I posted the above sentence on my personal Facebook wall a couple of weeks ago. It’s not original. I heard the idea expressed on a podcast on the drive to work, and it stuck with me.

It’s still sticking. Why is it, I wonder, that we so often assume bad intentions in others?

I think it’s because it’s easier than assuming good. Easier and, weirdly, safer. We see some kind of protective value in suspicion. If we give others the benefit of the doubt and they really are trying to hurt us, we’re at greater risk.

But if we assume rotten motives, our guard goes up. The defenses stay intact. We’re secure.

Except, of course, we’re not. It’s all smoke and mirrors, and that’s true either way. The only thing assuming bad intentions wins you is more angst and fewer friends.

I’m not saying you should be careless about who you trust. But I don’t think it serves you or your interests to perceive evil in the thoughts and actions of others on a regular basis. That just makes you miserable.

Instead, I think it’s better to assume good in others. Better for your overall sense of peace, and better for your art.

Look, the world is full of cynics. Bitter, angry, seething cynics. They have high cholesterol and low self-esteem. Is that what you want? Is that the place you want your art to flow out of?

You can try to dodge the truth all day, but ultimately your philosophy of life is the birthplace of every artistic effort you make. If you bath yourself in pessimism, your art will show it.

Can I invite you to consider a better course? Assume good intentions in others.

Don’t let anger be your guide. Lose the skepticism and embrace a sense of hope. Your relationships will be benefit, you’ll feel better, and your art will give something to the world, even when you feel pulled to wrestle with difficult topics.

Creative Coaching

It’s not inspiring or beautiful, at least not in a conventional way. It’s not what anyone wants art to be about. It ultimately serves a greater purpose, but in a way that feels as draining as it feels empowering.

What is the obligation of the artist to speak to real issues, especially where suffering, injustice and oppression are concerned?

Speaking candidly, I don’t know that artists are obligated, per se. If you don’t feel pulled toward an issue, I see no reason to force yourself to address it. Conversely, if you do feel pulled toward an issue but recognize that it’ll be tough to tackle, that’s not a great reason to avoid it.

In my own writing, I sometimes gravitate toward what I know is controversial ground. Maybe not to the world at large, but to some of the people in my own life, at the very least. In those cases, I’d rather be hated for telling the truth than loved for lying.

And, yeah. I know. Not everyone perceives failure to tell the whole truth as deception. I’m too honest for my own good.

I’m also reminded of this quote, which I’ve adapted to better suit the times:

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [people] to do nothing.”

– Edmund Burke

I can’t deal with every evil in the world. My art can’t address every injustice. I don’t have the time or energy or (frankly) arrogance to even try.

But when an injustice pulls at me, and when it feels like it fits something I’m working on, I run with it. I assume that’s Vye tugging on my sleeve, urging me to use my gift, feeble though it may be, to attempt something good.

That’s what I do.

What about you? Do you think artists should take a stand? If so, to what degree? And when?

the 9“Ignorance is not innocence but sin.”

— Robert Browning

It’s not my day to post fiction, but some readers may find the following to be a different kind of horror.

I’d say I’m sorry, but I’m not.

I’m not sorry for weighing in. I’m not sorry for speaking out. I’m certainly not sorry for suggesting that truth matters more than some kind of poorly constructive alternative. And I’m not sorry for suggesting that we, as artists, should make our voices heard in every available medium.

Sometimes a celebrity, often an actor, will take advantage of their publicity to make a political statement. When that happens, there’s an inevitable critique. “Stick to acting. No one cares about your politics. That’s not what we pay you for.”

Bullshit.

What good is art if all it does is entertain? Sure, there’s value in entertainment, but there’s a rich history of artists using their art as vehicles of a message. And we need that now. Badly.

Whether her sound is your cup of tea or not, Lady Gaga showed us that even pop music can deliver a punchy (if somewhat subtle) message. Her Super Bowl Half-Time performance wasn’t an overt political statement…but it so was. And it was beautiful.

Never before in the history of humanity has it been easier to verify truth. To call out liars. To know, with reasonable certainty, what is fact and what is fiction.

And yet, we live in a day when powerful leaders choose to distort fact, banking on the laziness and prejudice of the masses to mask their rather obvious lies.

I’ll say it again. Bull. Shit.

Look, if you don’t want your art, in whatever form it manifests, to be all about politics, I get it. I held off sharing my own views on marriage equality until I just couldn’t take it anymore. I didn’t want to drive potential readers away because they objected to my views. And besides, I write horror and fantasy. It’s not like it would be hard for those so inclined to casually dismiss my opinions.

But if artists are afraid to speak and speak boldly, we’re in real trouble.

I’m not telling you what your politics should be. You may well disagree with mine. That’s fine. What I am telling you, my fellow artist, is this: don’t shy away from talking about the stuff that matters.

Don’t run from truth in your art. Embrace it.

And this is where following my own advice gets dodgy. This isn’t a fiction piece. This is me, my voice, my opinion laid bare. But I’m the one who has to look myself in the mirror each day, and I sincerely feel it’s important to say what I’m about to say.

President Trump is a bully, and a powerful one at that. That makes him dangerous.

He lies frequently, sometimes for no reason other than his own inflated sense of self. He’s on record (as in, there’s a literal recording of him) bragging that he can and has gotten away with sexual assault. He doesn’t respond to critics in dialogue, but pushes to simply shut them up, even if those critics are respected members of the journalistic press. His pride is so overwhelming and so obvious that it distorts every single interaction he’s a part of.

We’ve seen world leaders embrace this style of command before. The results are never good.

I’d write a horror story with a toupee-wearing, orange-skinned villain, but it would fail to fully capture the very real terror that is his vision of America. Of the world. So instead, I’m speaking out against him here, now, in a very candid way.

Keep marching. Keep protesting. Keep fact-checking, and ranting, and talking. Discuss his power plays in the coffee shop, at church, and over dinner. Don’t stop. A rabid dog is only as dangerous as his leash is long.

Hell, even if you support him, surely you don’t want an America in which the president can do whatever he pleases, unchecked. That would be the downfall of our entire system. Even if you believe in him, I hope you believe in democracy more.

And if you’re an artist, find ways to embody messages of hope, love, equality and inclusion in your art. Those themes frequently pop up in my stories, even the ones that are full of blood and guts. Pull that stuff into your art, too.

In short, stand. Stand up and stand out for what you believe.

The world needs your voice, now more than ever.

Such an obvious truth, and so profound.

For the writer, the takeaway is dead simple.

Think about your writer friends. (You have writer friends, right? If not, get on that. Really. Like, now.) If your writer friends are the kind of people who seem to enjoy bitching about the writing process, don’t be surprised when your own writing times become very unfun.

The voices of the people around you shape how you see the world. That’s true in writing and in life.

Surround yourself with the kind of people who make your life better.

On WritingI wrote under a pen name for years.

In the beginning, it had a lot to do with anonymity. I knew many of my conservative friends and family would take issue with my stories. I like to romp around in dark territory. Not everyone is down with that.

But in time I cared less and less what the disapproving might think. And yet, I held to that pen name for a long-ass time.

Why?

Because it became more than a name for me. It became a persona. It was the writing me. I settled into that identity, freeing my mind to wander wherever it wanted when I assumed that name. I thought of it as a character, really.

When it came time to decide what name would appear on the cover of my first book (due out this year, hopefully sooner rather than later), I had a real dilemma on my hands. Use the pen name or my name?

On the advice of my publisher, I chose my own name. But I kept the persona.

In many ways, that persona is the badass me. The real me. The me I aspire to be. Why would I ditch that? Hell, I want to live that as often as I can.

So I ask, fellow writer, what’s your writing persona? Even if you don’t write under a pen name, you likely have one. Why is that identity important to you, and–here’s the money question–how can you pull the bassassery of that identity into your real, non-writing life?

I know. Deep stuff.

But please, give it some thought. The identity you write under matters, and whether you use your own name or not, it says a lot about you. The person you want to be as a writer is the real you.

Who is that person, and how can you be more like him/her all the time?

Lies

I hate being lied to. It’s a pet peeve of mine. An epic pet peeve.

If it were a literal animal, it would be one I keep in a pit. When someone dares to lie in my presence, I’d casually throw a hidden lever and watch them disappear down a trap door. When they landed hard on the dungeon-like surface below, I’d holler down, “Have fun playing with my pet!”

That kind of pet peeve.

It bothers me in personal relationships, it bothers me in business, and it bothers me in fiction. Don’t say one thing about a character, for example, and then double back later and alter your previous declaration. That’s not a twist. That’s a lie, and it’s the laziest kind of writing.

It’s also the easiest way to create the ever allusive plot twist. Hell, in that capacity it’s foolproof. You know, except for the fact that it’s cheating.

If you ask me, plot twists are overrated. Strong fiction doesn’t need a forced, fabricated twist to make it interesting. It’s already interesting. The best twists are the ones the writer didn’t even see coming, even (and maybe especially) in horror. After all, that’s how life works. Full of curve balls.

(I hate sports metaphors, and here I am using one. How’s that for a twist?)

However, the suspense genre tends to regard plot twists as essential. In fact, that’s what many of us take ‘suspense’ to mean. There has to be a twist. So if you’re doing that kind of writing and you want to incorporate a truly tantalizing twist without cheating, here’s out you do it.

Work for it.

Construct a scenario that’s just right. One that’s misleading without ever lying to your readers. Develop complex characters in a fictional world that’s fully fleshed out. Pace the story, allowing the plot to unfold at its own natural pace. Resign yourself to the fact that you will not nail it on the first draft, instead writing several drafts of the damn thing–10 or more is not out of the question–as it will take a while to get everything down right. And when you’re done, hack it to bits looking for holes (real holes) and inconsistencies.

Earn the title ‘author’ by being one. Refuse to take the easy way out.

If you’re going to do plot twists, do ’em right. There’s no shortage of lies and lairs in the world. You don’t need to sacrifice your fiction or your integrity for the sake of a nonexistent deficit.

Think You Can

I both love and hate that quote.

I hate it because it’s overused. It’s become trite. It’s the kind of thing money-grubby sales managers scrawl on white boards before sales meetings. It makes me want to rolls my eyes and reply with something bitingly cynical. I get annoyed every time I hear someone repeat it because I’ve heard it so much.

And because it’s true.

That’s the worst of it. No matter how much people over-apply it, there’s still an enormous amount of truth in it, especially as it applies to writing. Which, of course, is why I love it.

I’m not saying self-confidence can overcome a complete lack of talent or preparation or real effort. That would be insane. But assuming you have some degree of aptitude, the degree to which you believe in yourself will dictate significant elements of the outcome.

I know. That sounds like the moral at the end of an after school special. Roll your eyes if you want. I’d roll mine, too. Just be sure when you’re done with all that eye rolling you consider the truth of it. While there are a ton of other things you can and should to do better yourself as a writer, the one step you simply cannot avoid is believing you’re up to it.

See? Now you love it and hate it, too.

Geez.

It’s 11:01 pm, and I almost forgot to post something today. Too many irons in the fire!

There’s a lot I could say about the quote below, but it speaks pretty well for itself so I’ll just leave it at that. I sincerely hope all is well in your writing world.

The Truth