Who is Chuck Tingle?

While I can only speculate on the identity of the cult erotica author, I suspect Chuck Tingle is the future of publishing.


Hours after the announcement of the 2016 Hugo Award shortlists, one of the nominated authors published a book to express his feelings on the matter. Slammed In The Butt By My Hugo Award Nomination is the story of successful gay sci-fi erotica writer Tuck Bingle, whose quiet life is thrown into chaos when he receives an email telling him he has been nominated for SFs most prestigious award, an email actually addressed to successful gay sci-fi erotica writer Chuck Tingle.

Chuck Tingle is the author of successful gay sci-fi erotica nominated for the 2016 Hugo awards, for his successful gay sci-fi erotica story Space Raptor Butt Invasion. Wordplay is integral to Chuck Tingle’s success. Slammed In The Butt By My Hugo Award Nomination is an affectionate nod to Tingle’s classic, Pounded In The Butt By My Own Butt, and its sequel, Pounded In The Butt By My Book Pounded In The Butt By My Own Butt. In a sign of it’s commitment to quality, all Tingle’s books are exclusive to Amazon Kindle.

But how did a relative newcomer gay sci-fi erotica writer, however successful, come to be nominated for a Hugo, the sci-fi fields highest award? Don’t ask. Just remember that Chuck Tingle is a success. Every day Chuck Tingle sells dozens, maybe even scores of books on Amazon Kindle, making tens and perhaps even a hundred dollars on a good day. Do people read Chuck Tingle? Who cares! They gasp and chortle at his butt pounding book titles, share them on Twitter, and sometimes buy a copy for the lulz. For the people who voted Chuck Tingle onto the the Hugo award ballot, that is success. And good luck to them. If only all writers could set their ambitions so low, the literary world would be a better and more friendly place.

Who is Chuck Tingle? Any English author would of course have titled it Pounded In The Bottom By My Own Bottom, so I guess we’ll have to rule out the redoubtable Adam Roberts, who otherwise was my top guess. Could it be John Scalzi, target of so many Hugo award hi-jinx in recent years? Unlikely. If I know John Scalzi at all, any book he wrote about being pounded in the butt by his own butt would have his own name proudly on the cover. Maybe Theodore Beale, chief Rabid Puppy, is the real Chuck Tingle? But anyone who has read Beale knows that no amount of work could ever raise his writing up to the level of a Tingle.

It matters not who Chuck Tingle is. What matters is who Chuck Tingle could be. Which is the future of publishing. Writers and the people who publish them are still hanging onto the legacy concept of quality. Chuck Tingle is here to show us that disruptive tech start-ups like Amazon have made quality a thing of the past. Modern publishing is all about viral marketing. A book is just a LOLCATS gif that people will pay money for. A novel is just a Buzzfeed listicle with more pages. Who is Chuck Tingle? Nobody knows, that’s the appeal. Who is Chuck Tingle? You could be, if you can come up with a meme infectious enough. Who is Chuck Tingle? He’s the future of publishing, that’s who.

Read about how a Billionaire Dinosaur Forced Me Gay and FUCK YOU AMAZON! Fuck you for being right…again.

Thoughts on the 2016 #HugoAwards

Last year I compared the Hugo awards to the Wacky Races, a comedic and mostly harmless event in which competitors bend the rules to get ahead…or a nomination in this case. That was before the “Sad Puppy” affair made them something much nastier. Last year the Hugos escalated from Wacky Races to twenty car motorway pile-up with some near death casualties.

The 2016 Hugo awards have just been announced and the major surprise for me was the absence of Kim Stanley Robinson on the Best Novel shortlist, but it’s like Seveneves split the vote of people who like that kind of book. Lots of people enjoyed the Jim Butcher, including myself. Alastair Reynolds gets a deserved hat-tip in Best Novella. Here’s the link to the full shortlists. All in all they are pretty good.

H P Lovecraft somehow managed to get nominated for a 1941 Retro Hugo, despite having died in 1937. Clearly some supernatural forces were at work…or some petty racists voting in revenge after Lovecraft’s erasure as the face of the World Fantasy Awards for being…a petty racist.

The obvious turd in the punch bowl is Theodore Beale for Best Editor. Other than that and a couple of stupid blog posts in minor categories, the “Rabid Puppies” turned out to be more like toothless old mongrels. They demonstrated their “protest vote” by getting some things with silly titles onto the the shortlists. In most categories that can be done with a few dozen votes.

The Sad Puppies basically had no effect at all. They “strategically” added a few books that were likely to get on anyway, one or two did.

Whatever agenda the Sad / Rabid protest vote may have served, all it is now is a publicity vehicle for a bored, ageing frat boy and his buddies. The Rabid Puppies are all teen angst and and nihilism. They just want to be angry at something and SF fandom is the only target that will take them seriously. Just tell them to fuck off. Ban Beale from being nominated for awards, and remove his supporters from the voting pool. Job done, drama over.






The 0 best productivity apps for writers

The Mac app store has a dedicated section of Apps for Writers. It contains Scrivener, and some “distraction free” text editors, and a whole bunch of to-do list apps, pomodoro timers and other productivity aids. I sometimes find myself scrolling through these apps, which I’ve learned is a good indication that my writing day is not going well.

Productivity is a very different beast for writers, or any creator, than it is for most working professionals. In a past life I managed events and festivals, so I understand the facility of a to-do list app when you have 400 actionable emails a day hitting your inbox. For most people that’s modern working life, and those 400 emails are likely a sign you’re doing something right. For writers they’re a sign you’ve done something terribly wrong.

418q8rXbZOLAround the time I was transitioning / escaping / fleeing from the 4oo emails a day life, I made a reading from the I-Ching. Say what you like about divination systems, the Book of Changes contains some sublimely beautiful writing on life, and on creativity. I tossed the coins and got hexagram 1, The Creative, composed of six unbroken lines. An auspicious outcome, to say the least.

The I-Ching delivers a quite uncompromising message on creativity. If you want to hold true creative power, a goal central to the Taoist and Zen traditions the I-Ching is wrapped up with, you have to push out of your life all things that are not creative, and all things that drain your creative energy. At the time I was working twelve-hour days organising events. Reading the words of the I-Ching I wondered. What if I took all that energy and applied it to writing? What if I pushed out all the non-creative work from my life, and just…wrote? Some years later, that’s what I’ve done.

But it’s hard. Oh so hard. Today’s cult of productivity is all about multitasking, Getting Things Done, building a network, scheduling efficient meetings and so on and so forth. All of this frenetic activity is born from, and in turn breeds, a certain kind of mind. In Buddhism it’s called “monkey mind”. If you gave a monkey a smartphone and the power of speech it would make a perfectly fine marketing executive. I could say a lot about how the “monkey mind” is rooted in fear. Look at those marketing monkeys, desperately ticking off to-do list items, because who knows which unmet priority will be the one that gets you fired? But then maybe that’s all I need to say.

Monkey mind is not a mental state any writer should seek to cultivate. Writing is sitting at a desk, in a quiet room, working on the same task for hour after hour, day after day, month after month. If I did have a to-do list app, it would have one task. Write. If I kept a calendar, it would just be the same block of time every day marked with the same word. Write. It’s not hard to remember what I’m doing tomorrow or the next day because it’s exactly what I did yesterday and the day before. Write.

What is hard is too actually…write. Because our monkey mind doesn’t like it. It’s MUCH happier writing to-do lists and arguing with other monkey minds in meetings. Alone in a room with just one seemingly endless task, is the monkey minds worst fear. And it’s a particularly frustrating task to the monkey mind. At least coding, web design or other technical tasks that require focus, have rules, structure, incremental progressions of achievement. Writing is endlessly wrestling the gloopy stuff of language in the arena of our own imagination.

The cognitive trap is to believe that if you can just. Organise. Everything. Better. Then you’ll have “time to write”. But it doesn’t work that way. Because all that organisation is training and strengthening your monkey mind. And when you get to your precious writing time, it won’t shut-up, and you’ll find you can’t write. The hour you spent shuffling priorities on Omniplanner has left you in entirely the wrong frame of mind to do anything creative. That’s why the I-Ching is so brutal in it’s advice on creativity, and so right. You have to push the non-creative out of your life, and with it the monkey mind.

This is why writers either live simply or in chaos. The things you own end up owning you. So your two options are to not own anything, or let the things run wild while you…write. I find the simple approach better. I live out of one bag, and move house, or even continent, in preference to cleaning. But your mileage may vary. Instead of setting aside time to write, set aside time to organise. One hour a day after you’ve done the real work. Write.

Productivity for writers is anything that brings you to an aware, focused mind, and chases the monkey mind away. A quiet space and regular time for writing are basics. Meditation is generally considered useful, although there are numerous ways meditation can become a fearful, monkey mind activity. “I MUST empty my mind! I MUST empty my mind, now!” Not fetishising the writing process helps. You don’t need that Moleskine, however much your monkey mind wants one!

Make writing your practice. Make the aim of writing be, simply to write. Free-write. Do morning pages. When an idea comes, write that. If you’re working on a book, add more to it. Did you write today? Good, if writing is your practice then the only measure of success is saying yes to that question. This is very un-monkey mind. It’s cultivating what Buddhists variously call Buddha mind, awakened mind, wholeness or oneness. If your only goal in writing is to write, then you can bring your whole mind to it, which is all that creativity really demands.

Read more on Buddhist writing in the wonderful One Continuous Mistake by Gail Sher, or learn about creative recovery with Julia Cameron.

PS – The I-Ching also counsels good timing and self-awareness as essential for creative success. When you’re ready, you will know.

PPS – I start teaching a new writing course soon. Email me for more info: damiengwalter@gmail.com

Tell me your thoughts, join the conversation thread for this post on Facebook.


The indie author’s secret weapon – market intelligence

I’ve been covering the indie publishing revolution both here and for The Guardian since Amazon announced 70% royalties for authors selling ebooks through their Kindle store. It was clear that move was going to create a huge opportunity for indie published authors, and in the six years since that’s certainly been the case.

“I am always in the writer’s corner when it comes to the business of publishing”

The opportunities in indie publishing are still excellent, as bestseller lists dominated by indie authors demonstrate. I’m continually discovering new authors who are making a good income self publishing, established authors diversifying into the market, and older authors bringing their backlists online, often very profitably. I am always in the writer’s corner when it comes to the business of publishing, so I see all of this as a very good thing.

However, there’s no doubt that indie publishing also requires some skills and knowledge that not all indie authors possess. The need for editorial, design and general marketing skills – or the capital to buy them in – is well established. Less discussed, but ever more essential, and until recently the domain of only the biggest publishers, is market intelligence.

The big publishers like Penguin Random House have a huge market intelligence advantage. Put simply, the sheer number of books they sell, means they have an invaluable insight into what will sell in the future. As an indie author all you can do is look at the bestseller lists and see what’s in the top 20 that week.

Enter K-Lytics, run by Alex Newton, who I’ve been having great discussions with for most of the last six months. K-Lytics does what it says on the tin, Alex tracks activity on the Kindle store, and shares market intelligence on what’s hot in the worlds biggest ebook market place.

It’s actually hard to express just what a difference this kind of market intelligence can make. If you’re putting a quality book out on Kindle, fiction or non-fiction, whether you’re an indie author, a small press, or a major publisher, the right intelligence can radically improve the outcome.

Take a simple example. Keywords.The keywords you choose determine in large part which genres and sub-genres your book is marketed under. That in turn can make the difference between competing against 300 other titles, or against 12000, or between needing 80 sales to reach a top twenty slot, or needing 800.

If you have a list of books on Kindle you want to sharpen the marketing on, or you’re in the process of indie publishing a book, consider this a strong recommendation to take a look at K-Lytics genre specific reports and see if they can help you. They run about $19 and strike me as a good investment for serious indie authors.

Also of interest to many of you, Alex has brand new market intelligence on the Sci-Fi and Fantasy genres on Kindle that is absolutely fascinating. We’re going to be sharing some of that intelligence in the near future here. You can follow me on Twitter @damiengwalter to get get an update when that post is ready and up to read.

Take a look at K-Lytics, and let me know your thoughts in the discussion thread for this post on Facebook.

The book marketing secret that doesn’t get said enough

Either your book is its own best marketing, or it’s doomed for the bonfire.

This gets rephrased in polite publishing circles as the importance of “word of mouth” marketing. IE, either people are interested / excited / enthralled by your book and hence tell others who in turn become interested / excited / enthralled by your book in a chain reaction that leads to the nuclear fusion of bestsellerdom…or not.

People write books as a way of communicating specific ideas or telling a particular story. The book IS the marketing vehicle. If the book doesn’t catch any interest, the chances are those ideas or  that story just don’t resonate. Sure a poster campaign, radio interviews, blog tour etc can speed the process along. But if people aren’t interested, they’ll only help them discover that more quickly.

The important marketing decisions all happen long before a book cover is designed or a pages are printed. “Is there a market for this book?” is a question writers themselves have to answer early in the writing process, at least if they intend to earn a living from selling books. The book itself has to do the hard work of reaching that market, and succeed or fail, the book and writer must take full responsibility.

Read why point-of-view matters…but not that much.

How Philip K Dick’s 1962 masterpiece nailed politics in 2016

Is Europe welcoming desperate refugees, or being invaded by economic migrants? Is Donald Trump a serious presidential candidate, or a clownish attention seeker? The Man In The High Castle reveals the most basic truths about our era of competing narratives.


In 1947 the forces of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan swept to victory over Europe and America. Fifteen years later America still lives under Axis dominance. This is the starting premise of Philip K Dick’s 1962 science fiction masterpiece, The Man In The High Castle, which recently become the latest of the famed sci-fi author’s stories to be adapted for the screen.

It’s often claimed that The Man In The High Castle is a novel of alternate history. While it’s true that the story contains a fascinating counterfactual timeline of the world following an Allied defeat, theres an even deeper level of significance within Philip K Dick’s classic novel. The Man In The High Castle is a novel not just of alternate histories, but of alternate narratives, and it’s in this contest of narratives that the novel says most about the politics of today.

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick

The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is a story within a story, a novel within the novel of The Man In The High Castle. This secondary book imagines a world where the Axis powers *lost* World War 2, a world uncomfortably close to our actual reality. Even while we as readers follow the story of Germany and Japan winning the war, PKD engineers a counter narrative in which, as with our actual reality, those nations lost the war. And as the story progresses, these two alternate narratives begin to conflict.

The author of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, Hawthorne Abendsen, is the eponymous “man in the high castle”. He lives in an isolated mountain compound, to which a number of the novel’s central characters are drawn by reading the novel within the novel. As they do, reality itself begins to shift and alter, and they begin to enter the world of Abendsen’s book. The resemblance between Abendsen and Philip K Dick is deliberate. PKD is suggesting that we, like the characters reading The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, must question the narrative of our own reality.

Confused? Perhaps no more so than we all are by the conflicting narratives of everyday life. Today our world is saturated with narratives. Newspapers, television, advertising and the internet are continually bombarding us with with stories of society, politics, wars, technology and thousands of other subjects. PKDs fascination with this complex web of narratives lead him to repeatedly ask the question in fiction that confronts us all today in reality – which narratives are we, ultimately, to believe?

“The false narratives of others are easily spotted, but we’re almost entirely blind to false information that supports our own narrative.”

Is Europe welcoming desperate refugees, or being invaded by economic migrants? Is Donald Trump a serious presidential candidate, or a clownish attention seeker? Are cuts to public spending a necessary economic sacrifice, or is economic recession just an excuse to force through ideology?  These hot button issues don’t simply divide culture, they reveal the competing narratives fighting for dominance of culture.

Conservatives and liberals who take opposing positions on these issues don’t just hold different opinions, they believe radically different narratives. The conservative narrative, that believes in God the creator and religious law, leads people to very different conclusions on major issues, than the liberal narrative of evolution and scientific discovery. What Philip K Dick understood in 1962, that most of us today are only beginning to see, is just how our narratives define our sense of reality. While we may live in one world physically, we inhabit very different worlds psychologically.

Social media means that more people than ever can create narratives and put them into the world. The website Snopes.com catalogues, and debunks, the complex half truths, conspiracy theories and outright lies that proliferate on the internet. Taken in isolation the mistaken belief that Starbucks removed Jesus from their Christmas cups, or that Steve Jobs recanted his capitalist ways on his death bed, seem simply absurd. The false narratives of others are easily spotted, but we’re almost entirely blind to false information that supports our own narrative.


With The Man In The High Castle, Philip K Dick was pointing to one of the great conundrums of modern life and culture. When we attempt to judge competing narratives as true or false, we inevitably do so in relation to the narratives we already hold to be true. PKD asks us to imagine a world where Nazi power triumphed in WW2, and a world in which the narrative of history was written by the victor. If we lived in that world, how would we know that the lies spun by a Nazi government were not the truth? If even a power as malignant and destructive as Nazism could persuade us to believe its narratives, then anything we believe true might potentially be based upon lies.

The answer Philip K Dick guides us towards is an awareness of narratives themselves. Until we see how stories are used to shape our perceptions and reality, we’re vulnerable to continued manipulation. But once we can think critically about the ways that narratives are constructed, and the various agendas they serve, we can begin to assess objectively our own beliefs. That simple insight places The Man In The High Castle among the best guides to our 21st century world, and is the reason why the works of Philip K Dick are read so widely some fifty years after they were written.

Learn more about the complexities of storytelling and find out why Neuromancer is still the greatest SF novel. Follow all my writing as a patron.

Follow me on Twitter @damiengwalter.

Fisking “An open letter to Rey from Star Wars”

OK. I am going to post a link a few lines down the page. You…probably will be happier if you don’t read it. But…we both know you’re going to. It’s by a chap named Nathan Alberson, writing on a website called Warhorn media, which appears to be a group blog by members of a church. Honestly, I mean no personal offence to Nathan or his fellow bloggers, I’m sure they are fine people in many ways. But, the post in question is…well…it’s misguided to say the least. Here, go read, then come back.


UPDATE: the original post seems to be down. Too much traffic!

Charming, huh? Nathan’s overall argument seems to be that films, by showing women as heroes, are behaving corruptly, because women are actually “the weaker sex”. This post went up in March, but it seems it was re-linked a few days ago, from whence it has gone viral. That’s a good example of a self inflicted Sword of Damocles. Nathan put this pile of turds up on a high ledge, forgot it was there for a month, and now is acting surprised that he has found himself covered in shit.

Sigh. So I’m going to fisk some parts of the post. The full thing is just too poorly written and repetitive to do it all. I’ll take on the parts in which Nathan makes his key points. Nathan is in bold.

Dear Rey from Star Wars,

Also Princess Leia. And Wonder Woman. And Sarah Connor and Trinity and Imperator Furiosa and Beatrix Kiddo and Black Widow and Katniss Everdeen and River Tam and Gamora. And Feminist Elf-Kate from The Hobbit. And every character undertaken to help pay Milla Jovovich’s mortgage. And the godmother of them all, Ellen Ripley. If you are an empowered fictional female warrior type, this is a letter to you.

Bzzzzt…wrong. Female heroes go back a whole hell of a lot further than Ellen Ripley. Go read up on your classical Greek myths and Amazonian warrior women. Hippolyta fucking ROCKS. She’s also the archetype for Wonder Woman, who also pre-dates Ripley by some decades. Your problem here Nathan is that you’re lazy, and even though you complain about it in this very post, you’ve never bothered to look beyond the patriarchal entertainment industry. Get off your butt, read and watch more widely and more diversely. You will see how little you know.

Let me start by saying I have enjoyed many of the movies that you ladies have been in. I hope you won’t think I’m being patronizing if I say you are all beautiful, talented, intelligent flowers of your respective civilizations. My hat is off to all of you.

Your fedora.

It really is. And as a sworn gentleman, I’m loath to cause you any pain or embarrassment. In fact, if I may be so bold, I’d like to save you from pain or embarrassment.

Save your gentlemanly pity for yourself Nathan. You’re the one about to cause yourself a shitload of pain and embarrassment here.

So you see the pickle I’m in. I feel a bit like it’s my job to tell you your slip is showing. Or like I’m one of those knights in those paintings where the knight is rescuing the, uh, rather unclothed lady who is tied to a tree. True chivalry demands action in both those cases, but you can’t do it without causing the lady in question a little of the old p. and e.

I present that last paragraph without further comment.


In any case, it’s going to seem like I’m being hard on you all, but I’m only doing it because I care about you. And I hope if you read through to the end you’ll see that I’m actually being much harder on myself and other men.

So let’s talk.

This is Nathan setting up that his massively patronising diatribe is actually an attempt to RESCUE women from those ungodly Hollywood types. Sorry Nathan, this doesn’t work that way. You’re being an immense dick to a whole huge bunch of people, saying it’s for their own good only makes you MORE of a dick.

I know the whole world is ladling on the adoration for your brave contributions to modern womanhood. However, you are behaving, all of you, in ways that do not befit your sex or glorify God. Frankly, and I’m sorry to have to say this, I really am, many of you look ridiculous. Your friends and family and fans may not laugh at you. But the angels do and history will. What you’re doing might be good politics (of a sort), but it’s bad biology, bad theology, and bad storytelling. It lies about who you are as a woman and how God made you. And it makes for lousy movies and TV.

OK Nathan, we get it. You hold a fundamentalist worldview. And your fundamentalist worldview makes you see women as weak. Fine. But let’s be clear. It’s your belief system, the stuff inside your head, that leads you to see women that way. This is about you.

Okay, that’s the nastiest part. Now let me explain.

Let’s talk about biology first, who you are as a woman.

The most obvious things are the hardest to defend. You can write whole textbooks proving something unseen and unexpected like gravity or photosynthesis. But how do you prove the existence of Mt. Everest besides saying “Look, there it is?”

That’s why I feel dumb saying this, but:

Women are the weaker sex. They may be the smarter sex, they are often the wiser sex, they’re probably the more industrious sex, they’re definitely the prettier sex. But they’re also the weaker sex.

It’s telling you need to employ such a cheap rhetorical strategy here. Women are the weaker sex because it’s just obvious, and the obvious doesn’t need supporting with evidence, amirite? Again, Nathan, you need to get out of the little bubble you exist in.

I know we’ve all seen German Olympic wrestling ladies that could wrestle me to the ground faster than you can say “steroid abuse.” But most women I meet are smaller than me. Their arms have less than half the bulk and heft of mine. It’s how they’re built. Rey, I’m sorry, but I did not believe for a second that a little girl like you really beat up those thugs on Jaaku. It was almost like it was choreographed or something.

I hate to beak it to you Nathan, and I fear you’re so brain washed by action movies that this will actually be a revelation, but nobody, male or female, can do the things that heroes do in movies. Spend some time in an A+E ward, you’ll see that people are fragile. Male or female. These films you like are a total fantasy. So why shouldn’t women also be the heroes of the fantasy? Rey beating up a bunch of thugs is no more or less realistic than John McClane killing a room for of terrorists in Die Hard, they’re both a fantasy. This is about all the rubbish going on inside your head Nathan, that seems to make you believe fantasies with male heroes are more “realistic”. That alone should tip you off that you have a real problem.

It’s not just a matter of small bodies versus big bodies. Women are the weaker sex because they’re more timid and emotionally vulnerable and tender-hearted than men. God made them that way.

Remember what I said about this being about the mess of stuff in your head Nathan? At some point you’ve been taught this, and you’ve believed it in good faith I am sure. It’s even possible some of the women in your community conform to it because they’ve been taught it to, but OH MY GOD BOY YOU NEED TO GET OUT INTO THE WORLD AND MEET MORE PEOPLE. I strongly suspect your own response to the internet falling on your head will demonstrate who is more emotionally vulnerable here.

I could quote more scriptures about women being vulnerable in ways that men aren’t. About women being designed by God to be wives and mothers. About Eve being made as Adam’s helpmate. I’m not going to bother doing that because you ladies are all capable of reading your Bibles.

There’s quite a lot of bible quoting going on in the post. Yes, we know Nathan is a fundamentalist, we know those are his beliefs, and from his beliefs come his view of the world. All the bible quotes do is reiterate what we know – in Nathan’s head there is a bunch of stuff that leads him to believe things. None of that makes what he believes either true or accurate.

And even the makers of the movies you ladies are in couldn’t get away from these sorts of considerations. Roger Ebert complained in his review of The Matrix that “[Trinity] has a sensational title sequence, before the movie recalls that she’s a woman and shuttles her into support mode.” You remember that, right, Trinity? You fell in love with the hero and helped inspire him to kill the bad guy with a kiss? What were the filmmakers thinking, starting you out so strong and then reducing you to that?

Funny you should home in on The Matrix here, the from which Men’s Rights Activists draw their Red Pill metaphor. What’s that you say Nathan? That Trinity becomes a more realistic character as she is made a helper to Neo? WHO CAN FUCKING FLY. Because flying men, that’s just the height of realism.

What I’m getting sick of is the men that think it’s cool and sexy to make you be the way you are. The men who refuse to tell stories that encourage and ennoble other men to protect and care for the weak ones, the vulnerable ones, the hurting ones—the women and the children, the widows and the orphans.

This is where Nathan starts to reach his point. Hollywood is acting corruptly by making films that encourage and ennoble women, because it should only be making films that encourage and ennoble men. Remember, this is all about the inside of Nathan’s head, where women are weak and men, as we will see, are made for war. So Hollywood is bad for not showing the world the way it is in Nathan’s head. In every. Single. Film. Because most films? They do show the world the way Nathan wants to see it. But even the few that don’t are simply unacceptable.

As men, we were born with bodies and minds crafted for war. We are the warriors, the peacekeepers, the protectors—the bloodshedders, when the time is right. Every man is a father, whether of his own children, or the people that work for him, or the folks he leads at church. As such, he must be ready to uphold what is virtuous and punish what is evil.

We are the Spartans from 300, is what Nathan is saying here. Nathan has really hung his ass out here – I’m guessing it’s not the ass of a warrior – but I’m not going to kick it. Let’s be kind and say this is just more evidence that Nathan lives in his own inner world made of fantasy action movies.

Real life is (often) more prosaic than the fantasies you ladies were created to sell.

Just to reiterate this point Nathan, but male heroes are also fantasies created to sell things. They’re just encoded to appeal to you, so you accept them without question or critical thought.

So it helps for men to be encouraged and allowed to feel good about being the protectors and defenders.

Yes Nathan, it also helps other people to feel god about being in those roles as well.

Answer: entertainment matters. The things we like, even the fictional things, mean something about the condition of our souls. If you’re a man of God, you’re a man of God twenty-four-seven. You don’t get five minutes a day to indulge in pagan fantasies, to abdicate masculine responsibility, if only in your mind.

Many of the older generation will argue that my generation takes its entertainments—our movies, our TV shows, our books, our music—far too seriously. With all due respect to the older generation, and much respect is due, I think they’re dead wrong. We don’t take them half seriously enough.

Movies are great. I love movies. But a movie is never just a movie. A story is never just a story. The good stories ennoble us. They make us, in their own humble way, better men and women. The bad ones have the power to mutilate our souls.

What’s sad here is that if Nathan thought about it just a little bit harder, he’d realise that this is exactly the reason his thesis is wrong. Entertainment does matter. It’s telling that Nathan can only think of it as entertainment, when really what he’s talking about here is art. Nathan is stuck in a very narrow worldview, and the part not handed to him by fundamentalist beliefs has been handed to him by the entertainment industry. Again, get off your lazy backside Nathan and engage with some real art. As is so often the case with people caught in such narrow ways of thinking, Nathan can see there is a problem. But because he’s not willing to examine his own responsibility for the problem IE his own lazy consumption of “entertainment” and his own way of seeing the world, he has to turn the blame onto the victims.

Movies and TV were a big part of how I learned who women were. And they lied to me.

No, Nathan. You weren’t lied to. You were just too lazy to engage with better art than the constant diet of fantasy escapism you seem to have grown-up on and now mistake for reality.

Look ladies, I’m not saying it’s all your fault. You’re just doing what you think you’re supposed to. The actresses who played you were just submitting to their industry and their directors and producers and agents. Which is what you’d expect. Everybody has to submit to somebody. For most women it’s going to be a man. These particular women choose the men who told them if they degraded themselves they’d be free. And they’d be inspiring others to be free.

This is where Nathan shows his real agenda. And it’s nasty. Submission and degradation, all in one paragraph. And look how perverse the “logic” becomes at this point. Movies that show women empowered and ennobled are actually degrading . But movies that show women submissive and degraded are actually ennobling! Nathan believes women would be more empowered by accepting their naturally submissive position to men. Remember, this is the hat-tipping chivalrous knightly gentleman from earlier.

Because I need all you fictional ladies to help me out. Because I suck. I’m passive. I’m weak. I don’t need more excuses. What I need is something to fight for, someone to fight for, someone to protect. If you rob me of that, you rob me of my dignity as a man.


My eyes! My eyes! The blazing bonfire of whining self pity has blinded me!

I’m going to stop fisking at this point. I actually feel a little uncomfortable for Nathan. The rest of the post embroiders this closing argument about women in submissive victim roles, and men in dominant hero roles, and how men need this in order to develop self respect. What’s embarrassing for Nathan is what he isn’t saying aloud, that everybody else can see he’s thinking. He wants to be a dominant male hero, he enjoys living that fantasy out in films, and films with empowered female heroes don’t let him do that.

I hope Nathan recovers from having the internet collapse on his head. He’s really just stating the kind of things MRA type folks say a lot, with a twist of religious fundamentalism on top. But now and again it’s worth picking such faulty arguments apart just to see how easy it is.

I have been blogging for 10 years! This is where it took me.

On 7th April 2006 I set up a blog on WordPress.com, with the intention of publishing book reviews. As first blog posts go, that one is fairly typical. We tend to begin blogging knowing more that we want to write, than what we want to write about. While it can be many things, at its most fundamental I see blogging as a form of journaling, and as a cornerstone of a healthy writing practice.

I’ve been working as a writer in various guises since my early 20s. I began writing short autobiographical pieces, primarily about life growing up on a council estate, that often had a weird twist. I published a dozen or so short stories like this in the early 00s, that attracted a lot of attention and some early meetings with editors and agents. It was far too much for me at the time, and a voice of warning told me I didn’t want to spend my whole life shackled to those experiences, so I basically ran away. But it did lead me into organising and running writing workshops, which became my work.

Five years later I’d lost myself as a writer. Running workshops, fundraising to make them happen, and the endless political fight that made the work possible had sucked up most of my energies. What I learned in those years formed the basis of my first major essay for Aeon magazine on “creator culture“. But I know for a fact I’d never have made it to writing that essay, or anything much else, if I hadn’t opened up this blog as a way to kickstart my own writing again.

Just a few weeks after starting the blog, I went to the 2006 Eastercon in Glasgow, where M John Harrison was a guest of honour. I’d been drawn back to sci-fi novels by two books, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station. I was a huge fantasy reader, comic book geek and RPG fan as a kid, but through my late teens and 20s I’d read mostly literary novels, poetry and plays. It was discovering M John Harrison’s novel Light that really re-engaged me with SF, by showing me it could be both the fantasy I loved as a kid, and the literary writing I hungered for as an adult. Inspired by M John Harrison’s non-fiction collection Parietal Games, I decided to make this blog the space where I explored the overlap between literature and genre.

I did not expect that to be as successful as it has been. By November 2006 I was writing around 10 posts a month, a mixed bag of reviews, critical writing, and updates on my own fiction writing. Around this time I was writing short, weird tales that were published in a dozen or so ‘zines of various sizes including Electric Velocipede and BBC Radio. Many of these stories are now in my collection of weirder tales. My early posts were getting  between 200-300 readers which really felt like a lot at the time, and it was only later I realised I was being aggregated through a few well known sci-fi fan sites.

At some point in 2007 a writer for The Guardian linked out to my blog, and I followed the link back and found that, while the books blog there occasionally mentioned SF & Fantasy, it never received any serious consideration. So I started regularly commenting, and after a few weeks was invited to write a few pieces above the line, that would ultimately become my Weird Things column. In the eight or so years I’ve been writing on the subject for The Guardian, the mainstream media discussion of sci-fi has radically shifted. When I began it was very hard to get editors to even consider serious mainstream coverage of sci-fi. Today that fight has been won, and the field’s deep engagement with various political themes is almost taken for granted.

This blog was also what took me to the Clarion writers workshop in 2008. I remember first reading about Clarion and thinking, “CRAZY! Who spends six weeks in San Diego studying sci-fi writing?” The answer as it transpired was, I DO! Clarion helped me re-focus my writing. Ironically it was attending a workshop for short fiction that showed me short fiction wasn’t my real passion. Clarion catalysed a lot of change in my life. In the first week Kelly Link warned that some of us would finish Clarion, go home, and blow up our lives so that we could re-build them in a better shape to support our writing. That’s exactly what I did. But through a long period of change, blogging remained a constant.

I’ve published 944 posts on my blog, with this being my 945th. I’d estimate that’s a solid one million words. I’ve accrued 3330 followers on WordPress.com, a mysterious cohort. If you’re a WordPress follower and reading this, shout out! The median page views of my top 15 most read posts is 12,000. Those posts reflect the central interests of my blog for the last ten years.

  1. The remarkable Neal Stephenson interview
  2. 7 literary Sci-Fi and Fantasy novels you must read
  3. Sorry Jonesy, but I can write for The Guardian AND love Terry Pratchett
  4. FUCK YOU AMAZON! Fuck you for being right! Again!
  5. 5 indispensable guides for fiction writers
  6. Writing Practice – why it’s time to stop thinking of writing as a profession
  7. 7 signs you are ready to self-publish (a checklist)
  8. What do we do about Lovecraft?
  9. Two. Four. Seven. More. How many stories are there?
  10. 6 signs your novel may be pretty damn good
  11. The Indie Sci-Fi Revolution
  12. The value of reading, and the cost of ignorance
  13. What is geek culture’s big problem with criticism?
  14. Why crap books sell millions
  15. The DOs and DO NOTs of getting your book reviewed

There’s a lot I could say about building a blog readership and other such topics. But that’s not really what I set out to talk about today. A lot of pressure is placed on blogging to perform as a marketing device. And it can certainly work as such. But if you take anything away from reading this far down a long post, it’s that blogging might be better approached as an integral part of your writing practice. Over the last decade, my writing practice has taken me on a really wonderful journey. A journey I’m still on, and that every day influences the shape of my life. That journey began with an unread blog post on an unknown blog. Where it will go next is a mystery, to me most of all.


If you’re a male geek who acts out macho sexist fantasies with video games, you’ve become a mainstream jock

As white male geeks are keen to point out, they’re often as much the victim of “jockish” patriarchal mainstream culture as anybody else. Last year a much publicised post by Scott Aaronson, who as a professor at MIT represents a paragon of geek achievement, articulated the inner conflicts many geek men feel in their relationships to women. But Aaronson’s argument, and the perspective it represents, only highlight the incredible failing of many white geek men. If you share the experience of people who have been bullied and abused by mainstream culture, why can’t you treat others with empathy, instead of playing out a fantasy power-trip at their expense?

Fantasy is the central and shared love of geek culture. Not the capital F “Fantasy” of JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, but the human psychological capacity for fantasy explored by thinkers like Sigmund Freud. Sci-fi books, comics, RPGs, video games and pretty much everything else in geek culture is filled with fantasies of all kinds, and the creators we love most are the ones who draw us deeply into fantasy worlds.

Read more @ The Independent

A stranger comes to town in The Vathiriel Blade

Game of Thrones meets Jack Reacher – The Vathiriel Blade is in the top rank of indie published fantasy novels.

The collapse of a regime can be a brutal affair. It’s something we’ve seen too many times in the the last decade, as dictatorships across the Middle East have fallen…and sometimes risen again. It’s imagery of the execution of Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gadaffi that author Mark Brantingham summons in the opening set piece of The Vathiriel Blade, a new indie published fantasy novel that sets a high bar for the field.

The Vathiriel Blade by Mark Brantingham

King Dwyer fought his way to power, but now his fortress is surrounded by the armies of a new challenger, and defeat is certain. Beside the king is his loyal captain, Sean Fitzpatrick. The early scenes of The Vathiriel Blade lay the ground for a prototypical epic fantasy adventure of kings battling for power. Instead the reader is blindsided as Dwyer is quickly defeated, his forces butchered, civilians murdered, and the full brutality of regime change unfolds.

Captain Sean Fitzpatrick, pardoned by the challenger king, is one of the few survivors. After witnessing the death of his wife and child in the aftermath of battle, Sean has little reason to embrace his existence. But the kindness shown to him by a simple farming family opens Sean to the potential of a different kid of life, one dominated not by violence and hatred, but by peace and love. Perhaps even a life in the small town of Skoagy where he washes up after the war. But as readers we know, powerful forces will step in to stop Sean finding that happiness.

If the early set-up echoes Game of Thrones, the real story of The Vathiriel Blade is a fantasy themed “stranger comes to town” narrative in the style of Jack Reacher, the drifter hero created by Lee Child. The town of Skoagy is a fantasy take on exactly the kind of one horse town the stranger commonly washes up in, which in turn places Brantingham’s tale firmly in the emerging Weird Western genre. The towns villain’s, up to their armpits in a land grab of local farms, take some inspiration from Al Swearengen and crew in the classic Deadwood.

All of this makes for a highly appealing genre mash-up. Brantingham winds the tension up in a long, quiet build of subtle character work before Sean Fitzpatrick is forced to face both Skoagy’s dark side, and his own violent past. The return of Solomon, the town’s enforcer, from the same war that claimed Sean’s old life, produces a violent conflict that resonates far more deeply than the petty murder which ignites it.

The Vathiriel Blade’s ambition is remarkable. At times Brantingham doesn’t quite carry off the narrative tricks he tries to pull on the reader. The novel’s opening set piece of King Dwyer’s fall is over-long and there isn’t a strong enough set-up to pull readers through to the main body of the story. Sean Fitzpatrick, as the story’s protagonist, is too often overshadowed by shifts of point-of-view to other characters, especially in the narrative’s first act where the decision to treat him as a “hidden protagonist” undermines much of the story’s potential appeal. Brantingham’s character work is a little too subtle for the genre material he is playing with, and the middle of the book sags a little without an immediate focus of action.

These criticism’s fade away when Brantingham unleashes the narrative dynamics that bring The Vathiriel Blade to it’s satisfying climax. Genre collisions are technically tricky to pull off, but despite some teething problems, there’s more than enough in Brantingham’s “stranger comes to town” fantasy to make it a compelling read. There’s clearly a potential series in The Vathiriel Blade, and with a strong high concept and good delivery, it’s one many readers will find pleasure in.

The shameful joys of the franchise novel … and why the force is with them

Snobby attitudes to sci-fi and fantasy can mean missing out on great stories amid popular book series – a publishing genre that is sure to grow.

Make of it what you will, but it’s a plain fact of publishing life that more people will read the latest Star Wars franchise novel than all the books shortlisted for last year’s Booker prize put together. The world is a noisy place, made all the more so by the democratising influence of the internet, where it sometimes seems that all seven billion members of the global village have self-published their own book. Confronted with this tumult of competing egos, you can hardly blame the average punter for sticking with entertainment brands scorched into their psyche by the lightsabers of multibillion-dollar marketing budgets.

The parochial world of literary fiction tends to deal with mass-media franchises in the same way it deals with genre fiction, comics and the other narrative arts that eclipse it by magnitudes for size, influence and profit margins: by giving them the silent treatment. This isn’t an entirely stupid strategy. Literary fiction may very well touch parts of the human condition its more successful cousins fail to reach. But then it may not, and the arrogant assumption that novels published within a franchise that has touched the hearts and minds of millions have nothing to tell us is … well … arrogant.

What franchise novels can certainly do well is compelling storytelling. And at their best, they can do it much better than the franchises that spawned them. Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire introduces the malevolent Grand Admiral Thrawn to the extended Star Wars universe, where he remains hands-down its best antagonist. One of the many problems with the vastly overrated Star Wars movies (Empire being the moment of genius that rescues the entire franchise) is the absurd incompetence of their villains. Any evil galactic Empire that can be brought low with a missile up the exhaust pipe is not worthy of the name.

Set five years after Return of the Jedi, the Thrawn trilogy follows the painstaking progress of Admiral Thrawn as he leads the remnants of the Imperial fleet against the ascendent New Republic. Have no doubt, Thrawn is a merciless villain, but Timothy Zahn’s smart decision to cast the bad guys as the underdog gives the entire trilogy a compelling edge that the movies simply lack. With rumours about the latest Star Wars trilogy swirling, Disney even went as far as denying Zahn’s masterful narrative will play any part in the new movie. Which is shame, as the brinksmanship of Grand Admiral Thrawn would be a lot more entertaining than the predictable in jokes and cheesy pastiche of yet another JJ Abrams fangasm.

The kingdom of the franchise novel extends far beyond spin-offs from cinema and TV. You can keep your Lord of the Rings and even your Game of Thrones. If I could take only one fantasy novel with me to read in the dungeons of Mordor it would be Drachenfels by Jack Yeovil – better known to most readers as the redoubtable Kim Newman. In the early years of Games Workshop the creators of the Warhammer franchise it published a short run of novels that added some depth of charcater to the two-dimensional world of tabletop gaming. Drachenfels was by far the best, a little known gem of fantasy fiction still unrivalled in its canon.

Detlef Sierck is a playwright of Shakespearean talent with the ego of a young Orson Welles. He is pulled out of debtors prison by Oswald von Konigswald to recreate in theatre the prince’s youthful quest to destroy the great enchanter Constant Drachenfels. What follows is a taught phantasmagoria as the story within the story weaves itself back in to reality. Imagine the gothic horror of Hammer’s Dracula movies merged with the ironic humour of PG Wodehouse and you get a sense of Drachenfels. As with much of the best franchise writing, it’s the constraints and limitations of the Warhammer world that seemed to bring out the best in Newman’s writing.

John Scalzi’s Redshirts boldly takes the franchise novel to explore strange new territory in a universe bearing some resemblance to that of the original Star Trek. The story follows the journeys of the low-ranking members on board a starship crew as they come to realise they are living in a television show. It’s a metafictional homage to the classic sci-fi serial, the writing of which gave Scalzi an insight in to the work of the franchise writer.

“I think there is a snobbery toward franchise writing that’s wholly unwarranted,” Scalzi says. “It’s a ridiculous double standard. Franchise writing requires flexibility, speed, the ability to adhere to canonical guidelines while still producing entertaining work. That’s a specific skillset.”

And writers with that skillset can make a solid living in the franchise novel market. That’s a reality that might come as a shock to their literary compatriots. The big names of franchise writing such as Peter David and Alan Dean Foster may struggle to command much literary respect, but with more than 20 million books sold worldwide, Kevin J Anderson can respond to critics of his Dune prequels while sucking on a stogie rolled from thousand-dollar bills. Of course that kind of success can become a honeytrap of its own, with success in the franchise marketplace rarely translating to acclaim for a writer’s original material.

As the world becomes noisier the franchise novel will only become more powerful, and take on new forms. Writing is seen as a solitary enterprise, but the shared worlds of franchises like Star Wars are one way that artistic collaboration can help to lift a creation above the high noise-to-signal ratio of modern life. Perhaps instead of dismissing franchises out of hand, the challenge for writers is to find ways to create much better art within them.

Originally published in The Guardian.