Author Archives: Jill

Robert Kroese and other deep thoughts

He’s not a deep thought, maaannn, he’s a human being. Who writes books, good books. I have to admit Kroese got me through some really tough times with his science fiction, humor, and weird intellectual ideas. And he wasn’t a long-dead author, either. I could follow him on Twitter, when I found the fortitude to be on there. Quite literally, he brought me back to reading as my soul was being squeezed by the usual life garbage. When a friend committed suicide, and I hid by the utility sink at work to cry, I could go home later and read Kroese. When I hated my job, and I couldn’t sleep to save my life, I could while away the time with Kroese. When my dad was diagnosed with lymphoma, I gifted him with some Kroese books because he was bored and lacked energy from chemo. I wanted to share with my dad the books that had brought me joy.

Recently, I finished one of his older books, Shrodinger’s Gat, and I was a little taken aback by the poor editing. I didn’t mind the book; it was definitely a brave foray into fiction-with-exposition. But the editing was awful. I almost gave it a 3-star rating. I stopped myself. It had been a while since I had reviewed one of his books. Amazon doesn’t look kindly on mega-fans who review too many of an author’s books. It also doesn’t approve of authors of the same or similar genre doing book reviews. I decided to take a look at my reviews of his other books, but Amazon had unfortunately culled most of them. I think there were two left — why those two, I have no idea.

There’s no way I’m giving any of his books less than stellar ratings now.* I had this conversation over at Amatopia not that long ago. Reviewing books can be tricky. Not only does Amazon think authors-reviewing-authors is dubious, so do readers in general. There’s a reason why I don’t review many books, and being burnt-out is only part of it. But Amazon’s removing my reviews is a good way to get my hackles up, too. I mean, I’m not even a successful author. I’m first and foremost a reader. So what if Amazon and a bunch of no-nothings think my reviews are fake? Let them! I’m going to go give Kroese a good rating and let it sit there until the idiotic, soulless beasts of the internet corporate algorithms find it and delete it. Or maybe they won’t this time. One can only hope.

Does a bang precede a whimper, or is it the other way around?

*To be fair, all his books are worth 4-5 stars; this is the first one I was tempted to rate lower due to a lack of editing diligence.

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Creative Vision

We sifted through some old favorites on Amazon music last night. Or, I should say, some old favorites popped up while we were sifting through tags. One leads to another — you know how it works. But as Lindsey Stirling’s visage passed by (my husband had the controller; I could do nothing about it), I got to wondering what she was up to lately. When our two adult children were young teenagers, we had discovered Lindsey Stirling and were, like a lot of people, taken with her performance. She was creative, unusual, and possessing of so much energy. At the time, we were an Irish dance family, very invested in the dance world. Also, our two eldest children had been taking fiddle lessons for free from a local fiddle master. Lindsey Stirling intrigued all of us.

Her path to success was anything but simple, though. In her childhood, her parents were too poor to pay for full violin lessons, which meant a fifteen-minute lesson once a week. She begged her parents for dance lessons, but was told she would have to choose because they couldn’t afford both dance and violin; she chose violin. On her Twitter account, she has said she didn’t start dance until she was twenty-three years old. In the dance world, that’s insanity. Nobody makes it when they start that late. However, that didn’t prevent her from going on America’s Got Talent and getting past the first round with her unusual “hip-hop violin”, in which she danced to her own music blend of hip-hop and classical. Those America’s Got Talent videos are now famous, of course, as they eventually cut her from the show, leaving her with scathing critiques.

Pier Morgans told her, “You’re not untalented, but you’re not good enough, I don’t think, to get away with flying through the air and trying to play the violin at the same time.”

Sharon Osbourne was no less scathing. And it wouldn’t be the last time critics would tell her what she did was unmarketable. Yet, she didn’t give up and built her audience on YouTube. She’s now, of course, a millionaire with fans all over the world, but as she says herself, she wouldn’t have been successful if she’d listened to her critics, if she’d capitulated her dance/violin dream to being in an orchestra or similar endeavor, if she’d decided to be a little more ordinary.

What astonishes me is we live in a world where going around gatekeepers is a possibility. It wasn’t a possibility when I was younger. There was no YouTube where musicians could find audience approval, rather than being accepted and worked-over by the music industry, whose sole purpose is to create a product that doesn’t stand out — where everything is dulled down to the ordinary that they know will sell. The ordinary is tried and true. Humans have to be forced outside it because anything outside the ordinary is difficult to comprehend, and when it comes down to it, the vast majority of humans are mediocre and appreciate mediocrity in art because it doesn’t highlight their own averageness. They can easily relate to it.

And yet, and yet…in the midst of that ordinariness, humans have higher functioning minds and creative spirits inhabiting their bodies. That’s why a truly creative person who markets herself on YouTube will also appeal to millions of people. Creative energy is contagious, and we all want to be part of it. It’s inspirational. It doesn’t really highlight our ordinariness so much as it drives us to want to create.

Of course, this same concept is true for writers. The big publishing companies are all about selling mediocrity; e-publishing has given us a way around it. There’s no better time to be distinct from other people. There’s no better time to ignore critics who have no ability to envision something beyond what they’ve already seen. Critics are very dull people, indeed. They are like cynics who, as Oscar Wilde duly noted, “know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

And the great thing about writing is that it doesn’t require youth, like Lindsey’s dancing. At some point, she’ll have to mellow out because she can no longer fly and do deep backbends while playing her music. I say that because it seems obvious, but she could make it work like Fred Astaire until she’s in her 70s. The backbends just may not be as deep. My only point is…she started dancing at twenty-three, very late for a physically demanding art. A writer can start writing at age fifty or seventy. It doesn’t matter. As long as the brain is till ticking with creative juices, a writer can produce work. So learn to ignore the naysayers and get your vision out there.

Here is one of the first videos I ever saw of Lindsey Stirling:

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The Saga Continues

The Catholic saga, that is. I just read commentary that it takes a year, maximum, to become Catholic. The comment was in response to my *yes, I’m sorry, sarcastic* question about whether it’s easier to be ex-communicated from the church than it is to join it, the general accusation being that the church never ex-communicates, even when they ought to. As far as joining, I’m going on two years and counting. It’s all right. I mean, yeah, I’ve heard the stories of those who powered through RCIA and were confirmed at Easter nine months later. But alongside those stories are the ones of people who languished in limbo for years. My baptism issues have been resolved; for more on that, read this post. My marriage issues, however, have not been. In my diocese — maybe in all US diocese; I’m not exactly sure — a marriage convalidation is treated like a new marriage. Therefore, I’m required to obtain four witness statements swearing that my husband and I are fit to be married. That we’ve been married for almost 26 years and this paperwork baffles the friends and family I’ve tried to get on board with it is irrelevant. My Protestant family doesn’t know how to fill it out. Worse, the witness statements require a church seal at the moment of signing, which also baffles Protestants. Protestants don’t have church seals. Where will they acquire this? One enthusiastic friend sent a letterhead from her church, hoping that would do the trick. I don’t think it will. At the same time, my kind friend is only one witness. I’m still waiting for the others. I’ve been waiting for months.

People whose confirmations went smoothly don’t seem to comprehend how difficult the Catholic church can make it to join. You’d think Catholics didn’t actually believe one’s eternal soul depended on being Catholic. Honestly, I don’t think it does. But Catholics believe that. At the very least, they believe Protestants are Christians lacking the full truth, the full Scripture, etc., and will consequently spend a long time in Purgatory. I’m now imagining heaven itself as a bureaucratic nightmare where you wait in a long line before being told, I’m sorry, you never finished the endless streams of paperwork. We can’t let you in. That sounds like hell, though, to be stuck in an endless bureaucracy, relying on appropriate stamps and witnesses that can never be obtained.

For the sake of your sorrowful passion, Jesus have mercy on me.

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Saggy Drawers

When taking writing classes, teachers regularly warn writers to avoid the “sagging middle”. Writers will start their books with energy that begins to peter out once they hit the middle. I think writers took this to heart because now what I’m finding in books I’m going to call the “saggy drawers”, the loss of energy between the 60-80% marks in books. I have a detritus of books on my Kindle in which I gave up reading somewhere in that section.

It isn’t just a loss of energy, though. It’s about that region of the book that I realize the author is never going to fully develop his characters — that any profound ideas or deeper themes is never going to happen because the author is dead set on nothing but action scene after scene. This doesn’t mean that there is a trade-off of good rising action because rising action means upping the stakes, which naturally means deepening characterization. Suspense is only suspenseful if the events in the story matter to the characters. And then they have to matter for a reason, something universal to the human condition.

I’ve managed to work my way through books with saggy drawers, and sometimes they redeem themselves with a great ending. But I’m probably still not going to buy more books by the author because reading shouldn’t be a chore. There has to be some payoff for my soul or, less esoterically, my mind. One modern sci-fi author delivered that payoff with information. Everytime I wanted to give up on his books, he would deliver an info drop*, explaining the mechanics of future tech. Occasionally, an author just has a great writing style that carries me along, but the art of vocabulary and rhythm is increasingly rare these days. Why worry about a flavorful vocabulary when verbs like “get” (shudder) can replace a plethora of other words?

Yeah, I get it. I sound like a whiner, right? But I was searching through my Kindle for books I hadn’t finished, and I discovered this trail of saggy drawers I had no desire to open again. That…was a really odd way of phrasing it. I should shut up now.

*I carefully avoided the word “dump” here. You’re welcome.

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Gen Z Are Vicious

I’ve heard it said that millennials are boomers’ dream children, after their social experiments involving divorce, free-love, abortion, and feminism turned their first set of children into cynical anti-authoritarians who were just generally confused, but in a bitter way. You can see the bitterness in 90’s grunge rock; it creates a sharp contrast to the dumb sitcom world of Friends, where clinging to friendship in the wake of broken families is played out with canned laughs and corny punchlines.

Millennials were that in between generation, the children of more stable, but aging boomers and the older set of Xers. They were more likely to be daycare kids rather than latchkey ones — when they were too old for daycares, there were always publicly-funded after-school programs waiting for them. For us odd ball parents, we homeschooled; millennials grew up in the era when homeschool rates took a sharp upward path.

I hesitate to say it, but gen Z are in a sense the dream children of Xers. They’re being raised by a combination of aging Xers and older millennials. This is a strange contrast, as Xers were under-parented (in general, not specific) and millennials over-parented by helicopter moms and social programs. The result is a kind of weariness with the world, especially when adding round the clock internet and entertainment access. Hence, Gen Z has seen everything, and they’re pretty tired of it already.

I was thinking about this after reading about and subsequently watching the 14-yr-old YouTube phenomenon Soph. She’s gotten in a lot of trouble because she just won’t play by the PC rules set up for us by the powers-that-be — old media and teacherly types, mostly, who thought it was super-cool to drop F-bomb when they were young, but have a low tolerance for truth being spoken plainly. And that’s what Soph drops, truth bomb after truth bomb. She’s utterly disconcerting, but no more so than the rest of the gen Z kids I spend time around. She just happens to be articulate and intelligent and a popular YouTuber to boot. Right now, her youth protects her a little; I don’t know too many people who look kindly on adult bullies who go after children. But this generation is going to grow up. They are growing up, and their unwillingness to follow the correct social path is at the same time frightening and heartening. Those who so carefully constructed our modern social order put a lot of effort into it. And they aren’t going to give it up lightly.

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