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Category Archives: Philosophical Musings

Ghostwriting

Ghostwriting. The practice and trade of writing all, most, or some of a written work – nonfiction, fiction, novel, short story – for someone else, and having someone else put their name on the book to have it published. This practice is separate from the practice of “co-authoring” a book, when someone famous’ name gets put on a book written mostly by someone else, but the real author is credited relatively prominently.

I am not a fan of either practice. I think it’s dishonest, and needs to be stopped, especially pure ghostwriting.

I have nothing against the ghostwriters. They are doing what they love to do, and making money from it. Kudos to them. It’s the people who hire ghostwriters that I have the problems with. I honestly consider it plagiarism. I strongly believe that credit should be given where it’s due.

But, you may say, what if ghostwriting is just a way for the ghostwriter to reach a wider audience with their ideas? This is a valid point, but I don’t believe it stands on its own for two reasons: one, the ghostwriter is almost never in charge of the project’s direction and purpose (though without a doubt they can usually slip in their own messages and themes), and two, the reaction to the written material will likely be very different, as I believe a reader’s perception of a text is colored strongly by their knowledge of the author. Ghostwriting distorts the message of the ghostwriter to the point of unrecognizability, in many cases, especially when done by politicians. In fiction, the ghostwriter usually has more control, and often their style can come through and be easily recognizable. H. P. Lovecraft, for instance, made his living primarily as a ghostwriter, and his ghostwritten works stand on their own.

Not only is the author unfairly not getting their due, but I believe that the phenomena of ghostwriting is a reflection of larger social issues in the world. First, it’s sad that many writers have to turn to ghostwriting to make a living doing what they do. The publishing industry is extremely restrictive, and society as a whole is largely unappreciative of books, which means, directly, less people spend money buying books, and therefore it is harder to make money as an author. Writing has become more of a hobby for many (those of you who make it professionally writing, you have my respect and admiration, especially if you’re an independent author), which is fine; if you write for the money only, you shouldn’t be writing. However, by delegating writing to only a hobby, it not only devalues the author as a person and occupation, it also limits the frontiers of literature by not allowing good writers to develop their potential; they are instead forced to waste their time trying to earn the money needed to  write. This is the author’s burden, and I think it’s sad that truly talented writers often cannot make it just because of the way the publishing institution and literacy rates in the world are going.

The second major social issue I think ghostwriting reflects is the cult of the celebrity. Generally, stories are ghostwritten by talented authors for famous people. This adds to the cult of personality surrounding said famous person, as those without a keen eye or knowledge of the ghostwriting system ( a sadly high number of people) will think that on top of everything else this person does, they also are well-educated and smart because they can write a book! Yay! This adds to the prestige of the person taking the credit, and also, at the same time, makes the ghostwriter dependent on the celebrity for money. This further focuses society on the celebrity/famous person, and therefore reinforces our disturbingly celebrity-centric society.

I just wanted to get that off my chest. I am aware that many people will disagree with me. So, what do you think of ghostwriting? Does it serve a useful purpose? Is it awful? Is it good? A necessary evil? What does ghostwriting mean to you?

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Posted by on March 14, 2012 in Philosophical Musings

 

House of Leaves

It is far too early in the morning as I am writing this, but I cannot sleep. I will try again after writing this.

I just read Mark D. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, and was profoundly affected by it, more so than any other thing I have read in my life. I don’t even want the book near me. It terrified the daylights out of me, and struck a nerve deep within my heart that I didn’t even know existed.

I must confess, I didn’t read the entire thing. I doubt anyone has. It is ergonic literature, meaning that part of the art form of the book is in its layout, with text spaced oddly, upside down, and sometimes illegible. I was forced to read this book for my Monster Theory class, and so did not feel compelled to read the entire thing, so I skipped most of the notes on Johnny Truant’s story, skipped the appendices entirely, and focused almost entirely on the focus of the piece, the Navidson Record. Maybe if I had read the other parts of the story, the impact of the book would have been mitigated (in some instances, the fear was definitely lessened by the odd manner of storytelling; in other cases, it greatly increased), but somehow I doubt it.

The book is about many things, and like the titular House, everyone probably sees it differently. To me, it was about the horror residing within the unknown within ourselves. The House was a very deep allegory to the subconscious and the hidden depths within us to me. I am writing a paper on the Theban Sphinx for that same class, so perhaps my interpretations of her as the guardian of forbidden Human knowledge about themselves is affecting my interpretation, but there seemed to me to be many parallels between the Sphinx and the House; the Sphinx asked a riddle about the nature of man, and the House itself was a riddle about the nature of self.

When confronted with the House – and therefore the question of who you really are and what you mean – there are different reactions. Most notably, Navidson himself perseveres and confronts himself, and his wife does the same, albeit less blatantly, and together they reach some form of closure. Holloway, the hired explorer, on the other hand, goes mad and runs away from himself after shooting (accidentally) his assistants, and takes his own life in the end, unable to deal with himself.

The yawning empty abyss of the house, its labyrinthine, ever-changing corridors, and the sense of being lost within one’s own self and one’s own world hit me on a level I cannot describe. Call me a wimp, a coward, or whatever you will, but that book did something profound to me, and I am terrified of the abyss that it opened before me.

If you want to, give it a try, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. I don’t want to be near even the physical copy of that book because of what it recalls in me. It is sitting way outside my room right now. I don’t want to go near it.

I am just not ready to face myself.

 
 

The Purpose of Existence

Existence is a funny thing. It’s both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing in that it allows us to have consciousness, something what we couldn’t have without existence, and it allows us, through this consciousness to experience the reality of the world around us, tempered by our language, thoughts, emotions, and intuitive connections. On the other hand, reality traps us by the very things that set us free: we are restricted by the filtering screen of our language which structures out thoughts (thank Jacques Lacan for this one), and by our own physical bodies which currently provide out only way to experience existence. We are also trapped, by our existence, in the reality of our cosmos, and we are unable to escape from it. Who knows if Hell exists or not, and if it does, we are at the mercy of the universe. The universe can cause us great pain, and we can’t ever know while we are alive if there is any escape. The universe might not even be real, in the sense that we would conceive of it being real (and would it all be real if we couldn’t perceive it?).

So, existence is a blessing and a curse (being a pessimist, I generally view it as more of a curse, but I definitely see the upsides…). But no matter what we think of it, we are all stuck existing (for those of us who do exist, anyway), so we might as well make the best of it. But what exactly is making the best of existence? In essence, why are we here? Why do we exist?

Do we exist to be happy? Maybe, but would not many people be happier if they didn’t exist? More people on this planet are miserable than those who are happy. If happiness is the purpose of existence, we’re doing a miserable job at it.

So then, maybe we exist to bring happiness to others? This statement implies that, on some level, happiness is the purpose of existence. We have also done a really bad job as a species of fulfilling this, as well. And if happiness – whether giving or receiving – is the purpose of existence, what does the universe have to gain from it?

Is existence, then, an accident? Are we meant to exist at all? How long will we continue to exist? Does our existence matter?

I would argue that there is a purpose to existence. If you follow my EsoTarot blog, it may become clear to you that I am a pantheist (A Universalist Qabalistic Druidic Pantheist, to be more precise). I believe that the universe is itself at least semi-conscious, and so that it had some purpose – whether it knew it or not – that we were being created. And so it – or the subconscious forces driving the mind of the universe – created our existence and our consciousness.

And why? Perhaps my vocation biases me, but I believe that the purpose of our existence is to create. That is one thing we do well. We also destroy very well, but sometimes (not always, mind you, but sometimes) the very act of destruction  is what begots creation.

Humanity has created many, many things, and creation is the driving force behind society. We created civilization. We created the concept and practice of agriculture. We built cities. We built boats. We built empires. We (unfortunately) built nations. We built barriers to separate us from them. We painted pictures. We wrote works of literature. We built rockets. We created poetry. We sang songs, we played music, we performed and wrote plays. In factories, we have created cars, knick-knacks, appliances, and the other trappings of capitalist civilization. Even the factories are things that we built.

So then, what has the whole of human history been revolving around? The act of creation. What is the purpose of life other than to create? We create happiness. We create joy. We create sadness. Without creation, our lives are hollow. Even our children are creations, shaped as they are by those who raised them. We were meant to fill the universe – our creator, and the energy, will, and spirit that surrounds us all – with meaning by performing our own acts of creation.

And that is why I write.

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2012 in Philosophical Musings

 

A Brief Reflection on My Writing Thus Far

As I am preparing for the release of The Libel of Blood in the near future, I have been thinking about how my writing has evolved over time to get me to the point I am at now. I believe that I have improved quite a bit since setting out on my journey.

I started out writing Fan Fiction in the Warhammer universe, and while on the forums I frequented it was lauded as good, it was contrived, formulaic, and serial, lacking any real substance and very limited continuity. However, the writing itself got better and better, until I think the year before I went to university it got rather good.

Then university came, and I decided to start writing in my own universes. I began with the first few chapters of Final Judgment, a book that will not be released for a long time. This book stars the shivvos, and marks the end of the Juxian Mythos universe. I shelved this project when I learned of NaNoWriMo, and decided to instead write a novel in a month.

And thus was born The Loneliness of Stars. It was written in a month, with another month of editing, and a second edition released a while after that. It was originally filled with typos (most of which – but not all of which – were cleared out in the second edition), and had very contrived plot sequences and caricatured characters. I went out of my way to create plot twists, and as my editor commented, you could practically hear me saying “and then suddenly surprise!” in my head. Many twists and turns seem contrived – at least to me – and most of the characters lack depth (main character aside). Many of the characters, despite being on a ship, don’t wear uniforms and instead wear ridiculous outfits reflecting their caricature. What was I thinking (fortunately, in subsequent books uniforms are more prevalent.)? It was also my first ever foray into the first-person, and I did it for an entire novel. It was an interesting experiment.

Still, despite these things – and the semi-directionless plot of the novel – the mechanics of the writing were good and I have been told it was an enjoyable read. Not bad for a first novel.

I originally had intended The Loneliness of Stars to be a one-off book, set in its own universe. Unfortunately, I found myself unable to tie up the plot-line effectively in one novel, and so in the middle of writing it decided not only to make it part of the universe of Final Judgment, but to extend it into multiple books. A trilogy, no less.

And so The Light of Civilization was born. This book was written over many months, and you can actually watch my writing improve as the book goes on. It picks up immediately where the first book leaves off, and serves as a grand introduction to the Juxian Mythos; it’s essentially a guided tour of the universe. It has a lot of infodumps in it, but the plot twists no longer seem contrived, the characters are much deeper, and the world much more developed. The Light of Civilization is much more well-written and executed, and I have heard it is more enjoyable than the first. I planned out more of the arc of The Light of Civilization than I had for The Loneliness of Stars, and I think it showed.

My horror short-story writing began while I was writing my second novel, and I believe that the writing skills I learned while writing these (characters, suspense, sentence structure awesomeness, and how to evoke feelings of horror) manifested themselves in The Light of Civilization (particularly in the scene with the Cult of the Final Apocalypse). I also was able to create a more effective monster in the form of Psy. The horror stories I also think are my best work; “The Winds of Madness” is my personal favorite of everything I’ve ever written.

The Libel of Blood is even better than the first two. It’s paced like a horror novel and is very back-heavy, but at this point I think I have managed to master the plot twist, so that it can come across without seeming contrived, and at the same time my character development skills have grown even greater (Roland van der Tyke, the villain of this book, is an example of a character who benefited from this improvement). I was able to find ways to avoid the infodumps in The Light of Civilization, and created an intricate and detailed world in this book. The pacing may seem a bit odd, and it is very back-heavy, but the structure is able to keep you reading until the huge climax at the end. This story was greatly influenced by my horror.

So, the point of this? I’ve gotten better. A lot better. If you read my three current novels, you will see the difference – and I hope you do consider picking them up and reading them.

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2012 in Philosophical Musings, Writing

 

The Kraken and Cthulhu?

I know the comparison between the mythical Kraken and the insanity-inducing Cthulhu is an obvious one, but in the course of some casual research on Krakens (yes, when I am procrastinating I read up on my mythical beasts. At least I’ll be prepared when they come for me!), I came across the following poem by Lord Alfred Tennyson:

Below the thunders of the upper deep;
Far far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides; above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumber’d and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages, and will lie
Battening upon huge seaworms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.

Of course, being a fan of H. P. Lovecraft, the similarities between Tennyson’s portrayal of the Kraken and Cthulhu immediately became apparent. He sleeps beneath the sea, waiting for ages to sleep until the time is right (in Lovecraft’s case, the stars, in Tennyson’s, the heat), and then he will rise up to the surface – and then die? For this, I shall just point you to Lovecraft’s quote from the Necronomicon: “And with strange aeons even death may die.” The poem even managed to get Polyps – though of the flying variety – in there.

Quite the coincidence, don’t you think? Perhaps Lovecraft read this poem, had a nightmare about it, and so Cthulhu was spawned. Or maybe, as a friend of mine suggested, Lovecraft used a time machine.

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2012 in Philosophical Musings, Readings

 

Who Are You Writing For?

When writing, this question is always important to keep in mind. Who are you writing for? Who is your audience? What are you trying to do?

Your audience can determine how you write, affecting tone, word choice, pacing, and sentence structure. This is most readily visible in nonfiction writing. Technical writing is very different compared to academic writing. Blog writing will be very different from the previous two, e-mail writing is different, and texting is very different. These differences are not just the result of the medium, but also who you’re writing for. An email written to a professor will be very different from one to a parent, or one to a friend.

Not only will the writing style change depending on your audience, but the content of what you write will change. For non-fiction, this is generally easily visible, as you are not always in full control of what you write, limited by deadlines and reality. In fiction, however, you have far greater control over what happens, not limited by reality as much. Yet, even so, your audience still has a large effect on the content and other aspects of your writing, by changing what you, the author, find most important.

If you are writing for young adult audiences, for example, the language and sentence structure will be simpler, of course, but the content will also be less “adult” and the character arcs and plotlines will generally be less complex (I say “generally” because there are exceptions). If you are writing for sex-driven audiences, your content will generally have lots of innuendos and outright explicit sexual acts. In science fiction, consistency might be most important. In fantasy, your plot and quest arcs might be most important. Your audience plays a large role in determining your genre, and vice-versa.

But all of this assumes that the main reason for your writing is so that other people can read it and enjoy it. This is all well and good, but generally authors are also writing for an audience that I think many often overlook – themselves.

I am my own primary audience. I write books not for the express purpose of selling them and having others read them (though I do enjoy that greatly), but rather to get the stories out of my head and into an organized, tangible form. When I do that, I can relieve the pressure of bouncing ideas and move on. I write in order to express my ideas primarily to myself, and secondarily to the world. I would write even if I had no audience, just for the joy of the art and the magical act of turning ideas into a coherent narrative.

This is the reason that I write the way I do. I am not apologizing or making excuses here, I’m just telling it how it is. My editing process is scant for two reasons, both affected by the fact that I am my own primary audience: first, I want to be able to move on to new, hopefully better ideas (especially as I write primarily in one imagined universe that I try to develop ideas for by writing stories), and second because I am a strong believer in stream-of-thought and afflatus divine. Too much editing, I believe, can stifle the original message or idea.

Editing is definitely necessary, I don’t deny that, but I generally think that between one and three rounds of editing is sufficient. When I edit, I also don’t change plot, characters, or ideas extensively. Mostly I just look for clarity and accuracy, in order to maintain the original idea as it was in my head. I enjoy reading raw ideas from other authors, as well. The ideas and world creation make a story for me. When I write, then, it’s the ideas and the world that I emphasize above all else, because I am primarily writing for myself.

Every other author also writes for themselves, and I would argue that many of them also write for themselves first. Why else would they write? Writing isn’t exactly the most lucrative of careers, so those who get into it seriously tend to also enjoy it, and write not only for others, but for themselves as well. If you don’t write for yourself at all, I think you’re in the wrong field. So, even though you are writing to an audience of readers, always remember the real reason that you’re writing: because you enjoy it. Because it means something to you. The next time you are writing something and someone tells you to change something, stop for a moment and think. Does the change they suggest reflect heir story better, or yours? In the end, the story should be your story, not your audience’s. You write for yourself. Don’t sell yourself out by trying to write for someone else.

You are your own audience.

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2012 in Philosophical Musings

 

Personality Tarot Spread

Over the past couple of weeks, during classes, I have been thinking and developing a spread. This spread is designed to allow you to look into the personality of someone, and the various parts that make it up.

This spread is divided into two dichotomies (much like the Tarot itself). The first dichotomy is that of the public and conscious aspects of your personality – the parts of you that others see and that you are aware of, that you allow to escape and be seen by the outside world – and the unconscious and hidden aspects of your personality – those things about yourself that you hide or don’t know yourself. This dichotomy is represented by the division between upper and lower cards; the upper three cards are all aspects of your public and conscious personality, and the lower three are all aspects of your private and unconscious personality.

The second dichotomy looks at what I think are two important aspects of your personality, as embodied by the two questions the Vorlons and the Shadows ask in Babylon 5 – “Who are you?” and “What do you want?” As such, the left three cards all deal with identity, and how you are perceived by others, yourself, as well as how your past has influenced this identity. The right three cards represent your desire and your fears (for what is a fear but the desire that something won’t happen?) – what you say you want, what you really want, and what you hope will happen in the future; your goals.

The center cards are just the defining aspect of your personality, and like many Tarot spreads, are the most important aspects of your character and personality. The central cards also serve as the center of a Celtic Cross-based design; with the topmost and bottom-most cards representing what they do in the Celtic Cross, the left and right cards representing past and future like in the Celtic Cross spread, and the central cards also serving the same purpose.

The ten cards in this spread serve to help one look into what forms the personality of a particular person – their thoughts and concerns, their hopes and fears, their own and others’ sense of their identity, and qualities that describe them. It looks at the goals of the person, and the influences that the past has had on them. The layout of the spread is a circle, signifying the idea of completion, and also resembles a wheel, representing the idea that one’s personality is always changing and moving forward (as such, it is important to remember that this spread only helps on understand one’s personality at the present moment; personalities can and do change). The circular form also resembles a face, with each section of the face revealing a different aspect of their personality.

Below is an image of the spread, and below a brief explanation of the meaning of each card:

Personality Tarot Spread Layout
1. Central Characteristic: This card represents the most important part of someone’s personality; it is the card that best describes and sums up the the personality of the entire person. It is both the primary factor and the summary of the rest of the spread.

2. Influencing Characterstic: This card is the second most important aspect of someone’s personality, and influences, mitigates, or complements the Central Characteristic; in many ways it also the secondary characteristic of a person, and provides a second dimension to one’s personality, adding depth to it.

3. Influence of Past: This card sums up the influences that past events have had on one’s personality; memory is an important part of our personality, our desires, and our own identity. This card represents and shows the influence that this memory has had on a personality.

4. Goals of the Future: This card represents what one are striving to accomplish; another aspect of one’s personality is their drive, and what makes them motivated: that motivation and drive is represented by this card, which shows the thing that the person is striving to achieve, and their most important desire for the future.

5. Unconscious Thoughts and Motives: This card represents the unconscious thoughts and concerns of a person, and also represents this person’s motives. It answers the questions of “why do they do this?” as well as those of “what are they really thinking?”  This is their unconscious drive (rather than the conscious drive of Card 4), and represents the deepest aspects of their personality, hidden from themselves. This card also serves as the synthesis of cards 8 and 10.

6. Conscious Thoughts and Concerns: This card represents the person’s conscious thought. It helps one examine what the most important things are to this person, and represents their most pressing concerns, and what is most important to them at this time. This card also serves as the synthesis of cards 7 and 9.

7. Public Face: This card is the public aspect of one’s identity; this is how others perceive this person, and how their environment (including other people) affects them and notices them. This card is similar to Card 8 (second from the bottom of the Staff) on the Celtic Cross. This card represents how they want others to see them as well.

8. Private Face: This card represents the concept of self-identity and self-image, and shows how a person really thinks of themselves. This might line up with one’s public face, but often is at least slightly different. This card is similar to Card 7 (bottom of the Staff) of the Celtic Cross spread. This card shows how this person really feels about himself, and what they think their own identity is.

9. Public Desire: This card represents what one says they want; it is the stated hopes and fears of a person. This is what the person wants others to think they want and what they want others to think they are afraid of; this card represents those desires made public.

10. Private Desire: This card represents one’s true hopes and fears; their heart’s desire or their deepest, secret fear. These are the desires that people keep repressed and hidden – sometimes even from themselves – for various reasons. These are the inner passions and repressed terrors that often motivate people’s actions unconsciously.

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2011 in Philosophical Musings