Filed under: Art, Augmented Reality, Carl Sagan, Connections, movies, NYT, Religion, Science, Science Fiction, Society, Space, Writing stuff | Tags: art, blogging, Carl Sagan, con artist, Galaxy Quest, jim downey, literature, Maria Konnikova, movies, New York Times, religion, science, Science Fiction, space, writing
You should read this: Born to Be Conned. Seriously, it’s a very good examination of the human tendency to construct narratives to explain the world around us, and how that trait can easily be manipulated and used against us. Here’s a good passage, explaining why we’re susceptible to grifters of every sort:
Stories are one of the most powerful forces of persuasion available to us, especially stories that fit in with our view of what the world should be like. Facts can be contested. Stories are far trickier. I can dismiss someone’s logic, but dismissing how I feel is harder.
And the stories the grifter tells aren’t real-world narratives — reality-as-is is dispiriting and boring. They are tales that seem true, but are actually a manipulation of reality. The best confidence artist makes us feel not as if we’re being taken for a ride but as if we are genuinely wonderful human beings who are acting the way wonderful human beings act and getting what we deserve. We like to feel that we are exceptional, and exceptional individuals are not chumps.
The piece also reminds me a lot of Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World, because of this insight:
Before humans learned how to make tools, how to farm or how to write, they were telling stories with a deeper purpose. The man who caught the beast wasn’t just strong. The spirit of the hunt was smiling. The rivers were plentiful because the river king was benevolent. In society after society, religious belief, in one form or another, has arisen spontaneously. Anything that cannot immediately be explained must be explained all the same, and the explanation often lies in something bigger than oneself.
I don’t mean to pick on religion here, just to point out that this is a very human trait. In fact, I have often wondered whether it is a defining human characteristic, something which could easily set us apart from other intelligent species. It’s fairly easy to imagine how intelligent, sophisticated, technologically-advanced civilizations could be constructed by species which don’t have this human gift for storytelling. You can, after all, have curiosity and scientific inquiry, art and poetry, even narrative and historiography, without having something like literary fiction.* I think that it might be interesting to write a science fiction story/series based on the premise that humans become the storytellers of the galaxy, because of our unique ability to create explanation narratives unrelated to reality.
How very meta.
Filed under: Writing stuff | Tags: blogging, Charlie Stross, Communion of Dreams, direct publishing, feedback, George R.R. Martin, Her Final Year, jim downey, John Bourke, Kickstarter, literature, Neil Gaiman, predictions, promotion, Science Fiction, St. Cybi's Well, Winds of Winter, writing
I started this blog 9 years ago. Well, OK, that isn’t technically true until next Saturday.
That was 1,823 blog posts ago. And something on the order of a million words, give or take about a hundred thousand, according to my best estimates.
In addition, I helped write/compile/edit Her Final Year (which is available for free download today, btw). And rewrote/edited Communion of Dreams (also available for free download today) at least twice.
Oh, and I’ve been working on St Cybi’s Well. Have about a hundred thousand words done on that.
That’s between one and a half and two million words, depending on how you want to figure it.
And saying it that way sounds a bit impressive, and makes me feel better.
Well, see, I haven’t put up a blog post in almost a month.
And only 10 in the last three months.
And St Cybi’s Well was supposed to be finished more than two years ago.
I’m not entirely sure. It’s not writer’s block, exactly, since I have been making progress on SCW, all along. For the last few months I have been in a steep downturn in my usual bipolar cycle, but it hasn’t been so bad that it has caused me the sort of depressive lethargy which can be deadly — I’ve actually had a clear mind and have been fairly productive in other aspects of my life.
Perhaps it’s just laziness.
But I’m not lazy. Oh, I mean that I can be lazy, sometimes, but it is just not usually a defining characteristic of my personality.
I guess you could call it unprofessional. Un-workmanlike. But let’s go ahead and call it laziness.
You know, like the laziness of everyone who is overweight. They’re too lazy to go to the gym.
Or the laziness of everyone who isn’t rich. Because clearly, they just don’t work hard enough to earn money.
Or the laziness of all those people who don’t do well in school. Hey, a little more effort, and they could have graduated from an ivy league.
Or the laziness of being judgmental, thinking that you know what other people need to do to improve their lives. To meet your expectations.
Oh, wait, that really is lazy. Sorry.
PS: This isn’t meant in any way to excuse my failure to meet my obligations with my Kickstarter backers. Any such who would like a refund are certainly welcome to it; and for those who continue to tolerate my delay, I will make it up to them when the project is finished.
Filed under: Connections, Feedback, Humor, Publishing, Science Fiction, Slate, Writing stuff | Tags: blogging, direct publishing, Elena Ferrante, fate, feedback, George R.R. Martin, jim downey, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Laugh-In, Laura Miller, literature, reviews, Scarlett Thomas, Science Fiction, Slate, St. Cybi's Well, writing
Good article, worth reading the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:
The fate of most books is a fragile thing; readers and the media get distracted easily. Any author’s beloved brainchild is more likely than not to slip through the cracks because it came out on the eve of a huge news event, or when the reading public was preoccupied with some other time-devouring darling, whether it be by George R.R. Martin, Karl Ove Knausgaard, or Elena Ferrante. If a novel does seize that fickle attention, it had better deliver on its promises, or the author may never get a second chance. Even when a novelist scores a big hit, the book that follows it isn’t guaranteed anything more than an advantage in garnering review attention. Pop quiz: Can you name the titles of the novels that Alice Sebold, Yann Martel, Mark Haddon, and Patrick Suskind published after The Lovely Bones, The Life of Pi, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and Perfume?
This also applies to self-published work, of course. Another factor that scares the hell out of me as I keep writing St Cybi’s Well.
But I *think* I’ve just finished the current chapter. I’ll take another look at it tomorrow, and decide. Slow, uneven steps, but forward progress nonetheless.
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Amazon, Connections, Feedback, Health, Hospice, Kindle, Marketing, Promotion, Publishing, Science Fiction | Tags: Alzheimer's, Amazon, blogging, care-giving, caregiving, Communion of Dreams, direct publishing, feedback, free, health, Her Final Year, hope, jim downey, John Bourke, Kindle, literature, memoir, promotion, reviews, Science Fiction, writing
Playing a bit off of the title of my previous blog post …
Why? Because offering free downloads is one of the basic promotional tools on the Kindle platform. It’s a way to generate sales and interest in a book. And also because it’s important to get the books to readers who may not be able to afford even the modest price of an e-book. For someone struggling as a care-provider, sometimes even a $2.99 price tag can be hard to budget for. Likewise for people who find themselves on hard times, and need a little hope and escape … something which I like to think Communion of Dreams can provide.
So we’ll give this a try. If you know anyone who might enjoy either or both books, let ’em know that they can download them for free tomorrow. And July 1st. And August 1st. And …
Filed under: Failure, Science Fiction, Writing stuff | Tags: blogging, Communion of Dreams, failure, jim downey, literature, Science Fiction, St. Cybi's Well, The Guardian, Tim Lott, writing
Gods, this is so painfully, penetratingly accurate: You think writing’s a dream job? It’s more like a horror film.
Just one excerpt:
However, as I emphasise to the fledgling writers who come and attend my Guardian Masterclass courses, writing novels for a living is hard – unimaginably hard, for those who have not tried it. I cannot imagine that it is less complex than brain surgery, or, indeed, the proverbial rocket science. To master dialogue, description, subtext, plot, structure, character, time, point of view, beginnings, endings, theme and much besides is a Herculean labour, not made more appealing by the fact that you always – always – fail.
And as I noted the other day, the knowledge that you are failing never leaves you, and it is only then that self-confidence can get you though. Maybe.
But Chapter 12 has been finished and put to bed. Now working on revisions for the rest of the story arc before getting into the next chapter.
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Amazon, Connections, Feedback, Humor, Kindle, Marketing, movies, Privacy, Promotion, Publishing, Science Fiction, Violence, Writing stuff | Tags: Alzheimer's, Amazon, blogging, Communion of Dreams, direct publishing, feedback, free, Her Final Year, humor, introvert, jim downey, John Bourke, Kindle, literature, Monty Python, movies, privacy, promotion, reviews, Science Fiction, This I Believe, violence, writing
Today’s the official Third Anniversary for the publication of Communion of Dreams, and in celebration, you can download the Kindle edition today for free! Who doesn’t like free? I mean, yeah, sure, if someone walks up to you and offers you a free punch in the nose, you might not like it, but other than that …
Sorry I haven’t posted much lately. I was honestly surprised when I looked and saw that the last blog entry was ten days ago. I haven’t been ill, or traveling, or anything. But after I recorded the essay for “This I Believe” I was feeling very … quiet. As I explained to a friend:
It may be hard to understand, and I didn’t make a big deal out of it, but it (recording the essay) was actually a very hard thing for me to do. It wasn’t just any essay or promotional piece I’d written, not like doing interviews or anything. The essay was powerful because of the emotions behind it — I’m certain that’s why it has resonated for people. But that same source of power cuts very deep for me. Particularly after the stuff last month, it took a hell of a lot for me to come to terms with it all again, and to do so in such a public fashion.
You probably wouldn’t think so from reading this blog (or the book which came out of it), but I am actually a very private and introverted person by nature. My writing has always been a way for me to push myself out of my comfort zone, to force myself to be somewhat more public, more sharing. And it’s worked. Mostly. But there are still times when I just need to withdraw, to recover my energy and self-confidence. This last week+ has been one of those times.
Thanks for understanding. Now, go download that book if you haven’t already.