Apparently Donald Trump is making Doomsday Preppers out of those who once scoffed at the apocalypse.

Wherever you fall on the political spectrum, you must admit that the election of Trump has been revelatory. Although the U.S. economy and optimism indexes are responding favorably, other industries are lagging in said optimism. One such industry still trying to gauge the real import of the new President is the publishing industry.

Literary agent Janet Reid recently addressed the question, “Do current events affect what editors buy?” The writer asked,

In your years as QOTKU [Queen Of The Known Universe], have you see the tenor of publishing change as presidential administrations change? My agent told me last month that the fiction market has been tough — and she expects it to be tougher — because a lot of the folks in New York have taken a bit of a (possibly justified) apocalyptic view of things the last two months.

Perhaps this shouldn’t come as a surprise. As I pointed out in my previous post, when comparing Democrat vs. Republican Occupations, under the category of Book Publisher, Republicans are outnumbered by Democrats 100 to 0. So the notion that “the folks in New York have taken a bit of a (possibly justified) apocalyptic view of things” since Trump’s election, is not that remarkable. Reid’s response, however, is still rather fascinating.

…we’re certainly seeing a sea-change since November. There’s no market for satire. Editors aren’t looking for much of anything that’s grim. There’s enough grim (at least to their way of thinking) on the front page of the Times.

I think we’re going to see an uptick in escapist fiction.

And I think we’re going to see a lot of Resistance Fiction, as writers begin to talk about what this new zeitgeist feels like to them.

So in the Era of Trump, satire is out, as is anything too “grim.” However, Reid predicts “an uptick in escapist fiction” and “a lot of Resistance Fiction.” While “escapist fiction” could encompass a broad swath of genres (from bodice rippers to Jack-the-Rippers), Resistance Fiction is another story. Though fiction has often been used as a tool to counter political ideas or climates, both Right and Left, Reid has a very clear Resistance in mind. The #Resist hashtag is, apparently, the one hashtag that is uniting Americans in the fight against Trump. What exactly must we #resist? Well, bigotry, racism, sexism, xenophobia, etc., etc. Which leads me to conclude that Resistance Fiction is simply fiction that addresses those subjects. However, without some fairly clear attributions to the current administration, lots of fiction can probably fall under the Resistance label. Which leaves me a bit perplexed as to what kind of fiction is anti-Trump fiction.

Others see this #NewPublishingResistance in the resurgence of dystopian fiction. According to this article, Dystopian fiction has been selling like there’s no tomorrow.

Save the light reading for later. In 2017, dystopian fiction is all the rage. Gloomy classics depicting societies gone terribly wrong have shot to the top of best-seller lists like Amazon’s in recent months, including George Orwell’s “1984” and Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” prompting publishers to ramp up production decades after the books were first released. Others have followed close behind, such as Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” Sinclair Lewis’ “It Can’t Happen Here” and Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451.”

So why the spike in dystopian tales? You guessed it. Trump!

Much of the renewed interest has followed the November election of President Donald Trump, which publishers and scholars say is no coincidence. “Definitely the election had an effect,” said LuAnn Walther,” editorial director of the paperback division at Knopf. “There’s fear out there about what is going to happen, and I think these predictive books are helpful to people who are looking for the dangers the future might hold.”

Never has an American President caused this much panic among publishers.

Dystopian tales have been popular for quite a while now. More recently, that interest has roots in the YA phenomenon, The Hunger Games, and the spate of similar novels that followed.  While most of those novels are typically aimed at expounding the evils of totalitarian governments, they are seldom directly tied to current political events. The renewed interest in dystopian fiction is different than the YA trend in that 1.) This trend is generated by disaffected adults (rather than youth) and, 2.) It involves older works, not new ones. Of course, at the top of the list is George Orwell’s 1984.

Shortly after the election, 1984 surged to the top of Amazon’s best-seller list, fueled mainly by the political Left’s co-opting of the novel as a warning against the Trump administration. Which is quite fascinating. Especially when you consider that totalitarianism — re-framing speech codes and gender definitions, defining what is “permissible” thought, controlling media outlets, suppressing contrary opinions in science, academia, and the arts, censoring speech on campuses, growing the Nanny state, etc. — is currently more likely to be espoused by liberals, not conservatives.

In his article, The True Lesson of 1984, Nathan Schlueter describes the novel as “a warning against socialism.” He concludes,

…the person reading 1984 for insight into America’s current political situation should ask a number of questions: Which political party had a leading presidential candidate proudly declare himself to be a socialist? Which party’s president consistently sought to expand the regulatory administrative state, often by lawless means? Which party dominates the institutions of higher learning, where the possibility of truth has been consistently undermined by assumptions of skepticism, scientism, and value relativism, and where utility has replaced contemplation as the end of education? Which party controls America’s public-school system, where these same ideas are consistently promoted? Which party is most closely associated with Hollywood’s celebration of sexual liberation and sentimentalism? Finally, which party has sought to elevate the state over God by coercing private individuals to violate their consciences?

So what exactly is Orwell challenging us to #resist? Sexism? Bigotry? Xenophobia? All the more fascinating is how those on the political Left are using the election of Donald Trump as a call for this Resistance, while empowering the very structures that buttress the Party.

#ResistanceFiction has a long history. And if the sentiments expressed by many in the publishing industry are indicative, we should be prepared for more stories about dysfunctional societies and those who suffer in them. But perhaps the real question is why those stories did not seem urgent under the previous administration? One could argue that, under Obama there was a massive expansion of government, increased surveillance of citizens, targeting of conservative groups, and collusion with the media. Sure, there were nutters who framed this as evidence of Armageddon. However, the paranoia has now switched sides. The fact that a #Resistance has only now arisen makes me wonder where it was and who’s leading the charge. Then again, perhaps it’s Big Brother himself.

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Publishing-BiasIs there an anti-religious bias in publishing and the art and film industries? The answer often depends upon what side of the question you fall on. According to this breakdown of Democrat vs. Republican Occupations, under the category of Book Publisher, Republicans are outnumbered by Democrats 100 to 0. For those of us who happen to be politically and religiously conservative, this is not a huge surprise. Thankfully, there is beginning to be a bit of pushback against publishers foisting a blatantly progressive agenda.

While I mostly believe that there IS an anti-religious bias in “secular” media — make that an anti CONSERVATIVE religious bias — it’s not nearly as vast as many claim. In fact, many artists of faith use this as an excuse to retreat from, rather than professionally engage culture. Which is a big factor in the maintenance of the “Christian art” industry.

That said, I recently stumbled upon a semi-pro sci-fi mag that is very up front about its bias. Crossed Genre Press is candid about its “progressive bent.” For example, in their Submission Guidelines they solicit stories containing:

  • Queer Main Characters
  • MC’s of Color
  • Women MC’s
  • Disabled MC’s
  • Science saves the day!
  • Far future
  • Stories set outside North America

Equally telling is what CGP is NOT looking for:

  • Stories based off the assumption that any particular religion’s beliefs are real
  • Weak women being rescued by macho guys
  • “Science-as-villain”
  • Vampires, zombies, werewolves, Arthurian retellings, Eurocentric faeries, or ghost stories
  • Time travel

It’s hard to maintain that publishers are indiscriminate and unbiased when their submissions page flat-out says “keep your religion to yourself.” Sure, publishers are free to want what they want. Seeking to expand representation of a multicultural universe and dash steretypes can be admirable.  Besides, religious publishers do the same thing! They are blatant in vetting their stories FOR religious content. Still, I’d expect a bit of frothing if I announced that I was publishing an anti-Science anthology. The guidelines would read,

What we’re NOT seeking:

  • Stories based off the assumption that [Science’s] beliefs are real

In an age where Science has replaced Religion as our creed of choice, I’d be inviting ridicule and disdain from the smart kids. “Another anti-science conservative!” they’d bemoan. Nevertheless, here we have a publisher doing just the opposite. They don’t want stories where Science is portrayed as a “villain.” In other words, Science as Savior is a winning narrative.

Of course, you could argue that science and religion are two different things. Even though both require faith. And pitting science against religion is a narrative that conveniently services the secular POV. By requesting tales where Science is Savior and religion isn’t true, one can safely construct a god of our own design. While denying any religion theirs.

But from a writer’s perspective, seeking stories that are NOT “based off the assumption that any particular religion’s beliefs are real” is problematic. For one thing, shouldn’t our religious characters act like what they believe is real? I have met very few religious folk who believe something while not believing it is true or real. I’m just not sure what kind of religion asks its devotees to believe what is fake. Furthermore, if someone believes that all religions are true, they’re essentially saying that there is no truth. Religions make truth claims. If a person believes that “no religions are real/true,” then they believe that THAT belief is true. So it’s a bit telling when a publisher wants its Science immutable, and its Religion squishy.

So is sci-fi “anti-religion”? Basing the conclusion on one indie mag is unfair. Fact is, there are plenty of religious themes in the genre and religious writers who are writing great stories. But if Cross Genre Press is any example, the only religion worth portraying is the one that no one believes is really worth believing.

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Last week, the Chicago Tribune published a piece about how Publishers are hiring “sensitivity readers” to flag potentially offensive content. Here’s how they framed the problem:

Sensitivity readers have emerged in a climate – fueled in part by social media – in which writers are under increased scrutiny for their portrayals of people from marginalized groups, especially when the author is not a part of that group.

Last year, for instance, J.K. Rowling was strongly criticized by Native American readers and scholars for her portrayal of Navajo traditions in the 2016 story “History of Magic in North America.” Young-adult author Keira Drake was forced to revise her fantasy novel “The Continent” after an online uproar over its portrayal of people of color and Native backgrounds. More recently, author Veronica Roth – of “Divergent” fame – came under fire for her new novel, “Carve the Mark.” In addition to being called racist, the book was criticized for its portrayal of chronic pain in its main character.

This potential for offense has some writers scared. Young-adult author Susan Dennard recently hired a fan to review her portrayal of a transgender character in her “Truthwitch” series.

“I was nervous to write a character like this to begin with, because what if I get it wrong? I could do some major damage,” Dennard said. But, she added, she felt the voice of the character was an important one that wasn’t often portrayed, so she hired a fan, who is a transgender man, just to be sure she did it right.

It’s critical to note that the perceived need for sensitivity readers has “emerged in a climate.” What has created this “climate”? What does this “climate” demand of the writer? To the latter, it’s pretty clear: writers are under increased scrutiny for their portrayals of people from marginalized groups, especially when the author is not a part of that group. So as a white male I am under “increased scrutiny” to portray minority and/or opposite sexed characters accurately. Answering the former question — What has created this “climate”? —  is a bit more complex.

Sensitivity Readers and Social Theory

Many supporters view the cultural “climate” behind the sensitivity readers trend simply in terms of moral/societal evolution — we’re getting better at recognizing multicultural realities and the marginalized. And that’s a good thing. Some even tend to see this as a biblical mandate of sorts, framing the sentiment behind is as “Love Your Neighbor 101,” a Golden Rule that everyone should practice. Authors should want to understand their audience, different people groups, and to not alienate fans. For the novelist, loving your neighbor as yourself should translate into sensitivity to multiple points of view, especially those unlike ours. In this sense, sensitivity readers are simply about cultivating our own humanity, coming to grips with our own privilege, and loving others enough to want to portray people like them correctly and not offend them.

Others, however, trace this “climate” back to something more complex, perhaps even more insidious — critical race theory. Progressives have long realized the importance of art in shaping culture. Robin Phillips in his article on German philosopher and sociologist Herbert Marcuse entitled The Illusionist, discussed the profound effect Marcuse’s theories have had on shaping American thought. Marcuse was part of a unique intellectual vision that came to be known as the Frankfurt School. The adherents were disillusioned with traditional Western society and values, believing that Western Civilization was something we needed saved from. Phillips summarizes the vision of the Frankfurt School thus:

That vision was essentially Marxist, but with a twist. Whereas Marx believed that power rested with those who controlled the means of production, the Frankfurt school argued that power rested with those who controlled the institutions of culture. The school would come to include sociologists, art critics, psychologists, philosophers, “sexologists,” political scientists, and a host of other “experts” intent on converting Marxism from a strictly economic theory into a cultural reality. (emphasis mine)

The Frankfurt School inevitably came to the United States where its vision was progressively embraced by American academia. Thus began the “sabotaging”  of American ideals, the deconstruction and revision of commonplace terminology, an appeal to youth (Marcuse was an intellectual guru of the 60’s counter-culture who invented the catchphrase “Make love, not war,”) and the slow takeover of “institutions of culture.” Publishing was one of those institutions of power. Ever wonder why the mainstream media, the arts, the entertainment industry, the halls of academia, major news outlets, and our youth culture primarily lean Left? Well, it didn’t happen overnight. It’s part of a decades’ long deconstruction of Western culture.

One element of this cultural morphology is intersectional theory. Wikepedia defines intersectionality as the,

…overlapping or intersecting [of] social identities and related systems of oppression, domination, or discrimination. Intersectionality is the idea that multiple identities intersect to create a whole that is different from the component identities. These identities that can intersect include gender, race, social class, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, age, mental disability, physical disability, mental illness, and physical illness as well as other forms of identity. These aspects of identity are not “unitary, mutually exclusive entities, but rather…reciprocally constructing phenomena.” The theory proposes that we think of each element or trait of a person as inextricably linked with all of the other elements in order to fully understand one’s identity.

In this way, Marxism and identity politics are inherently linked. As the Encyclopedia of Marxism puts it:

Identity politics is the political terrain in which various social groups engage in a “struggle for recognition” within bourgeois society, each seeking recognition for the special interests of a specific social group.

Intersectionality is the affirmation and recognition of “various social groups” and their “special interests.” These groups are parsed according to many elements — “gender, race, social class, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, age, mental disability, physical disability, mental illness, and physical illness.” Intersectional theory is intended as a framework for understanding “how systemic injustice and social inequality occur on a multidimensional basis.” Sensitivity readers, in theory, help the writer become aware of  these “various social groups” and their “special interests,” as well as a more complex, multidimensional, social web in which they exist; they help the author better understand fictional characters whose demographic particulars she doesn’t share.

However, it is its organic tether to Marxist theory that ultimately undermines the sensitivity reader movement.

Sensitivity Readers and Censorship

Beta readers are essential to novelists. These are the people whom, after the novel is completed, you submit it to for critique. Most writers will admit how essential this stage is to the process. Good beta readers will catch things that the author misses and give them a glimpse into other points-of-view that they may have missed. This will include many of the aforementioned “identity” issues.

When I completed my first novel, I submitted it to my then-writing group. As a new-ish author, this was a scary time. My protagonist was a handicapped, late-20-something, married white woman and mother of two. The feedback was mostly good, except for one common critique — the female POV. You should understand, our writing group consisted almost entirely of women. And so when they started getting back to me saying, “A woman wouldn’t think like that,” or “What about her purse, make-up, and jewelry?”, it made me realize that I indeed had a blind spot regarding a female point of view. It was quite helpful and led me to make some changes in the story.

In this way, beta readers used to perform a similar fiction to today’s sensitivity reader — they helped the author get a glimpse into other people groups, perspectives, genders, occupations, and modes of being.

So what has changed? Sensitivity readers are now more tethered a specific ideology, to multicultural Marxism and progressive social theory, than their beta-reading forerunners. Furthermore, their ultimate intent is not necessarily to make a particular story better, but to control a cultural narrative and suppress those it disagree with.

By atomizing individuals into various social groups based on status, sexual preference, age, wealth, skin color, handicap, etc., etc., we inevitably create an unending platform for grievance. In their article, Black Lives Matter is Bringing Back Traditional Marxism, the folks at The Federalist illustrate the absurd degree to which intersectional theory leads us:

Where Marxism prioritizes the class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat (or between black and white), the modern theory of intersectionality prioritizes differences between identity politic groups. It posits that while white women face marginalization for their sex, they gain privilege from their race. Conversely, black men gain privilege from their sex while facing marginalization because of their race. Black women experience “double jeopardy,” suffering from both sex and race. This creates a hierarchy of oppression that is in constant flux as new forms of marginalization are recognized. Intersectional theory fractures the class conflict from two opposed groups into an unlimited number of conflicts within the hierarchy of oppression.

Behind the sensitivity reader movement is the idea of “a hierarchy of oppression.” But what counts as “oppression” is in constant flux as cultural legislators churn out “an unlimited number of conflicts.” It potentially creates a no-win situation for the author… unless she is higher up the chain of the hierarchy of oppression. (Who’s at “the top” is anyone’s guess.) So according to intersectionality theory, because of their privilege white authors immediately lose points. Especially young healthy white authors.

Just ask Veronica Roth.

Via Huffington Post:

For months now, readers have talked about the problematic racial elements present in Divergent author Veronica Roth’s latest novel, Carve The Mark. Young Adult author Justina Ireland wrote about the damaging content in Carve The Mark and the now-postponed release The Continent. Readers on social media have carried on that conversation and as ARCs poured out into the world, some blogs even declined to include them in giveaways. Carve The Mark seemed poised to be the most problematic, rejected YA offering of 2017.

Roth was initially charged with worldbuilding that was “vaguely racist and relie[d] heavily on aspects of white supremacy.” After further scrutiny, Roth was also charged with “appropriating” the chronically pained. Apparently, the story involved individuals who were “gifted” with a type of chronic pain. In fact, Roth explained that she was inspired by some friends who have endometriosis (chronic pain). This, however, did not stop her from being charged with ableism. The HuffPo author concludes:

I don’t know how Roth’s friends with endometriosis feel about their pain being appropriated to make Roth, an already famous and successful author, more money. I don’t care to know because their opinions don’t represent every person suffering from chronic pain and won’t excuse the harm Roth has caused by depicting chronic pain as a “gift.” …The notion of suffering as a gift doesn’t make chronic pain patients feel better; it makes abled people feel better.

And so Roth, “an already famous and successful author,” is charged with appropriating the pain of others to leverage her privilege.

As much as supporters of sensitivity reading might disagree with such charges, this is the logical outcome of the ideology which drives them. Like the spider on its web waiting for the slightest tremor from its victim, the sensitivity reader sits poised, alert for the slightest possible offense. And when that “offense” is found, there’s only one logical conclusion — censorship.

Most often, this occurs in the form of “self-censorship.” As the author of the Chicago Tribune article noted, “This potential for offense has some writers scared.” Scared of what? Well, scared of being publicly shamed, called a racist or bigot, boycotted, or in the worst case, even losing a book contract. Which is why YA author Susan Dennard was preemptive when she wrote a transgendered character:

“I was nervous to write a character like this to begin with, because what if I get it wrong? I could do some major damage,” Dennard said. But, she added, she felt the voice of the character was an important one that wasn’t often portrayed, so she hired a fan, who is a transgender man, just to be sure she did it right.

Did it right? What does that mean? And who gets to say what it means to do a character right? Indeed, making sure my female characters act like females is reasonable. But isn’t THAT assertion itself somewhat condescending and sexist? I mean, do ALL women act and feel the same way? Who gets to say what it means to do a character right? Especially when you’re speaking for an entire gender, race, or class of person.

In his article Publishers now hiring ‘sensitivity readers’ to ensure political correctness at The American Thinker, Rick Moran concludes,

Self-censorship is still censorship and represents a threat to free speech. Certainly, portraying a black person as a shuffling, lazy character who eats fried chicken and watermelon is inappropriate. But beyond avoiding racial stereotypes, what responsibility does the author have to “marginalized” groups?

Can he portray a black man as a villain? Can he portray a woman as an airhead? Portraying “marginalized” characters as anything except heroic, smart, and beautiful is where “sensitivity readers” are driving the publishing industry.

The mentality that is now “driving the publishing industry” is dangerously Orwellian; it demonizes words, creates “a hierarchy of oppression,” divides and sub-divides humanity into protozoan complexity, and demands a positive, politically correct portrayal of the “constant flux [of] new forms of marginalization.” The sensitivity reader is, sadly, just a comrade in the Marxist reinvention of culture.

But as is true of most nonsensical social theories, they inevitably eat themselves. Later on in the Chicago Tribune article, one sensitivity reader, Dhonielle Clayton, expressed being conflicted about serving as a black reader for white authors:

On the one hand they help a writer create the experience of a marginalized group more authentically. On the other, they legitimize the mimicking of marginalized voices by non-marginalized writers. “It feels like I’m supplying the seeds and the gems and the jewels from our culture, and it creates cultural thievery,” Clayton said. “Why am I going to give you all of those little things that make my culture so interesting so you can go and use it and you don’t understand it?”

So on the one hand, authors are charged with a correct portrayal of marginalized individuals. On the other hand, when the privileged write about such groups, it’s a form of “cultural thievery.” Thus, sensitivity reading inevitable demands censorship. However, with a “constant flux” of marginalized groups and new, ever-changing grievances and micro-aggressions, the underlying theory can never escape the weight of its own unintelligence.

Conclusion

The Golden Rule is a wonderful ethic to live by. The author who seeks to live by such a rule is to be commended. But like all such principles, there’s balance. Seeking to understand the plight of minorities or marginalized people groups is a good thing. Acknowledging our own privilege is important. Heck, learning to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes is foundational to the creation of believable, sympathetic characters. However, parsing people groups into an ever-expanding menagerie of differences, acquiescing to voices of shame and censorship, straining at intersectional gnats and swallowing camels, and nit-picking every God-blessed work of storytelling to death is hardly the logical outcome of loving your neighbor.

If you really love your neighbor as yourself, then that means giving the author the benefit of the doubt; it means not rushing to conclusions, not demanding they NOT offend you, much less not staging boycotts and campaigns demanding they conform to your liking. Sure, if a book is blatantly biased or sexist or hateful or incendiary, that should be pointed out. But how far do we go in demanding that we not be offended, much less shaming those who portray a character that don’t quite up to our liking? In fact, shaming those who dismiss the need for sensitivity readers is insensitive and a violation of the Golden Rule.

Sensitivity readers could indeed accomplish some important things, providing the author with pivotal insights into different cultures and characters. However, it is the reader’s tether to multicultural Marxism and progressive social theory that undermines their input. When the primary intent of the sensitivity reader is not to make a particular story better, but to control a cultural narrative and perpetuate a “victim class,” it has morphed from being about art, to politics. That’s where it moves from being Love Your Neighbor 101 to Intersectional Nonsense.

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In his adaptation of the works of Edgar Allen Poe, Tales of Mystery and Imagination, prog-rock artist Alan Parsons employs Orson Wells to read some of Poe’s works. It’s a wonderful synthesis of lyric and melody. Against a dark orchestral background, the album opens with “A Dream Within a Dream,” which includes a reading from an obscure piece by Poe entitled “Marginalia.” In it, Poe describes “a class of fancies of exquisite delicacy which are not thoughts, and to which as yet I have found it absolutely impossible to adapt to language.” Poe often contemplated the chasm between our perceptions and reality, and sought to bridge this chasm between our brute intuitions of “a class of fancies of exquisite delicacy” and language. Nevertheless, adapt[ting them] to language,” he does. “And so I captured this fancy, where all that we see, or seem, is but a dream within a dream.” What’s interesting about this is what Poe saw as the “perfection of rhyme” and the importance that lyrical structure played in the evocation of these heightened states (see Marginalia 147).

Yes, Poe’s musings are often eccentric. However, this idea that sound and rhythm — that music — can evoke words and capture thoughts or emotions that were once ethereal is a near universal truth. Something that most every writer will know.  Perhaps that’s why writing to music is one of those odd, yet oft-discussed subjects among writers. Music can create an atmospheric scaffold to our stories, an ambiance or vibe that draws out words or emotions and propels the imagination forward.

So I thought it would fun to list some of my favorite music soundtracks to write by. Here’s ten, but there’s lots of others.

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Master and Commander, Various artists — The score for Peter Weir’s film is one I come back to over and over. Especially when I want my spirit lifted and a sense of the spray of salt water in my face. I don’t write to much classical music, as you’ll see, but this album is an exception. The original orchestral music is by Iva Davies, Christopher Gordon and Richard Tognetti. However, the album is more of a score by committee and ranges from warlike kettle drums to the soaring beauty of the violin & cello. Perhaps my favorite is the nine-minute piece, Boccherini: String Quintet in C, Op.30 No.6. You can listen to the whimsical tail of that song HERE.

Let Me In, Michael Giacchino  — Giacchino is amazingly versatile, scoring films as different as Dr. Strange, Lost, Rogue One, and The Incredibles. This is my “go to” horror soundtrack, with some genuinely eerie moments. Yet interspersed with the screeching violins and a mounting orchestral dread are some beautiful moments. The film is, after all, a love story between a boy and a “young” female vampire. Giacchino captures both the lonely innocence of the strange couple and the foul nature of hunger which looms between them.  This score is a wonderful blend of horror and sweetness. At Your Disposal is a great example.

Fight Club, The Dust Brothers — If you’ve seen the Fight Club, you know it’s an odd mix of dark humor, violence, sensuality, and gross-out catharsis. The soundtrack manages to capture this cauldron of emotion in a mix of quirky, techno-orchestral fusion. With titles like Medulla Oblongata, Psycho Boy Jack, and Commissioner Castration you’re pretty much guaranteed for a weird ride. For me, the soundtrack conjures a more urban, street smart, even anarchist-like vibe. Check out this snippet from Medulla Oblongota.

The Fountain, Clint Mansell and Kronos Quartet — This is, simply put, one of the most beautiful soundtracks I own. It hearkens unto Schindler’s List with its mournful violin and melancholic ambiance. A perfect compliment to the film which is a surreal contemplation of life, death, and the universe. The composers move from spare instrumental pieces to pulsating drumbeat and swelling orchestral. However, the overall mood of the soundtrack is one of melancholy. The opening piece, The Last Man, will give you a great example of this haunting, beautiful soundtrack.

The Beach, Various Artists — This soundtrack is a bit out of my norm. Like the movie, the tone is that of a mixture of emotions, ranging from upbeat Caribbean sounds, ambient/dance, to some more swelling evocative pieces. It’s comprised of a number of artists — Moby, New Order, Sugar Ray, and others which lends to the eclectic nature of the soundtrack. However, for me, the album mostly conjures an upbeat, feel-good mood. I genuinely get the sense of the nomadic world traveler sprawled on the tropical beach gazing up at the crystal night sky.  Moby’s Porcelain is a good place to start.

Bitches Brew, Miles Davis — No, this isn’t a soundtrack. But it definitely fits the category of soundscape– a jazzy, experimental melange of horn, drum, electric keyboard, and guitar. It was the dawning of the “new” Miles Davis, moving from his classic Kind of Blue jazz to a two-disc Jackson Pollock, an musical abstract of incredible proportions. At times, the songs are discordant and disorienting. At other times,  it’s rock fusion at its best. The album is hugely improvisational and wildly polarizing. Personally, I find it inspirational and bombastic. When I need to an uppercut to the imagination and a time out from real time, Bitches Brew fits the bill. You can stream the entire double album HERE.

The Insider, Lisa Gerrard and Pieter Bourke — Director Michael Mann is known for his stylish films, and this soundtrack is no exception. At first glance, the film’s plot and the music might seem incongruous. The film is about a whistle blower on the tobacco industry. However, listening to a piece like Sacrifice, which features the soaring vocals of an Arabic pray-er, one can quickly see that the soundtrack is aiming for more than just dramatic thrills. It’s passionate and gorgeous music, and a surprisingly good soundtrack that received a well-deserved Golden Globe nomination.

John Wick, Various Artists — This album reminded of another one of my favorite movie soundtracks,  the Matrix. Like that film, this score uses multiple artists and aims for a grungy, electronica-influenced sound. Largely consisting of shorter instrumental pieces, the soundtrack captures a gritty industrial sound (despite containing a nice jazzy lounge number). This is another good album for writing those hardcore urban scenes. Who You Talkin’ To Man? is one of my favorite songs on the album. Here’s the shortened version.

Amadeus, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and Sir Neville Marriner — Another one of my rare straight-up classical choices. Despite some of the operatic interludes, this is a great collection of Mozart’s work. And the movie is fantastic! There is wonderful breadth and passion to Mozart’s music, whether it’s a delightful gaiety or something darkly brooding. By far, my favorite piece is the Requiem in D Minor, which is sure to make my upcoming Best Horror Soundtrack.

Gladiator , Hans Zimmer — This album is a collaboration between a couple of stellar soundtrack artists — Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerard (The Insider). The soundtrack moves between swelling high action and serene, almost prayer-like refrains. Probably why it won the Golden Globe for the Best Original Score. When I need the highs and lows of cinematic inspiration, this is the soundtrack I turn to.  You can stream the entire album HERE.

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There’s lots of other soundtracks I write to. These would probably fall into an Honorable Mention category: Ghosts I-IV, Nine Inch Nails; The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring; The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place, Explosians in the Sky; Orange Mountain Music, Phillip Glass; The Matrix: Various Artists; Les Revenants, Mogwai ; Halo 3, Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori; Edward Scissorhands, Danny Elfman; Kill Bill Vol 1, Various Artists; Oblivion, M83.

I’d love to hear some of your recommendations!

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The end of 2016 left me rather exhausted, but I’m finally getting back into the writing groove. The project I’m most excited about is the third book in my Reagan Moon series. It’s tentatively entitled “The Third Golem.” Here’s a brief synop:

With the help of Ki, the Wayward Guardian, the Summu Nura seek to empower a chaos magician in his quest to create an artificial intelligence which can bridge all dimensions. As the Imperia continue to unravel, Reagan Moon must find the fabled Golem Prison in time to stop the creation of an android demigod who can control the Crossroads of Time.

I’m hoping to have the novel published by year’s end. I’m also gearing up for another possible venture into the non-fiction genre sometime mid-year, and currently weighing topical options. One last thing, I’m developing a short sci-fi / dystopian story about a team of “sciocists” (“sy-o-sists” scientific exorcists) employed by the military to sweep graveyards of “latent energy” who encounter a non-corporeal entity above their pay grade. Hoping to get that published as well. It’s a lot to accomplish in one year, I know. But I’d rather aim high and fail than be successfully average. 🙂

Here’s a few other writing related updates:

Wickers Bog is now available in audiobook. I’ve described Wickers Bog as a “Tale of Southern Gothic Horror.” Technically, it’s considered a novelette — longer than a “short story” (which usually max out at about 7500 words) but shorter than a novella (which start around the 20,000 word range). Wicker Bog falls somewhere in between. Novelist Amy Brock McNew provides the narration, and she does a fantastic job capturing the youthful zeal of my protagonist and the eerie vibe of the haunted swamp and its folklore. You can purchase a copy of Wickers Bog on Audible HERE.

Later this month, I’ll be part of an author panel at Gatsby Books in Long Beach, CA. Joining me will be YA authors Rachel Marks and Merrie Destefano, along with sci-fi / space opera writer Paul Regnier. We’ll be talking about our writing, taking questions from the audience, and signing books. If you’re in the area, please make plans to visit us at Gatsby’s.

This week I’m giving away three autographed paperback copies of “The Ghost Box” at Goodreads. You can enter the Goodreads Giveaway HERE.

Speaking of “The Ghost Box,” I have a few complimentary codes for a free download of the audiobook version of the novel. The story is narrated by Randy Streu who does a great job capturing the snark and humanity of my lovable paranormal PI. If you listen to audiobooks and would like a code for a complimentary download while they last, please Message me on one of my social media sites or email me.

Finally, I’ve been added to the faculty of the upcoming SoCal Christian Writers Conference, which is being held at the beautiful Biola Campus in La Mirada, CA. They’re really compiling a fantastic staff with writers like Rachel Marks, Shannon Dittemore, Patrick Carr, Tosca Lee, and screenwriter Brian Godawa. You can see the list of speakers HERE. I’ll be teaching a workshop on “Writing for the General Market” and be available for individual appointments to discuss anything you’d like. You can find out more about the conference and/or register HERE.

Thanks for reading and being interested in my writing. Have a great week!

 

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The God Above Gods? Limits of Polytheism in Fiction

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In response to a piece I wrote several weeks ago, Can All Myths Be Redeemed?, novelist H.G. Ferguson agrees that “myths can and should be redeemed, but there is a danger here.” Part of that danger, according to Ferguson, is “reproduction, not redemption.” More specifically, reproducing a polytheistic worldview instead of replacing it with a biblical, […]

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Morally Ambiguous Superheroes Only Reinforce Moral Absolutes

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Morally ambiguous superheroes are trending. Whether it’s Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War, where no one character was unquestionably in the right, Batman v. Superman fighting each other for… I’m not sure, or Deadpool‘s R-rated schizophrenia, contemporary superheroes have apparently transitioned into our age of postmodern relativism. In ‘Spawn’ Reboot Could Refine Good vs Evil In Superhero Films, this Inverse […]

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Can All Myths Be Redeemed?

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Novelist Elijah David asks the right questions in his post at Speculative Faith, C.S. Lewis Redeemed Myths, and So Should We. Using Tumnus the Faun, Lewis sought to “redeem” what was an historically conniving character, and convert it to something less vulgar. “[F]auns in classical mythology were often far nastier than Lewis’ depiction.” Yet Lewis […]

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The Physics of Angelology

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In the Book of Daniel chapter 10, the prophet Daniel encounters an angelic superpower who arrives in answer to his prayers. However, the angel says he was “detained” for 21 days and had to be assisted by another angel, Michael, “one of the chief princes” (vs. 13). The reason for needing assistance has to do […]

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Rethinking Christian Geek Culture

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In Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide, author Brett McCracken analyzes a growing sub-culture within the Western Church — Millennial postmodern believers seeking to mesh trendiness with spirituality. McCracken concludes that while aspiring to be culturally relevant, Christians need not compromise Truth for being “cool.” In fact, “coolness” and/or “hipness” exist on a sliding scale. Meshing […]

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Winterland Now Free for Kindle

Winterland: A Dark Fairy Tale is my most personal story, as well as one of my personal favorites. Yes, it’s really bizarre. Which is why I describe in terms of “surreal,” “fairy tale,” and ‘dark fantasy.” However, while Winterland is a journey through a bleak landscape with strange, often disgusting, characters, it is also a journey […]

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Does Biological Evolution Explain Our “Inborn Hunger” for Stories?

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Storytelling is an ancient custom, existing long before recorded history. While the mediums and methods have changed, stories continue to fascinate mankind. It’s a thread that traces as far back as the dawn of human history. Perhaps even more interesting are the thematic elements that humans consistently return to. Mythicist Joseph Campbell gathered these threads […]

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