No, it’s not because I write beautiful prose, capturing my audience from the first paragraph. Nor do I write tart poetry that puts readers in touch with their innermost emotions. I wish. Instead, it’s my personal life that resembles that of the stereotypical author: I’ve become a recluse. A hermit. I readily admit that I’m most comfortable in my own company. I wrap my loneliness around myself like a blanket on a cold winter’s day. It’s comforting, it’s mine.
Once upon a time…
Johnny Begood, up to no good
There was a young man who thought himself to be an extrovert, a man who loved crowded cities and to meet new people. All the time. What the young man failed to realize (or admit to himself?) was the fact that those interactions were costly. Afterward, he’d feel exhausted and he would often slump into a what might best be described as a depression, or at least a “low”. It would take days to get out from under the rocks.
But he loved to slip into characters, to play someone else (safe, right?) and be outgoing, entertaining, the proverbial “life of the party”. Here (to the left) is a photo from one such event about fourteen years ago, happy times in Budapest, before the country descended into near-fascism under the rule of Victor Orbán. Here we have our author playing his evil (heterosexual) punk-rock twin.
I still remember it all, vividly, the things I did in character, things which would probably be considered sexual harassment in these post-#MeToo days, and I guess I’d have been slapped across the face more than once had it not been for the fact that my co-workers knew that it was all an act and that underneath the mask of that crazy punk rocker was an innocent gay boy, happily married. I even joined and sang (sic!) with a band that night, even though I had no idea what they were playing and despite the fact that I had never sung before and without a clue what the lyrics were. But we seemed to be quite the hit with the crowd, probably buoyed by the copious amounts of alcohol flowing all evening.
Her Majesty took the prize
Her Majesty’s groupies. My feigned disinterest was actually fatigue and a splitting headache.
Since then, I’ve only been “out” in character one more time, four years ago, and I will be honest and say that the price was far too high. As successful as the performance was (from a strict marketing point of view), the cost was crushing, mentally and emotionally. From the near-constant sexual assault by the many females in the crowd, and the neverending onslaught of people on my persona, I was barely able to keep a straight face and had it not been for my character, I would’ve fled the scene long before the two-hour mark after which I returned to my room utterly exhausted.
It must’ve been then that I “relabeled” myself, into an ambivert, someone who is a bit of both, extrovert and introvert, stuck in the middle, outgoing at times, but in desperate need to recharge the batteries in between.
From extro- to ambi- to introvert
I must have been fooling myself, like the little gay boy who feels safer coming out as bisexual rather than gay right away, failing to see that he’s thus only hurting those who really are bisexual. But that’s another story. I think it is high time that I admit that I’m a full-fledged introvert. But how did that happen? Has it been these past nine years of working alone from home? The lack of people to socialize with on a daily basis?
Alone. This is how I feel best right now.
Or is it because I’ve just spent ten days in the company of guests? Literally 24×7 with no privacy? I don’t know, but when I left the gym yesterday, after spending the first two hours alone in almost two weeks,
I felt this overwhelming sense of relief, of finally being able to breathe again, and then it struck me that I was about to head into the worst day of my year, as a friend reminded me of having to call me tomorrow. Given how much I hate attention, my mood quickly spiraled downward.
Suddenly, I felt like I was choking. I couldn’t breathe and I was panicking. How would I get out of all this? So today I’ve been offline. My phone’s been disconnected, and I’ve refused to check certain social media, particularly messaging apps. I. just. need. to. be. alone. On the upside, I wrote several thousand words today. That was nice. And I had a great walk into the forest.
Obviously, I know I can’t. My husband will be home in an hour. So will my son. They don’t count, quite the contrary. Their daily homecoming is most welcome and I feel that I can be myself in their company. But everyone else better stay away or things could get nasty. I’m like the evil version of Annie Wilkes. I can be very protective of myself…
On the other hand, I still look forward to meeting people, and there is still part of me who longs to be social, to be out there, particularly when I guide guests and show them my town. Not sure what role I slip into, but that has never been a problem. At the end of the day, I can always take off the Hans-suit and be myself again. Strange, but I’m sure Paul Sheldon would be proud of me.
My subconscious, asking the questions no one else could think of…
Over the years, I’ve given a great many interviews, and I’ve answered a lot of questions. Most were predictable, kind, polite, some were naughty, some did catch me off guard. Some interviewers send questions ahead of time, to make sure you have the opportunity to think about a good response. Today, I’d like to try something else, asking myself questions, just like that, what comes to mind. Not sure this is going to work, but I hope it’ll be an honest interview because if I lie, I’ll know. LOL
Going straight for the jugular, are we? Yikes. Well, I did write a few hundred words earlier today, but to be honest, my mind wasn’t in it today. Not sure why. There’s a certain amount of procrastination involved. I was also preoccupied with some personal, financial stuff, and my guiding business which I spent some time on.
Just an example of how alternative communication can look like. I’ll need to incorporate some form of that into the book.
But the real truth is that I’m scared. Afraid I won’t do Matt justice, and he’s not been talking to me, really. Not for a few days. I had this amazing meeting last week, where I was learning about alternative forms of communication, and walking away from it, I was super inspired, but then I got scared. Scared to screw things up, scared to write poorly. I always endeavor to improve my game, for the next book to be better than the previous one, and I feel it’s becoming increasingly difficult, mentally. The more critical I am of myself, the bigger the hurdles to open the file and write. I’ll get there. Just give me a few days.
You have no deadline for this. Does it affect you?
Not sure. Could be. Then again, I’ve hardly ever had to write toward a deadline. I’ve never participated in something like NaNo. Just not my thing. Then again, I want the book to be out next spring which means it’ll have to be done and with my publisher before the end of the year. Having so much time is unusual. So yes, maybe that helps with the procrastination. You know the aegis, right: “That which you can do today, postpone right away!”
How does the public debate on various topics influence you?
It depends on what the subject is. Let’s say “Brexit”… That has no influence on my writing at all. But there are things in politics around the world that might find their way onto the pages of my books, e.g. the environment, global warming (The Golden One.) Sometimes it can be a discussion on Facebook (here’s one example), e.g. there has been a debate in the past year or so about bi-visibility in books, TV, and films which have been on my mind.
Lucifer Morningstar, the devil himself (which incidentally makes hell look like a much nicer place than heaven), is portrayed as very bisexual in the series with the same name, or should I say pansexual, given his inclusion of non-human lovers? Labels, another post entirely! In any case, I find it highly refreshing that he also has sex with men, even though the show focuses on his relationships with the “detective” and lately, Eve.
I think about how my characters (I’ve only ever had one character who’s openly bi in one of my books) and what I can do to help the community to feel more included. It’s also had me think a lot about how I interpret bi characters when I read/watch. Am I disappointed when a male bi character suddenly hooks up/ends up with a woman? Why? Do I gay-wash him when he’s with a guy? What are my feelings about bi people in general? Should I include one (and the debate) in one of my books? I just had this idea to let one of my characters in my new book be openly and unabashedly bi (and have it out with an ex.) That could be a cool scene if it works with the rest of the book.
Visibility, the true representation of all kinds of diversity are important in books.
Any other topics that influence you?
Of course. Mostly topics that somehow have a bearing on my personal life, my relationships, my family. Feminism is always on my mind, women’s rights in general. Voting, representation, discussions about abortion, women’s control over their own lives, their bodies, how women themselves often seem to have opinions about what other women can/should/cannot/shouldn’t do. #MeToo is often on my mind, too, not just because I’m a rape victim myself, but because I often see how women react to me, a middle-aged man, when we meet in a solitary situation, the fear, the momentary stop in their walk, and I can virtually read the look in their eyes “is he a rapist, or not?”
Children are also something I think about, a lot. My son, his development. The differences between my upbringing and his. The fact that he already reads, is good at (simple) math, all the things he knows about the world, cultures, etc. A full year before I even started school. But I also worry, about his chances in life, given how the labor market changes, the global competition these days, how global warming may threaten his future and that of all of humanity. To name a few things constantly on my mind.
You’ve thought a lot about Haakon recently, and his time in Paris. Do you know why?
This is one of my favorite sights in Paris. Why? Hard to explain, but this is the spot of a key scene in “The Fallen Angels of Karnataka”
Is it presumptuous to say that The Fallen Angels of Karnataka is my most important work to date? I like to tell myself it is. I remember so well how long it took me to get back into the “zone” after The Opera House. Then I read a book by Larry Benjamin, who’s also published by Beaten Track, and I got this idea to write about travel, a classic travel novel, you know like Jules Verne, minus the Nautilus. But then, Michel happened, and after that, I was emotionally drained, and it was downhill from there.
So when the cathedral burned a while ago, I began to remember all the scenes of Michel and Haakon in Paris, the romance, the discussions, the illness and–last not least–Michel’s passing, which still is my all-time favorite scene in any of my books. And still, even after all these years, I can’t read it without crying. Michel died too soon. Plus there have been articles recently about the first ever HIV patient in the west, possible cures and what not, plus Norway’s national holiday last week. There have been a lot of reminders. It doesn’t take a lot to get this brain going…
So it seems. Even the tiniest little bit gets you to think about “stuff” you’ve experienced?
Yes. Literally. Anything. I can listen to my favorite podcasts and suddenly my mind wanders. I honestly don’t know how other people tick, but my mind is triggered by any- and everything. Not always, of course. But a lot of things. One shiny object leads to the next.
How do you focus?
That’s not fair. I can’t even answer that question. It is really difficult to quiet my mind, to get you to shut up for a while. I’ve recently discovered that not drinking coffee in the afternoon helps, at night anyway. When I wake up because of a noise or old-man-issues, I can fall back asleep quickly. But during the day, in order to write, I really need to be in the zone, to hear the characters talk to me from the depth of “you”. That way the rest sort of fades into the background.
Research is valuable, it helps me focus, having a task to complete. That sort of stuff usually keeps me single-minded. At least for a little while. I can be extremely productive and I work very fast…
And I guess it helps if I don’t have any other stuff going on that I need to worry about. Sadly that doesn’t happen all too often.
Willem has also been on your mind recently. How come?
Elections in South Africa, lots of articles and features on the country, putting things back on my mind. Plus I wonder at times if my “dystopian” predictions of how WWIII comes to pass are true if it really is global warming and the displacement of large segments of the global population that trigger it all. S’all. Just crazy me. Plus I really like Willem. He’s a bit of a role model. The perfect human. I wish I were more like him.
What about Jason. Why are you still thinking about him?
Okay, that’s not fair. I could just say that it’s because the final book isn’t out yet. But that’s not the only reason. The whole picture is a bit more complex. When I began writing about Jason, I had this notion of a movie in the back of my mind, and I can’t shake the feeling (and I’m probably jinxing it this very moment) about how cinematic the story feels. Maybe I suffer from megalomania (and I’m being way too open and honest right now), but I’d love to see it turned into a movie. I see all those fantasy books turned into movies and I wonder if The Golden One would work, too, or if there isn’t enough blood and gore in it. But I also wonder what would happen if a movie would be tremendously successful. JK Rowling wasn’t done with Harry Potter when she finished the series, yet she still ads new books to the “universe”, these weird prequels. Game of Thrones simply continued where the books left off. I guess that is where I’m at right now with Jason. Preposterous, right? I just see him where he is at the end of book three and (I can’t say anything) I wonder about the ending. How open is it?
Are you open to writing a fourth book? A fifth?
See, I can’t answer that question without giving away something that shouldn’t be out there. Yet. So no comment. For now.
But you’re thinking about it? Would you be open to re-writing the ending to make it happen?
*poker face* I, uh, okay, yes. I’ve been thinking about writing more. No, I would never rewrite the ending. It’s perfect as it is.
Okay, let me ask you about Matt… I sense a close relationship with his personal assistant. Where’s this going?
Not sure I can answer this yet. Matt certainly has feelings for Timmy. But I’m not sure those are answered. Certainly not in a romantic way. But I’m not finished yet, or let’s say you and I aren’t finished thinking about it yet. There are things to consider, such as how appropriate it is for a personal assistant to have a relationship with a patient/client. Besides, would Timmy fall for Matt? I have my own set of preconceptions and prejudice against people with severe disabilities that I’m working through. What makes someone attractive? To whom? Why? And how credible would that be? Let’s just say this is contributing to my procrastinating. This is one of the most difficult aspects to work through for me because I know that Matt loves Timmy. But yeah, the rest is up in the air. I have a lot of issues to work through.
So you’re being an asshole?
*blushes* I guess?
How do you envision this working out?
You’ll be the first to know when the words begin to appear on the screen. I really can’t say if they end up as friends or a couple. I honestly don’t know. But whatever happens between them will be a good thing because it’ll be the end of the book. It’ll be realistic, believable and relatable. Hopefully, I’ll have my shit sorted in time.
Any final thoughts?
Do I really want to publish this? Think this might backfire? Does anyone care about my ramblings with myself, basically?
Nice deflection, answering a question with questions. I guess we can call it a day…
Thanks for keeping me honest. Still not sure if this is such a good idea.
Off to an interesting meeting today, to learn more about alternative communication
Matt, the main character in my new novel (Opus XIII) is suffering from cerebral palsy. This is a condition that comes in many “flavors”. You may have seen characters with CP on TV, e.g. the teacher’s son, Walter Jr., in Breaking Bad or the main character in the new Netflix show Special. Not unlike autism, CP comes on a spectrum and in recent years, thanks to advances in medicine, we are able to help people with CP to live much fuller lives than in the past. For some, the damage from CP is so big that they are almost completely disabled, in some cases, they can’t communicate verbally. This is where alternative communication comes in.
I’m about to learn more about alternative communication
I’m sure you’ve seen how Stephen Hawking used a synthesized voice to communicate with the outside world. Mr. Hawking didn’t suffer from CP, he had MND. Over the years, you can read it in the Wikipedia article, he used different forms of alternative communication. Here’s a snippet from his appearance on Star Trek TNG:
Today, I have a meeting I’m really looking forward to. It’s with an expert on alternative communication at Dart, which is our local West Swedish center for alternative communication here in Gothenburg. I can’t wait to learn about how methods are developed and to see how I might be able to help Matt to break out of his shell.
(Almost) every case is different
You see, each person with a severe communicative disability is different. Okay, they all can’t speak, some might even be deaf, which makes things even more difficult. As babies and toddlers, our brains quickly learn. We recognize our names, realize who’s a mom and who’s dad, recognize them by putting a face next to a name repeated. My six-year-old son just recently entered a phase where he’s fascinated to learn that pappa and daddy not only have “titles” but names, too. He finds it titillating to call us Alex and Hans. Endlessly amusing.
We also learn to recognize objects, as they’re shown to us: forks, teddy bears, spoons, cups. You get the gist. And a healthy baby will repeat those words and will continue to do so for the rest of their lives as they learn new words. Now imagine if you can’t speak. You can’t repeat what your parents are telling you to. You just can’t get those words over your lips. In time people will realize that something is wrong, and they might take you to a doctor to learn more.
In time, with a lot of research, specialists at places like Dart will be able to find a way to help you break through that barrier. But how?
Not reinventing the wheel
I won’t spoil the story for you, but Matt is particularly challenged. There are a great many ways to help patients with communication challenges. Some might be able to use their hands to move a device that looks similar to a computer mouse to point to objects or letters and make words. Others use an eye tracker to see what the individual is looking at. However, not every method works for every patient and to make voluntary movements (rather than erratic ones which are common in CP patients), it will take a lot of time to determine what might work and what might not.
Unfortunately, not every patient with CP gets help. A while ago a friend told me about someone they met out and about with their parents, a young woman, severely physically disabled, unable to communicate. Just imagine the horror of being trapped inside your body, unable to speak, unable to communicate, make yourself heard, tell the world about your desires, your dreams, your hopes. Would you go crazy? In a way, this is what interests me the most about Matt’s journey.
For me, as an author, I’m not up to the task of inventing a communicative method of my own. Hence my meeting today. I have realized, thanks to Matt, what works for him. Now I need to find out just how I can use that to help him communicate, for the first time in his life. I can’t wait for that day when I get to write those chapters. I’m not quite there yet.
Realistic, believable, credible
At the end of the day, I need the story to be realistic enough to be credible to the audience, believable. Unlike the snippet from StarTrek above, this isn’t science-fiction. I can’t just “pretend” this or that, can’t simply attach a diode to Matt’s head which allows him to communicate freely. We’re just not there (yet?) The story I write is about Matt, it’s about someone who–for now–is relying on me to speak on his behalf. I want to write a story about a human being with a particular set of challenges and it won’t be until the end of the book that Matt gets to speak within quotation marks with his own words. Until then, he relies on me, on the things he tells me.
Books are important. The stories we tell are about seeing ourselves through the eyes of someone else. We want to read about “ourselves”. We crave to have our own life validated through the characters in the books we read. We need to see that we are not alone, the only one in the village. This is particularly important for minorities. And in a way, we’re all part of a minority, some may just be smaller than others. Sex, gender, age, creed, skin color, ethnicity, hair color, glasses, LGBTQ, disabilities, etc. All of these in infinite combinations. We’re all some of that, somewhere, somehow.
So is Matt. This may be his story, but it has to be relatable enough for abled people to maybe learn something and for people with disabilities to feel validated, seen. Maybe that’s a tall order. Maybe I’m not the right person to write about this (I’ve had this argument before), but I am an author. It’s my job to tell other people’s stories. Research helps me make sure I get it right.
I can’t wait to present you with this story, eventually, when it’s done. I expect it to be released next spring. Until then, we have the finale of The Golden One to look forward to.
A year ago, I would’ve flushed the unwanted intruder down the toilet…
I can’t take a walk through my beloved forest here on the island without minding my steps anymore. I see the tiny ants crossing the path I walk on as they try to shlep food or building materials back to their anthill, and I try to stay out of their path. This morning, getting dressed, I suddenly noticed a big fat spider on the chair next to our bed. Despite the urge to scream (yeah, I’m that big a wuss…) I calmly removed the rest of the items, placed them on my bed and then picked up the chair, carried it to the back door, opened it and released the spider back into nature. Sadly, I’m not Jason Mendez, and I didn’t get any thanks from the spider, although I DO have a hunch that it would’ve rather remained in the warmth of the house. Alas, it’s not my kind of roommate.
The Cover of my fantasy novel The Golden One – Blooming, the first in a trilogy about seventeen-year-old Jason Mendez.
How writing the Golden One changed my outlook on the animal kingdom
I have never been a big fan of insects. Spiders give me the heeby-jeebies, mosquitos annoy me and most bugs are just gross. My personal hate object have always been cockroaches, so much that I once ended up in a hospital thanks to a particular nasty individual who insisted on falling on my face after pre-teen me tucked myself into bed, tightly tucked with my arms under the sheets, unable to defend myself when the cockroach’s antennae appeared on top of the wooden headboard and it suddenly fell on my face. I had a panic attack and was admitted to the hospital. Ever since, I’ve been persecuted by that particular animal species across the planet, all the way to the Maldives. Luckily we don’t have any here on the island. Yeah, me and cockroaches. Not a pretty story.
Having said that, when I wrote Jason’s story in the past year, my outlook on the animal kingdom (as well as plant life and fungi) changed, subtly at first. I barely noticed how I began to look at my surroundings differently. I began to “see” articles about nature in the papers I read, I’ve learned about the value that particularly insects have in the great scheme of things and how we humans greatly depend on them, even though they’re not really a primary source of food for us. And it’s not just honey bees I’m talking about. Yes, they are very important and we have to make sure to save those populations, But it’s butterflies, wasps, bumblebees and other pollinating insects as well, along with every stink bug, maggot, and other insects that in one way or another serve their purpose in the grand scheme of things, be it in softening our soils, be it as a food source for another animal in the amazing pyramid that “Mother” has created over the eons.
The entire series is available as an ebook, a paperback or as an audiobook.
“Do no harm”, that’s what Jason has taught me
I was never viciously killing animals. I recall a specific instance when we had been out with our boat to an island in the outer band for an overnight stay with our then exchange student. At one point as we were enjoying the warm evening air, adults sipping wine, he picked up a clam from the boulder we were anchored against and suddenly crushed it. No apparent reason. Just for the heck of it. I got super angry at him for the needless kill of an animal. He didn’t understand my anger because to him, a clam’s life wasn’t really much to care about. He stopped nevertheless.
I often see kids kill animals, I see them fish for crabs (which must be terribly stressful for the critters, being stuck and sometimes killed in tiny plastic buckets), I see them squash ants with their fingers or tiny feet. But I notice in particular how few parents (if any, ever) tell their kids not to. But if you don’t respect the weakest members of Mother’s creation, how can you expect the same kids to not pull a cat’s or dog’s tail? Not to maltreat pets or other animals in time? Unfortunately, humanity attributes a purely economic value to the animals and plants around us. Some are desirable (“valuable”), others are not, and we treat them accordingly.
We are about to face the music for our callous behavior
I recently read an article about the extinction of insects in Germany. So many pesticides and insecticides have been used in their agriculture in the past decades that already more than half the insect populations are gone. I still remember that when you’d take a long drive decades ago you’d end up with stains of squashed bugs against the windshield. No more. I try hard to remember when I last had to clean (remember how hard that was?) a bug stain from our car’s windshield, but I can’t. That says a lot. Germany and other countries could be out of insects within a century if we don’t do anything about it.
The final installation of the Golden One, Reckoning, will be released this fall.
Yes, we may have higher yields of crops today, but what about tomorrow? Who’s going to pollinate for us? What are birds and rodents going to eat? And what are foxes, lynx, and other predators going to feed on if birds and rodent populations disappear as a consequence thereof? Nature’s carefully calibrated food pyramid is about to lose its base and the fall from the top for us, humanity, will be far and hard.
It’s not too late, or is it?
When I began writing the Golden One, the idea in the back of my mind was climate change, and how we could find a way forward. I quickly realized that no one being, regardless of how powerful they were. Only as a species, a global community, can we hope to fight global warming and the effects of a changing climate. But that’s only part of the environmental challenge we face. The current wave of mass extinction of species is another. While species have always come and gone, the current level thereof and the speed is unprecedented, and it is entirely humanity’s doing.
It’s funny. All it took for me to realize the value of an animal, any animal, was pretending to talk to it. Give animals a voice and suddenly you can’t dismiss them as easily. In a way, you’re lucky (if you read this) because you don’t have to go through the process. You can simply pick up the finished books and partake of their voice, or–even better–listen to the amazing Vance Bastian narrate the story for you, complete with animated animal voices, be it the simplest bug to the mighty elk!
Happy Release Day to me: the Golden One–Deceit is out
Early reviews for Deceit are very encouraging.
‘Tis time again. A new book drops at midnight PST, which is about an hour from now. I feel pretty good about this book because the reception by readers has been very positive. Yet still, despite all of this, I can’t entirely shake that nervousness that always beleaguers a writer on release day. Which is odd, right? ARCs have been out for weeks, people have been reading the book, it’s been on sale for a month and we have an idea of how it does. Still. Nervous. Even though it’s my umpteenth release day.
A lesson in philosophy dressed as action-packed fantasy
What’s Deceit, or indeed the Golden One, about? On the surface, it’s “young adult” (read: teen literature) fantasy, a shapeshifter story. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find a discourse about humanity’s treatment of Earth, how we treat the one home we have, the very fact that we are literally defecating our own living room, our bedrooms, not to mention our kitchen. If an individual were to do that, we’d commit them to psychiatric care, provide them with all the help and assistance they need. But on a planetary scale, we simply shrug and say “at least he shat in the corner!” or worse, we pretend it didn’t happen.
Another encouraging review.
The way the climate is changing all around us reminds me of the old folktale of the frog and boiling water. Have you heard it? Throw a frog in boiling water and it’ll jump out immediately, but put a frog in cool water and heat it gradually and you’ll have a nicely cooked frog before you know it. Mind you, this story is a fable and not true, but maybe that’s because frogs are smarter than humans?
The Golden One is a mirror of how we treat our planet, and it seems to me, as an adult, that the young generation is the one we need to turn to because my own, and the ones who came before me are utterly unable (or unwilling) to tackle the challenges we face. To hear that Greta Thunberg was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize is a great symbolic step. She and the kids fighting for the planet are the real heroes out there.
No, it’s anything but boring…
Think this sounds rather dull? Don’t worry. The Golden One is action-packed, exciting and there is always something going on. Who is “good”, who is “evil”? Just that question will keep you busy during the second installment of The Golden One. Jason and his friends struggle with this question and they don’t really know the answer. Not even at the end. And what is driving people to do what they do?
Even though from my husband, but this is the reaction I wish all readers had…
Deceit is also a reflection of adult life vs that of children, the different perspectives we have, and what drives us. Without the burden of grown-up responsibilities, children are able to view the world differently. They have the luxury to see patterns that transcend our adult ability which is clouded by having to earn a living, making sure that we (and our progeny) have clothes to wear, a roof over our heads and food on the table. Kids take that for granted, at least in most of the world today.
Release day, so what?
Yes, it’s release day today. For the rest of the almost ten billion people of the planet, it’s just another Thursday, another day to go to work, another school day. Sunny in some places, rainy in others. A handful of people look forward to Deceit. I am very happy about that, of course, and I nurture a dream that more and more will discover the story of Jason and his four valiant friends. This is certainly a story worth any attention it gets. I say that in all humility.
Tonight, I’ll be celebrating the release of Deceit with a few friends and we’ll look at the final cover for the series, for the third book, Reckoning, which will release in September. Another release day, waiting for me…
The documentary “Leaving Neverland” highlights an age-old conundrum
I haven’t seen the documentary yet. So no comments on its merits, artistically or in terms of assignment of guilt. I am a staunch believer in our justice system and the basic tenant of “innocent until proven guilty”. This post isn’t about who said what or who did what, nor about Michael Jackson specifically. As a survivor of sexual assault as a child by a grown-up, I’m not sure I’ll ever watch it either. Some things need not be remembered needlessly. But the discussions that have followed in the wake of its screening around the globe have led me to think about the topic as such, and how we, as consumers of art, can deal with instances when an artist we enjoy/love/adore turns out to be less perfect than we would like them to be.
Through history, artists have always been human…
Stating the obvious first. Artists (writers, musicians, painters, sculptors, actors, filmmakers etc.) have always been humans. And as such, they’re all deeply flawed. Some even claim that it takes a highly flawed person to create great art. Wasn’t me, but I can see how that might be true. In order to create art that touches people emotionally, art that annoys, makes happy, saddens, etc., any artistic product must appeal to our emotions and in order to achieve that effect, whoever creates it, must be able to access deeply rooted feelings and emotions, good and bad.
A bust from the National Archaeological Museum in Naples depicts Julius Caesar, whose popularity skyrocketed after his conquest of Gaul, threatening the power of Rome’s nobility. Photograph by De Agostini
I remember reading the works of Julius Caesar in school, in the original Latin. He was a brilliant writer, his storytelling unique, yet as a statesman, he was also quite ruthless and brutal. Hardly the ideal human being, and I remember our teacher telling us that we had to see his stories as what they were: a victor’s account of historical events. Hardly objective. And there are many instances through the eons of artists we may treasure, but who fell short on the human front. Here are a couple of my favorites: Richard Wagner, one of my favorite classical composers, yet an asshole (pardon my French) as a human being, not to mention an Anti-Semite of the worst kind. Knut Hamsun, one of my favorite Norwegian writers, brilliant stories. He even won a Nobel Prize, but yeah, he was a staunch supporter of the Nazis and German occupation of Norway. Fast forward to someone like Woody Allen, and the many movies of his I adore, particularly “What you always wanted to know…” but on a human front? Yeah. Then there are Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, R Kelly, Kevin Spacey and countless others. And we’ve already mentioned the King of Pop whose musical legacy is astonishing, but who leaves many wondering: can I still listen to his music after these allegations?
Boycott or no boycott?
In the wake of the Jackson documentary, several radio stations have stopped playing his music. That is, of course, their prerogative. However, I’m not sure that is the right way to go because it derives us, the audience of the possibility to come to that determination on our own. If I am disgusted by the allegations, I should be able to come to that conclusion on my own and change the station or turn it off. However, if I want to continue to listen, I should be allowed to do so as well.
I don’t like it very much when other people make decisions on my behalf, but that’s just me. If I don’t want to attend a concert by an artist because they’ve been accused of something horrific, that should be my choice, and the same should be true for reading a book, listening to music, or watching a movie.
I have one caveat though: be open-minded, and educate yourself. Often enough it is very difficult to assess whether someone really is a bad person, or not. And posthumously? There is no defense possible, and in the case of Michael Jackson, there are no criminal convictions. Which isn’t to say he didn’t do it. Legally, though, and that is our common framework, he’s to be seen as innocent. And that is true for most artists, particularly deceased ones. They can no longer defend themselves, or explain their thoughts or why (or why not) they chose to do this or believe that.
My personal principles with regards to artists
I try to tackle this with a two-pronged approach: a) separate artist from the person and b) don’t be a putz! Educate yourself.
Richard Wagner in 1971
I will always love Wagner’s music, even though I know he was a racist and Anti-Semite. How do I reconcile the two? I have always maintained that the art, the work, is more important than the artist. It is separate from them and should be judged on its own merits. Allow me a short excursion into HR, where many organizations these days use anonymized resumes to make sure applicants have an equal opportunity. We know that hiring managers will sort people by name, gender, race etc. long before digging into the actual competencies of someone. Remove that information and they will be forced to view the actual competencies without knowing if it is a man/woman, someone white/black/Asian, etc. who’s behind a resume.
If you heard pieces from e.g. the Ring without knowing who wrote the score, would you deem it less valuable? As a writer, this is particularly important to me, as I find my works should be judged as they are, not based on who I am. Having studied literature in college, I know that we tend to look to the author’s life to explain this or that in their writing. I’ve always found this rather “offensive”, particularly since I’ve begun to write myself. Yes, I may find inspiration for my writing in my life (duh!) but the end result is never a reflection of me, never something that can be used as a basis for psychoanalysis of me and those near me. I’ve written about this in the past.
It’s easier said than done not to be a putz when it comes to our darlings. We tend to see our idols through stars in our eyes. That is quite normal. And even if you feel that your idol has been falsely accused, and you feel strongly about that, which is fine as long as they have not been convicted in a court of law, educate yourself about the crime/behavior they have been accused of. Not the specific case, but learn about e.g. sexual assault, and how frequent it is, who the victims are, the perpetrators, circumstances it happens and the powerplay involved. Learn about child abuse, the causes, and who victims and predators normally are.
Let’s face it, you can’t really judge anyone unless you know a hell of a lot more about the alleged crime. Just because someone sings a lovely song, writes a great book or is an incredibly talented actor says absolutely nothing about their potential lives. Nothing.
I can listen to Michael Jackson, at least the songs I like and will continue to do so. However, if he were still alive, I’d not allow my son to spend time near him. Ever. Better to be safe than sorry. I can still watch a movie by Harvey Weinstein or Woody Allan, but I wouldn’t have coffee with them. I can still enjoy a novel by Knut Hamsun, but I’m mindful of his views expressed, and I look forward to “The Valkyries” at my opera house this fall, and to learning more about Wagner’s life and the despicable views held by him, his late wife Cosima and many in his family for generations, still infecting the Bayreuth festival every year.
That’s my take on it. What is yours?
We are three days away from the launch of my next book in the Golden One series, Deceit. And while I’m far from being a perfect human being, the worst I’ve done is getting speeding tickets and running a stop sign. LOL So don’t judge me too harshly. But more importantly, judge my books on their own merits, not by what you think of me, my views or my actions. You can learn more about Deceit right here, complete with purchase links to get your own copy.