How We Become What We Hate

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Featured image by Gage Skidmore.

Donald Trump represents a significant part of America‘s belief system. Many people will object to that statement, but nevertheless you cannot ignore the numbers. The continued polling success — granted a plurality in the GOP party, not a majority — show us what this country can become, something that many of us hate.

Donald Trump’s continued success despite his frequent, outrageous, racist, and demeaning commentary mirrors the way an Americans ethos. It reveals a belligerent stance towards the political establishment and reactionary views towards terrorist attacks, threats and economic uncertainty. And his success also reveals a fear of people who are different than us. Perhaps this is the ugly side of America, the side that we are ashamed of, the angry fearful side that reacts out of frustration and ignorance.

How we got here is a long political process best documented by a subject matter expert instead of me. Yet the discussion of becoming what we hate is something that I am fascinated with, a topic that forms a central arc in my novels, The Fundamentalists.

How Do We Become What We Hate?

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The fear of becoming what we hate is a legitimate one. How many of us groan when a loved one says we are just like our father or mother? Of course, this analogy offers a chuckle compared to the larger issue, becoming something that as a person or a society that we despise.

No one sets out in life to be villain or a scoundrel. No one wants to be the author of policies that spawn economic hardship, death, and destruction. Yet rationalization is a tricky devil. The stairway to hell is lined with small steps.

Little decisions empower great harm. It’s never one decision that turns the tide towards darkness, rather a few of them. And then a few more, and then the next thing you know, wars are declared, recessions and depressions hit the economy. We have been here before, and recently.

Pscyhological studies show that when you put good people in bad situations, bad things happen. Decisions are made to protect oneself, or to fulfill order. Character and moral issues are rarely considered on a macro level or for their long-term impact. If they are, the pressure of the immediate situation or the fear of further difficulties takes precedence.

Leadership and Fear

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In Perseverance, Book Two of the Fundamentalists, my characters — the village’s leadership — face a difficult situation, an invading force driven by fundamentalist hate. The villagers make decisions to survive. Blood spills. Families break. Heroes die.

Those same decisions challenge the leadership’s character, and create a situation where they believe to avoid another war that they need to build up their defenses and strike back. These decisions set up Hypocrisy, Book Three of The Fundamentalists. I suppose the title says it all. Since the central character in the novel is a six year old girl, and Soleil just turned five, you will have to wait a while for Book Three.

Leadership is often confused with taking actions and doing things to protect the status quo. When war is waged out of fear of future nebulous dangers, it is rarely a good thing. I hope we learned that with the last Iraq war. Donald Trump and Ted Cruz supporters demonstrate that a good portion of America have not learned that lesson.

One of my favorite Republicans is Colin Powell. He once said, “War should be the politics of last resort. And when we go to war, we should have a purpose that our people understand and support.”

A plurality driven by fear does not equate to a majority. But it can force us to examine our character. It can also force us to become what we hate.

What do you think?

Finishing Is Underrated

We live in a now world. If we don’t get what we want, we leave. The tyranny of now is particularly true online where a simple touch or click lets someone exit stage left at the slightest whim. Yet, this axiom also holds true in the real world.

Consider how many people start projects and never finish them because its too hard or unpleasant. Or they can see a losing effort in a game and quit. Or they find work is difficult, so they stop putting in the effort. One could go on and on with hypothetical examples.

For whatever reason, many people don’t finish. It’s a world of instant gratitude.

That’s too bad because finishing is underated today.

Finishing signals to those around you that you are reliable.
More importantly, it’s one of those character building traits that separates you from the pack, reflecting who you are. You see things through when others tank at the first sign of discomfort.

Finishing the War

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I am toiling through the final chapters of The War to Persevere, a book I should have finished last winter. There is a great sense of relief as I pen the final chapters.

People seemed to like Exodus, and asked when the sequel would come out. I promised a release at some point this year.

I began drafting The War to Persevere last fall during NanoWriMo and continued into the New Year. I was 2/3 of the way through the drafting process when my grandmother died at the end of January. That set off a series of events that basically distracted me from any extra curricular activities. Then work got crazy — the usual conference season stuff — which left me exhausted every night to the point that from a creative standpoint I could shoot phots, but was not able to write fiction.

June rolled around and I hadn’t picked up the book. A friend nudged me. The excuses were there. I could say forget it, it’s just a novel. Afterall, I don’t make any money from it and I’m really enjoying photography right now. But I know better. Not only had I committed to my novel readers, I had promised myself that I would finish the tale.

So I made a commitment to finish the book. I started drafting again during my vacation last month, and have not looked back. I write four or five days a week, and will complete the first draft by the end of the week. Most importantly, I will meet my commitment to publish this year.

Finishers Believe

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Image by Philo Nordlund

I had a friend who said that suiting up and showing up no matter the circumstance is half the battle in life. I have to agree. Showing up at the virtual till every single day is what lets you finish things.

One of the toughest things I experienced in life was completing my Masters degree. It took me four years attending school part-time while I worked a full-time job. I almost didn’t make it thanks toa dot bomb experience in California. Yet, finishing that degree was one of the most beneficial experiences of my life. Not only does the degree (Communications, Culture and Technology) still impact my work today, the thesis writing — an arduous process that required daily attention for months on end — showed me how to write a long-form piece, such as a book. I am amazed at how important my Master’s was from a character building standpoint.

Once The War is completed and published, I will have successfully written five books. That’s something that no one can ever take away from me.

When I finish things feel good about my efforts. I believe in myself, and know I can accomplish more. That’s why finishing that 10k, going back to school, completing that project gone bad no matter how effed up it is, finishing the novel, wrapping up that degree, etc., etc. is so important.

What do you think?

Crazy Characters Work Better

So I thought it might be talk about creating fictional characters as we head into the weekend. On that note, when writing about folks I prefer boiling unpredictability into characters, or a little bit of crazy.

When reading or watching stories, I prefer main characters who screw up, make bad decisions, flip flop, and do other things that generally drive people a bit crazy. They are human, and we can identify with or simply doubt them.

Developing a character or screenplay in a novel requires tension and conflict. And there is no greater conflict than the one that lies within. We think we know how folks will respond, but then they do things contrary to expectations. This is true character development to me, reflecting what we experience in reality.

Tensions exists because we lack certainty about how protagonists will act. It’s the quintessential trust issue. Perhaps that is more a reflection of my own expereinces with people.

Invariably, man or woman, people will always let you down at some moment. This is the human condition. But principles never do, and that creates tension between doing right and wrong.

Favorite Crazy Characters

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This crazy factor is why Cervantes’ Don Quixote is perhaps the most brilliant of early novels. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are maddeningly nuts (chase that windmill!). They don’t make characters like that anymore!

In the modern tough guy vein, Richard Morgan’s Takeshi Kovacs evolves and matures over time. Morgan’s work created a series that I could not put down, and desperately hoped would continue. Like so many characters though he does seem to fit into a stereotype, the anti-hero tough guy that survives and eventually conquers, albeit in a never-clean fashion. You kind of always know how Kovacs is going to respond to things.

In Lord of the Rings, Frodo is a sweet young man who faces terrible challenges. His character is pretty straight forward, and in that oh so English way, he continues because he must. Frodo does succeed, but the journey bludgeons him, killing his spirit. In the end as he sails off to Valinor in an effort to find peace.

While I loved Kovacs and Frodo, I’m not sure they’re really human. Because both protagonists are heroes, they rise above the normal foibles we all seem to muddle through.

A better tough guy is the comic character Batman, who is just nuts, as all of us familiar with the movies know. The underlying gritty subversiveness of the Bruce Wayne/Batman character reminds me of the duality of ideal versus humanity.

This same character tension was played out subtly and brilliantly in Philip Roth’s American Pastoral. Through narrator Nathan Zuckerman’s recreation of the Swede we saw how really crazy and subversive people are regardless of their outward presentation.

Exodus features an anti-hero character, Jason. I actually named him after Jason of the Argonauts, because that Jason seemed too perfect to me. I thought a little more perspective on a young “hero” was needed. Several of the characters are named after Greek legends, an intentional ode and post modern riff on epic tales.

In Jason’s case, the fundamentalist threat alluded to in the novel’s teaser text provides external conflict, which in turn forces his internal crisis by thrusting a great responsibility on his shoulders. This is a classic character development technique.

Most novels make you wonder how the hero will succeed. Me, I wonder if Jason can handle it or if he’ll go nuts. His process is very much what I think happens in real life as opposed to the archetype of yeah, we know he’s going to make it, it’s just a question of how and when.

What do you like about your favorite characters?