#Review: Just Juliet, debut #YA novel from Charlotte Reagan (@charbie_rea) #MondayBlogs #amreading

#Review: Just Juliet, debut #YA novel from Charlotte Reagan (@charbie_rea) #MondayBlogs #amreading

Just Juliet transported me back to my high school days

I was recently contacted by Ms Reagan with the request to read and review her debut novel, Just Juliet. The combination of Young Adult (YA), LGBT and the mere fact that a stranger contacted me with the question of reviewing a book was intriguing enough to say “yes”. Just Juliet is a very low key drama, angst free. Most of the drama lies in the past, and is merely described in passing.

Just_JulietJust Juliet is an easy read, very well written, and you get caught up in the narrative almost instantly. The main protagonist is a girl by the name of Lena. Lena is attractive, although, like all (?) girls, she’s not so sure. Her assurance of attractiveness is based on the crowd she hangs with in high school (cheerleaders) and the fact that her boyfriend is a football player. Yes, cliché, but then again, isn’t that exactly what it’s like in real life? Still, to this day, women don’t value their own worth based on their self-esteem, but in relationship to something else. I can’t even begin to number the amount of discussions I’ve had with friends about this topic. Just yesterday, I had a friend tell me just how ugly and unattractive she was. Duh, so not true, but women and self-esteem issues… Just Juliet doesn’t wipe that aspect under the carpet.

In comes Juliet, a new girl in school, transferred from another school in town. Nothing wrong with her self-esteem, she is very comfortable in her own skin. The two girls form a friendship and that’s where things begin to happen. Slowly. In parallel, we also get to follow a gay (male) couple, and they form the template for Lena and her journey out of the closet. Now this is Young Adult, not what I usually read, and some descriptions felt a bit stereotypical, at least to the mind of someone who’s lived through three high school ages. I would imagine that teen life is much more black and white, at least I remember it that way. I remember writing Spanish Bay, and having to sometimes simplify matters, too, for the sake of the intended YA audience.

The author of Just Juliet, Charlotte Reagan.

The author of Just Juliet, Charlotte Reagan. Her debut novel is a real gem for young LGBT readers.

One of the topics discussed in the book is that of bisexuality. For many young people coming out of the closet with a same-sex attraction, the road to gay/lesbian is often travelled via bi. That is a fact. I’d once done the same. However, it also nullifies the very real existence of men and women who are bisexual. Ms Reagan does a beautiful job at explaining that difference, which may be difficult for someone who’s in that situation. Mind you, life is difficult enough for teens, with the demands of life, college, parents, friends, and what not. To add the LGBT factor is a nightmare. I know, Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Yet things have changed, and while the four LGBT characters all have their own story, from absolute nightmare to the “oh, that’s all?” experience, coming out today isn’t as big an issue as it was back when I had to.

It’s nice to see that the changes in time are also reflected in literature. The fact that teens today react much more shrugish to the concept, whereas we were completely shunned by everyone. That is progress, and it’s all good. I really enjoyed reading Just Juliet, and the ending had me tear up. I think it was perfect. And no, no spoilers.

I would hope that Just Juliet continues to be a best seller (as it is right now) and that it will find its way into many school libraries around the world. This is exactly the kind of book I would have needed to read when I was Lena’s age.

Just Juliet is published by Inkitt and is available from Amazon and other retailers. Read it!

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers, I really do, so feel free to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Hans

PS: Four days left (if I’m counting correctly) until my next book is released. This Thursday, I finally get to present you with Jonathan’s Legacy, the final book in the Jonathan Trilogy. Have you pre-ordered your copy yet? This Friday, I’ll tell you more about this book and the unexpected trilogy…

#Tulsa, #Charlotte: black lives are undervalued due to structural #racism #blacklivesmatter #LGBT

#Tulsa, #Charlotte: black lives are undervalued due to structural #racism #blacklivesmatter #LGBT

Why black cops can be as racist as their white colleagues, an attempt at explaining structural racism

I read the editorial of a local Swedish paper this morning, and I have to say, it was probably the worst one I’ve read from them in a very long time. It’s about structural racism in the U.S., and they dismissed the “structural” aspects of it in part because “some of the black men who were shot were killed by black cops…” This got me thinking. I’ve written about structural racism in the past. Racism, misogyny, homo- & transphobia etc. are all variations on a theme. No, not all police officers are racists, I think we can all agree with that statement in the editorial’s heading. However, many, if not most, are, and they’re not even aware of it. That is the very foundation of structural. Allow me to explain.

I am a member of two minorities: I am gay, and I am partially gypsy (Roma or Sinti, I don’t know, long story, hence the use of this non-PC word). As such, I have experienced both sides of the isle. Racism (as well as misogyny etc) are a cultural phenomenon. They’re not a matter of DNA. I know that because I sometimes (still) feel negatively toward others gypsies in public, even though I am one myself (or at least to 25%). That distrust, those preconceptions and assumptions about how “they” would treat me are based on things I was taught from early childhood on, from my family, relatives, school, society. I will not repeat those things here. Needless to say, my gut reaction, the first response to seeing e.g. a Roma woman with their beautiful wide black skirts still sets off that rapid fire response I was already “taught” as a little boy. The second response, to scold myself and disregard that first connotation, comes moments later, but still, to this day, it’s a secondary conscious response. I don’t know how to wipe that original programming, given how often I see it repeated in public. I’m constantly reminded. Un-learning is so much harder than learning, and it requires a lot of training, repetition. And I don’t get a lot of exposure to train…

So how gypsy am I? I know little to nothing about our culture, as my family wasn’t raised that way. My grandma, from whom the DNA comes, was raised in foster care (a huge national shame and something that is still debated in Switzerland to this very day) after having been forcibly removed from her parents because they were gypsies. She never really talked about her past, most likely because of the shame she felt. Being a gypsy back in the day (almost a century ago) was nothing to be proud of. I don’t look like a gypsy. I don’t have grandma’s pitch black hair, nor her brown eyes, but I tan easily. And I am B+, but that’s not visible, is it…So, even though I am partially gypsy, I still feel almost “compelled” to prejudice against them, it’s an urge that is as old as my upbringing. Odd, eh? So when a black cop shoots a black man, what’s to say that that black cop isn’t a victim of the very same preconceptions against his own “kind”? Just the way I was raised? The police force is, as is society in general, still a bastion of white domination, and just because you’re black doesn’t mean you’re immune. It depends very much on how you were raised, socialized and the circles you share, where you wish to fit in? You can be a racist one minute and suffer the consequences of that racism the next.

So no, DNA doesn’t determine your behavior nor pre-conclude structural racism. As a gay man, I was raised to be a homophobe. And to this day (and the impulses are similar to the ones described above) I’m fighting the very basic instincts & patterns of heteronormativity. Now mind you, I am gay a lot more than I am gypsy, married to a man, an LGBT activist, so this part of my life is much more at the core of who I am today, than my gypsy DNA (which I never got to explore), although I am very proud of every part of my heritage. So while it’s easier for me to disregard my heteronormative impulses, they’re always there, still, to this day. I’ve just had more training on this aspect of me. You meet someone new and talk about their partner, the first impulse is always to use the opposite gender pronoun. Usually, I catch myself early enough to change it before it’s said, but still, I don’t catch all of them. That’s just one tiny example… I could list a thousand, including some of the worst insults and behaviors.

Our minds are complex, and while prejudice and racism are everywhere, we aren’t mindless automatons to those impulses. We can learn to become better. We can fight those urges, those thoughts, and we can teach our children differently, although it may seem like a lost cause given all the impulses coming from society, but that is NO reason to give in or give up.

Here’s an example that very clearly shows just how WHITE American culture still is. This short, award-winning film about homophobia and an excellent piece on just how homophobia is a part of male upbringing, you’ll notice something missing from this clip:

Did you see it? There’s not a single black person, not a single Latino, not a single Asian, not a single native American (sic!) in the entire clip, yet it’s called “American Male”. I think I’ll stop here. I think I’ve just made my point.

Structural racism cannot be explained away by the fact that blacks also behave like racists. Quite the contrary, it just shows how deeply rooted these structures are in a society, and just as gays can be the biggest homophobes, and women the biggest misogynists, so can blacks (including cops) be racist, against other black members of the community. To realize that is the first step to changing society for the better.

My apologies for a second post today, but I just couldn’t keep quiet about this. It’s too important. What is your take? Do you agree? What are your experiences?

Have a great weekend,

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers, I really do, so feel free to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Hans

PS: Have you listened to this amazing podcast? It’s called the Coming Out Lounge by my friend Rick Clemons who also is a writer and regular contributor on the Huff Post and TED speaker. Check it out.

Review: The WAG and the scoundrel by Debbie McGowan (@authordebmcg) #amreading #asmsg #crime

Review: The WAG and the scoundrel by Debbie McGowan (@authordebmcg) #amreading #asmsg #crime

The WAG and the Scoundrel is a crime novel, yet not. Maybe that’s why I liked it so much?

Yikes. Me and my admissions. So, I’m probably the only Swede on planet Earth who hates crime novels. And yes, I don’t think I’ve ever NOT been asked if I write crime novels, when people realize I’m Swedish and an author. It’s what we do in this country, passive-aggressive as we are: we murder in books, by the dozens, and we dump them wherever we can in our beautiful landscapes.  Alas, not this freak. I do not write crime, I do not enjoy crime and I cannot remember when I last watched a crime show on TV I actually enjoyed. Imagine my shock, my horror, and the rapid end of my own life approaching when my good friend, aka publisher, aka boss lady, Debbie McGowan, asked me to review her latest book. I had no idea what I got myself into, except that it put the fear of gods in me! And since we’re always honest about reviewing, I knew I was in for an uphill battle of Sisyphean proportions…

The cover of The WAG and the Scoundrel, Gray Fisher book #1.

The cover of The WAG and the Scoundrel, Gray Fisher book #1.

But see, The WAG and the Scoundrel isn’t your run of the mill crime novel. In fact, the murder taking place in the story is about as central to the story as the detective’s (or is it the superintendent’s?) nose hair growth. See? Told you. There are three main characters we get to know in this book: Gray, Rob & Will. Gray is still heartbroken over the loss of his husband (traffic accident, not the stiff of the crime part), Rob is heartbroken over the loss of this wife (she’s off to greener pastures named Travis) and Will is about to lose his mother (and no, she’s not a stiff of relevance to the crime novel either)

Who do you think I am anyway, huh? I won’t give away the plot of a crime novel!

I’m not that heartless! Neither to Debbie nor to you, hopefully a potential reader of this book. Now, let me focus on the book instead, and for once, I’ll divide it into “worked for me” and “didn’t work for me”:

Worked for me

Debbie is an accomplished writer. I realize I keep saying that, because she is, and for every book I read she confirms this part, so I’ll keep this part brief. She knows her shit and she writes it extremely well. The characters feel realistic, believable and for the most part either likable or tolerable (even the idiots), wholly flesh and blood. You’re instantly transplanted into London and whatever place on the island of Britain she’ll take you to, and you’ll be able to see the landscapes, the pubs and the homes before your inner eye. She’s uncanny our Deb when it comes to that sort of thing. (How am I doing so far? Sword still dangling over my head?)

The WAG and the Scoundrel is a story about LIFE, and the characters are truly diverse. Some het, some not, and I had to chuckle when one of the characters actually comes out as bisexual. Cute. Nuff said. A bit of author preaching. I do it, too, so no complaining. The story also includes (a coincidence I presume) a character who’s, let’s just say interesting (not wanting to spoil anything here). I had just recently read about a character who was exactly the same, in a short story by author A. C. Burch. Thus reading about another one didn’t come as a surprise. Only mystery in the book I caught on quickly.

The story is interesting beyond expectation. While nominally a crime novel, it’s really about the lives of these three men and how they become intertwined through said crime. Now, I also need to say that this book is the first of several (?) as it’s dubbed “Gray Fisher #1”, so presumably that leads to #2 etc. (which is where I would respectfully ask to be allowed to leave the train, if I’m still alive then, that is…) Not only is it the first of a brand new series, it’s also part of Ms McGowan’s ginormous alternate universe known to the public as “Hiding Behind the Couch” (HBTC), consisting over some two (or three by now?) million words, several novels, novellas, short stories etc. I’ve read a couple of them but the more this universe expands, the more afraid I get of going near it. Did I mention I don’t like series much?

Didn’t work for me

Author Debbie McGowan has another great novel for us.

Author Debbie McGowan has another great novel for us: The WAG and the Scoundrel

Which leads me to the parts of The WAG and the Scoundrel that didn’t (completely) work for me. First of all, I’m not English, and Debbie throws around more acronyms in this book that my IT company had in its acronym dictionary for new employees (yeah, there really was such a thing). Start with WAG, which is most commonly defined as “wives and girlfriends” on the English soccer team, a more successful group of sorts than their male counterparts on the field ever will be… Alas, I seriously doubted that this was what Debbie meant, because why? It made no sense in the context of the title or the book, even though she confirmed as much in an e-mail to me. Avid inhabitants of the HBTC universe will of course recognize the subtle pun. Me? I’m at a complete loss to the meaning of the title, but I guess that says more about me… Apart from that, and unless you’re a crime aficionado or native English – the island, not the language – and preferably up to speed on the Met’s current police hierarchy, nomenclature and organization, you may not recognize most acronyms used in the story. For the most part it didn’t hurt reading the story, but they stopped me in my reading (thank goodness for Google), when I came across them, nonetheless: CID, DCI, SEG etc.

The other thing that complicated the read was the fact that it’s part of Deb’s alternate universe. There are more references to Josh, George, Iris and others than I care to remember and the thing is, while not one of them is actually needed to read and enjoy the book, they are thrown in so casually that I’m led to believe the author either expects us to know said universe or that they carry some sort of subtle meaning. Now, I’ve dipped my toes in it, I’ve met Josh and George and their daughter Libby, but I can’t say I know them. So when those names are dropped so casually, it either carries a meaning I’ve missed, or I’m just to darn stupid to get it.

Did I just hear the hair holding the sword above my head snap?

In conclusion

Thing is, you don’t need to know the acronyms, nor the universe to thoroughly enjoy this story. And I’ll tell you: you’ll be sitting on the edge of whatever it is you sit on to read as you approach the climax of the story. I promise you! The pace is so fast and intense that you won’t be able to wait for it to get there. I really got to care about Rob, Will & Gray, and for some odd reason, I guess Will’s nestled himself into my heart and mind the most. Not sure if it’s his care for animals, it certainly wasn’t his choice of tattoos…

The WAG and the Scoundrel was released yesterday by Beaten Track Publishing and is available from Amazon and other online retailers. Give it a shot! You’ll be pleasantly surprised, whether you love a good crime novel or not. And for the fans of HBTC, you’ll be drooling over this one, I just know it!

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers, I really do, so feel free to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Hans

PS: Have you listened to this amazing podcast? It’s called the Coming Out Lounge by my friend Rick Clemons who also is a writer and regular contributor on the Huff Post and TED speaker. Check it out.

How can we save the world from the abyss it’s rapidly heading towards

How can we save the world from the abyss it’s rapidly heading towards

Internet leads to Google, Google leads to Populists, populists lead us to…

  • France: Marine LePen will most likely be one of the two finalists in next year’s presidential election.
  • Hungary builds the first wall since the end of the cold war, against neighboring Serbia.
  • Germany: populist and racist right-wing party AFD is moving from election to election, growing stronger and stronger
  • India: Lord Modi rules with iron fists in the name of hindu nationalism among rising religious tensions against Pakistan
  • Philippines: President Duterte has thousands of people slaughtered, without trials, calls critics “sons of bitches”
  • Russia invades neighboring Ukraine and annexes the Crimean peninsula and occupies 20+% of the east of the country.
  • UK: the Brexit vote was all about fear of foreigners, and a populist promise of easy solutions to very complex problems
  • USA: Trump is less than 50 days away from a realistic shot at the White House
  • China builds artificial islands near other countries, claiming an entire ocean it’s own, despite international court rulings against it.
  • The “civil” war in Syria is threatening to escalate into a regional and supra regional war.
  • Terrorist bombs are exploding daily, in cities around the world
  • etcetera, etcetera…

Where are we heading, as a planet? As a species? Is another World War inevitable?

This has been on my mind for a very long time, and as we rapidly approach the abyss, I think we need to stop for a moment, reflect, as a species, and change our way, before it is too late. I have given this a lot of thought over the past few years, as I’ve seen this phenomenon grow bigger and darker, and I believe that I have found a correlation between the rapidly growing nationalist movements around the world, and the emergence of populists and racists everywhere with the Internet. Our world is moving closer and closer to an abyss we may never recover from. As a father of a young child, this is not the world I wish to pass on to my son. Allow me to present my “findings” to you, and let’s take it from there, because there is hope, still!

Rewind: 1989, fall of the Berlin wall

What a joyous year that was. The Americans and the Russians were talking, Eastern Europe woke from a several decade long slumber and when the wall came down, there was this genuine feeling among us young people that the world had arrived at peace. Once and for all. And for a year or two, under the leadership of the U.S. and Russia, the United Nations presented itself as an organization that would stand up to tyranny, and the first gulf war against Iraq was a great example of that. Even though Kuwait was attacked, there was this sense around the world that no, not this time, not like this, and the Iraqis were defeated by the United Nations.

That seems so long ago. Sadly, Russia wasn’t a stable democracy, and behind closed doors, the apparatchik remained intact and when Yeltsin left the Kremlin, his successor quickly turned the presidency into a tsar-ship. We just didn’t see it. Didn’t want to. Now we pay a heavy price for that complacency.

But even elsewhere, something began: the Internet began to grow, and we all embraced it. The web is a great tool, and I will not blame the Internet for anything. It has no guilt, no conscience, as little as a hammer or a gun. It can be used for good, and it can be used to do harm. Sadly, there are aspects to the web that are detrimental, and I’ll explain that in a minute. But first, let me briefly touch upon democracy.

Democracy, a delicate flower

We all know that the “ideal” form of government would be the benevolent dictator, s/he who knows what is best for their people and who always acts in accordance to those best interests, above politics, palace intrigues and impossible to bribe. Alas, we also know that power corrupts (unless said dictator were inhuman), and absolute power corrupts completely. So no, away goes the benevolent dictator. Which leaves us with the second best thing: democracy. To flourish, democracy needs a few very vital ingredients:

  • Freedom of speech
  • Respect for human rights
  • Division and balance of powers
  • A free press

The American constitution with its intricate “checks and balances” has served as a template for most modern (western) democracies, two chamber parliament, one for regional influence, one for influence for the people, a strong executive, an independent judiciary system and ways for the three to keep tabs on each other. Naturally, every country has its own flavor of the same. However, for as long as democracies have been around, journalism, and the press have been there, as a sort of fourth pillar of government, making sure that governments stick to their rules. Watergate is a classic example of how great journalism works at its best, and there are other examples from other countries.

But after 1995, things began to change, imperceivably at first…

The demise of the free press

The rise of the Internet has been great for our planet. We can communicate more quickly, and it seems that our planet is only a village now, and goods and services are readily available to those connected (the rest is a different story, not the topic of this post). Newspapers were quick to jump onto the bandwagon. At least after universities and some private entrepreneurs. In the Internet 1.0, they saw it as a way to attract readers to their papers, and their websites were the blinking, flashing equivalent to their headlines or first pages.

Eventually, they discovered that little banners and blinky, flashy things would make them money, and thanks to Google, the clickonomics were born. People became rich on YouTube and elsewhere with the proceeds from their advertising.

Newspapers, not so much. As more and more of their content was published online (seeing it was already written in electronic format), people began to read online. For free. Why pay for something that is offered for free. We stopped paying for our subscription many years ago, after our local paper’s quality had already suffered so badly that we weren’t willing to shell out for it any more. I admit to contributing to the further demise of it (it is currently undergoing reconstruction). Besides, who wants to read yesterday’s news?

Several things happened to the free press:

  • People read (shorter) snippets online, rather than analytical articles which dig deep into the subject matter, and provide important facets.
  • The rise of blogs and subjective journalism has led to a plethora of voices available to us. We listen to the ones we like to, and disregard the ones we dislike (e.g. Fox News vs MSNBC). Many blogs disguise as news, and it’s very difficult for lay people to distinguish between a quality journalistic piece and a blog post (such as mine). Now there have always been subjective articles in papers, but they were called editorials, or letters to the editor. Now they’re called “headline news” or “Friends of Fox”…

In the past, we, the people of a nation, would have a limited supply of journalistic resources at our disposal. We would watch Tom Brokaw on the Nightly News, or read the Post or the Times, and we would then discuss, debate, based on a common base line. Today? Not so much. What common base line is there between someone who watches 360 with Anderson Cooper, the Rachel Maddow Show or Greta van Susteren on Fox? Nothing, except maybe the names of the people involved.

The Internet as a megaphone

Without moderation, the Internet brings out the worst in us. Don’t believe me? Take almost any newspaper and read the comments to articles. We’re all Tom Brokaw now! No matter whether we can write properly, read or have spent four years in college to study the rules of journalism. If it were that easy, why spend four years in school learning the ropes? Huh?

The Internet also changes the rules of the game in other ways. Face to face with another human being, we immediately see the result of our insults, we see the pain inflicted on our counterpart. On the web? Not so much. In fact, I’ve seen things online that are so horrible, so painful it defies description.

So people call for moderation censorship. And hence no nipples or penises on Facebook. We have a saying in Swedish: “sila mygg och svälja elefanter” (loosely translated as “sieve mosquitos, but swallow elephants”) That’s what modern censorship does, when private companies like Facebook censor e.g. the picture of the naked Vietnamese girl running from a napalm bomb. Why? The algorithm detected the naked girl and blocked it, not understanding the connotation of the image, the horrors of war, the historic and cultural value of a completely non-sexual image. Algorithms are fine, but they can’t replace humans.

The modern world is a complex one

Enter another important element: our globalized world is complex. Foreign politics is more important than it ever was. Used to be finance ministers who ruled the world, or the minister of the interior, defense maybe. But today? In the EU, ministers have as many meetings with their counterparts as they have in their own governments. If a nuclear power plants goes bust in Japan, the effects will be felt in other countries, too. When Indonesia burns its forests, Malaysia and Singapore et al. suffer, too. When a company moves jobs to China, Bangladesh or cheaper African nations, their gain is someone else’s loss.

The financial crisis of 2008, caused by the greed of a small, a very small group of very greedy people, was originally not even a crisis of the real economy. But, as banks went bust and stock markets trembled, “real” companies felt they had to slow down. I remember it clearly, as I read those memos, daily: we stopped hiring, as a precaution. We stopped traveling, to be on the safe side. We stopped investing, because. And those people who weren’t hired never paid taxes, the airlines, hotels, restaurants and taxis we stopped using lost real revenue, and the investments that ceased flowing hurt all kinds of service companies. And that’s when they began to let go of people, and the people who weren’t hired stopped consuming, we sold less and the wheel was in motion, more and more quickly, every day. The company I worked for lost 40% of their revenue within six months. From being a “virtual” crisis it had become the worst economic crash since the nineteen thirties, and we all now how bad the “depression” was. It was BAD.

And what happened then? Well, Hitler, Mussolini & Franco happened. The Japanese invasion of China happened. Populists found easy targets, scapegoats, wether it be Jews, gypsies, communists or whatever. Problems within nations are solved by uniting the people against a common (foreign) enemy. And it’s happening before our very eyes, right now, in every country I know. Yes, every one of them.

They offer easy solutions, although, in reality, there are none. As little as the Jewish had been responsible for Germany’s miserable economy in the great depression, as little are the Mexicans responsible for the fallout of the 2008 crisis, no matter what Trump suggests. Neither are immigrants at fault for Europe’s challenges, nor Islam. It’s just not that simple. Never was and certainly isn’t today!

But who reads articles that analyze complex situations? Who will ever read this essay already stretching beyond the two-thousand word mark? This most certainly won’t go viral. It’s not short enough for Twitter, not sexy enough for Instagram, not playful enough for Snapchat and while it may garner a couple of likes and comments on Facebook, that is probably where this will end.

Sadly, the more complex our world has become, the less complex our media consumption has become. We see articles with a catchy headline and a photo and off we comment on our friends’ posts, and how many actually read the article linked? We’ve become obsessed with faster and shorter, and politicians have become trapped in a world where complex and reasoning just don’t work for the media, where fewer people produce more content than ever before, where the same interview my publicist wrote about my most recent book was published by ten magazines, under ten different bylines. Same article, word by word. Imagine what the mighty corporations can do with their huge PR budgets. There are so many opposing forces at work, and while I may be reading from ten different newspapers from five or six different countries, every day, I wonder if I truly understand the world better for it? I fear in all of this, we’ve also lost trust in our institutions, from governments, legislatures, courts and journalists.

The impact on society

With newspapers and TV channels chasing higher ratings, and better click-through rates, we seem to abandon all sense for what is right, what is important, and hypocrisy replaces journalism. My article about the Huffington Post yesterday is a good example of that, they claim to dislike Trump, and have a little disclaimer at the end of every article, yet that same site acts as the Donald’s greatest megaphone. Whatever he says is amplified by a tremendous factor and spread around the world.

And trust me, no Republican, and no one who “hates” the fact that the Huffington Post is a democratic leaning paper, is ever reading it. No, they have their own sources. As societies, we are rapidly losing common ground. You can’t go to the office and say, “hey, did you read the Post this morning?” (well that might still work if you happen work with Jeff Bezos…) But for the rest of us, you never know who has read what, and our circles of Facebook and Twitter tend to be like us. And if they’re not? So easy to un-friend… And never having to see that person’s “vile views” again. I mentioned such an example yesterday.

The problem is that those people aren’t going away… “Unless, Second Amendment(,) people, maybe there is, I don’t know…”

Yes, already we have politicians inciting the use of force, of violence. Not just Trump, other Republican Governors have made similar statements. In the Philippines, a man was recently elected president on the promise (!) to keep killing people without a trial. Duterte is certainly keeping his promise, making the “rule of law”, the Philippine constitution a worthless piece of paper. What about our societies’ deepest held convictions of “innocent until proven guilty”? “If in doubt, acquit rather then sentence”?

This is a global pandemic, and it rips through families, circles of friends, states and entire nations.

The results could be catastrophic

So what are people doing? Well, at first we all do the same thing: we un-friend idiots and jerks. We unfollow family members we can’t afford to un-friend, because… We clean up our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds to make sure they’re as pleasant as can be, all yay-sayers and people who sing our praise and share our views and values from the roof top. I am guilty of doing very much the same thing. So much misery in real life, I want some peace and quite on Facebook. Right?

Sadly, in real life, those people we’ve cleaned out are still there, and they, too, have a vote come election or referendum day, which is why we can’t afford to do that. Because if we don’t, things will only get worse. Can you imagine a world where Donald Trump is actually answering his question “why do we have nukes if we don’t use’em?” or a Putin who boldly moves west because, well, nobody told him not to… Or a France with Marine LePen at the helm? Or Jobbik ruling Hungary? Or Frauke Petry in Germany? Or, or, or…

I dare not even think what that would lead to… Donald Trump, not surprisingly, blamed the free press for terrorism yesterday, and felt that an amendment to the constitution was needed to regulate who says what. Hitler did the same, so does Putin, and Communist China, Cuba, North Korea and other countries we typically do not associate with as thriving democracies…

Yesterday, the Swedish Armed Forces announced that an increased and credible threat level from Russia demanded permanent military troops on the island of Gotland, our easternmost “outpost” in the Baltic Sea. War is looming on the horizon.

There are many elections waiting for us, in Germany, France, the U.S. etc. And while many of us will be voting, there are also an increasing number of citizens who decide not to vote, either because they feel that politics and politicians aren’t providing us with the necessary answers any more or because they feel that their vote doesn’t make a difference. Others again are falling for populists and demagogues with easy, scapegoat answers, blaming someone else, preferably foreign, for all their domestic shortcomings. Putin’s done it (Chechnya, Georgia, Ukraine), and every other demagogue is doing it. Many sensible people don’t vote, and thus amplify the votes of the disenfranchised, frustrated. The ones who lost their jobs to China, the ones who lost their job security to the greedy few.

How can we stop the disaster from happening?

Sometimes I dream of retreat, but alas, living in Europe, that’s hardly the answer. Besides, we have plenty of populists here, too. What I do know though is that running won’t solve my problems, nor will it leave a better world for my son. So how can we turn this ship around? I think, and I’ve come to this conclusion after much deliberation with myself, that the only way is discourse. The exact opposite of what the Internet has enabled us to do, which is shout and scream sound bites.

Instead of un-friending that person who fell for a LePen or Farage or Trump, talk to them. I know it’s hard, but we have to fight for every single person. They are our neighbors, co-workers, friends and family. And even after the next election, they’ll still be there, as will we. As they “hate” whatever candidates, ideas we support, try to listen why. Try to understand what it is they are challenged by. Try to understand what their fears are, why they feel the way they do. And you’ll find that their views aren’t nearly as extreme as those of a Trump. Because in all honesty, how could anyone besides Putin disagree with “Make America great again?” What American would ever want an America that wasn’t great? Such slogans are worthless, because you can’t disagree. They mean nothing. Try to talk, listen, understand. Don’t argue.

I believe that if we truly were to re-learn the great discourse, where calm voices reason, we can find that common ground. Yes, there are hopeless cases, and yes they are usually about 5% on either side of the left and right extremes, at the most. Yet many recent votes show that populists and demagogues reach numbers of up to 35% of the vote. Even Hitler’s NSDAP had 32% in the final election before they stopped voting altogether. Leaves 68% with different views, a clear majority, and eve within those 32% were many who didn’t really ‘believe’, people who simply had no hope left. We need to talk, at length, not just 140 character soundbites, not shout headlines at each other. I’ve had people literally scream Trump’s motto at me. Does that make me a believer? Again. I don’t disagree with that statement. The interesting debate starts with the “again”…

So coffee, or tea, is how you change this world for the better. Seek out your opponents, and talk. Quietly, mannered. Understand each other’s fears and worries. Very few people are truly radicalized, and there’s hope for them, too. Most are just frustrated, angered, misunderstood. Listen, understand, and we can fix this, but it’ll only work if we truly all contribute, and that is really the challenge, isn’t it, because who gives a shit?

Congratulations. If you’ve read all the way here. This is a ginormous post with over three thousand three hundred words. I would welcome to talk to you about my analysis. Do you agree? Disagree? What have I missed? What else can we do? Let’s begin the discourse for a world I’m proud to leave to my son…

Thank you!

If you’ve enjoyed this essay, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers, I really do, so feel free to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Hans

#MondayBlogs: Of friends, Trump and literary awards… #amwriting #asmsg

#MondayBlogs: Of friends, Trump and literary awards… #amwriting #asmsg

The perfect storm: why the Googleconomy is helping despots like Trump

Monday morning, and it seems as if fall finally decided to stake his claim over Scandinavia. I’m not going to talk much about writing today, and barely about my latest award-winning (yay!) book Shorts – Stories from Beneath the Rainbow. Just a paragraph about that at the end of this post. However, two things happening yesterday and this morning have kind of coalesced into the urge to get this off my chest: a) I did the math yesterday, and noticed that the Republican nominee had 26 (!!!) articles with his name on the first page of the Huffington Post (and many featuring his face, too). The Democratic nominee? A couple at most.

Fall is slowly approaching.

Fall is slowly approaching in Scandinavia, all the while I’m watch the world move closer to a precipace.

I find that really scary, and some of the news agencies are well aware that they are being played, yet every outrage he causes, every incredible thing he says is put up, front and center, for everyone to see. And no, it’s not that the media and most journalists believe and endorse those outrageous views. But in a sick and twisted world where the struggle for clicks, likes & shares determines which media outlet gets the commercial gains in the Googleconomy, they have no choice but to put those articles up there. Or do they?

This morning, I happened to read a post on Facebook that made me sad, in more ways than one:

“I’ve been unfriended by a writing colleague I’ve looked up to, and considered a writing ally and friend for many years. I should never have engaged him about politics and gun control. I knew better when I was doing it, so that’s on me, and I respect his choice. Maybe it was inevitable, but part of me doesn’t believe it was. I see it as a colossal waste of a good friendship, and that makes me sad.

What is it about today’s society that we can no longer be friends across the isles? I’m not going to even touch on the subject of friendship online vs real life, because I don’t know how well they know each other outside the realm of the Internet. And I won’t comment on gun control. Having lived in the American West, I do understand people’s strong views on self-defense. I really do. Which doesn’t mean I share them, completely. It’s a matter with a lot of shades of gray…

I am a man of strong convictions, and I respect people for their strong convictions, too. However, I expect people to listen, and I mean really listen, not just to respond, but to understand. I often find my beliefs questioned, and it’s not always a pleasant experience, particularly if you find that the arguments of your “opponent” make sense. But to NOT listen is really the big issue we’re facing. There is no real discourse in our society any more.

Now an award-winning book.

Now an award-winning book.

Apart from the death of the old-style newspapers which were financed largely by subscriptions, the demise of journalism (who can afford them if we all write for free, “for exposure”, particularly on such sites as the Huffington Post), the Googleconomy, run by clicks and hence the run for maximized hit rates, combines lethally with the rise of opinion news, be it Fox or MSNBC. And while it may be soothing to be listening to Rachel Maddox or Greta van Susteren for some, does it really give you an unbiased version of the news? No, of course not. Sadly, all of the above in combination with the rampant economic inequality in our society along with the 2008 financial crisis (from which we still haven’t recovered, eight years later!) and the very real demise of the white man’s rule in America. I won’t go into the reasons “why” that is, but it’s safe to say that a combination of a global economy (cheaper labor elsewhere), and the immigration of non-white groups of people, having (for now) more children than Mr. & Mrs. White, have contributed. Please note that I am not assigning blame here. I merely note facts.

I could be one of those angry white men, too. Except I’m not. I’m not 100% caucasian (with my 25% gypsy heritage) and I’m 100% gay, which puts perspective on the privilege anyway. But a lot of people feel disenfranchised, for good reasons. Sadly, there have always been people out there (we know from sources in literature that despots were around as far back as the Roman Empire) and their techniques have always been the same: offer desperate people easy solutions.

What we see today in Europe and the U.S. (I have far too little knowledge to make claims on Africa, Latin America or Asia, sadly in part because our media rarely writes about those continents) is despotism at work everywhere: from Putin who thinks the annexation of the Crimea is the solution to the Russia’s pained self-esteem, to the infamous wall against Mexico. Simple solutions to immensely complex challenges. Sadly, their adversaries in the elections aren’t the kind of hopeful people either. While I’m “with her” in this election, that doesn’t mean I’m overly enthusiastic. And I can understand how someone takes offense at a person who charges one or two hundred thousand for a couple hours of talking, when they get by on fifteen or twenty thousand a year. It’s offensive, it really is. I get that, and it’s easy to assign blame on someone who is even less privileged than you are. Simply because they don’t have a way to defend themselves.

Somehow, all of this is connected. My friend losing someone he obviously respected over politics is typical for today’s world where we listen to be reinforced in our beliefs, not to have them questioned… There is nothing wrong with having strong convictions, and I’ll be honest and say that I find it hard to be friends with some people. I recently asked people to un-friend me who were going to vote a certain way in an election in Switzerland, because that vote would’ve constitutionally made my family invisible, non-existent. That was really a core issue for me. But I’m not un-friending (on Facebook or elsewhere) people over Trump. I even know gay people who will vote for Trump. Instead, I would like to know exactly what it is they expect him to deliver, what the challenges are they face they believe he’ll fix. Discourse, that’s what we need, not monologues. I think that is the only way we can overcome this shouting match we’re experiencing.

Or as someone once said: “We listen more to respond than to understand…” And without understanding, how can we empathize with others and propose better solutions to the challenges they face?

So much for the tough part of this post. Allow me to finish on a brighter note. My latest book, Shorts – Stories from Beneath the Rainbow, won the SIBA Award in the Diversity category, officially making me an award-winning author. Kind of cool, and I’m very humbled by everyone who voted for me and the book. This was a “popularity” contest and people voted for their favorite books. So it’s not necessarily an epithet of quality. Just saying. Not that I’m less thrilled! 🙂

Have a good week!

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers, I really do, so feel free to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Hans

Review: Jendi Reiter’s (@JendiReiter) skillful debut novel: Two Natures #amreading #LGBT #ASMSG

Review: Jendi Reiter’s (@JendiReiter) skillful debut novel: Two Natures #amreading #LGBT #ASMSG

Two Natures takes us back to a time many of us have tried hard to forget

Jendi contacted me a while ago, asking me if I’d be interested to read her debut novel, Two Natures, which hit book stores yesterday. Ms Reiter is an accomplished writer, having won awards for her poetry. I’m always interested in reading a good book, and when a poet branches out into prose, I’m intrigued. I’ve read this novel over the past few days, taking much needed breaks every now and then, because Two Natures gets under your skin.

Two_Natures_coverFirst things first: the writing is astonishing. Not really a surprise from an award winning writer, but still. It deserves to be said, as poetry and prose are two kinds of animals. Ms Reiter does an amazing job at describing the era, the early 1990ies, the locales, mainly Manhattan, the politics of the Clinton and Giuliani era (seems history has a way of repeating itself…), and the fashion and publishing industry of the time. The characters become alive almost instantly, and I got to follow along the path of Julian Selkirk, the ‘hero’ of the story, as he tries to build a career for himself as a fashion photographer in New York. Work, life, sex, love, death. It’s all there, deliciously described.

A couple of years ago, I wrote The Fallen Angels of Karnataka, and I remember the reactions I got over the descriptions of HIV and AIDS in that book. As it started out in the eighties, I had no choice but to relate to “our” big drama. I also remember the acclamations from the like of e.g. A&U magazine for describing the HIV epidemic in a new light. I think I wrote TFAK the way I did, because I couldn’t bear writing it any other way. For many of us coming of age at the height of the epidemic, we tried to ignore it, stay clear of it, and we repressed it. The condom was there from the first time we had sex, never knowing anything else. Two Natures also takes an interesting, almost in passing, look at the epidemic. New York, at the heart of it, is a focal point for much of the hysteria, the resentment against the LGBT community, and the tiniest slivers of hope for a brighter future, spelling marriage equality, anti discrimination legislation etc.

Two Natures is not an easy read. It is, however, a darn fine read. The beautifully crafted language that belongs to a great literary work, the details in scenery descriptions and the well-crafted dialogues make it a delicious read. But never an easy one. I am not usually a reader of historic fiction, and it pains me to use such a word, acknowledging just how old I’ve become myself, being about five years older than Julian. I read about things like President Clinton signing the Defense of Marriage Act (commonly known as DOMA, repealed as recently as 2013, as it was declared unconstitutional). Twenty years it was in place, this horrible thing, and so much happened in that time. Much I’d forgotten, some I’d just blocked out. My life was not unlike Julian’s: partying, casual sex, friends, work, studying.

At times, Two Natures is really funny and witty, with a sense of humor so sharp it startles you. Here’s a sentence I highlighted in the first part of the book, from Julian’s POV:

Daddy grunted. He believed motorcycles were for Democrats having a midlife crisis.

I stopped mid-track, having to re-read that sentence a few times. So odd, so far away from my pre-conceptions of what a motorcyclist is like, yet what a beautiful description of a southern man’s mindset, his own pre-conceptions. The second example is just as witty:

“Does Linda Evangelista expect to be loved for her mind?”

Julian is quite the cynical photographer in the fashion industry, a typical New Yorker, despite his Georgia background. Not a judgement of Ms Evangelista’s intelligence, but how completely irrelevant it was to her career as model. The present tense of the phrase made it all more edgy. The book is littered with such bon-mots.

The author of Two Natures, Ms Jendi Reiter.

The author of Two Natures, Ms Jendi Reiter.

Two Natures begins in 1991 and ends in 1995. I remember some aspects of that time in my life. Like Julian, my sex life was varied, and like Julian, I had several relationships. There are many commonalities he and I (along with most gay men of the era) share, and while I was never even close to the fashion or publishing industry, the loose yet oh so important circles of friends were there. Ms. Reiter did an amazing job researching for the book, and it is painfully realistic.

Without going into details about the plot, the two main romantic or love interests of Julian, Peter and Phil are painted in equally realistic colors. Both men flawed, but lovable. No, this is no romance novel, despite the romantic thread that permeates the pages. In fact, the mere mention of “open relationship” might send some readers of such novels screaming for the nearest therapy couch. Yet it is exactly the honesty, the unbridled truth told in Two Natures that makes this book so amazing. In fact, for all I know, Julian Selkirk is just a pseudonym for a real gay man living in New York in his mid-forties, married, no kids. I am deeply indebted to Ms Reiter for writing “our” story, the story of gay men growing of age in the nineties so honestly, so candidly.

As painful as it may be to remember some aspects of it, as hopeful is the picture she skillfully paints, and as we leave Julian on the floor of GalaxyCon, there is hope for the future. And as we all know, that hope has largely been fulfilled in the twenty years since, albeit loads of work still remains. Two Natures is an exquisite work of art, beautiful literary writing that enriches the LGBT section of any book store and Kindle, and it adds a beautiful facet to the mosaic of LGBT life past.

Two Natures is published by Saddle Road Press and is available from Amazon and other fine online retailers. Give it a shot, you will not regret reading it.

Have a wonderful weekend.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers, I really do, so feel free to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Hans

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