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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
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Meet My (Writing) Family

A few days ago it was National Book Lovers Day. I had the intention of making a blog post to shamelessly self-promote myself, but as with all things, life got in the way and I failed amazingly well.

I did, however spend some time contemplating my writing journey, silly as it was. I thought about how The Code started as a silly project to help me cope with the challenges of life, and then somewhere along the way became firmly embedded as a part of me. I thought about the people who supported my GoFundMe so I could pay for my editor, and my managers at Chapters who have eagerly supported me by allowing my book to be on the shelves. I thought about my coworkers, who have bought copies and demanded I sign them, as if I were someone important.

As if the book has value beyond what I imagine for it.

And then, perhaps most importantly, I thought about my writing friends. No, not friends. Family. I thought about the people that are on the same journey, some ahead, some behind, some on a different path still leading to the same well. I thought about them and was immeasurably grateful for their love, support, and their insanity. And it occurred to me that while I’m not by any measure a particularly important person in the world of self-publishing, I do have a few people who glance at this blog. It would behoove me to share the accomplishments and sing the praises of the people I care about whenever possible. With that in mind… Meet my second family.

Ashley Whitt, who I met via kismet when myself and others were seeking critique partners on CC. Along with Lisa Reece, the three of us began the arduous task of sharing and exploring each other’s writing. She is in the query stage, and has had several requests for partial and full manuscripts of her speculative suspense novel, The Fairer Sex. What if men were no longer needed; what if women not only ruled the world but kept the men oppressed in camps? What if a woman saw a child – a male child –  at a camp who looked remarkably like her own daughter? Samantha kidnaps the boy and, accompanied by a man, Jonas, makes a wild escape into a world that she is beginning to question.

I loved everything about The Fairer Sex. It was my first experience acting as a critique partner to someone, and the day Ashley gets the agent she absolutely deserves and sells TFS for a gazillion dollars, you can be damn sure I will be putting my Staff Picks sticker on it at work.


Amber Pierce (My Agent Told Me To Make a Blog) is the first of our little group to actually accomplish something in the vein of traditional publishing. She has an agent, she has an agent who is telling her what to fix in order to make Pull of Gravity the perfect piece to pitch to publishers. Like Ashley, Amber has worked her ass off to get where she is, and we’re intensely proud of her. Her love of science and dedication to her craft makes for amazing blog posts, which you should definitely check out! Alternately, go find her on Twitter.


Pat – Mr. P.A. Thompson – has more dedication to writing than I could theoretically muster in a lifetime. He goes to conferences, he rubs elbows, he makes it damn clear that he wants this, and his novel Dog Tags, is going to get him to the top. An emotional and physically defeated veteran has his life inexplicably changed when he finds a stray dog whose tags help direct him through life. I was pleased to assist in a small way when Pat asked me about living with chronic pain.

Sometimes we live vicariously through Pat, for those of us that can’t get to, or afford, writers conferences. He gets the info, absorbs it life none other, and graciously passes it on. We’d have no idea what those conferences were life if not for Pat. And now, just recently, he has become, and I quote “a real writer”, by receiving his first rejection letter. One of us, Pat. One of us.


Debbi Miller Gutierrez, aka Gretchen. She is, without a doubt, the mom of the group. She looks after us, an while her wit is absolutely biting, she can turn it off at a moments notice to offer advice. As long as that advice doesn’t have anything to do with how you plan to kill a dog in your book because she will literally eat your face if you even dare consider it. She is a dog-lover through and through. Her children’s books are charming and popular with the children of our group members. Gretchen may have been in a slump with her latest work, but over the last month she has been re-energized to take it on, and we can’t wait to see what happens next.


Keith McBride, parrot lover, Hugh Howey worshipper.

Keith and Parrot Lovin'

Suck it, Keith. Oh wait, you already did.

He’s in a band now. He also self-published Across the Chasm, a Kindle Worlds novella set in the world of Hugh Howey’s Sand series. Keith really, really loves Hugh Howey. His latest venture is a baseball novel, which is severely lack in explosions if you ask me. He is also the go to when it comes to cooking of any kind. He’s a joker, a smoker, but presumably not a midnight toker because he is also a family man. He introduced me to Maine Beer Company, which I can never forgive him for, given that it is very, very hard to find MBC in Calgary. Goddamit, Keith.


T.R. Calais aka Aries75. She has an image for everything; no matter what you have said, what you have commented on, within 30 seconds she will appear with a relevant article or image to make you laugh. She is a writer of contemporary women’s fiction, a genre that few of us dare tread. Still, knowing Aries75, The Best Bad Day (Coming soon!) is going to stand out among the rest with humor and contemporary relevance that is rarely seen in women’s fiction.

 

Linnea Ren, who abandoned us for a year to go to Asia and returned, remarkably, without any strange disease created through the combination of bat spit and lemur tears. I am in the process of beta reading her novel, Waking Immortal, which I will definitely get back to as soon as I finish this post. She is the youngun’ of the group, but not lacking in experience or knowledge. She is deeply passionate about her work, taking part in every pitch contest on Twitter, and constantly on the hunt to find another way to improve her query. Again with the dedication. It must be a writer thing that I just ended up missing out on.


A special shout out to David Fross, Dfross, who isn’t a writer but a graphic artist. He made my cover. He made Keith’s cover. I have no idea how he found our chat room or why he decided to stay, but he is a fantastic person and constantly… erm… challenges us with his viewpoints. You’re an okay guy, Dfross.


We all have so much still to learn about writing, but our combined experiences make us professionals. Well, professional assholes if anything. We goof around. We tease each other. We harass each other. We force each other to be better and question our decisions in our characters and plots. It is an amazing miniature family to be part of, and doesn’t even include the others who appear on the chat less often. I will forever be grateful for the help and love these individuals have shown me over the years, and I look forward to harassing them endlessly for many more years to come. If you are looking for hilarious Twitter feeds, informative blogs, or wonderful self-published work, I recommend taking a look at the links above. It won’t be a waste of time. Or maybe it will. I don’t know. Either way, at the end of the day we’ll keep doing the same old faffing about.