Interesting People, Vol. 1: Adam Lane Smith

Welcome to a new feature here on Amatopia! It’s called “Interesting People,” and I’m going to interview people I think are interesting. Simple enough, right?

For this inaugural installment, I interviewed author Adam Lane Smith. Adam wrote one of my favorite books that I’ve read in a long time, a sci-fi mystery/adventure called Making Peace. I reviewed it upon release, and I highly recommend it to fans of the genre, or anyone just looking for something a little different than what you’ll find on the bookstore shelves.

Adam is also a very intelligent and easygoing guy, and I’ve truly enjoyed getting to know him over Twitter. In essence, he is the very definition of an interesting person. I hope you enjoy the conversation (my questions in bold, Adam’s responses in normal type):

* * *

Before we get into anything else, tell me one thing: why on Earth don’t you have a blog or website of your own?!

The short answer is that I’m lazy.
The long answer is that in the process of writing my book I had to deal with many pitfalls and time sinks. My former publisher went full SJW and let me know in a passive-aggressive manner that I was no longer welcome at their company, and then in an aggressive manner threatened my day job. I started and then completed an apprenticeship as a psychotherapist. I worked a traveling job. I started two new jobs. I conceived and then had my first child, and then conceived my second. I worked long hours reading everything published and unpublished from fellow authors while networking with them and raving about their works on social media so they’d know who I was when I finally published my book.
The struggle wasn’t limited to my personal life. After I finished writing the book, I unwillingly went through three separate people for my final cover. My second cover artist almost opened me up to being sued by using copyrighted material and claiming it was legally okay after I confronted him. I had to learn about editing and got a punch to the gut from the fantastic editor I hired, which necessitated 45 hours of editing and rewriting after I’d thought I was done.
All of that is my sniveling way of saying I was exhausted. Rhett C. Bruno mentored me through the launch and warned me sternly not to launch without a website, but I was beyond caring. I wanted to be a real author and be done with the cursed work which had tormented my soul night and day for three years. (Is that tortured enough for me to be considered an artist?)
But, unlike with modern Hollywood trash writing, there is a happy ending! I’ve got someone working on my author website right now. That’s registered at AdamLaneSmith.com, and will eventually exist once I prod him hard enough.
That’s a pretty good reason not to have a blog, but I’m glad to hear that the official home of Adam Lane Smith on the web will soon be up and running.
 
Your answer dovetails nicely into my next set of questions. As someone who really enjoyed Making Peace–indeed, it’s one of the strongest Pulp Rev works I’ve read–I’m eager to discuss writing, but I’m also intrigued by this publisher who tried to get you fired. What’s that all about?
 
Before getting into that, though, how about a little of your background, to the extent that you’re comfortable talking about it? You know, the kind of thing an actual professional interviewer would’ve asked you about first.
I grew up in Central California in George Lucas’ home town. When he writes about Tattooine and has Luke complain about how miserable it is, that’s what he’s talking about. When he writes about Mos Eisley, that’s our home.
I grew up poor in the ghetto. My mother came from a wealthy family but was disowned and disinherited for marrying a Christian man, and my father grew up with a divorced mother in trailer parks. No one helped us, and my parents each worked multiple low-paying jobs day and night to keep us fed and scraping by. Life was hard. Much of this is mentioned or hinted at in the afterword of my novel.
People died, friends were molested, I fought for my life several times against violence and untreated sickness, I developed PTSD, family members were abducted and raped by gangs, violence was ever present. One of the first lessons you learn is to lay on the floor with the adults on top of you so they die first and the kids might live under the corpses.
I learned to love reading as an escape, and dreamed of being a writer. By the grace of God, I worked my way out with the help of my diligent wife. Now we live a life of relative comfort and safety on a farm.
Those who’ve read Making Peace probably see a great deal of my upbringing in the setting.

Institutionalized Entertainment

Institutionalized: “to make into an institution . . . give character of an institution to . . . to incorporate a structured and often highly formalized system . . .”

Presented without comment:

The Walt Disney Company is so huge that, absent a formalized structure, it wouldn’t be able to get anything done. But Disney is just an example of how this idea institutionalizing everything, including the content, is a firmly entrenched part of nearly every form of entertainment or escapism that you partake in. This idea of gatekeepers giving a patina of quality to something that has gone through some sort of rigorous, formalized process is pervasive in nearly every facet of life, and not just entertainment.

After all, a doctor who went to Harvard for medical school is clearly superior to one who went to, say, one who went to the Sanford School of Medicine at the University of South Dakota, right? I mean, just on paper, it’s axiomatic, isn’t it? Who cares about the doctor’s actual history of results, you know?

And so it goes with what you watch, read, and listen to. It’s all been filtered through a big machine in order to get a big, fat, institutional stamp of approval. And everything without that stamp is clearly inferior.

It’s obvious, isn’t it?

Of course it’s not. As author Brian Niemeier is fond of pointing out, the gatekeeper-controlled model in publishing is a dying proposition:

The power of big New York publishers to hand out golden tickets capable of turning struggling authors into millionaires is an artifact of the 20th century. Now? As Moe Greene would say, they don’t even have that kind of muscle anymore.

If you were an aspiring author trying to break in prior to the 1980s, New York publishers were your best shot at the big time. Since 2006, indie has stolen tradpub’s thunder to the extent that you’re now four times more likely to make seven figures by going indie than by signing with a traditional publisher.

But old habits die hard, and industries that are still making money, without realizing that they’re surviving on legacies of past greatness, will continue to follow the old ways. Disney will keep churning out stuff with the Star Wars label slapped on it, year after year, heedless of the negative financial consequences due to viewer fatigue and failing product quality.

The music industry will keep reproducing the thing that’s selling records now ad infinitum for the next five minutes, until people get so sick of that cookie-cutter thing that they move on to the next cookie-cutter thing to fill the silence for the next five minutes.

The book industry, particularly in the science-fiction and fantasy realms, will continue pumping out massive doorstop-sized tomes of “epic” fantasy that will never be completed, as long as the stories are soaked in post-modernist thinking and contemporary political right-think.

As long as the wrong-thinkers get shut out. Because the stuff they make is bad. And it’s bad because it doesn’t have our seal of approval.

Continue reading “Institutionalized Entertainment”

Five Interesting Points from The Mystery of Death by Nikolaos P. Vassiliadis

“An explanation of what happens to you when you die” is sort of the lazy man’s answer to the question of “What is the purpose of religion?” This is true, but it is only a part of it.

The question of what happens after death has enthralled, and indeed scared the hell out, of human beings since we first became aware, unique to all other creatures, that we will, in fact, die at some point, and that this death is inevitable.

This is what author and theologian Nikolaos P. Vassilidis attempts to shed some light on in The Mystery of Death, at least from an Orthodox Christian perspective. Published in Greek in 1993 and later translated by Father Peter A. Chamberas, Vassilidis, a member of the Orthodox Brotherhood of Theologians has taken Scripture and the teachings of the Holy Fathers and compiled them in a lengthy tomb big on what Scripture and logical analysis tells us and light on speculation.

It’s heavy reading, as you can imagine.

Religion, most religions at least, deal with more than just what happens when you die. But questions surrounding the end of life are obviously incredibly important, questions such as:

  • Why do human beings know they will die?
  • Why do we die?
  • Why are we here if we’re destined to die?
  • And of course, what happens next?

Vassiliadis relies heavily on the writings of St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine, St. Symeon, St. Gregory Palamas, St. Nikodemos, and other luminaries of the pre-Schism Church, as well as more recent Orthodox scholars like Georges Florovsky and Justin Popovic. It’s a well-researched book that offered a lot of eye-opening revelations about what death is, why we die, sin and repentance, and what comes after.

It’s tough to do a typical review of this book other than to say I highly recommend it to any Christian, Orthodox or not (although Catholics will probably have an easier time with it than most other denominations). So as with my discussion of Moses Maimonides’s The Guide for the Perplexed, I think it’d be more useful to go over a few of the more interesting points Vassiliadis makes:

Continue reading “Five Interesting Points from The Mystery of Death by Nikolaos P. Vassiliadis”

Do the Thing

As I continue to work furiously at finishing up my novel (any novel; and yes, a different one than before–I’ve been doing this stuff forever!) an interesting thought crossed my mind: when is it ready?

(NB: As I’m planning to self-publish, this might not all directly relate to traditional publishing.)

  • Is it when an editor gives you the go-ahead?
  • Is it when you’ve reached a certain consensus among your beta readers?
  • Is it when you can’t find any more typos?
  • Is it when elements of your story meet the checklist for the market you’re trying to sell to?
  • Is it when you personally are happy with the result?

The answer, of course, is that you’re never fully finished with anything. Love him or hate him, Star Wars creator George Lucas embodies this philosophy, as seen with his different versions of both the original trilogy of movies and the sequels. Some might call this tinkering unnecessary–I am among those–but to be fair, they’re his movies: where we see masterpieces, he sees flaws.

Frank Zappa did similar things in the late 1980s, much to the chagrin of fans–again, myself among them–by replacing the bass and drum tracks on several earlier albums where he thought the performances were poorly recorded, poorly played, or both. He also remixed a lot of albums, with mixed results.

Which brings us to books. Sometimes authors correct errors, such as later editions of some earlier books in Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series. Believe it or not, J.R.R. Tolkien did the same with his books, correcting a few inaccuracies in later editions.

And authors like Stephen King have even Reese’s expanded and unedited versions of previously released books; The Stand comes to mind, which is either better than the original or a bloated travesty, depending on who you ask.

But aside from fixing typos, us regular folk are probably not going to be in a position to remaster and rerelease brand new shiny expanded versions of prior works, mostly because we’ll be too busy working on the next one. But I digress.

Anyway, when are you done? What are the indicators to look for? Continue reading “Do the Thing”

Hating What Everybody Likes

What is it about consensus that makes so many of us recoil? Why does going along with the crowd rankle?

I tweeted a question recently about which band or artist that seems universally loved that people can’t stand just for fun. But it got me thinking about why this is so.

I can speak from experience: sometimes consensus makes me dislike something more than the thing itself, even if I actually kind of like the thing.

There are two reasons for this, I think:

  1. Previous experience of being burned by trusting consensus; and
  2. The Dunning-Kruger effect: “Of course I’m smarter than everyone else!”

I can give you some personal examples of both of these, some musical and others not.

On the musical front, I resisted the appeal of The Strokes, even though the songs I heard when they first came out really appealed to me. What bugged me was the types of people who were pushing them: New York hipsters and the Pitchfork set. Blech.

A similar thing happened with some other, non-hipster bands. It took me a while to get into Coheed and Cambria, who I am now a huge fan of, because they were associated with emo. And I could not stand emo.

And yet I fell for the lure of the bands Vampire Weekend and TV on the Radio. I suppose I was trying to keep an open mind at that time, and trusted those who I thought knew better. Now, after realizing “Hey, these guys suck and I don’t actually like them!” I never listen to those bands. Live and learn.

I resisted the Harry Potterbooks for quite a while, but read them around the time the final book came out and quite enjoyed them, recent history notwithstanding.

Regarding Harry Potter, I suppose I had committed the youthful mistake of thinking I just had better taste than 99% of people in America. That’s arrogance, and it’s amazing what a little humility will do for you.

(I was totally right about the Twilight books, though. And to be fair, there is not always wisdom in the crowds. But I digress.)

Art is subjective. But peer pressure is incredibly powerful. What to do? Continue reading “Hating What Everybody Likes”

Actions “Versus” Introspection: A Defense of Literary Fiction

Action! Adventure! Romance! Inner turmoil!

Wait, what?

Yeah, you heard me. These are things I personally like in stories. And I don’t think I’m alone. Otherwise, explain why one of the biggest tenets in prose fiction screenwriting is create conflict!

This seems self-evident. After all, what good is a story where everyone gets along and everything is perfectly fine? That’s the realm of children’s books, which serve their purpose.

And let me say, as the parent of a young child, the above description actually fits baby books more. You’d be amazed at how soon some form of conflict enters into kids books. Look at Dr. Seuss books, for example. The Sneetches were basically at war! The bitter butter battle was a battle! That dastardly Grinch was out to ruin Christmas!

Even kids need to see conflict be overcome.

Which brings me to an interesting conversation held with several writing friends on Twitter. It started out with Gitabishi’s excellent post about “hard” versus “soft” sci-fi and veered into both the introspective and the ridiculous before Jill Domschot said something that struck me:

I’m inclined to agree with her, hence the use of quotation marks around the word “versus” in the title of this post.

The upshot of the conversation was that everything is a writer’s tool, and the writer uses the appropriate tool for the task at hand. But that’s a bit wishy washy, so I’m going to do something a little against the grain when it comes to action-packed fiction writing, and stick up for a much maligned genre of novel: literary fiction.

Yup. I’m a fan. Take a guy like John Irving, for example. Sure, he has a creepy fixation with characters engaging incest, as well as characters losing limbs (including a certain male member), but it’s not just his prose I enjoy. His situations are crafted to come to a head at the critical point, and his set-ups are expertly foreshadowed and deftly executed in ways that only seem obvious in retrospect–including the unfortunate inadvertent amputation of a man’s body part (I’m looking at you, The World According to Garp).

Or a writer like Michael Chabon. There’s a bit too much affectation in his characters–Telegraph Avenue was particularly painful at times–but their inner dramas are exquisite, and I like how he makes them intersect with the plot’s external conflicts, in explosive and often hilarious ways. .

My goal when I write is to take this approach, and just have more sword fights and explosions. Continue reading “Actions “Versus” Introspection: A Defense of Literary Fiction”

Book Review: The Art of the Argument by Stefan Molyneux

I like Stefan Molyneux. I find him a very smart, interesting, and entertaining speaker. He is a philosopher with a wide area of focus: Politics and government, culture and entertainment, philosophy and the nature of truth, economics, religion . . . it all gets discussed on Molyneux’ podcast at Freedomain Radio and on his YouTube channel.

A lot of people don’t agree, of course. They mock his catchphrase, “Not an argument,” call him “LOLyneux” for some of his more esoteric ideas like peaceful parenting (e.g., never ever spank your kids), and generally think he’s a fraud or a quack. I get the disagreeing with him about stuff, but where the fraud and quack accusations come from eludes me.

An author of many other books, Molyneux is what you could classify as a right-of-center liberal. He’s big into individual freedom and small government, and is staunchly anti-socialist, but is also pretty socially liberal nationalist who believes that every nation has the right to determine its own destiny free of foreign meddling. He’s anti-globalism and anti-war, as well as being anti-racist . . . but takes a lot heat for his views on, say, the racial distributions of certain things such as IQ.

And yet, with Molyneux, it seems like he just point out things that appear to be objective facts in order to discuss, understand, and make sense of them in order to do something good with them.

I never get the impression that Molyneux hates certain types of people.  I mean, he’s an atheist who sees all religion as a bunch of anti-rational mumbo-jumbo used to explain things in earlier times, and yet he also defends Christianity and fully recognizes its important to the development and continuing survival of Western civilization.

In short, he’s an interesting guy.

Stefan Molyneux

Which brings me to The Art of The Argument: Western Civilization’s Last Stand. The subtitle is a little hyperbolic, but argument and debate have been some of Molyneux’s most discussed topics for a long time. In fact, the idea of “the argument” permeates everything he does.

Basically, Molyneux pushes for clear, rational, and evidence-based thinking as a means of presenting viewpoints and ways of life in the battlefield of ideas. The more evidence-based and divorced from emotion and selfish gain an argument is, the better people will be persuaded to see its truth. Similarly

On the other end of the spectrum, we have sophistry. Sophistry is Molyneux’s pet peeve. Sophistry is the facile manipulation of emotion, rhetoric without truth, designed to confuse and enrage the listener to support an anti-rational and often counterproductive position that usually benefits the sophist. And more often than not, the sophist is coming from a position of pain, projecting their own neuroses, hatreds, and hangups on the world at large as a way of lashing out at “unfairness,” “inequality,” and “injustice.”

In short, Molyneux stresses that there is an objective good–what can lead to Universally Preferable Behavior (UPB) as he calls it–and that it revolves around the age-old battle between equality of opportunity and equality of outcome.

On this topic, I find it hard that anyone can disagree with Molyneux.

So when I heard that he was writing a book specifically about what he calls “The Argument,” I was excited.

So how does it fare? Is it the intellectual battle manual we were promised? Does it really lay out the best ways to think and reason and debate?

Not quite.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s an interesting, well-written and clearly thought out book. But it doesn’t exactly deliver as promised. Continue reading “Book Review: The Art of the Argument by Stefan Molyneux”