14 April, 2014

Talent is a poor word for passion--what the hell does that mean?

That phrase, "Talent is a poor word for passion," used to be in my blog's header. It's gone now, not because I don't agree with it, but because it's no longer what this blog is about.

I want to be clear. I believe everyone who has sought this blog out looking for creative writing advice can achieve their goals. I want to explain why I believe that, and in what way. If you're a devout believer that talent makes the artist, perhaps you'll find this alternative perspective interesting. For those who don't believe in talent, you might find this post an interesting toolkit to use in arguments of your own.

Most people believe in talent, but what are they really saying? Let's examine the notion. Note: I'm not examining whether or not there's anecdotal evidence. Of course there is. I'm examining the reasoning behind the believer's interpretation of that evidence. Either they're talking about mysticism (that talent is a magical quality no one can define) or they're talking about science. Let's give them credit and assume they're trying to talk about genetics.

You can have a genetic predisposition towards a thing. You can be made tall, have a good bone weight to muscle mass ratio, and be the physical archetype of a basketball star. You can have a good lung capacity and the aforementioned light frame, and be the physical archetype of an Olympic cyclist. That doesn't make you a cyclist or a basketball star. Loving basketball enough to practise it every day will make you a basketball star. If you really enjoy playing basketball, enough that you want to compete in the NBA, odds are you already possess the genetics (at least to some extent) and a heavy dose of the conditioning.

You can have a predisposition to have an acute mind. Being a good mathematician, engineer or artist does require intellectual acuity. But can one have acuity in a specific direction? Perhaps it's possible that one brain can be better at calculation, another at creativity, or even emotional intelligence. But will that make a person choose a particular career?

Does it sound ridiculous yet? How does mental acuity determine whether one becomes a writer, when there are so many other options open to the mentally acute? It doesn't. Genetics can determine the potential for talent, but scientifically speaking, you can not simply be born with such a specific gift. Believe it if you wish, but you are accepting mysticism, not thinking scientifically. That's fine, but everyone who believes in talent needs to pause for a moment, reflect upon that and admit it.

One can, if we believe mental genetic predispositions can be so specific as to design the perfect hypothetical artist (note: look up "neuroplasticity" if you want to stop believing in the prevalence of that) but conditioning still must play its role! If you think everyone always strives for success in the area they're best at, thus genetics leads to conditioning, then you're defeating your own argument, because again, in your argument, passion becomes talent--not the other way around. (If you're having trouble following that, the argument goes: genetics = passion, passion = conditioning, conditioning = talent.) Passion is, to you, created by genetics. Still it retains its prevalence. It's just been redefined (and rather poorly, in my opinion).

Now, let's get back to the world of sanity, in which we care about understanding the things we argue against, and can spell "neuroplasticity" well enough to look it up on the search engine of our choice. In this world, even if a brain can be genetically predisposed so specifically, which it almost certainly can't, mental training trumps it like a royal flush versus a six (the lowest "high" card without having a pair or a straight). If you need anecdotal evidence, ask yourself how many great artists had parents who were not themselves great artists. The correct answer is, "Almost all of them."

Mental acuity will not, for instance, make a person decide to be a physicist. Having mental acuity enough to fall in love with physics, then being compelled by that love to learn a lot about it, will make you a physicist. What about being a great physicist?

As Albert Einstein said, "There's nothing special about me.  I'm just passionately curious."

Contrary to popular myth, Albert Einstein did not have a phenomenally high IQ. His IQ was 160. That's well above average, of course. It's special, but not amazing. It puts him in the 99.99nth percentile. Back then, the figure would have been higher. But there are a great many people in the world, and Albert Einstein won't have been 1/10,000 (or whatever) among physicists.

Albert Einstein was not the most mentally acute physicist in the world. He was not preordained. God never came down from heaven and said, "Hey, Albo! You will envisage the theory of relativity and go some way to disproving my existence!"

On the contrary, if there was something unique about Albert Einstein, it was the fact that he explored theories with intense creative rigour. He was more reflective on past knowledge, and did not accept the institutionally preordained. He was a seeker, looking farther than the knowledge already offered him.

Again, hypothetically he could (though we've gone some way to evidence that he couldn't) be perfectly genetically designed to be the best physicist of his age, IF he became a physicist, and thus it's a matter of luck that we had the right man in the right job. Really? Luck had him become a physicist, see the correct information, process it in the correct way and write his thesis? Again, we have genetics playing a minor role, so to think his being genetically designed was of serious significance, we are talking about destiny, not science.

This brings me to my next point. I see intelligence as a value judgement. Culture has decided that mental "horse power" is worth more than emotional awareness, for instance, so we label the former as intelligence. (Argue with that if you wish. Just accept that it's my chosen definition, and it's a valid one. It's based upon seeing the word "intelligence" as holding inherent cultural value, as opposed to defining it specifically as "mental horse power". Either way is obviously valid.)

Now, what do I value? For me, the ultimate form of intelligence is reflection. Albert Einstein did not accept the academic norms. He reflected upon them and invented something new. I do not loft myself to his standard, but like him, I do not accept the completeness what I have been told to believe. I do not believe all questions have been answered, and I don't believe all answers are correct.

What I do believe is that failure to reflect is the definition of idiocy. A lack of reflection was not always idiotic. The best method for learning is trial and error. If a thing has worked for generations, that thing should be done. The thing is, these days, people are choosing ignorance, and that choice, that conscious (passive or not) decision, is my definition of idiocy.

What we're talking about here is people with educations, with the benefits of science, and with an internet search engine where one flutter of the fingers into Google's homepage can teach you almost anything. What it can't give you is understanding. So, because people crave understanding, many find it in the safety of the culturally preordained. They consume knowledge but do not use it to think for themselves.

You can, for instance, look up whether neurologists these days believe in the left brain, right brain phenomenon. The answer is "sort of", and "some do". Thus the correct answer is "Hold on. We're working on it." The answer is not the resounding "yes" that most people think it is because they heard about it on the Discovery Channel back in the 1980s, or perhaps heard it from their parents. Thus even the idea that an acute mind can be designed for a particular type of task is in question.

People crave understanding, and they are given multiple options. On one extreme, we have a rejection of all assumption, seeking new understanding--the intellectual renegade, the seeker. On the other extreme, we have the person who asks no questions, seeking understanding in what they have been told.

In our culture of high education and the availability of information, we have a new intellectual life-form. This person assures himself of his own intelligence based upon an encyclopedic knowledge of the culturally and academically preordained. He is the pseudo-intellectual. They can be articulate. They can be knowledgeable and a tough opponent in a debate. What they can not do is think.

That idiocy is everything I try to fight against with my work. That idiocy is a choice, a comforting intellectual apathy.

I created this blog because I believe in helping the passionate achieve their goals. I do not believe there is anything special about me. I do, however, believe in examining cultural institutions and asking questions. Given that genetics can not scientifically create "talent", when people believe some to be more inherently special than others, they are succumbing to cultural mysticism, which is a thing I utterly despise.

Do I still seem insane for not believing in talent? We have established it is neurologically impossible, and it's the product of mental acuity and conditioning. That sounds, to me, like great ability in any particular subject or activity isn't preordained. It sounds like it is acquired through passion.

That's why I didn't give up when I couldn't get a book deal just by sitting around listening to Nirvana and thinking about how everything sucks. I realised I needed to, like Kurt Cobain did when he spent all day writing songs and practising guitar until he fell asleep every night, start getting good at expressing how and why things suck. This cultural mysticism is one fine example, in my opinion, of something that sucks. Pseudo-intellectualism is even worse. I will do everything I can in my art, and on my blog, to destroy them. That's my job. I'm an artist.

12 March, 2014

My Last Words to/on Hanif Kureshi

This post is a final note on Hanif Kureshi's baloney-heap. I've been flamed a little by his fans at the Guardian. I've also been asked if I can really possibly believe that talent isn't innate. Yes, blast it. I do. I don't see why this is so hard to understand. I do not believe that some humans are better than others. It is a tiny step to believe in innate intelligence, or innate emotional awareness--each of which being vital for a writer's profession--to believe that one person can have more innate ability as an artist than another. I believe intelligence is acquired through conditioning, success is acquired through self-belief, and emotional awareness is acquired through caring for your fellow humans.

One person in particular asked, again flabbergasted, about my lack of faith in innate talent, in a very articulate manner that warranted a good response. I'm posting my response here partly because it involves something that can be construed as writing advice. I'll elaborate on the opening of veins in the future, as it has to do with some famous advice and how I've interpreted it as an artist.

For now,  we'll talk more about writerly (not actually a word, but it should be) education. Bear in mind, when we discuss talent versus uselessness, we're talking about people who want to be writers. They read a lot, they study the craft, they dream about being a writer. If there are innate qualities that drive people into certain interests, like for instance intellect, they have already taken action, pointing the individual towards certain passions and roads in life. These are the kinds of people who study Creative Writing at university, and they are whom Hanif Kureshi was criticising.

Response begins:

I'm specifically talking about Hanif's attitude as an educator. For instance, I taught guitar to put myself through my MFA. I've had ham-handed students who don't take naturally to the instrument, but it's my job to believe in them and treat them accordingly. They'd have a difficult road if they wanted to be truly excellent, but that shouldn't stop them.

As for intellectual abilities, which include the artistic, I don't believe in innate talent at all, and neither do conscientious modern neurologists or psychologists, but I don't want to write an essay here about neuroplasticity. A great starting point, fascinating for many reasons beyond our purposes here, is The Shallows by Nicholas Carr. I'll summarise one pertinent fact: the only factor still being watched as a possible determinant of innate intellect is called "working memory", but neuroscience has recently entered a new phase. It isn't right to make assertions when we understand so little, and good scientists are keeping their mouths shut and their eyes opened. That's off topic, but I find it interesting. And I don't want to get drawn into a debate about talent as a neurological or sociological construct. I'd enjoy it in person, but not on a comments page.

It's easy to take things wrong on comments pages so let me add that I believe your point is a valid one in spite of my disagreeing. The only thing I take issue with, again, is that an educator like Hanif has labelled his students as talented or not talented. Regardless of anyone's opinions about talent, that's a bad attitude for a teacher. A teacher should be honest about the hardships to come. I've told people that they didn't have "talented fingers", but I've also said that having to try harder to hit each chord may have benefits later down the road, as they're learning to pay close attention to their fingers. The students with "talented fingers" usually tended to jump ahead, get a song up to a passable standard and want to move on. My job was to temper their enthusiasm and turn them towards useful directions.

Every student is an individual and a good teacher understands, acknowledges and deals with whatever individual issues that person may have.

Here's a good example. Steve Erickson said to me that I was a natural storyteller, and that would be my biggest problem. What the smeg did that mean? So I had talent, and that was going to screw me up? It made no sense, and I didn't know what to do about it. Later down the road, I looked at the huge pile I'd written. (I'm really, really fast when I want to be. Stephen King is less fast.) Upon reflection, I'd jumped the gun on many a story, written something technically decent but ultimately soulless. I had themes. I'm only interested in fiction with themes, so the stories didn't lack "political purpose" in the Orwellian sense. The problem was regarding the story's depth. I had to, as Damon Knight once put it to a Clarion student, "learn to sit at the keyboard and open a vein."

Message ends.  A further note:

The reason it’s perceived that most students of creative writing programs fail is that we set the marker for success so high. We do not expect everyone who studies physics to become a physicist. I’d wager around 1/1000 will, and yet the degree serves its purpose, as those who study it will use the knowledge, or at least their experience of having been to university, in later life. Those who become physicists are the ones who really love physics, not the ones who aren't too dumb. Of the people on my MFA, I’m a writer with an agent and publications under my belt, my fiancĂ©, Ruth is an excellent writer finishing up her first novel, two are editors, one is a web designer for publishing companies, one works in advertising, and the rest I didn’t care to keep in touch with. That seems like a good hit rate to me.

Here's another pointless picture for pinterest, alliteration unintentional. It's not totally pointless, though, as it will be my last words to Hanif, and anyone who thinks Creative Writing programs are "useless". Much as I'd rather not say such things over the internet, I doubt I'll have the chance to say this in person to would-be authors who don't believe in the craft. Something tells me I won't be meeting them at conventions. Plus, readers, if success ever turns me into enough of a pretentious douchebag to forget I had to work for it, and that I'm not just more talented than any reader who has aspirations of publishing a book one day, please, please beat the crap out of me and paint this on the wall with my blood:

06 March, 2014

Hanif Kureshi's Brain

It turns out Hanif Kureshi, who teaches Creative Writing at Kingston University, thinks most of his students are talentless hacks.



My readers will know, obviously, that I believe strongly in writing as a craft. Were this not the case, the theme of the first two years of Everest by Fog would have been very different. Most of my posts on the craft would have said things like, "Go away!" and "Stop wasting my time!"

I don't think many of you would have read it.

I studied on the Kingston MFA with Scott Bradfield and Paul McAuley. I was advised and encouraged by Stephen Jones, Steve Erickson and Christopher Priest to name but a few. My first novel, Paint the Raven Black, has found representation at a top tier agency. I've fared well since leaving Kingston, and Scott set me on a good road. I went to the MFA reaching out, wishing to speed up a process I was already feverishly engaged with.

It's true that some teachers were obsessed with "voice" and various other subjectivities, but Scott stuck to principles of narrative psychology that can indeed be taught. You can't write symphonies without first learning to play the piano. The very idea that writing should be exempt from such objectivities is elitist and illogical. Iain Banks said in an interview just before his death that authors do a great deal to encourage the mystique surrounding the art. He and I, when we met thanks to my association with Paul McAuley, agreed that accomplished nothing but to distance readers from our work. Once it was a distinction between the average person and the intelligentsia. Now it is sociologically destructive as well as obsolete.

I'll say to Hanif's credit that the learning process and the materials necessary to master the craft of fiction are less obvious than those of other arts. We deal purely with reader psychology. I will add, however, that a true master of the craft not only recognises this, but is capable of imparting their understanding.

Learning the craft is a road we ultimately walk alone, but Scott offered me signposts that catch my eye to this day. I'd be curious to know what, if anything, Hanif teaches, because talent is just a poor word for passion, and a wordsmith, let alone an explorer of the human heart, should know better.

It only takes a little reflection to realise that one can not believe in inherent human equality while still believing in talent. Before we try to produce work that isn't pretentious drivel, we must examine the notion that we're better than our readers. If we aren't pretentious twits, we'll swiftly see its fallacy.

There's some name dropping in this post, I'll admit, but I've done if for a reason. Everyone mentioned here advised me and believed in me. I mention them because they were my heroes, people I wished to count myself among, and when given the opportunity to show them my work and my attitude, they thought something of me, too. If I had the words for how that made me feel, I wouldn't need to tell stories in order to express such vital emotions. I learned not only that I could accomplish my goals given enough effort and time, but that hero worship was unhealthy, because my heroes were only human, just like me.

Hanif won't read this, but I don't mind. As a well-liked alumni of Kingston I will, presuming he doesn't get fired, get to say what I think in person soon enough.

I'll post his smug face here just so I can stick this post on Pintrest.

Hanif Kureishi There.

18 February, 2014

The Book is Finished

At long last, my journey is at a new phase.

The greatest argument against snootiness in art is as follows:  sometimes trite comments are the truest to life.  That's why they're trite.  They've been repeated one too many times.  They are the wisdom of the ages.

Here's my trite comment.  I can now say with authority that each written book is a chapter of one's life.

I've learned a great deal from writing this.  I want to thank every one of my readers for their support and interest.  Writing this blog was, until I exited so called "real life" to enter the temporal vortex in which I finished my novel, cathartic.

I wanted to share my journey, and to give readers a little piece of myself.  The craft of writing is, I believe, beautiful.  One can never master it anymore than one can master the human soul.  That last is a word for which we haven't even a definition, and that is why I must write stories.  If I ever manage to capture a piece of that wonder and offer it to you, I will be thankful for everyone I reach.

Here on Everest by Fog I wanted to share my journey, and invite readers to learn alongside me.  It was never my intention to dictate.  I was lucky enough to be taught by some great writers, and I was glad to impart knowledge as I came to understand it.  I'm sure I'll continue learning.  As I said, the process is never complete, and such is the beauty of art.

Now the journey changes.  I hope you'll continue to follow me on it, and I hope we can continue to take inspiration from each other.  I'm sure to continue learning the craft, and I'll share the tidbits that excite me.  Mostly, however, I'll be learning what it is to be a professional writer--actively seeking inspiration and dodging the many bullets, and hopefully reaching the occasional destination, of the industry.

Truth be told, I don't know what exactly lies ahead, but like any compulsive writer, I'll write about it.  And like any artist, I'll be honoured if you keep reading.

20 January, 2014

Truer words were never spoken.


A Plea for Awareness

It doesn't seem to me like many people noticed, but we've lost one of the most significant battles of modern times. It is now possible for corporations to sue governments. I have little doubt that the apathy our world's distractions breed will keep most people from considering the symbolic significance of this, but this is a decisive assault on liberty. Governments were our only recourse to fight against the wild vagaries of power and greed. It is not a question of evil overlords. It is a question of the nature of economics. Economics does not care for individual freedom. It cares only for competition, and thus power. Economics is inherently dictatorial.

Democracy is a state of affairs in which the natural urges of power must be regulated by a larger authority (the people). Democracy is not freedom. It is regulation upon the freedom to subdue and be subdued. That is precisely why Ayn Rand was a short-sighted imbecile. She did not understand that pure freedom leads inevitably to fascism. One only needs to look at history to realise that free societies eventually have chiefs, that chiefs become kings, and kings become emperors. Emperors were at last disenfranchised not by violent revolution but by a long process of the arts acquiring influence over politics while the sciences acquired influence over economics. This process culminated in a period rightly called the Enlightenment.
I reiterate for those for whom it's necessary: in a free society, a powerful body has the right to subdue, enslave, or even kill a less powerful body. This is natural. This is a tiger eating a deer. In a regulated society, the people as a whole can make decisions such as "Slavery is wrong." Then action can be taken on this decision's behalf, like how Britain began patrolling the coast of Africa arresting slave trader vessels for many years in 1807, and paid Portugal £750,000 (a lot of money back then) and Spain £400,000 to cease trading, or like how Canada declared all Canadian residents free in 1819. Slavery was economic efficiency having control over human lives. People decided it was wrong. Money disagreed. That's why the voice of the people, the government, had to make it illegal. We earned our right to a government. It was a long and hard battle, and it was our communal voice that stood against oppression. It was a government that stopped the ships circling Africa like wasps around a beehive. It was the government that stopped the East India Company from exploiting India in 1874 with the East India Stock Dividend Redemption Act. In every historical circumstance you can name, ever since the voice of the common person mattered in government, it's been the government that's championed human rights against a free economy.
(Another side-note: I would love to live in a world without governments, but it won't work so long as people are capable of being ignorant, self-oriented scum, and such scum are capable of becoming powerful.)

For governments to be sued over policies that their people have helped dictate, in democratic fashion, is for powerful, privately vested interests to have greater say over a nation's actions and decisions than the people themselves. It is Ayn Rand's ideal of free economics. It is the ideal of Freemasonry, unregulated economics and the natural and inevitable subduction of the weak by the strong. It is an ancient ideal, centuries behind the society our ancestors worked so hard to evolve into. It is nothing less than an ancient evil. Humanity is now absolutely disenfranchised. All you see around you, all the freedom you enjoy, is now an illusion. We are now truly ruled, and our relationship with the powerful is that of emperors and serfs. Break the illusion. Don't think I'm crazy. This is a vital moment in history, and the tragic fact is, nobody's looking or listening.

The amazing horror is, society is now so reliant on what these corporations offer, I see no realistic, immediate means of fighting them. I don't believe this to have been a conspiracy, but I couldn't have devised a better one. All we can do is start back where our ancestors did, with art and science. I will do my best to influence politics by enlivening the spirit, making people open their eyes and believe in themselves, making them care. That, to me, is the purpose of art in any troubled time. Scientists must play their part as well.

Still, here are three immediate means of loosening the grip of the most powerful corporations:

1) Do not borrow from the bank. (In fact, mortgaged homes provide a perfect example. If your home mortgaged, you do not own your house. The bank has provided the privilege of living in a place you can not truly afford, for a cost. It is the bank's house. Consider the symbolic significance of that. It is a metaphor for much of what is wrong with our society, and how much we rely upon those wrongs. It is perhaps not feasible in our society to live without a mortgage, but one can still allow an awareness of that symbolic significance to pervade other elements of your life.)

2) Do not shop at supermarkets. This is easy. Just go to a local shop whenever you have the chance. More will spring up. Eventually we will overcome an unhealthy marriage of convenience. They provide. We take because it is simple. Consider the symbolic significance of that, and how it harms us terribly in the end.

3) Invest in ways to limit your use of oil based energy sources.

If I inspire one person to take one action, I will have at least accomplished something. These three ideas are direct means of disempowering the three most powerful forces of our subduction.

All of this talk on the nature of governments requires understanding of a fundamental irony: so long as governments are headed by those interested in power, the common (decent) person must remain vigilant. The government is not our ally, and certainly not our patron. It is a recourse, and a constant potential enemy. It is a two-faced partner, and if we turn our backs for long enough, it will stab us.

Even back in the 1800s with the abolition of slavery, it took years of petitioning, decades of authors writing stories and poems about how slavery was wrong, and several judge rulings (setting precedent) in order for the government to finally declare the abolition of slavery. We live in an era of constant petty gratification. Let us not forget that important changes take time and effort, and are worth fighting for.

28 December, 2013

Boys and their Toys

I just learned about a scientist named Eric Kandel, and an experiment, for which he earned the Nobel Prize, performed in the early 70s on a a type of large sea slug known as Aplysia.

Kendal prodded the side of the slug over and over, right on the gills. Take that, slug. And that. Poke poke poke. Neat how he curls up, huh? A reflex reaction. Poke Mr Slug enough times and he gets used to it.

I was reminded of one big reason why I hated science classes when I was a child. I had too many of my own ideas, and the discoveries I was forced to read about, bullied by a system that constantly hammered home the notion that my future depended on conformity to their education (poke poke poke, and eventually I got used to it, and consequently better at ignoring them) were boring. Scientists like Kendal could win a Nobel Prize for "discovering" something every little boy already knew. Poke a slug enough times in the side, and it gets used to it.

However, before the tone of this post feels too snide, let me clarify something. I was reminded in an amused way. Kendal won his Nobel Prize for something deeper. He discovered that Mr Slug doesn't just stop caring, his "learned change in behaviour was paralleled by a progressive weakening of the synaptic connections." (Quoted in Doige, Brain that Changes Itself, p. 201)

Mr Slug's brain was changing.

The possibilities of such things had been theorised about before. Sigmund Freud was a researcher in Neurophysiology before his idea that the brain was made up of separate cells gained him such derision as to push him from his original dream, and lead him to find new grounds to explore in Psychology. 

Canadian neuroscientist Wilder Penfield had already made a sensory map of the brain back in the 1930s, and Michael Merzenich in 1968 took the idea a step further by cutting off a segment of a living monkey's skull and prodding his hands while he was strapped, conscious, to a chair with needles and probes jabbed into his brain. What a nice fellow.

Evidence for neuroplasticity (the idea that the brain can reform itself based upon stimuli) had sprung up by 1950. In a series of lectures broadcast by the BBC, British biologist J. Z. Young argued, "There is evidence that the cells of our brains literally develop and grow bigger with use, and atrophy or waste away with disuse." (J. Z. Young, Doubt and Certainty in Science: A Biologist's Reflections on the Brain, Oxford University Press, 1951, p. 36),

What Kendal accomplished in prodding Mr Slug is to prove that the neurotransmitters actually reforge on a cellular level, that the sensory map alters with stimuli. This had been theorised, but it had never actually been mapped. Slugs make great subjects for such experiments as their nervous system is both simplistic and large. Kendal showed us the cellular reason behind age old childish wisdom, poke Mr Slug and he eventually gets used to it.

In showing us proof that even those things which science would scoff at, those things that the innocent and un-indoctrinated know to be true, Kendal gives strong evidence to the idea that such wisdoms will frequently be proven. This discovery made me wonder about all aspects of the universe. Science itself dictates that an absolute truth is impossible (this does not purely refer to Heisenberg's uncertainty principle) and that discoveries will lead us into new ground. What else is there a cellular (and is cellular as deep as it goes?) explanation for?

Mr Slug didn't "just" stop caring, but he did stop caring. There were biological reasons behind a deep, intrinsic response--an "intellectual" response, so far as a slug's intellect is concerned. This is true of human brains as well. It draws me to a question for the scientists and science fiction writers: does this cheapen the neurological experience? Does biology ruin magic, or is it magic? What's the difference?

It also makes me wonder about scientists generally--the kind, at least, who offended me so as a child, and the kind who ousted young Freud. How can we be so ignorant of our own methodology and principles as to decide that thought, or indeed a piece of age-old wisdom, is wrong on the grounds of not having yet unearthed the explanation?

As you can see, learning of this turned the ignition of my imagination, and, to be perfectly honest, I wrote this as much to force myself to remember as I did to share it with you. Such is the benefit of having a blog. I hope you've enjoyed my new-found knowledge and thoughts.  (This is rushed because I'm supposed to be taking my mom out for coffee.)

05 December, 2013

An Atrocity

I am re-posting this as it's one of the most important, and horrific things I have ever seen. This abysmal attack on democracy must be stopped. If there is one responsibility of the modern individual, it is vigilance. We must be proud to live in a democracy, and that pride comes at a cost. In a world where economics is more powerful than legislation, corporations are more powerful than governments. It is our duty to remind ourselves of the dangers of these times and stand against economic oppression wherever possible.

I'm proud to have a medium with which I can let a decent number of people know about such a crime against liberty as this.

Please read the below, and thank you for lending your ears.

Wm. Luke Everest

Dear friends,

We have just days to stop a top-secret global corporate power grab that attacks everything from a free Internet to environmental protections. Trade ministers are packing their suitcases for a trip to finalize the deal -- but we can stop them from putting profit over people. Let’s get 2 million people to crash their secret meeting and keep corporate hands off our laws:

Monsanto, Philip Morris, and over 600 of their closest friends have spent years building a massive Trojan horse to give corporations the reins to our democracies. They're planning to deliver it at a key summit this week -- but we have the power to send it back where it came from.

12 Trade ministers are scheduled to meet this week to finalize the super-secretive deal that could allow corporations to sue governments over their own laws and undermine things from life-saving affordable medicines to Internet freedom. But a leaked draft has revealed a widening rift between countries and fueled a civic uproar that could keep them from signing.

Let's back up the leaders pushing for people over profits -- when we reach 2 million signers, we'll cover the capitals with Presidents standing up to the corporate takeover with ads urging them not to back down and work with lawmakers in those places to have their backs. Sign now, and tell the world:


The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a major pillar in efforts of US corporations to extend their power to bend laws around the world to their benefit. It would set up a system of opaque tribunals that hand democracy's reins over to multinational corporations. Similar quasi-courts have let Philip Morris sue Australia for protecting kids from smoking and undermined Quebec’s ban on unsafe mining practices because they stood in the way of profit.

It’s SO secretive that only three people in each treaty country have seen the whole thing -- not even law-makers know what’s in it! We’ve known all along that there’s a lot at stake, but we didn’t know exactly what until Wikileaks published one of the chapters. Now the battle lines within the negotiations are out in the open and politicians are racing to distance themselves from its anti-democratic provisions.

If this all sounds crazy, it's because it is -- countries like Malaysia, Vietnam, and New Zealand are getting fed up with the corporate bullying and are pushing back. But the deal has friends in powerful places -- it's the #1 trade priority for Obama and the world’s biggest and dirtiest front for greedy corporations, the US Chamber of Commerce. They’re hellbent on wrapping things up before January and are pulling out all the stops to make that happen. Our voices now, amplified into the right sets of ears, could make the difference. Sign the urgent petition now:


US Senator Elizabeth Warren recently said: “Corporations are not people. People have hearts, they have kids, they get jobs, they get sick, they cry, they dance. They live, they love, and they die. And that matters, because we don't run this country for corporations, we run it for people." Let’s reach two million PEOPLE to stop the corporate takeover of our governments.
With hope,

Alice, David, Jooyea, Alex, Aldine, Julien, Ricken, and the Avaaz team

WikiLeaks publishes secret draft chapter of Trans-Pacific Partnership

Secret TPP Negotiations Resume in Salt Lake City (Electronic Frontier Foundation)

Secret Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (Wikileaks)

The Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty is the complete opposite of 'free trade' (The Guardian)

The Near and Far Future of Everest by Fog

Last week I thought Wednesday was Tuesday, and I thought Friday was Saturday. I'm not an alcoholic or a heroine addict or any other really expensive thing like that. We'll see what happens after I get a book deal. Until then, I satisfy myself with cheaper things like video games and books. But I wasn't even doing that. I was just waking up and working.

I'm almost back, so hold onto your hats, readers. Take it perhaps as advice on what to do, and indeed what not to do.

1) I'm getting loads done! If you can bury your head in a project like this, do it. Let yourself get obsessed. Just make sure you're obsessed with perfection, and not completion. The former is a hard road. The latter is a mudslide to Crap Town.

2) I'm putting on weight (not much yet, but it's weight by my standards). Each morning I look like I've spent the night punching myself in both eyes. I never see my friends, and I never write on my blog. If you want to take something from this, my advice is to find balance in your life, which is something I've learned I'm not truly capable of.

Soon I might begin a PhD. If my book deal doesn't happen soon, I'll defer, but so what? You've noticed how much I blab about self-motivation, I'm sure. It is the only thing that will carry you through to a career in writing, and it is, I believe, the healthiest form of motivation in general. If I practise what I preach, I must be someone who doesn't need an academic institution breathing down my neck to get my work done.  It's a research degree. That means I do the vast majority of the work on my own anyway, so I don't need Royal Holloway University of London. Regardless of whether I can go work with Adam Roberts (check him out here: http://www.adamroberts.com/) which I would of course love to do, and regardless of whether I can have other smart, motivated colleagues around me, I can study plenty of sociology and narrative theory.  I'm already qualified to teach at University level in the latter. As for having colleagues around me, I've never cared much for working with others. Playing, yes. Working, no.

Essentially I'm going to include a lot more interesting research in the future. I'm also quite an ancient history buff, and my secret love is Sword and Sorcery fiction. I'll be cranking out posts related to that as well as I do novel research in other directions. My career intention is to write one work of what I consider "important art" per year, and one or two kick-ass fun novels in the meantime. I've tried taking breaks from writing before. They don't work. It's like my fingers are addicted. If I don't type in a day, I go insane. Same with not thinking stories over. I have to do it. I'm also very prolific. "Important art" takes longer. The narratives aren't necessarily more complicated, but I have much more to say and I want to ensure everything is poignant. Kick-ass fiction just requires good writing skills, which I'm always working to improve.

See you 'round the twist!

I'll be back soon. I promise!

16 November, 2013

Following Instincts

The book is going great. Great I tell you! At this point, given my lack of posting, there's a chance you won't care, but who cares!? Me. And hopefully you. Wait... this paragraph didn't make me feel so good after all.

Amazingly, that brings me to my point!

I've actually come to realise that, if you're following a thread of your central character's want--which is to say, if the plot is designed around that thread, not just the scenes--then you should actually avoid doing things that feel like work! It's weird. Whenever I have to think too hard, I know I'm trying to make something make sense. It's like hammering one too many pegs into a hole, naturally diminishing the acuity of the thing while trying to maintain the illusion thereof.

It actually brings to mind an Elmore Leonard quote. "If it sounds like writing, I delete it."

He was talking about prose, of course, but it resonates. If it feels like writing, if the scene sounds in my head like facilitation or fancy-pants forcing a theme into place, I should delete it and try again. It's made writing so much easier. It hasn't been this much of a joy since I first started out and had no freaking idea how to approach technique, just spilling my inspiration out without a care. (I was 12, so that innocent fun is understandable.)

It also brings to mind something my mentor, Scott Bradfield, once said to me. "You'll find it easier once you get it. That's what I found. It was certainly way easier for me."

I just hope this is because I "get it", to some extent, and not just my excitement of a new plateau. It certainly feels like I get something I've been reaching for the whole time: an intuitive understanding that allows me to write better, having given me the awareness this post is all about. I'm not saying my work will be brilliant now, but I am sharing my excitement and my hope.

To offer some advice: look out for when you're trying to cram too many issues into one area of the book. You might have lots of stuff going on. That's fine. But your character has to want something specific, one thing at a time. That's how stories evolve.

16 October, 2013

A Talk by Ray Bradbury

This is the best smegging talk about Creative Writing I've ever seen. Ray Bradbury wrote with such a passion and joy that he's an exemplar to us all if only for his lifestyle. He also firmly believed that his passion for the art is what made his quality.

This video is not only an inspiration, but a plethora of homework from one of the greatest, in my opinion, writers in history. I will do exactly what he says:

Read one short story every day.

Read one poem every day.

Read one essay every day.

Sounds like fun to me. If it didn't sound like fun, I probably wouldn't want to write all three of them.

A quick post, this one, but who am I to yap when you've got Ray Bradbury to listen to? I hope you enjoy.

Thank you Ray Bradbury for being far and away my greatest influence.  If others ever say my work is reminiscent of yours, I will probably weep tears of joy.

10 October, 2013

Why I Write (very short form)

Reading the gold mine that is Narrative Technique by Thomas H. Uzzell, one discovers in the first paragraph of Chapter One the question, "Why do you wish to write fiction?"

"If you expect to secure the utmost benefit from this study," he goes on to say, "I wish you to pause right here in your reading and answer this question seriously. Write it out as completely as you can. Exactly why are you interested in writing narrative? Why do you prefer this form of writing to other forms? What do you hope to accomplish by your writing? What is the greatest success you can think of for yourself in this field? How did you get this way?"

If you like, if you're interested in writing, break down his question thusly and try to answer it. You may surprise yourself with how important such reflection is. Herein lies the dissolution of the myth that technique should not be studied because true art stems from inspiration. Here is your purpose, your inspiration. Craft will only assist you in empowering it.

I've read the beginning of Narrative Technique twice, and I'm re-reading it now for a class I'm teaching. The last two times I read it were before having written Paint the Raven Black, and I often say to people that it's in writing my novel that I've discovered my artistic purpose, and indeed my style, and what sort of fiction I intend to produce. I've discovered who I am as an artist. I was pleased by how readily I could answer Thomas H. Uzzell's question this time around. The last two times, I worked hard at convincing myself I had a full answer. This time I didn't blink. I spoke from my easy chair to the far wall of my study, imagining Thomas standing there, and thought I'd follow his direction and type my speech. And what better forum for an artist than the public?

I write with what Orwell called "political purpose". He meant "political" in the widest possible sense, as in, "of the polis" or "regarding the state (not political state) in which people live" which is a more accurate and socio-anthropologically sound delineation of the Greek word than to merely translate it as "city".

I write because I see a world of insanity that I wish to impact upon, to help people grow, be good to each other, see clearly and appreciate both the beauty and the horrors that surround us. I write to open eyes and influence behaviour, hopefully for the better.

I write for metaphor, for the potency of message and for the beauty of life and small truths that can be found in human behaviour. I believe through metaphor one can touch the human essence of a thing and in offering that piece of humanity, one can make another feel. I believe that's beautiful. I write speculative literature in part because it is a realm of metaphor, and in part because I believe questions of reality and the self are more relevant now than ever. I believe the reasons for that truth are worth criticising, perhaps even fearing, and overcoming. (Note: to fear is not to cower, but to recognise a strong enemy and let your adrenaline surge.)

But most of all, in truth, I write because it cleanses my soul and lets me feel the things I care for. I write what I would want to read, and that so happens to be books of strong theme and "political purpose" as Orwell said. It is not out of pomposity, but the simple fact that books without said purpose don't hold my attention. I write for myself.

I wish to draw a distinction: writing for myself does not make it a self-oriented process. To write for myself is merely to choose those dramas that I wish to invest in, that I feel passionately for, and that I wish others to feel in kind. Why this form of art? Why not write sociological essays? Partly, in truth, because I love books, but mostly because it is through metaphor and drama that one can touch the true emotional, human essence of a thing, give it significance and purpose, evidence its human significance, the weight of it within heart and mind, and make others feel the same. That is the beauty of art. That is my mission and hopefully, one day, a worthy gift to you.

09 October, 2013

Some more thanks, and another story

Here's a really, really old short story from right when I finished my MFA! Paul McAuley gave me a crique on this one on two occasions. In his words after the second critique, it's "still a bit 'one thing after another', but getting there."

At the time I thought that meant I should hide this story away. I sent it off to see if it would sell. It did, but I never told anyone about it. Paul McAuley thought it was "one thing after another," after all. What I've learned since is that when an author that awesome says a thing like that, I've learned to take it as a compliment.

That's why I'm putting it up on my blog.

Another little story, just for you authors who, like me, aren't trying to publish your work because you don't think it's good enough:  at the start of 2012, when I got serious about this blog, one of the first things that happened to me was somebody sending me a message saying, "Aren't you the author of 'Temple of Mirrors'?"

He might even be reading this. If so, thanks again, mate. You're my first ever fan, and you'll always hold a special place in my heart. "Temple of Mirrors" may not be my best work. I may have sold it for $10AU to an e-zine, but over 7000 people have read it, and one of them (Hi!) actually sought me out to tell me how much he loved it two years on. That's the same lesson I learned when someone forced me to submit some stories to my agent. Like Iain Banks said to me, "Send out the best you've got and let the world decide."

I still don't think this story's brilliant, but I don't want to under/over sell it, so here you go. I hope you enjoy!


08 October, 2013

A Post About Not Posting

Dear fans of Everest by Fog,

You'll notice things have gone a little quiet around here.  I'm neck deep in my novel's editorial process, while at the same time working on something new.

That's been a great way to clear my head.  Plotting out a new book has given me a great deal more objectivity in looking at comments on Paint the Raven Black.

I can tell you, editors don't give compliments.  If they did, they wouldn't help you.  Especially when you're relatively new to the game, you want validation.  I've been writing for most of my life, but I'm still not what I'd call a "professional".  I'm newly entering the professional world and getting critiqued by more and more professional people, with increasingly critical eyes.  These are people I've always wanted to impress.  The fact is, I have impressed them.  That's why they're beating the crap out of me now, but that doesn't stop it from sucking.

The new novel has not only given me something to do while I await the return of my manuscript.  It's also given me something else to think about, and most importantly, something else to love.  Enjoying my new, presently untitled project, I'm not so emotional about Paint the Raven Black.

That said, there's a bit of a problem with this blog at present.  The reason I haven't been posting isn't actually because I'm busy.  It's really because I'm starting to feel like a fraud.

I know a lot about creative writing.  I've studied it.  I know how to study it, how to critically analyse technique and how to teach it.  I'm even a pretty skilled writer by many people's standards, but not so much by my own.

There comes a point where my job as a blogger is to be a writer.  If I'm going to keep yapping about creative writing, there's a point where I need some evidence of having actually accomplished something.

That's why I haven't been posting.  Here's why I'll start again.  One important thing about being a writer is that you're out in the public.  It's wrong of me to create a fan base and start letting people down.  That doesn't mean I'll just go through the motions.  On the contrary, it means I'll get professional.  Sometimes you have to write when you don't feel great about it, and I guess that's what I've learned from not blogging for a time.

Luke is back, but I'm going to start posting on creative writing on a bi-weekly basis.  The rest of the posts will be about speculative fiction.  Aside from a teacher, I'm also a writer and a sociologist, and it's the latter two that inspire me into the speculative.  You'll still get a post from me every week, but it's time for my blog to evolve, not just for my career, but for my sanity.

I hope you guys enjoy the new format.  Boys from the Dwarf.

30 September, 2013

Painting a Clown Face on the Mona Lisa

Subtitled:  "The Hobbit: The Never Ending Journey"

I tried to resist writing this, perhaps for long enough that it's no longer topical and nobody cares. Then I went to IMDB and was horrified to see the 8.1 rating of The Hobbit. I looked out of curiosity, and I have very nearly lost my faith in humanity.


Story: 10/10. It's the Hobbit. It's one of the greatest stories ever told, in my opinion.

Execution: I'm too offended to give a number.

The Hobbit is not the crowning achievement of Tolkien's. Lord of the Rings changed Fantasy Fiction forever with its anthropological depth and detailed world building. But as far as the quality of narrative, The Hobbit is an unassuming, honest story that reads brilliantly from beginning to end. By contrast, LOTR delves for long passages into desultory details of the world that are fascinating if you've already decided to make yourself love Middle Earth, but rather laborious if you haven't. Again, LOTR is ingenious, but The Hobbit is honest, good fiction, and better told in my opinion.

Why belabor this point? It's exactly what the film failed to accomplish. The book is simple, short, punchy, beautiful. The trilogy (TRILOGY!!!) of films will, in the end, go on for 9 hours.

Is there plot and/or character material to keep the story going for that long.  H*** F*****G **IT B**CH NO!!!!!

The first fight scene probably lasts around thirty minutes. I am not exaggerating. The story is padded not with character or plot or setting or anything of value. It's not even padded with really cool violence. It's padded with dwarves falling off cliffs. Seriously. Not exaggerating. You must spend a good twenty minutes of the film just watching dwarves fall off cliffs. Then they hit their heads after 100-300 metre drops and still feel fine. Much of the rest of the padding consists of things that could make a dwarf fall off a cliff, like orcs, or rock monsters, or more orcs, or some other less interesting monster.

It could easily be forty minutes of dwarves falling off cliffs. I lost count when my brain turned to mush. Either way, there's probably 1.5 hours here of dwarves fighting and falling. I'm not exaggerating.

You will spend a good 2 hours, probably 2.5 hours, watching fight scenes and landscapes. There is enough story in The Hobbit for maybe, at a serious stretch, 2 and a half hours. A punchy, compact and excellent story could not exceed 2 hours.  The story of The Hobbit would make one of the best 2 hours of cinematic experience you'd ever see.  It is a superb story, worthy of a superb movie. What Peter Jackson has done is not only make something offensively garish out of one of the best stories ever told but he's created an offense to art itself. He has made a clown drawing and called it the Mona Lisa.

Honestly, and again I must stress that I'm not exaggerating, I would like to see Peter Jackson punished for this. I would like to see law suits, violence, him falling off a cliff for at least 20 minutes, fighting orcs for one and a half hours. Make him fall off a cliff for 40 minutes just to be safe. Then see if he shakes his head and feels fine afterwards. If so, make another two films out of it. This film is an offense to cinema, to Fantasy Fiction, to Tolkien and to the artistic traditions of our culture.

If I were in charge of the Tolkien estate, I'd be filing a law suit.

Burn, Peter Jackson. I hope you hang your head in shame for at least two hours of every day, and it should probably be two and a half hours just to be safe. If the next movie doesn't begin with a personal apology, I'm not watching it.

27 September, 2013

Correspondence Tuition and Editorial Critique

I wish to offer my readers manuscript guidance and correspondence tuition.

My credentials include two postgraduate degrees in Creative Writing, a PGCE in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, co-founder and editor of Ripple Magazine, Seminar Leader at Kingston University, and of course many years of selling short fiction all around the world.

I'm trained and qualified to teach Creative Writing. I was lucky enough to learn from the best, including Steve Erickson, Paul McAuley, Scott Bradfield, Rachel Cusk, Stephen Jones, Christopher Priest and many others. Upon request, atop your manuscript critique I'll point you in the right direction, having assessed your strengths and weaknesses, suggesting authors worthy of study and general areas of focus.

I charge:

£8 for up to 1000 words.

£12 for 1000-1500

£15 for 1500-2000

£20 for 2000-3000

£25 for 3000-4000

I am of course willing to round down . If, let's say, your manuscript is 1,050 words or something silly like that, I won't charge you an extra £4 for 50 words.

Prices for longer pieces can be negotiated. The longer it is, the less money you'll spend per word.

Send your manuscript as a .doc, .docx or .rtf file and I will smother it in red text, strikethroughs and brackets, and send it back to you mangled and ready for improvement. Along with craft advice, I will suggest markets to which I believe your work could sell.

If interested, please contact me at wm.luke.everest@gmail.com or use the comments section below and we'll swap email addresses. Feel free to contact me beforehand with further questions, but please do so via the comments section below. Please also feel free to leave feedback below!

I cannot guarantee your story will be ready for publication after my critique. I can guarantee that your work will improve, and most importantly, you'll receive direction in a long, often baffling and almost always lonely learning process.

For correspondence tuition, lessons will be set according to a student's level and needs. For instance, if you're having trouble generating ideas that you feel confident in, after a conversation to help me determine how/why you feel stuck and what kind of stuff you want to write, I'll offer writing assignments designed to help you break free of your slump and achieve your long term goals.

I'll recommend study materials which will include articles on the art of writing and books worthy of analysis, all specifically tailored to your needs. Reading assignments will be based on areas for improvement and general aspirations. A science fiction aspirant will receive different reading lists to a literary aspirant.

The initial consultation is free. Contact me if interested.

Beyond that, I charge £30 per lesson. This includes the price of a manuscript critique (up to 2,500 words) a one on one tutorial session via skype (30mins) about my critique, answering any questions you may have and going into further detail with general issues, and future guidance (or homework, as some unpleasantly label it) tailored to your needs.

For longer packages, I charge

£150 for six lessons (effectively giving you the sixth one free)

£200 for ten lessons