Walking Along

Lately there are videos going around the social media that show people of different ethnic or gender backgrounds learning to get along through doing something together or just looking at each other. Those are great exercises, and akin to what writers have been doing for millennia: allowing people to see things from a different angle and so create tolerance and prevent dogma.

Of course, some people prefer to stick with what they know; they feel safer in their own environment. Writing stories of good and evil, of romance and of adventure allow a writer to plunge right into the story, because there are plenty of readers ready to swim along; they don’t know the exact story, but they know what they can expect. Many readers prefer that; they do not want to be confronted with different; they read to escape complex social issues and just want to be entertained.

But when a writer wants to introduce a new point of view or get readers to acknowledge that there is more than one way to look at things, they cannot simply jump in and hope the reader follows. Coming back to the example of homosexuals before, who, as little as fifty years ago, were not seen as human; many people were afraid of them, afraid it was a mental illness or contagious, and the topic was not mentioned. By allowing readers to step into the mind of gay characters in books, writers allowed them to begin to understand that homosexuals were people just like them.

In short, fiction books allow readers to see the world through different eyes; to step into the mind of somebody with a different outlook on life and in this manner overcome a fear of differences and help create tolerance.

Thus, when writing a fiction book, I am taking the writer on a journey to a different point of view. I could fly them to the destination, but they won’t appreciate the road. They would be startled or scared off if my conclusion, my idea, is too radical; they will dismiss it.

Instead, I invite the reader to walk with me through the minds of multiple point of view characters, so that different readers may find somebody they understand and somebody they do not, just like in real life. I invite the reader to consider the thoughts and beliefs of many different people by looking through the eyes of these characters; to consider as many as possible sides of the situation. Some of those characters might slowly change their mind about the same things I ask the reader to reconsider. If a character in a book has trouble with a new idea or another person, it might help the reader feel they are not alone and maybe, at the end, they’ll appreciate the outcome.

But walking, step by step, to a different point of view takes time, which is why some of my stories are quite long. My young adult novels, each allow the reader a peek into the perspective of the odd one out; the child who does not fit in and who tends to be berated for that in our society, or, in the case of In the Real World, two perspectives.  My adult novels allow for many different viewpoints.

The most dramatic example is Of a Note in a Cosmic Song. Not only does it have eight point of view characters of diverse cultural, social and religious backgrounds, different ages and genders and different experiences, but through them the reader gets confronted with many more different personalities and opinions. Each of them has a realistic point of view when seen through their eyes, but that is not always realistic in the eyes of others, which is why they get into conflict, so that every reader will be able to find a character with a personality like their own, who they will be able to relate to, but also some characters they cannot understand. In addition, these characters are on a journey together, having left behind their home to start a colony on a new planet; they are looking to restart justice and democracy and a better society… and each believes that their own viewpoint of ‘better’ is the best for everybody.

I ask for tolerance of the reader to, at the end of the story, accept a ‘different’ that may be more shocking than the murder, rape, evil minds, mass shootings, gangs, drugs, deceptions, greed and other horrors to which, sadly, most westerners have become desensitized.

Dear reader, I do hope you’ll be willing to walk with me, and find that, no matter how alien an idea, it may just bring us to a more positive future.

Thank you for reading.

 

Autonomous Individual

I am a writer for social progress and a positive future for all the people in the world. My books are based on a deep understanding of group psychology and what motivates individual people. This understanding includes the notion that not every reader will be able to accept my books.

To create a better world, change is needed; we need to change some things we are today taking for granted, even if we believe that those things are dear to us. Change cannot happen in a stagnant and dogmatic world. My job, as a writer, is to wake up the masses to the need for change.

It is well known that all innovative ideas get a lot of resistance, because most people will not accept something until it is confirmed by their environment. Novel ideas usually require a tipping point – a point at which enough people accept it for it to start spreading, sometimes aided by support from a celebrity or authority. Of course, soon after this acceptance, it tends to become dogma, because these same masses want everybody to believe what they do, so that the few who still resist the idea are dismissed as much as the originators of the idea were.

That is because, by their very nature, most people take things at face value and judge according to the current beliefs without putting them in context. Consequently, they’ll get indignant if you even suggest they might have believed differently only a decade ago. Good examples are ideas about ethnic and gender equality and, more recently, sexual orientation equality, as well as notions about beauty. And not only social ideas, but scientific ideas, like the environmental issues, need a tipping point.

Consequently, speaking out for innovative ideas or against the way the world functions today, tends to not be welcomed – especially not by those who are doing well in today’s world; those in power and those who naturally follow or are quite cosy not thinking about social change.

In short, if a writer for social change wants to have an impact, the reader needs to be ready to be woken up. They need to be able to reconsider the beliefs and truths they have grown up with, and to suspend judgment. People who are used to getting their opinions from their environment or from authority – even if they are not always aware of that – will feel an inner resistance to reading what opposes such notions.

My books are written to achieve a re-evaluation of our norms and values. Readers who are not, by nature, autonomous individuals, will feel uncomfortable reading my books. It makes no difference what age you are, because this is part of your personality. Some adults will not grasp the underlying message of my stories, while an 11-year-old of the right personality will get it instantly. I am therefore not hereby making accusations or dismissing the people who naturally follow or don’t like social change. I am only saying, you might not like my books:

In the Real World follows two 16-year-old cousins, who, when trying to make sense of real world issues like war and human rights, find themselves in conflict with their school about obedience and uniforms. Although it starts on Anzac Day, the story could be set in any location, as it deals not with the actions of war, but with the emotions of it – emotions that exist in all people.

The protagonist of Soup and Bread is Vonnie, a healthy 11-year-old, whose carefree life is disrupted when Mum decides she had enough of fussy eaters, and the new boy at school accuses her of being a bystander to the bullying. After a confrontation with serious health and food problems in other children, Vonnie learns that she can use her own “lucky” body and mind to speak out for those who cannot stand up for themselves.

Lohland follows Kaie, who turns from an easy-going 13-year-old into an obnoxious teen when his parents decide to move to the independent city state of Lohland – which lies two hundred meters below sea level in a time when “global warming is real” – and which means he has to give up his comfortable home, his language, his calendar and the celebrations he is used to. But his boycott ends when he discovers the architecture and engineering works needed to keep his new home safe from global warming. Could he help make a positive difference for the future?

 The Happiness Inquisition is a novella, primarily written for adults, but suitable for age eleven and up. It begins with the victim of an act of child abuse being admitted to hospital and, through the eyes of five point of view characters, each of whom has a role to play in the events that lead to the tragedy, deals with the judgment of a society that thrives on guilt induction.

Of a Note in a Cosmic Song is the title of a five-part science fiction novel that spans eight years in the lives of a large group of space colonists. From the heartbreak of deciding to leave their planet, through the cabin fever of space travel and the desperation of the political and environmental unrest of their arrival upon their new home, the books take the reader with the colonists on a high-tech journey from the oppressive planet DJar to the mysterious and eerie Kun DJar. No matter how advanced, it takes more than technology to colonize a whole new world.

All eBooks are currently on sale and can be purchased directly through the links provided, both ePub and Kindle format. Print copies can be ordered directly via my website, but they are priced to include shipping costs from New Zealand.

Thank you for reading.

Natural Talents and the Nightmare of Getting on Smashwords

Imagine a world in which, some two thousand years ago, every person was given a paintbrush and canvas, after which the result of their creation became the new standard for judging art quality and only those who matched this standard were allowed to paint. The work of people like Rembrandt and Van Gogh would have been repressed from childhood (today possibly with the help of Ritalin), since it was clearly not of equal quality as that of ‘most people’. Would humanity have enjoyed the cultural diversity that it knows now?

It is the same with every other talent; not just artistic talents, but talents like practical handicraft in trades, editing, accounting, technological skills, computer programming and writing. These talents come with a person’s inborn gifts and can be practised, but each of us has some talents and some weaknesses, which are part of our personality. That is necessarily so, because it is a result of how we process information and every personality type does that differently. If we all had the same talents, even potentially, we’d have a very boring world without progress.

In the writing world, writers used to be supported by publishers. A publishing house had some people with editing skills, others with marketing skills, others with illustration skills and printing or formatting skill and the writer could focus on their own natural talent, which usually had to do with the content of the topic they were writing on and not the technical aspects. Writers tend to initiate social change, prevent dogma and come up with novel ideas. Without those insights, the world would rapidly slip into dogma. Homosexuality, for example, started to get serious attention after writers (and filmmakers) started portraying it as normal. Until then the public opinion rejected it. The same applies to all other social issues, no differently than that hard science fiction writers often invent an idea for a technology before it gets developed. Writers, therefore, have a vital role in social progress.

But as a writer (in New Zealand), I am struggling to get onto the market. Not only can I not sell my hard copies outside of the country, because of the cost in postage, but local book shops and libraries go for what is popular, which tends to come from a foreign mass market. The local library will not accept my printed copies, but they have agreed to list my eBook titles. But, as they prefer to take them from Smashwords, I agreed to put my books there. It seemed simple enough.

But Smashwords is made for people who upload a word document (according to certain specifications) and then they make eBooks out of it, although they do have the option of uploading professionally made ePub files. But all my books were already professionally converted to eBook (both Mobi and ePub) by a converter who works to a high standard and there have never been complaints. Yet trying to get those books on Smashwords is an ongoing nightmare. With most of my books, I have to ask my converter to change something in the file, which tends to be explained in techno babble I cannot understand. Not only that, but the rejections seem inconsistent. For example, I have a five-part science fiction series, which all have a different title, but the same series title. Despite entering them with the exact same capitalization and punctuation, one was immediately accepted and the rest came back twice with requirements to change the title format. Now they have all been accepted, the reader might wonder why one of the titles does not match. If I try to change that, I risk it being rejected again. Additionally, the first book in the series, which was converted and created as ePub file, at the same time as all the others and according to the same format, keeps coming back as being faulty, so the readers can buy parts two to five, but not part one.

In short, Smashwords is nice if you have a word document and want to sell it as a book, but if you have already self-published, it is a lot of trouble. Sure, if you are skilled in electronic formatting, you have no problem, but that privilege is personality type dependent. That means that those personality types who prefer genres like hard science fiction and crime can upload their books easily, but not those who naturally lean towards the humanities (and social issues).

And Smashwords is one of the better ones. For one thing, it is trying very hard to make it accessible for all people, and the creators are most likely unaware of the personality types and therefore assume anybody can learn it as easily as they do. Yet it is exactly that understanding of personality types I am trying to promote with my books. So, we are stuck in a cycle: they don’t learn about psychology because those who write about it are less likely to be on the current market and therefore keep assuming that anybody can understand their technology.

In other words, not much has changed from before eBooks, when publishers rejected books for their content; if you expressed the already accepted opinion it was okay, because the objective of publishers was money, which also meant ignoring potential social issues. I have therefore no regret that the industry has changed to give independent writers more chance. But I am beginning to see problems if the new selection process ignores content and grammar altogether and only looks at the technical aspects.

But it gets worse. Contests are traditionally intended to find original and quality books and give the winners a chance to get their name out. Despite biases according to the chosen panel, the size of the contest and the entering requirements, there was the chance that a real-life reader recognized a book’s potential. But I recently saw an advert for a contest that selects their winner according to an algorithm that is created according reader behaviour – thus, no human judges involved – which is therefore outright selecting exactly that which is not original and puts us back at what the publishing houses used to do.

Bittersweet as this may sound, I am happy to give up trying to spend my time on pursuits like marketing, that are clearly not my expertise, so that, no matter how much time I spend on them, I will never stand out.

I am a writer by nature and I need people with other natural talents to support that. As long as our society is solely focused on money and promotes the misconception that everybody has the same potential psychology, it will continue to favour certain pursuits over others. All I can do is keep writing about it and know I have done everything in my ability.

What is in a Title?

Picking the title of a book is almost as difficult as writing its blurb and it is at least as important. There is no real agreement what makes a good title. Do they have to be catchy, original, outlandish, common, full of key words or simple?

Of my fiction books, two have a title that is common. I get at least one Google alert a day for those titles and they are never about my books.

My science fiction series has titles nobody else has, because I made those words up. I get no alerts.

I have two fiction books with original titles, but no indication that those get more or less attention than the common titles.

My non-fiction series has as its series title The Music of Life. This has resulted in it being put in the music section of some book shops, although the title is a metaphor and the books are about psychological types. The last of that series is just released, but the title for it had been created (and announced in the other books) at least six years ago.

I am not sure whether I would have picked a different title if I had to choose again. Personally, I tend to feel attracted to that which is different and am more likely to pick up a book with an odd title, just to see what it is about. But the the first thing many people say is,

Homological Composition! What does that even mean?”

Indeed, what does it mean? Does it mean that people are going to turn away, scared off by the title, or attracted to it, exactly because it is different?

Since the book is about psychological types and the theory explains why people react so differently to everything concerning information, I am pretty sure that there will be both reactions to the title, depending on the type of the person reading it.

And that goes for any title.

The reason I chose it is because “homology” refers to our common evolutionary origin that is expressed in similar, yet diverse, psychological human types, and a composition is an artistic or intellectual creation. Not only is the book an intellectual creation, but humanity with all its diversity is the composition that makes intellect and artistic expression possible.

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Lie or Die

It is a sad truth that our society hangs together from a web of lies. We all know that politicians lie to get their position and lie about the decisions they make… and we accept this or we would get rid of the system. We all know that the military lies about what they do in just about everything… and we accept this or we would not have soldiers (and thus no wars). And we all know that advertisers lie (or at the very least exaggerate) what they are promoting…

The other day I saw an article based on a survey that concluded that about seventy percent of purchases turn out to be bad ones. And we all know that, especially with the internet, people are pushed to buy on impulse; quick deals, immediate promises, and at the push of a button. It is a combination of ‘false’ promises and quick decision making that leads to such bad purchases. We all know that quality and popularity are not related in today’s market; any cheap rubbish can become popular with good advertising skills. And we all know that most people want to have what their neighbours have, whether they need it or not. But not every person can afford to hire good advertisers, and therefore their products cannot compete, and therefore, the big reasons for this high number of unsatisfied customers is that not every person is by nature a marketer and not everybody is inclined to exaggerate their product.

People who do not understand personality types often dismiss the above ‘complaint’ by saying that you could learn to be a marketer or make a better product, or even that the right thing to do is to create what people want, regardless of the quality, because “quality” is decided by the majority.

Of course, that is not true. If all people had the same basic psychology and if differences only came from learning or experience, we would have long had a society of clones. People are born with a different personality and they cannot change that. That means that some people are good at creating quality products of one kind; others are good at creating quality products of another kind, and others are good at advertising. It also means that some people believe that the majority wishes are always right and others believe that the majority merely imposes their wishes. But if we always went with the majority, we would never have progress.

Basically, for small creators (like me being a writer), it means that the only way to compete in the market, to have a chance of having your product out there, is to lie. Despite all their moral slogans, our society rewards lying; the bigger the lie, the better your chances. Not only that, but we live in a “me” society, where most consumers want immediate personal satisfaction that is directed at their own person. I learned that the hard way. Being not a natural marketer, I titled my books with an original title with regard the contents and addressing the bigger picture, but it didn’t immediately promise the reader a personal lolly and so it is simply not picked up. Countless books promise the readers immediate results, solutions, healing, wonders, self-knowledge and everything else and those books sell… and are bound to become one of those bad purchases for some readers, because if people are not all clones of each other, you cannot satisfy, heal or help all of them with one approach. It is simply not true that there is one answer out there for everybody, but that is still what people keep hoping for when they buy into such promises.

What I have learned from this, is that I have to start re marketing my books with what people want to hear, until enough of them buy it and work out that this actually works, because it incorporates all the different personality needs instead of assuming that all people are identical, and then, hopefully start talking about it to others. It is either that or die…

 

Between Creativity and Mediocrity

Imagine you are a creative artist. In the past you might have found a master to apprentice with. You’d have found them by showing them some of your work. Or if you were an actor or filmmaker, you’d approach somebody in the business and explain your creative ideas.

Chances were, since the person you approached were themselves an artist, they’d recognize your potential. Artists and all creative people tend to recognize each other, because they have this habit of thinking outside of the box, of being a bit more daring or dressing just a little differently, but mostly because they radiate a sense of wonder and enthusiasm that cannot really be described, but is sensed nonetheless. After all, natural talent is already present in people, and education (in the proper definition of the word) is there only to “bring out latent capabilities”.

Today, even artistic people have to go through university or through an accredited institution that claims to teach them how to become an artist. Schools don’t bring out latent capabilities, but train students in techniques, with the general expectation that anything can be learned as long as you work hard enough at it. They create standards and expect students to adhere to those and those standards are forged from what has been done in the past. If you match those standards, you get a diploma that says you have followed their course and that diploma is supposed to get you into your creative job. And in some cases, those already established in the industry accept only people with such pieces of paper.

But teaching techniques is not bringing out latent creativity, because without the inborn talent you turn out a competent person, at best, but the expression of this competence will not go beyond the boundaries of what is already accepted in the industry – so we get acting schools that are so focused on the soap opera industry, that they ignore talent in favour of a pretty face.

This we are seeing more and more in many creative fields. Although there are films made (often those by independents) that are truly novel and that dare to step beyond the standards, most are repeats of what everybody else has already done, both in technique and in content. The same applies to writing. The reason so many “How to find the right topic” classes are popping up, is because those with the diplomas have nothing to write about.

True creative artists never have “nothing” to create. They may not have the means and they may even have to practice the techniques, but the creative ideas are there – endless ideas. And it is those creative ideas that help a society to progress, because if everybody just keeps working within the accepted standards, no invention, inspiration or new philosophy are possible. After all, most people follow a trend; only a small number set a trend.

So how would an institution that is specialized in its field go about recruiting exactly those really creative people that can eventually help change the current trend and way of thinking of most people?

Obviously not by asking for diplomas that are prove of having conformed to the accepted standard.

They do it by allowing themselves to get taken slightly out of their comfort zone. If the person you interview acts like everybody else, talks like everybody else and makes you feel quite good about yourself – in the sense that you feel you could easily teach them all you know – you are looking at mediocrity. If the person you interview makes you either worried or excited, because what they say is new to you (something you haven’t thought of) or you are feeling a little restless, unsure how to respond to their subliminal enthusiasm – then you are looking at creativity.

My advice: be daring. Creative arts are about being original. If you turn away everybody who makes you feel uncomfortable, you are in the wrong job.

The Choosing Behaviour of Readers

There are countless theories around, of course, that tell us how readers pick their books, whether they choose for the cover or the blurb or for other reasons.
Today there was a second hand book fair in the city where I live and I had donated a large amount of my first edition books, so I went there not only to find books for my personal interest, but also to see if my books were getting any attention.

Since mine were first editions I cannot sell anymore, they had that never-before-opened look to it and were consequently displayed on a table with countless bookshop left-overs. Since most people go immediately to the section that have their preferred genre, I didn’t think that would help, so I moved some of them to the respective “young adult” (In the Real World) and “science fiction” (Of a Note in a Cosmic Song) sections and then stood around and observed people going through the rows of books, talked to people and listened to their conversations.

As far as I could see, nobody really read any blurbs. Most people glanced at the books, picked up those that had an attractive cover – I changed some of mine around a few times, because the cover of part one of my science fiction series wasn’t very eye-catching in the first edition – and then looked for famous names. Most people do turn the book over for a moment, but never long enough to read even the smallest blurb. During the three hours I was there, I saw only one other person actually opening a book to read a bit – which is what I do when I want to get a feel for the prose.

“Where does this Titi person come from?” one guy asked about my books, as if nationality is the key to a good read – especially in that genre.
“Where are the reviews?” a woman wanted to know, although most books from big publishers also don’t come with a list of reviews or praise on the back cover.
“Never heard of him,” another person said and put it back down before even looking for a blurb.
And those were the people who talked. Their behaviour gave away that most other people thought similar things.
In the Real World got picked up by some young people, but never by any adults – who were the vast majority looking in that section – probably because the cover of my book makes a strong social statement about a topic most adults prefer not to question.
The cover of The Happiness Inquisition makes an even stronger statement, but I never found the book myself until much later, because it was hidden away in a shelf.

So, what conclusions did I draw from this tiny little observational survey?
That having too explicit a cover image is not necessarily a good thing, unless the message of the book is in congruence with what everybody already thinks – which makes writing a book about it a useless exercise.
That people reject out of hand a topic that makes them uncomfortable.
That people accept the quality of a book if it is endorsed by the current popular opinion or a list of praise on the back.
That people don’t really judge a book by its cover, but by the expectations they already have.

The sheer amount of books there was overwhelming and made me feel a bit hopeless. If so many famous books are just sitting there and most people don’t even look further than that, what chance will I ever have of selling my books?
Because it is not just readers who make their judgments so selectively. The owner of a local children’s book shop never bothered to read the blurbs either when I came in to ask if he’d be interested. Of all the review books I have sent out in the past, only one newspaper actually bothered to review one of my books: The Happiness Inquisition.
The reviewed books in other papers are invariably those submitted by the established publishers, from which I conclude that most reviewers also accept only that which has been preapproved by the establishment. And of course, publishers don’t even give you the light of day unless your story is likely to bring them money, which means expressing the popular ideas or being a famous person.

I know I have said all this before and that some people do seem to get past these hurdles. But I don’t have countless friends who can write reviews on Amazon, no expansive social networks – I am an introvert, which is why I write in the first place – and I don’t have the money to pay for advertising.

The standard reaction I get is that if a book is good enough, it will get recommended anyway. But the thing is that a book doesn’t even get noticed if it is not first recommended. If it never even gets opened, then how will they judge whether it is “good enough”?
I short, if I want to be acknowledged for my ideas, I will first have to write something I don’t believe in. And that is called freedom of speech.

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