Monday, April 25, 2011

Artificial Barriers

“There are no constraints on the human mind, no walls around the human spirit, no barriers to our progress except those we ourselves erect.”
Ronald Reagan

Optimists are those who take the credit for things that go right and blame external forces for things that don’t.

Pessimists blame themselves for what goes wrong and credit external forces for things that go right.

Both are necessary to an extent. Sometimes things happen just because they do. It’s life. Good and bad both happen and whether something is good or bad depends on our personal viewpoint. We can’t control world events.

Or can we?

I’ve been reading Marilynne Robinson’s The Death of Adam. It’s a slow read, and I had to pull my dictionary to my side (now, I have a good vocabulary but hers is apparently better) and jot notes while I read. It’s a book of essays on modern thought. Very intriguing for those who wonder why we are where we are these days.

One thing in the first essay, Darwinism, that struck me was the very loud and clear fact of how deeply influential writers can be on their worlds, and not only their small worlds but on the whole larger world. She argues that Nietzsche and Darwin and Freud, in their insistence that man is base and aggressive in nature and that our main object is self-survival (or survival of the fittest) helped lead to Nazism. At that time, she says, Europeans were growing weary of the Christian ethic of having to take care of their poor brethren and so the idea of survival of the fittest, that basically told them the weak shouldn’t survive, grew in leaps and bounds as these three authors spread the thought.

Modern scientific thought spread, since it made the intelligentsia feel absolved of the fact that they owed it to others to help care for them, and started to try to negate the “truth” of religion. They didn’t want the guilt that came from not helping their neighbors and so latched onto this survival of the fittest attitude. University professors were among them, and they took it to their students. It’s much easier to absolve yourself of guilt if you believe it’s nature and therefore the real truth that we’re meant to put ourselves first.

Of course, while trying to disprove religion, which they were unable to do, they also were unable to prove their own theory.

That hardly mattered. Anything that gives people the easier way out will spread easily and heartily.

However, what they didn’t count on was the rigid fight of people who refused to believe they shouldn’t help their neighbors just because it felt like the right thing to do. They stubbornly held onto their “love thy neighbor” Christianity.

I read someone’s question this morning as to what eggs and bunnies have to do with Easter, and for that matter, what Santa has to do with Christmas. Although I knew the basics, I did do some minor research real quick to support my answer. Santa Claus came from Saint Nicholas. American colonists grasped onto the giving and generous Dutch Bishop Nicholas rather than the English Saint George and followed his example by giving gifts to others. American writer Washington Irving picked that up, used some creative imagination, and turned him into “Jolly Saint Nick” in a story to help spread the idea of giving with glee. From there came “The Night Before Christmas” furthering the idea of the “bowl full of jelly” and the red suit to match his red cheeks. And from there, artists picked up the image and ran with it. Santa Clause comes from “Sante Claus” meaning “giver to children.”

So this time, writers were spreading the idea of giving and sharing and joy.

The effect of both sets of writers are still with us. Although people in general may not be aware of the scientists’ actual philosophies and their words that said it’s in humanity’s best interest for the weaker among us to be extinguished, the idea is still in our general worldly psyche. The weaker are still being extinguished. Too many among us still think it’s okay to sit back and let it happen.

There is a point to survival of the fittest to some extent, but how do we define “fit”? By the ability to create weapons and technology? Or by the ability to still love through the hate? Which is the more fit, the stronger?

There is still no proof they were correct in their theory, with too much of it left unexplained. And personally, I’d say there is plenty of proof they were not. If they had been, and if all through the centuries survival of the fittest was actually at work, then wouldn’t we stop making the mistakes of the past, stop fighting over theoretical differences, over religious differences? Wouldn’t we know by now which was the “best” way of building a society and wouldn’t more societies be so much kinder to their populations than they are? If the best, strongest, and brightest of us were the ones surviving, at this point, wouldn’t we be much smarter than we are? I don’t see that we are any smarter or more fit than humans ever were.

I do see that goodness and the innate love for each other has gone a long way in conquering the selfish “rid ourselves of the weak” attitude. I’d say it proves the “take care of yourself first” theory of man incorrect since we have whole nations of people fighting for the rights and safety of strangers and supporting that for no other reason except we are supposed to love our brothers, know them or not. And innately, we do. How else do you explain someone stopping to help a stranger on the sidewalk if he has a heart attack? Most of us would do what we could. Why? Survival of the fittest would tell us to leave him be, that he’s weak and deserves to die and there will be more resources for the rest of us. We don’t, though. We help. Whatever our religion, and even if we have no acknowledged religion, we would try to help.

The barriers to furthering the growth of love and kindness have been artificially made, in part by those spreading the defeatist attitude purposely. Their effect can be defeated. But to do so, we have to start by understanding the roots. We have to tear down the boundaries that we’ve created within ourselves and listen, pay attention, grow … instead of blocking out what we do not wish to hear and making things “easier” for ourselves which in turn makes things much harder for everyone.

Words do matter. What you spread matters. And it ripples. Using the excuse of “human nature” is a cop out. Identify the constraints within yourself, grab hold of them, and tear them down.

The simple fact that many of us have been able to break through boundaries and achieve is proof that all of us can. If we will. (paraphrased from Reagan)

Friday, April 08, 2011

Independence: Have we forgotten the meaning?

Gadsden Flag It happened again.

I was introduced to someone writing his first novel the other day as an author. He asked if I had books out. I answered that I have 5 novels and a children’s book available. He appeared duly impressed until he asked how I got into the industry, since what he found looks daunting. I told him I publish myself.

At that, he gives me that “Oh. Never mind, then.” look and changes the subject. I could have told him he was shooting himself in the foot for brushing me off as though I could no longer be helpful to him. I could have told him he should try to READ my work before dismissing me so easily. I didn’t bother. I have plenty to do. I get plenty of calls for advice or assistance. I’m not looking to handhold someone who brushes me off so easily. It is actually his loss, as I have been studying publishing issues since around 1999, while in process of my own first novels. I pay attention. Just because I don’t use a publisher, that doesn’t mean I don’t have valuable information.

More importantly, just because I publish myself, it doesn’t mean my books don’t stand up with traditionally published books.

In fact, I just picked up a clearance Danielle Steele a couple of days ago. I’ve never read her. I kept thinking I should since I’m so often asked if my books are like hers. Since I’ve heard she’s steamy, I’ve said I don’t think they are, but I like to be better informed than that. So, I’m 1/3 way through Jewels and … I’m skimming. I keep thinking: “This is the ‘great’ Danielle Steele?” Has anyone read several of her books? Is Jewels typical of her writing? To be honest, I find it rather sophomoric and horribly repetitive and much more telling than showing, not to mention she jumps POV right and left and up and down. Ugh! Now I understand why so many romance readers start thinking, “Hey I can do this.”

Yes, generally that’s a fair assumption if she’s the standard and since editors will help to tighten your work before they publish it. To be fair, I am still reading. I do like the hero and heroine well enough to keep following their story. And it won’t take long, since I’m skimming over the repetitious prattle-filler.

I once had a fellow author say she usually skims books and skips part of the narrative, but with mine, she has to read every word for fear she’ll miss something. A huge compliment and one I won’t forget. Why waste time writing scenes readers will skip over?

Anyway, I’m getting off track. The point was that I don’t understand the turn-off of independence these days.

The other day I read Nathan Bransford’s blog where he questioned who had the right to use the term “indie”: authors or small publishers. It seems no one understands what Indie means. Hm. It’s short for Independent and it is that simple.

Contracted authors have … well, contracts. They submit their work for possible publication and if accepted, that company formats, publishes, distributes (aka PAYS for) the book. In return, the author gets a set amount of royalties and gives up her rights to that book for some specified amount of time. Note that if a publisher buys the rights to your book and doesn’t bother to put it out, there’s not much you can do about it since you signed the contract. I had an author tell me it happened to her, years before, and she was still fighting to get her rights back. Ouch.

Independent authors don’t have contracts that give any rights away to their work. They do sign printing and distribution agreements, but if they’re smart enough to do that with the right company, they can revoke that right at ANY point just because. In short, they pay their own way for their book to be on the market. They don’t ask permission to be published. They can give the printing/distribution rights to twenty different sites/companies if they wish and pull them at any time. (Be aware that with ebooks, any copies sold cannot be retracted if you pull your book from the site! Readers have rights, too.) Independent. Paying their own way. Indie.

So, authors paying their own way are Indie Authors, regardless of who they pay to help them format and cover design and edit and distribute. It’s their money. It’s their own name (or their own company name), for better or worse. They aren’t relying on a publisher name to help them sell. They rely on the quality of their work and their ability to market themselves.

In the same vein, small publishers not affiliated with the big guys, who use their own funds to publish authors, are Indie Publishers. This is the same as independent bookstores owned by those who pay their own bills and run the store under their own name.

If you pay your own way and use your own name, you are indie. It is that simple. (Being published by an indie publisher does NOT make you an indie author. They are paying; you aren’t. You are contracted to them.) 

Why do we have such a grudge against independent-minded entrepreneurs? Because some big company started the idea that you must go through them to establish quality? Please. We all know that all big companies put out very “non quality” products often. Look at all of the recalls. Look at some of the books coming out by the “quality” big houses. Reality stars? Is that quality literature? No. But it is big money. That’s what they’re about. Don’t confuse the two.

Bigger doesn’t imply better. Or it shouldn’t.

I’m an Indie Author (which I’ve been saying since 2005, before I heard anyone else use the term) for the same reason my ancestors helped to fight for America’s independence. We are do-it-yourselfers not afraid to go it on our own and pay our own way and earn the right to keep the profit of our labor. I’m not asking anyone else to risk their funds on the hopes of making money from their risk. I’m not giving away my rights to my own work. I’m also not taking the easy way out. Trust me: being indie is the hard path, particularly when you’re trying to do it as well as you can and make a quality name for yourself.

I’m not afraid of hard work. I’m not asking for help or handouts. I’m a qualified DAR who still believes in the independent spirit of standing on your own two feet and working for what you want instead of asking for it.

I see nothing wrong with that. Give me liberty..

and don’t stand in my way.