Photo by Nancy Wong, 1977

Let’s Talk About Cults

Or more, let me introduce you to my new favorite obsession. Three years ago it was biker gangs, last year it was viruses. This year is the year of cults, and I am so giddy that my astral cocoon is fit to burst!

I’ve been busy working on Book 3 (reminder, you can buy books 1 and 2 on Amazon), but as always I’ve also been working through replotting book 4 (because writing a series, let alone one nine novels long requires a bit of foresight on my part.) And as with all the previous books, something about the plot of #4 just wasn’t sitting right.

And then I listened to Cults, a comedic investigative podcast that looks into various cults throughout history, their activities, recruitment methods, all that fun sort of jazz. As hosts Paige Wesley and Marie Bello explain on their inaugural podcast, they’re interested in cults because they live in California and cults are literally everywhere. Oddly enough, that was the same thing Gregg Hurwitz said in an interview about his second Tim Rackley book.

I love comedy. I love cults. If there were a cult based around the Marx Brothers, I would probably join. (The password is always Swordfish). As it is, I live in Canada and the only Cult I have access to has a history of cutting off people’s arms and I need mine for writing purposes (Hello, Ant Hill Kids.) Therefore, I live vicariously through the work of people like Paige and Marie who are deeply ensconced in the cult-scene and, on at least one occasion relayed to listeners about a weekend visit to a farmer’s market for a massage (which might just be the most hipster thing I’ve written in the last few months) about how they were nearly swindled by a cult.

The point is, knowledge is power. I have a notebook chalked full of notes thanks to these two lovely ladies about the cult that will be dominating book 4, and I am excited to see where it takes me.

However, as with all things in life, they couldn’t have expected to poke the hornets nest for so long before something came out to sting them. A couple days back a message was posted on the Cults Facebook page regarding the removal of Part 1 of a particular episode. It doesn’t take a backrub peddling pontificator to know that someone got a little uptight about being called a ‘cult’ and didn’t appreciate having their presumably very white, identical pants and shirts all laid out to bare for the public to see. It looks like they have avoided litigation, at least for now. But that sort of subtle threat against your creative work can be a serious downer, and word can spread and sometimes impact that potential audience you are trying to reach. That’s why I’m encouraging all of you to go to your favorite podcast provider and give Cults a listen.

Okay. Maybe not the first few episodes. Pre-Armando episodes, or Pre-Mando episodes as I will now call them. Armando, their hilarious sound guy, was sorely needed in those early days. But don’t bring it up to Paige or Marie. They know their sound was crap. If you can deal with ratcheting your sound up to eleven, they’re still worth checking out. I promise, there are no audible jump-scares to ruin your hearing.

Cults are fascinating. They’re all around us (some more than others, I guess. Stupid, lame Canada with its lack of interesting cults.) They prey on the weak and most vulnerable in society and manipulate them into acting outside of the social norm. They are awful, but sort of cool, but really actually awful, but also, like, sort of really cool in a sick sort of way.  I have a lot of different feelings, but given my history of writing explosive, violent scenes, I suppose an interest in cults isn’t that unusual.

The point is, go listen to it. The crimes of these cults and leaders aren’t exactly friendly jaunts through fields of daisies. Paige and Marie are dealing with dark, uncomfortable topics on a weekly basis, and interjecting an overtop level of humor that a person could argue reflects the overall nature and response of general society when we hear about people getting caught up in cult activities. Ha ha, look at those chumps! This could never happen to me! That’s about as academic as I’m willing to get on the topic at the moment given the high levels of morphine currently in my system.

Anyways, give it a listen. It’s well worth it. Also buy my books. Those are also well worth it.

Or don’t. See if I care.

(I do.)

Header Photo by Nancy Wong, 1977

In Which the Commonly Expected and Hastily Accepted are… Not?

This evening I was perusing my Facebook only to discover a brilliant article shared by a former professor of mine. I say ‘former professor’, but the truth of the matter is she is still constantly teaching about gender within media and the proper way to format smarm, even if she doesn’t realize it. Whatever the case may be, I always latch on to any links she posts out of curiosity, if not out of a desire to continue my lessons into Gender in Media studies (even if my education has certainly directed me away from it in the last year.)

Take a look for yourselves…

We Have Always Fought

You’ll have to excuse me if my summary lacks the penache of the article (It is nearly 1 a.m. after all.) Essentially, Hurley brilliantly illustrates how gender within our narratives erases women, unsees them, places them on the back-burner while male characters take the lead (which is a bit screwy when the narrative itself is driven by the woman’s conflict.) The point that really struck me was when she began to discuss women being used as tropes to guide the man’s story. I’ve heard this before, and I’m certainly guilty of it myself, but Hurley’s ‘Cannabalistic Llama’ metaphor really struck home. Probably because I always suspected such things about llamas myself.

We can dither around topics about gender and media. Person A can throw out the term ‘feminazi’ while Person B drops the Red Pill bomb. The fact of the matter is that becoming accusatory about gender inequality within media does not solve the problem. There is a stubbornness that acts as a sort of shield around gender studies, so those within it may continue to converse and try to make changes while the rest of the world holds up their SWAT issued riot shields and hums very loudly to themselves. Can’t we all agree gender misrepresentation exists?

Sure it does. Men are misrepresented. Women are misrepresented. LGBT, Blacks, Asians, Hispanics. There is a dirty word for everyone and everything out there. And Hurley was right, what is really needed is someone to act. Someone to stand up and not necessarily announce, in a self-righteous tone, ‘Hey! This is wrong! It needs to be fixed!’ But instead quietly act and hope that that demure, humble action strikes a chord with another person. How does that old saying go? Be the person you want to see? Something like that. It’s almost 1 a.m.

I’m dithering. Hurley’s article didn’t perhaps act as an epiphany to me, but reinvigorated some of that passion that I felt back at the college where I gleefully watched my professor cut down some of the more… let’s say, ignorant members of the class. Okay, maybe not cut down. The woman is a master of sarcasm. I’m sure most of the class wouldn’t have realized they were being cut down.

Dithering again, right. Where was I? Oh yes, reinvigoration. Hurley’s article forced me to stop and look back at my own work (which, by the way, I was so close to being done editing until this came a long). There’s no doubt I use women as devices. Even thinking about it now I can say ‘I used this trope, this trope and this one here for the ladies’. For the men? Hell, I don’t know if I can even name a single male-orientated trope. I guess Papa Wolf? That’s one, right?

What’s wrong with this picture? I grew up surrounded by strong women, and in some way I think that’s reflective in my story. Natalia Artison is, if nothing else, meant to be a ‘Strong Woman Seed’ who is meant to blossom over the course of the series. But what about the others? What about Amy, her mother? What about Kate Delarno? She died, and the only reason she died was to encourage Steven Delarno to be a badass. She’s a tool, a trope, and nothing more. For shame, Kathleen.

So I started rethinking it. Hurley made a good point. Why does a woman have to die? Why does it have to be a woman? A lover? Why not a friend? Why can’t they simply leave?

‘Oh, I can jump on that train,’ I thought, somewhat foolishly. ‘I’ll make Kate leave. Or maybe she never existed or…’

Hold on. Hold the phone. Changing it simply to fulfill some half-assed desire to show a more rounded gender dynamic is crass. No, worse than crass, it’s giving those morons who claim there is no gender misrepresentation exactly what they’re looking for. A change simply for a change. Not a change because it shakes up the reader, not a change because it isn’t expected, and certainly not a change because it would be better.

So I had to stop thinking. It started to become very meta. ‘If I know that I am making this change to fulfill a desire to show more equal gender representation, then I’m not really making the change for the right reasons. But if I don’t make the change then I will continue having gender misrepresentation which is exactly what I don’t want to do.’

I then proceeded to go eats some grapes and consider the situation I had once again gotten myself into by overthinking things. I do it quite often, you see.

After several handfuls of grapes and a few minutes of petting the cat (purring cats are very soothing after all) I realized that I need to look at my various gender misrepresentation crimes in the same way I have always looked at my writing. Everything is connected to something else. Each action takes place because it impacts the final agenda. If X Trope can’t be linked to B Outcome, then it would be irresponsible of me to not consider how I might change it. If X Trope is linked to B Outcome then it might just have to stay where it is.

Off-hand I can think of 3 gender orientated tropes that diminish women in the first book, 2 of which I know I can change. There is a certain hesitation with the third because I can see the final picture. I know where and when the trope is turned on its head and where expectations are subverted. That is a luxury only I have, however. I admit a certain level of fear that I will self-publish and not long after a reader will come, read a couple blog entries, and immediately start accusing me of gender misrepresentation. Of negating the female narrative in favor of the male, even when my protagonist is a very much a girl.

Like I said, I overthink things, and it starts to get meta pretty quickly. I think I need some more 1 a.m. grapes. At the very least Hurley’s article gave me a lot to think about, and I’m excited to approach these particular tropes in a different way.

Here’s to subverting gender representation in narratives.
Mm, fermented grapes.

Sometimes bird are birdds. Sometimes birds not bird but cat

In which websites are made

There seem to be several important things a self-publishing author needs to focus on:

1) Editing

It is absolutely necessary to spend the money on hiring an editor because sometimes you don’t word so good and think stuff without all the right punctuatiation and speeling.

2) Cover

Hire someone professional. I did. Her name is Maddison Barut, and she is fabulous.

3) Website

Okay, so I hate to admit it, but I do sort of want this book to do well. Too many people have mocked me for too long about the carpal tunnel and the notebooks and the what-have-you. Self-publishing is all about the ability to market yourself. I can do that. I’m vaguely offensive roughly 67% of the time, but not too cocky to avoid apologies. I also am a Communications Major which may or may not assist in my ability to, y’know, communicate about stuff and things.

Because it really comes down to all the stuff n’ things.

Ergo, the leap was made, the domain name purchased. The ‘Hey, ya’ll! Look at me! I’m going to success’ was made on Facebook. Plus, WordPress is insanely easy to work with. That’s a big help. So my apologies for those of you that receive many notifications about this. It Is necessary for my World-Dominating success, or something.