The “True” Responsibility of Authors?

Topics for blog posts and message boards across the internet on any given subject tend to come in waves, I find. One question, or problem or controversy comes to the top, and you find every other blogger posting their thoughts on it.

It’s not always intentional. Any given frame of time withing the writers community say may just happen to have become the “Summer of the Oxford Comma,” wherein a few people happen to write about the topic.

Since the election, (though I can’t say if this is because of the election, though it could be), I’ve come across a few posts in my regular feed of writers dealing with a similar sentiment. Each expressed this in a different way of course, but there has been a trend in the last thirty days of the so called importance of your writing. It’s mission, and the seriousness thereof.

I’d site some of my sources normally, but in this case, I’m going to respond to this mini-trend, because I don’t want this to be about Me vs. Blogger X. IN most cases I don’t think the author’s of the articles in question are bad people. In many ways they are correct in what they say. But in more than a few of this articles/threads I’ve stated the mild exception I’ve taken to the thesis. Whether by chance or by design, thus far nobody has ever responded to my comments, including the normally response-friendly authors of said post.

Since as of now I don’t seem to have kicked up any conversation elsewhere, I’ll share a few simple thoughts on the matter here, though I have addressed this topic before here at TyUnglebower.com

I’ll ask fellow writers some questions here, based on the articles I’ve mentions:

Does our writing in fact have to be complex? Is it required to rip the guts out of the reader? Challenge the very nature of our society? Force people to take a long, frightened, uncomfortable look at their own complacency within a world that is possibly collapsing? Should we as authors use our fiction confuse, agitate, incite? Do we require a theme, indeed a specific purpose, if not a target with every word we put together for every story we tell? Do we choose to disrupt, disturb and ultimately destroy when we make the choice to commit ourselves to writing? Is the value of our body of work, all of it, measured by just how many torches we throw in a mass effort to burn the village to the ground in order to save it?

So many questions there, and more that could be added. I would ask them if I didn’t have at least an answer, would I?

Well, I would. And I just did. Because there is no answer to any of those questions. Actually, there are so many answers to each of those questions that to presume to answer them on behalf of the writing community would be as ineffective as it would be arrogant.

The truth is that these questions must be answered by each author for themselves. And each author will probably answer differently depending on numerous factors throughout their life. Things change. People change, and contrary to some opinion, even writers are people.

I felt a stirring need to address this today, because contrary to the subjectivity I’ve put forth on these subjects just now, several of the articles that sparked my recent consideration of this topic presumed to not only answer these questions, but answer them all in the affirmative, on behalf of the writing community. Put it another way, I’re read posts and articles from people on various places in the writing spectrum of commercial success insist that our duty is to do all of the things mentioned in that paragraph of questions below, suggesting in places that to do otherwise, or less is to not take one’s writing seriously.

This was suggested throughout these articles and posts in a variety of ways. Some people have always seen writing in this way. Others indicated that things have changed in the country as a result of the election, and that whatever we authors were doing before it happened, we all have to saddle up and get ready for war, by exposing the ugly truth to our readers and forcing them into action. I’ll paraphrase a few of these pronouncements:

“Ask yourself why you enjoy writing escapist fantasy so much, in a world that now desperately needs all hands on deck to face some approaching cold realities. No matter what you write, your characters must now at least be made tacitly aware through your narrative of just how dark our real world is becoming, and make them act accordingly. Your writing shouldn’t be a vacation, but a battle cry.”

“We can’t be like the Ents wanted to be in LOTR, content to be what we are, staying out of human affairs.”

“If, let’s say, your ultimate goal in writing fiction is to play, have fun, entertain readers who want to do the same, you need to ask yourself why you have no ambition.”

And so on. I think you get the idea. That’s what I keep running into online lately.

I don;t comment on threads or messages boards very often. I never seem to belong, and that remains true now. But the specifics of these messages hit me in such the wrong way I felt the need to respectfully disagree with it in more than one thread. As I said, as of this writing, it’s not caused much response from said threads, so allow me to respond here as I did there.

Appointing ourselves prophets, or jesters, (in the more historical sense) is in conflict with common advice to writers that we must not write with the expectation that we are going to be read, or get paid for it, or make a difference. Now, I have never accepted that position wholeheartedly, but the fact is that it’s a common perspective, but is not at all compatible with the idea of being that important.

Secondly, and if you write with any amount of pride you know this; writing well is difficult. It doesn’t matter what you are writing ion what genre. If you are serious about producing what is your best work, (work which again you hope someone will read someday) it involves a lot of time and work. I think some of the “author as agitator” crowd give off the impression, (though perhaps not intentionally) that if your writing isn’t doing the Salmon Rushdie thing, it must be easy. It isn’t. And frankly I think there is plenty of “important” literature out there that feels lazy.

Entertaining the fickle masses of our fellow human beings that have millions of choices besides us is no easy task. Writing, editing, correcting, rewriting, self-publishing a piece and all of the endless marketing you have to do for yourself afterward or seeking an agent, getting one, getting a publishing contract (and all of the endless marketing you have to do for yourself afterward) are not easy. A few get lucky, and becomes stars, yes, we can’t deny it. But the fact is, it takes work to create a novel expressly for escapism and entertainment, if quality is a concern.

Entertaining people, in any of the arts, is far from easy if you don’t want to be cheap and shoddy in your work. It does in fact take motivation. It takes ambition.

So if as an author we find ourselves with some attention, are we to tell the readers in our fledgling fan base that, “as much as I appreciate you being entertained by my previous novel, now that I have your attention I really need to remind you of how lost, corrupted, privileged or ignorant you are. It’s time to truly challenge you to such a degree that my words will give you headaches, keep you up at night, and possibly make you weep. Click here for that!”

Plus, I’ll ask again what I have asked many times before; if the world is a dark, cruel place, and if it really is becoming worse as world events swirl out of control around us, why is entertaining someone an inferior goal to “fighting the power,” and such? Do we not trust readers of high fantasy to also be socially aware? If a woman reads nothing but suspense novels that have erotic twists, do we assume she isn’t paying attention to Standing Rock? Perhaps such people have enough of being challenged, and getting kicked in the teeth by the world the rest of their lives, and they just want our book to vanish into for a while. An ambition to help people do this is somehow lesser?

Obviously fiction has, does, and will continue to start social change, and it will do so at times by making us uncomfortable. By scaring and repulsing us. I respect authors who view that as their mission. I also respect those who continue to seek ways to entertain, humor or yes, offer us vacation from the world we are in. Both camps contribute, and we really only ought to concern ourselves with quality, engaging work, not with whether or not we are chipping away chunks of the status quo with tools approved of by our friendly neighborhood literati.

Some of my works have themes. Lessons. A moral or two. Other of my works are yarns, and meant to be so. Whether I succeed at either of those goals I leave up to my readers, who can be more than one thing at a time, such as reader and citizen. My work can be either. I, Ty Unglebower, person as well as author can be both, or either, depending on what I choose any given time I sit down at my keyboard.

 

 

 

 

New Fiction by Yours Truly

Announcing that my latest collection of short stories is now available in ebook from several locations. The collection, which I have not talked about much ahead of time, is called…well, just take a look at the cover:

ordercover2

You might be able to guess a few things just from this. But in case it isn’t clear, allow me.

To begin with, I didn’t create the cover art. If you know me, that was obvious right from the start. It’s actually from a nearly 100 year old text book now in the public domain. I had some  basic ideas for designing one myself and I almost did. But when I came across this image in my cyber travels, it was too good not to use. It just fit the spirit of the stories so well.

Which brings me to the next aspect you could probably have guessed by yourself. These ten stories are literally about meetings. More specifically the stories are about meetings that follow Robert’s Rules of Order. I realize that this doesn’t sound like page-turner material right off the bat, but that was part of the challenge I issued to myself when I first started experimenting with this idea earlier this year.

As the introduction to the book notes, I have a rather old copy of Robert’s Rules in my personal library. I flip through it from time to time, wishing without success that more discussions in my life could be conducted according to unassailable formulas or order that could be easily referenced with the volume in my hand. That, naturally is never going to happen. (It actually has rarely happened during the few times I’ve actually been a member of a deliberative body that was supposed to act that way.) But I asked myself, could one write fiction based on such a book?

The more I considered certain motions, and rules and expectations for meetings laid out by the book, the more I answered “yes” to my own question; parliamentary procedure doesn’t inherently eliminate drama. In fact, it has the potential to allow quite a bit of drama, (and humor, and mystery and so on.) It’s merely a mechanism to wrangle in the chaotic nature of human deliberation into something of a coherent and fair whole. It doesn’t lack drama so much as channels it into a far more productive and safe form.

At least in theory.

So, I set off to write a series of short stories, each one dealing with a meeting of some kind. in turn the moment the reader joins said meeting hinges on a different aspect, or maneuver within parliamentary procedure, as laid out in Robert’s Rules.

But don’t forget the subtitle: Ten Very Different Meetings. Some of the stories are general fiction, some are humor. You’ll even find some sci-fi and some paranormal in there as well, while still maintaining a connection to parliamentary procedure.

I am quite pleased with the stories that came about from this experiment. (All between 800-2000 words or so.) I hope you will give them a try, and you can do so for free. I’m not charging for this one.

Why not? To begin with, it was more of a side project for me, as opposed to something I led up to for a long time, and built upon, such as my novels. But once it took shape, I felt I had something worth offering my readers. It doesn’t feel like I need to charge for that, though.

Secondly, not only am I experimenting with content in this collection, but with publishing. I used Draft2Digital as opposed to Smashwords for formatting and distributing. The automatic formatting was impeccable, and nearly instant. Far easier than getting a manuscript ready for Smashwords. A plus.

The slight minus is that for now, Draft2Digital does not distribute to as many stores as does Smashwords. So it seemed right for now to keep the price free, should readers have to download a file format they do not prefer, or if they have to download a different app or something just to read it.

However, all of the stores that carry it are linked here, on one convenient page. More stores will be added to that list as Draft2Digital hears from the other parties. Apple iTnes is the biggest market I have it in right now, as you will see. Kobo is second biggest.

I enjoyed the experiment of writing this collection, and I am enjoying the publishing and marketing part of the experiment as well.So if your format is there, I ask you to give this free collection a try. I think there is something in it for everyone, even if you only read some of the stories. (Though I prefer you try all ten!) If your format is not there, it probably will be soon.

And as always, if you check it out and like is please review it on the store you got it from. It’s an indie-author’s career life blood.

Enjoy.

 

 

The “Return” of Too XYZ

It was the name of my first attempt at a blog not related to my acting. On of the five main categories here on this site is named for it. It was the term I came up with years ago for the numerous yet undefined and inexplicable ways in which I failed to connect with, to influence, to understand what seemed to be daily assumptions of the rest of the world.

In the very first post on that old blog, I described my situation, (that i assumed I shared with others who would find my blog…they didn’t) in the following manner, among other ways:

“It’s a predicament of being too different too early in life, or too damaged, or too confused, or all of the above, to develop as one should have developed in order find conventional success in the world. Or even in order to take the advice of those who coach others in how to do so. A predicament of being too unique in too many ways so that even suggestions for “unique people” doesn’t quite stick to us much of the time. Like a sticky note with hair and dirt on the back.”

I had no name for it then. No name for that tendency to be shut out, just beyond reach, unable to adapt to certain social “norms” with which I had struggled my whole life. It was just too…something. Too XYZ as an attempt at a cute brand and networking focal point for others who felt my way began.

The venture failed, but I continued to be Too XYZ in my life afterward, even though I didn’t address it anymore on a blog. I may have given up an attempt to use an bizarre weakness to my advantage, but I continued to be Too XYZ, even into the creation of this website. Though I haven’t written in it as much as I thought I might, it’s a stated category within this blog, because I still had no name for the concept.

But just over a year and a half ago, I actually found the name for my Too XYZ nature. The name for it is autism spectrum disorder. I am, in fact a high functioning autistic. (Asperger’s Syndrome was the term used for years, until several years ago the distinction was eliminated by those who have authority to do such things.) It may not account for every quirk I have ever possessed, but it’s probably the president of the club, and it’s time I addressed it here on my own website.

Most of my friends and family knew just a few months after the official diagnosis. It’s not something I have kept hidden by choice from the so called “general public,” but it also isn’t something I’ve gone out of my way to mention until right now.

Why have i not said anything about this on my web[age until now? It’s not shame, (though I admit I have had some concerns that making it “mega public” like this would make people less sympathetic with me, trust me less with potential work, or even find my less attractive, both emotionally and physically. Some of those concerns remain, to tell you the truth, though on a much lower level than when all of this was new.

In truth, however, it hasn’t seemed relevant much of the time. It hasn’t been a secret so much as it has not been pertinent to anything I’ve been saying here, or out in the world in my “public” capacity. At least it hasn’t seemed pertinent in most cases. The fact of the matter is, however, it probably is pertinent. I don’t allow my ASD to define me, but I can pretend that any definition of me is complete without the inclusion of the autism spectrum.

I wrote last month about tweaking this site for the sake of greater overall authenticity. I mentioned how I hadn’t been fake up until that point, but that I’d perhaps been shining light on myself from the wrong angle in order to fulfill the supposed commandments of self promotion. I mentioned i didn’t want to do that anymore, and I guess that got some small ball rolling i my mind that before long I’d be saying these things in public here on my website that’s I’d already said the family and friends some time ago. This entry is the culmination of that way of thinking, you could say.

I started making a series of videos as a way of expressing my experience with ASD in various aspects of life. I shared these videos with  my friends last year to help those who wanted to understand better. I haven’t made one in a while, but I have been meaning to make more of them. In the mean time, I am thinking about posting the ones I have already made here over time, so that “my public” can get a better feel for all of this as well. We’ll see.

Regardless, I’ve concluded that I still have a long way to go myself in comign to terms with what my ASD means for me. I’ve let it be perhaps a bit too minor at times, too much in the background. I think for a time I assumed that it doesn’t really matter too much, and therefore was a real issue, but in the background. I know now that that is probably a bit naive-that if I want to be authentic I need to delve deeper into the nature of who and what I am to myself, I need to own, if not broadcast and spotlight my autism. I could be wrong, but it occurred to me that having this aspect of my life known here on my public presence on the internet is a necessary step in that journey that began in the spring of 2015 officially, and continues to this day, and will likely continue for some time to come.

This will not be an autism blog, but my personal relationship with my autism, (which is as unique to each person as is their fingerprint) will be present here on my own website.

I might make it a set of videos on youtube, exploring in public what I had been exploring in private. There may be other things. But for now, I’ve made the “announcement,” though that sounds far more dramatic than it is.

It is what it is now.

 

Unify This. Election Edition.

What is so moral, professional, or even particularly American about unity? It’s touted as the optimum state of this republic, the golden standard by which to judge any and all thoughts, plans, activities and attitudes, especially right after an election.

“Unity,” whether an elected official truly desires it, must make its way into that person’s speeches and literature and town hall answers. You have to. This is America. The United States after all. If I love my country, and want what is best for it, I am required to seek out unity with my fellow citizens as often as I can.

Why? Why is unity such a thing? I ask because to tell you the truth, these days I think striving for unity in the United States is bullshit at every level from the alpha to the omega. It’s only getting more ridiculous, not less, as time goes on.

By all means follow the law, and make sure everyone is equal in the eyes of same. (Though we are light-years from that being a reality.) Eschew violence. Embrace compromise of certain things maybe once in a while if it is for the greater good. (Though that is going the way of the dodo in our civic life.)

If what I’ve described here is what it means to unify, I suppose it’s doable most times. But if calls for unity in this country, especially in the wake of the 2016 presidential election are in fact calls to “mend wounds,” “shake hands” and “remember that we are all Americans first,” then to be frank, I have no aspirations to unity. I have aspirations to see what is right and just prevail. At this moment in history, the two concepts are mutually exclusive.

The next president of this country won this election by directly and indirectly appealing to some of the worst divides that plague our populace. Unwarranted fears about Muslims, about gays, about those with “blood coming out of her…whatever,” all of which lead to a primal grunt of protection of the alpha white male and his interpretation of his rights. (That among these are not paying workers, evading taxes, and becoming famous enough to grab a woman’s “pussy” without permission.)

Trump voters were by and large simpatico with this philosophy to the tune of tens of millions earlier this week, some tacitly and some enthusiastically, but all indubitably. Why in hell would I want to seek common ground with such garbage? If I were in a frat that had such stipulations, I’d leave it, or never pledge it in the first place. Chances are, you’d agree with my decision. Yet when the president of the United States does it? Get mad for a while, but remember to give him your support, and wish him well. Why? Because America.

I’m also encouraged to remember the pain of other people not in my situation, and think long and hard about how to establish empathy with such people. Ask yourself, they say, what it was that drove so many people so passionately to vote in this way. How can I respond to this request succinctly? Like this; no.

This ain’t fivethirtyeight, so I don’t have charts and graphs. But the anecdotal evidence is pretty clear; the white working class won this election for the so-called Republican candidate. Let me talk to them for a minute, if we are going to “unify” and “understand one another.”

It must suck for you if the steel mill your granddaddy and great-granddaddy worked at to put food on the family table has been closed for 40 years, but it ain’t comin’ back. You could cry enough tears to cool the molten steel over which your great-granddaddy slaved and sweated for 30 years up in Pittsburgh, and it won’t change a thing. Adapt. Move on. Suck it up. These are surely expressions and concepts with which you are familiar; you use them on minorities in the inner city who don’t make enough at the job to feed themselves and their children, and who had their WIC cut in half by folks you elected for the purpose.

Newsflash, angry white worker; (or angry white middle class?), the African American mother in the South Side of Chicago didn’t choose to be there in most cases. In even more cases, she didn’t slap you with your lot in life. Chances are she wasn’t even alive when that world of great-granddaddy died. Neither were you.

I may sympathize with being working class, or being working poor. I am one myself. But as soon as you start insisting that people wholly unconnected with your predicament some how be punished because you are tired of “Washington ignoring us,” you lose any consideration from me. I don’t have to unify with you. I don’t have to consider it from your angle. Sorry you didn’t get to go to college, (or the college you preferred) but you don’t need a degree to understand the transgender boy who wants to go to his prom 500 miles from where you live doesn’t have a damn thing to do with you losing the farm. They didn’t do that sort of thing in the America you grew up in? Nothing lasts forever, does it?

Things change in a country this big. Demographics change, laws change. More and more people that are nothing like you or your granddaddy are here now. You don’t have to sup with them, if you can’t stand them, but don’t expect me when I vote, or when I comment on the state of our nation to feel bad for you because your world isn’t as white as it used to be. Don’t expect me to expect elected officials to do so either.

Blacks, Muslims, Asians, Gays, and plenty of other minorities are just as powerless as you are when they can’t find a job or can’t feed their kids. Instead of bitching about them, and taking food out of their mouths, vote for somebody who is actually going to provide both of you with what you can use to fix your situation today. Stop voting for someone who you foolishly believe will allow you to become rich in a thousand tomorrows if it weren’t for those people with the funny names that wear things on their heads that you don’t like. Maybe, just maybe, they worked harder than you did. And maybe they got luckier. But they sure as hell didn’t get to where they are by saying, “How can I fuck over that white lower middle class worker today?”

I won’t unify with people like this. I won’t sympathize with them, when they vote for Trump in desperation, shaking my head in sympathy at them as though they were a young puppy who just missed pissing on the newspaper. These are people’s lives we’re talking about. You can be white, desperate, be treated unfairly, feel like society and Washington and everyone else keeps their boot on your throat, and be absolutely correct, without spewing venom about taking your country back from “the others” while willfully, gleefully ignoring all the facts in the world to the contrary.

These aren’t the demographics I need to unify with simply because I’m on the losing side of the quadrennial first Wednesday after the first Monday in November. These concepts need to be fixed or replaced, not simply spit-shined with the hallow promise of unity behind their ring leader because somebody decided that’s what Americans do.

Every shred of empirical evidence, most of which consists of his own words, shows us that the next president of the United States is a greedy misogynist, racist, Russian sympathizer with narcissistic tendencies that has absolutely no idea what he is doing, and cares for nothing but what makes him feel good at the moment. I’m not unifying with that, and I’m not supporting it, and I’m not wishing it well, even though the candidate I voted for on Tuesday has asked me to, and even though the outgoing president for which I voted twice asked me to. Because enough is enough.

Unifying is as fruitless in this climate as it is dangerous. I’ll remain non-violent, within the law, and I will certainly keep informed, and keep my eye on things in the next four years. I will continue to offer my sympathy  to the true minorities, the truly oppressed, the truly voiceless of this land who just felt a gun pointed at their head by the electoral college. I’ve got no time to spare on butt hurt WASPS who wouldn’t know an aisle to reach a hand across if they tripped over it.

This is a (hopefully) bloodless war we’re fighting in this country, and I’m too busy fighting it to embrace someone so far on the other side, that people I love would come under suspicion for existing.

Majority doesn’t rule, it merely elects. (Electoral. Looks like Trump lost the popular.) Elections must be respected, but the attitudes of those electing do not.

America, and its system, fucked up.

Fiction War.

A few hours ago, the deadline for a 72-hour flash fiction contest arrived. (fictionwar.com) I actually submitted my piece for the contest last night. All contestants were given the same prompt, and had three days to write a story based on same of 1,000 words or less. Mine clocked in at about 800 words. I went with a science-fiction theme.

I had big plans this year to enter many contests this year. I wrote that goal down and everything. But this contest is actually only the second one I have entered this year. There is time, perhaps for one or two more, if some of my ready-made stories are good matches, but I will almost certainly fall quite short of my goal for 2016.

What happened? I don’t have an exact answer. In 2016 I met my several of my writing  goals. I published my mystery novel both as an ebook and now in paperback. (The latter wasn’t even a concrete plan for this year, but I got it done.)

Though for most of the year my short story quota wasn’t looking likely, but in the last two months or so, I attained it after all. Might even publish some of those before year’s end.

Yet when it comes to contests, I haven’t made it. Part of it is being lazy, I guess. In some cases it’s the money. I’m not wild about paying to be in a contest. (Though I did pay 35 dollars to enter this recent one.)

I’ve been thinking that the bigger part is perfectionism. I’m not usually susceptible to it, to be honest. I insist on quality, I work hard to attain it and I am sometimes disappointed in the results of any given effort. Still, I don’t generally allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good, as the old saying goes.

Except with contests. I never quite feel like what I’ve produced in way of short stories is “contest ready.” Even when I really like something I submit, I’m not as at ease with the final product as I am with say, the novels. The novels aren’t perfect; nobody writes perfect novels, but I am nonetheless satisfied with them by the time I make them available. It feels like less of an act of supplication when I work on a novel and at last offer it, than it does when I submit something directly for the approval of a board or resident writer, or whoever a judge of a contest is.

Same things happens when I submit to a publication for mere inclusion, but seeking to be declared a “winner” has an extra ounce of apprehension associated with it, and I’m not one to feel great about losing.

I know, I know. Contests are an excellent, proven way to get one’s name into the publishing world and so on. I’ll do more of them as time goes on, I don’t doubt it. I may even get over my perfectionism for them. But just as nothing else in my publishing history has been conventional so far, neither has my relationship with contests.