Religious Musing: On The 6/11/2016 Orlando Shooting

Orlando Mourners

 

Feel free to not read this. I just needed to get it off my chest.

Common sense gun control is completely necessary in The United States. It’s also not going to happen any time soon. If we learned anything from Columbine, The Amish School Shooting, The Dark Knight and Trainwreck shootings, Sandy Hook, Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood, and San Bernadino it’s that we’re not going to learn anything. The gun lobby, and specifically the NRA are too powerful to slow gun sales, or to encourage background checks. As I write this, AR-15 sales are through the roof because that’s the model used by Omar Mateen to shoot up a night club in Orlando. There is not enough financial incentive to change American gun laws. As callous and unsympathetic as it sounds, the money favors mass shootings to continue. But I don’t think that that means nothing can be done.

I normally hate the “mental health” pro-gun argument. You know the one. It goes like: “Don’t politicize this new tragedy. We need time to heal. The problem isn’t with guns. If a good guy with a gun had been there this wouldn’t have even happened! The real problem is that [shooter’s name here] was mentally ill. If he had been given the care he needed this whole thing could have been avoided.” The purpose of this argument is to politicize the issue. It’s also to ignore the actual problem. It’s brilliant because it contains a lot of truth. No, if a good guy with a gun had been at Sandy Hook, the Charleston Baptist church, Columbine, Aurora, Colorado, or Virginia Tech the attacks wouldn’t have been prevented. But everything else is spot on. We should be allowed to mourn (we’re never given enough time to do this because the shootings happen too close to each other). We shouldn’t politicize tragedy (human nature makes this impossible to avoid). And mental illness is a major problem in the US.

Best case scenario for the mental illness is that the sufferer is left homeless. It’s unfortunate that this is what we do with the most vulnerable, most dangerous elements of society but there you have it. There’s myriad reasons this happens, largely the fault of Ronald Regan. Either way, the fact is we don’t take care of damaged people. Blame for this can also be laid on democrats as well, who continue to insist on impossible gun control reform and ignore the arguments for mental health actions because they’re too busy disagreeing with the other side of the aisle. Politics is fucked, and pretty much always has been. But, it seems at this point that agreement on mental health would at least help a large portion of Americans if not actually stop these occasions of carnage. Just because the “Mental healthers” are the mouth pieces for Winchester and S&W doesn’t mean their hearts aren’t in the right place.

With that being said, there’s a specific reason I chose to wrote this. In a book I never read Robert M. Prisig said “When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called a Religion.” If we want to get serious about mental health, let’s get serious. There is a certain mental illness we all respect, and like sex and money we refuse to discuss it in mixed company. Religious beliefs are treated very delicately, if you ever ask why the answer is going to be some version of “just cuz.” The truth is that religion is as dangerous as mental illness, and has a much higher death toll. About 24 hours ago that number raised by at least 53 because of a stand off in Orlando.  Omar Mateen pledged his allegiance to a prayer group which fancies themselves a nation, and is quickly gaining land throughout the sovereign countries of Syria and Iraq. ISIS combines the douchiness of Martin Shkreli and the battle tactics of Jeffry Dahmer. They are the nastiest kind of cowards, those who truly believe in what they’re doing.

The reason I told you to not read this is because of what I actually believe about ISIS. They’re often called religious extremists, and I don’t think they are. Their actions are indeed extreme. Videotaping beheading, stealing land, and threatening heads of state is extreme. But is it religiously extreme? I don’t think so. Believing that all of those actions are justified because of their belief in a God that allows any of them is extreme. But, it’s no more extreme than believing in literally any other religion. Shunning electricity and the family members that don’t like the Amish, abusing animals and children by forcing them into your world view like the Amish, and selling quilts to fund your subjugation of women like the Amish also seem extreme in the opinion of this writer. As extreme? Obviously not. But ISIS is reading their holy book and interpreting it literally. Are they wrong? Of course, but so is everyone else. Every major holy book can be read as a collection of hate speech padded for palatability. As Christopher Hitchens said, “I pose a hypothetical question. As a man of some fifty-seven years of age, I am discovered sucking the penis of a baby boy. I ask you to picture your own outrage and revulsion. Ah, but I have my own explanation all ready. I am a mohel: an appointed circumciser and foreskin remover. My authority comes from an ancient text, which commands me to take a baby boy’s penis in hand, cut around the prepuce, and complete the action by taking his penis in my mouth, sucking off the foreskin, and spitting out the amputated flap along with a mouthful of blood and saliva.”

Religion and guns go hand in hand. As Christ The Lamb said “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” I think all agents of chaos should be eliminated from polite society. Religion doesn’t deserve the respect we give it. If someone tells you they believe in God, you should at least be allowed to ask for an explanation. At the very least, acceptance of religion should be met with friction equal to its body count. The fact is that an incredible number of facets common to modern society are designated a specified death sentence in the Talmud, the New Testament, The Book Of Mormon, and The Koran. The Bhagavad Gita, Dianetics, and the Buddhist teachings are less focused in their pleas for gore. So what’s more extreme? Following the specific word of the book you call sacred, or simply picking out the nice parts?

I honestly don’t believe the answer to this question is simple. Life is both very difficult and very dope, sometimes simultaneously. Trying to reconcile that fact isn’t easy. When someone tells you they have an answer, any answer, it’s almost too easy to believe them no matter how fantastical their explanation is. When these answers come at the same time in your life that your brain is forming, it’s an even simpler trick to fall for. I’d wager everything I own that the majority of religious devoutists were either raised from childhood into their belief system, or brought into it at a time of confusion/difficulty. Even if there aren’t atheists in foxholes, that doesn’t make religion factual, or even morally correct.

Distressed or gullible people are obviously the targets of religious teachings. So, if a gullible person claims to believe every word of the bible, yet suffers a witch to live, is he any more in the moral right than a person who claims to believe every word of The Koran, and proceeds to rain down a shower of brimstone on a homosexual? The true question here is, which is worse; benevolent hypocrisy or malevolent action? An eternal debate to be sure. The true answer to this philosophical quandary is simple. It’s a false dichotomy. Both choices are degrees of wrong that shouldn’t be tolerated. The simplest answer is that no religion is correct. And arguing over the degree by which they’re incorrect is a waste of time. The simplest answer to any religious questions is, “they’re all wrong and shouldn’t be given any respect or credence.”

The simplest answer is to stop respecting this evil. “I Disapprove of What You Say, But I Will Defend to the Death Your Right to Say It” stops applying when you load the ball bearings into the bomb on your chest. It stops when a gay Christian teenager kills himself to avoid persecution. It stops when you invade settlements that double as people’s homes because you consider the land holy. It also stops when you partially agree with the doctrine of the committers of those actions. Religion is the problem, not guns, not mental health.

Yes, guns and mental health are major issues in America. They may be the two biggest issues in America. But, religion is giving allowances to both. Is every killing spree in this country a religious attack? No, but the one’s for which we don’t discuss the motive are the only of their kind. Omar Mateen is a zealot, just like Jebidiah Strauss in Lancaster PA and Tom Cruise in Los Angeles, CA. None of them have earned their status of socially or politically privileged. In short, fuck your beliefs, and fuck the people that share them.

I think Religious doctrine is unambiguous about how gay people should be dealt with. What happened in Orlando wasn’t an act of religious extremism, it was an act of religion. The privileged status superstition receives in this country is inexcusable and, in very small part is to blame for this tragedy as well as the one in San Bernadino, and the Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs. I’m very frustrated that thoughts and prayers are being sent out. I’m very frustrated that we treat people’s non-sensical clinging to dangerous myths with such high regard in our culture. I’m very frustrated that gun control is on every liberal’s mind when this country has more than one reason for public violence. Our culture excuses dangerous beliefs, treating these delusions with kid gloves only because we think religion is supposed to be protected. There is no reason for this, and any reason given is a lie.

If you read this after I said not to, and were offended, I truly hope you didn’t.

Self-Indulgent Musing: A Letter To My Younger Self

Dear Ryan,

It’s me. I’m you only, in the future. This is a little uncomfortable because I’m not sure how old you are. I mean are you at the age where you still think “jerk” is a naughty word or are you the age where you think the phrase “Cleveland Steamer” is an acceptable punchline to every sentence. You might even be the age I am now minus five seconds still making you technically younger. However old you are I’ve got some stuff to tell you.

Fist of all cut your hair, you look ridiculous. You have a lot more going for you than that and trying to define yourself through what you look like is an absurd waste of time. Truly interesting people don’t have well manicured hairdos or expensive clothes. And you want to be an interesting person. In fact that’s all you’ll ever want. Forget about being good-looking, forget about driving a cool car, forget about any of that shit. You want to be interesting. Hopefully telling you this will save a lot of time. People your age have a way of wasting time when they could be becoming a surfing prodigy or learning a practical skill. So, don’t waste time. You only get so much and however old you are I know you’ve squandered a large chunk of it on playing Zelda.

Zelda Treasure Chest

 

I’ll just let you know now it’s full of your worthless life

 

I can see you’re confused brown eyes staring back at me now as you ask “What does it take to be interesting?” That’s a fair question. I think the answer can be summed up in two words. “Fuck it.” Oh… sorry, I probably shouldn’t swear around you, you’re probably very impressionable. I’d hate to corrupt myself at our first meeting. Unfortunately for us both we want people to find us interesting and that means you’ll have to remember to just say “fuck it” as often as possible. This doesn’t mean you should be lazy or selfish or an asshole. It doesn’t even mean you’ll ever be cool. All it really means is that there’s a bunch of shit that is clogging up your head like phlegm in a sticking to the inside of your mind plumbing and the Drain-o you need is “fuck it.”

Any time some outlandish thought works itself into your subconscious just let it go. When you’re worried about what other people might think or how your parents might react just tell yourself “fuck it” and do what you want. Obviously this advice won’t work for everyone. You’re smarter than most people, as I’m sure you’re aware. But for you Ryan, I know it’s tough to listen to other people when you are almost always certain that you know better than they do. Like, remember that time you knew you weren’t any good at baseball but you didn’t quit because you’d always been taught that “quitters never win?” That was horshit. You should have just said fuck it and worked on your juggling, that’s way more fun especially at a bar that has a jar of whole fruit for decoration and you need to impress someone you just met. How about that time you were miserable at prom but stayed the whole time because people had told you you “needed the experience.” Fuck it dude, go play Xbox with friends because it’s a lot more fulfilling than listening to shitty music that’s being played too loud while you twerk with someone who has already made it very clear she’s saving herself for marriage.

“Abracadabra” and “please” can blow us, “fuck it” are the real magic words. Even though  I don’t know how far back in the past you are I know that in the future you’ll be shocked at how many men take pride in being “beta.” By 2015 there will be plenty dudes who would be stoked to have Michael Cera play them in a movie. The bumbling guy who’s trying to figure it all out is a favorite trope of the modern era. If you’re still not getting what I’m saying, think about what a pussy Ross from Friends is. He’s always stuttering and saying that stupid shit he always says. Even with that, a lot of guys would say he’s the hero of that show because he ends up with Jennifer Anniston (sorry for the spoiler). Either way he’s not our hero, he’s the enemy. As far as you’re concerned being anything like Ross is exactly what you should try to avoid between now and the time you die. You’re a Joey, and don’t fucking forget it. You think old Joe Tribs worries about who’s on a break and who’s not? No, that dude has a cool job and he people love him. Actually… He’s not that bright. I take it back. You’re Chandler, he’s funny and his and Monica’s love is a lot more honest than any other relationship on the show. You know what, fuck it. Worrying about which Friends character you are is something Ross would do and he’s a bitch-ass. The point is that saying “fuck it” is a decision that you’re making. It’s not some wishy washy beta-male nonsense. After all, you’re an adult, or you will be some day and you can’t be hung up on whether you’re making the right choice. Pick what you want to do and stick with it until it sucks then pick something else. That’s how life should be lived.

Ross Spudnik

He wore a potato and a colander and called himself SPUDNIK! For fuck’s sake!

“How will that make me interesting” I can see you mouth to yourself as you read this letter. Another fair question. Albeit that one is sort of stupid. Doing stuff that makes you happy is fascinating to people. If you’re chasing a dream, or already doing something you love because you worked for it people are completely charmed by the novelty. Why should doing what you want be novel? Why don’t other people work hard to make themselves happy? I have no inkling that might lead me in the direction of an answer to those questions. The point is that expressing what you want to do and then putting in the time to do it is interesting.

And, what about your fears, your doubts, your second guessing, your haters naysayers or general Negative-Nancys? What about all the stuff in your way, obstacles distractions and bullshits? Fuck it. anything that’s trying to keep you from doing what you want is a douche and not worth your time. It’s not always easy to disregard the stuff that’s making your life harder. But, no one will fault you if it takes a while to dispense of the garbage that life tries to drown you in. The most important thing to remember is everyone’s got their own garbage and happiness isn’t a competition. The goal here isn’t better to be better than anyone else. It isn’t even to be more interesting than anyone else. Your goal is to be the most awesome version of yourself possible. Not a groundbreaking concept, but there you have it.

Dress Debate black blue white gold

Everyone knows that, the same way everyone knows this dress is black and blue

I’m not super sure how you got this letter or why you would assume it was for you but it’s probably good that you did. Sure, it’s not going to make any difference but if I’m being honest I only wrote it to get this stuff off of my chest. If there’s one thing I’ve learned other than “fuck it” its’ that unsolicited advice is totally useless. No one listens to something they didn’t ask to hear. But maybe if you keep it long enough you’ll read it one day and think it’s a little profound and decide to dictate it to a blog you haven’t written for in a year.

Thanks bro,

Ryan Bell

3/5/2015

P.S. Don’t bother with post scripts, they never have valuable information.

 

 

 

WELCOME BACK TO THE DRUNKEN MUSINGS!!!

Gen-Y Musing: 6 Things 90’s kids will Understand

There are a lot of ways that kids in their early twenties are misrepresented. Not just now but always. When a shift is felt in power from one generation to the next there’s always animosity. The older people feel obsolete, while also thinking they know better than their younger counterparts. This is never actually true. There’s nothing wrong with kids these days, or any days. Right now the accusation for young people is that they are lazy and entitled. It’s bullshit. No group of people have any common personality flaw just because of when they were born.

In the age of the internet, us kids have a channel to fight back through. One odd way this has taken place is 90’s nostalgia. People my age moon over how great things like orange video cassettes and pogs were. Why? because we remember that decade with a child like wonder. That could probably be explained by the fact that we were children. The more I think about it, the more I think the 90’s weren’t all that great. Don’t get your Lion King panties in a twist. Just think about it. How great could they have been? If you disagree, tonight on Nickelodeon there will be a block of programming dedicated to the 90’s. Watch all of it and tell me you really cherished that episode of Doug, and never wanted to change the channel to be rid of his whining. The 1990’s weren’t a fantastic decade, they were just bizarre and we have no way to contextualize them. IT’s still hard to process those 10 years. Here’s a few things I took away from growing up in that weird ass time.

6.) Brand Recognition

It was probably an accident, but I was brought up to be a well versed consumer. I can spot a good product from a mile away. I impulse buy whenever I can, and I google products to be prudent. Money is a love of mine, if only because it gets me access to things. Things are my favorite.

There’s a reason that I loved this short film.

For those of you who can’t take sixteen minutes out of your day for a true work of art, that is an animated movie about a criminal Ronald McDonald. The catch is that every single person, place, and thing in the short are logos. Logorama won the Oscar for short film in 2010 because it was both impressive, and tapped into a vein of western culture that we can all identify with. The movie works because of the emotions we feel when seeing symbols we recognize. Logos are like visual feelings that we’re forced to see everywhere. Watching them on a screen like that outside of their normal context is similar watching an old friend perform just for us.

The fun thing about this personality feature is that I think it will last for a long time. Our ability to recognize barands is only going to get stronger in future generations. The rest of these 90’s kids traits on this list are specific to people my age, but brand awareness is a skill that will only help future consumers. It is an asset for future generations that my peers will rightfully instill in their own children.

5.)  The Last of The Racism

Oh, quit you’re bitching. I’m half black,okay? Half white too. So quit your whining about race. With that being said racism is pretty much over as we knew it. Yeah sure horrible things happen all the time in the United States, and Fox News exists but it’s not at all like it used to be. Racism is a more organizational, more institutional that it used to be. As awful as it may be, right now is the best time to date to be a minority in the United States. Look no further than TV to see difference 20 years can make in race relations. If half the shit that happened to TV black people in 1994 happened to them in 2014, the NAACP be boycotting every major network.

Black Ranger

… and the Yellow Ranger was Asian…

We live in a more tolerant, sensitive time and it’s easy to forget that things were much different not too long ago. The most popular example of this is the show Friends. Six average normal people who not only don’t know any black people but pretty much everyone in New York City was white. That’s nothing in comparison to shows like Homeboys in Outerspace. Shows like that one used stereotypes in the place of plot and characterization. I imagine the writer’s thought process went something like this ” these black men are in trouble, how would they react” and after a few moments of consideration came up with “I’m too young to die…I never got to make love with an 8 breasted woman.”The basest stereotypes hand’t been outlawed by the mainstream yet. Looking at black men as hyper sexualized, or totally omitting latinos hadn’t fallen out of vogue yet. People hadn’t had time to process the LA riots or the mainstream success of rap music. So many in the media were still recycling old jokes on TV and relying on prejudice in place of storytelling.

4.) Cultural Rivalries

Nsync or Backstreet Boys? Tomogatchi or Gigapet?Poo-chi or Furbee? The answers to these questions would tell class mates something about you in my grade school. Of the normal nineties nostalgia this is one of the only things I remember being a part of. My family was too poor to afford a lot of the toys. I wasn’t allowed to watch Power Rangers or other violent shows like Ren and Stimpy. I wasn’t a girl, so I didn’t play with origami fortune tellers, sand art, or MASH books. Even still I liked Nsync and my brother liked the Backstreet Boys. We fought about it. For real.

Surface To Air Missles

Some times it was necessary to defend your taste in boy-band.

While people my age aren’t the first to experience these types of rivalries (see Pepsi v. Coke, Hustler v. Playboy, or Star Wars v. Star Trek) I think we will be the last. Western civilization is a much bigger thing than it used to be. The internet has exploded the pop cultureverse. Now one-on-one rivalries like those are nearly impossible. For all intents and purposes Backstreet and Nsync were the same, same with Pepsi and Coke. We have too many options in things like soft drinks, and sex magazines to single out just two whose fans can argue with each other at the conventions.

3.) Colors

The nineties were a crazy time. Being a child during that roller coaster was an odd phenomenon. The highs and lows of the decade manifested in weird ways. The economic boom years made people think that it was okay to wear shit like tie dye shirts, and these pants. Those crazy ass fashions were concrete examples of a very different era. The odd thing about being a kid in this time is that I had zero to do with it. Shit was totally wild in the 90’s and I bore no responsibility. It was a loud couple of years, and there was a feeling that the wave we rode on would never end.

The terrible 90's

I see nothing out-dated by this photo

As with all things, Americans got over it. The ostentatious culture was replaced with a more sober quieter society. This country was high on the new technology and the economic boom that came with it. The dot com bubble burst at the end of the decade and we calmed down a bit. That was nothing in comparison to the country shattering sedation 9/11 gave to the American people. The carefree unworried nature of us in the 90’s dissipated in favor of a cautious, almost paranoid emotional baseline for this country. In the present day millennials see that high of the 90’s as a part of our own childhood fascination. All of our formative years were glazed with a giddy happiness most of us still can’t understand. Today upbeatness has been replaced with bone-deep cynicism. The hell-scape that was the Bush years didn’t help with that. Our obsession with darkness has shown itself in our usually dark or earth toned clothes as well as the popularity of movies like The Dark Knight and The Hunger Games. Now that millennials are making a difference to our surroundings the duality of the manic happiness we were raised in and the bleakness we came of age in will mix to create something new that is impossible to predict. I’m okay with whatever happens as long as we never wear sweatpants like this again.

2.) Everyday Objects As Toys

A common complaint about millennials is that we are jaded and lazy because of all the technology we’ve been exposed to at a young age. That’s a stupid thing to say. However, it is likely we were affected our outlandish accessories. I don’t think text messaging fucked us up, Lisa Frank did. When I was young I had this notion along with the rest of the culture that a thing couldn’t just be a thing, it also had to be fun. A notebook isn’t just for notes, it’s also a statement. From an unforgivably young age I was given the subconscious message that consumerism was not only a good thing, but that it was a skill to be honed. Wanting a chair wasn’t enough, you also should want an inflatable purple one.

Inflatable Purple Chair

It’s exactly as comfy as it looks

This fascination with with probably has something to do with the present day preoccupation with DIY. We want recycle and repurpose. Sure, there are fewer colors in the shit we make now but it’s the same idea. The kids who were responsibility for the resurgence lava lamps grew up to make lighting fixtures from mason jars or sex toys made from house-hold objects. The Lisa Frank fan in all of us has change the way we look at the word. But that’s not the only way.

1.) The Fear

People growing up in the nineties were the first to be raised with a healthy fear of everything. Sure public service campaigns were around in the seventies and eighties, but by the time Clinton was sworn into office they were integral to pop culture in America. Stranger danger, being set on fire, and house hold cleaning products were just a few of the things I was trained to be terrified of. Not to mention DARE, which was basically a campaigned created to make 8 year olds pants-shittingly weary of any substance harder than caffeine.

Uruk Hai and Child

Best if you treat everything with the same terror as you would the Uruk-Hai.

I remember being young as a time when I was constantly threatened. I had to grow out of my panic. It took effort to teach myself that not everything was going to kill me. This wasn’t easy, because I legitimately believed that I’d be lucky to live to 16 with all the car accidents, amusement park ride malfunctions, and firearm misuses rampant when I was a kid. Or so I was told. The average idle comments made by my parents and their friends would sound like “don’t eat that it will give you diabetes” or “his house has guns. You can’t go over there, he might blow your head off.” Maybe my younger days were particularly fucked up, but fear was like a mentor that taught me how to navigate the world. PSAs and assemblies at school as well as after school special TV shows led me to believe that the world was much more dangerous than it actually is. Yes, there are a few people who probably benefitted from one or two of those lessons but that doesn’t justify mindscrewing an entire generation into being petrified of everyday objects. I should have been given the right to look at a book of matches without picturing my loved ones burning alive.

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Literary Musing: My Life in The Romance Novel Lion’s Den

Back in the day, it was embarrassing for some people to be seen reading certain books in public. With the rise in popularity of e-book readers, that shame is hella easy to avoid. Now you can read whatever fantasy books or Nazi vitriol you want without fear of judgment. This has been a profitable change for several genres, but none more so than romance. Novelized romantic comedies and erotic romance have been around for years and now that no one can see the covers, readers can’t buy them fast enough. About three years ago a certain fan of these books decided to take her own stab at the industry. In the midst of the Twilight craze, this snappy new author wrote a paranormal romance series about werewolves. While it wasn’t a smash hit, the books led her down a path which, over the course of three years, allowed her to quit her job and write full time. She is now earning a salary greater than she’s ever done, and enjoys a life where she can work from home and make her own hours. For all of its stresses and frustrations, life as a professional author suits our heroine fine, indeed.

That woman is my step-mother, Christine Bell. Chris spends most of her days writing, editing, tweeting, and other writer/self-promotion crap that sounds exhausting. She mainly writes for a small, but successful publisher called Entangled. The dedicated people at this  company work hard to put out the best novels possible. I know this for a fact because my fiancée, Allison Gatta, is an editor with them. Being so close to their dealings, I’ve become an expert at second hand gleanings of their jobs. I’m here to give you an insider’s outside perspective on what it’s like to write romance novels.

Colon Image

Not that kind of insider

First and foremost,  at least in the kind of romance they write which is called “category romance”, there are tropes.  Many romance readers are creatures of habits and like to see similar elements in the books they read. Recurring themes, plots, and archetypal characters are good points of reference for audiences. That’s where the tropes come in. Hail the tropes. If you want to write a successful romance novel,  tropes are a great place to start. First it’s the plot. Much-loved, common storylines include “enemies to lovers,” “marriage of convenience,” “fake fiance,” and so forth.

Then, we move on to characters. Common favorites are “older brother’s best friend,” “office romancers,” “millionaire playboy,” or “girl next door.” Common themes and characters are like the tools of the trade. Where on artist works with watercolor on paper, many successful romance authors work with “secret romance” on “paradise island.” It seems to me from the outside looking in that the mark of a good category romance is its ability to have the requisite number of tropes and archetypal characters without seeming boring or played out. Romance writing is like the art of reinvention. Stale or outdated writing is often punished with poor reception by an audience or bad reviews. Audiences have their favorite themes and characters, and a misuse of these can piss off a reader (which will make them unlikely to purchase your book in the future). Tropes might be the back bone of many successful romances, but they’re only the beginning.

Fabio Cover

Let’s not judge every book by its cover

When the uninitiated think of romance novels, most of us think of either Fabio, or 50 Shades of Grey. Those two books have one hot, sweaty, sticky, moist thing in common. The sex in the newer 50 Shades books, as well as the old bodice rippers, has made them famous. Those books would not have made money without their sex scenes. Many publishers have strict rules on the sex, depending on the line the book is released under. Language,  intensity of each scene, use of toys, use of holes, location of sex, and relationship between characters are all taken into consideration when determining which line a book might be right for. If a book is meant to be “red hot” or “erotic” and isn’t, or should focus more on the emotional build between characters rather than the physical and doesn’t,  it may cause a submission to be dismissed by a publisher or moved to another line. Much like everything in genre fiction, the rules are pretty strict.

When someone is on the Kindle store looking for romance books to buy, they know what they’re looking for. If the line you release under is known for “closed door sex”,  but then you write a love scene where the guy whips a  woman  and then they move on to anal, reviewers will surely squawk. Not even a self-published author who doesn’t have to answer to a publisher would do something so counter productive as trick or mislead readers. Your readers are your customers and they know what they want. If you treat them badly by not giving them what they asked for,  you will never make a long term career of writing. When my fiancée was an intern reading through the slush pile of unpublished writers, she knew what could and could not sell quickly, and the sex scenes can make or break a novel, and even an author.

Now that we’ve gotten the sex (and awkward morning after) out of the way, onward to some advice. The best advice piece of advice I’ve heard  on becoming a successful author is that sleep is for suckers. You don’t write a best-seller by getting a full night’s rest. Not sleeping is probably not so unusual for people who work from home, but deadlines and the number of steps involved in putting out and supporting a book make it that much more common.

When my step-mom quit her job to write professionally we celebrated her last day because she wouldn’t have to go to work anymore. That turned out to be the wrong way to look at it. Now that she writes, it’s like she never leaves work. She’ll wake up and check her Twitter page, make coffee, answer work e-mails, write a scene, fill out an online interview, answer more e-mails, plot an upcoming book, and discuss upcoming collaborations before lunch. My fiancée does the same. Instead of working 8 hours and going home, they work 16-20 hours and take breaks in between. The living room is their office and it’s as if watching American Idol or working out their only reprieve from being glued to a computer screen every waking hour. It’s not as if either of them are unusual (as far as I know). Writing is a full-time job as well as a lifestyle and it seeps into the core of what you are as a person. It’s a thing that you turn on, with no intention of ever turning off. This usually means that regular sleeping hours are a thing of the past. Between late night edits, last minute promoting, and jitters the night before a release day, the chances are good that a writer will see the sun go down and come up in the same sitting at least once a month. Attachment to a regular sleep is something many successful authors of category romance can’t afford.

Up in bed stock photo

Pictured: hard working American woman

I’ve been asked more than once if my fiancée has been affected by the books she reads. These people want to know if she has unreasonable expectations for real world relationships. This is an odd question because it’s like asking if another genre fiction author expects the fake things they make up to be true. Do people ask Stephen King if he believes in magic corn demon children?

No, romance novelists do not think the situations they come up with are realistic. They’re not delusional. Like all genre fiction, romance is about escapism. A person who thinks books and movies have anything to do with the way everyday people live have a host of problems outside their own expectations. The romance authors I know have a very good handle on what they’re doing. They are clear on how it works and what its purpose is. This is not to mention the fantastic sense of humor that comes from many of these authors. Jokes about the more absurd elements of writing genre fiction and romance are common. When first Christine started writing, she was sent a hilarious list of phrases prohibited from sex scenes. Phrases like “man root” and “slippery cavern” come to mind, and we  still try to top those on occasion when the topic arises.  Self-awareness is a trait the most successful writers have because they’re able to see what has made them money and are able to replicate the process.

 

sex gesture

An awareness of what you’re doing is paramount in romance

I don’t know about other genre or platforms, but  category romance seems to be extremely reader-centric. The art is not manufactured in a vacuum. Many times, the writer, editor, and publisher are willing to bend over backward to make certain they fulfill the promise their line makes to a reader to assure good sales. Romance readers are voracious and want a very specific product, if a book fails to deliver it will almost certainly fail to sell. People in the industry pride themselves on their ability to spot trends in sales. Oftentimes, if one sub-genre is selling soft, an author will try her hand at another. Flexibility is key for many authors to make a full time job at writing. The key is making sure that the writing is solid. This is part of the reason that many authors are affronted at the success of the 50 Shades series. There were hundreds of BDSM novel series published that same year, so why was E.L James so successful? What did she give readers that sold so much better? It’s not an easy question to answer. In my opinion, those books read like they were written by a fourth grader and there was nothing special about BDSM scenes that you couldn’t find in any other books of that genre (The Original Sinners series by Tiffany Reisz, for example, whose quality was miles ahead of James’ terrible books). If a publisher could figure out why those books sold so well they’d be a billionaires by the end of the year. This doesn’t mean that the majority of romance authors are trying to emulate 50 Shades, those books were rife with plot holes and character inconsistencies that editors are paid to eliminate. But many a full-time writer might hope to try her hand at the popular genre in hopes a given book will sell about 50,000 copies (depending on the author) and that the sales will only increase with subsequent sequels in the genre.

A quick note about Romance sequels. If you don’t read in the genre, you may not know that sequel or sequels in a romance series will usually not have the same main characters. The idea of writing a series is that the ending of each book will involve a marriage or promise to marry (or a HEA/Happily Ever After)  and the sequels will only be similar in theme and focus on the secondary characters of the original. While this might seem boring in theory, it gives readers and writers an opportunity to explore how different personalities and settings will affect characters with varying personalities. The excitement is in seeing what a strait-laced MarySue you met in book one would do under the similar circumstances as her bombastic party girl sister, or to catch up with characters that might feel like old friends.

Once the writing is done, blog tours, conversations on social media like Twitter and Goodreads, and other interactions with readers serve as promotional work for a book. Romance readers like to have a connection with their favorite authors, and if that connection is strong enough and the writing is compelling, a reader is liable to buy up every book written by their favorites. A relationship with audience is how to buildyour brand. Where some creative people say things like “I write for myself and not the audience,” this is impractical for most romance authors who want to make a living at it. The ability to maintain that relationship and the integrity of the work is often what determines whether or not writing can be a full time profession.

Hangover II

Not all sequels are great

In the end, building anything with your hands will give you a sense of pride. While plots and characters aren’t physical things, there is still a special dignity in creating lives, even if they are fictional. Don’t let anyone tell you that this isn’t a real job or that it doesn’t generate genuine results. Money aside, you can receive a reward from good story telling. A positive review, or enthusiasm from a reader is enough to keep many authors going. They love the interaction and the praise more than the money. Creating is a cherished thing. Those things we make are intimate, and to make them public takes a bravery that not everyone has. The money is incidental in a way, because its most important quality is that it allows authors to continue to auth. Writing romance isn’t just rewarding when people like the work, but also when you can tell that people have gotten something out of your product. If what you’ve made can make some lady in South Dakota giddy with excitement for the sequel, then you’ve done every aspect of your job well. It’s easy to take satisfaction from a job when you know you’re making the world a better place. That’s what the best authors know.

 

 

 

Special thanks to Christine and Allison for righting a few of my more egregious errors.

Oscars Musing: Defending My Tweets from The Academy Awards

I plan on tweeting the oscars but the red carpet can fuck itself

This kicked off my Oscar tweets. I flipped on ABC before the show actually started and turned it off immediately when I realized they hadn’t started. I don’t care about clothes. I’m not a fashion loving person. It’s not a hobby I understand. So I couldn’t give a shit less to watch famous people on their way to walk into a building. Yes, the red carpet can go fuck itself.

Already disappointed with Ellen’s hosting.

Just before Ellen took the stage I was hit with a flashback. Seven years ago she hosted. It was a pretty good show that could have ben great if Ellen hadn’t said anything at all. I don’t think she’s funny, because she’s not. She’s a good daytime host and people love her dancing, but that doesn’t make her a good comedian. Good for her for getting the gig, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. While this tweet was a joke at the time, It turned out to be prophetic.

They panned to Julia Roberts when Ellen said youth is important. #pointedgesture

Ellen made a pretty clever joke, to her credit about how important it is to be young in hollywood. The camera stiched once the pucnchline came for an audience reaction shot. The only person we saw laughing in this shot was Julia Roberts. I imagine the production director sitting in the studio heard that joke came he reacted by saying “Camera 13, close up on subject the hag. Yeah, her, fuck her.”

Dallas Buyer’s Club was more important than it was good.

This is something I firmly believe. It was a good movie, but would not have been nominated if it wasn’t for the subject matter. I think it’s great any time a progressive stance is taken on gay rights issues. The Only problem with Dallas Buyers Club is that it was boring, and would have been completely unwatchable if not for Matthew Mcconaughey’s and Jared Leto’s performances.

My dad wouldn’t let us watch Nebraska because Bruce Dern killed John Wayne once in a movie and he never forgave the guy.

This is true. In the 1972 movie The Cowboys Bruce Dern’s character killed John Wayne’s. Being a huge John Wayne fan my dad has not seen any Bruce Dern Movies since, and Nebraska was no exception.

Ellen just said “get it?” so fuck her.

I don’t remember the joke, and i doesn’t really matter. Because, comedians shouldn’t be allowed to say “get it?” Fuck anyone who has so little confidence in their work as to say something like “get it” to demonstrate when they’ve told a joke. She’s presenting at the oscars and she should be better than to say something this annoying. She chose to wear a tuxedo, she should have bigger balls than that.

Jared Leto shouldn’t be allowed.

He’s just too god damned good at the things he does.

These two tweets about Jared Leto came after he won for Best Supporting Actor. He is immensely talented, and I’ve never had a negative feeling about a performance of his in  a movie.Although 30 Seconds To Mars isn’t my cup of tea, he’s a powerful vocalist and I have a lot of respect for him.

Telling a story about your mother is the best way to not get played off.

After he won Leto, started his speech by telling a story about his mom. Not only did he not get played off, but he had one of the longest speeches of the night. Well played Rayon.

Pharell saw himself in those crazy hats at the Grammys and didn’t decide to throw them away. Let that sink in

I guess the Smoky hats are Pharell’s thing now. I just hope he has enough sense to regret them in due time.

Han Solo could only be made more bad ass by wearing a stud earring.

Harrison Ford rocked the white gold stud on the left ear. Go old dudes. Go Han.

Ithinkchanningtatummightbenervous

Tatum probably isn’t used to performing on stage with clothes on. He rushed through his presentation and I think I’ve heard better readings in high school speeches.

way to name drop EdTv, Ellen

Matthew Mcconaughey introduced a performance, and Ellen introduced him (not ironically) as her Edtv co-star. Why? What was the goal in saying that, Ellen? You’re on TV, put some thought into the things you say.

Suck it Mickey!

A Disney movie lost in an animation catergory. Sure it was short length, but still, nice to give the little guy a shot. Go Mr. Hublot, whatever you are.

The directors of the animated short film were first worked in film with Monty Python as vocal coaches.

This is a joke on their outrageous french accents. Not my best (mostly because it doesn’t make sense) but I stand by it.

these packages remind me of the shit tons of movies I’ve never seen

Again, not a great joke but it’s nice to be humble and that you’ve never seen movies like Schindler’s List and dozens others.

the things I want do to Emma watson have been the same since Sorcerer’s Stone

Emma Watson is my only celebrity crush. The things that would happen between her and I would be beautiful, and transcendent. My fiancée understands.

As a culture, lets agree that’s the last time Zach Effron is on the Oscar stage

He announced the Karen-O performance, and he’s a terrible actor. Is that okay with everyone?

Kate Hudson banged A-Rod. Don’t forget that

A-Rod’s a terrible person. I’m sure Kate Hudson’s a perfectly nice, that’s why they’re not together anymore. But she banged him, and I can’t completely forgive her.

The Act of Killing got ROBBBBBBBBBEEEEEDDDDD! Holy fuck, I still have nightmares about that shit

I’m not the type of person to argue with award shows. Those people are experts and just because I like one movie more than the winner doesn’t make me right. That being said The Act of Killing was a gripping, powerful hard to watch documentary about what mass murder can do to someone when they get away with it. It was an all encompassing look into the human psyche and it has the power to change you, if you’ll let it. It was stylistic and hard hitting, there’s no reason it should have lost. Especially not to 20 Feet From Stardom.

A THIRD CALLBACK TO THE PIZZA BIT!!!

I didn’t mention the pizza joke before then on twitter, because I didn’t think it deserved it. But after she kept it going I thougt it was necessary. Fuck Ellen for that terrible joke about pizza deliver. She can go directly to hell.

I’m surprised Pink didn’t do this song on some ropes and wires or some shit.

Bette Midler is lucky no one’s going to say how bad this is in light of the other trainwrecks of this show.

Between the pizza, Kim Novak, Adela Dazeeme, and Pharell’s hat Bette Midler’s oddly time singing of “Wind Beneath My Wings” will not seem like the worst thing that happened during that terrible production.

Fuck Ellen for having so many retweets

Yes, fuck her.

does anyone else feel physically uncomfortable in their own skin after that “Let It Go?”

I wanted to crawl out of my skin. Idina Menzel is a very experienced performer, a smart woman, and a tremendous singer. She was off. The timing was at least a bet wrong the entire time. Menzel was crying by the end of it. It was painful.

MORE FUCKING PIZZA JOKES!!!!

Yeah, she didn’t quit. She took the most retweeted picture ever that night, and also made the most awkward unfunny bit about pizza I’ve ever seen on a nationally televised event.

We feel for you, Leo

At least, I do. He’s been more than a teen heart throb for a long time, and he deserves recognition. Especially for his performance in Wolf of Wall Street. Good for Matthew McConaughey, but damn I wish DiCaprio would have won.

I wish a cooler movie could have won

When King’s Speech beat Black Swan, I felt like an injustice to a great movie was done. There’s been no clear better movie this year. But, if  Wolf or Her had one it would have felt like a braver choice than the one about slavery. It’s not a cool film, it’s doesn’t have the style or sex of some of the other nominees. I think it would have been better if one of those got the recognition.

how long till we decide that that was the worst Oscars ever?

For me, it was immediately. That shit was hard to watch, and I was just happy when it was over. I love award shows, especially The Oscars and that was a miscarriage of something that could have been wonderful. It wasn’t anything worth while, just a waste of time. Ellen only made it worse. Sorry if you’re a fan, but she was a bad host.

Youth Musing: 6 Things Childhood Can’t Help But Teach You

When you were little, things were much different. So radically different in fact that you probably don’t remember it. Don’t believe me? Grab a cup of coffee and a cookie and come back. I’ll wait here.

Now that you’re back, did it even cross your mind how lucky you are to be able to reach your counter? Or, that someone didn’t yell at you, that “dinner is in three hours and you won’t be hungry if you eat that whole sleeve or Oreos?” No. You just ate fifteen Oreos without giving it a second thought.Because you’re a god damned grown-up. In adulthood the only people who attempt to control you are at you are trying to find the fastest way to get into a physical altercation.

Most of my life before I was 9 is a strange confusing blur. I know that time was formative, I just don’t know why. I can’t for the life of me remember what happened to me when I was a kid but I know that it made me who I am today. Still, despite being neurylized by the Men In Black back in 2000 I know there are some very key things that we all are taught by accident. Here’ s just a few of them.

6.) You are inferior

Remember your ex? You know, the one with the giant ego. God, he/she was such an asshole. And his/her mother didn’t help with all that coddling and babying. You and I are are so much better than your ex because someone taught us we’re actually not all that great. Either you lost a Tee-Ball game against your best friend in kindergarten, or accidentally lived a waking nightmare where you left your pants at home before getting on the school bus. Whatever the explanation we know that there’s something that makes us inherently shitty. If you disagree, you’re an asshole.

Sad toddler

Quit your bitching.

Humility is what makes relationships with other people possible. If everyone of us thought that we were all that and a bag of chips, the world would be a cut-throat, competitive place. In order to coexist happily we are required to get over ourselves. Little kids have the luxury of thinking they’re the center of the universe, but once the world crushes their spirit in one way or another the notion of their importance is dispelled. Is this a good thing? Probably not. People with a lot of confidence tend to be more successful, and make more money. That doesn’t change the fact that a certain level of self hatred is instilled in all of us from a  really early age. On a happier note…

5.) You are Loved

Sure, the thing to best recommend you is that you were the fastest sperm in your batch. For some reason people like you anyway. I mean, when was the last time you smiled at a kid? Probably the last time you made eye contact with one. We love kids. They’re enjoyable mini-humans with poop bags taped to them.

Baby coverd in poop

If this was an adult, no one would even make friendly eye-contact.

Even with their screaming in public, and lack of motor skills, we still like children. Even if you never want kids, and are stressed at the idea of having to take care of one, you still like them. They’re cute, mostly agreeable, and you can make them do anything you want. I don’t know about you but those are the qualities of my closest friends. Besides the responsibility the represent to the people taking care of them, and their incessant emotionally, children are awesome. You know it, I know it, they know it. Adults, whether by accident or on purpose end up giving a lot of their youngest counterparts a lot of positive feed back.

4.) There Aren’t Always Consequences For Your Actions

Did you just fart? I can tell. I heard it. You farted, and it was disgusting. And do you know what I’m going to do about it? Nothing, because I can’t. I can’t even see you. There’s nothing inherently wrong with farting. But I’m sure you’ve done actually wrong things that you were never punished for. We all have. And if you’re not a total fucking weirdo, the first time you got away with being a dick was in childhood.

But Nothing happened

Some times nothing will happen, even why you try to make a splash.

No matter what your blabbing parents tell you, they’re wrong. Not every bad thing you do will get you in trouble. When I was in fifth grade I won an unfair bet with a friend. She bet me ten dollars that I would end up fighting my arch rival at school before the end of the month. I didn’t, and I won the ten dollars. I felt awful for taking her money, but did it anyway. I was certain I would get caught by my parents, or teachers, or someone. It never happened. No one cared. No one even knew. I got away with something and felt completely guilty about it. It was an oddly teachable moment. I knew I’d done something wrong  when I took the money from a friend, and I had always been taught that people who did the wrong thing got in trouble. When I got away with it I learned that I could get away with a lot of shit if I just kept my mouth shut. I assume this is the age when people become serial killers. Once you know you won’t get grounded, you start torturing animals or whatever.

3.) You Will Always Be Behind

I’ve never seen Schindler’s List. It’s a massively iconic movie that got Stephen Spielberg his first Oscar win for best director, and I’m not even sure what it’s about. Who’s Schindler? What’s on that list? Is it hilarious? What would it smell like? I have no idea. That is just one thing that I am entirely unfamiliar with.

Liam Neeson Schindler's List still

Did Schindler train Batman to be a ninja!?

You can study and become a Rhode Scholar as well as a  professional athlete if you want to, but that doesn’t mean you’ll know how to change and alternator. When we’re young they tell us we can be anything we want to be. That’s only true if you stick to doing one or two things. Because no one ever told you that you can be everything you want. For a wide eyed, ambitious kid this may be disappointing, even crushing. This isn’t just a part of growing up, it’s a part of not going insane. As adults we need to learn to keep our interests focused. If you want to duel major in music and theoretical astronomical physics you’ll find out fast that you’ve spread yourself too thin. Being limited is frustrating when your first life goal was to be the moon’s first rock star in an all clone band, but the best way to amount to anything is not trying to amount to everything. So no, I’ve never seen some 1993 oscar winner but that’s okay because I’m gifted in other ways. By always being behind we learn what to be good at, and what to give up on.

2.) You are boring

Did I ever tell you guys about the time I called my internet service provider? Well I called these people, and I needed to tell them that I didn’t use as much bandwidth as they’d said in the bill. So I talked to this woman, her name was Sarah. Sarah told me she couldn’t do anything and she forwarded me to her supervisor. LeeAnne, that’s her supervisor, told me that if I just plugged the ethernet from the house directly into my lap top I would save money. Isn’t that something? I was shocked! Who would have thought things would be so easy? Isn’t that fascinating!

Meh button

This is the default emotion you’ll be getting from age 9, until you die

As soon as you grow out of being the little cute one, people stop caring about you. You no longer get a pass. Instead of being adorable by default, you now have to work in order to be liked. This change in a person’s life marks the time when your personality stops being about yourself, and starts being about what you have to offer to others. The thing being young teaches you more than anything else is that the world will make no effort to give a shit about you. This is a message many have trouble understanding, but it’s invaluable. If you want to make friends, you should take a stab at being likable, or at least have something to offer other people. Realizing you’re boring is the best motivator for being a worth while human being.

1.) Nothing Makes Sense

Movies are awesome. They are short, easy to watch and fun. They are also damaging vicious lies that destroy everything we want to be with their deceit.  Were you hoping your life would be simple, easy to follow, and have clear solutions for your problems that would come at a convenient time. Too fucking bad. Shit is not simple, it’s messy and has a terrible odor. And even when you realize that, there will still be times when you forget.

Confused toddler

“You mean to tell me that everyone poops?”

We think life will be easy to figure out because movies and books make it like a piece of cake. The kind of cake that has a happily predictable ending. If you’re lucky you get shaken of this illusion at an early age. If you’re horribly unlucky, like me you’ll be figuring this BS out until you die. People’s motivations aren’t clear, situations don’t have a clear right or wrong, and love doesn’t always result in a wedding. I enjoy movies as much as the next guy, but they are so present in our culture that they make it nearly impossible to decipher our lives. We reference things in front of us to things on-screen and vice versa. This mentality ruins lives, and the luckiest people in the western world get over it and move on. The rest of us stew over the injustice of it all and write blogs.

This post was partly inspired by the musings of a friend over at the Love and The Law blog. Your atypical law student asked some intriguing questions about our upbringings and I suggest you check out her post, here.

I want YOU to participate in the Musing.

You may not realize this, but you’re awesome. And so am I. I believe that it is a waste for you and I to ignore this strong connection between us. Whether you’ve kept up with the Musings or not, I am looking for your input. Together I think we can make something truly beautiful. If you have ideas for a blog post and you’d like an opportunity to get help from a professional, I would be proud to work with you to develop ideas. Our minds can make magic.

If you have an idea you’d like to see blogged please send me an email at RyanBell2691@gmail.com , or post a comment below.