in time. It’s easy to agree with him. I’ve traveled to China twice and the Chinese have a lot to offer the world in terms of knowledge, philosophy, and life wisdom. Sadly, the west doesn’t seem to appreciate the Asian cultures and their millennia of culture and history (nor Africa or the Americas for that matter.)
There are a great many words and terms used in The Seed of Immortality and the author explains them at the end of the book. I read it on my phone and it makes the getting back and forth a bit cumbersome. I would imagine this being a lot easier on a paperback with a bookmark at hand. Alas, it is what it is. But I applaud Wayne’s decision to not explain the terms in the story as he tells it. It would distract and it would risk pulling you out of the comfort of slipping back in time to the period in which the story is told, a good two-thousand-two-hundred years ago, starting with the reign of emperor Qin Shi Huang. The story ends a couple of hundred years later, but I won’t spoil that for you.
How to tackle homosexuality centuries before the expression was coined?
How do you write a story about gay people (and I use the term as loosely as I can) millennia before the term was first used? In an era where people’s thinking about gay people and gay acts were completely different than what we consider today? Well, Wayne Goodman does a marvelous job. See, we’ve always been part of human society, and if you doubt that you probably belong to the group of people who also believe that dinosaurs were part of Noah’s Ark. Hashtag facepalm. I’ve used Alexander the Great as an example, who lived in those days, and we have Hadrian, the builder of the wall between England and Scotland, the first man in history we know of to get married to another man. So much for “traditional marriage”… Alas, I’m digressing.
The real difference is that back then, people didn’t use sexuality as an identifier or a way to distinguish themselves from others. I just read an article about contemporary Afghanistan, and the ancient tradition of Bacha bazi, a form of gay behavior that still isn’t seen as such, not unlike similar traditions in ancient Greece. In Turkey, to this day, you’re only considered gay if you’re bottoming in a relationship. Odd, I know, but imagine if you don’t even have a word for it? As a linguist, I’m familiar with the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which roughly states that we are unable to imagine that for which we have no word. On the other hand, we can easily imagine things we have a word for, even though they don’t exist, e.g. Warp speed or “beam me up”. A simplification of course. What the Chinese of the period did was to circumscribe behaviors, mannerisms and Wayne makes good use of those terms. They’re also defined in the glossary of The Seed of Immortality.
But more importantly, the characters don’t define themselves as gay. At first, I found that almost offensive (to me, as a gay man), but I have to hand it to the author. How could they when they “literally” couldn’t? The way–and I won’t offer any spoilers–the author delicately describes the altering attitudes and behavior on an individual level, particularly within the mind and thinking of our main protagonist, Hao Lan. Color me impressed!
The story pulls you in, like a fairytale, and keeps you hooked
I don’t know how to play the game nor will I likely learn it (although, you never know…) But no matter what, you’ll enjoy this story.
I won’t offer a synopsis of the story, as it’s weaved like a tapestry of small scenes within the larger arc that is the immortality and how to stay immortal for the eight immortals that exist in Chinese mythology. The story is told from Hao Lan’s perspective, from his arrival at a health retreat to play Mahjong and regain his health to the end of the book where he departs on a mission west on behalf of the Chinese emperor, two hundred years later, right around the time our modern time begins, with the alleged birth of Jesus of Nazareth.
The story weaves in dream sequences where Hao Lan is in communion with a mythical blue dragon, who provides Hao Lan with foresight and also gives him tasks to accomplish. These dreams form the backdrop that weaves the tapestry of the arc story and they lead our protagonist and his huoban from tale to tale. It is most intriguing.
The dialogue is exquisite. I find it hard to put my finger on exactly what it is because obviously the story is written in contemporary English, but the dialogue feels Chinese, reminds me of how my Chinese friends and business associates speak English.
Mahjong or not, give this story a try…
I don’t play Mahjong, not sure I ever will. I learned long ago never to say never. I thoroughly enjoyed The Seed of Immortality, including its rather abrupt ending (how else can you end a tale about immortals?) There might be a continuation at some point and Wayne recently told me that it was originally conceived as a trilogy, so who knows. For now, this serves as a most excellent stand-alone. Don’t let the cover distract you from the treasure within! This is a book I most certainly will return to, knowing that more details are hidden, things I may have overlooked the first time I read the story.
To learn more about the author and his work, contact him on this Facebook page. Wayne Goodman is also curator of an excellent new podcast I regularly enjoy listening to, whether you’re an author or reader, Queer Words.
I haven’t written in a while. It’s been crazy busy here in our house in the weeks leading up to the Holidays. I’m sure you know why. December has that effect on most of us. But it’s all good. As long as we get to see the happiness on our children’s faces on Christmas morning, it’s all been worth it.
We spent the Holidays away from home, as always. This time we were taking a cruise out of New York and spent some time in the city before and after returning. That alone was a lot of fun. The cruise? Bliss! (Although that was not the name of the ship!)
Remember me at the airport on Tortola?
Back in 2014, at the end of my first cruise out of New York, we ended up on Tortola in the BVI. That island held special significance for me, as it was there where Haakon had to land to get to his own island, the one he’d inherited from Charles in The Fallen Angels of Karnataka. Visiting that place, walking in Haakon’s footsteps had been an extremely emotional journey for me, as you can see from the image. I only ever hold my arm like that when I’m in imotional distress.
That was then… This is 2018
Visiting a location is fun, even if it is an emotional roller-coaster. To visit a place before I write a book (e.g. my visit to Seoul a year ago or my trip to Gávtjávvrie) is different than going there after the fact, particularly when I’ve not been there before. I can write a book about a place I’ve been to and go back there without the emotional impact, but to visit a place for the very first time is different. It just impacts me on a different level. Last week I finally made it to New Windsor, the place where Martin from Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm lives. There are a couple of scenes in the book, e.g. a lunch between Martin and Eugene or – of course – the totally imagined retirement home where Martin lives or the street where Kevin lives. We took a train from the city up to Newburgh and New Windsor to visit all those places. Here are some pictures from that trip. Let’s just say it was quite the ride…
What else is new?
New year, new projects. Did you have a look at last year’s Christmas Story? I published a short story based on The Opera House just in time for the Holidays. Check it out here.
But that’s not all. I’m also expecting the audiobook for the firstGolden One installment to be published. I already have a link to Audible, but I’m not 100% sure when it’s available. Amazon doesn’t provide that info, I’m afraid. Keep your eyes out for this:
Apart from the audiobook for the first part, I’ve submitted part two to my publisher for a March publication and I’m still editing the third part of it for a fall publication. Book two is called Deceit and the final installment will be called Reckoning. I can’t wait for you all to read it!
Apart from that, I’m still trying to wrap my head around this thing called 2019. What about you? What’s new in your lives? I hope you had a good transition into the new year and I wish you all the very best.
PS: This is the first post using the new WP engine. It takes some getting used to. Apologies for any weird things. :-*
You know Christmas is approaching when “busy” is included in just about every other sentence…
Gosh, I just realized visiting my page on Amazon that I haven’t written in almost three weeks. Which is a lie, because I’ve written a lot. I haven’t blogged though. I’ve been busy. So this post is going to be the musings of someone who feels badly about not keeping in touch, with a diss of social media diss, a bit of nostalgia and probably way too much information on this author’s ongoing health struggles. Mix that in with a healthy dose of emotions and you’ll get a busy, busy blog post.
The Golden One…
The audiobook is almost done and I can’t wait to have it released in time for Christmas. Vance is busy (lol) finishing it up as I type this.
Let’s begin with my WIP I (because there’s also a WIP II, duh), The Golden One. I feel really bad about book two, Deceit, because even though it’s open on my computer, and even though I’ve looked at it several times in the past weeks, I haven’t actually done any work on it. Instead, it’s served as a reference to book three, Reckoning, which is in the final stretches. Thing is, I really, really want to finish book two before Christmas so that I can get it to my editor in VERY good time before the March release date we agreed upon. Then again, It’s already the second advent week and although I’m maybe 80% there, maybe even 90%, I’m not sure I’ll get it done. Because I really want to finish book three before I finish editing book two.
Why? Consistency. I don’t want to restrict myself by saying something in book two that’ll restrict me later on, as the story unravels, and with my mind always coming up with new twists and turns, I need to make sure not to fuck it up and there is one thing in book two that really bothers me now that I’m in book three. I may yet have to fix that. We’ll see. But yeah, it’s kept me busy alright…
A Christmas story…
I’ve been busy writing a short Christmas story about Raphael from the Opera House. I hope you’ll like it.
So many of us get inspired by the holidays. last year I wrote this really cute Dickensian story and this year, I wanted to revisit one of my characters. I gave my readers a few choices and in the end, Willem (Willem of the Tafel) and Raphael (The Opera House) ended up in a tie. I had an idea for Willem, but it didn’t pan out since their time doesn’t do Christmas so it sorta kinda fell apart. But then I had an idea for Raphael and the story practically wrote itself. I had to make a few edits here and there to make it flow better, but I hope I’ll be able to present it to you in my next newsletter, which comes out in two weeks, in the final advent week, on Thursday, December 20th.
If you haven’t subscribed to my newsletter, there’s still plenty of time. You’ll find the subscribe button popping up every now and then. If it does not, you can sign up here. Oh yeah, to write that newsletter and have it ready by the time we head out for our Xmas vacation. Another thing on my never shrinking to-do list. Did I mention I was busy? If you wonder why this stupid word is strewn in all the time for no apparent reason, it’s because it’s my keyword and my social media analyzer is pushing me to use it more… and more evenly. Middle finger straight up in the air.
The holiday season is crazy busy…
Or are we just telling ourselves? Last Saturday, I swear on the seams of my pants, I could’ve participated in five events, easily: a birthday party my son was invited to, several grand openings, one of them the new intercultural library here in town which I can’t wait to visit, and so on and so forth. None came to fruition as we traveled four hours north to visit my mother in law. That, of course, is always a two-edged sword. In-laws, declining health, “family” in general and what not. But we also spent a night at a great hotel, had an amazing Christmas buffet dinner and I got to have a bit of time with my husband to just talk after Sascha had gone to bed. Getting there was a bit of an adventure, as our electric car uses more electricity with the winter tires on and our “gas station” had some technical challenges, costing us an hour extra. Alas, what can you do?
What world are we leaving behind for our kids?
Sascha in Venice, learning about the effects of global warming first hand.
This is on my mind a lot recently, as we get more and more warnings about not doing enough to stop global warming. And it is really difficult to make headways if some don’t play along. If everyone on a cul-de-sac drives slowly, except Bob, the kids are still at risk of being run over. But how do you get Bob to stop speeding? Why would you not speed if he doesn’t stop?
Global warming is no different, and I’m sick and tired of politicians who say that it’s a Chinese hoax or natural variation. Duh, yes, but it’s never been quite this fast, and why would the Chinese do that? It’s costing them money, too, and have you seen pollution levels in any major Chinese city? I would NOT want to live there with my kids.
Seventeen of the eighteen warmest years in recorded history have taken place after 2000. Do the math. You look at the damage done by hurricanes and typhoons these past two years (they’re even looking at increasing the scales to allow for even deadlier storms, adding factors like rainfall) or the forest fires ravaging California, Greece, Sweden etc. this year and you get a picture that might just be freak weather, but all evidence points in one direction: weather is getting freakier every year, and that ain’t normal variations. Not this fast. Over thousands of years maybe. But never in twenty.
Fly less? Buy less? Live less?
My family has been working for years to try and reduce our carbon footprint. Now I’ll grant you that with our travel, we have a big one, but we do more than most at home to try and reduce it. Our new EV, we do a lot of walking, use public transport a lot when we can, we have all but eliminated beef from the menu and I cook a lot using plant-based proteins. Our heating is electrical and from 100% renewable resources (wind & water.) There’s always more to do and we try, from organic, locally sourced foods to turning off the lights when we don’t need them etc.
But here’s the thing. What I do matters little if the CEOs of big companies fly in their own jets. And my EV matters nothing if 95% of the population still spew out climate gases from their diesel and gasoline engines. We need global solutions because air knows no borders (which I’m actively using in The Golden One!) I remember being in Seoul last winter and the daily smog warnings I got on my phone (I couldn’t read them and had to ask locals.) Bad air blowing in from China. It would either be mild and smoggy (air from China) or cold and clear (air from Russia) in Seoul. Not much the Koreans can do. No DMZ will stop the air…
This week, in Katowice, the world gathers to discuss climate change, again, and to try to find a way forward. I don’t expect any results, because even if China, India, the EU and most of the world agree to improve things, as long as the Americans keep spewing out more climate gas per capita than anyone else and their president claiming “you look at our air and water and it’s now at a record clean.” and the new Brazilian president threatening to deforest the Amazon forest, aka the “lungs of the planet”, we might soon all be facing extinction, as David Attenborough just said today.
Most countries, industries, and individuals are Bobs when it comes to climate. We all expect someone else to fix things, but the climate is a global problem and one we need to tackle together… We’re quickly running out of time.
I used to love social media. I do no more. Apart from the fact that it’s highly addictive and the algorithms almost dangerous to human sanity, it’s also destructive to the human psyche and worse, to our societies. We have become totally obsessed with “me, me, me” and we no longer see society, the need for cohesion, for compromise. Yes, in a good compromise everyone walks away with their heads high, nobody gets everything, but nobody loses. But we have become so focused on winning, on always looking our best that a compromise is seen as “loss of face” and thus unacceptable from the very start.
Facebook’s algorithms, for instance, will make sure that certain of your posts (which changes over time) will be seen by many of your followers, gathering many likes, followed by posts which are hardly seen by anyone (this post will fall under the latter category because it’s critical of Facebook.) The rush to get more likes will get people to post, but the depression or ‘low’ following a post with no likes will get people to post even more psychologists have seen. Facebook wins, but we all lose in the end. Because what is a friendship based on likes rather than helping each other, actually being there for each other?
Advertising now includes stolen email
The latest coup was launched a couple of months ago. Advertisers are now able to upload their email database to target their so-called “customer base”. Facebook, of course, has no way to double check these databases for accuracy and many companies, particularly start-ups will feel compelled to buy email addresses off the web. Oftentimes those addresses will have been stolen or sold. Here are the companies (or search terms) that have uploaded my email address so far, not one of them I’ve ever given my address to (voluntarily), most I don’t even know of:
Not all company names on this list are from that category. There are a couple of names I do recognize, where I actually am a customer, but in the hidden category, they put all the companies, hundreds of them… I still don’t want to see their ads online.
I don’t know where this will end, but I just heard today that more and more people are turning off their Facebook accounts. I’ve already left Twitter and I can’t say I miss it. I still use Instagram, but I merely look at pretty pictures.
You said you were busy?
Yeah, I am. I’ve been writing as much as I’ve been able to, and with the Holidays approaching there’s also been a bit of juggling of Christmas preparations (we have a five-year-old expecting Santa to visit) and the closer we get to Christmas, the crazier things get. I’ve also been in rehab for varying parts of my body, which has been a bit of a downer. My sciatica is a constant pain in the ass, almost literally, and recently I had to see a specialist for weird knee pain. Turns out my knee cap had become inflamed by something, So my PT had me do special stuff for my legs, which I now pay a price for as I’m sore after the first normal work out yesterday. Then two weeks ago, my herniated disk in my neck flared up again, out of the blue, after six years. Oddly, it’s fine now, let’s hope it stays that way. Getting old sucks. LOL, Always one body port or another aching. But alas, it is what it is, as long as I feel fine and my heart ticks on, you won’t hear me complain. It all keeps me busy.
So that’s been my past few weeks. What’s new in your neck of the woods?
A reader interview with the author about the book releasing today…
My fantasy novel is the first book in a planned series of three. A story for youths and teens primarily dealing with the big threats our planet is dealing with today.
The other day I had the idea to let my friend and avid reader of my work, Tracy Willoughby from Toronto, interview me about the new book to include in my newsletter. What came through today were some really tough questions and enough of them to warrant me to lift them out of the newsletter and post them as a blog post. You should still read the newsletter though, as there’s a nice competition you can enter… So, without further a due, here are Tracy’s questions about Blooming and my answers:
Tracy: This book is such a detour from your other books, was this something you always wanted to try or was this an idea that popped into your head?
The short answer is “no!” I don’t read fantasy for fun, and I’ve always found shapeshifter stories boring, predictable. In a way, authors use the shifted creature to represent a minority, suffering, being oppressed. As a member of a minority group (two actually), I am acutely aware of those tendencies. Having said that, almost every book of mine is a (new) take on a genre: contemporary, historical, erotica, Sci-Fi and now a fantasy. So it’s not as big a step as it might appear as.
I think the fact that I planned it as a series (and we all know how much I like those), is a much bigger deal. The final decision to write this trilogy came during a radio show with Nigel Paice and Rebecca Mattocks. Bec said something about that I’d be amazing and give it a fresh look, and somehow that stuck with me… LOL
Teenage characters have been in a few of your books before. Do you find them harder the adult characters to write about?
No, not really. They speak to me the same way the other characters do. I’m almost inclined to volley the question back to you: was I successful? I think that writing for teens in the YA genre is all about taking that age group seriously. As old as I may be, I still remember the adults who respected me, saw me as a full-worthy individual, listened to me. I think that is how I try to treat my characters, with respect. I don’t try to make them infantile or immature, but when they make mistakes they get to take the consequences.
Mind you, this is fantasy, and an adventure novel to a degree, so there are plenty of difficult challenges and choices to make, many of which are larger than life. I think our five friends handle themselves nicely.
You’ve tackled different subjects throughout your writing journey, what has been the hardest subject and is there one you’d like to explore that you haven’t yet?
Good question. I still think that The Fallen Angels of Karnataka was the book that took the greatest toll on me for a great many reasons, the topic being the main one. To write about child abuse is difficult for anyone, but the way the topic grew within me made it extra difficult. On the other hand, there is also something about the hero of the story, his own personal tragedy that makes it one of my favorite ones, and I absolutely adore that scene that plays out in Paris, on that bench across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower. Probably my favorite scene of all times.
As for unexplored topics, I don’t know. I think when the time comes, it’ll manifest itself, in some sort or fashion. Many of my books spring from things that go on in my life or around me, things that keep me busy, thinking, contemplating, weighing pros and cons.
Many different animals appear in this book, which animal is your favorite and why? If you could morph into any creature which would that be and why?
You’ll get my usual answer on this: no comment. While I’m not a dog person in my personal life, I think Wyatt is adorable and I just tried my best to capture the animal’s essence (the way I perceive them) in the way they appear in the story. This was particularly difficult with those who have extremely limited communicative abilities (no spoilers!)
There is a limitation with regards to the novel playing out in the American Midwest: no sea. It would’ve been nice to include whales or dolphins, or even an ape or two, but alas, no such luck. I’ve done a little (spoiler alert!) something in book two to allow me to at least play a little bit with one of those animals… You’ll see next spring.
Your second question throws me a bit, as I’ve tried to put myself into the mind of so many of them, and not trying to judge them. I think I’d enjoy time as every animal with exceptions, of course, but to soar the skies like an eagle or breach the ocean surface like a whale or roam the prairie like a buffalo or wild horse? Why not? I think it would do all of us a ton of good to experience the world from the perspective of an animal. Just to see how they suffer at the hands of humanity and what we do to the planet.
The subject matter in your latest book is environmental, is this something that concerns you at the moment?
It always does. I think there’s probably a line or two about this in each and every one of my books, and in Willem of the Tafel, it plays the main role in the lead up to the beginning of the story. So unequivocally yes! As the father of a young child, it scares me to see how we are handling things on this planet, how we let things get worse unchecked, how e.g. the U.S. regime is rolling back critical environmental protections to further “clean coal” (what an anachronism!) or how the new Brasilian president is promising to chop down parts of the Amazon forest, literally the lung of our planet. As a citizen I feel powerless, but as an author I have a voice, as tiny as it may be, to speak up about these things, and to use entertainment to highlight the plight of this planet, not just from a human perspective (we do just fine in that department mind you), but from the perspective of all of nature, from plants to fungi and animals. How it’s all connected and how the failure of the system could have unforeseeable consequences for all of us, humanity included. We are, after all, at the top of the pyramid. If that pyramid breaks away underneath us, the fall will be high!
What do you hope I, as a reader, take away from this story?
I hope you’re entertained, that you find the story engaging, believable, despite being fantasy. And if you feel something, joy, fear, sorrow, love, anything really, all the better. I think empathy for the plight of Mother Nature is the greatest thing that could happen to her. It’s the first step toward taking action to save our planet.
And if you get immersed in the story and forget that it actually is just a fantasy, if you can see all the wonders happening before your inner eye, then I’d be really pleased. Did you?
Some great questions and all in all a fun interview. The newsletter is going to include this interview and feature a competition and I hope you’ll join in. I know my readers normally don’t actively participate, but hey, Christmas is upon us, let’s give a little, shall we? Thank you, Tracy, for all those amazing questions. I hope they and my interview answers make people curious to read Blooming. It’s releasing today from Beaten Track Publishing for worldwide publication.
The Golden One is a fresh take on the fantasy genre
Release Day will always be special, even when it’s your seventeenth full-length book. These past couple of weeks have been hectic with proofing of the text and getting everything ready. Last week I sat opposite my visiting father, deeply engrossed in my work, while he wondered why I was so absent. He hadn’t visited for three years and well, I had a deadline to observe. Today we release the first installment of The Golden One, a novel called Blooming, and readers all over the world get to meet Jason and his friends.
My coming fantasy novel is the first book in a planned series of three. A story for youths and teens primarily dealing with the big threats our planet is dealing with today.
A new take on fantasy
This is my first take on the fantasy genre. I think I’ve said it before that most of my books are ventures into a new genre. The only thing that binds them is the fact that they are all “feel-good” and in some way have a connection to the LGBT world, but that’s not really a genre. It’s a biological trait. I’ve read quite a few fantasy novels in my professional capacity. I’m not a huge fan personally, I prefer to stick to reality. It is, possibly, one of my trademarks.
When I wrote Willem of the Tafel, my venture into Sci-Fi, there were no phasers, spaceships or aliens. Instead, it was a very down-to-earth story. The Sci-Fi? It played out in the future, on a very different Earth, ravaged by war and climate change. The latter is also at the core of The Golden One. It’s the single biggest challenge facing our planet, even if there are still far too many people out there who don’t seem to understand, who do not grasp just how serious these challenges are, to every single aspect of life on Earth.
Global warming is at the core of the new story
With every new report, the IPCC is shouting louder: we need to get cracking! Time’s running out. Yet at the same time, we see more and more politicians and elections that refute scientific findings. That makes me sad because science cannot be refuted. It’s one thing to have a bunch of people in Oklahoma build a wooden arc that includes dinosaurs (sic!) They’re few and nobody really takes them seriously, although maybe we should. They remind us of “flat earthers”…
However, those who refuse to see how the world is changing before our eyes, with “once in a million years” drought, wildfires growing bigger and more menacing year over year, hurricanes more and more devastating to the degree that researchers consider upgrading the 1-5 scale to include a six and a seven, or why not the disappearance of an island in the Hawaiian archipelago this year? We refuse to see what is happening right before our eyes. And while we may not have to worry about the world we leave behind, what about our children? Our grandkids? What does it say about us if we don’t care about our own families?
As an author, I can’t make people understand climate change, get them to magically vote the right way. Just look at the U.S. or Brazil. I have no influence there. My one and only vote is here in Sweden. What I can do, however, is to show people how in nature, everything is connected, everything, and if you change things in one corner, it all unravels.
The Golden One is for everyone
Like many fantasy stories, our heroes are young, a group of five teenagers aged seventeen to eighteen. Going to school, they take on their challenges in their spare time. I’ve always been fascinated by stories that address a younger audience, an audience who’s still eager to learn, with open minds, to tell them stories of hope of a better future.
After Spanish Bay, this is my second “young adult” novel. But just because it’s written with teens in mind, that doesn’t mean that adults won’t enjoy it. How many of us have read the Harry Potter books as adults? I think the fantasy genre is predestined to have young heroes, simply because of the innocence of their minds.
Even here, The Golden One is a typical Hirschi story. There’s plenty of emotion, contemplation and introspective, and while there is plenty of action, the focus isn’t on epic battles but more on the inner struggle.
Writing a series from the start is an interesting challenge…
When you write a book with a series of three (or more) in mind, you have the luxury of allowing your characters to grow over a longer period of time. It also presents you with a very interesting challenge. While the second book is basically written, the third isn’t. I’m about 20% in. Every conversation I have with people might influence the content of the final book. I find that interesting and scary. Readers might actually influence the outcome of the story. If that is something you might consider, talk to me, a lot… I know how my subconscious works and that everything I see, hear and feel eventually finds itself onto the pages of my work.
I haven’t decided exactly how the book series will end. It’s going to be epic, of course, and hopeful, in the tradition of my writing, but I have a couple of different ideas that I’m still juggling. Who knows what the discussions about the book will lead to. Who knows, there might be a third or even fourth option. Which one will ultimately come to life you’ll see next fall.
Join in now…
Book two “Deceit” will be released in Mid-March 2019, followed by the final installment in October 2019. And for the first time ever, I’m trying to get out the audiobook as soon as I can. So you’ll get to choose between reading it on paper, on your e-reader
or listen to it. I presume that it’ll be available within a month (ACX does not do exact release dates.) Natasha, who does the covers for my books, just sent me the cover for the audiobook, so you’re the first ones to see it.
Vance Bastian, who is narrating it, is an accomplished expert on the narration of fantasy novels and given the specific characters in this story, I’m sure he’ll do a stellar job. Vance is narrating many books for my publisher Beaten Track. I hope you’ll give it a shot. I think this sort of story is predestined to be listened to, whether you iron shirts or take a long walk through the forest.
Blooming releases today from my publisher Beaten Track and is available for worldwide distribution. I invite you to read the book and get to know Jason Mendez and his Byeonsin friends. The book is available on all your favorite online resellers and well-stocked bookstores. Check out the book’s page to learn more.
Change may be inevitable in life, but how we tackle it defines our legacy to our children
A month from now, it’ll be five years since my mother passed away, suddenly, unexpectedly, but given her suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s, a blessing of sorts, particularly for my father, whose own life had been put on pause as Mom got sick. Five years is a long time. While my son met his grandmother a couple of times during the first few months of his life and we have a few treasured photos from those meetings, he has no memory of her. A couple of weeks ago, we were in Switzerland, on our annual visit to my hometown. My mother grew up there, so did my dad, my grandparents lived and died there, and I spent most of my summers there, and I moved there, the day after I graduated from high school. St. Gallen’s annual fall fair is a city tradition, and–of course–a family get-together, as aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends descend upon the city every year. You never know who you’re going to meet.
What am I to do with you? It was clear that Mom was no longer able to form a bond with her only grandson.
Yet things change, at times imperceptibly, at times almost like earthquakes, suddenly, shifting family tectonic plates. And you become aware of how fragile things like family really are, you’re reminded of our own mortality, aging and the depth of the human experience. As I grew up, my immediate family was always closer to my mother’s side than my father’s, for reasons I may not fully understand. Maybe my dad didn’t get along with his siblings, maybe my mother had a better relationship with hers. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just my memory that suggests as much, because looking over old family pictures, they’re all there, every aunt, every uncle, with very few exceptions (one who disappeared into the Jehovah’s witnesses for three decades and never attended any family gatherings, and one who was intellectually challenged and just never really fit.)
Phase 1 – Child- and Young Adulthood
Growing up, I lost my first grandparent in 1981, the next in 1993, another in 1998 and finally, my grandma on Dad’s side in 2012. Some losses were profound, particularly my maternal grandparents, as we were very close, and they represented my childhood (summers.) Not to mention that I was an adult by then, realizing what it meant. Yet I was young enough that it didn’t really affect my own views on my own aging, my own mortality. I was in my twenties when most humans believe they’re invincible… I’ve also lost a cousin (to whom I had no relationship), an aunt and two uncles. But in absence of a really close relationship, they had no lasting impact on me.
That changed when Mom died. Suddenly I was one heartbeat away from being my family’s oldest, to be all alone. We often say that we grow up when we’re children, but is that really true? At fifty-one, am I really done growing up? I am glad in a way that it was my mother who left this plane of existence first because I’m so much more dependent on my dad (which btw wasn’t always the case.) Losing him will have a much more profound impact on my life. Yet even with him, the equilibrium of our relationship (and that of my brother) has been changing, subtly, for years. He relies on me for advice of the heart and soul, and on my brother for financial stuff. We talk almost daily and I’m not sure how I will handle the day when he’ll no longer pick up the phone. Luckily, we’re not there yet.
Phase X – You’re it, kid!
Not that there will be any question about it. I know I will. I know myself well enough that some sort of automation will take over and simply make sure that life goes on, functionally, even without Dad. But we’re not there yet. Oddly though, I was reminded of the fragile state of family a while ago, while we were in Switzerland. My dad has a new woman by his side. Well, new may not be the right term. They’ve known each other for a long time. They have a history. Enough said. Prior to coming to the family gathering, he’d visited her and while he had always made sure to organize dinners and gatherings with our local family and friends, this year, for the very first time, nothing. I can feel he’s drifting, away from his “old” family, to his woman’s family, her daughters and their kids. I get to hear stories about them, where I may have heard the latest gossip from his siblings and in-laws in the past.
It fell to me to organize things this year, and amidst it all, I remembered a question he’d asked me a long while ago: “would you mind if I weren’t there this year?” I had told him that his grandson would greatly miss him and he’d acquiesced, but in hindsight, I start to wonder. Is he ashamed of moving on with his life, of seeing the old in-laws? I may be wrong, it’s a sensitive topic. Five years, enough of a waiting time? And how do you deal with all that knowing there is ‘history’ and are former in-laws still, really family? Are fifty-six years as part of a family so easily erased by five years as a widower?
Adapting to the change. Not that I have much of a choice…
I’m growing up, and I begin to realize that it will be up to me from now on to keep in touch with my mother’s side of the family, my three aunts and their families. No one else will. No more natural gatherings at a grandparent’s round birthday. And to be honest, I am not really interested in funerals and seeing people there, as they are such sad occasions to catch up (although, naturally, it’s all we’ve got left) And so I put on my big boy pants and grow up, take charge. Not just for my own sake but that of my son, too. I want him to realized that he has family back in Switzerland. Living abroad, we don’t get to spend a lot of time back home, and those roots are meaningful, they explain a lot of things you’ll see in our house that you might not see elsewhere (from the odd cowbell to Swiss liquor and many dishes on our dinner table.) This is no migration post, but I truly feel that those of us who have “migrated” (stupid word, it used to be “emigrated”) to another culture have a responsibility not just to embrace the culture of our new home, but to retain a connection to the old, for our own benefit, to provide roots to our children, but also to foster amicable relationships between the two cultures, something that has become more and more important of late.
All the while I’ve contemplated and written this post, I have also had my own family to think about. The very own creation of my husband and I, the bond of two very different families. I have my own in-laws, and I remember how difficult it was to “break up” with my in-laws when my ex and I broke up. Losing the family was part of the more difficult things I had to do. Now, my husband is trying to keep alive the very same relationships, in some instances re-building them, after his parents had broken a lot of porcelain due to their alcohol addiction. Life, family, they are so complex, so intricately intertwined. There is so much to consider, so much to think about, and I realize that even at fifty-one, I’m still growing up, still learning new tricks, still finding it hard to let go, adapt to change, accept it, and move on.
The Jonathan Trilogy, is the saga of MY generation, a tale where even the worst background and the most hateful parents won’t keep you from finding love, success, start a dynasty! It’s about Hope come to life across four generations.
A constant topic in my writing as well…
Life, and family, have always been great sources of inspiration in my writing, and quite frequently, when I write, the big questions such as the one above, find their way into my books. Here are but a couple of examples:
The Jonathan Trilogy: Not intended as such, but books two and three really are all about family, the “Hope” of the first book come to fruition. Probably the world’s first and only gay family saga…
Family Ties: Focusing on the core family in a very dense format, this story is all about our core family, our relationship with our partners and our children.
Spanish Bay: I think this is a great example of how we look after our own, how we step up to the plate, no matter what.
But families are at the core of many of my other books, and family members often play pivotal roles, that is also true for my coming fantasy series, in more ways than one. As always, your insightful comments are more than welcome. And before I let you go for the day, have a look at the YouTube trailer for the first book in The Golden One Series, Blooming. To learn more, click here. Join me on Facebook for further discussions about this topic, my books, my family, or whatever else is on your mind…
I needed to take a break from writing. I’m currently writing one of the most difficult scenes I’ve ever had to write. No, wait. Not “had to”, but I’ll get back to that later. The reason I wanted to talk about this today is because–magically–events in the real world have begun to coincide with my own life. I’m of course talking about recent events stateside where a man accused of groping a woman on a plane claimed that the President said it was okay and the bombs sent to people that same President has been mocking for years. Words matter. Words have an impact. It goes without saying that the person who’s responsible for the groping, as well as the bomb-maker, are raving lunatics, most likely failing any sanity tests. They need help. While that may excuse their behavior, it does not excuse a regime hell-bent on “divide and conquering” the country they’re set to govern.
Sometimes, it takes time for the words to take hold…
Four years ago, I wrote a post about the fact that people around me, from my publisher to readers and reviewers, had begun calling me a “serial killer”, at least within my books. While hurtful even back then, it wasn’t until the last year or so that the label began to affect my writing in earnest. But unlike so many authors around me who write romance (where death is a bit of a mood killer), I write about life, reality, and in it, death is very much the ultimate consequence of life. One does not exist without the other.
It’s been four years since that blog post, and while I bit back against my friends about a year ago, telling them to give the joke a “rest”, the effects have continued to affect me, and my writing. When my mind suggests that it’s time for a character to ‘go’, I no longer let my fingers type the words. I stop. I contemplate, I rationalize, weighing pros against cons, and it usually puts a damper on my creativity.
This time it’s different
I don’t shy away from difficult topics, call them taboos, things most authors wouldn’t even contemplate to write about, child abuse, the death of children, serious illnesses etc. I write about these subject for several reasons: a) they’re on my mind as a father, a husband, a human, b) there are few/no stories for Christopher’s kind out there who tackle such topics, even though we are affected by them as much as anyone else. We deserve those stories, too. And finally, c) these big and admittedly difficult questions make for great stories to tell. It’s never enough though, and I would never tell a story just because it would make a great story. There has to be more.
When I set out to write my current fantasy series, I had no clue in what direction this would take me. The straw that had broken my camel’s back, i.e. the resistance to writing fantasy, was a radio interview on my publisher’s radio station with a reviewer. At some point, she mentioned that I’d be great at it. Now, she thinks everything I do is great, but somewhere in my subconscious, cogwheels began to churn, and a couple of months later, my resistance was broken. Yet given my writing style, I was afraid where this might lead me.
I know where this shit is coming from…
I’ve just begun writing the final book of the series. The ending of book two is a pretty heavy punch straight in the readers’ gut, yet I felt that in order to continue in the final installment, I had to up the antics. And my subconscious had the answers all ready for me. There are two characters in that book that need to go. One of them was close to it already in the second book, but I hesitated. It was too soon. I still needed her. Yesterday, this suddenly appeared on my screen:
“Jason,” he cried out of breath, “you have to come with me! It’s your mother…”
I stopped writing for the day. I couldn’t continue. Because I knew that there would be consequences if I did. Instead, I wrote it this morning, but I struggled, and I had to take several breaks. This is a serious topic. The only way this death makes sense is as a suicide. Unlike the TV show we’re watching on Netflix right now, where they killed off the President’s wife because the actress quit the show, a freak accident made absolutely no sense, and I could tell by the following episode after this mid-season cliff-hanger that they had a hard time explaining her passing. It was indeed senseless and unnecessary. I couldn’t get away with anything like that.
Yet suicide has been on my mind for some time. No, I’m not suicidal, although I’ve loosely thought about it, like most, at some point. I had the scare of my life earlier this summer when a good friend left with a “bang” and we didn’t know if he was alright for more than a day. The emotional turmoil I (and many others went through), is still lingering. And that wasn’t the first incident of mine.
In the end, I “persisted”…
So you contemplate things, you wonder: why? As an author, I’m afforded the luxury of being able to use my creativity, my storytelling to explore the depths of the human psyche. The Golden One is a young adult series. It’s targeted toward teens, which makes the topic of suicide all the more complex and sensitive. How often are the media accused of inciting people to “do it” if they openly report about a celebrity’s passing? And yes, there is research that suggests that hearing or reading about a suicide might push someone over the proverbial edge. However, if that nudge isn’t provided in today’s paper, it’ll come the next time a classmate yells “why don’t you jump off a bridge already?” or they see it on TV or what not. The problem isn’t when we talk openly about suicide, it’s the fact that we do so far too rarely, and treat it as some big taboo. Probably the biggest one of them all.
Just this morning, the same reviewer who got me to write fantasy asked for advice (retrospectively, she’d already done it) about whether to talk to children honestly about her own father’s suicide. This is a topic that needs discussing. Mental health, suicide thoughts are quite common in teens, and even more so in LGBT youth. To write these chapters, these scenes is anything but easy, and I have a hunch I’ll be spending a lot of time editing them, making sure I get it right. But I trust my subconscious to get it right, now that I’ve finally shown the “serial killer” a serious middle finger.
So why did I hesitate? And what does it mean?
Words matter. When people keep calling you that, even as a joke, and even though it may no longer hurt or sting, it still sits there, in the back of your mind, always, a reminder, nagging, eating away at your self-worth, the belief that you can pull it off, that you can write something good and powerful.
Words have a great impact, far beyond the immediate insult they may cause. Unfortunately, it’s unavoidable that sometimes we get it wrong, be it as a misfired joke or just a thoughtless comment. Let’s not even mention social media, where leaving a snide comment is oh so very easily done… Once out there, it can’t be taken back. Once the words are said, they’re out. Forever. Yes, you may apologize and feel remorse, but the pain they cause on the receiving end won’t go away just because you did. That’ll take time.
I’m human, and like the rest of you, I know that I’ve caused pain, recklessly, with my words. This post isn’t about asking for forgiveness. I hope to have done that where and when needed. Nor am I asking for people to apologize. If anything, I’d like us all to do two things: a) be more careful in how and what we say and b) not to be so easily offended by things people say. Looking back on my post from 2014, I find the tone of the post relatively light-hearted. Back then, I didn’t take the epithet seriously. Rather, I used it to highlight my work. It was only last year when it was hurled at me repeatedly from several corners that I began to feel the effect it had on me.
Why this post?
You might wonder why I even bother to write this. Well, it’s on my mind, and writing about it helps me focus. it helps me realize where I come from and where I need to go, and why. Just going back over these paragraphs strengthens my resolve and confirms that I ultimately made the right decision. In the end, how we react to words spoken, how we allow them to unfold and take effect is entirely up to us. Yes, words are powerful and they may be hurtful, but when push comes to shove, it’s entirely up to each and every one of us to allow them to turn us into tools. Words are just that, words. Nothing else.
Returning to the examples at the beginning, dozens of millions of the President’s most ardent supporters have not taken to sending bombs to democratic opponents, despite incendiary language by 45 and his regime. They know better. But one individual allowed themself to be turned into a tool. A tool for words. How crazy is that?
As always, your insightful comments are more than welcome. And before I let you go for the day, remember that later today, October 25th, at six pm Eastern, I’ll release the YouTube trailer for my coming novel, the first book in The Golden One Series, Blooming. To learn more, click here. Join me on Facebook for further discussions about the book, or whatever else is on my mind…
The answer is – sadly – still the same. A more important question would be: will this (ever) change?
I’ve written about pen names in the past. Pen names can be necessary for authors to protect their lives, their families and loved ones. Pen names can differ for authors who span across different genres, to keep audiences separate. Or they can be used to dip their toes in a new direction. Sadly, there are also criminal elements out there (there is no other way to describe them), people who know that their writing either isn’t good enough or not popular enough, and who use their pen names to catfish for money. There is a new case of this almost every month. It never ends. To use a pen name, let me be crystal clear, is totally okay. As I’ve said countless times before, people have good reasons why they choose a pen name.
The Cover of my coming fantasy novel The Golden One – Blooming, the first in a trilogy about seventeen-year-old Jason Mendez. The book releases in exactly one month, November 15th.
But why would women choose a male pen name?
However, one thing that puzzles me is this: so many female authors choosing male pen names. Why? When Karen Blixen couldn’t publish her first book in the U.S., she was forced to choose the male pen name Isak Dinesen to get it out. That was 1934. Almost a century ago. Today, when the majority of readers are women, and the majority of authors, too, and no publisher would refuse a woman to be published under a female pen name, why is this still a ‘thing’? Mind you, this isn’t about trans or gender queer people. I would never presume to question their right to choose a pen name that better fits their gender identity.
But just last week I was asked about this again, since yet another female author was ‘caught’ using a male pen name, despite identifying as female. Sadly, the answer is as simple as it is sad: “male is better than female”. Or so it is still perceived by society, which includes most women. That makes me sad, very sad because as a gay man, I’m all too familiar with that axiom. My worth as a human is considered less because many of my “gay traits” are considered female, and the typical homosexual is still viewed as effeminate, weak, passive. Needless to say, I disagree with that assessment.
What message do they send girls?
It’s sad that readers will rather read a book from a male author than a book written by a female author. VERY sad. Pathetic even. And for women to choose a male author over a female author? What did Madeleine Albright say about that special place in hell? I can understand how an author might deliberately choose that male pen name to be more attractive to their potential readership. Money. But they are doing their gender a huge disservice, cementing the status quo.
What message do these authors send to girls? Male is safer? Male is more financially rewarding? Male is better? Even women prefer male? Is that really the message a mother wants her daughter to hear? Surely not? Unless you’re a Christaliban, of course…
Will this change? Ever?
It is frustrating that we still, in 2018, must talk about this. Despite great strides we’ve made toward gender equality in recent decades, despite the energy from the #MeToo movement, and the lessons we should heed from the Trump election and the Kavanaugh hearings. How can women ever expect to achieve true equality if they themselves keep betraying their own?
I wonder. I have no answers. Do you? What is your take? Why do so many women choose male pen names?
More and more often, I question the wisdom of having brought a child into this world…
I love my son, more than anything else on this planet. And like most parents out there, I’d gladly give my life to make sure he got to live. I needed to say this before I go into today’s blog post. Because given the way we are treating this planet, I worry. I worry about the state of the planet, where we’re hading, and what kind of world I will be able to leave behind for my son, what future he’ll have. My husband and I live unusual lives. We try hard to reduce our negative impact on the planet’s ecosystem. We drive an electric vehicle, we have modern efficient heating systems, we turn off our LED lamps when they’re not needed, we buy organic food and we have reduced our consumption of red meats to a minimum. We teach our son the value of life, all life, from the tiniest bug to kindness to other people.
My son and I on the highest point of our island. I try to teach him respect for Mother Nature’s creation in all aspects of life.
We are but three in nearing ten billion people…
Yet what are we? A family of three in one of the world’s wealthiest countries. We still eat plenty every day, we can afford to buy organic, despite the price point. We do all those things at a great extra cost for our wallets, for what? To soothe our conscience? What good does it do if the eggs I buy are organic if the next mom buys the cheapest eggs for her family, from hens who live caged all their lives before being destroyed?
What good does it do if we pay extra for an EV if the Fords, the GMs, the Toyotas and the Volvos of the world continue to produce huge SUVs and sell them to people who really don’t need them?
And what good do all of our combined efforts accomplish if entire nations, e.g. the U.S., actively work to increase carbon emissions by rolling back laws and regulations to levels from the nineties, leave the Paris accords, allow the break-up of Natural Parks and the pollution of rivers, lakes and entire oceans?
Willem of the Tafel deals with the ultimate consequences of climate change. Not a future I want for our planet.
The new IPCC report is brutal reading
I woke up this morning to the release of the latest report from the UN climate panel, the IPCC, and their highly anticipated report on the effects of 1.5 C degree target on our climate. It is horrific reading. We’re already past 1 C and unless we take action now, we’re heading toward 2 degrees, which will see e.g. 70-90% of all coral reefs gone. If we go to 2 degrees, we’ll lose 99%! I’m a scuba diver. I have scuba dived among some of the most beautiful coral reefs we have. The thought that they’d be all gone, along with all the species of fish, shrimp etc that live in those stunning ecosystems is heartbreaking. Even more heartbreaking is the fact that my son might not get to see them.
We are way past doubting the effect humankind has on global climate when 17 of the 18 warmest years in the past 136 years have occurred since 2001!
Add to that the way our world is changing politically, philosophically: Brexit, Trump, along with the upheavals taking place in Poland, Hungary, the Philippines, Italy, and now Brasil? To name a few. Why does war feel like something that could happen any day? Is this the future I had envisioned for my child?
What can I do? What can you do?
My coming fantasy novel is the first book in a planned series of three. A story for youths and teens primarily dealing with the big threats our planet is dealing with today, climate change above all else.
I can’t stop Trump. Nor can I stop Brexit. Or any of the madness going on around the world. I can’t. I can only vote here in Sweden, and I did my best to make sure to vote for a political party that is a guarantee for an open-minded society, an ecological future. You can do that, too. In your country.
I’ll continue to buy healthy and organic foods for our family, cooking healthy meals, making sure we don’t throw away food. All of that we’ll obviously continue to do. As an author, I also have the privilege to have a voice that is louder than most people’s. It’s still a whisper, sadly, but nevertheless. And I feel as if I have to use that voice to scream about global warming and the effects thereof. Which is one of the reasons why the fantasy trilogy I’m working on is about a group of environmental warriors, the Byeonsin. And I think I know how the series will end, and that makes me both hopeful and frustrated, all rolled up in one. *no spoilers, nothing is written yet* I’ve also tried to spell out the effects of Global Warming in my novel Willem of the Tafel. Not a future I want to happen, despite the utopian feel of the book.
We have no planet B!
I don’t actually know who first said that but it’s a true statement, and we are still decades away from being able to reach other stars, planets. This Earth, our Earth, is it! We can’t keep going at the rate we are, we simply can’t. We ended this year’s “supply” of Earth on August 1. Sadly, the overshoot date is moving in the wrong direction, year after year. We behave as if nothing were wrong as if all the above were merely fairy tales.
Picture your child, your granddaughter or grandson! Picture them in a world where Miami is four feet under water, where many of the Pacific Islands, and the Maldives, are gone forever. Where billions of people are on the move from Africa and South Asia because of severe drought and famines. Picture the wars, the carnage when embattled Americans and Europeans try to keep them away, out. It’ll be our children, your granddaughters and grandsons holding those guns, protecting their homes from our mistakes.
“I don’t doubt the scientists, but it’s so far away, this thing, this climate change…”
My son’s future is pretty much the most important thing I care about. All else is secondary.
Actually, it isn’t. To even reach the 1.5-degree target, the entire planet must stop emissions of CO2 by 2030. That’s twelve years from now. And we have no clue how. Well, that’s not entirely true. We do know how, but our politics are heading in the wrong direction. And to claim that climate change isn’t happening now? Every year, the planet is warmer, every year, storms are deadlier, droughts are longer, wildfires rage in more places, the Arctic sea ice melts more and more. It IS happening, right now. To deny that, or to claim it’s the weather or the sun, is naïve at best. You’re playing Russian roulette with your children’s future, and unlike in real Russian roulette, where there’s only one bullet in the chamber, this one’s fully loaded!
Time to act is now. Let’s make sure that our children and grandchildren have a planet left to live on, happily. Please?
No, I don’t regret my son, but I am worried sick about his chances for a happy and fulfilled life. It is his future I fight for. Will you do the same for your kids and grandkids?
In politics and psychology, the war to explain sex and gender is hotter than ever. Why?
A few weeks ago I listened to a segment on our public broadcasting radio. They were interviewing a psychology professor who was vehemently defending biology as the defining factor to distinguish gender, men from women, male from female. Leading up to our election a couple of weeks ago, our conservative parties were ranting against “gender politics” and “norm critical” education in schools. Which made me remember my own studies of psychology and the lessons we’d been taught there, how our teachers painstakingly tried to explain the differences between biology, sociology and how we don’t really know how they interact with each other, what ultimately is the defining factor, except one. More about that later.
DNA, chromosomes, and hormones
I have yet to hear anyone argue that a newborn boy and a newborn girl are the same. They’re not. Obviously. Chromosomes decide what sex a child will have, even though Mother Nature has been known to surprise us with various varieties, children we consider intersex, kids with various chromosomal defects, for lack of a better word. We also know that the male hormone “testosterone” and the female hormone “estrogen” impact on how male or female a body appears. Boys with little testosterone will have less body hair and softer features, to exemplify.
So far so good. We also know that hormones will affect our mood, potentially even our personality. However, we also know that all of the above isn’t a given. It’s not a law of nature, like gravity, with no exception. In fact, that is where “nurture” comes in and starts to change things. There are plenty of experiments with how children are affected who are “raised” as the opposite from their birth sex, and there are – of course – our gender fluid and trans friends, not to mention intersexual people. Nature vs nurture. Who is more important?
Front cover of my new children’s book The Dragon Princess, which released September 20, 2018. Get your copy today!
Nature vs nurture. Why is it so important to some?
Seeing how people fight and argue in this debate you’d think it actually matters as if the future of humanity were at stake. But does it? And why? Looking at research and what little I know about nature vs nurture, my take is this: so what? Whether our gender is predetermined by DNA is really not important, because plenty of people live perfectly happy in bodies where their DNA and chromosomes do not match their gender. The opposite is–unfortunately–also true: people who are miserable in their bodies even though the chromosomes perfectly match how their bodies appear.
It’s probably not a big surprise that I believe in choice, that I believe that nurture is much more important than nature. Sure, nature provides us with different preconditions, but that’s it. It merely determines our position at the starting line of life. How well we manage to go through the parkour of life, that’s an entirely different question, where I believe nurture plays a role, and–most importantly–personal choices. These personal choices will, of course, be influenced by both natural predisposition and how we were nurtured.
In a perfect world, that would be it. People would be allowed to determine their own gender expression, whether it’s trans, gender fluid or even genderless/agender. Unfortunately, society complicates things, for a great many reasons.
Conservatives vs progressive
In politics, you’ll find resistance against “free” individual gender expression on the conservative side (on the famous GAL-TAN scale, which is different from the classic left-right scale, as many socialist countries also discriminate against gender expression) while progressive voices usually are much more open-minded.
In our western society where “liberalism” is the lodestar (sorry, couldn’t help it, and no, I’m not behind the infamous op-ed) people’s individual choices are at the center of the economy, and most conservatives want us to make our own choices. Yet oddly this is different. Boys are blue and girls are pink. As mentioned above, our conservative parties in the election fought a fierce battle in the recent election against gender politics, against a preschool where kids are given a choice and taught that it is okay for boys to play with dolls and for girls to play with tools.
Somewhere, there is this idealized picture that we have a pre-defined role closely associated with our sex, our gender and the expression thereof. If you dream of a society where women are the care-takers, child raisers, cooks, and homemakers, it may seem comfortable to find your explanations in biology. You can tell the frustrated women that they don’t really have a choice: “don’t blame me for inequality, blame Mother Nature. I’m sure she knows what she’s doing!” Take it a step further and replace Mother Nature with a deity and you have the perfect storm. And gender politics is evil, as it fights–like Don Quixote–against that which is predestined.
Choice, however, makes things much more complex. Suddenly, you have individuals who live in a soup of biological factors, social factors, and personal choices to be made. And gender politics are a tool to help them find themselves. Some boys will be more “masculine” in their gender expression, some will realize that they are really girls and will want their bodies to match that. The very same is true for girls. At the end of the day, we all find ourselves on a spectrum, from one-hundred percent masculinity to one-hundred percent femininity, where the vast majority is somewhere between the poles.
Nature is at the core of my coming fantasy series. A story for youths and teens primarily dealing with the big threats our planet is dealing with today. Coming November 15, 2018.
What are you, my friend?
Part of the conundrum is the value society attributes to the two poles. Like a battery, masculine is “+” and feminine is “-“, male attributes are desirable, feminine ones are not. That is the sad truth at the core of it all. Our entire world is seen through those lenses. A woman crying in a public hearing is weak, hysterical, a man doing the same is passionate, in touch with his emotions.
I’m a man, but I’m also gay, and thus very much associated with all the negative associations attributed to women. In Turkey, for instance, the word “gay” is exclusively used for bottoms (or receiving men), whereas a top is not. It’s the “female” role that defines who’s gay. A large part of my coming out process (which is a life-long thing btw) was focused on my gender identity/expression, to come to peace with that which makes me a man and that which might not. I have loads of traits which society might consider female and I have spent years trying to figure out whether I should “blame” nature or nurture for them. You know what? I don’t care why. It doesn’t make any difference to how I feel. It shouldn’t matter to anyone. The important thing is how we feel if it’s due to chromosomes, hormones or socialization is irrelevant, or it should be.
But what makes a difference is how I am perceived by others, how my choices are reflected in society. When people or groups keep insisting that my choices are wrong, even though they are just right for me, that’s hurtful. Do I care? At my age, I can barely care enough to lift a middle finger, but I understand that it is a HUGE issue for our young, our impressionable members of society. Our teens who define themselves not based on who they are, but based on their relationships with others. They are at the epicenter of the struggle. It is them we need to support.
On my mind…
I often write about stuff on my mind, big, small, important, inconsequential. And I love to debate. Grant you, it would be easier and more welcome to do so over a cup of coffee/tea, sitting in comfy chairs, but that will have to be another day. For now, feel free to comment and add your two cents, or three. What is your experience? Do you agree with the above or do you have a different view?
Here’s the thing. If only we keep talking, across the great divide of diverging views, we can bring them closer to each other. Yelling, screaming and tweeting will not. So feel free to add your comments. Have a wonderful week.