January 18, 2015

Happily Ever After

I love it when my muse just shows up unexpectedly. No call beforehand. No knock on the door. No need to pick up that pile of clothes in the corner or sweep the floor. It's like having the best house guest in the world, and they come bearing gifts!

I've been under a lot of stress lately and the urge to do any writing or editing has been at an all-time low. I finished a short novel for NaNoWriMo and took a couple weeks off in December and then found out that the date for my daughter's scoliosis surgery would be January 20. Suffice it to say I have been a bit distracted ever since.

A funny thing happens when I'm doing nothing but trying to take my mind off something. I think of the strangest and most wonderful things. I suppose it's a byproduct of an active imagination going into overdrive in an effort to shield itself from the scary, unknown, things that are keeping me up at night. That being said, I hadn't had any new ideas worthy of pursuing for quite some time and it was starting to get on my nerves.

Then she showed up. My muse. And she was wonderful.

I had just finished seeing the movies The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything. I had also just read the book Fahrenheit 451 and was working my way through Slaughterhouse Five when it hit me: the best idea for a novel I've ever had. In my mind it's destined to be one of the best novels ever written, but for now let's just say that it's a good idea, and I am thrilled that it popped into my head when it did.

I quickly scratched out some notes and sent them along to a couple writer friends whose opinions I trust and asked them what they thought. I was pleased to hear that this would be a book they would read - and they weren't just saying that because they were my friends. They've both given me direct feedback on excerpts that didn't only contain praise. I gave my notes to a third person to look over and they verdict came back the same. Yay me! I had an idea that I was passionate about that, at least at first glance, had some from people living outside my head.

I figure I'll start writing it when my daughter is in the hospital this week. I won't have much else to do and while I'll be contributing to the family scoliosis blog those posts won't take me hours upon hours to write - and we'll be spending full days and nights at the hospital for about a week! I figure I'll get 10,000 words done if I keep off the damn Facebook and Twitter. The only obstacle I can see in front of me is the fact that I have absolutely no idea how the book is going to end.

I can envision a prologue and epilogue that bookend the story nicely but I can't seem to dream up that last page. This is a strange feeling for me as I normally start with the end and then create all the things that needed to happen to get the reader to that last point. I thought I had the perfect ending and told one of my idea sounding board friends and she didn't like it. Her husband did because it wasn't a "standard" ending, and that's probably why I liked it too - at least initially. Happily ever after endings drive me crazy. Sometimes people die, sometimes the bad guys get away with it, sometimes the boy doesn't get the girl. The more I thought about it though, the more I was worried about what kind of message my ending would be sending.

This was also a strange feeling because to this point nothing I've written had any sort of message. At least nothing that I would consider profound or noteworthy. They are just bits of entertaining fiction meant to be enjoyed. Move along please, nothing to learn here. This new idea however has a message and one that I feel is rather important. How the main character ultimately relays that message to the reader, I think, will make a substantial difference in how that message is digested. Get it wrong and risk the reader becoming too focused on the actions of the main character instead of on the message she is carrying.

Maybe I'm over thinking it? Maybe I should just start writing and see where the story takes me? I've got a couple hundred pages to churn out before I hit the third act climax and have the MC realize their dramatic need (or not). Still, it doesn't quite feel right. Not knowing how that last page unfolds is disconcerting. I guess I'll spend some time thinking about the possibilities and jot them down with my other notes and see which one feels right.

One thing is certain, it won't end with "and they all lived happily ever after".

~ Andrew

January 04, 2015

"Fact" = Fiction

* This post contains language which some may find offensive *
  1. Fact: something that actually exists; reality; truth
  2. Fiction: something feigned, invented, or imagined; a made-up story
  3. "Fact": See #2.
Thanks to Dictionary.com for the definitions for #1 and #2. I added the third one. I added it because it would appear that there some people out there that are confused. That's not normally a problem in of itself but it would appear that there are an inordinately large number of confused people who are also loud... and have internet connections.

Perhaps you have seen this meme (in red on the left) floating around on the internet?

Refutations to Anti-Vaccine Memes
As the side on the right (cleverly put together by the folks credited tot image) shows, it's really easy to make stuff up. The problem is a lot of really loud, ignorant people, are too lazy to do a simple Google search to check to see what level of bullshit it contains. The falsified information presented to them supports a position they already hold and they latch onto it like their lives, and everyone else's, depend on it. My friend Gordon over at Skeptophilia has done numerous posts on this. In fact, if confirmation bias doesn't come up more often than any other single topic on his site I'd be surprised.  

It would be one thing if this was  limited  to a few internet memes but unfortunately it's not. Apparently misinformation isn't limited to the 1's and 0's of the World Wide Web. It's infested our news outlets as well. Of course not all of them, but there are a few out there that don't seem to care much about actual facts so long as what they're saying supports their position. The real problem with this is that these questionable news sources are funded by some astonishingly rich, racist, elitist men - who also fund lobbyists, politicians, and their political parties. 

There used to be a time when things were different. Before information was published, in any form, it had to be fact checked. That is to say, there needed to be actual research done to substantiate what was being said. Whether it was an eyewitness, a document, or a peer reviewed research paper... there was always something to back up the claim. Apparently none of that matters any more and what we're left with is a bunch of people yelling at each other, ideologies firmly in hand. The really scary part? The only one left standing will be the one with the most money and the loudest voice.  

I saw a FOX News piece rhyming off some statistic that was the complete opposite of the truth. A simple Google search would have pointed you to numerous government websites that provided the correct information but they ran with the lie because guess what? It's all Obama's fault. Someone I know pointed out that the statistic, reported correctly was still an indication of a poor economic forecast, but guess what? That's not the conversation that was happening. It wasn't a question about what constitutes economic prosperity. It was a question about the propagation of lies. A point lost entirely on my acquaintance - and a whole lot of people just like him. 

So where does that leave us? Well, at absolute best there are people who are condoning the spreading of false information and at worst there are those who encouraging it. 

The great Richard Feynman once said, "Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts." Well I'm sure he's rolling over in his grave  because apparently simply being an opinionated asshole with axe to grind qualifies you to be a scientist these days. 

Dictionary.com includes a "difficulty index" for all their words. It's a measure of how many English speaking people are likely to know the word. 

For the word "fact" it tells us that, "All English speakers likely know this word", but for the word "fiction" we get, "Most English speakers likely know this word." I added the emphasis to highlight my point. "Most" is not the same as "all". Written mathematically: most < all, which means that there are some people out there that don't know the difference between fact and fiction. These are people perpetuating memes like the one on the left at the start of this post. These people should not be allowed to have internet access. 

What angers me most is that we, the scientifically minded rational thinkers of the world, the ones that know the difference between fact and fiction, spend so much time defending our position only to have it wiped out in one 5 minute misinformation segment on FOX News or one blatantly false infographic on some spurious website. And it's not limited to Autism or vaccines or GMOs. It's climate change, it's institutionalized racism, the economic state of North America, democracy... the list goes on, seemingly forever, and it's fucking exhausting defending against it. 

Well if it's war they want then they've certainly got it. My biggest fear though, is that they'll win it through attrition because too many people, just like myself, are tired and just want some peace and quiet and a good night's sleep. I'm so goddamn fed up with all the ignorant assholes with loud voices ruining my quiet time. Fuck you, ignorant assholes! Fuck you to hell and back you sorry pieces of shit. /endrant

~ Andrew