Saturday, 25 February 2017

Manipulating freedom of Speech - When Authors Go Bad: Part 2

This is Part 2 of the "When Authors Go Bad" feature article.

If you'd like to read Part One:
I decided to write these posts because they are topical and as a fiction author  I often take what is topical and speculate on what might happen if that practice continues unchecked. It's the basis of many of my novels. What happens if there is a global one child per couple policy? What happens if people continue to spend too much time in virtual worlds?  

In an earlier post, I spoke about click baiting as a lure to engage people on social media sites. Some authors, desperate to increase exposure and ergo sales, are falling into the trap of posting innocuous or contentious posts on Twitter and Facebook with the sole purpose of  inciting an argument, while declaring that they are merely stating their opinion. The risk for authors who are click baiting is that they allowing their integrity to slide for the sake of exposure.
In today's post I'm looking at how social media has become a platform for those with opinions - good or bad - to share while waving the banner of free speech. Or more accurately, 'It's my blog and I'll post what I want. And if you voice your opinion back then you're a bully." The risk to authors who wave this banner of free speech is that it's a two way street. You post something people don't like, and they have the right to comment on it.
I'm all for freedom of speech: take it away and we lose so much more than the right to voice our opinions, we lose the right to take a stand against behaviour that is criminal and offensive. Public opinion has the power to change civil liberties. The freedom to voice public opinion is a good thing and it should never be taken away.

The result of controlling the free speech mediums is censorship. Nobody in the free-thinking worlds wants to be like Korea or China or Russia, where free thought is not only discouraged, it can be against the law. Authors especially do not like to be censored. I've always considered authors to be the type of people who are opposed to censorship. A novel has the power to allow another person to consider another side of the story.

Authors need to operate under the banner of free speech. We need freedom of thought and opinion. We need to hold tightly to this flag and we wave it proudly. After all, many authors have shown us that it's not okay to hang a black man for a crime he didn't commit such as in To Kill A Mockingbird.

What we do not need is to start arguments in cyber space and claim that we do so while operating under the banner of free speech, and then cry foul if the results of said manipulation aren't what we expected. In a further post I'll talk more about Freedom of Ramification.

What do you think? Are some people taking the 'freedom of speech' premise and using it to exploit themselves and lift their profile? I'd love to hear your thoughts or if you've had a similar experience.

Next post coming soon.


Sunday, 12 February 2017

Siblings in speculative fiction and how they create conflict

When it came to choosing the main characters for my novel, "Welcome to the Apocalypse", I don't know why but I always had a brother and sister and a best friend in mind. Three characters fighting for survival in a world of never ending apocalypses, three characters looking out for each other as best they can.

Writers are often asked how we choose our characters, but the answer is often the characters choose the story. It's weird, right, but that's how it is for me. One of the character types I see quite often in fiction (and one that I don't always like) is the lone wolf character. No family. No siblings. No friends. This situation is sometimes important because a novel is very insular, and if you have too many external factors you can pull a character away from their mission.

Which brings me to the top reason why siblings as main characters work in speculative fiction.

Siblings who detract each other from the mission can be where the conflict lies.

"Supernatural" is a prime example of where conflict comes from the commitment to the family. Dean and Sam Winchester are hunters of demons who invariably end up entangled in a situation where one brother has to choose to finish the mission or save the other, all the while the other brother gets mad at the other because they didn't need saving and the mission should come first. These very typical, bickering, stubborn-brother mannerisms are the key to the success of this series.


Family commitment is a strong theme in "Welcome to the Apocalypse", Jack Minnow enters a virtual world and instead of running around shooting aliens and killing monsters, he spends a good deal of his time chasing after his sister to make sure she's okay. I wouldn't say he spends every minute detracted from his mission to have fun, but in the beginning it might appear that way. He often thinks about her, especially when it becomes clear that they're not getting out of this malfunctioning game and his parents are going to kill him if anything happens to her. For Jack Minnow, much of his internal conflict comes from deciding whether to have fun or look out for his sister.

Another reason why siblings work as main characters. They're often the first people we look up to as children.

Siblings are like super heroes

When it came to writing Jack Minnow, the older brother of my female character, Kelly Lawrence, in "Welcome to the Apocalypse", who sweeps in like a superhero to help his sister through a tough time in her life, early memories of my older brother protecting me from harm sprung to mind.

One of my earliest memories is of my first week in first grade and a boy telling me he was going to 'get me'. I knew what that meant, having four siblings, so I walked all the way home and told my mother that school was cancelled. She extracting the reason for my walk-out like she was pulling out a tooth, but she got the truth. I remember feeling so humiliated that I was never going to go back to school. Mum told my older brother what happened, and the next day he walked with me into the school yard, and told me to point out the boy who said he would 'get me'. My brother gave this boy his fiercest look, the boy took off, and I was never harassed again. My older brother also told me to fight back if I had to.


And the last reason for me why siblings work in my series has to do with my genre. I don't write romance.

Siblings means zero romance or love triangles.

Watch any TV show with a female and a male character who are not related but are of similar age, and the writers will invariably have them hook up at some point. I just didn't want to have a female and two male characters and leave any reader wondering if I would plunge them into a love triangle. By having siblings as main characters, I've removed that notion altogether. Not that I want to remove love or sex from the story, I just don't want it to be a plot line. Jack Minnow forms relationships in the cyber world. But not with the main character.

Jack Minnow sounds like the perfect brother right? Swooping in like a superhero, supporting his sister every step of the way? But he's far from perfect, in fact Jack has his own reasons for wanting Kelly to get over the death of her husband. He has his own reason for wanting his sister and his best friend to hook up. But I won't give away the spoiler. You'll have to read the book to find out. 

Extract from a review of "Welcome to the Apocalypse" by Rachel Sawyer.

Jack, good, sweet, protective big brother Jack. He fully encapsulated the big brother role; he was a hero, a friend, and a protector, just like older siblings tend to be (I should know, being the youngest of two sisters, this is how they are). He might not have understood Kelly, or her feelings, all the time, but that didn’t stop him from being right there in her corner. He was calm and collected in almost every apocalypse scenario (which is probably the polar opposite of how I would’ve handled cannibalistic children or alien invasions). He was the glue that held the trio together and for that I will always be a little bit “Team Jack”.

When I read the above review, I was touched. I felt I'd achieve my task of creating this older brother. Jack Minnow acts like a big brother to other players in the book. He befriend Reis Anderson the third main character, and took this troubled teen under his wing at fifteen. In the game, Jack meets a 16 year old boy and immediately takes him under his wing too.

Extract from "Welcome to the Apocalypse"

  A static voice came over the radio. Different to the first voice, this one sounded frightened.

"…anyone out there? Hello. Come in…"

The blood drained from Jack's head as he recognized the voice.

"…if you can hear me, my name is Douglas Smith and I'm under attack."

"Douglas. This is Jack Minnow. Where are you?"

Static. Silence. More static.

At last, the voice said, "I'm inside the cinema. Jack, they're outside. What do I do?"

"Hang on." He pulled off the backpack and took out his map. Attractions were usually featured on maps and he located the cinema on Roper Road. "Douglas, stay where you are. I'm on my way."

Kelly gripped his arm. "You just said we should stick together."

Save the kid or save the woman, he thought. How did superheroes deal with these tough choices?

Jack had met Douglas at the hotel the operators had taken him to during the biochemical disaster apocalypse. They'd ended up sharing a limousine and Jack had immediately taken Douglas under his wing. They'd sat in the hotel lobby eating pizzas and playing cards. Douglas had told Jack his theories. Broken computer. Broken pods. Training exercise. Military game. Terrorist attack. The kid had an active imagination, which was in stark contrast to everything the older generation kept predicting about kids who played video games.

"I have to get him," Jack said. "Reis, take Kelly to the armory and take charge of the small-scale explosive attack."

"What small-scale attack?" he asked.

Jack suspected Reis might be pulling his leg, but his friend was usually too literal to involve himself in pranks, so Jack had to suspect that Reis was suffering from shell shock, even though he told himself it was more likely cyber sickness. Gamers got it from playing in 3D for too long. He must have it, too, he realized, because he couldn't keep his thoughts under control. They were flying all over the place.

"General Yulrich will fill you in when you get to the armory," Jack said. "I'm going to get Douglas. He shouldn't be here."

Then he took off out the door and down the street before anyone could remind him that none of them should be here.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Coffee chat with Kathryn Gossow, Aussie author of YA fantasy novel "Cassandra"

The coffee chats have been very successful but the time has come to put the Closed sign up for the coffee chats and the Open sign up for new ideas. I hope to run the campaign again later this year. which means this is the final coffee chat for a little while, and joining me in my virtual cafe is Australian author Kathryn Gossow.
Kathryn is interested in myths and fairy tales, and how and why we retell them over and over. She has been patiently awaiting the release of her book  young adult novel "Cassandra". Cassandra can tell the future – just like Cassandra of Troy – except she lives in 1980’s Queensland where she takes too many drugs and falls in love with the wrong boy. 

DL: Firstly, since this is a coffee chat, how do you take your coffee, and what is your favourite time of the day to partake? 

KATHRYN: The first thing I do when I get up in the morning in make a coffee. It is the only thing that gets me out of bed in the morning.  I have a white pod coffee, no sugar.  At 10 o’clock (give or take 15 minutes) I leave my work desk to get a cappuccino from my barista Gareth.  Gareth was featured as Mr May in the Beards of Ipswich Calendar 2016.

DL: You are fascinated with fairy tales and myths. Do you think books these days are missing the "moral of the story" the way we used to learn them in fairy tales? Or is the moral of the story now more understated?
KATHRYN: I don’t think I am attracted  to fairy tales because they are moral tales. I am fascinated by how the ancient is made new again. Today we would find the early medieval version of Sleeping Beauty, The History of Troylus and Zellandine, creepy and wrong. Three goddesses come to see the birth of Zellandine. A table is set with food and drink but Themis, the goddesses of destinies is upset because she does not have a knife – it has fallen under the table. So when the time comes to offer gifts, Themis says the when she grows up the girl’s finger will be pricked and she would not wake until the splinter is sucked out. We recognise this part of the story – it is the good and bad fairies. It is hundreds and hundreds of years old. That is survives excites me! Why does it survive. How did it survive? Meanwhile, in this early version, the goddess Venus vows she will arrange for the splinter to be sucked out.
So when Troylus learns his lady has been struck down by illness and sleeps in a tower he is led to the tower and lifted inside. His, “Desire began to direct him”  but he restrains himself so Venus takes her ‘firebrand and sets Troylus ablaze and it was as if the heat made him lose his mind.” Zellandine is still asleep but now she is also pregnant! All that heat. When she gives birth, the hungry baby sucks the splinter from her finger and it seems Venus did have a plan all along.  Troylus and Zellandine later find each other and marry.

Charles Perrault’s version of the Sleeping Beauty includes a cannibalistic ogress for a mother-in-law which, along with what amounts to rape, does not make it into the Disney version were a chaste kiss is all the prince needs to wake the Sleeping Beauty.  When I was a child I accepted that kiss but ‘in this day and age’ a stranger kissing a non-consenting sleeping woman is also unacceptable.  Right? The next Disney incarnation of Sleeping Beauty is Maleficent where love's first kiss takes on a whole new meaning.

I don’t think stories need morals. I think they are a reflection of the time when they are written or told and I can have a window into that time when I read an old version of a tale.  What I do think is, people need stories.  I think we need stories as much as we need food. Fairy tales are the comfort food that we keep going back to and reinventing to reflect the world around us.  Like how salted caramel suddenly became a thing. Humans can’t stop reinventing.

DL: Like you, I have never had my fortune told because I don't want to be told that what I want so badly is not mine to be had. Did your disbelief in 'predicting the future' make it difficult to write a novel about a character who predicts the future?

KATHRYN: Yes, you are right. It is not just about hearing something bad will happen but also that my dreams won’t come true.  How disheartening.  So, I convince myself it can’t be done. But I didn’t used to be a cynic about these things.  Just like Cassandra in my book I was, as a teenager, a little obsessed with palm reading and astrology. The thing is, to believe the future can be predicted is to believe in fate – that events in our lives are predestined and the idea of fate is fascinating.  Fate is a recurring theme in Greek myths. Greek mythology includes the Sisters of Fate – Clotho who spun the thread of life, Lachesis who used her measuring rod to measure how much life you would get and Atropos who cuts your thread when your life is over. Even the gods had trouble escaping the Fates. Your fate was unavoidable. Like the King of Thebes who was told his new son, Oedipus would kill his father and marry his mother. The king thought he could escape fate by abandoning the baby but he was found and adopted.  When the boy grew up he asked about his future and was told he would marry his mother and kill his father. (This is why I don’t want to ask.) He didn’t know he was adopted so he fled.  Of course, he then meets his real father and kills him and goes on to marry his real mother. There is something satisfying in the completeness of the this story. It is self-fulfilling. This is the idea I enjoyed playing with in the book. Cassandra learns early that she can predict the future – but what can she do with that? Can she change the future? If she changes the future how can she prove she changed it? Why would anyone believe her? Imagine seeing something awful will happen to someone you love and being powerless. It is enough to drive anyone crazy.

DL: Some fairy tales have their original from actual events. For example The Pied Piper.  I saw a documentary about historians who were using records to determine if this event actually occurred. Are there are other fairy tales or myths you're aware of that are based on historical events? And does the fact they might be based on true stories make these fairy tales even scarier than they were intended to be.

KATHRYN: It makes sense that some traditionally oral tales could have some truth to them. The Hamelin town records in 1384 states “It is 100 years since our children left.” Wow, how evocative is that sentence? We might never know what really happened to give us the story of the Pied Piper but that one sentence is inspirational.

Telling stories is how we make sense of our lives, in particular the difficult events. The 2011 floods were devastating where I live (just by Wivenhoe Dam where the Lockyer Creek meets Brisbane River).  In the 12 months after the floods I learned everyone had their story and they needed to tell it. It was cathartic. These days we collect people’s stories and put them in a book, put up plaques. In the 1200s the people of Hamelin made a stained glass window in their church to communicate the pain and loss of losing their children. They also told the story and I suppose because the story touched other people they told it too and it kept getting told until Grimm Brothers wrote it down.

I don’t think it makes the tales more frightening. I think it is testament to the human spirit that we put our pain and fears into stories and keep on going with our lives.

DL: And lastly, are you a biscuit or cake kind of person? And what is your favourite biscuit/cake?

KATHRYN: I am a cake and biscuit person. Both at the same time is fine with me.  I have a jam drop recipe that I used to make with my grandmother. My copy of the recipe is written out in my mother’s handwriting.  It is one of my most precious possessions.  There is a lot of baking in my book. In fact, when Cassandra goes to visit Athena for the first time she takes jam drops. They are most certainly the same as the jam drops I used to make with my grandmother.
Thanks so much Kathryn for stopping by. Good luck with the book!
About the author
Kathryn Gossow is a writer and sometimes gardener living in a two acre garden in a pocket of the Brisbane River. When she is writing, her garden is a mess. When she is gardening, she forgets to write. It seems she cannot have both. She writes for that elusive feeling when she gets into the zone and there is nothing else in the world but her and the words that tumble onto the page. Kathryn has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, won a commendation in the Australian Horror Writers’ Association Flash Fiction Competition and has a number of published stories out in the world.
 About the book
Is the future set like concrete, or a piece of clay we can mould and change?
On a remote farm in Queensland Cassie Shultz feels useless. Her perfect brother Alex has an uncanny ability to predict the weather, and the fortunes of the entire family hinge upon his forecasts. However, her own gift for prophecy remains frustratingly obscure. Attempts to help her family usually result in failure.
After meeting with her new, genius neighbor Athena, Cassie thinks she has unlocked the secret of her powers. But as her visions grow more vivid, she learns that the cost of honing her gift may be her sanity.
With her family breaking apart, the future hurtles towards Cassie faster than she can comprehend it.
Connect with Kathryn
Thanks everyone for joining me in my virtual café for these coffee chats. Stay connected because I have many more posts to come.
D L Richardson 

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Click Baiting - When Authors Go Bad: Part 1

Today's post is on a seemingly innocent internet occurrence: the click bait headline. But when an author posts a negative announcement to the world, are they using freedom of speech or inciting a verbal riot for engagement. Over the next few weeks I will explore this topic. I'd love to hear your opinions.

Click Baiting - When Authors Go Bad: Part 1

The day George Michael died should have been a day of mourning for the loss of a singer, a secret philanthropist, someone's son, someone's brother, someone's lover. But a self-published author (I shall refer to her as Tammie) posted a comment on Facebook stating she was not sorry about George Michael's death together with an image from George's Twitter account stating how happy he was to be gay.

When the comments for Tammie's post flooded in, she quoted passages from the Bible and cited Christianity as the reason for her comments. Within a few threads, the comments back and forth were nasty attacks - those commenting cried foul and referring other bible quotes, Tammie claimed this was HER wall and HER opinions. Admittedly, these comments were posted on Tammie's personal Facebook page, but it didn't take long for the commenters to discover that Tammie wrote erotic fiction under a pseudonym.

Was such a post as this unbecoming of an author? What moral obligation do authors have to keep personal opinions to themselves? Or is there something else driving these types of threads?
These are questions I ask myself daily whenever I sit down to write a story with a political or moral issue that has the potential to start a discussion. The problem is when they don't start a discussion, instead they incite a verbal riot.

And then the question becomes, was the post intended to start a discussion or incite a verbal riot?

Tammie's tit-for-tat dialogue on social media can be considered click-baiting. It's where an author or blogger or anyone who wants to boost their social media profile posts a comment or an article about a contentious subject. The post or article has one clear goal - to incite good or bad comments, so long as there is 'engagement'. The new buzz word. Engagement is what social media is all about and some people are getting it anyway they can. Not always to this extent.

One innocuous way people are using this click-bait approach is to post a ridiculous comment such as "I bet nobody can think of a fruit beginning with R." Then we all rush to the keyboard, because of course we can name a fruit beginning with R. (Can't we? Should I Google this to be sure? Yes, I've Googled this and I know fruit that begins with R so who's a smarty-pants now. I am victorious. I have not been conned for I can smell manipulation from a mile away. So now I will become friends with this person, they are trustworthy because they I can outwit them.)
Okay, so this is possibly an exaggeration, but you get the idea. Manipulation is the name of the click-bait game. And some authors, desperate to gain a following, have taken to this ploy with great gusto. Then they wonder why they're losing followers or they're getting a bad name.

So how dangerous is click baiting to an author wanting a professional career? Will it work to gain readers? Or will it backfire and turn readers away?

Stay tuned for more on this topic. Coming in next week's blog:

Part 2 - Freedom of Speech
Part 3 - Social Repercussion

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Creating fiction characters who hate mankind, and why we can relate to them, especially now!!

It seems you can't even glance at Facebook these days without being confronted with conflicting images - one of a heinous act of cruelly followed closely by cuteness overload. Many people are now switching off the negative posts, not wanting to acknowledge them. And it isn't because they don't care. It's because they care so much that it hurts to see these images. It generates a profound sense of sadness and disappointment in them. Sadness and disappointment at their fellow human beings.

If this lead up sounds strange, it is. I'm trying to explain why I created a character in my sci-fi series "Welcome to the Apocalypse" who is anti-humanity, who hates mankind, who is a misanthropist.

Writers are meant to create protagonists (the good guys) who butt heads with antagonists (the bad guys). So if a character in a story has a profound dislike of mankind, does that make them a protagonist or antagonist?

Kelly Lawrence is a twenty-six year old paralegal from San Diego who is grieving the loss of her husband. Understandably, she's angry and upsetsand hates everything. The problem is that her husband's death didn't foster her dislike of people. This particular trait was born in her teens when she first witnessed a documentary about poachers in Africa. She hated these people who were cruel to animals, and driven by a desire to do something 'good', she entered the field of law, where she became even more disillusioned with the world.

This feeling grew until she didn't care if the whole world burned taking every single human with it. But she didn't really want it to burn. And she would never actually do anything to make it burn.

Fast forward a few years to where this story begins, and Kelly enters a virtual world of apocalypses in honour of her late husband who was a designer of the game. She's there to find traces of him in this virtual world and to connect with him. This explains her presence in the game, otherwise why else would a person who isn't a gamer enter a simulation pod and subject herself to 'kill or be killed' scenarios? Perhaps she didn't really think this through, but once inside, she isn't too keen on the idea of going around and killing everything with maniacal glee. It's purely self defence for her. And she's terrified of the consequences of her actions, because they will define her. Wishing the world to burn is one thing, doing something about it will make her a psychopath. 

Kelly Lawrence is a misanthropist. She cannot run around inside a game of 'kill or be killed' and overlook the fact that if she becomes what she hates, then her moral conscience is lost.

Kelly isn't alone in her view of the world. Poets, singers, artists, everyday people look at all the badness in the world and they want to cry. For me, the quintessential movie that explains misanthropy is James Cameron's "Avatar". Humans find a moon inhabited with a beautiful, peaceful species, yet we want to mine its minerals and so we go in and destroy everything and take what we want because we can. And, we, the audience did not like this act of all-powerful superiority one bit.

"Avatar" crossed the $1 billion mark on the 19th day of its international release. On January 31 it became the first movie ever to earn over $2 billion worldwide. (Source Wikipedia)

Humans do bad things to good people all the time. So why was this film so popular? It can't be just the special effects alone. Admittedly, they're great, but we've seen great visual effects in movies before. I put the success of this movie down to its ability to tap into that little bit of misanthropy that lives inside most of us. When times are good, humans need to be shown that we cannot step over the line in the sand. And when times are bad, we need to be reminded that we cannot step over the line in the sand.

Humans rule this planet and until the existence of life on other solar systems is discovered, we will continue to be the only species who is capable or willing to judge our moral actions, despite the legality or lack thereof.

Every day I scroll through Facebook and I see so many posts from people who are so incensed with all the badness in the world yet so helpless to do anything to stop it. Cut off the head and another one grows. This is why I just had to write a character who feels the pain of the world as much as you guys. I hope this post gives you more of an understanding of my main female character, Kelly Lawrence, and her role inside my "Welcome to the Apocalypse" series.

If you'd like to learn more about misanthropy here's a great article to read.
If you'd like to learn more about my "Welcome to the Apocalypse" series please click on the link and read an extract or visit my website 
Stay tuned for insights into more of my characters.
D L Richardson