Dating Advice: How Not To Be A Controlling Misogynist Dudebro

In early November, I asked my Twitter & FB followers: “What is the best way to signal romantic interest in a woman without being a controlling misogynist dudebro?” Here, I’d like to share some of their most common, and most interesting, answers. Contributors are identified by their initials.

Compliment something that she’s worked to cultivate and that matters to her, like her ideas, talents, skills, or conversation. (M.B.B.)

Don’t talk too much about yourself, and if asked, be humble with ur responses. Engage her interest by finding out more about her. (A.L.)

Strike up a conversation and ask her stuff about her and what she thinks about things. Don’t pick stuff that’s too controversial, but just general interest. See what happens. If she answers all your questions, but doesn’t ask anything about you, offer some of your own information. If she still doesn’t ask anything about you, she’s not really interested. Offer her your email/phone number, politely and respectfully bow out, and see if she contacts you or comes to speak with you, expecting that she won’t. If she does, go back to step 1. If she doesn’t, be gracious when/if you see her again. (J.D.H)

Whatever you do, don’t brag too much. So many guys brag, brag, brag and ask nothing of the woman. This makes a woman think the man is not at all interested in who she is but desired only for her looks or a lay. I often joke that a man shouldn’t need to brag because if he is so great or skilled it should be evident. I find what men consider brag-worthy may not necessarily be the same traits the woman admires in the opposite sex. (D.T.)

Listen to her. Engage her in conversation about the things that matter TO HER. Learn what those things are and remember them. Respect her boundaries, but offer a kiss or hug when it’s appropriate — i.e. when you’ve gotten to know her and can talk comfortably with her. If you’ve known her 10 minutes, it’s too soon. If you’ve been going out with her for two years, it might be too late. (P.W.)

Respect her boundaries – yes! Don’t go in for a kiss unless it is obviously going to be reciprocated. (Y.A.)

I’m a bit weird (as Ian likes to point out) but I like people being direct but gracious. Fuck the euphemisms. Don’t say you want to go “for coffee.” Just say “I would like to go on a date. Would that be OK with you?” Don’t hover nervously or get into her personal space. Maintain eye contact and have friendly smile. (E.G.)

Respect boundaries and body language. Listen and don’t make assumptions about her knowledge and experience. Other than that, just relax and have a laugh. (G.P.)

It depends on a number of things- do you know her already or she is a stranger? Approach would be different for those situations. Timing is important- don’t approach if she is wearing earphones or deep in a book. Make sure there are lots of people around when you approach her. Check to see if she looks to be in good spirits, or not (don’t bug her if she’s in a bad mood, thinking to cheer her up) Keep a respectful distance and offer a non-physical compliment, or ask a question about her (if you know her) If she smiles and and answers happily, continue. If her answers are one word and she keeps looking around, move on. (A.S)

If you are interested in her mind and the things she says, tell her that you’d love to talk with her more sometime and ask if there’s a place/time that’s convenient for her and conducive to good conversation. (M.R.)

Ah gesh Brendan, all you had to do is say “hi, wanna grab some coffee?” to me and I’d be all for it. . On a real note: if you don’t intend on being a controlling misogynist dudebro, you won’t BE a controlling misogynist dudebro. Just talk to her. (C.G.C)

Before you ask her out, spend some time on presentation. Shower, shave, wear a nicer shirt. Especially if she knows you, taking the extra effort shows respect. (K.C.)

Don’t show confusion. Know what you want. Vulnerability is fine, but not too much of it. I do not want to feel manipulate to say yes because otherwise you will be deeply hurt. (M.F.)

There were a few suggestions that were mentioned which were immediately struck down for being too creepy. Such as:

Find out if she listens to a radio station and then request a song for her. Something playful and fun, not full-bore romantic. (O.F.)

Buy her books. (L.B.)

Here’s one which, although I am sure the author thought he was being funny, still seemed out of place:

Club her on the head, then drag her back to the cave by the long, blonde locks. (D.C.G.)

But most of my friends are the sort who enjoy irony. So it was immediately pointed out to D.C.G. that:

…It’s Brendan who has the long, blonde locks. (M.C.)

Side note: I had this idea that if I wrote a few good books, I wouldn’t have to club anyone on the head to drag her home. An interesting woman might come to visit me voluntarily.

Another comment that stood out in my mind concerned what to do when one’s expression of interest is rejected. As follows:

I have found that the key is: 1. Respect, 2. If rejected, not being an entitled jerk about it. (V.I.G.)

If you are shot down, be gracious. She owes you nothing and her decision is to be respected and unquestioned. (E.G.)

I’m not sure if you already know this woman fairly well, or if you casually know her, but try this: while in conversation, catch her eyes, smile, lean in towards her slightly. You will use your body language to let her know you’re interested, if she holds your eyes, smiles etc., proceed to asking her out for coffee. If she leans away, avoids eye contact, back away yourself. (D.B.)

Respect it if she is not interested. Please do not push if she says no. (A.H.)

If things are awkward or stilted then respect the fact that you two weren’t meant to be. (J.S.)

And several contributors said that maybe the thing to do is not to “date” at all, but instead to just be a part of someone’s life:

I’ve never “dated” in the sense that I met someone and immediately asked them out or was asked out. What happens for me is that I will make friends with someone, and we start spending an increasing amount of time together, usually with lots and lots of talking, until we just happen to realize we’re already in a relationship, or until one of the parties feels compelled to confess deeper feelings and the other reciprocates. So my advice would be to hang out, do things you both enjoy, and eventually when it feels right tell her your feelings. (S.M.)

My own courtship with my husband was very much like two cats sparring… I am sure we all have seen this, how cats will circle one another… at one point I almost despaired and gave up on him, but on Nov 4 we celebrated our 9th anniversary. (F.G.)

I had complicated reasons for posing this question on my social media feed. One was that I have had a profile on a dating site up since August. I started looking at the men’s profiles just to see what the women on the site were seeing, and maybe get a few hints about how to write my own profile. After too many pictures of shirtless men, and too many profiles written in text-message shorthand, I had enough. Many of the women’s profiles were equally demoralizing: I’m pretty sure I won’t bring happiness to a woman whose dating keywords include “chillax”, “keepfit”, and “YOLO”. Anyway, in four months only three women responded to my ad, so I was feeling like a failure.

I also follow about a dozen feminist philosophers on my Twitter feed, from whom I’m learning the language of contemporary feminism. I follow them because they are smart and interesting; their lives are about something more substantial than “YOLO”. But some of them, or their family and friends, were targets of some vicious online harassment during the “gamergate” and “sad puppies” scandals; or, they were academics who analyzed those scandals. They live in an (online) social environment where they can expect to be punished for drawing attention to basic injustices in their world, or punished for rejecting unwanted attention. How to approach these women and talk to them? I don’t know. So, I asked for help.

This morning a friend passed to me an essay about how scientists concluded that women may actually prefer assholes. It’s a clickbait headline, of course; it’s real argument is the somewhat less outrageous claim that people are strongly drawn to assertiveness, and to a touch of aggression. Still, I feel like the world is sending me mixed messages. It makes me shake my head.

So, dear readers of this blog, what do you think of the advice summarized above? What else should men do if they want to show romantic interest in someone, and not be a controlling misogynist dudebro?

(And as a footnote: don’t you just love the word dudebro? It’s the perfect word for a male narcissist. I use it now as often as I can.)

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My donation to Save Our Water: How did it go?

Early in November, I offered to donate all the November royalties from my novels to Save Our Water, an environmental charity working to protect the watershed of my hometown from corporate exploitation. How did it go?

Here’s a screenshot of the Kindle ebook sales:

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And here’s the paperbacks:

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After excluding the non-fiction titles, I sold 43 books in total. At an average royalty of $2.50 per Kindle title, and $1.50 per paperback, that’s $90.50 that I profited this month. Seeing as there’s still two days left in November, I’m just going to round up my donation to $100 and send the money in.

For a self-published writer, this is a very, very good result: and compared to my usual showing, it’s about four times better than usual.

Other observations: The huge spike in the middle of the Kindle sales graph happened when The Wild Hunt blogged about my donation. This produced what was probably my best social media reach ever: the article was shared hundreds of times, and I received about a dozen private messages asking for more information or thanking me for “stepping up”. Fellwater, the first book in the series, reached its best ever Amazon ranking: it was the 53,459th best selling book that day. Here’s a screenshot:

Best Amazon rank so far

Also, I noticed with interest that among the paperback sales, Hallowstone outsold the other titles, even though it’s the second book in the series, not the first. But in retrospect, this might make sense. As one reader told me this summer, books 2, 3, and 4 make for an excellent trilogy in their own right, and book 1 could actually be read last, like a prequel.

So, there you have it. To those who bought copies of my books this November: thank you. May I encourage you to tell everyone you know about my books, and to please post your reviews to their Amazon pages and on other places, so that some day soon I’ll be able to do another charity run like this one, for other worthwhile causes. And naturally, I continue to encourage you to support environmental protection works, and to care for this good Earth we share, and for each other, in whatever way you can.

Click here for info about Brendan’s novels, and to purchase copies. Ebook and paperback.

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I’m Donating My Book Royalties to Save My Hometown’s Water

I grew up in the village of Elora, Ontario. As a child I knew its trees, flowers, and berry patches, its creatures great and small, and the sharp edges of the river’s stone walls, and I sometimes felt that they knew me. The village was my field of fairy-tale adventures, as was the conservation park to the west, and the abandoned railway line that began across the road from my house and took me to the next town over the fields. As I grew older, that landscape provided the inspiration for my first adult thoughts. One particular spot, a raised ledge that my friends at the time called “Elf-top Plateau”, was the place where I wrote my first songs and stories, and the first place on earth where I perceived something resembling a spiritual epiphany. And in my full adulthood, thoughts of “my land” inspired my doctoral thesis on environmental philosophy. Although I haven’t lived there since 2006, I still think of it as my home town.

The Elora Gorge. My own photo, July 2014.

The Elora Gorge. My own photo, July 2014.

I set my fantasy fiction series, “The Hidden Houses”, in Elora and its environs, although I renamed it “Fellwater”. In those novels, a faction of villains work to control, or else destroy, a magical water well. In early 2015, Nestlé corporation submitted a proposal to extract and bottle water from the aquifer that feeds the village, and other communities downstream. (A curious case of life imitating art, perhaps; although I’m sure Nestlé’s intentions are merely capitalist, and not the same as those of my antagonists.)

This proposal was protested by local residents, who made three main demands:

1. Nestle should monitor local wells for two weeks prior to its main pumping test, in order to provide better groundwater baseline data,

2. Municipal and provincial authorities should impose a three-year moratorium on consumptive water-taking in the Grand River watershed, and,

3. Municipalities in the watershed should be granted the time they need to complete their Water Supply Master Plans and their Tier-3 Risk Assessments.

Protest marchers rally in Elora, 2015.

Protest marchers rally in Elora, 2015.

I think these demands are very reasonable, and I’d like to help give them some publicity. To that end, I promise to donate all the royalties from the sale of my novels, for the month of November, to Elora’s Save Our Water campaign.

Elora’s rich, diverse, delightful, and bountiful watershed, the very flowing heart of the real-world fairyland that I still love, is clearly threatened by industrial water extraction. The company plans to take 1.6 million litres of water every day. That’s almost as much water from the aquifer as the village itself takes; effectively doubling the demand on the ecosystem. Yet where Elora residents pay $2140 per million litres, Nestlé will pay only $3.71 for the same volume.

This injustice stirs in me a hazy mixture of rage and despair. But what can I do, sitting here at my desk in west Quebec? This much, at least: I can help promote the cause. I can ask you to visit the Save Our Water website to learn more on your own. If you find their demands reasonable, please support the cause by talking about it with your friends. You can donate money directly to the group through its web site, of course. But if you would also like to experience a little bit of the magic that I felt, as a child and a young adult, living in one of Canada’s most inspirational ecological wonderlands, then you can read my novels. And my profit from the sales of these books, for the month of November, will all be turned over to the campaign. Every penny.

The four titles of The Hidden Houses main series.

The four titles of The Hidden Houses main series.

Naturally I hope you like my books: click here to find out more about them. I hope you will share this blog post to all your friends, as well as the SaveOurWater.ca web site.

Let me give the last word to one of my novel’s heroines, chieftain Miranda Brigand:

“The world turned its back on us a long time ago. We know that. In fact we accept that. Even we ourselves don’t believe that dancing around the Maypole will make bad weather go away. But when the world left us behind, it also left so much more as well. The idea of the heroic life! Adventure, courage and strength. Generosity, friendship, and solidarity. Where are those virtues now? And what has the world embraced instead? Pop celebrities instead of heroes. Politicians instead of leaders. Teachers that promote conformity instead of knowledge. Law courts where justice goes to whoever has the best paid lawyer. And the people who work for change are ridiculed, ignored, sometimes attacked. Oh, we can see the nightfall of the earth, just as much as anybody can. But we are looking for the sunrise in the right place. That’s what Fellwater Grove is about! We don’t want to rule the world. We just want to live better lives. We’re all just people here, that’s all, just people. But people who care about friendship, and music, and all the things that really matter. We built this place to protect these things, and to make sure they don’t die. The world might want them back some day.”

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Space Exploration and Survivalism

Don’t get me wrong– I think space exploration is exciting. I think that when it’s at its best, it is intrinsically optimistic. But there’s also something desperate about it. Here I shall attempt to explain.

This past Samhain, an asteroid flew very near the earth, prompting (as often happens) a hand-wringing discussion about the likelihood that some day another asteroid will strike the earth and destroy human civilization, just as an asteroid once destroyed the dinosaurs. As I write these words, NASA is tracking 1591 “potentially hazardous objects”, meaning an asteroid with “potential to make threatening close approaches to the Earth.”

With that context, space exploration seems prompted or demanded by a kind of survivalist thinking. We’re exploring space so that we can build colonies on other planets. The idea is that if Earth is struck by an asteroid large enough to destroy the ecosystem, then human life would continue on the colonies. For example, in a discussion about a large asteroid that came perilously close to Earth in early 2014, physics professor Brian Cox said “There is an asteroid with our name on it and it will hit us.” (sorry for quoting a tabloid as the source here, but I haven’t found a better source yet.) Similarly, Stephen Hawking, the well known physicist, said that space exploration is “life insurance” for the human race: “it could prevent the disappearance of humanity by colonizing other planets.” And here’s a third example: Elon Musk, founder of the private and for-profit space exploration company SpaceX, has said many times that the reason why it’s important to build permanent colonies on other planets is to become an “interplanetary species”.

“It’s the first time in four and a half billion years that we are at a level of technology where we have the ability to reach Mars… The sun is gradually expanding. In 500,000 million years—a billion at the outside—the oceans will boil and there will be no meaningful life on Earth. Maybe some very high temperature bacteria, but nothing that can build rockets.”

Elon Musk, quoted in Elien Blue Becque, “Elon Musk Wants To Die On Mars” Vanity Fair, 10 March 2013

This argument for space exploration worries me for several reasons. One worry is practical: it has to do with what is almost certainly a deeply disproportionate alarm directed at a very remote threat. The expansion of the sun will not be a problem for us for many millions of years. Regarding the threat of asteroid impacts, NASA itself agrees the threat is negligible. “No one should be overly concerned about an Earth impact of an asteroid or comet. The threat to any one person from auto accidents, disease, other natural disasters and a variety of other problems is much higher than the threat from NEOs.” The threat from near earth objects becomes significant only “over long periods of time.”

My other worry is philosophical: it has to do with the nature of the logic of survivalism. There’s a striking similarity between the views of the high-tech space colonizers and the views of the low-tech “dropouts” (I do not intend this term disparagingly); that is, people who have decided that civilization is not for them anymore. So they gather friends and family with whom they can build sustainable eco-communities or religious communes or the like, and move as far as possible “away from the things of Man”. Both groups imagine that they possess the essence of humanity: one group regards that essence as having to do with simple, honest, back-to-the-land or back-to-God living; the other regards it as nothing more grand than the ongoing persistence of humanity’s population. Both groups often imagine they are on a mission to save that essence of humanity, either from corruption, or from destruction. My philosophical worry stems from my wish that the purpose, the goal, the objective, of human life, and indeed human civilization, should be something rather more ambitious than mere survival. Survivalism seems to me to denote a disturbing lack of imagination on the part of those who can conceive no higher and no more worthy a goal than the mere perpetuation of the physical existence of our species, or the mere perpetuation of a certain very specific or very narrow way of life. The good thing about living in a dynamic and progressive civilization, is that it is an attempt, even if a stumbling or a suspicious one, to do something more than merely survive.

Just a thought.

“Why do humans do science? Why do they do art? The things that are least important for our survival are the very things that make us human.”

~Savas Dimopoulos, scientist at CERN. From the film “Particle Fever”.

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The Autumn Forest

On most good-weather days, and in all seasons, I go walking in the Gatineau Hills Park. I do it because we human animals are made for walking; because forest scenery is good for stress-reduction and mental health, but mostly because it’s beautiful and that by itself is reason enough for me.

Here are some photos of my trek into the hills today. The autumn colours are in full bloom; the wind was chilled but not cold; the leaves fell about me as if quietly mourning the passing of summer; and it was a good day.

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Just around the corner from my building is this entrance to the park. I often tell people I live next door to a forest; that statement is a slight exaggeration; but I do love that this view of the hills is there for me every day as I walk to work and back.

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Just inside the park entrance.

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Much golden light.

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A carpet of gold leaves.

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A meadow in the shadow of a cloud; a hill in full sunshine.

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One of the many stony cliff-edges along the Gatineau Hill parkway. I love the birch tree here, clinging to the cliffside. It seems to say something about the tenacity and precariousness of life.

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Here’s a sort of raised causeway through a swamp, with a hill full of colour on the other side.

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Birch and juniper along the gravel path.

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I didn’t go all the way to Pink Lake today, as I usually do. So this photo and the ones which follow were shot about three weeks ago. Here’s a lovely swamp full of dead tree trunks, on the way to the lake.

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New life from old.

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The good Pink Lake itself. Note that it is not pink. In fact, although this photo doesn’t reveal it, the lake water is actually somewhat green. (The name comes from the name of a family that once owned a farm here.)

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At the water’s edge.

Finally, here’s a video of what it’s like at that meditation-place by the water’s edge. (1 minute 29 seconds). Watch it with patience; I’m building an argument here.

So, there you have it. The city of Gatineau, or the edge of it where my neighbourhood lies, is a comfortable place. But it’s far from my “home” and most of my friends and family. The more I walk this forest, the more I feel that I belong to this land and that this land belongs to me.

At least for a while.

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The Absurdities of Civilization: A Straw Poll.

I asked friends of mine to describe what they think are some of the biggest absurdities of modern life. Here are some of their answers.

  1. Wealthy people who praise the value of the “rustic” and “simple” life, and who claim to want such a life, but without sharing the burdens of poverty nor empathizing with the suffering of actual impoverished people. Marie Antoinette running her own hobby farm at Versaille Palace, for example.
  2. Excessive displays of social status and prominence: rich teenagers photographing themselves in a bathtub full of Perrier water.
  3. “Dozens of people sharing a city bus, but none of them sharing a conversation with each other.”
  4. Food which is saturated with processed sugar but does not actually taste sweet: the sugar is added to give the food a superficial texture, a ‘weight’.
  5. the huge variety of pre-packaged or frozen food available in grocery stores, which are not in fact a variety of real food choices but are only a variety of brand names, packaging graphics, and minor differences among the additives. These give the illusion of freedom of choice, but actually make the consumer less free (to say nothing of how the loss of the ability to cook for oneself makes one reliant on the choices made in advance by food-tech companies, and again therefore less free.)
  6. Religions whose doctrines promote peace, charity, and neighbourly love, but whose practitioners actual behaviour involves violence, racism, and unquestioning obedience.
  7. “That civilization dupes us into thinking we are somehow better for abandoning our ‘base’ instincts in favor of contrived and often damaging social constructs and social rituals.”
  8. Pocket-sized, mass-produced, and cheap-to-buy computers, each more powerful than those which helped put twelve men on the moon, and able to access without delay the sum of human knowledge through the internet, but which are used to play time-wasting games or to watch videos about cats.
  9. Consumer products that save no one any time or work, which create no new possibilities for human life and action, and which are designed to be thrown out after very few uses. Shaving cream, for example. (A totally pointless product; all you need is hot water.)
  10. The entire “war on terror”, in which the United States and its allies fights an enemy it indirectly and perhaps accidentally created.
  11. Plentiful government money for war-fighting and for monuments to commemorate past wars, but little or none to care for wounded, dismembered, or psychologically traumatized soldiers returning from the wars.
  12. Political slogans or jargon words which mean the very opposite of what a first-glance, out-of-context impression would suggest. “Right to life”, for instance, is not a blanket obligation on all persons to abstain from murder. It actually means government regulation of a woman’s use of her own reproductive organs. “Right to work”, as another example, doesn’t oblige employers to hire anyone, but does prevent workers from going on strike to protest their badly-paid, health-destroying, and mind-numbing jobs.
  13. Bherlin Gildo, a Swedish man standing trial in Britain for terrorism, had the charges against him dropped when it was revealed that British intelligence agencies were supporting the same force Mr. Gildo was accused of joining. In the words of his defence lawyer: “If it is the case that HM government was actively involved in supporting armed resistance to the Assad regime at a time when the defendant was present in Syria and himself participating in such resistance it would be unconscionable to allow the prosecution to continue.” (Source.)
  14. In June of 2015 a terrorist bearing the flags of Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa stitched on his clothing entered a church in South Carolina and murdered nine Black people. Nevertheless the governor of the state, Nikki Haley, declared that “we’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another.” (Source.)
  15. The 1970’s anarchist punk rock band, The Sex Pistols, recently licensed artwork and graphics related to their brand for use by a line of credit cards. (Source.)
  16. The global industrial and economic dependency on petroleum as a fuel source for almost everything, despite the fact that it’s non-renewable and that there will be none left in the world by or about the year 2048. At the same time, efforts to introduce alternative sources of energy are deliberately suppressed by major players in the oil industry. (Source.)
  17. In a society full of opportunity, wealth, comfort, political freedom, widely available education and medicine and (let us admit it) distraction, nonetheless many people find suicide a preferable alternative. 2,728 Canadians took their own lives in the year 2011. (Source.) By contrast in low-tech, pre-civilized societies, suicide is exceedingly rare.

These examples perhaps say as much about the priorities of the people I polled, as they do about modern society. (The last five, the ones with the web links, are my own contributions to the list.) But I’m sure you see the point. Life in an urban, organized, technologically-intensive society involves accepting and even making private peace with inexplicable, unintentionally comic, and seemingly self-contradicting situations like these. I might accept them if I imagine I will benefit from them, or if I fear that those who benefit from them will retaliate against those who criticize. Or, perhaps people accept them using a kind of personal cost-benefit analysis. They’re willing to put up with a city mayor who regularly gets drunk in public, utters racist slurs against his own constituents, and who ignores a police investigation against himself, so long as he cuts taxes. They’re willing to put up with a government that arrests people without charge and imprisons them without a fair trial, so long as the same government keeps the trains running on time.

Friends, I invite you to suggest more examples of absurdities like these. Yes, this is serious philosophy here. 🙂 And I invite a conversation about how best to explain them, and what, if anything, can be done about them.

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Impressions of Bohemia

I spent most of the month of July this year in Bohemia, Czech Republic, the guest of friends who invited me to look after their house and their dogs while they went on a holiday of their own.

I shot almost 500 photos, and kept a journal. Instead of posting photos to my blog as usual, I decided to share them by putting them in a slide show on YouToob, and for the soundtrack I read selections from the journal I kept. So, this is a bit like a podcast or a video blog. So, the dialogue at any place in the video doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the photo on the screen at the same time. But I hope you enjoy it; for my part, these twenty days in Bohemia have been a highlight of my life.

(or click here.)

After having published Elderdown just last month, I have already begun writing my next book: a nonfiction work provisionally entitled “Ecology and Civilization”. The text that I’m reading from in this slide show may or may not (because I haven’t decided yet) end up in that book. I invite your comments, constructive criticisms, and suggestions: post them to the comments roll under this blog post if you don’t mind sharing them with others.

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Elderdown: Book Four of The Hidden Houses. A sales pitch, and a personal comment.

Elderdown_panorama

This is the fourth and final book in my “Hidden Houses” modern fantasy series, and my sixteenth published book overall. And now, it’s done. Here’s the Kindle edition on Amazon, and here’s the paperback edition, direct from the printer. The Kobo edition is in the works. Here’s the cover copy:

As House DiAngelo’s plan nears completion, the Fianna must choose between fighting to reclaim their home, or building a new one.

A bounty goes out for Eric Laflamme, who hides in a safe house in a faraway city. The Fianna, led once again by Miranda Brigand, are on the run, and divided among themselves. Some want to drive House DiAngelo out of Fellwater, and so reclaim their home. Others want to start afresh in the abandoned Voyageur freehold of Elderdown, hundreds of leagues away. Attacking the DiAngelo will require weapons and allies they don’t yet possess. Settling Elderdown may be easier, but the only one who knows its location is Ildicoe Brigand, a pariah whom no one but Eric will trust. The time for deliberation ends, and the time for action arrives, when the head of House DiAngelo murders one of his own men, and declares the final phase of the Magnum Opus begun.

“Masterfully weaving together a rich world of mythos, Myers follows in the footsteps of the great fantasy storytellers of our time—Martin and Tolkien—but he does it on his own terms, bringing new twists and turns… it will nourish your imagination and soul for years to come.” –L. M. Browning, author of The Nameless Man.

So, if you’re looking for an independently published modern fantasy series, with a fully realized world, an ensemble cast of characters, complex and subtle politics, a philosophical background, and without any vampires, without any prophesies, without Chosen Ones, without damsels in distress needing rescue, without female warriors with inappropriate armour, without male heroes who are hyperintelligent assholes (Dr. House? Sherlock?), without villains motivated by one-dimensional goals (the Daleks?), without heroes who win exclusively through violence, without a futuristic dystopia that mainly oppresses teenagers– you get the idea. Here’s your book.

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Having said all that, however: there might be werewolves.

And now, if you will indulge me: here’s a personal comment about this book, and about the Hidden Houses series overall.

Every author writes in the hope, perhaps the faint hope, of being read. If you have read the previous books in the series, then I thank you for staying with me all the way to this conclusion.

Fellwater began ten years ago, as a tribute to a dear friend, and as a means of preventing intellectual lassitude during a ten-month stretch of unemployment. It has now grown into this four-part series, with multiple spinoffs published and planned. I think it may be the most personally expressive and revealing work of art I have created so far. Every character in my books is real to me; I hear their voices and see their faces as I write them. Yet every character here is also a self-portrait. Every crisis in their lives happened to someone I care about, if not myself as well. And every moment of beauty and peace they find is something I wish for you, dear reader.

Alas, the Great Work of telling their story is done. Yet I do plan to continue writing about the Hidden World. Following precedents like Terry Pratchett’s Diskworld and Charles de Lint’s Newford, there shall be more stories in the same universe, but with different characters, different questions, and different adventures. Some of these may feature characters who were only peripheral in the main series. (I believe that every character, no matter how minor, should have a story.) Some may feature entirely new characters, and new settings. Two spinoff stories are already published at this time: “A Trick of the Light”, and “The Seekers”. But with this core series now complete, I have fulfilled most of the ambitions I once had for writing a big-canvass, philosophically-influenced, multi-volume fantasy fiction series. I may someday let someone talk me into into writing Book Five. Indeed, in a late-night corridor of sleeplessness, I wrote a beat-sheet for it. But for now, I shall let these characters rest.

At least for a while. We’ll see.

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Review: Sense8 Will Change Television

When I was a drama major at the UofG, we sometimes spoke of “theatre value”: the extent to which the story being told had to be told through theatre, and could not be told as effectively, as successfully, in another medium.

What Sense8 gets very, very right, is its grasp of an equivalent principle: “television value”, the extent to which its story must be told through the medium of television. Or to be more specific, the medium of an internet-based video-streaming television service. In fact I think the show’s television value will change the nature of television.

Before I begin: a quick note about what the show is about. It’s the story of eight people, very different from each other, living in seven different countries around the world, who share each other’s memories, feelings, thoughts, sensory experiences, and sometimes specialized skills. There’s a computer hacker, a business executive, an actor, a criminal, a scientist, a police officer, a bus driver, and a DJ: the spread of complimentary skills makes them a kind of modern-day D&D adventuring party, really. Finally, it’s the product of JMS and The Wachowskis, whose previous sci-fi credits include Babylon 5 and The Matrix. Here’s the trailer:

Here are a few reasons why I think this show will change the nature of television.

First, it is stunningly beautiful just to look at. The first moment when this occurred to me was in an early episode when Daniela Velasquez storms into Lito’s bedroom where she discovers that he’s gay. The frame has Lito’s boyfriend Alfonso in one half of the frame, lying on the bed, very calm and cool and perfectly happy to have been discovered, and Lito’s face in close-up in the other half of the frame, laughing desperately and crying at the same time. A frame like that belongs in an art gallery. Sense8 tells most of its story through framed images like that. I sometimes got the impression that the narrative and dialogue served only to add value to the visual frames. One might say that this means the show is giving short shrift to its narrative. A more charitable interpretation might be: the show is using images and sounds to tell its story, not just dialogue alone. It’s a “sensual” show, in the “sense” that it’s engaging one’s artistic and musical sensibilities, one’s eyes and ears, and not just one’s capacity to follow the logic of a dialogue-driven narrative. This is something film and television can do, very very well.

Second point about television value: time. Even before the advent of internet video streaming, the average American was watching between five and eight hours of television every day. Now that we have internet streaming services like Netflix, we can spend those same five to eight hours watching just one show. (That’s how I watched it: I took in four episodes at a time, over three nights.) This makes the experience of the show more “immersive”. Moreover: freed from the time constraints of broadcast television, a show doesn’t have to be exactly 42 minutes long. It can be exactly as long as it needs to be, to tell the story well. It doesn’t have to have pointless mini-cliffhangers just before a commercial break. In fact the show doesn’t have to be interrupted by commercials at all– again, making the experience more immersive. This makes television viewing a far more pleasurable experience.

This leads to my third point: Sense8 is a very “slow burn”: something that works best when you have several hours at once to spare for TV time. The pilot episode, “Limbic Resonance”, does not introduce heroes, settings, crises, and villains in the usual way. It assumes that viewers have the patience to figure these things out for themselves after taking in a lot more world-building information than a pilot can normally convey. But with the expectation that viewers are prepared to sit down for several hours at a time, starting at a time of their choosing, the show can reveal itself the pace of the director’s choosing, instead of the pace demanded by the nature of broadcast media. You simply cannot have a slow-burn plot when you have a 42 minute window to fill, multiple immersion-breaking commercial interruptions, and a fixed time of day for broadcast. I grant that many viewers don’t have the patience for slow-burn plots. But this leads to another of Sense8‘s smart moves: the sci-fi and fantasy fan is precisely the sort of viewer who will give a slow-burn plot a chance to unfold.

Let’s look at the show’s premise now. What really catches my attention is the way these eight characters are such radically different individuals, compelled by their biology to share each other’s lives. Sense8 a sci-fi exploration of the nature of empathy.* I watched the first episode of Sense8 again with this in mind, and it cast Nomi’s gay pride day speech in a new light for me. In that speech she observes that Christian theology treats pride as the chief of the seven deadly sins, but does not include hate on the list of sins at all. This observation is powerful: it will stay with me for a long time.

This emphasis on practical empathy stood out for me because of what a radical contrast it makes with other popular slow-burn television dramas, like House of Cards, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, or Game of Thrones. In those shows, many of the lead heroes are deeply hateful people. In fact they’re ruthless, spiteful, aggressive, territorial, demanding, and violent. They are shows about terrible people doing terrible things; they presuppose a kind of social Darwinist, dog-eat-dog world. Shows like House, and (I almost regret to say it) Sherlock, are shows about characters who are on the side of the angels but they are nonetheless terrible people, incapable of normal human feelings. Moffat’s Sherlock proudly declares himself a “high functioning sociopath.” And we’re supposed to admire him for that. In Game of Thrones, as another example, we’re treated to numerous instances of artfully-shot sexual violence, followed by hand-wringing pronouncements from fans and the show’s writers about the importance of telling the victim’s stories and showing the violence they endure for what it really is.

Then comes Sense8, a show about people, some good, some bad, most of them both, compelled by their circumstances to identify with each other, compelled to psychologically put themselves in each other’s shoes.** They see themselves reflected in mirrors as another person in the cluster. They feel each other’s heartbreak and trauma. They hear each other’s ear-worms. They fall in love with each other. They kiss and have sex with each other — there’s a lot of sexuality in this show. A lot of homoerotic sexuality, too. But it isn’t really sexuality for the sake of prurience. It’s sexuality for the sake of portraying the different ways that different people love each other. Love, not violence, seems to me a much better way to make an audience care about people whose lives are different from their own. As we saw several times in the series, but most triumphantly in episode 12, this is a show in which characters win their victories by empathy, co-operation, teamwork, and compassion. We’re now at a place in pop culture where a story about empathy, compassion, and co-operation, is radical and edgy and boundary-pushing. And that, I strongly suspect, I strongly hope, is how Sense8 will change television.

If you don’t mind, let’s look at what I think is a big fault in the delivery of this premise. Bringing eight major characters together makes the show very complicated. Viewers who aren’t paying close attention might be unsure who is who, whether we’re watching present events or flashbacks, what’s happening in the world and what’s happening inside someone’s mind. I suppose the producers wanted to spread the story around the world as much as possible; and besides, eight characters alliterate nicely with the word “sensate”. But this gives us very little time to explore each character’s backstory and depth. The result is that most of these characters feel a bit wooden, sometimes more “checklist on a Facebook page” characters than real people. Had I been designing the show, I would have written only four or five of them. We’d have more time to get to know them that way. Indeed one of the sensates is a sadly disappointing character: Riley Blue, an actress whose other work shows how talented she is. Here in Sense8 Middleton’s talents seem unused: she’s doing the best she can with a poorly written character. Through most of the series Riley has almost nothing to do. Late in the series we’re shown a trauma in her backstory: one which I identified with very strongly. But she doesn’t seem to have skills she can contribute to the rest of the team. Other members of the team include a martial artist, a crack driver, a scientist, an actor and grifter. Riley’s skill as a DJ seems out of place; it’s not a skill the other cluster members need. (Not yet? Hard to predict.) In the last episode Riley is captured by the villains and needs to be rescued — by the heart-of-gold handsome-prince American cop, no less– the same tired old “damsel in distress” trope that made the Wachowski’s last offering, Jupiter Ascending, into a high-res failure.

Having said all that, I still think that for its television value, and nature of its heroes, Sense8 will change television. The anti-heroes of Breaking Bad or House of Cards are fascinating to watch, but we should not want to be like such people. We should want to be like the Sensates: people of different races, nationalities, sexual orientations, languages, and even different moral codes, nonetheless learning to get along with each other and help each other. Because that’s the human race: seven billion people, different from each other in thousands of ways, who have to learn to get along.

I might want someone like Sherlock Holmes or Frank Underwood on my side. But I want people like Kala, Nomi, and Capheus in my life.

In fact, I want such people in my head.

——

Notes.
* The fictive metaphysic of the show rests on recent discoveries in biology concerning co-operation and symbiosis (which the show doesn’t explain in much detail, alas.) I’ve studied a bit of the science of symbiosis: my PhD was in environmental philosophy, after all. Complex forests often have “mother trees” which use underground root networks and mycorrhizal fungi to assist the growth of younger nearby trees. Biologist Lynn Margulis has shown that symbiosis and symbiogenesis — organic co-operation at the cellular level — is a stronger force in evolutionary biology than competition. Scientists have also discovered structures in our brains called “mirror neurons” which allow us to learn from each other and experience another person’s emotional state as if it was one’s own.

** This is a point that writer JMS has alluded to before: in his flagship show Babylon 5, an alien character named Delenn says that “Humans share one unique quality: they build communities. If the Narns or the Centauri or any other race built a station like this, it would be used only by their own people. But everywhere Humans go, they create communities out of diverse, and sometimes hostile, populations. It is a great gift and a terrible responsibility–one that cannot be abandoned.”

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My marketing experiments: and what I think the first job of a writer should be.

Recently, I spent $100 advertising my novels on Facebook for two weeks. Here’s the results so far:

  • 13,600 impressions.
  • 151 clicks.
  • 18 sales of the Kindle editions.
  • 3 sales of the paperback editions.
  • 0 sales of the Kobo editions.
  • More than 200 new “likes” on my Author “fan” page.
  • And a handful of extra “likes” on recent entries on my blog.

A few months ago I spent $100 on Google AdWords. The result was broadly similar: around 50,000 impressions; around 250 clicks; but only 27 sales.

Facebook also generated a lot more “buzz” than Google Adwords. More people were talking about the books with me and with each other. I even found a few long-time Facebook contacts who had no idea I was writing fiction, even though I’ve been trying to promote my fiction for several years. So this is good.

But “likes” do not generate revenue. Moreover, after some quick math in my head, I discovered that spending more money on Facebook campaigns might not be helpful. For the campaign to be cost-effective, everyone who clicks on my ad would have to buy at least four of my books.

As you can see here…

Sales of Kindle editions of my self-published works. The ad campaign began on 14th May.

Sales of Kindle editions of my self-published works. The ad campaign began on 14th May.

…that isn’t happening.

I think it’s safe to conclude that automated marketing systems are not cost-effective for independent writers.

There you have it, indie and small-press writers: I spent my money on this experiment so you don’t have to.

Now, I don’t mind spending that much money for such a small result. I have an excellent day job which allows me enough time to write a book and pays me enough money that I can safely lose almost four thousand dollars in the process of publishing and marketing it. (As long as that $4k is spread out over a long time, and not spent all at once. I’m not rich. I’m barely in the middle class.) What I do mind, if anything, is the emotional effect this publicity work is having on me. I’m beginning to resent the way the publishing industry is forcing me to think and talk like a businessman. I resent that my sense of worth as a writer ends up tied to whether I made a sale on a given day. I grow increasingly annoyed at websites and publicity consultants who offer nothing but cheerleading, coupled with dire warnings about financial failure for not going along with the cheerleading. I get angry when publicity consultants tell me I’m bound to get rich as a writer, or when the claim involves weasel-words to the effect that I “might” some day be as big as J.K. Rowling, or that it “could happen” that my books will be made into movies.

I can already hear some of the readers of this blog, some of them writers and artists themselves, clicking the “Comment” button to tell me that if I don’t think like a businessman then my books won’t be read. I’m seeing more and more indie writers treating self-publishing as a path to glory and financial success. Indeed I’m seeing creative writing programs at good colleges and universities releasing graduates who think and talk like competitors in a market, instead of like artists. This is the machine-mind, invading the world of art. The machine-mind is a structure of value priorities which imagines that the production of art could be industrialized, and that the quality of the resultant art could be measured by market forces. I don’t like it.

Some people might be about to tell me that by complaining like this, I’m putting ‘negative energy’ into the universe, or ‘attracting failure’ to myself. No, I tell you, I’m not– and I know this because there is no such thing as negative energy or the ‘law of attraction’. No, really, there’s not.

Finally, I can hear some of my musician, painter, designer, and artist friends prepare to tell me that they should not expect to work for free. You’re right. You should demand that your clients pay you what your work is worth. You’re right to be angry when concert venue managers or literary magazines offer to pay you with “exposure” instead of with real money. I’m not trying to tell you to work for free. I’m attempting to describe a pitfall that the machine-mind takeover of art tried to push me into, so that hopefully the next indie artist won’t get pushed into it after me. The pitfall of irrational expectations. The pitfall of following bad advice. The pitfall of producing bad art.

The first goal of a writer should be to write something interesting, because it is socially or politically important, or thought provoking, or beautiful– or all of those things together. These goals should overlap with the goals of attracting new readers, and creating interesting conversations about the books. But the goal of selling books should actually come second.

Without meaning to sound too self-aggrandizing: I’ve found that the best way to attract attention to a book is to publish the very best work that you can. I learned that lesson by releasing three novels without editing them. They’re edited now: that’s what my third Kickstarter campaign ensured. I also follow a few guidelines for writing better fiction, as detailed in another blog post.**

Only after you’ve written a really good book should you think about promoting it. In case you’re curious, I’ve had the best results promoting my books by doing the following: asking for help from friends and associates; building a mailing list (and here’s where you can join it); and asking for help from people with bigger mailing lists than mine. But I think the most decisive thing an indie writer should do is accept that you’ll never be rich and famous as a writer, then continue writing and promoting your work anyway.

do something awesome

Still, every author writes in the hope, perhaps the faint hope, of being read. I’m not afraid of spending money to promote myself — that was the whole point of buying ads on Facebook and Google, after all — but I want the business end of things to serve the art. It’s the art, not the money, which should be the end in itself.

**
As an aside: I also think it’s important to write in multiple styles and purposes. When I think of musicians I admire, for instance, I think of musicians who have changed up their styles and re-invented themselves several times over long careers. The Beatles, Jethro Tull, David Bowie, Mike Scott and the Waterboys, for instance. There are writers who are similarly varied in the nature and range of their work. Margaret Atwood has written drama, and science fiction, and nonfiction. Neil Gaiman has written graphic novels, fantasy novels, children’s lit, and journalism. Umberto Eco has written historical fiction, and philosophy. I look at these writers and I think, that’s what I want to do, too. Hence why I’ve written fantasy fiction, and poetry, and nonfiction works about religion, human rights, the history of ideas, game theory, climate change, and logic. Fifteen books published so far– the sixteenth will come out this summer. But I digress. So. Carry on as you were.


Follow-up, 4th June 2015.

Here’s a video in which renowned fantasy author Ursula LeGuin, making a broadly similar point about the difference between producing a commodity and practicing an art.

And here’s a video in which my favourite musician Mike Scott also makes a similar point about musicians who think and talk like businessmen.

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