Friday, August 30, 2013

Atheist Propaganda

Does anyone actually remember the God Warrior?  No?  Am I the only one who watches crappy television?
I wanted this blog to be a positive place where I didn’t talk about books that I dislike (That’s what Facebook is for), but I was recently reminded of something that happened a few years ago: I read this poorly-written, tedious young adult book.  One day, I was in the book section of the grocery store.  They had a big display for this book.  Two women walked past the display, and one of them said something like this:
“That book is nothing but an author forcing his atheist propaganda down the throats of children.  I wrote a letter to the publishing company to let them know that it’s unacceptable to publish atheist books.  I will never buy one of their products again.”

The women walked away.  I rolled my eyes.
In this book, the teenage boy main character meets the hottest girl on Earth (in his opinion).  She’s an atheist.  He’s not.  He’s never met an atheist before because he lived in a small town where everybody believed the same thing.  He’s intrigued.  She spends one poorly-written, tedious chapter explaining what atheists believe.  He tells her that he’s not an atheist and explains his beliefs.  They’re cool with each other’s beliefs.  They continue their poorly-written, tedious romance, and religion isn’t mentioned again (in this book.  I believe there are sequels.  I’m not going to read them.)  The end.
People are entitled to their opinions.  You’re allowed to choose what you and your children read.  You have the right to recommend books to friends.  However, I don’t believe that you have the right to ruin things for everybody else.  You wouldn’t want someone deciding which books you or your children are allowed to read, so please don’t try to make that decision for other people.
It’s probably obvious to a lot of you why I found the woman’s comment irritating, but I need something to blog about, so I’m going to discuss it in list form.

1.        Talking mice and serial killers.

Authors are not their characters; characters are not mouthpieces for their authors.  (Well, unless the author is Ayn Rand, maybe.)  Any author can tell you that characters often do things that the author would never do in real life.  You can probably tell what subjects interest an author based on what they write, but you probably can’t tell much about an author’s religion, lifestyle, economic status, sexuality, education level, gender (especially if they use initials or a pseudonym), etc.
It’s incorrect to assume that the author is an atheist because one of his characters is an atheist.  I read his website, his Wikipedia page, and several author interviews, and his religious beliefs aren’t mentioned anywhere.
If an author wrote a story where all of the characters were talking mice, I hope that you wouldn’t assume that the author was a talking mouse.  If an author wrote a story about a murder, I hope that you wouldn’t assume that the author was a serial killer.  Assuming that the author is an atheist because of the beliefs of a fictional character is silly.  Most of the characters in the book weren’t atheists, but it would be equally wrong to assume that the author shared the religious beliefs of any of those characters. 
It seems as if the woman in the store latched on to the author being an atheist because she needed a reason to be outraged.

2.        Atheists are people, too.

Flip through a copy of Writer’s Market, and you’ll find hundreds of Christian/spiritual/religious publishing companies.  There’s a good reason for this.  The Bible is the #1 bestselling book in the history of books.  The Gutenberg Bible was the first major book printed on a printing press.  I’ve heard that religious books are the second-fastest growing category in publishing, behind children’s/young adult.  It makes financial sense that there are a lot of religious publishing companies.   I’ve never seen an atheist publishing company—possibly because it wouldn’t be profitable—but there are atheists who want to read about atheist characters, just like there are Christians who want to read about Christian characters.
About 2.01% of the world’s population is atheist, and 9.66% of the world’s population is non-religious.  Non-religious is one of the fastest growing “religious groups” in America.  Nineteen percent of Americans say that they are skeptical about the existence of God.  If the growth of the non-religious “religion” continues, 1 in 4 Americans will be claim to be non-religious within the next 20 years.  I know that non-religious doesn’t necessarily mean atheist, but a lot of these people can probably relate to an atheist character more than to a religious character.  I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with giving these people a character who shares their beliefs.

3.        Propaganda?

According to my dictionary:
“Propaganda is the organized dissemination of information, allegations, ideas, or rumors to assist or damage the cause of a government, movement, person, group, institution, nation, etc.”

The atheist character in the book explained her beliefs.  She didn’t use them to attack or attempt to convert (de-convert?) the non-atheist character or the reader.  I don’t think that’s propaganda.  It’s a conversation.  There’s nothing wrong with an honest conversation about religion, especially if you want to start a romantic relationship with someone who believes differently than you.  

4.        It’s not a book’s job to raise your children.  

If it’s important that your children share your religious beliefs, then it’s your job to teach them your religious beliefs.  Take them to church.  Raise them in a community of people who share your beliefs.  Practice what you preach and let them see you living according to your beliefs.  Talk to them.  If your children are strong in their beliefs, they will not be corrupted by a poorly-written, tedious, fictional atheist.  Or any other atheist for that matter.

5.        Religious tolerance isn’t a bad thing.

The characters in this book were able to look past their religious differences.  No matter how much you shelter yourself, you still have to share the world with people who believe differently than you.  This book shows characters of different faiths working together to accomplish a goal.  I wish that more people knew how to do that.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Being A Teenager Isn’t Cute. It’s Terrifying.


I went on a mission to find some young adult anthologies, which turned out to be more difficult than I expected.  Most of the ones that I found looked . . . cute.  I have nothing against light-hearted stories.  In fact, I think that there needs to be more light-hearted stories in the world.  But, being a teenager (in my experience) wasn’t cute.  It was awkward, lonely, and terrifying.  I wanted to find anthologies that captured that experience.
I found Sixteen: Stories About That Sweet and Bitter Birthday, edited by Megan McCafferty and On the Fringe, edited by Donald R. Gallo.

The woman who sold me Sixteen said, “Oh, I love this book.  It’s so cute.”

*Head desk*

Luckily, I liked both anthologies.

My favorite story in Sixteen was “Rutford Becomes a Man” by Ned Vizzini.  In this historical fiction story, Rutford’s father takes him to a brothel for his sixteenth birthday, but he has no idea what to do in a brothel.  The results of his confusion and superciliousness are unique, hilarious, and don’t have much to do with sex.

On the Fringe wasn’t as good as Sixteen.  I found several typos, and most of the stories were too moral-heavy for my liking.  The theme was also much narrower than the theme of Sixteen, so the stories started to feel repetitive.  The theme of Sixteen was “Being sixteen,” which is a wide theme.  The character just has to be sixteen or nearly sixteen.  The theme of On the Fringe was “Being bullied in school.”  There are only so many ways to get bullied in school.

The story that stood out was “Muzak for Prozac” by Jack Gantos because it didn’t fit the theme in the same way as the other stories.  There were no geeks being tortured by jocks.  It was about a boy who feels bad for telling the whole school that a girl in his class is a lesbian, so he goes to the grocery store where she works to apologize.  While he tries to find the courage to apologize, he empties bags of potato chips in the aisles, builds igloos out of ice cream containers, and looks closely at lettuce.  The narrator is so quirky that I wanted to keep reading to find out what he does next.  Some other stand-out stories were “Mrs. Noonan,” about a boy who spies on his chemistry teacher’s wife and “WWJD,” which is about a girl who’s trying to live like Jesus in modern-day Wisconsin.      
Both of these anthologies make readers realize how important social lives are to teenagers.   There’s a quote in Sixteen that says:

“One of the reasons I hate Hollywood so much is that they portray the travails of teen life as so innocuous and fun-loving.  People forget how much it all hurts back then.  Someone pinches you and you feel it in your bones.  They don’t want to face what a bunch of sadists teenagers are, wounded narcissists, killers.  All those folks who acted all shocked and outraged about Columbine—where the hell did they go to high school?”  - “The Day I Turned Chickenhearted,” Steve Almond, Page 175.

I have a vivid memory of when the Columbine shootings happened because I lived fairly close to that school.  I was 12 years-old, and I remember my teacher telling us what happened and saying that if we had siblings or friends who went to Columbine, we had to go to the office and call our parents.  I also remember being baffled by the adults who kept saying, “How could this happen?”  Even as 12 year-olds, we were sadists.  I don’t think I went a day without hearing someone called a “Fucktard” (Fucking + Retard = Fucktard).  I saw boys throwing rocks at a girl because she was ugly.  I saw a boy break another boy’s nose in a fight.  I didn’t have any trouble seeing how someone could kill someone else.

Now that I’m an adult, I can see how adults would be baffled by school shootings.  I recently had to do research about the psychology of toddlers, and I learned that toddlers believe that the world exists to serve them.  That’s why they have tantrums when their parents won’t buy them ice cream.  The world is failing to serve them, and this doesn’t match their worldview.   I don’t know much about psychology, but it seems as if it takes children a long time to outgrow this mindset.
When I was 12 and the boys called me a Fucktard, it was devastating.  I started to believe that I was retarded.  Why would the world lie to me?  Why would the boys keep saying it if it wasn’t true?

If someone called me a Fucktard as an adult, I’d probably laugh and wonder if the person was having a bad day.  I understand that the world doesn’t exist to serve me.  Every person in the world is fighting their own battle.  Some people are jerks.  The world sometimes lies.  At some point in my life, I had a perspective shift.
Sixteen and On the Fringe were written for teenagers, but I think that they’re helpful for adults because they remind us that we may not have always had the ability to ignore petty slights.  At one point in our lives, we took everything personally.  Everything hurt.  Every move we made was awkward and embarrassing.  The opinions of our peers were hugely important.

Maybe adults were baffled by the Columbine shootings because they don’t completely remember their lives before the perspective shift that came with growing up.
Or, maybe I’m wrong about all of this.  Feel free to correct me (nicely) in the comments.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Semi-Coherent Writing The Rockies Notes

Writing the Rockies = awesomeness.  If you haven’t heard of it, Writing the Rockies is a conference that’s held on the campus of Western State Colorado University in Gunnison, Colorado.  This year, it was July 25 – July 28.  The conference offers sessions on popular genre fiction, nonfiction, poetry, screenwriting, and publishing.  Attendees can go to different sessions or focus on one area.

The college campus is beautiful.  I wanted to take more pictures, but every time I wasn’t busy, it was either dark or raining.  It’s raining hard in this picture:
The college has an organic garden, parking spaces reserved for fuel-efficient vehicles, and wants you to sort your recycling in to a hundred different categories, but it waters its lawns during a downpour.  I found that amusing.


The conference came at the end of my two-week residency at the school (I was there working on this.  Please submit).  I didn’t get much sleep during the two weeks because my on-campus apartment was loud, hot, and buggy.  By the time I got to the conference, I was in exhausted zombie-mode.  However, the conference was amazing.  I loved it.  I took about 6 pages of notes, and some of them are actually coherent.

I went to all of the publishing sessions and all of the keynotes.  Here are a few of the things I learned:

1.        Many authors don’t understand what a publishing company does.

A publishing company usually doesn’t print books.  They hire book-printing companies to do that.  Publishing companies find books that will stand out in the marketplace, provide authors with many different types of editorial advice, design the cover and the interior of the book, work with retailers and book distributers, help build the author’s brand, market the book, and handle the legal stuff, such as copyright protection.  Random House explains it all better than me.  (I'm not sure why the videos aren't working on the mobile version of this blog). 

This means that if you want to self-publish, and you don’t want your book to look self-published, you have to either learn how to do all of these things yourself, or you have to hire somebody to do them.  On a slightly-related note, I also learned that the average self-published e-book sells 75 copies.

2.        Social media is important.

One of the authors at the conference said that her publishing company required her to have a website, a blog, a LinkedIn account, a Twitter account, and a Facebook account with at least 5,000 friends or 5,000 “likes.”  All of these social media sites need to be updated regularly by the author.

3.        Press kits are a thing.

I’d never heard of a press kit before.  They can be created by an author or by a publishing company.  The press kit that I saw was a folder which contained a flier that advertised the book, an author bio, and author interview questions with answers.  The press kit is given to anyone who is reviewing the book or interviewing the author.

4.        Find your people before you write.

Authors can start promoting their books before the book is written.  If you write mysteries, go out in real life or on the Internet and find other people who write mysteries.  If you write about cycling, go find cyclists.  Make friends.  Get involved in conversations.  Make some real connections.  Don’t just try to promote your unwritten book.  That could get annoying.  When you do write and publish the book, you’ll already have an audience.   


My favorite part of the conference was getting to hear pitches for possible anthology stories and poems.  We had an office (okay, it was a classroom) with our names on the door (okay, the names were on a piece of printer paper that was taped to the door), but it was still really cool.  Authors came and talked to us about their stories or poems, and we gave them feedback.  I enjoyed hearing everybody’s ideas.  There are a lot of creative people in the world.

I’m already looking forward to next year’s conference.  If you’re in the Gunnison, Colorado area, I highly recommend coming to Writing the Rockies.