Jul 20, 2017

How Fear Drove Me to Write

(This article originally appeared on my Patreon. If you'd like to help support my ramblings, you can back it for as little as €1 a month.)

If I had to explain my relationship with the Horror genre, it would be like this:
Horror drove me to write; fantasy gave me the power to do so.
My favourite genre as a kid was horror. I wasn't articulate enough at the time to understand why, but I felt driven to write horror. Looking back, it's because  at its core, Horror is about helplessness. 
Whether the villain is a monster or just a particularly dangerous human being, whatever way the story or setting are dressed up, one thing is constant in horror: People are helpless against it. At times, you will see the mentor or expert, the Van Helsing, step up and claim knowledge over the villain, or represent some level of authority or competency. But inevitably, this figure is either killed off, or otherwise unable to affect the villain.
In the end, it's up to the hero.
And yet more often than not the hero in horror can only survive by accepting their lack of power and enduring long enough to seize a desperate opportunity to outwit the villain. In Alien, Ripley survives through willpower and sacrifice, giving up the ship and their payload, until she finds herself, literally stripped-down to nothing, but in a position to kill the xenomorph by using her knowledge of the environment against it.
Sacrifice is all too common a theme in horror. The idea that we cannot survive such awful things without a mark being left on us. Horror forces us to face the unknown, to be scarred so that we can survive. It strips our resolve and shreds our defences. To experience horror is to lay yourself bare.
Sometimes, however, I'd see a hero decide that they weren't going to let themselves be helpless anymore. Sometimes, the hero would take a stand and face the villain head-on. In Scream, following the revelation that it was Billy and Stu behind the Ghostface killings, Sidney hides and burst out of a closet, herself having donned the Ghostface costume. In this, the hero took on the villain's persona, narratively claiming that power for herself, and turning it on those who had murdered her friends.
And for years, I craved that power in stories. Growing up as I did, I understood the feeling of helplessness and fear, what it was like to be powerless against those who wanted to hurt me.
I wanted to feel the power to fight back.
Eventually I realised that I was not going to find that power in horror. The kinds of books I wanted to write were not the same. The stories that came to me were about heroes who could stand and fight the monsters on their own terms.
That's when I discovered urban fantasy. And I knew I'd found my home.
Those were the stories I wanted to tell. I wanted epic villains brought down by determined and empowered heroes. I wanted to show that the things we're afraid of can be confronted and overcome.
I wanted to show that monsters can be beaten.

Apr 13, 2017

Beginning to Heal

I started treatment for my anxiety and depression back in January. The first course of antidepressants I was put on had some severe side effects, so they were changed when I next saw my doctor for a check-in.

After eight weeks, and some very rough times and hard-learned lessons, I think I can feel my new medication begin to work. I still have unpleasant side-effects, but I'm starting to feel more like me again.

This doesn't mean I'm 100%, of course. Today is literally only the second day that I've felt this way in... well, longer than I can remember right now. I still need to take things easy and not overburden myself.

I need to let other people be the hero for a while longer.

I've found it difficult to allow others to take charge and help me. It's not something that comes naturally, for all kinds of reasons that deserve their own post to explain. But I am thankful for the support and love I feel from my friends, both near and far. I have never needed it more in my life.

The truth is, what I'm currently going through genuinely is harder and more painful than when we lost Conor. And I never thought anything could be harder than that. But there it is. Maybe it's because this is a fight I've been hiding from for so long. Maybe it's because it's led me to question so many assumptions I've made about the events of my life that made me who I am.

I want to come out of this a stronger, wiser, refreshed person. Who can be there for the people he loves, let them be there for him, and crank out the best damn books you've ever read.

My Patreon is still stalled, but I will get it going again, and put in additional content to thank my backers for their patience and understanding.

Lady Raven Part 4: The White Raven will still be out this year, hopefully even in time for the originally-planned October release.

I just need to look after myself, as well. I have a long road ahead.

Mar 30, 2017

Checking In

Feels like an age since I had a reliable blogging schedule. The black dog is really kicking my ass. I'm doing okay, generally; therapy is going well, and my current course of antidepressants has milder symptoms than the first one I was put on. I was on Xanax for a while, but I've been taken off it now, which means I'm more alert but also means my morning anxiety is back. Mornings are a special hell of heart-pounding, sweating, shaking, gagging stress.

There's also some family stuff going on which I can't really go into too much detail on right now. I can talk privately about it but it'll be at least another month or so before I know how much I can say publicly. Suffice it to say I'm facing up to the realities of emotional abuse.

Writing is going poorly. I'm trying to find a balance between self-care and productivity, but whether it's been the side-effects of my meds or exhaustion from anxiety, I've been finding it very difficult to keep to a proper schedule. I am so afraid of letting people down. More than that, I miss how good it feels to make progress on a story. To watch the thing come alive as I type.

I'd be lost without the support of my friends, and my amazing wife.

These are issues I've been keeping locked up all my life. I know it's going to take time to come through this, but I still want to be the author I know I can be. Thank you all for your support and patience. I'll try not to take too long with the work ahead.

Feb 20, 2017

There's a black dog

I've wanted to make this post for a few weeks, now. Some of you already know what's been going on in my life, but I always said if I ever had to face something like this, I'd be open about it, and that means rolling up my sleeves and saying it aloud.

Several weeks ago I began treatment for anxiety and depression.

I've come to understand that I've been battling these two monsters, in one form or another, all my life. I've become very good at keeping them hidden and fed so they don't rise up and pull me down, but I can't keep it up anymore. I've watched my energy levels drop sharply. My creative output (including this blog) has suffered greatly. I'm not happy with where I'm at in my writing career. I'm experiencing panic attacks ranging from mild-but-exhausting to ones that make me freeze up, unable to think.

I want my life back, so I've reached out for help. I'm in therapy and I'm on medication, but still trying to find a mix that won't leave me with horrible side effects.

I want to thank everyone who's been so supportive already, and make this promise; that I will look after myself and start taking care of my own needs, so that I can get my writing and social life back on track, and be the friend, husband, father, and author that I know I am. There's nothing I love more in the world than my wife, my kids, my friends, and telling stories, and I will reclaim what I've lost.

I will fight the black dog.

Jan 21, 2017

Day 1

Donald Trump has been sworn in as the president of the United States. We can already see how law enforcement is going to become even more abusive and unaccountable when dealing with marginalised groups or protests. Trump's cabinet picks are plainly unqualified, either having goals and motives that run counter to the departments they will manage, or literally not knowing what their departments do.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines 'tyrant' as follows:

A cruel and oppressive ruler
A person exercising power or control in a cruel, unreasonable, or arbitrary way:
A ruler who seized absolute power without legal right.

Donald Trump is, and will always be, a tyrant. We know what kind of a man he is; we do not need to "give him a chance." We can tell, from his past behaviour, that he is a cruel, petty, spiteful man. He will use the presidency to help make himself and his associates a whole lot of money, and will attempt to tear down decades of civil rights reform, cultural and artistic work, advances in healthcare and education, and environmental protection.

Here in Ireland, it feels like there's not a lot we can do about a man who now has his hand over the button of the most powerful nuclear arsenal in the world. But we can make ourselves heard. There are marches today all over the world against Trump and the rising fascist movement he's emboldened. We have to be vigilant now. We cannot allow the same forces of hate and bigotry that gave us Brexit and Tyrant Trump to take hold here.

I can't make it to the march today, but I will continue to speak out all I can; in my books, on Facebook, Twitter, through my Patreon, and on this blog. I'm now a member of Irish PEN, which protects the rights and freedoms of writers and journalists to speak out. I'll support my fellow writers and other artists who are creating works which confront bigotry and corruption, which promote diversity and inclusiveness, and I will continue to write books which do the same.

"Take us in, beat to quarters, and raise the colours." - Cora Ravenell
 
 

Jan 11, 2017

Freedom of Speech and What it Means

There's a lot of talk right now about free speech, and whether or not there should be restrictions placed on it. This is, in part, thanks to an opinion piece published in the Irish Times, by Nicholas Pell, which he intended to serve as an introduction to what some call the "alt-right," but what I will continue to refer to by the more accurate term: Fascists.

I will not link to Pell's article, but you can find it easily enough if you go looking.

There was a follow-up to the article, on the Claire Byrne Live show on RTÉ, which had Pell on as a panelist, and invited liberal guests to join him. Several publicly refused, on the grounds that granting someone like Pell a platform legitimises the growing fascist movement in Europe, the UK, and America.

And frankly, I agree. But it's complicated.

On the one hand, I acknowledge the risk that denying people a way to express their beliefs risks driving them underground. The public rise of racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and homophobia in response to Brexit and Trump's election has to have been in some part influenced by the growing progressive movement working to stamp out bigotry.

But on the other hand, if standing up to a bully makes the bully hit harder, does that mean it was wrong to stand up to them in the first place?

I do think it's dangerous to ignore a problem. Look at how easily hate rose up in response to Brexit and Trump. Those campaigns tapped into an undercurrent that was being ignored. The root of the issue was economic; not do to with race or equal rights, but facts take a back seat when manipulative figures present desperate people with easy answers and, most importantly, someone to blame for their predicament.

But we can acknowledge a problem without giving it power. We can learn about the circumstances which leave people, any people, feeling like they've been left behind and forgotten. And we can do it without feeding the lie that the root of the problem is women, people of colour, and the LGBTQ community being given rights and respect. We can do it without allowing fascists like Pell to arm their supporters with hate speech, without treating them as if their movement is the equal of progressive campaigns whose aim is to make the lives of marginalised people better.

Is there an easy way to do this? I doubt it. Plenty of people will be pissed off, no matter what choices are made. But to move forward, we need to acknowledge and confront several difficult truths:

1: We do not have freedom of speech in Ireland. Our Constitution (in all its badly-constructed glory) prohibits blasphemy (though at least there is talk of a referendum to remove this prohibition), as well as anything which could undermine the authority of the state, public morality, or be considered seditious. We have a history of banning and censoring things the State and the Catholic Church find objectionable. If we want to talk about having freedom of speech, let's start with the things we're already prohibited from saying and publishing.

2: Denying someone a platform is not restricting their speech. Freedom of speech is, in every country's definition, the protection from legal consequences of your words. It is not a way to force people to listen to you, in any format or in any place.

4: Saying that particular groups of people, based solely on their gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation, are inferior and deserving of fewer rights than you, is not about creating a discussion. It is not about sharing ideas and coming to a mutually-beneficial agreement. It is about denying human rights to people who are different.

I will gladly hear opinions different to my own. But stating that those who are different are the enemy, or don't deserve the same rights as a straight white cisgender man, is not a differing opinion. It is a threat. And I will not stand for that. None of us should.

Dec 31, 2016

2017: Calling All Heroes

As I write this, I'm pretty comfortable. I have a roof over my head, a full stomach, a happy and safe family. I'm white, straight, cisgender, and a man. This has also been a good year for me, personally.

But a lot of people can't say the same. There are a lot of marginalised people, whether they be women, people of colour, members of the LGBTQ community, living in poverty, or any combination thereof. 2016 took a lot from us. It took away heroes. And it made threats to marginalised people all over the world.

Which means 2017 needs the very thing 2016 kept taking from us. Heroes.

So here's what I want from every one of us who are able in body, mind, and spirit. I want us to stop bickering. Stop getting into self-destructive debates over whether or not it's okay for Amanda Palmer to make an off-hand remark about how much great music will come from the Trump years. Stop derailing people offering support for people being victimised by bigotted attacks with "not all men" or "you won't change minds by calling them names." We're so far past that point it's frightening.

We're at war. We have to fight, and we have to fight together.

We're not trying to change minds. We're trying to keep people safe. And that means taking a firm stand when we see shit happening. It means sharing legitimate news exposing corruption and bigotry. It means calling people out for bigoted remarks, no matter how mild or casual they might seem. It means not preaching to people less privileged than you or me about how to respond to daily oppression. It means listening to the people who need help. Propping them up and letting their voices be heard instead of raising our own voices louder.

In early 2016 we saw the likes of Captain America: Civil War, and Batman V Superman. We saw our greatest heroes smashing against each other, and we cheered. It's time to put that away and have the heroes fighting villains again.

What I want from us all in 2017 is to show those who would keep us down that we will not kneel. To prove that 2016 did not break us. To make the hateful afraid of us. Because nothing makes a hateful person more afraid than the idea that someone will see through their charade, and discover how weak and small they really are. And we can do it, if we stand together.



















Suit up.

Lock s-foils in attack position.

And may the Force be with us.

Dec 19, 2016

Rogue One is the Most Important Movie of the Year (Spoilers)

As I write this, America waits to hear the result of the Electoral College vote. It's likely, no matter how much we wish things to be different, that Donald Trump will be elected President of the United States.

While the world watches the most dangerously unqualified and narcissistic person to ever sit in the oval office, my thoughts are in a galaxy far, far away....


I plan to revive my Watch and Learn series in 2017, and I guarantee that Rogue One will be included. It's an astonishing movie; it brought me to tears, made me laugh, made me pump my fist with excitement. This isn't just the Star Wars movie we deserve, it's the Star Wars movie we need.

You see, Trump's victory in the US presidential elections comes on a wave of growing hate, bigotry, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, corruption, and lies that would not look out of place in a dystopian novel.

That wouldn't look out of place in a galaxy far, far away.

Screenwriter Chris Weitz posted a tweet about Rogue One being a story about a diverse, multicultural Rebellion fighting back against a white supremacist Empire. It was deleted in response to negative reaction from Trump supporters, and the fear that a boycott might hurt the movie's performance.

Well, with a global $155 million take on its opening weekend, and $290 globally, even before opening in China, it's safe to say audiences wanted this movie, regardless of what any of Trump's supporters have to say.

People want hope.

And that's what Rogue One is. It's the perfect way to end the year; after everything the world has been through - the deaths of scores of celebrities and childhood icons, DAPL, rising global temperatures, decline of bee populations, Brexit, Trump - we needed to remember that there is still hope.

Make no mistake - the tone in Rogue One is desperate. The Rebellion is internally fractured, with many of its successes being the result of assassinations and sabotage, not the acts of heroes. It lacks the military force for direct conflict, losing its flagship and the admiral of its fleet to Darth Vader's star destroyer. When Bail Organa dies on Alderaan in A New Hope, the Rebellion will have lost all but one of its strongest leaders. And on top of it, the Empire has a new, deadly superweapon.

Narratively, we're shown the Empire's might through very personal moments. As each member of the Rogue One team dies, the situation grows more desperate. The use of the Death Star's main weapon on a lower-power setting shows its versatility, that it can be deployed to take out smaller targets. And it allows a harrowing look at the weapon's destructive power, without taking away from the impact of the destruction of Alderaan. We see how useless Baze's missile launcher is against the Imperial walker, as its head menacingly turns back. You can almost see its metal face snarl as it makes ready to fire again, only for the x-wings of Blue Squadron to swoop in and blow it apart. A nice call-out to how it will be an x-wing pilot that takes out the threat no-one else can in A New Hope.

Lastly, Darth Vader's slow, dreadful march through the Rebel flagship as he tears the Rebel soldiers apart illustrates just how terrifying an opponent he is. He is quite literally unmatched by anyone in the Alliance. In this scene he personifies the Empire's absolute superiority over the Rebel Alliance.

Does any of this feel familiar? When an insurmountable force of evil threatens to stamp out loosely-organised and under-equipped freedom fighters, what chance is there to stop it?

But the data disc is saved. Jyn Erso and her team, every fighter pilot and commando on Scarif, the crews lost in the space battle, all give their lives so that one fragile thing can be passed into the hands of Princess Leia aboard the Tantive IV. 

That's what we have to remember. That's what this story is here to tell us. That even in our most desperate hour, there is hope.

And rebellions are built on hope.


Nov 14, 2016

False Equivalences, and The Deals You've Made

Let's talk a bit about something which will become very important for the next few years.

Imagine two men, we'll call them Ted and Bob.

Ted punches Bob. Then Bob punches Ted back. Ted insists that Bob had no right to hit him, and that Bob is just as bad as him.

This is a false equivalence. The argument that similar actions, undertaken in different circumstances and with different context, have the same impact and justification.

Our example is highly simplified, but it should get the point across. Bob was reacting to having been assaulted. He was defending himself, and letting Ted know that he wouldn't allow a further assault to continue.

So when we see protests against the Trump presidency, in the light of the rise in racist, sexist, homophobic, and transphobic attacks taking place, and those protests are decried as being "just as bad as the other side," that is also a false equivalence.

These protests show us rage. Yes, they're marching through the streets. Yes, they're disrupting traffic. Yes, they're burning flags and effigies. But this rage is not based on hate.

It is based on fear.

Fear that basic human rights might be taken away. Fear that alt-right extremists have been emboldened by a president-elect whose rhetoric supports their beliefs. Fear of people being targeted by those same extremists, or by people who would never consider themselves racist or sexist or homophobic, but who have had their own fears stoked by lies, misinformation, and a cultural bias against those who are different.

And this fear is not unfounded. It has happened. It keeps happening. Internment camps during World War II. The fact that more Native Americans are killed by police than any other demographic. Slavery. Segregation. There are people alive who would have seen "Whites" and "Blacks" drinking fountains, swimming pools, seating areas. Who would have witnessed, or experienced, the consequences when those rules were broken.

Now I'm not going to deny that the protests and other outbursts against Trump will leave some damage. And I'm not going to condone kicking and stomping on someone while they lie on the ground, no matter if they voted for Trump or not.

But what I will say, is that there is a difference between violence committed out of hate, and violence committed out of fear or the instinct to protect someone.

So before you judge people based on a 30-second video clip, stop and ask yourself what you're not seeing. What happened before the recording? Was there anything the camera missed? Think about history, and the times we've been here before, and what so many people are afraid will happen.

If you're white, straight, and cisgender, then whether you like it or not, you've benefited all your life from a system built for you. Even more so if you're a man. And that system is now poised, on both sides of the Atlantic, to be turned against anyone who's not like you. And not for the first time.

You have no idea what it's like to live in that kind of fear. By voting for Trump, or any figure who builds their campaign on promises to harm minorities, regardless of the justification, then you've cut a deal. You've traded their safety for the promises made to you. That means it's on you to hold your elected leaders responsible. And it's on you to prove, by your actions and not your words, that you are not a danger to those minorities.

I guess what I'm saying is that, as always, I don't condone people resorting so easily to violence. But this time, I can damn sure understand why they do.

Nov 9, 2016

I Have a Voice, and I Swear to Use It

It's the last straw, isn't it? 2016. A year so twisted and cruel that will go down in history as The Year That Shall Not Be Named. And now Donald J. Trump has been elected president of the United States. It's like a bad joke, or the set-up for some evil alternate timeline.

This year, personally, has been pretty good for me. I've felt reinvigorated and supported in my career by friends and family. I feel strong again. And I'm going to put that to use.

Let's break it down. A president has maybe 6 months in office to carry out their goals before the mid-term elections and the focus turns to holding on to the House, Congress, and the Senate. After that it's all about either re-election or making sure the party has enough support to get the new guy in.

Remember that many Republicans want nothing to do with Trump. They hate what he's done to the party. They can be pressed to oppose his most damaging actions. Deals can be made to shut Trump and his cronies down. Republicans can be convinced they will lose votes for continuing to support him. Democrats can appropriate Republican tactics and support by pushing against federal involvement in state matters where that involvement will take away peoples' rights. The fight isn't over. It's just started.

6 months. 180 days where Trump will be at his most dangerous.

And he's already flipped on his views on Hilary Clinton. Essentially his first act as President Elect was to thank Clinton for her service to the country. This is a far from "lock her up" and "Crooked Hilary." This is not a man of conviction. This is a man who will say and do whatever he wants, so long as it feeds his ego or makes him money, with a track record of breaking promises. He can be pressured. He can be steered away from at least some of the harm he has vowed to inflict.

This is a time for foundation-level work. A time to fight back on a direct level. A time to fight the bigotry and scaremongering that Trump used to win. A time to fight the same lies and prejudice that allowed the Brexit vote to win. A time to fight the greed and white supremacy that leaves unarmed Native Americans standing down a militarised police force, that leaves unarmed black people dead in the street while a cop holds a smoking gun. A time to fight the hatred and ignorance that lets people spread fearmongering lies about trans people trying to get into bathrooms to commit rape, while allowing a rapist to become their leader.

Zero tolerance on sexism. Zero tolerance on racist jokes. Zero tolerance on homophobia and transphobia. I am fortunate enough to not be among the marginlised in this. So I have a responsibility to add my voice to theirs. And this, I swear to do. I will not tolerate any prejudice. I may hurt some feelings from now on, but hurt feelings don't compare to lives being destroyed.

Yesterday I talked about stories. Well the best way I have to frame these events is still to look for the story. I've seen people wonder how to tell their children what's happened. How to explain that someone who is the living antithesis of every moral lesson we have, can become the president of what was supposed to be the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Sometimes the villain wins.

But just for a little while. Because when the villain wins, it just means there are more heroes coming to save the day.

Like I said before: Be a hero, even if it's just for one person. Because every life protected matters.

For my part, I'll be here. If anyone needs someone to talk to, if they're scared or angry. I'll help you in any way I can.

And I will write. I will tell stories where the villain rises, and the hero stands up to fight back. Stories, music, and art are going to become such important weapons now. I will not allow bigotry and hate to go unanswered. I will make my voice heard, and let others' voices be heard, too.

Let's show the world that monsters can be beaten.