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Gifts With Humanity

Friday
Mar142014

The Anti-Villain: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Tropes

Guest post by J. Hamlet

Discretion is the better part of valor, or however it is that people choose to paraphrase Shakespeare. I've never quite believed that entirely. I've always preferred the British SAS motto: “Who Dares Wins.” In the realm of fiction and entertainment, nothing proves that more superbly than the most recent season of Netflix's House of Cards. Spoilers ahead.

Like so many people, I engaged in a binge-watch marathon when the episodes dropped over Valentine's Day weekend. Luckily, I had a significant other who was on board with that plan. She even suggested it. I was immediately taken in by how different the second season of the show felt. Part of that was natural as Frank Underwood, a man who would be the villain if this story was told from any other perspective, goes further into darkness.

Season 1 featured Frank running amok in the playground of Congress. With his elevation to the Vice Presidency, Season 2 offers Frank much more opportunity for carnage. The tempo of careers and lives trashed only increases, a frenzy of ruin. It's a lot of fun in a very sick way. As I watched the season unfold with scandal after scandal and lurid betrayals flowing like wine, I thought that it reminded me of another DC and politics-centric show that's a favorite of mine: Scandal. In a sense, the quasi-grounded arc that House of Cards had started with changed to a more deep and extreme narrative. In Frank's quest to become the top dog, the only man the President trusts, he confronts and alienates powerful donors and even starts a trade war with China. And that's just for starters.

 

The show also broadens its themes and introduces whole new sides of its characters. In one obvious way, it shows us sides of the marriage of the Underwoods we never saw before. At each other's throats through much of the first season in a war with plenty of collateral damage, Season 2 shows them united. As Claire and Frank find harmony, it allows them to turn their powers and ambition outward to even more devastating effect.

 

The show even allows for a sizable subplot that highlights the feminism of Claire Underwood in a way ignored in the first season where Claire combines lies and the truth to her advantage and launch a new crusade that shapes a lot of her character arc. There's more than that, including Frank turning ever more characters to the dark side and bringing them into his orbit through a web of blackmail and temptation. It's tough to tell whether these new characters and “allies” will be betrayed by Frank or whether they'll do their own betraying of him in the future.

 

I've lived in DC for over ten years now. I've seen presidential administrations change over, control over Congress bounce between parties, and political appointees come and go. The fact is, the realm inside the beltway is never quite as exciting as fiction makes it out to be. To the millions who dwell in the DC area that aren't in politics, be they bureaucrats or contractors, it's a sea of paperwork and program management reviews. Political intrigues, plots, murders, and sex scandals couldn't be farther from it.

 

And yet, as far from reality as it is, I can't say no to the worlds of Scandal and the extreme turns of House of Cards' second season. The DC they create may not resemble the real one, but it's a hell of a lot more fun. There's a lot to be said for that. Any season of American Horror Story has the same, embracing the extreme and melodrama to tell stories most TV shows wouldn't dare. Sure, they miss plenty, but they can also hit targets most other shows don't dare.

J. Hamlet is an indie author who has far too many hobbies. His debut novel is Hand of Chaos and he also publishes a weekly serialized tumblr novel called Scarred Earth.

J. Hamlet: Everyone needs a hobby. I chose writing. Not one of the easier ones. I chose it at the tender age of 14, churning out terrible science fiction novels that heaped on the cliches and barely hidden tropes of all space operas. Thankfully, those creations reside in the prison of an old Commodore 64 hard drive and several 3.5" disks (kids, ask your parents) in a landfill somewhere. And, let me be clear, the world is better for it. Along the way, I kept writing. Through college. Through grad school. Through the beginning of my career, such as it is. I like to believe I picked up skills. I write genre novels that have characters brimming with personal problems, professional problems, and sexuality. Sure, novels that do this exist. I'm not trying to say they don't, I just think too few of them are out there and I intend to do my personal best to increase their numbers.

 

Author Links: Facebook | Website | Blog | GoodReads | Amazon | Twitter |

Wednesday
Mar122014

Frightening Facts in Stephen Emmott’s Ten Billion

Guest Post by Patricia Budd

I am learning some really frightening facts from Stephen Emmott's short non-fiction, Ten Billion. This book is not a sci-fi dystopia about the future. It is a fact based look at what is fast becoming our dystopian future. We will reach the unsustainable population of ten billion in just under thirty years. Emmott has even projected the deadly number of twenty-eight billion by this century's end. I will, by that point, fortunately, be dead, but your children and grandchildren will not. Right now the planet's resources are insufficient for supporting ten billion people, let alone twenty-eight billion.

 

When I was writing my dystopian sci-fi novel, Hadrian's Lover, one of the criticisms I received was the overly large population I created for sometime in the 22nd century. Well, Stephen Emmott just justified that seemingly absurd number in his book, Ten Billion, by pointing out that "by the end of this century there will not be ten billion of us." Rather, he goes on to say, "There will be twenty-eight billion of us." I was eight billion short of this projected mark! The planet simply cannot sustain such a radically high number of humans.  Emmott rightly warns us that we are "in an unprecedented emergency."

 

A radical shift, he writes, needs to occur in the mindset of the business world in order for us to effectively combat the damage we are continuing to inflict upon our planet. "The rules of business," Sucked, explains, "urgently need to be changed, so corporations compete on the basis of innovation, resource conservation, and satisfaction of multiple stakeholder demands, rather than on the basis of who is most effective in influencing government regulation, avoiding taxes, and obtaining subsidies for harmful activities in order to maximize the return for just one stakeholder-the shareholders." Like Emmott, I do not believe this will ever happen.

 

And yet, we must act. That is the key message Emmott addresses explicitly and implicitly on every page of his book. We are the problem and we must be the solution. If nothing is done then a crisis of pandemic proportions will be upon us. For, as Emmott evidences in his book,  "there is no known way of feeding a population of ten billion." Prior to this statement he pointed out that since 1980 world population has grown by a billion every decade (pp 25, 29, 32). This suggests that by 2020 we will be at eight billion, hitting the nine billion mark by 2030 and the impossible to sustain ten billion by 2040 (or sooner). I could still be alive, just turning 80. If not luckily lost in a stupor of dementia, I may well have the misfortune of being cognizant of our species final descent into madness.

 

This book is rife with examples of the irony of human action and inaction. One example given is what he refers to as the "irony of ironies". Apparently "it takes something like four liters of water to produce a one-liter plastic bottle of eater." This, Emmott aptly describes as "completely unnecessarily" and goes on to call it "Water wasted to produce bottles-for water." And, this is only one of the many examples of how we are overusing our planet's limited fresh water resources. "In short," as Emmott succinctly puts it, "we're consuming water, like food, at a rate that is completely unsustainable." Wow!

 

According to Stephen Emmott, there are three key reasons why the demand for food is growing (beside the obvious population growth): 1. People are eating more in developed countries, 2. People are consuming more meat than ever before, 3. Eating, particularly in wealthier countries, has become a pastime (Pages 70 $0& 71).

 

So, what are we to do? If we continue down this miserable trek as Emmott feels certain is exactly what we will do then all the dystopian fiction written predicting an apocalyptic future may become all too haunting true. Maybe we'll wise up as a species sooner rather than too late and take Emmott's advice in this book.

Monday
Mar102014

Obstacles and Human Ingenuity

Guest Post by James Josue

An obstacle, by a standard definition, is anything that prevents one from attaining one’s goal. It is the dream-killer. It is sometimes one’s own personality and belief that prevent one from succeeding. At times, it is the circumstances affecting a person that prevent them from achieving their goals. Yet, the question remains: is an obstacle always destructive?

At first, it might even seem foolish to ask such a question; you may think, “How can a barrier to one’s life possibly be useful?” That is what most people think. That is also the reason why, when an obstacle arises, if they cannot get rid of it, they run. If they try to eradicate it and fail, they usually decide to quit. It might be in our nature as humans to flee from anything that hinders the happiness we think we deserve. However, I think this is a rather unusual way to think and act. We have missed so many opportunities when we flee the barriers in front of us. We need to stand and confront those barriers with our skills, knowledge and ingenuity. Only then can we eliminate these obstacles which provide us with the opportunity to grow and evolve.

How many throats would be in harm’s way had King C. Gillette run from improving the cut-throat razor? The cut-throat razor was ineffective; using it was time consuming and dangerous: it could actually cut a man’s throat. Gillette went on creating a razor that was cheap, yet, did not need to be sharpened and was easy and most importantly, safe to use.

The stethoscope, one of the icons most associated with today’s medicine was invented because Doctor Rene Laennec was confronted with the obstacle of touching a patient’s breast. He was asked to examine a woman to find out if she had some kind of heart disease. He had to examine the patient but because she was a woman, he did not want to touch her with his bare hands or place his ears on the woman’s chest. Just then, he remembered something he observed not long ago: two children were playing with wood and a pin to send signals to each other. As a result, Laennec rolled a piece of paper and used it to listen to the patient’s heartbeat. This was how Laennec was able to use his ingenuity.

Think of Sophie who thought that her roommate and she would be the best of friends when she first got to college.  But her roommate’s snoring was loud and intolerable. The snoring was despicable and intolerable. She would wake up every night because of the snoring. Though, one night, at around 3:00 in the morning, as Sophie was struggling to find a way to fall asleep again, an idea came to her. Instead of considering the snoring as something that was awful, she considered it as something that was part of the room. In her mind, she visualized herself dancing. She listened to every beat of the snoring as if she was listening to Moon Light Sonata by Beethoven. A few minutes later, she fell asleep.

Guess what? Sophie and her roommate became the best of friends.

What about Christian Barnard? He was brave enough man to perform the first heart transplant in history. He did not chicken out because he would be first one to ever attempt such a transplant on a patient.

These examples of how some people have used their skills, knowledge and ingenuity are not meant to encourage people to do foolish things and engage in reckless behaviors. They are meant to demonstrate that an obstacle is not always a problem but might be an opportunity to use our ingenuity to flourish.

 

BIO: James Josue, guitar player, song writer and poet is distinguished scholar known for his love of poetry. He wrote many poems and songs for his local churches. He’s always been fascinated with words and the challenge of understanding their etymologies and meanings. www.jamesjosue.com

Sunday
Mar092014

Authors: Get Bloggers to Promote Your Book

Guest post by Scott Lorenz

Book Bloggers, I.E. people who blog about books, like to interview authors for their blogs. Some bloggers have tens of thousands of followers and can totally change an author’s life by exposing you and your book to their audience.

Finding a blogger who interviews authors in your genre and particular topic allows you to reach your target niche. Blogs tend to generate a fairly dedicated following with certain blogs sending some authors right to the best seller ranks. By having a blogger interview you and post the interview on their blog, you will potentially pique the interest of everyone who reads that particular blog. People will be more likely to visit your site and read your work, increasing your sales.

Here’s a short list of book bloggers who interview authors. Find the ones that fit your genre and give them a shout:

Book Bloggers Association: http://bookbloggersassociation.com/

YA Book Blog Directory: http://yabookblogdirectory.blogspot.com

Eri Nelson: Wonderful Reads of the Month: http://www.wonderfulreadofthemonth.blogspot.com/

Teddy Gross on Jewish-themed books: http://teddygross.blogspot.com/

Morgen Bailey: http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/blog-interviews/

Kate Brauning writes excellent book reviews: http://katebrauning.wordpress.com/

MUTT: http://www.muttonline.com

Indies Unlimited: http://www.indiesunlimited.com

Review Carnival: http://www.reviewcarnival.blogspot.com/

The Writer’s Life: http://thewriterslife.blogspot.com/

Beyond the Books: http://beyondthebooks.wordpress.com

Cynsations: http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com

The Next Best Book Club: http://thenextbestbookblog.blogspot.com

Book Chums: http://www.bookchums.com/blogs.php

Rainy of the Dark: http://www.rainyofthedark.com

The Indie Exchange: http://theindieexchange.com

Neal Thompson: http://www.nealthompson.com

Expat Bookshop: http://www.expatbookshop.com

The Writing Corner: http://www.thewritingcorner.net

First Book Interviews: http://firstbookinterviews.blogspot.com/

Lena Sledge: http://www.lenasledgeblog.com/

Better World Books Blog: http://blog.betterworldbooks.com/

Proud Book Nerd: http://proudbooknerd.com

I Am a Reader, Not a Writer: http://iamareadernotawriter.blogspot.com

Blogging Authors: http://www.bloggingauthors.com

As long as a particular blogger covers the genre you write about, most of these bloggers will be happy to interview you about your book. Some bloggers may conduct a phone interview while others will email you questions to answer.  Others will invite you to submit a book synopsis, your bio, head shot, book cover and a press release. They’ll use all of this to create the blog page about you and your book.  After all, it is fresh material for their site.

By reaching out to a targeted list of bloggers you will be promoting yourself in online circles, which will increase your visibility and potentially increase book sales. You can also search for bloggers who interview authors by typing keywords such as “list of book bloggers” or “blogger author interviews.” If you want to track down a certain audience, you can be more specific with your Internet search and search phrases like “young adult fiction book blog.”  

For more in depth information about promoting your book using blogs I suggest you read “How to Blog a Book” by Nina Amir. It’s filled with useful tips and techniques that will guide you through the process.

Bottom line: Finding a blogger to interview you about your work is one ‘arrow in the quiver’ of a book marketing strategy and one that can lead to new fans, publicity and increase in book sales.

About Book Publicist Scott Lorenz

Book publicist Scott Lorenz is President of Westwind Communications, a public relations and marketing firm that has a special knack for working with authors to help them get all the publicity they deserve and more. Lorenz works with bestselling authors and self-published authors promoting all types of books, whether it's their first book or their 15th book. He's handled publicity for books by CEOs, CIA Officers, Navy SEALS, Homemakers, Fitness Gurus, Doctors, Lawyers and Adventurers. His clients have been featured by Good Morning America, FOX & Friends, CNN, ABC News, New York Times, Nightline, TIME, PBS, LA Times, USA Today, Washington Post, Woman's World, & Howard Stern to name a few. Learn more about Westwind Communications’ book marketing approach at http://www.book-marketing-expert.com  or contact Lorenz at scottlorenz@westwindcos.com or by phone at 734-667-2090. Follow Lorenz on Twitter @aBookPublicist