Friday, August 13, 2010

The Moral Compass in Writing

"Morality is a hindrance. We limit ourselves because of our perception of social norms, of believing in fair play. The greatest magicians are those who are willing to accept the consequences of their actions. They do not believe in accidents, in randomness. They believe that they are forever at the center of their existence, in control of their fate." The Red Queen, ENCHANTRESS ON THE EDGE (M Cid D'Angelo)

It was Machiavelli who illustrated well the philosophy of unreserved action without troubling oneself over consequences. He argued that the Prince should show no mercy when applying his will; that he should accept everything that he does and desire as so long as the Prince understands and accepts the consequences of his actions.

In this argument, morality is abstract; it is but a quaint invention of human society. Nature is cruel, but not cruel by intention if by design. Social animals and insects rarely thrust their individual needs before the group; their instincts hardwired into their behavior for the good of the hive, pride, what-have-you. These social structures in nature become one unit, acting at the will of what that society deems necessary to survive.

Human beings are individualistic social animals. We perceive ourselves with self-identity, yet, we also desire the survival tactic of being stronger en masse. The self-identity then becomes a random factor in what would be a true communistic society if everyone shared the same ideals and goals. We have those who show a great deal of altruism instead of selfish pursuits; we have humanitarians and murderers.

In Dr. Joshua D. Greene's essay, "Fruit Flies of the Moral Mind", the philosopher proposes several well-known scenarios to illustrate the moral dilemma that human beings can face from day-to-day, offering altruistic or utilitarian choices.

The Crying Baby Dilemma

You have an infant in your arms while with a group of people. There are enemy soldiers nearby looking for your group. If they find you all, they will kill you. Suddenly, the infant begins crying, so you place a hand over its mouth. You then are faced with a moral problem: if you keep holding your hand over the baby's mouth, you will end up suffocating it; if you do not, the infant's cries will alert the soldiers and they will end up killing you all. What do you choose to do? Kill your baby, or face the wrath of the soldiers?

The Switch Dilemma

There is a group of people near a railroad track. At that moment, a train loses control and will jump the track and kill everyone unless the far switch is activated. However, there is no time to hurry over to switch it. The only recourse is to push an unsuspecting fellow into the switch as hard as you can, throwing him into the train's path and killing him. The upside? You save the many people across the track. The downside? The man you push dies. What is the best option? The life of one for the life of others? Or is the choice of murdering the unsuspecting fellow too much for you to take on - at least if the group of people die, it was not at your hand?

In my Artemus Dark novel, Dark Running, one of the hero's adversaries is a cold, calculating fellow who will stop at nothing to gain his objectives. He has no social moral compass, but he does possess the capacity for social efficiency, i.e., he does not kill or hinder anyone just for the sake of causing harm. This moral question is brought up again in my other novels, Darkness Becomes You and Enchantress on the Edge. In both we have "villains" who understand the need for social norms and morals for the group to survive, but, individualistically, they are quick to take the road of self-interest in furthering their own goals.

The moral compass of a character in a story, even beyond the dilemmas of the hero/heroine, creates a vortex of inner strurggle and turmoil. Are we altogether altruistic by nature, or just a society of individuals bounded by our own self-interest? After all, we live our lives subjectively. No one travels our same road. Whether we live for others or live for ourselves, we all reach the final fate.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Noetic Science, Hermetics, and Self-Awareness

Can one dream and wish their life true?

A current, popular science is gaining momentum, illuminated in mainstream popular culture by author Dan Brown's novel, The Lost Symbol. Is it possible for one to realize their life in any scenario they wish, just by focusing one's intention and will upon it? Is it true that, as human beings, we are masters of every facet of our life?

As a student of such diverse philosphies as Hermetics and Taoism, such a "science" is hardly new. However, science is mainstream; its definition is one to illuminate the esoteric and forbidden knowledge in an effort for the entirety of humanity to understand how existence works. It is sold, therefore, en masse. Whether or not this spreading of knowledge pertains or has any connection to the theory of Memetics, it is important for the individual to understand who he is and what place in existence he ... exists. Most world religions, though commonly possessing certain core beliefs in accordance with the ancient Hermetic statement Know Ye Not That Ye Are Gods? also erode belief in self-empowerment and attempt to pursuade their adherents to throw faith in a deity for such a purpose.

However, as Director Cassandra Vieten of the Institute of Noetic Science defines in her Huffington Post article "What is Noetic Science?", self-empowerment is no longer something that belongs in the realm of magic, eastern mysticism, or sorcery. Noetic Science promotes the human achievement of self-actualization; that, we are gods. Human beings possess the mental and spiritual capacity for abstract thought. We create our gods; we have the power to create our own universe. This fundamental ideal follows the biblical question of the conception of Adam and Eve: why had god, after zapping the first couple into existence, cease direct creationism and allowed humans to procreate themselves?

As Director Vieten defines it, Noetic Science is "A multidisciplinary field that brings objective scientific tools and techniques together with subjective inner knowing to study the full range of human experience." This notion is primarly focused upon the intention and will of any individual, or, even groups, to bring about even miraculous results in the physical universe. Collective reasoning, collective thought, collective objectives (human consciousness) are rounded out and brought into realization - no matter how challenging the objective could be.

In my Artemus Dark novels (represented by the Cherry Weiner Literary Agency), the central theme is, of course, magic used as a fundamental human experience and ability. Even though Artemus Dark - sorcerer, paranormal investigator - lives in a world where will and intention is categorized as the use of "magic," the true science of self-empowerment also runs hand-in-hand with physics and modern technology. Human beings have become gods. The mythology behind this pretense is that "the gods had died, shedding their blood upon the universe and granting mortal man powers to control his fate." The entire series focuses mainly upon the magical side of Hermetics, which arguably, provides the esoteric base for Noetic Science.

So, has science itself begun to embrace the ideals of ancient philosophies? As we grow and learn more about our environment, and learn more of our own capabilities as human beings, we begin to realize agnosticism. The ages-old battles between science and religion become less volatile. Even Islam and the Christianity agree that the "Kingdom of God is within you."

Noetic Science now grants us at least one concept: self-empowerment is no longer a mantra for Eastern gurus or salespeople.


Sunday, July 25, 2010

One for the Greed … err … Money

Cha-ching, babies. Cha-ching!

Victorian-Age authors had nothing to gain, it seemed, from getting their masterpieces published – save for recognition, perhaps. Classics that would endure for ages usually came without hefty advances or staggering royalties, at least for the author if not for the estate he left behind.

That was the age of the classics, though; when words on the page meant more than the pocketbook. We understand that literary greats such as Herman Melville, Henry James, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Jules Verne, and even James Joyce had their bouts with poverty even after their works were sold. Later, after these immortals shuffled off this mortal coil, some savvy financial investor bought up the rights from authors’ heirs and made a killing (right, Saul Zaentz, formerly snapping up Tolkien Enterprises?), sniffing out a money-maker in the new Age of Green. And when I say “Green,” folks, I don’t mean our pipedream of an eco-friendly society.

The first actual blockbuster, in my most humble opinion, was Peter Benchley’s Jaws. During the late 60’s through the 70s, there were other great bestsellers raking in the dough, heralding the new voice of literary reason: CASH FOR THE WRITTEN WORD. Heck, just look at Arthur Hailey, Jacqueline Suzanne (whose pseudonym is actually a conglomeration of industry professionals), Sydney Sheldon, and James A. Michener (well, at least Michener won the Pulitzer). These were not authors; they were institutions. Corporations. Somewhere between the first sentences of their novels and where some publishing house accounting department cut a whopping advance check, the novel ceased to be anything truly literary. At least, not in the intention of just being literary; the novel had somehow become a gadget – a product of industry – made to be sold en masse and distributed for the whim of the self-absorbed, buying public.

Nowadays, there is an esoteric roulette wheel that doles out hefty advances to novels. There doesn’t seem to be any sanity to the method. In my previous post, I described how one librarian gained a HUGE advance for the story about a homeless cat. The roulette wheel is obviously in Las Vegas, spun by Sinatra’s Lady Luck. It appears that, through some whim of the Gods, a small white ball plinks and plunks to fall on any author's number, garnering her a high six-figures. One such lucky first-time author was Steve Alten, author of the shark novel, MEG. At one time facing unemployment and a family to feed, he was granted seven-figures in a bidding war supported by his then agent, Ken Atchity of AEI.

Now, don’t get me wrong, children. I mean, if I had that lucky number, I’d forget too why I began writing at the tender age of seven, and shout out “BITCH, the bacon’s done come home!” Yet, even now, though I work for a meager salary, and still search for my first book deal for ANY amount of advance, I chafe when I realize that authors such as Janet Evanovich, author of the Stephanie Plum novels, and the immortal Stephen King throw their respective publishers against the wall and demand millions and zillions of dollars to continue producing their literary works for their imprints. This has nothing to do with an advance one gains for presenting a new work – no! This is the age of the corporation and, therefore, when these authors demand money, it’s to keep them tethered to a contract for POSSIBLE future bestsellers and works that may or may not arrive. We’re all mortal, are we not?

But are these contemporary authors worth it? Are they worth the hype and the cash? They do have one helluva fanbase, certainly. Yet, while Ms. Evanovich demands a staggering $50m from St. Martin’s Press to stay put, Mr. King only tried to extort $18m from Viking. They turned him down; you’d think that Ms. Evanovich would see what was headed her way when she held a gun on her own publisher.

So, have we become more cash than substance these days? In the world of literary lawyers and contracts and channels of misdirected cash, I wonder …

… I wonder what Herman Melville would’ve done with $50 million.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Harrowing Pitfalls, Batscribbler!

In the July/August 2010 issue of Poets & Writers, editor Jofie Ferrari-Adler wrote a well-received article depicting the perilous duties of literary agents in "Necessary Agent." The article illuminated the "man behind the curtain" aspects of what literary agents face even after selling their authors to a publishing house.

The article can be accessed online at

The first literary agent Mr. Ferrari-Adler highlights is the well-renowned Molly Friedrich of Aaron Priest (whom has now started her own agency) who is able to drop some bombs about the lengths she will go to in selling an author, even if her client's writing career is doomed due to the nature of shady editors who will use the sale for their own selfish gains. Pretty disheartening, really, if the one person the author trusts - the agent - has "no choice" but to accept the offer even if it means literary deadsville.

Harrowing enough, but Mr. Ferrari-Adler even illuminates another example of the nasty business of publishing. This is the turbulent detail that even if an editor expresses interest in a novel, he often has very little power other than present it to the other members of the publishing house and wait - golly golly golly - for someone else (marketing, for example) to take up the reins and champion the work too.

This is precisely what happened to my first Artemus Dark novel, Dark Running, during the Fall/Winter of 2008. My then literary agent, Monique Raphel High, had landed the interest of an influential editor at Simon & Schuster. From what Monique told me in the days ahead, was that the editor was really pushing for the novel. Of course, we - author, agent, and editor - had a few obstacles to surmount before we could lay ink to a contract.


Needless to say, the deal fell through because "marketing decided it didn't want to go in that direction." I'd heard that this same department didn't feel that urban fantasies (of which Dark Running is categorized) were something the house wished to deal with to any great depth.

Yet, whether that is true or not, the publishing industry still pushes mega-zillions into speculative works and mediocre literary fare that present low returns. This, of course, has always been a challenge for publishing houses; whether to spend a high six-figured advance on a book about a homeless kitty-cat adopted by a nameless librarian (, while JK Rowling's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone garners an initial whopping $3000 advance (

Do I feel that somehow my own novels could garner a high six figures, or should? No author can say that. We may all attempt to write blockbusters like Michael Crichton, Dan Brown, or Stephanie Meyer, but winning any publishing contract in a over-saturated market of wannabes certainly is hard enough. However, with such perilous, blindfolded, dart-throwing by house acceptance parties, any author who is a diamond in the rough is indeed, lost in the rough.

I have discovered after having several agents champion me and my works, that even capable literary agents face insurmountable odds trying to push yet another manuscript on an insurmountable pile of others on a fledgling editor's desk - let alone have it rise to slap the sh** out of marketing and not only garner a lucrative book deal, but actually - if the publishing house has been strategic financially - have the published work bring itself into the black.

"Necessary Agent" is indeed an interesting article, and possesses enough stinging reality to keep the best of we writers humble.

"Adagio in the Dark" now in hard copy!

I wanted to kick off this new blog with an announcement: Lady Jane's Miscellany (a literary magazine published by San Francisco Press) has now published my literary short story, "Adagio in the Dark" !

Accepted for publication in April 2010, ADAGIO is a story about two violinists finding elusive love in rainy-day Chicago. The piece itself was submitted in October 2009.

"Adagio in the Dark" was inspired by listening to KD Lang/Tony Bennett duets, of all things. Yet, the story was a hard sale and had to undergo several major revisions since its first conception in Fall 2000 (as you can see, some period of time has passed since the first draft being penned and its first publication).

Even though set in Chicago, I had written it while living in a small studio apartment in Reno, Nevada. The first draft had a liberal twist to it, meaning that the object of the main character's (Julian) love, Amber Lewinski, was gay. This was the great barrier that kept the straight male from realizing romance with Amber, an insurmountable obstruction to his personal life coupled with his struggle to make it as a professional violinist. The homosexual twist to the story was an interesting topic, introducing how two very different individuals could still find a romantic love that was not physical, bound together by their mutual devotion to music. However, I changed the later draft to reflect that Amber had given her love already to a man and was now married - yet, as one can read, there seems to be a melancholic, lonely view of this marriage. Both violinists are lost, lonely, despite their finding each other in the gray wet of the Windy City.

A reader who enjoys moody, artistic stories should enjoy ADAGIO very much.

Lady Jane's Miscellany is a new literary magazine, with Jeff Hewitt as the Editor-in-Chief and Mac McKinney as the managing editor. Issue #2 is on sale now for $14.99 and is well-worth the cover price for quality literary fiction and other features.