Crimea, 9/11, Hong Kong, racism, mass migration, global warming, etc.
The world is going down the drain
We live in troublesome times. The Internet’s profound impact on our lives, the individualization of society, the increasing divide between the haves and have nots. As a consequence of previous generations’ ravaging of the planet, global warming is about to wreck the world as we know it, leading to mass migration and human-induced mass extinction. On the other hand, family ties, social bonds are deteriorating rapidly, and we care less and less about those around us. It’s definitely the age of entitlement but the freedom we seek, yearn for, is in many aspects smaller than in previous decades. This might be a long post, so hang in as I try to look at the reasons why, various aspects of it, and what you and I can do to make a difference.
From individualization to entitlement, or how western societal control disappeared
Entitlement takes many forms…
It often amazes me how things have changed since I was a child. Mostly for the better, let me say that before I move on. However, when we abandoned our traditional “family values” and pretty much everything associated with it, we didn’t just rid ourselves of the “bad stuff”, such as control, that sons had to walk in their father’s shoes, that we weren’t allowed to marry whom we loved (some of us no one at all), honor killings, the honor system in the first place, etc. Unfortunately, we also rid ourselves of the positive aspects of familial/societal cohesion: people are lonelier than ever before, mental illness is galloping, grandparents no longer feel obligated to look after their grandkids while their parents work as they, too, are still finding themselves, children no longer care for ailing and/or aging parents, etc. Some of that is remedied by social and health services, but (and I could write a book about this, and I might…) at what cost?
No, I don’t think grandparents ‘have’ to look after their grandkids, but on the other hand, given increasing workloads and career expectations on parents, where’s the relief system? And while it’s a boon that we no longer have to live under the same roof with our elder generations, the lack of social cohesion in society is palpable. There are two sides to every coin, and when I look at my own society, I can see how many immigrant families have maintained that cohesion. Sadly, they also kept the negative aspects, such as honor concepts, non-acceptance of LGBTQ family members, traditional gender expectations, etc.
The extreme individualization we see in our society is visible everywhere: from traffic where everyone feels entitled to go first (regardless of what the law says), to the workplace where people tell their managers that they don’t “feel like” doing certain aspects of their jobs, despite the job description they once signed off on. We all want to be “influencers”, we expect our dream jobs to just fall in our laps regardless of qualifications, we are offended by everybody and everything, and rather than forgiving or giving people the benefit of the doubt, we cry racist, homophobe, islamophobe, etc. We react long before our neurons have had a chance to reflect on the situation to warrant if our reaction is a) warranted and b) appropriate/adequate for the situation. I sometimes wonder: do I have to let people know every single time they say something stupid? Why have we become so confrontational? We are, after all, humans and are prone to making mistakes. Unfortunately, this extreme individualization has dire consequences for our societies, few of which are positive… I’ll explore that in the rest of this post.
The Internet: from freedom of speech to mind control and indoctrination
One of the advantages of being “old” is that I remember the age before the Internet, albeit barely. When the Internet first became a thing, in the early nineties, we all saw it as this amazing thing that would help us become freer, liberated in ways never before possible. We imagined how the “unfree” around the world would be able to access information freely and how the masses would rise in China and elsewhere to demand freedom and democracy. Swell! Too bad it didn’t really work out that way. In an almost Orwellian way, the Internet has instead become a tool to control the masses. China’s great wall isn’t visible from the moon, but it certainly makes sure that the people of China only read and see what the party wants them to see. And while we, in the west, still have access to (mostly) everything, we have become so fat and complacent that we sit in our comfy reclining chairs, pizza slice in one hand, beer in the other, and happily allow us to be manipulated to believe exactly what we always wanted to believe. This bias, this preference to read/watch/hear that which we expect to hear is bad enough when the news/information is unbiased, but in a world where algorithms map our preferences to the t, we are easy targets for all kinds of misinformation and propaganda. Cambridge Analytica and their role in the 2016 US elections and Brexit are bad enough, but with recent advances in technology, so-called “deep fakes” will make your mother tell you in a facetime call that she’s really a mass murderer and by the way never gave birth to you. And since it’s your mother on the line you’ll never know the difference. Already, researchers have put the words of Hitler into the mouth of Obama. We are doomed! And we won’t even know it.
Is it hopeless? I’m not optimistic, but when we see something, hear something that is completely “out there”, it begs to check the source. Call your mom, make sure it was actually her placing the call. Visit her face to face. This is an extreme and unlikely example, but in politics, we’ll see this happen, sooner rather than later. Make sure you double-check and triple-check the source, their bias. Because, and this is crucial, there are always two sides to every story. Before you jump to conclusions, before you make up your mind, make sure you’ve heard at least two sides of it. Actively force your mind to weigh the pros and cons before you decide to cry foul.
Education, the key to a better future
We once understood the need for a good education. Today we need to know and understand things more than ever. Some people don’t want that.
The above is easier said than done. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, our cable news, heck even our favorite department stores all show us what they believe we want to see, hear, buy. Republicans tune into Fox, Democrats into MSNBC, safe to only hear good things about their own. Never to have their values and convictions challenged. To second-guess, to question is hard work, and it requires a basic level of education many of us don’t possess and even more can’t be bothered with.
For decades, school systems have been allowed to deteriorate around the world, at the same time as we know infinitely more now than when I went to school. Just last week, the Swedish school department suggested scrapping any and all history prior to 1700 to make room for contemporary history. People are up in arms. Imagine a child growing up with no basic concept of ancient Athens (cradle of democracy), Rome (basis to much of our legislative traditions, still, not to mention politics, philosophy, etc.), the dark ages, etc. With no understanding of the many wars that plagued us through the eons. How are we to understand contemporary history with not even a hint of ancient history (which goes further back and includes other cultures as well, mind you?)
There is a reason why some don’t want the broad masses to have access to education, to keep them malleable. I’ll use the Romans as an example: “bread and games” Look at a country like Singapore. People are generally content, even though the country doesn’t really know the freedom of speech or real democracy. But as long as people find employment and fun (if you’ve ever been there, you’ll know what I mean) they’re content. However, as soon as the subway stops working, the government faces riots. There are advantages for a system like Singapore’s: it’s extremely efficient and works, but at the expense of minorities. You’re fine if you’re a straight Chinese, but if you’re Malay or, worse, Indian, your choices in life are limited. And other minorities, like the LGBT community, are oppressed. All the while, the richest are getting richer and the poorest lag behind. Never before in human society has the gap between the most fortunate and those least fortunate been greater. And it’s all happened in the past forty years, give or take.
To limit access to education is a tool for the “haves”, of course. Keep the have nots docile. Those of us who want a better future for humanity need to counter that. We need to fight for the best possible education for everybody, regardless. No exception. Nobody gets to be left behind. A comprehensive, free education. We also need to teach our children the consequences of NOT having an education, and I think we need to broaden that discussion from mere career choices to include our civic duties. Education is, of course, not the only factor. Voting is another. And they’re correlated: the more we know, the more likely we are to vote! Gerrymandering, voter registration, and voter restrictions are other tools used to make sure fewer people vote, and again, education and the ability to navigate the shoals of bureaucracy greatly impact those least educated. The reasons why are glaringly obvious as they usually do not vote for those who steal from you.
There’s nothing I can do
It’s easy to feel hopeless these days…
Last Sunday I traveled from Liverpool to Manchester after a book launch. The direct train I was on, to avoid the worst of the traffic from the ongoing Tory party conference in Manchester, had no first-class seats. Suddenly I found myself in an environment I usually avoid. Minutes after boarding the train, two young men came in and sat down in front of me, loud music blaring from their phones. Their voices carried and they talked about stuff I didn’t really care about and most certainly didn’t want to listen to. I put on my earphones and zoned out, too. They quickly fell asleep, heads on the table, with no regard for the third passenger sitting with them. After a while, the conductor came to check our tickets and after having checked everyone else’s, he tried to wake those two. They didn’t respond for the longest time, and I’m unsure if by design or as a result of being drugged (they seemed fine when they boarded the train, but what do I know about drugs…) Police were called and I got to witness just how the world of the disenfranchised looks like. It was painful. And it got me thinking, a lot. What can I do to change their lives? How can I help people care about their lives? Worry about the climate when their only focus is the next fix? The next meal? Clothing their kids?
Can I blame the mom who buys the cheapest eggs, produced by hens in miserable conditions, while I soothe my conscience with organic ones? Can I blame the Appalachian miner who sports a MAGA hat, not realizing that his president’s “clean coal” is as likely to get him a job as the presidents ties ever being in fashion again? Can I blame the South Africans who decry immigration from other countries in the region because they can’t find work back home? Can I blame the illiteral Hindi farmer who kills his newborn daughter because he knows full well that he will barely be able to feed her, but never, ever have the money to marry her off?
We look at the world around us and it feels not only like an uphill, but an insurmountable task. At the same time storms become more deadly, temperatures increase and sea levels rise. It’s easy to get the impression that we are doomed! Yet giving up isn’t really an option, is it? We have to fight, for our own children and grandchildren, for our nieces and nephews, for our neighborhood children.
So, what can I do?
As long as the sun rises in the East, there is hope!
If ever there was a $64,000 dollar question, eh? I think the first thing is to not give up, not give in to the overwhelming feeling “we’re soo screwed!” Because there are plenty of things you and I can do. A change in attitude is the first thing. History teaches us that we can change our fortune. Just look at the American Revolution, the French one. While there were setbacks, in the end, democracy prevailed, and little by little, things got better. The civil rights movement, the 68-movement, and right now, the Friday school strikes are already making a difference.
But you don’t have to go on strike. There are other things you can do. Talk to your Representative, your MP, whoever represents you in your country’s parliament. There is a website listing their name, email and postal address. They might even have a phone. Their job is to represent you, even if you’ve never voted or if you voted for the other candidate(s) in the election. Talk to them, tell them about your concerns, your worries. Tell them what you expect from them. Believe me, it’s easier than you think. Do the same on your regional level, in your city. Talk about your schools, the retirement home your parents are in or let them know what isn’t working in your health care system. It is my experience that most parliamentarians (regardless of what level) welcome the contact to their constituents.
There’s so much more. Recycle. Such a simple thing. Don’t litter in nature. Eat less meat. Believe me, every little makes a difference. I recently read an article about how much microplastic ends up in our waters due to laundry cycles. The longer you wash, the worse it is. I had always flushed down the fibers stuck in my dryer in the toilet. OOPS! Not doing that again. A tiny change for me, walking the twenty extra steps to the trash can, but if we all do that? Imagine how grateful sealife will be for the difference we make. We are, after all, almost 10 billion people. Even if we all ate one less beef burger a week, replace it by something else, better, times billions… Suddenly you can see how even the smallest thing makes a difference.
But what changes to make?
That is where education comes in. Never stop learning. Read the papers, science section. Trust me, those journalists are trained to present difficult academic subjects so we, you and I, can understand. If a source is unknown, is known to be biased (your way or another way), make sure you double-check the article is credible. Google it. Find other sources to confirm. It’s not that hard and after a while, it’ll become second nature.
You can also engage those less fortunate. This is probably the most important, the single most difficult thing we will need to do. We can’t wait for politics to introduce great education for everyone. There was a reason why we once said that everyone should be able to read, write and do math. Duh! But so many still can’t. More now than decades ago, right here in the west. But what good does it do to read if you don’t do so? Our kids brains yearn for the stimuli from their phones and pads, rather than stimulate them with a good book. You can change that. Read aloud! Insist! Really, I mean it. Read for fifteen minutes every day until your child is old enough to read on their own. Then make sure they read a book for a half-hour every day. Soon they’ll be so engrossed in the story they’ll ask you to stay up just a little longer… I know, author optimism here, but I can see how children’s minds are wide open to embrace the imagination books spark. So much more than adults.
But it’s not just kids, is it? It’s our neighbors, our friends. If they give voice to uneducated views, if they speak up against science, engage them. Not aggressively, don’t be condescending, judgemental. Try to understand WHY they feel like they do. Don’t tell them “you’re wrong…” (that’ll only make them reinforce that view), but listen. Then try to offer an alternative view, how their lives can improve, what they can do themselves, without scapegoating, hating, blaming. Possibly help them take the first baby step.
Is there hope for humankind?
Do we have a choice? Can we let things go to hell? If we don’t act, things will get worse. The dark forces that divide us for short-term profit mustn’t be allowed to win. We have enough food to feed all of humankind. There is enough creativity to solve climate change challenges, to slow global warming, halt the mass extinciton of plant and animal species. But we all need to act, beginning with ourselves. Don’t be complacent, don’t give up.
When I began to write my latest books about The Golden One, I knew little about how dire things really are out there. I say that despite having a post graduate education, despite reading several newspapers every single day, despite considering myself engaged in current events around the world. But immersing myself into the animal world, to hear my hero Jason speak to animals, widened my understanding for our planet, our ecosystems. It widened my empathic senses.
A tick. A nuisance, but do you understand it’s place in Mother Nature’s pyramid?
When I saw that spider trapped in my bathtub I wasn’t just sensing disgust and fear of the animal, I was also able to understand how it must feel, the panic of being trapped, unable to escape the white hell of my tub. Rescuing it made me a better human being. Just a couple of days ago I removed a tick who’d been sucking blood from one of our cats. The poor creature began to crawl away on the bathroom floor, probably in a panic, dragging her heavy, bloodfilled body alog the smooth surface. Rather than flushing her down the toilet, like I had done countless times before, I picked her up and released her outdoors. I know that ticks, too, have a role to play in Mother’s great pyramid. Just because I don’t understand that role doesn’t mean I get to play God. Silly, you say? Stupid even, given the diseases ticks carry? Possibly, but even viruses and bacteria play important roles in culling populations, making sure that the fittest survive. Humanity has long ago stepped away from that pyramid, and we control it. But that doesn’t mean we understand it, treat it with respect. The current extinction event points to the contrary.
Is there hope? As bleak as things may look right now, I emphatically maintain that we have no choice. We must remain optimistic. I for one will struggle to the bitter end to make sure my son has a bright future, but not only he, but every living thing on this planet. We are all connected to each other and only together can we thrive.
“To write dance, to dance writing” or how one author was in for a huge surprise!
Cyprus, 1977, a Sunwing resort, lots of Swedish families vacationing, lots of partner swapping going on. My memories of the vacation are sketchy, but a few things are still clearly in my mind: all the empty bottles of booze and wine neatly (sic!) lined up outside hotel rooms and all the angry stares from women at each other at the breakfast buffet as they returned to their own partners after a night away in someone else’s room. As a Swiss, I had never experienced anything like it. The other memory is still etched into every fiber of my body and always will be “bada-bum-bada-ba, bada-bum-bada-bada-bada-bum, bada-bum-bada-bum, ba, ba, ba!” The opening beats of my all-time favorite song: Gimme, gimme, gimme by, yeah, you’re right, very Swedish ABBA. Every night at the hotel’s disco, I’d ask the DJ to play an ABBA song, and every night he’d look at me as if I’d just requested a song only known in the most obscure outskirts of another galaxy.
Until one night, I had already given up hope to ever hear Waterloo, Ring Ring or any other of their early hits, I suddenly hear these beats, for the very first time (the song had just been released) and my body involuntarily began to move itself to the dance floor. I couldn’t help it. I was dancing, ten-year-old Hansli was dancing and crying and felt happier than ever before in his life. Elated, in extasy. Today we’d say “on a trip”, but it was simply induced by the beats of my favorite band. I vowed that night, that no matter where, no matter when, if ever there was to an ABBA tune played on a dance floor, I’d get up and dance along. Forty-two years later, I’m happy to report that I’ve kept that solemn promise to myself. And yeah, no song will ever be able to replace this one as my number one.
You’ve seen nothing yet
Fast-forward to 2019 and a gray half-cold September day in Gothenburg, where now graying me walks into a workshop for a project that I had recently been accepted to participate in. Let me cut and paste the description to give you the same info that I had at the time:
“To write dance and to dance writing is a project that transcends genres through the exploration of the choreography of text, with dance and the written word as starting points. The project has an overall LGBTQI theme, focusing on relationships between people of all ages, gender identities, and functional capacities.”
I’m a prosaist, not a lyricist, not a choreographer. I’ve barely begun this post and I’m already some four-hundred-thirty words into it. Being wordy is a novelist’s blessing. I know from writing children’s books just how much more difficult it is to write concise, precise. I admire the great lyricists of the world, people whose poetry has been moving us ever since the dawn of time. Consider this example from around 1180 AD:
Dû bist mîn, ich bin dîn.
des solt dû gewis sîn.
dû bist beslozzen
in mînem herzen,
verlorn ist das sluzzelîn:
dû muost ouch immêr darinne sîn.
It’s one of the oldest love poems known in Germany, yet the imagery it evokes is so strong. To get an opportunity to actually write with real dancers performing those words, and to be inspired by the dance I behold to write more? What a rare opportunity. I had to try to be a part of it. Luckily, I managed to get accepted and today we embarked on a journey, unlike anything I’ve ever been a part of before.
I inspire you to be inspired to inspire me so that I may be inspired by you.
The organizing organization
Makes total sense, right? For today’s workshop, the three Swedish participants were paired with an author offsite, one in Iceland, one in Norway and one in England. I was paired with English writer Claire Carter, who is a writer, dancer, and choreographer in her own right. We began to talk and I sent her a couple of items that I hoped might inspire her. In return, she sent me a poem and the amazing text she’d crafted based on my cue. It came very late yesterday, after a typical “parent of small child” day, but I had already begun to work on a text in case I’d not get anything from Claire in time. However, based on the two texts (I was unable to completely disregard hers) I rewrote mine almost completely, and by eight am this morning, I felt I had something good enough to send back and to forward to the project team.
Everyone local to Gothenburg met at ten this morning: three curious writers, three professional dancers and three more people from the project team. First, we participated in a workshop with Norwegian choreographer Marie Bergby Hegeland. She had done a project with Norwegian authors who volunteered to dance their books. After seeing some of that work and getting to understand the process involved, it was time for us to get dirty, aka get down on the floor and dance. Mind you, it’s intimidating enough to have four pros around you, plus a well-known choreographer, but to simply get up and start to move to Marie’s instructions was somehow beyond words. It all happened so fast, it came so unexpected that I simply didn’t have time to react, physically or emotionally. The entire workshop was filmed and will be made available as in excerpts to the other participants, along the lines of “what happens in the studio stays in the studio… and online!”
Go with the flow
I closed my eyes mostly and stayed away, in a corner, at first. We began shaking hands, then shaking arms, heads, shoulders, chests, hips, legs and knees. For a good fifteen minutes, we simply moved, shaking like leaves. Initially, I was feeling very self-conscious, stupid even (Marie asked us to internalize the first word that came to mind. The prosaist had to double the dosage…) But after a while, as we moved on to other movements, and even began to interact with others, the weirdest thing happened. While I had to consciously control with of my extremities to shake, after a while of moving about and going with the flow, even interacting with two of the others around me, I simply moved, to Marie’s voice and the music, and strangely enough, pictures began to pop up in my head, like a feedback loop of sorts. Quite extraordinary. The entire exercise of us dancing lasted a good hour and a half. I don’t think I’ve ever moved so much, so erratically, for such a long time. Extraordinary. Scary. Delightful.
After lunch, we began to read the texts that the authors had prepared. I was floored by the quality of the writing. Excellent pieces, each one (well, I can’t really say that about mine, but yeah, the others are really good.) We tested a bunch of different approaches, reading and moving straight away, having different people read each text, reading and then moving, etc. Some of the texts were very physical in nature, others were more emotional to their form. It was exhilarating.
Literal, performance, duet, what will it be?
After a short coffee break, we were paired with a dancer each and Izabell, my dance partner, and I sat down in the studio’s kitchen to chat about mine and Claire’s texts, and how we might morph them from text to dance. With Claire’s text, I could see (from my cues) where she’d taken inspiration from, and it is a very physical text, inviting to move to it. I tried to do the same, but I have to say that I am so “stuck” in the history of how the text came to be, its inspiration, that anything I do, will be quite literal. At first, I refused to tell Izabell where my text comes from and what it ‘means’. I wanted her to think and associate freely, Interestingly, she’d come up with quite an interesting take, death, which will provide my friends at my publisher’s a chuckle. I can see her point though, even though I might word it more as a metamorphosis than actual death (which it isn’t btw.)
We began to move around each other at the kitchen table and test out different things before we moved back into the studio where we tried out both texts in motion. Quite intriguing. We finished off our session by me reading both texts, very slowly, and Izabell improvising a dance. She’s very good at it, and quite non-literal. I did discover, however, that by splitting each row of our texts differently, in segments of two to four words, I was able to direct Izabell, to cue her. This would also involve my intonation, enunciation, etc. That experience inspired me, of course, to think ahead, and be mindful (or not) about how I assemble sentences, words, how I deconstruct meaning and put it back together, differently, to get the dance to go off elsewhere.
There is so much more
I could go on, and on, and on. I could talk about a discussion Claire and I had about the most difficult aspect of dance, how the dancer can get in the way of the dance, and how anything, from music to clothing and the stage can interfere, underline or contradict the message of the dance itself. But alas, you don’t have eight hours, you don’t need to either. I’m sure I’ll be able to report back as this project evolves. The culmination will be next spring with a series of concerts/performances across West Sweden and Oslo. And as scary as the thought might be right now, you might just end up seeing me dance on stage. I choose not to ponder on that aspect quite yet. Yet part of me wishes to be back tomorrow and dance. Instead, I will board a plane toward Liverpool to attend the launch of my latest book. It almost seems like a different life now. Almost.
Before I let you go, here’s the text I had written up for today. I can’t share the others for copyright purposes.
Cowering in the dark, alone
A chameleon, hiding in plain sight
At first, you can’t see it, the light
It cuts through cracks in the dark
Extending toward you, caressing you
Dare you reach out? Dare you touch it?
In time you step out from that dark
and as you spread your delicate wings
Your soul takes flight, at last.
“The beginning is a very delicate time”, so is the ending…
Frank Herbert used similar words at the beginning of his famous Dune series. Allow me to add the four words with regards to ending things. Yes, it is time to bring Jason home, literally and figuratively. One year after the first book was published, the story of Jason Mendez and the Byeonsin is coming to an end. When I first opened the document for Blooming, the first part of the trilogy on my birthday last year, I had no idea where this story would take me. All I knew was that I wanted to write fantasy for a young audience, to be true to myself, and to keep it as contemporary and realistic as possible.
The Forest, this is where I have my best ideas…
Jason came to me, as my characters often do these days, on a walk through the uninhabited part of my home island of Styrsö. I had been contemplating writing a fantasy novel for some time, urged on by fans and reviewers who felt that my writing style would be “perfect” (not my word) for fantasy. I remained skeptical. Simply because I don’t like fantasy much myself. I am not a big fan of that which doesn’t exist, be it vampires, werewolves, dragons or whatnot.
So yeah, I’m a hypocrite. There are no Byeonsin. Or are there? Were there? That was the premise of the story, to create a group of people with a noble task, to keep Earth safe. Safe from humankind’s influence. We live in perilous times, the planet is warming at unprecedented speeds, we lose species (animal, fungi & plant) at a rate that we haven’t seen in eons, and all due to what we, humanity, have been up to since we began to heat our homes and drive our machines with coal in the past 170 or so years. The industrial revolution made us successful and rich (at least in the west), but it’s been fatal for the planet.
If you look at the struggle to fight for our planet, our environment, the young generations are at the forefront. Without much to lose in terms of creature comforts acquired over the past few decades, they are at the front line, fighting for Earth. So is Jason, a metaphor for all those kids out there, fighting to protect Earth.
The final installation of the Golden One is out now.
The Byeonsin, a metaphor
Who are the Byeonsin, and what is their role? When I first began writing Blooming, the Byeonsin was this super cool, secret group of people with amazing powers protecting the world. As my writing progressed, and I think readers have seen this about half-way through Blooming, the way they appear, changes. Gradually. In Deceit, we are tossed back and forth between hope and despair. What is going on with the Byeonsin, are they good? Are they bad? We don’t really know, and you’ll have to read book three to get the final answer. No spoilers today, as difficult as that is.
But without giving away anything of the plot in Reckoning, it is safe to say that the Byeonsin, as a group, are a metaphor for our bad conscience, our lack of action with regards to climate change and the havoc we’re wreaking on Mother Earth. They are a stark reminder that we are failing the planet, failing our fellow species inhabiting Earth, failing our ourselves, our children and future generations to come.
Make no mistake: life on Earth will prevail. Humanity’s situation is not unlike that of another group of animals that once roamed the planet: dinosaurs. After going extinct, some sixty-five million years ago, life continued unabated. Life adjusts, life thrives. So regardless of how we fuck things up, life will prevail. The current struggle isn’t about life, it’s about us. Do we want to continue to shit in our backyards until we suffocate in it or do we clean up our act in time before it’s too late?
A story for all ages
The Golden One is YA, a series for teens. But just like so many other YA stories have captured the hearts of all generations, The Golden One isn’t just for teens. Given the feedback that I’m receiving, the trilogy is captivating grown-ups as much as it captivates kids. And that is as it should be. Because the best stories aren’t “adult” or “YA” or whatever. The best stories transcend generations, age and time.
I think there is enough depth, enough ambiguity, to also get adults thinking and engaged. Life is complex and where the youngest readers will enjoy the story, the excitement, and action, older readers will be engaged by the subtext, the doubt and the interactions between characters. Or so I hope.
Reckoning is available, starting today, at selected bookstores and online as an ebook, in paperback and as an audiobook, beautifully narrated by Vance Bastian.
Happy reading and, as I like to say, welcome back to my world…
Game of Thrones is an unwelcome reminder of everything that’s still wrong
We didn’t watch Game of Thrones with the rest of the world, didn’t wait for months to see who came back after each season had ended. We didn’t have HBO and only got it because my husband wanted to see the new season of Twin Peaks. So while we have it, we figured we might as well see the series the world has been talking about the past eight years. I’ll be honest: I’m no fan of fantasy (which I think is well-known by now, the irony of which will become obvious tomorrow), so I’ve not read the books. I was quickly abhorred by the graphic violence in the series, which seems to be a “must” these days, regardless of what it is you’re watching. I can barely stomach it and often look away and close my ears before it happens, having learned the clues of what is about to happen ages ago.
Gay of Thrones
The storytelling of the series doesn’t really thrill me, the metaphors too simplistic. You don’t have to be a genius to understand that King’s Landing is London and that Winterfell is somewhere up north, Newcastle perhaps, that the “wall” is Hadrian’s Wall, just fantasy-style and that the “Wildlings” are the Scots. Don’t believe me? Listen to their accents. Pathetic.
However, I was pleasantly surprised by how openly the series began to talk about gay people: Loras, Renly, et al. There is a scene early in the show where Loras shaves Renly’s chest. A very romantic scene. Then there’s the Martells, with openly bisexual Oberyn. Some great scenes and lots of skin. But nothing good ever lasts, right? Oberyn is killed in one of the most disgusting scenes I’ve ever seen on screen, and the episodes I’ve just seen in season five have left me scarred. I had trouble falling asleep after the court scene against Loras. I already know that Loras is to meet a cruel demise, just as the cute escort who was coerced to give testimony against him. Simple math.
Some think it’s a metaphor for our society
I began to read articles about this treatment of the LGBT theme and some tried to spin this as a great thing, as a reminder of just how fragile the situation for the LGBT population around the world still is. Shit, Sherlock! Really? I don’t need a stupid TV show to remind me that my life is still threatened. I just turn to the news or Wikipedia: roughly 90 countries still consider being LGBT illegal, twelve still have a death penalty for being gay on their books and even in countries where it’s “officially” legal, you can be murdered (Russia, US, etc.) or have your kids taken away from you (Russia, again.) So this isn’t any news to any member of the LGBT community, this isn’t anything we need a TV show to enlighten us about. All we need is hold hands in public!
Some articles dig deep into the middle ages and claim “well it’s how things were”. To you morons. I have three questions: Giants? Dragons? Killing shadows creeping from cunts? This is fantasy for Pete’s sake. So if you’re fine with the above, to give the gay and bisexual populace a better fate wouldn’t have been too big a stretch of the imagination.
Why always us? Why?
Imagine a show like Games of Thrones gassing an entire city of Jews to death, all six million inhabitants. Imagine the uproar. No, actually, don’t. Because no one would, ever (except maybe in a nazi corner of the darkest dark web.) And don’t tell me that it’s fantasy and that there are no jews. Then why are there gays and bisexuals to murder? Couldn’t you have turned them into genderless dragons or leprechauns instead? To make it less “obvious”? We would still have known. Like I said, the metaphors aren’t the most brilliant in this series.
In this regard, I agree with one article I read: we are still vulnerable. Duh! (We knew THAT, too!) In fact, we are so vulnerable that it’s apparently so okay to give us the pre 1990s treatment that even LGBT writers defend the show. That’s how well we internalized this shit. But watching it had me transported back to my childhood in the seventies (where I guess afore-mentioned LGBT-writer wasn’t born yet.) I grew up with LGBT characters always dying, always being freaks (from the article in the pic: “Mr. Wint also has a habit of putting on women’s perfume” 🤦🏼♂️), always being evil. I may be married, I may have a family, but those scars are barely healed. No, they’re not even healed. Those emotional wounds are still gaping open and they were just ripped wide open again.
I don’t think straight people get it
If you grow up and you don’t have any obvious characters in the shows and movies you watch to identify with, you find them. You use the slightest clues and dream that they are “just like you”. Because who wants to be the only gay in the village?
I remember how I found people to identify with, how I desperately looked for those clues, mannerisms, a blinking of an eye, to make someone “mine” or at least “just like me”. I remember having crushes on singers, actors, characters, and sportsmen. Those crushes were crushed the second I learned they were married (to a woman, as was the only thing available back then.) Countless times, again, and again. The only people who were openly gay were evil. Not necessarily the kind of people I wanted to relate to. I was no criminal. I’m not evil. Never was, never want to be.
Does the show have a point?
Yes, we are indeed still threatened. But THAT point isn’t made. Nobody says it’s wrong to treat us this way. Nobody stands up in the show and says it’s wrong. Not even poor Loras’s grandmother (one of my favorite actresses) manages to make a point as she compares Loras’s inklings to the incest of Cersei and Jaime. Why thank you! That’s the best we get… I rest my case.
It’s exhausting. It’s painful. Imagine my son watching this in a few years and obviously picturing his dads in e.g. the scene between Renly and Loras. You do the math.
What we need are happy endings, thousands and thousands more of happy endings. We need to see LGBT characters in every walk of life, just regular people, coming and going. We don’t always have to meet a cruel demise. You can just write us out. We come, we go. Nobody would ever kill jews in stories (unless a nazi), so why is it still okay to do this to the LGBT community? Why? I for one am pretty much done with this show. Already knowing how it ends (for the LGBT characters) and who “wins” the stupid throne in the end, I have nothing, absolutely nothing left to look forward to. But books to write! Hopeful books which portray LGBT characters as the human beings we are, to give all the young Hans’s out there someone to relate to, someone to identify with, so they aren’t all alone, in the frightful and lonely years leading up to their coming out.
A new take on a popular genre
The dedication of The Killing Spell. Certainly made my day…
A couple of months ago, I noticed a post on my Facebook wall. Someone had posted a picture from a book, thanking me and a couple of other authors for our help in making the book possible. I was intrigued. Rewind the clock another couple of years to 2016 when I was contacted by Shane. He had some questions about writing and publishing. I was happy to respond and connected him to a local South California writer friend of mine. We’ve been loosely in touch ever since, but the release of his book caught me by surprise. Seeing the dedication with my name made my day. I bought the book and asked Shane to sign it for me. After it arrived last week, I’ve finally had the chance to read it, even though I’m in the thick of publishing one myself, not usually a time when I read.
The Killing Spell is a youth novel in the Harry Potter tradition
Remember that first letter to young Harry Potter, inviting him to attend Hogwarts? That is exactly how The Killing Spell begins, with a letter to the main character in the book, Edward Peach. I won’t spoil the story. There are other similarities and Shane has cleverly placed his novel with references to the Potter universe and others. The big difference? Where there is no mention of any LGBT characters in Harry Potter (until way after every book was published and the money safely in the bank), Edward is openly gay. At least to the reader. He’s not really interested in going to the prestigious school he’s invited to, but goes anyway and soon meets another youth, merely mentioned as Mr. Andreas. His first name carries a curse and must not be mentioned.
I presume there will be more books about Edward and Mr. Andreas, as the story mentions fifth-year students. The language is carefully crafted to suit Edward’s very English background and a young audience. I’d have no qualms recommending this to kids ten years or older. The YA genre is a bit misleading because the books are typically written for teens or youths, not “adults”, young or not. It is what it is.
My very own signed copy of The Killing Spell
The language makes this an interesting read
Readers who are familiar with the wizard genre will quickly recognize themselves and the reading flows easily. I’ll be honest and readily admit that I’ve not read Harry Potter myself. This is not typically a genre I read. So I don’t know how Ms. Rowling crafted her books, nor am I interested in how Shane’s writing compares. His language is interesting and I’ve found myself more than once having to look up expressions that I was unfamiliar with. So thanks for those lessons in British and Australian English. Narrated in the first person, we get to know Edward intimately, his thoughts and dreams. As he often thinks about Mr. Andreas and the latter is a bit of a cumbersome expression to use frequently, Shane had to come up with quite a few synonyms to use.
To make being gay an integral part of a story is an interesting approach. Not because we are part of society, but because it’s so rare. In mainstream media, young LGBT character portraits are still largely revolving around the coming out, the discovery of their sexuality, e.g. “Call Me By Your Name” or “Love, Simon”, to mention two recent examples. To write a story about a character who faces adventures, and challenges despite being gay are most refreshing. Shane does an excellent job at portraying a youth who knows he’s gay but whose sexuality still has not come to bloom. The descriptions of a first kiss or a sleepover are so sweet and innocent, but yeah, very realistic. We’ve all been there, done that. Maybe not always this innocent. But let me reiterate: this isn’t primarily about Edward’s sexuality, but his innocent relationship to Mr. Andreas is at the center of the plot for reasons I can’t divulge without giving away the plot.
I read this book in three sittings but could’ve in one. I was positively captivated and wanted to find out what was going to happen next. The ending had me want more, and given that Edward only just got through his first year, I suspect there could be at least four more books to make this a really nice series. Needless to say, I’m curious as to what Shane will throw in Edward’s path next. We get to know a little bit about the school, the houses it’s made up from, etc. but there is not much detail and I was often left wanting to know more. Why is it this way? There will be plenty of filling out to do in subsequent books, should Shane write them, not only allowing for further character growth but also to expand the universe of Arcadia and Prymoutekhny Wizards Academy.
If you like to read fantasy books, or if your kids do, I highly recommend you to give this a chance. The Killing Spell is published by Deep Hearts YA and is available from all your regular outlets, including Amazon.
Language: a writer’s tool is constantly evolving
When language fails
As a writer, I am aware of the raw power of my tool. As a linguist, I am also aware of how many of the world’s languages have evolved from common ancestors, how they are related and how the meaning of the same word can differ from one sister language to another. Language is extremely complex, and the more you learn, the more you know, the easier it becomes to get lost in language, to make mistakes and realizing just how little you actually know.
Just last week I was made aware, in a most humiliating way, that an expression used in the blurbs of one of my books had offended a group of people. I was given a proper dress-down, in public, which led me to withdraw that particular book from the table where I was selling it along with my other work. Seems that both the sensitivity readers (which we’d used, despite the accuser’s assumption of the contrary), the publisher, editor, and this author had completely missed it. I won’t go into details here, but oddly, when discussing this with fellow authors and members of the affected group/minority, everyone was puzzled and wondered how else to express oneself today, to be politically correct and not offending anyone.
Languages evolve, all the time. There are many examples in history and from literature where the most highly acclaimed books include wording that is no longer considered okay. We no longer use “nigger” or “negro” to describe blacks or Africans, which is a good thing. African American is the term used if you’re in the US but is of little help to describe black people from other parts of the world. But when Astrid Lindgren wrote her Pippi books back in the 1960s, it was perfectly okay to write that Pippi’s father was “negerkung” (negro king.) In recent editions, the term has been replaced. This is probably the most famous example in terms of language evolving, but there are literally thousands of expressions that have changed, be it for people with disabilities (or function variations as may be more modern), people from within the LGBTQ community, etc.
Lost in translation: politics, philosophy, religion & culture make things complex
As a member of the LGBTQ community, I am a member of a minority, and I’ve always been acutely aware of how I’m labeled by society. Often times words also carry a political notion, a belief held by the speaker. After Chernobyl, people who were fighting against the use of this particular way to generate power were, in German anyway, always speaking of atomic power, and the slogan “Atomkraft, Nein Danke!” became a household term. The proponents of nuclear power did not use atomic power. They call it nuclear power. Neither terms were “offensive” to anyone. They simply indicated a political belief. There are many similar examples of words and expressions who carry a philosophical belief within the word: capitalism vs. free enterprise, sexual orientation vs sexual preference, etc.
Words carry political beliefs
Then there are differences across cultures, which make many of the words which are used across languages dangerous pitfalls. Even within a given language family, a word that carries a connotation in one country may not be viewed the same way elsewhere. The word black is one such example, where it may be deemed acceptable in some flavors of English, but might get you stares if you use it in the U.S.
You might also remember the time when the Swedish chairman of BP was criticized for using the term “little people” in a White House press conference. While a perfectly acceptable term in Swedish, translated ad verbatim to English it becomes offensive. What he meant was “ordinary, regular people like you and I.”
How we view history changes
To make matters even more complex, we are, as a people, really bad at looking at history through the lens of the time. I’ve just returned from Washington, DC, where I also visited the National Archives Museum where the original Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution are on display. When you read these documents and you read things like “We the people…” or “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” yet are aware that this did not apply to everybody. “People” and “all men” did not include Native Americans, Africans or Asians. Because if you believe in slavery it makes no sense to assume that Africans were entitled to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” because clearly, they were not. Men, back then, obviously also did not apply to women.
Did not apply to blacks, women, Asians or Natives.
However, today, we look at these words and we can feel pride in the accomplishment of the founding fathers, even if we’re Korean, Sudanese or German, and decisions rendered by the Supreme Court of the U.S. has updated the interpretation of the meaning of these words over time. It just so happens that the probably biggest struggle within said court these days is in the interpretation of the constitution: as a document in time, or to read it literally, or if you prefer, a liberal or a conservative interpretation.
Labeling a group of people, labeling “me”
Language evolves, all the time. Would it not, we’d all still be speaking a proto-human language we don’t even remember. Latin would not have evolved into Italian, French, Spanish, etc., and Germanic into German, Scandinavian and English. So that’s a good thing. We also introduce new words, we share them across languages and cultures and make new words our own.
It’s a good thing that we no longer use words like “nigger”, “cripple” or “faggot”, as the negative connotations are painful reminders to members of said communities of a painful past. And language continues to evolve: it’s better to say transgender than transsexual, as the trans experience isn’t primarily about people’s sexuality but more about their gender, we talk about marriage equality rather than “gay marriage” because a marriage is a marriage, it has no sexual/romantic orientation.
For most people, all of this is way above their heads, and they’re not really affected by the terminology used within a certain community, and how groups try to improve on language to make it more inclusive and less offensive, divisive. For older generations, much of this may pass them by. However, when words and expressions are used that are hurtful, the consequences can be dire, and we can observe this in our everyday lives. Ten years ago, gender fluidity and trans people were not discussed in mainstream society. The language was very CIS, except for the affected people. Therefore, for most people, meeting members of the trans community can be an interesting and frightful experience, as it not only challenges the language they speak but also some of the very fundamental core foundations of their education and the two sexes: male and female. Migration challenges other long-held beliefs.
Political correctness and the backlash of the Trumpian era
For some, things have clearly gone too far and they push back. Migration is used as a term to lump together people who come to our countries for very different reasons. No longer is a distinction made between refugees and economic immigrants, it’s all equally bad. And in our strive to create a label that fits just us, we make it a perfect pitfall to be offended, for how is a stranger to know if you want to be addressed as Mr., Mrs., Ms. or Miss. Or something else entirely? How are we to know if you are bisexual or pansexual? Oftentimes, terms are used interchangeably and what means something to one person, has different connotations to someone else.
This may be controversial but sometimes I feel we have gone too far. We are too easily offended. And some people have begun to push back. To mislabel something doesn’t necessarily make a person a “bigot” or “racist” or whatever. They may simply not be familiar with the latest developments in the language. Trust me, it’s easy to get things wrong. When I first moved to the US in the eighties we used a “bathroom” to go potty, these days it’s “restroom” (although given American toilets, they’re anything but restful with their lack of privacy, but that’s another story.) In India, people still go to the toilet, in English.
The drive for political correctness sometimes feels like a provocation. And we are quick to accuse, prosecute and judge people for using the wrong words. The judgment can be harsh, particularly in this social media day and age where the action often precedes contemplation and thought. And I feel that some people have begun to push back. And as I’ve mentioned above, language is becoming political, but not always. But when someone talks about “gay marriage”, I for one assume they’re not supportive of the concept of marriage equality. But an I be certain?
The benefit of the doubt
Here’s the thing. Our societies have become very black and white in our political discourse, and we seem to have a hard time to accept dissenting views and opinions. There is less and less discourse in society about where we should head, how to overcome the challenges of our time. Instead, driven by 140 characters, we simplify and shorten. It’s not necessarily beneficial to being respectful to one another. Trying to do the right thing can be frightening and intimidating and a friend of mine recently said that the fear of saying the wrong thing has led him to avoid public discussions/settings. That’s a shame.
What about we give each other the benefit of the doubt? What if we were to assume that most people are NOT trying to offend us, denigrate us, insult us. So when they use a term we find offensive, don’t lash out, forgive and educate. Tell them how you’d like to be addressed, politely. Chances are, they’ll be grateful, i.e. if you do it with a smile and non-judgemental way. I often feel that we usually use the opposite approach: we’re offended, we judge and keep a grudge and the message gets lost, simply because the wrong word was used. I think we could all be helped if we calmed things down a bit, in the interest of communication and understanding.
I know that my own language is far from perfect, regardless of which one I use. I’m also aware that being multilingual increases my potential for making mistakes. I beg your forgiveness and oversight for any words used mistakenly.
Remember: you may not have the power to choose the words used to describe you, but you have the power to choose how to respond.
What is your take? Do you think we should tackle this dilemma? What is the best way to help people use the least offensive and most inclusive language? Feel free to use the comment section.