Charity Drive Update – 22 Days Left (Plus NaNoWriMo Talk)

Alright. Now that Thanksgiving and all of the shenanigans surrounding that are over, it’s time for another update on the charity drive I’m doing with my book. It wasn’t good well with the last update, with the drive on pace for a $50 donation at the end of the drive. So. Where are we now.

Yeah. About that.

I have to admit, I’m pretty upset about how it’s going. Not that it’s come out in any of my posts or anything. The short version is that the total of $9.98 raised as of last time is now at $12.24. That means that in the 21 days since the last update, one copy of the book has sold[1].

One.

I had hoped this would go over much better. I was very, very wrong. It’s upsetting to say the least. There have been some of you who have been extremely helpful in promotion for the drive — a fact for which I’m externally grateful. But the end result looks like it’s going to be putrid.

I’m going to be putting money to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention regardless. The work they do is exceptionally valuable. I just wish that more of the money going to an organization whose mission I really care about could have come from a project I really care about. Hopefully the next 22 days will go better, but I’m a realist. The best case scenario I can hope for is that the current total doubles.


On a related, yet not so related note, I wanted to talk a bit about NaNoWriMo. The annual November writing project just ended, and while I chose not to take part this year, I always love reading about those who choose to take on the arduous project. I finished NaNoWriMo in 2011 and 2015, and attempted it two other times (2009 and 2012) as well. It’s a fun project, not to mention a challenging one as well.

The one bright side to being as frustrated with the charity drive experience as I have been is that it’s given me a lot of emotions which have led to story ideas. Long, quiet morning drives have helped flesh out these thoughts a bit, and I think I know where I’m going to go with the story, at least at a very high level.

With that said, I’m looking for 2-3 readers to read the story as I write it. My goal is to be able to start writing the story by the first of the year — which will mean having my ideas storyboarded to the point that I can get the first chapter or two done on or around New Year’s  — and then to have roughly a chapter a week done from there. I honestly have no idea how long the story will be, however I’m thinking it’ll end up somewhere in the novella range (17,500 to 40,000 words)[2]. We’ll see though. It may be longer than 40,000. It definitely won’t be shorter.

If you’re interested in being one of the readers who reads and gives feedback, leave a comment. I’ll probably pick people some time shortly before Christmas.

The Ten Best Movie Turns Ever

Warning: Spoilers ahead for movies that are mostly at least two years old. And one that just came out. Also, stop being concerned about spoilers. Knowing what’s going to happen makes the movie more enjoyable.

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I went with my wife and in-laws to see Inferno. While I haven’t read the Dan Brown book by the same name, my wife and father-in-law were both very excited as they enjoy Dan Brown’s writing. I’m always up for seeing Tom Hanks in a film, so I had pretty high hopes. While the ending of the movie and the book apparently weren’t even close, there was one moment in the film that caught my attention.

Late in the film, as Hanks and Felicity Jones are running away from a bad guy who seems to be hellbent on stopping them from saving the world from an outbreak of a deadly disease, they find themselves climbing out of a basement of a building and onto street level. Jones pays a street merchant to let her out of the basement, but then double-crosses Hanks and slams the grating shut, allowing Hanks to be captured.

Film twists rarely catch me off guard, however this Face-Heel Turn was beautifully executed. While I’ve seen Inferno too recently to place it on this list[1], I was inspired to write about the ten best movie turns I’ve ever seen. These turns can be of the Face-Heel variety like Felicity Jones in Inferno, or they can be a Heel-Face version, wherein a bad guy becomes a good guy. That said, here’s my top ten.

10. Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) in Black Swan

This isn’t a turn in the truest sense, particularly once you realize Sayer’s attempted murder is actually an attempted suicide. But the fact that she goes from this demure, sweet character at the beginning of the film to an unhinged and violent character at the end as she descends into madness is wonderfully written.

9. Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) in Side Effects

While I really enjoyed Side Effects, I had a hard time debating between whether Mara’s character or Catherine Zeta-Jones’ character deserved the spot on the list. While Zeta-Jones’ character’s turn is more surprising, the fact that Emily Taylor is faking a mental illness to get away with murder is truly despicable…and really well-written.

8. Felonious Gru in Despicable Me

The first bad guy to good guy turn on this list features a movie that spawned a ton of characters that the majority of the internet hates. But Gru — the main character of the Despicable Me series before Pixar decided that minions were made of money — goes through a tale of super-villain becomes family man. Okay, it’s not all that common, but it’s touching all the same.

7. Fletcher Reed (Jim Carrey) in Liar Liar

As much as I love Jim Carrey when he does serious roles, I still enjoy a good Carrey comedy every now and again. What makes Fletcher Reed’s turn from a crappy father and skeezy businessman into a good father and husband great is that it’s so relatable despite being unrealistic. Everyone tries to make their own lives better and fix their mistakes in some way, and Reed is able to do so. It’s formulaic, but it works.

6. Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) in The Empire Strikes Back

This won’t be the only appearance by a Star Wars film on this list. You KNOW it’s coming. You know Lando is going to backstab Han Solo. And yet, it has to happen and is written perfectly to boot. Lando eventually turns back into being a good guy, which feels forced, particularly when his backstabbing was just business. But sometimes business is evil.

5. Arthur (Michael Caine) in Kingsman: The Secret Service

Michael Caine has spent an inordinate amount of time in the 2010s playing evil guys named Arthur. But what makes this turn beautiful is the respect that all of the other Kingsmen have for him as their leader. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, which means we should have seen this turn coming. But you’re still caught off guard more by his turn to the dark side than by his death a few minutes later.

4. Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) in Now You See Me

Can we all pretend Now You See Me 2 didn’t happen? Thanks.

While Rhodes isn’t a particularly unlikable character, the fact that for the majority of the movie he’s chasing the main protagonists of the film, only to reveal that he’s actually been helping orchestrate their plan the whole time is a pretty cool twist. The only reason that this turn doesn’t rank higher is because of how convoluted the whole twist is. I mean NO ONE at the FBI realized he was working with the Four Horsemen? Seriously?

3. Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike) in Die Another Day

One of the worst Bond films of all time had one of the best evil characters of the series. Too bad she was relegated to second fiddle as Gustav Graves[2]‘ personal assistant. Frost was a chameleon throughout the film, making herself fit in to whatever situation she was in. You could make a strong argument that Frost when from villain to protagonist and back again at least twice in the film. It’s too bad she dies in the end. Frost would have been a great main villain in a sequel.

2. The Grinch in How The Grinch Stole Christmas

While entries 3 through 10 on this list could be debated, particularly in terms of their order and movie preferences, I think you’d be hard pressed to find any list of great changes in movie characters that doesn’t include my top two entries. The change in The Grinch is so drastic that his heart literally grows three sizes. I get that this was originally a book, but the film adaptations of the book — both animated and not — sell the change in The Grinch just as well, if not better, than Seuss’s original classic.

1. Darth Vader (James Earl Jones) in Return of the Jedi

One of the most evil villains in movie history kills his boss to save his son just before he suffers his own death. Is there really any other turn capable of being number one? I think not.

Expectations

I laid in bed the other night, my mind adrift with thought after thought keeping me from my slumber as I simultaneously stared off into space, pondering the answer to one simple question.

Why do our expectations — or society’s expectations — not match reality?

I thought of numerous ways to address this question. Some were elegant, some were blunt. Others were passive and sarcastic, yet others direct and rage-fueled. No matter how many ways I went about attacking the question, I never quite came to the same end result. Was this, perhaps, a simple question without a simple answer? Was I wrong to seek out a silver bullet to explain human actions and behaviors, particularly in a time where we are so divided as humans?


In December of 2015, YouTuber and podcaster Gaby Dunn wrote an article on Fusion.net titled “Get rich or die vlogging: The sad economics of internet fame“. The article covers the unfortunate realities of being internet famous, particularly the large divide between the public perception of those who are internet famous versus their own reality. Unless you’re one of the top content creators on the internet, there’s a good chance you’ve got another job to help you make ends meet. When that job is in a public place like a restaurant, internet celebrities are forced to deal with questions about why they’re working there at all.

There was a particular line in the article that really hit home for me, even though I’m nowhere remotely close to being internet famous. It was as follows.

YouTubers are allowed to have struggled in the past tense, because overcoming makes us brave and relatable. But we can’t be struggling now or we’re labeled “whiners.” – Gaby Dunn

I have this inherent guilt somewhere deep inside me that comes up more often than I’d like to admit. It’s almost always around when I’m trying to publicize my book, regardless of whether it’s for the charity drive going on now or for profit otherwise. It’s this nagging feeling yelling at me to shut up. To stop asking people to buy my book. To stop asking for their help in sharing. If people want my work badly enough, they’ll come to me for it. There’s no need to try to push my creations on them.

I know where this feeling comes from, I think. Asking for help is to show weakness, or so it was ingrained in my mind from a young age. If you ask for help, you’re a charity case. No one likes a charity case. No one wants to hear you whine. If you can’t succeed for yourself — BY YOURSELF — then you have no one to blame but yourself. Involving other people only runs the risk of dragging them down along the way.


In May of this year, shortly after I found out the publisher that had signed on to publish my book was going out of business, I traded emails back and forth with Kat Argo, who had very kindly offered to help me figure out what in the hell I was doing self-publishing. In one of our emails, she made a comment essentially suggesting that I shouldn’t have high expectations for the sales of my book.

I knew she was right. I was (and still largely am) an unknown author writing in a relatively saturated genre. My book, while decently written, wasn’t perfect. If I could do it over again, I would have worked to be more inclusive in my writing — perhaps by explicitly calling out which characters were persons of color or minorities rather than leaving it up to the readers to assign race in some situations. There were things I had done well and things I had not done so well. My only marketing was word of mouth and even that has its limitations.

Yet, I was optimistic. There were a few people rooting for me to do well. There were a few others — albeit a significantly lesser number — not only wanting me to do well, but believing that this book would become a success. Their words made me hopeful that Kat would be wrong…that the reality of being an author would not match the pragmatic expectations being set before me.

It’s too early to determine if my book will become a long-term success. It’s evident five months in that the book most certainly is not a short-term success. The book is relatively well reviewed on both Goodreads and Amazon. Most of those who have read the book and have shared feedback have been optimistic. But turning what was months and years of hard work into a published book was the easy part. Selling it and marketing it — two skills that I not only objectively lack, but that I’m objectively terrible at — is the hard part.


We have a tendency as humans to seek out those similar to us. The similarity we seek is not the same from social group to social group. Whether it’s race, economic class, religion, sexual orientation, sports fandom, subcultures, or some sort of clique, humans are a tribal people by nature. We will look for some way to feel like we belong.

When we see someone or something in our tribe that we don’t like or that differs from our social norm, we retract, like a tortoise head into its shell. While those in our group will try to distance themselves from that act of difference — particular if that action was harmful — those outside of the group often use it as a way to build an us versus them mentality.

“State U.’s fans are saying something bad about my team, State Tech! Their fans are terrible people!”

“This movie character who I share a defining trait with is actually the bad guy in this story due to actions that have nothing to do with said defining trait! The director is a terrible person who shouldn’t make movies ever again!”

“Her skin color/gender/religion is different than what I identify as superior (read: my own)! Throw them out of this country and build a wall so they can’t get back in!”

I’ve found it very difficult to talk to my family about my book. Unless they’ve found out through their own means — which seems unlikely as most of my family are the type of people to mention something that gets on their nerves — the majority of my family doesn’t even know I’ve written a book. I think I’m okay with that.

I’m not sure though. The book itself deals with topics that were considered to be taboo growing up. Whether its race, sexuality (whether it be homosexuality, bisexuality, or just pre-marital sex), mental illness, or the use of religion as a driver of fear, there’s a lot of topics in the book that would create awkward silences at Thanksgiving dinner if people knew I wrote about them.

On one hand, I should have done a better job of addressing more issues in my book. On the other hand, am I really doing enough with my writing if the people I know are going to be the most against what I have to say don’t know I’m saying it? Is it my responsibility to market my book, sell my book, and break down the cultural silos that have developed between me and my family? The same silos that have developed across America only to lead to an overtly bigoted individual getting elected to the highest public office in the land.


You can suffer for your success. You just can’t let anyone see it. That what the internet wants. That’s what social media wants. That’s what society wants. They just want to see the feel good story at the end. They don’t care about the shit you had to go through to get there. Just give them the end product.

That’s not reality. Those aren’t the expectations we should have as a society. It’s hard work to be successful. It’s hard work to make yourself into something. And if you, society, can’t handle the fact that I get a little (or a lot) down on myself when things aren’t going well, that’s a you problem, not a me problem.

That said…it’s a problem I can’t get out of my head. It doesn’t go away. No one set these expectations.

Charity Drive Update – 43 Days Left

Now that we’re almost two weeks since the launch of my charity drive for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, I wanted to share a bit of an update of where things are so far. And where we are is not good. Or maybe it’s good? I’m not really sure.

If you aren’t familiar with the event[1], all proceeds from my debut book, An Epilogue to Innocence, from November 1st through December 24th will be donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (specifically, the Northern Ohio branch). Because I’m a self-published author, CreateSpace, Amazon, and Kindle all take their cut of the money from the sale, but I do get a bit of money with each book.

On the right side bar, you’ll notice that through November 11th, I’ve raised $9.98 for the AFSP. If I’m being optimistic, that means I’m on track to raise just shy of $50 for the AFSP. Which isn’t what I was hoping for, but it’s something. On the downside, I’m raising less than a dollar a day. Furthermore, that $9.98 raised represents three books sold. Three[2].

I’m honestly at a bit of a loss right now. I feel that the AFSP is an amazing cause. Their work is widely praised both by independent organizations and those in the know. I feel like my book is good. Reviews have been largely very good and even when there have been negative reviews, the majority of the bad reviews can be summed up as “good book, but not my cup of tea”. I’m sharing information about the drive, links to buy, and other info as often as I can. People have been helping me share the info — some of you very regularly — across multiple platforms, even ones I don’t have.

This begs the question in my mind: why? Why isn’t this going well. I never envisioned I’d be able to raise thousands of dollars for charity with this project. But honestly I’d love to be able to say I used my book to give hundreds of dollars to this cause. The AFSP deserves it. They do damn good work and we need them more than ever.

I’ve gone through more than one rough spell in terms of how I felt about my book’s sales. But this one hurts a bit more. Sure, sales are up slightly from October. That said, I literally wrote a post telling people not to buy my book that month. If sales weren’t up from then, we’d have a problem. If this was happening to money that was just going to me, I’d be annoyed, but I’d be understanding. When there’s a cause that’s bigger than myself — and bigger than all of us — in play…it leaves me scratching my head what else to do.

I’d love to hear ideas. If anyone has some ideas, please throw them out there in the comments.

Chai Tea and Other Clear and Present Dangers to Society

I don’t remember when chai tea[1] became a thing in the USA. A quick Google and Wikipedia search gave me no help beyond “in recent years”, however I have an educated guess, at least as to when I first heard about it. I recall first hearing about this drink that everyone kept referring to as chai tea shortly after I went to college. I wasn’t a big tea drinker by any means. My mom occasionally made chamomile tea for my brother and I when we were sick, but between the fact that we didn’t live with my mom and the fact that chamomile is revolting, I didn’t develop a liking for tea.

During my first year of college, I lived on the same floor as a girl named Amy[2] who I had multiple Spanish classes with. Amy and I regularly spent time in her dorm room studying[3] for class. As Amy was an avid tea drinker, this lead to her often offering me tea. Though I politely declined a few times, eventually I started having a cup every now and again. My usual fare was raspberry or Earl Grey, but Amy almost always had a tea she referred to as masala chai. In one of the very few conversations my mom and I had during my college years, I asked her about this tea, only to learn that masala chai was the same thing that most people around me — including my mom — regularly referred to as chai tea.

I was left in a bit of a conundrum mentally. Amy’s tea smelled really good. Since I was still relatively new to liking tea, I preferred to play it safe with the teas I liked, however based on smell alone, I figured that chai was a tea that I’d like. On the other hand, I’d regularly heard both sides of my black coffee drinking, eat the same meals for life family talking about how chai tea wasn’t just bad. No. Chai tea was part of a foreigner conspiracy to tear apart what it means to be American.

I can’t recall exactly who in my family said those words. I have my guesses, but names are better left unsaid when a ten-year-old memory is fuzzy. But I do remember the sentiment coming up more than once. This benign drink — one that smelled really good — was as dangerous to my American identity now as communism was in the 1980s[4], hippie counterculture was in the 1960s, and alcohol was in the late 1920s.

Of course, chai isn’t going to destroy America. That’s just silly. I had a wonderful chai tea latte from Panera a few weeks ago. No one died[5]. I also had black coffee with my breakfast this morning. It was lovely too. I knew I liked black coffee when I was studying with Amy. I didn’t know I liked chai tea. And the reason I didn’t know was because I was afraid to try it, afraid to be associated with something that my family didn’t approve of, and most of all, afraid to open up to something that was not like the drinks I had grown up consuming.

I graduated in a class of 140 students. Of those students, 137 were white America, 2 were of South Korean descent (though still American), and 1 was an exchange student from Norway. I was not surrounded by diversity of race nor by diversity of religion. Political diversity was a little more existent in my school, though most students — myself included — held opinions that where extremely conservative and extremely driven by both the molding of our parents and a religious upbringing. While there were some[6] who treated every with love, care, and compassion, these political and religious views were often combined with views that blended racism, sexism, homophobia, and nationalism into a belief system that was not only considered to be acceptable, but in some cases encouraged. While I didn’t agree with every opinion that was taught to me, I vividly recall being in speech class and debating against a female student on the topic of abortion. My argument, pro-life, was one that I believed in not because I went to church regularly or because I was particularly religious, but because that what I had learned was right.

College was an eye-opening experience for me. My asshole roommate[7] was a hard-partying, extremely liberal guy who enjoyed Guitar Hero and cheap beer a bit too much. The two guys that lived across the hall from us were from affluent suburbs of Detroit and Chicago. Had they come around me in high school, I likely would have considered them thuggish or worse. After a few days around them, I learned that they were nice guys who wanted to become a journalist and a police officer. A girl who lived down the hall from Amy was a student from Iran who had come to the US to study business. Last I knew, she had moved to the US, become a US citizen, and is happy married to her wife. High school me would have formed so many ill-advised opinions about her that it makes my head hurt.

I’ve changed a lot in the past ten years. According to Political Compass, I test at a -5.25, -6.1 now[8], though inputting answers that would best reflect 18-year-old me, I test at a -1.0, 4.0[9]. But regardless of how my political views have changes, there’s a few things I’ve learned that matter more than anything else.

  1. Everyone should be treated equally…and that treatment should be filled with respect and compassion.
  2. If someone is different from you — be that in their looks, their beliefs, their practices, or some other way — you’ll get farther if you work to understand their point of view than if you hole up in your own.
  3. If we cannot do the first two things on this list, we cannot grow as people.

The other day, I was texting with a member of my family asking if they had watched the third and final presidential debate. In my discussion, I was making a plea with my family member that supporting a candidate who is racist, sexist, nationalist, and does not support the peaceful transition of power following an election is not a good thing. In the next two texts, our discussion went from civil, though heated, discourse to full on Godwin’s Law when my family member told me that Hillary is literally Hitler reincarnated and that she’s going to repeal the Constitution to make herself queen.

On one hand, I shouldn’t have been surprised. This is the same person in my family who spent the first six years of Obama’s presidency referring to the President as “President Kunta Kinte”. But on the other hand, it hurt — really bad — to see/hear someone I had grown up around…someone who had helped me to shape the person that I am today…continue to show such hate in their speech. It made me feel like I had failed in some way because I had not been able to bring the compassion and openness I’ve been learning to have for others to my family. I also know that somewhere in my mind — somewhere in a deep, dark place I hope to never see again — those behavioral patterns and early-life teachings are still in there.

I ended the conversation without saying another word to the person in question. I sat in my office and I cried a little bit. I felt hurt to be associated, even indirectly, with such an angry opinion. And to hear it come from someone who typically was one of the more rational people in my family[10]…was there hope for me? Would I revert back to these base lessons that I was taught at a young age and go back to believing that my kind was superior to those around me?

I bounced this quandary off of a co-worker/close friend. While she didn’t say much beyond the fact that it happens to her too, she managed to get me thinking about why it’s critical for us to call out clear and present dangers to our society, but to do so in a respectful manner. A clear and present danger is not something like masala chai…or sour cream, no matter how vile of a taste it is.

What is a clear and present danger is when people act in a manner that demeans someone because of their race, sexuality, gender, national origin, or some other difference they have. What is a clear and present danger is using a belief that a specific characteristic, be that your race, environment, social class, religion, or something else, makes you distinctly and completely more of a person than your neighbor. What is a clear and present danger to our society is hate.

We can and we must act with compassion to those around us, even those who we disagree with. If we fail to do that, the hate will only continue to grow. And then it wins.