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.

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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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Social Science Fiction

This weekend is the Armageddon convention in Wellington. I have managed to get a stall with two other Indie Writers and look forward to sharing my books and my interest in science fiction with so many other people.

So this post is here to help explain a little about my story.

Of a Note in a Cosmic Song is social science fiction – its main focus is on the topics of the social sciences, although it does feature some technology, ecology, geology and biology.

The story follows a group of 8000 colonists as they decide to leave their home planet (DJar) to embark on a four year journey on a most luxurious space ship (SJilai) to the nearest inhabitable planet (Kun DJar) to start a new life.

They are prepared for everything; they have relearned old trades, brought equipment to restart technology, supplies to restart growing and raising food (seeds, bee larvae and fish eggs) and their entire knowledge library on disk, ready to be transferred to paper in case the technology is slow to start. They know as much as they can know about their new home and it looks lush and stable. They are convinced that they have reached a level of technology to make this colony work and they have thought of everything…

Except that colonization IS about people.

That is the premise of the books, sparked by the notion that today’s scientists so easily refer to our technology to promise a better future without considering the human factor. If you load 8000 people on a space ship, they cannot all agree about the way the new society should function or how it should be ruled. And those who do not get a say will try and make their opinion heard another way. Or they get angry… and angry people can destroy technology and food supplies. Add some convicts the old planet wanted to get rid of, and you add more problems. And what if the winters are extremely long, the planet not as colony friendly as they’d hoped and nothing there is predictable by the scientific knowledge of the home planet… what if the native life forms have a mind of their own?

All those issues play throughout the books and in following eight point of view characters and getting to know many more of them, the reader is sure to feel close to some and unable to understand others.

And isn’t that what life is about? About getting along despite being different? About being people? Our western world has forgotten about the human factor in their drive for science and knowledge, technology and facts, just as many science fiction fans have forgotten that there is more to science than ideology, fancy technology and empirical data; that the danger to colonization does not come from aliens and cannot be solved by battle or quests, but from the colony itself.

Any colonization attempt should take the human factor under consideration. Those that do not are sure to fail.

 

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For more detail see www.nonentiti.com

 

 

One of the few who got it right

In nearly every creative writing guide, the author eventually refers to “success stories”, explaining how out of the many who want to become writers, only a few “got it right”.

I recently reread the book The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman (Fireside, 2000) and enjoyed it as I did the first time, but with the added awareness that this book is a rare specimen among its kind.

Lukeman’s book is “A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile”. In other words is it a book intended for writers about how to write books and present manuscripts.

Since it has become the “in” thing for people to become writers – and with every university offering “creative writing” degrees and producing countless ‘experts’ professing to pass on their knowledge – books like this are flooding the market, in addition to books about how to get noticed in that same market.

The latter are trying to teach writers what is not their natural talent (so they can compete), while the former are trying to make writers out of those whose natural talents may lay elsewhere.

Sure, techniques need to be learned. After all, the great painters of the past, despite having the natural talent, went into apprenticeship with a master painter to learn the techniques and the great classical composers all took music lessons. But the vast majority of such writing advice presents the techniques not as guidelines, but as a regimen. They will even add a chapter on how to behave as a writer – such as “organize your desk” and “discipline yourself to sit down for four hours each day” – or they devote an entire chapter on where to find inspiration and how to overcome “writer’s block”

But inspiration isn’t a technique; it is that what forces writers to write regardless of what is happening in their lives. Those who need to be told what to write about or have to discipline themselves to get around to writing are not natural born writers.

“The art of writing cannot be taught, but the craft of writing can,” says Lukeman  (p 15), yet “… ultimately, the only person who can teach you about writing is yourself” (p 11).

The question that is relevant today more than ever: Is the measure of an artist in the quality of the art, in the mastering of the technique, or in the success of the marketing?

Rembrandt, had he simply copied the techniques he had learned, would have never stood out as a great painter and Van Gogh is certainly not considered a great artist because he managed to make money doing so.

Many of the great composers took what they had learned and turned it into something unique, often deliberately ignoring the rules.

So techniques are useful, but they don’t make art, because art needs creative space to develop. No artist has ever become great from following techniques without experimenting.

Art is subjective; some works of the greatest artists are rejected based on taste, yet those who are born with the drive to write for the sake of the art; those with the inspiration (and even desperation), cannot be stopped. As Lukeman says, “Here lies the difference between someone writing for money and a writer.” (p 152)

Psychological type explains why some people are born with a talent for marketing (or business), others with a talent for visual arts, for musical or for performing art, and yet others with a talent for writing or for editing and proofreading. Editors are not the same type of people as are writers. The latter tend to naturally grasp the big picture and focus on the semantics, the social message or the human relationships, while the former have an eye for syntax, detail and composition. So the two complement each other and in a respectful relationship both are aware of that.

And the beauty of Lukeman’s book is that he realizes this.

Most books (or classes) on writing are condescending toward writers, proclaiming their importance because “most writers don’t know….”  – and then berating these same writers for not respecting their readers.

But Lukeman is different. His book doesn’t say “Hey stupid, here is how you should do it”. He says: I am an editor and here is what I look for when I reject manuscripts, so if you want yours to have a chance, consider the following. He doesn’t say that his advice should be followed to the letter or that his methods are right, but only that they are common.

Additionally, his book doesn’t just spit our cliché advice, like “don’t hit your readers over the head” and “show, don’t tell”, but it actually gives examples of what he means by that; what not to do.

Besides, Lukeman acknowledges that the phrase “show, don’t tell” is not very accurate. Writers need to show and tell, as long as they don’t tell what they have already shown. Telling is not the same as making statements and it has its place in fiction.

Writers (especially independent writers) experience a similar sort of being talked down on when trying to present their books to booksellers, because they don’t have the money to employ big distributors. Book sellers don’t want the trouble of having to deal with only a few copies of a title that is not guaranteed to sell because nobody knows it exists – one even told me that it isn’t worth their time in administration and book keeping to deal with individuals – yet titles need to be on display before people can notice them.

Others believe that independent writes cannot produce a product of quality. One manager of a book shop chain, without even asking for samples, picked up a book from his counter and continued to show me that books have a cover and are formatted, apparently under the impression that a self-published book consists of a number of stapled together sheets straight from the printer.

Of similar intelligence was the book seller I tried to show my science fiction to. – Okay, writers in Paris or New York may not experience the following problem, but I live in New Zealand, which only has four million inhabitants, and which has a strong national pride, so that most publishers only accept books that are distinctly local. For example, a detective novel has to be set in a local town or it won’t get published.

But considering that New Zealanders are not immune to the lifestyle of the twenty-first century, all the social issues and human emotions that affect New Zealanders are the same issues and emotions that affect people in all other countries, so that they will read books that are not local even if they refuse to publish them. And the inventors and scientists in New Zealand build on and exchange information with their colleagues in the same fields abroad – because science (and therefore science fiction) generally does not limit itself to national borders. Yet stepping into book sellers, I am told that their readers want local books and that “New Zealand readers don’t buy science fiction”.

This same shop is full of mainstream titles that are written abroad and come in bulk from overseas distributors. And that last statement is based on statistics taken from the mainstream bookshops – not counting those books that are bought over the internet (from abroad) and probably not even those that are sold in the second hand shops that specialize in science fiction (because there is a demand for it). So they refuse to put such books in their shops because “they won’t sell”, based on the fact that they have not sold any – which makes me wonder if they know what a blatant circular argument is.

So writers are stuck between the book sellers talking down on them because their work isn’t already in demand and condescending writing instructors that tell them they are never going to make it in the first place because their techniques are wrong.

Thus I wanted to mention Lukeman’s book, which is respectful in the way it approaches writers; it is not pretentious and actually gives sound advice, which makes it a rare exception that deserves to be noticed as one of the few who got it right.

And while we’re at it, there is one book shop (I know of) – Arty Bees in Wellington – that deserves a special mention for the same reason as Lukeman’s book, because it respects the writer (and science fiction).

Censorship and Independent Writing

In an earlier post I discussed why I have chosen to adopt a penname and to become an independent writer.

My definition was that independent writers won’t choose their topics according to the financial considerations of the big publishing houses, won’t adjust their style to the latest fashion in writing techniques and won’t limit their stance to the visions of political, religious or cultural groups.

 In short, independent writers won’t let social censorship determine how and what they write.

What do you mean “censorship”?

Writers, of course, come in all sorts and write about all kinds of things. But that does not mean that every person is born to become a writer or can write about the same topics.

Each personality type has a preferred topic, so that some writers write about social issues, just like others are born to be science writers. This is not a simple choice people make, but driven by the way they deal with information, which determines their natural talents.

For example, most theoretical physicists (writing about cosmology and particle physics) have a natural gift for mathematics, a gift political and ethical writers do not usually possess.

These gifts apply to all human activities – not just those we think of as the arts – and they don’t only apply to what people are good at doing (like maths), but also to what they observe and experience – their perceptions.

And so there are people who are naturally good at seeing the immediate practicalities of a current event and there are those who are good at seeing the long term consequences of a social situation that prevails today.

But those different talents cannot exist in the same people, since excelling in something means putting all your focus on it, so the other abilities are less developed. This provides humanity as a whole with the variety it needs to build civilization. It is not a question of some people are smart and others dumb; every person is smart in his own preferred area.

Thus, we have natural proofreaders with an excellent eye for detail in the immediate practical now and natural innovators who design the products and ideas we need tomorrow; there are caregivers, inventors, race car drivers, business people, people with a gift for logistics, practical problem solvers like mechanics, theorists of physics and cosmology and theorists who deal with the human world.

All of them may become writers, but each writes only about the topics that they are naturally drawn to – so that the cosmologist may write a science fiction story but probably not a family romance, the race car driver may write an action packed thriller but not a work on politics, and personality types like me write fiction that is intended to address social problems with an emphasis on dialogue, human character and contemplation but very little action adventure.

Suffices to say that people cannot simply become a writer because it is fashionable and neither can people simply stop being a writer – they may stop doing it for a living, but the natural drive remains.

Today, people have the option of going to university and get a degree in creative writing, but what they learn are techniques – the passion for the topic cannot be learned and neither can someone learn the perceptions that don’t come natural to him.

Publishers use market research to select the books they wish to publish – because they have to make a profit – so that they select on the basis of “what people want”; the assumption being that readers want a repeat of old ideas and more of the same.

Book reviewers  consider themselves objective critics of what constitutes good writing and tend to express themselves in objective terms, such as “this is a good book” or “that writer ignores the facts”, which many readers (and publishers), believing that writing is something that anybody can learn at university, accept as true.

None of them considers the influence of their own personality type on this misconception and many people argue that it is right for the market to decide what is good writing – or rather, what is good for people to read – based on the idea that every person has an independent mind and makes his choices objectively without being influenced by others.

But  we know that the vast majority of people believe something to be good because  it is popular or because some critic has said it is – we see this everywhere: in advertising and fashion and with celebrities – and despite using words like “critical thinking” and “creative writing”, most publishers, critics , agents and teachers use comparison to famous names or best sellers to endorse their choices and so they reject what they believe to be unrealistic.

Apart from that, the publishing industry, which originated to assist writers in having their voices heard, is now also struggling to stay alive due to eBooks and the ease of self-publishing, so that it is even more determined to take only that which is already selling well – escapism stories about vampires and super heroes, similar to those that allowed the masses to carry on pretending that all was well and ignore the warnings in the 1920s and 1930s.

The irony is that with it getting more and more easy to self-publish, it has both become possible for those writers who used to be rejected to get published, as well as increasingly difficult to be acknowledged as writers,  because of the avalanche of information and books now flooding the market. And those writers who try to self-publish without the financial means to do so, end up producing manuscripts that lack in proper editing, because the writer is focused on content.

Thus, we live in a society where publishers – who have an inclination to accept the existing order – dictate what writers can write about (if they want to get published by them), while writers are forced to do the editing and marketing the publishers are naturally good at.

Therefore, and unintentionally, the media and publishing industry have become social censors, making it difficult for socially critical writers to get their voices heard. These institutions are looking back (at what exists now), while social writers naturally look forward (at the consequences and what could be possible).

The result of censorship, whether intentionally or not, is that the masses are being kept ignorant of social dangers and dogmatic views prevail.

And it is simply not true that living in an “information age” protects us from that dogma – on the contrary, due to the information avalanche, most people only read the headlines, the gossip and their social networks anymore.

Hypocrisy.

Currently there is a tendency in the western countries to berate others for imprisoning writers who express criticism about their government – writers who due to their inborn nature address social issues.

And although I share the sentiment of organizations like PEN – I do not believe that people should be imprisoned (or worse) for expressing their opinion – I do believe that such judgmental actions from outsiders can only make the situation worse; criticism should come from within a society, from its socially critical writers.

But more than that,  I object to the idea of berating the neighbours for the state of their garden, while ignoring one’s own weeds. Western weeds are hidden censorship that is covered with slogans about freedom of speech, democracy, and free market opportunity.

In conclusion, I do not criticize the social media or the ‘information age’ for the danger that dogmatic thinking is causing in today’s western society. I think that the information avalanche does give those willing to put in the effort a much better chance of getting uncensored information, due to the willingness of so many people to write for free – to step out of the money-motivated media market. I certainly don’t think that the social media have caused us to become more selfish – on the contrary, through blogs and newsletters there is more and more free advice available.

But nevertheless, we need to be aware that the masses remain uninformed about the global issues and about the natural personalities that cause different people to be able to see what others cannot, so that those in a position of power may once again dismiss the dangers until it is too late.