Archive for March, 2011

Road to Mo*Con VI: Guest Blog by Lucien Soulban

With Mo*Con quickly approaching and with our main conversation centering on the issue of homosexuality and the church, I thought that I would encourage some guest posts from some of our guests as well as interested observers.  One such observer would be Mo*Con VI Guest of Honor author Lucien Soulban weighing in on his journey with the church.

Mo*Con VI:  The Lowdown

Mo*Con VI:  Return of the Mo?

Guest Blog by Lucien Soulban

Don’t adjust your monitor… I am not Maurice. In fact, drop us in the same room and we’re a sitcom about opposites in the making. He’s African-American, I am neither. He is straight and can camp it up something fierce and I’m… the opposite of whatever that all means. He is religious and I less so. But we are both spiritual and we both respect each other. It’s those few commonalities that make our differences so precious and vital to our friendship.

My name’s Lucien Soulban and among the many qualities that describe me, I’m also gay. Most people wouldn’t know that meeting me for the first time, but I’m happy and proud with whom I am. I am generous (to a fault some say) and despite what you may have read, I am not looking to wreck the institution of marriage like a serial killer at a sorority party.

The thing is, I was also Catholic. Was. My family wasn’t particularly religious—you couldn’t be living in Saudi Arabia among Muslims. My parents had me baptized in Egypt (and even had to blackmail a priest to do it, but that’s another story), I attended Pope John Paul II’s Christmas Day Message at St. Peter’s Square,  and I underwent the various rites of Church when I attended Catholic schools in Houston, Texas. I’ll be honest. I can’t say I attended Church frequently, but St. Thomas High School was the focus of my spiritual growth with mass, prayer, theology classes and retreats. But I knew I was gay and I was too afraid of getting more deeply involved.

My relationship with the Church slowly ended when I graduated High School, however, the year I came out publically. It was one of those meet-in-the-middle situations when people started asking if I was gay and I simply stopped lying about it. Teachers told me to keep quiet because I was scaring the livestock, or something like that, and I began noticing the rhetoric about me being damned to hell. Some of the students were surprisingly cool about me being gay; others shied away from me. A few went out of their way to torment me.

It wasn’t until after graduation that I started meeting other gay men and women–that I no longer feared connecting because of who I was. I never felt that level of inclusion and acceptance in the Church. That year, there was a vote in Houston to try to give gays equal rights, and I saw the literature being passed around by the opposition. It claimed we were damned to hell. It claimed that 9 out of 10 pedophiles were gay. It claimed a number of horrible lies, and slowly I began realizing that what was driving me from my own faith was other Christians.

This notion got cemented in University, when I made friends with a girl named Caroline. I thought we were getting along great for a couple of semesters. I found out she was Catholic, and I asked if me being gay bothered her. She told me she thought I was damned to Hell, but that she loved me. I was shocked. I shouldn’t have been—I’d seen it before, heard it before from priests and those of Faith or those who upheld the Bible as absolute and without interpretation—but I was. I was also no longer impressed with such nonsense and it took me years not to equate all Catholics and Christians with the ones I’d met.

The sad thing is that while I never lost my faith in God or in Jesus, I did lose my faith in the Church itself. And that’s a pity, because I know I’m not the only the person of faith to walk away from his or her community of believers, be it Christians, Jews or Muslims. I call it a pity because I think the Church is missing out on chances for fundamental growth and understanding. Diversity exists to teach tolerance, not to hammer us into a homogenous paste. Let’s say, though, that we set aside that line of thinking, that rainbows are only awesome because of all the striations in them and a box of crayons would be awfully empty with only a handful of colors. It’s a pity because Christians are missing out on the opportunity to practice what they preach… tolerance and a recognition that we are all on the same road, traveling toward self-improvement.

See, I stopped believing I was damned when I realized a few fundamental and personal truths.

1)      If I believe that God is of infinite capacity, of infinite love, of infinite hope and understanding, shouldn’t I then also believe He is greater than my expectations in Him?

2)      If one truly believes themselves Christian, then shouldn’t they love me for who I am regardless and leave it to God and me to discuss my actions in life?

3)      I have been loved, unequivocally, for who I am by my parents, my friends, my peers, my family. Why should I believe that these human beings possess a greater capacity for compassion and understanding than their creator?

Once I embraced those three precepts and took them for my pillars, my faith in God grew stronger. It grew stronger in the patience and tolerance I have in others and it grew stronger in the faith I had in myself. Conversely, it pushed me away from the Church. They were no longer my shepherds. In fact, I should have learnt these lessons from them and not that God would hate me as much as they claimed.

It came down to this: how am I supposed to follow a system of belief and a Church that says I am damned both as a gay man and as a human being? I can understand that the underlying messages of Adam, Eve and the Apple are ones of knowledge of self in regards to personal responsibility and that we are all equal, but to treat ourselves like bad dogs, to rub our noses in our frailties is not worthy of our belief in God or the spirit of His words. No worthy parent rubs his child’s nose in shit to teach them a lesson, and I refuse to believe that God is an unworthy parent.

So, who am I after 44 years of life, over 30 of those years exploring who I am? I am uncertain in some measure; scared in others; hopeful, eager, sometimes beaten down, sometimes elevated. I pray for the souls of others, not because I believe they are condemned to Hell, but because we could all use a little cheerleading and faith. I judge when I shouldn’t. I apologize when I should. I love and I hate. I am gay. I am geek. I am writer. I am friend. I am a gamer and comic collector. I am generous with many things and I can be stingy with that which is most precious. I believe and I sometimes fear there’s nothing out there to believe in. I am son, brother, friend, cousin, nephew, confidante, enemy, misunderstood, disliked, beloved, trusted.

Problem is, some people only see this:

So, who am I after 44 years of life, over 30 of those years exploring who I am? I am uncertain in some measure; scared in others; hopeful, eager, sometimes beaten down, sometimes elevated. I pray for the souls of others, not because I believe they are condemned to Hell, but because we could all use a little cheerleading and faith. I judge when I shouldn’t. I apologize when I should. I love and I hate. I am gay. I am geek. I am writer. I am friend. I am a gamer and comic collector. I am generous with many things and I can be stingy with that which is most precious. I believe and I sometimes fear there’s nothing out there to believe in. I am son, brother, friend, cousin, nephew, confidante, enemy, misunderstood, disliked, beloved, trusted.

Problem is, some people only see this:

So, who am I after 44 years of life, over 30 of those years exploring who I am? I am uncertain in some measure; scared in others; hopeful, eager, sometimes beaten down, sometimes elevated. I pray for the souls of others, not because I believe they are condemned to Hell, but because we could all use a little cheerleading and faith. I judge when I shouldn’t. I apologize when I should. I love and I hate. I am gay. I am geek. I am writer. I am friend. I am a gamer and comic collector. I am generous with many things and I can be stingy with that which is most precious. I believe and I sometimes fear there’s nothing out there to believe in. I am son, brother, friend, cousin, nephew, confidante, enemy, misunderstood, disliked, beloved, trusted.

Problem is, some people only see this:

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

——————————————————————————————————-  I am gay.  ———————————————–

And that’s too bad, because they’re missing out on everything else.

***

Lucien Soulban (www.luciensoulban.com) splits his time as a Narrative Designer for videogame companies and as a novelist living in beautiful Montreal. Of the former, he’s worked as narrative designer and scriptwriter for AAA titles like Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Rainbow Six: Vegas and Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War. He’s also worked as a tie-in scriptwriter for DS Games like The Golden CompassKung-Fu PandaMonster House and Kim Possible. On the fiction side of things, he’s written five novels including Dragonlance’s The Alien Sea andRenegade Wizard, and Warhammer 40K: Desert Raiders. His proudest accomplishments, however, have been his numerous contributions to anthologies like Horrors Beyond 2, Dark Faith, and to all three HWA comedy-horror anthologies, Blood Lites I, II & III. Currently, Lucien works at Ubisoft Montreal as a Story Designer on a soon-to-be announced title.

***

OTHER CONVERSATION STARTERS

-Road to Mo*Con VI: Guest Blog by Zoe Whitten
-Road to Mo*Con VI: Guest Blog by Lucien Soulban
-Road to Mo*Con VI: Guest Blog by Brad Grammer

Mo Better Dorchester Blues

It seems that Brian Keene has stirred up quite the hornet’s nest with his call to boycott Dorchester (which means we’ll have even more to chat about at this year’s Mo*Con).  I was going to write about this sooner, but, as Brian noted in his most recent blog on the topic, it comes down to time (and I have a looming deadline) and me not being sure what to add on the topic.

It’s interesting to not some of the angst, concerns, and drama this has engendered among some of my fellow writers, especially at the thought of publicly joining the boycott.  Concerns about backlash (though, honestly, I’m not worried about backlash from a company who wasn’t paying people anyway nor am I especially worried about getting on some sort of imagined blacklist*); concerns about hurting writers (Alethea Kontis wrote a piece vocalizing some of these very concerns); and concerns about what ultimately is hoped to be accomplished.

I’m typically not a fan of boycotts (mostly because, in church circles, it defines us by who we’re against rather than Who we are for).  And I do worry about those innocents/bystanders caught up in these things (I’m thinking back to a Bad Moon Books boycott which never quite happened).  In the final analysis, the boycott draws publicity, shines a spotlight onto practices, and hopefully that bright light will pressure folks to make some changes.  And I’m all for that.

Writers have to make choices about how they want their career to go, where to send stories in order to build toward their goals, and who they want to do business with.  Because, as much as we want this to be strictly about the art, this is a business.  For some writers, Leisure was the mountaintop.  For others, it was a stepping stone.  For some, it was someplace to avoid.  I had quit submitting to Dorchester a while back.  They’ve always had pretty low advances and low royalties for new writers.  Plus, rumors about how they treated their writers floated around.  The trade off was that they had pretty good distribution and could get their product into the hands of readers.  That trade off was worth it for some writers which is why they made the decision to get in bed with Leisure.

Lay down with dogs.  Fleas.  You know the drill.

Like I said, I’m not looking down on any writer for choosing to try to get published with Leisure as they made those choices eyes wide open.  We all make our choices.  It’s a rapidly changing publishing landscape and sometimes you take your opportunities where you can get them.  However, I do look askance at a publisher whose whole attitude seems to skew towards “how can we screw the writer today?”  Dorchester has had plenty of opportunities to do right by their authors—namely pay them or at least not publish e-books they didn’t have the rights to (you’d think that wouldn’t be asking TOO much out of your publisher).  This boycott was fueled by frustration of writers after YEARS of poor treatment and a LOT of patience for not getting paid.  Many who were ready to continue to be patient while Dorchester righted its financial ship (as their business model went the way of the Dodo bird), as long as the company was willing to demonstrate that they were on the right track.

I’m not in the crowd that would like to see Dorchester burn.  I want as many publishers who do right by their writers out there as possible.  If Dorchester can return to that, I’m all for them.  To encourage them to become the company they ought to be, I’m lending my name, for what it’s worth, to the voices of professionals objecting to their practices.

As I look at my book shelves to see what various Leisure titles line them, I see names like Keene, Braunbeck, Waggonner, Ketchum, Piccirilli, White, Clegg, Strand, Everson, Rollo.  These aren’t faceless authors.  Some are family.  Some are acquaintances.  All are colleagues.  Now I don’t have the time and energy to fight every battle.  Do what I can when I can.  Pick my spots.  I’ve chosen this spot, if only to lend my voice to the chorus to say enough.**

*Plus, if someone was taking notes on all of this, all anyone’s going to remember is that this was Keene’s fault.  Remember, when in doubt, blame Keene.

**Or, as another friend, Bob Freeman, so succinctly put it:  “People like Brian and Wrath and Gary have bent over backwards for me and others in our little circle of dark fictioneers. So, if you don’t mind me being blunt, if somebody &@#%$ with them, then I feel it is our obligation to &@#% back. Why? Because that’s what families do.”

Invader Zim: Operation Doom

“No robot monkeys for you!”

If Invader Zim comes off as something out of a late night cold pizza induced/fever dream, you’ve pretty much gotten the gist of it.  It’s like Ren & Stimpy meets The Powerpuff Girls, with a frenetic pace and a bent towards absurdism and cultural satire.

“I sure like tv.  And wearing pants.” –Zim

Nickolodeon garnered a reputation beginning in the early 90s of taking chances on shows with bizarre premises and edgy content (as well as scatological surrealism).  Created by Jhonen Vasquez (twisted creator of thee underground comic, Jonny the Homicidal Maniac), the series ran from 2001 to 2002—a pilot episode and 46 canon episodes—before being canceled.  The complete series was released on DVD, but Paramount keeps going back to the well and releasing it in various formats.  Invader Zim: Operation Doom is a collection of 13 fairly random episodes of the cartoon series.

Invader Zim is set in a dystopian future with its inhabitants enslaved to television and fast food.  An alien named Zim (voiced by Richard Steven Horvitz), member of the Irkin race, has been exiled from his planet by The Almighty Tallest (Wally Wingert and Kevin McDonald) to the remote planet, Foodcourtia, for trying to annihilate their civilization.  He has to escape the fast food restaurant he is trapped in before he is trapped by The Foodening.

Travelling with his faithful robot companion, GIR (Rosarik Rikki), he makes it to Earth, infiltrating the human race by pretending to be a school boy.  Only a strange kid named Dib (Andy Berman) suspects him of being an alien bent on Earth’s conquest.  Dib’s little goth sister on the other hand, Gaz, (Melissa Fahn), recognizes that Zim is easily thwarted.

Zim is about his mission.  He knows his and understands his role in it.  For us, we have the mission Dei, the sending of God.  We, too, are a sent people meant to infiltrate culture and run counter to it, being God’s instrument of His mission in the world:  to bring about reconciliation and healing, one to another and one another to God. God’s reconciling act is centered on the cross, a gift of freedom. The resurrection is a sign that the powers have been defeated, though still active. The cross transforms our condition while also providing an example of hope. A faith with present-future components: the present reality lived in light of a future one. Being united in mission is a sanctifying process. To fight injustice and oppression; ministering to neighbors; not putting up fences or moving away develops disciplines needed for growth. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we practice Pentecost and live out the Gospel. Reconciliation touches the most hidden parts of our souls. God gave reconciliation to us as a ministry that never ends.

“The lesson here is that dreams inevitably lead to hideous implosion.” –Ms. Bitters

Invader Zim:  Operation Doom may make you long for the halcyon days of Ren & Stimpy, when you’d gather your friends together on early Sunday mornings and watch the episodes, laughing yourself senseless at the discordant chaos and general grossness.  Invader Zim doesn’t quite rise to that level of brilliance, it is creative and fun  There are persistent rumors that if DVD sales of Invader Zim are strong enough, Nick might bring the show back to the air.  Those rumors aside, Operation Doom is a good into to the general zaniness of the series.  It’s strange and mildly anarchic, full of sarcasm, satire, and immaturity.  If you are into that in your cartoons, this is the series for you.

Big Time Rush – A Review

Not too long ago, a group of record and television execs got together around the epiphany of doing a show about an up and coming pop band.  Take four relatively good looking guys with a measure of talent and likeability, let them contribute vocals and have some production opportunities, add in a producer, throw them on television, put some marketing muscle behind them and manufacture a pop culture icon.  Well, that’s how the Monkees were essentially born, a concept which is the forerunner in spirit to Big Time Rush.

There seems to be a lot of shows on the air either about the pursuit of celebrity or crossing the streams between television and pop star sensation.  Disney has long made it a practice to turn their child stars into cultural phenoms.  So we have iCarly (girl with a popular webshow), Hannah Montana (girl struggling with the life of being a celebrity vs. a normal teenager), Sonny with a Chance (girl who stars on a television series), I’m in the Band (boy who joins a heavy metal band).  And this doesn’t include the list of stars of popular kids shows who go on to release singles.

It’s the dream life.

Big Time Rush is about that dream and what it’s like to pursue that dream.  Logan (Logan Henderson), Kendall (Kendall Schmidt), Carlos (Carlos Pena), and James (James Maslow)—with shades of The Beatles-style branding as the Smart One, the Cute One, the Clever One and the Wacky One—trade their old life in Minnesota for a taste of the fast lane in Los Angeles after 16 year old Kendall answers a nationwide casting call.  Gustavo Rocque (Stephen Kramer Glickman), a record producer, gives them the chance to be a boy band, but they have to prove to their record label that they are ready.

“I’m the star!” –Gustavo

Our media is fascinated with fame, promulgating celebrity gossip as news with channel after channel of entertainment news, an out of control paparazzi, and an endless parade of magazines and web sites dedicated to capturing any movement of the famous.  It’s no wonder that given the cultural fascination with fame, perhaps it is not surprising that one-quarter of teenagers (26%) said they expect to be “famous or well known” by the time they reach age 25. Pop star dreams, pop star lifestyle, pop star girl fans, pop star fame, that’s their singular pursuit.  We’re creating a generation of entitled narcissists, who think of little more than themselves rather than the world around them.  Though to their credit, teenagers are a group who naturally get the importance of relationship and connection.  As Kendall says when it comes to pursuing the vanity of vanities that is fame, “None of that matters if it’s minus my best friends.”

Qoholet, the Teacher (the author of the book of Ecclesiastes) would call this lifestyle “vanity of vanities.” Put another way, if we pursue the things in this life “for merely human reasons, what have [we] gained? If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’” (I Corinthians 15:32) We all need to see the need to walk away from our old lives and embrace a new one. We have to opt out of a worldview of selfishness and empty pursuits.

Manufactured boy bands (or pop singers/groups) are nothing new.  It was the modus operandi for Motown Records and has a tradition through The Osmonds, New Edition, Menudo, New Kids on the Block, Backstreet Boys, and N Sync (and, sadly, we’re about due for the latest one).  In Big Time Rush, the show is less about the work and more about the friendships.  The songs appear fully formed and ready to be downloaded.  It’s a broad comedy, full of cartoon noises and over-the-top adult caricatures, hyperactive and yet charming in its own way.  In short, harmless and about as memorable.

SpongeBob Squarepants: The Great Patty Caper – A Review

There’s little explaining the phenomena that is SpongeBob Squarepants (Tom Kenny) to those who don’t get it.  SpongeBob was launched as three shorts on May 1, 1999. It became a series in the summer of 1999, and quickly became one of the highest-rated cartoons on television, eventually even surpassing Rugrats as Nickelodeon’s most popular cartoon.  You have an eternally optimistic sponge whose calling and gifting in life is to be a fry cook (namely at the Krusty Krabb).  His best friend is a dimbulb starfish named Patrick Star (Bill Fagerbakke) and his neighbor is the bitter curmudgeon (and his co-worker at the Krusty Krabb), Sqidward Tentacles (Rodger Bumpass).   He works for a penny-pinching crab, Mr. Eugene H. Krabb (Clancy Brown) whose secret formula for his krabby patty sandwiches are under constant threat of being stolen by his competitor, Sheldon J. Plankton (Mr. Lawrence).

The best way to experience the cartoon is by diving in.  Nickelodeon keeps going back to the SpongeBob well, this time packaging a few episodes around a one of the SpongeBob special episodes.  The lead episode, The Great Patty Caper, is like a whodunit—secret formula recipe on the Orient Express—as SpongeBob, Patrick and Plankton ride a train in search of the Krabby Patty recipe’s latest hiding place.  Most of the episodes in this random collection revolves around the adventures of Plankton trying to steal the formula for his own restaurant.

That also illustrates the weakness of the collection.  We get plenty of Mr. Krabs, Plankton, even Pearl, but the stories don’t give a well rounded look at the Bikini Bottom universe.  Patrick is one of the most popular characters, the champion of idiots everywhere, and adds a random, dada-esque edge to the antics, yet he doesn’t get nearly enough screen time.  And SpongeBob’s hyperkinetic good cheer is best taken in against Squidward’s grumpiness.

Thematically, Plankton seems to get the limelight, with several plots revolving around his quest for the krabby patty secret recipe.  Which would lend itself to the spiritual application of being a slave to one’s ambition and greed, and the need to escape empty ways of living, but Plankton continues to live this life of quiet desperation.  The upshot is that those episodes are pretty much one trick ponies.  So, basically, this devolves into a collection of fair to middling SpongeBob episodes, with its requisite amount of gross out and general disturbing imagery (like Sandy—who showers in a bikini—peeling off her fur which Plankton wears as a skin suit), is better digested by buying a season’s collection.

Uncle Tom’s Athletes

Sports has a way of being a platform to talk about a variety of social issues in profound ways.  Perhaps it’s because in a lot of ways our sports teams, similar to our military, at once encapsulate our society while playing to their own set of rules and expected behavior and culture.   So we hear from former Michigan State Fab Fiver, Indiana Pacer, now ESPN analyst, Jalen Rose who has produced an ESPN documentary about the Fav Five, Michigan State’s 1991 freshman basketball class.  The comments which have sparked such controversy come at the four minute mark as Mr. Rose launches into a tirade about how Duke’s coach, Mike Krzyzewski only recruited black players who were Uncle Toms.*

Ignoring the fact that Coach K actually recruited Chris Webber, one of the Fab Five (and that the Fab Five never won anything and that their lasting contribution was encapsulating and popularizing style over substance), Mr. Rose stuck with his comments** with “we said that to them” as if that’s supposed to make it right.

Of course, Grant Hill, one of the Duke players Mr. Rose played against, had an on point and classy response.   This is an on-going conversation in the black community.  I take the matter personally as Uncle Tom has been an epithet sometimes leveled at me.  I even get the flip side from the white community in the form of me being “the whitest black guy they know.”  This idea of blackness and racial identity prompted a yearlong examination on my blog a while back.

I don’t know if Mr. Rose is even aware of the words that he’s using.  On the one hand he seems to define the kind of recruits Duke went after as economically successful, from two-parent households, educated, with a strong work ethic … as something to be resented.  Not stopping to ask when these attributes became negative experiences or definitions of blackness; and he was oblivious to the fact that his own children fit this description.  Yet at the same time, he goes onto say that Uncle Toms are subservient to whites, sell outs to their race, playing up to white folks, who disavow their culture and people, which is an entirely different issue of self-hate, though no one seems able to pin him down on whether this is how he would characterize his now friend, Grant Hill.

Oh how we love to come up with new ways to denigrate one another and put each other in place:  nigger, bougie, sell out, Oreo, house Negro, Uncle Tom.  Calling another black person an Uncle Tom is not like a black person calling another black person a nigger, though they both have their roots steeped in the long history of hatred.  “Nigger” has become so ubiquitous in our language and music that it is woven into the fabric of who we are as a community. Some people argue that using the word saps it of its power, that by using it we were reclaiming the power of it from those who had used it against us.

It’s gotten to the point where we can call one another a nigger with a familial familiarity, use it as a term of endearment and brotherhood on one hand; and then act shocked when we’ve sent a mixed message to the millions of white folks who buy the hip hop CDs and sing along, repeat the routines of their favorite comedians, or who want to hang out with “their boys” in that way.

No, that word only rationalizes the internalization of hatred. It perpetuates the legacy of hate, in one powerful word encompassing the history of slave ships to Jim Crow. The word is the penultimate form of dehumanizing, the spit-in-your-face kind of assault to one’s sense of dignity and self-worth.  And it’s that same spit-in-your-face level of vitriol “Uncle Tom” can arouse when one black person aims that epithet at another.  Because where nigger marks one as less human, Uncle Tom marks them as less black.

The frustrating part is that the idea of Uncle Tom bumps up against the idea that being from the hood is the real definition of blackness.  This “true” black experience of our culture too often reflects the self-hatred that comes from living a nihilistic existence and ignores the reality that we have more than one story or definition of us.  In this way, class plays as much a role in defining a culture as anything else, and there is the burgeoning folks whose blackness strays to something more middle class. And for our troubles, we enjoy a different epithet: Bougie.

It’s that tension of being accused of forgetting where we’ve come from vs. remembering where we’ve come from … but wanting to get the hell out.  Bougie, as an epithet, strikes me as a reaction to the idea of betraying community, a term to keep us in line as we’re policed by other bougies projecting their black insecurities. The Blacker than thou crowd demonstrating their superiority by shaming us back in line with their charges of “Uncle Toms” and “Bougie”.

Like being called bougie—which was probably the epithet Mr. Rose would have been better off reaching for and might have better served his weak point—it’s an attempt to pigeonhole a group, people who don’t fit perfectly into some predetermined cultural box, and not allow for split cultures and interests. As if no one is allowed to like things not seen as “black”.  “Uncle Tom” is the language of the arrogant, entitled, and immature.  It points to a level of assimilation, having grown up in the dominant culture. It points to how large our class problem is, often trumping our race problem as we assume that only one group can have middle class values or any kind of middle class culture … as opposed to redefining the boundaries of that culture.  And it points to our continuing confusion as to who we are (and who we can be).

Ironically, the men Jalen Rose and Grant Hill are today aren’t that different.  When our children are in such great need of road maps and role models of success, we don’t want to be  reduced to some “blacker than thou” argument that only ends up seeming to pit the educated against the uneducated, the middle class bourgeoises against the poor. However, I can’t stand how quick we can be to toss around epithets like “sell out” or “house Negro” or “Oreo” whenever someone breaks with our accepted group think, be it via philosophy, idea, or political agenda.

Every people has a story to tell. When all is said and done, “blackness” (any racial identity) is about shared story. A story that defines us and continues to form us. When stories are reduced to law or dogma, their vitality is drained. When people no longer tell or listen to others’ stories, they become locked in their provincial mindset, cultural ghettos of their own making. In fact, when people become so removed from another’s story, they become compelled to destroy those (other’s) stories for they suggest other ways of living. Their stories become a threat.

I’m raising biracial children and my dream is for them to be free of the b.s., free of the hate, free of the baggage of history (but not its lessons).  Part of that history is how hard we fought for the right of equal education.  Education is the silver bullet against cycle of poverty, not something to be looked down upon as somehow “acting white.”

I’ll leave you with a few words from Chris Broussard as he breaks it down for real.

*Hatred for Duke, mind you, is completely okay.  They earned my scorn back in the early 1990s.  I often say that forgiveness takes time, but I still haven’t worked through forgiving them for defeating UNLV or UK (I don’t care if many consider it the greatest game ever played).

**Before anyone is too quick to launch into saying their words were taken out of context, Jimmy King was on ESPN essentially reiterating this and Chris Webber, well, I’m still not sure what point he was making on his blog.

Road to Mo*Con VI: Guest Blog by Zoe Whitten

With Mo*Con quickly approaching and with our main conversation centering on the issue of homosexuality and the church, I thought that I would encourage some guest posts from some of our guests as well as interested observers.  One such observer would be author Zoe Whitten, currently on a blog tour, who wanted to weigh in on a topic near and dear to me:  her spirituality.

Mo*Con VI:  The Lowdown

Mo*Con VI:  Return of the Mo?

Guest Blog by Zoe Whitten

Mo*Con is coming up in May, and given the lineup of people combined with the chance to discuss faith and gender in fiction with so many writers, I’m tempted to sell some of my organs to fund an overseas trip. Alas, I might need those organs to filter alcohol later, so I  remain trapped in Italy, hoping someone will be kind enough to post video highlights of the most embarrassing moments on YouTube again.

This month, I’m involved in a blog tour to promote a lot of upcoming releases. I knew I wanted to do a guest post for Maurice, who I had a lot of respect for even before reading Devil’s Marionette or King Maker. But for the longest time, a proper topic for the venue eluded me. Finally, I decided that since Maurice often talks about faith and spirituality on his blog, perhaps this might be one of the best times to discuss my faith, and try to explain why it doesn’t show up more prominently in my stories.

I call my faith a church of one. So I don’t have to convert or recruit any of you. I don’t have to convince you either. These are my beliefs after a lifetime of reading and real life observation. You’re free to think whatever you like about my beliefs, even if what you think is, “Zoe, you’re crazy.”

I believe in God, and I believe that the whole cosmos is the body of God. I believe in the existence of Jesus and find moral guidance in his ministerial work. But I suspect that certain parts of his history were doctored to make for more dramatic reading. My faith allows for the possibility of “higher powers” or energy-based life forms that we cannot understand from our perspective and as such might mislabel them as gods. I believe in evolution, and I believe that all of us were born from the elements cast out by the first exploding stars.

Even though I know the long version of how our world came to be, I don’t know why we exist, nor do I claim to understand the will of the God I’m in. I’m not even clear what my own purpose is, so God’s purpose is beyond me. But I suspect that just like I don’t know the activities of my blood cells, God isn’t really watching me, or any of us. All the good and bad in our lives happens as the result of other people. God will never show up to deliver a message of support to coach us along anymore than I could send my consciousness into my body to give a pep rally to my blood. So no, I don’t think God is watching me masturbate. I sometimes wonder if my grandparents are, and that makes things a little awkward to start with. But I figure maybe they should have something better to do in the afterlife than watch me.

Actually, I kid, but I’m not sure about the afterlife. All those white clouds and gates and judgments; it’s all physical stuff. We relate to them because we have a body and bodies need those kinds of reference points. But once we’re dead, the energy that drives us leaves the body, and energy doesn’t need visual cues. Energy also can’t be tormented in lakes of fire, or stabbed with pitchforks. But it also can’t drink celestial orange juice or tune a harp. And being frank, I not sure energy can carry a memory.

Energy cannot be created nor destroyed. It only changes forms. But, does that mean we’re stuck here? Do we drift around a bit and then look for a new host to enter and reincarnate? Or do we wander away from the planet and take our place in the cosmos as an evolved energy source? I don’t know, but I doubt the halos and harps sales pitch that we see in the modern cultural zeitgeist.

This kind of belief structure leaves me open to the idea that there are many “lesser gods” within the body of a larger god. They’re not the divine creators of everything, more like a by-product of the creation process. In other words, they exist because everything else exists too. Which might sound preposterous, but no more than the reality that approximately 47 billion years ago, God was born in a mass expansion of matter and energy. God continues to grow around us, and one day, billions of years from now, God will die. And then, God willing (pun intended) God will be born again.

Yes, I went there. I think God is not omniscient, nor omnipresent, nor immortal. And in this way, my God is very much made in my likeness. It’s just God’s scale that is so vast, and God’s timescale will continue on long after I’ve expired, long after the entire human race has.

What is the purpose of God? I don’t know. I might as well ask what my ultimate purpose is. I must accept that in this lifetime, I will neither find a way to leave the solar system and explore others, nor will I find a source of immortality. This defines my purpose in life to a finite time span, one which is shorter than most people. No, really, the doctors were pretty specific on how long people with MS tend to last.

I know many people are like me, and they wonder, Why am I here? And like me, there is no answer for them except the ones we provide for ourselves. I put meaning in my writing. Others put meaning in their deeds. Some find meaning in religion, or in some form of philosophy. Others deny that there is meaning to anything, and they pass their time mocking the people who worry about such things.

All of these are coping mechanisms to help us deal with mortality. The method I choose is to believe in the idea that this cosmos is dying, and that for whatever reason, it is the nature of all things to die. I don’t want to. Hell, I’m so scared of dying, I’d fight tooth and nail if I knew of a way to stick around. But part of life is coming to terms with death, and I was one of the unlucky ones to have sat down on my remote and started living my life in fast forward. I’m burning up faster and faster, and the doctors tell me I’ve got until my mid-fifties, if nothing happens to my heart first.

Healthy people tell me not to give up hope, that “they’re working on a cure.” I find this tragically amusing. There’s no cure for death, just medical delays. If “they” cure death in my lifetime, I will be the first in line to question whether it’s right to die. Sure, sure, it’s okay if God wants to decay in a few billion and pull the cosmic rug out from under me, but if there was a cure for death to delay that big sleep, you’d better believe I’d take it.

In the long run, none of us really knows who’s right or wrong about the meaning of life, or the meaning of death. I often joke with my Atheist hubby, “But if there is a heaven and they let you in, the look on your face is gonna be priceless.” But if there is a heaven, he won’t have a face, and I won’t have eyes to see him. In theory.

So, if this is what I believe, how did it end up that there’s an afterlife with fluffy white clouds in my stories? Because that hazy white world is a metaphor. It means, “I don’t know what death is like, but here’s some soft impressions.”

Most of my characters have vastly different forms of faith. Some don’t believe in anything, and others are devout Christians, Jews, or Muslims. This is because I wanted my world to reflect the diversity I see in people around me. There’s a million flavors of faith, and none of us knows who’s really right. And in my books, I don’t want to point to any group and say, “They’re the right ones.” So they’re all right. Sort of.

In my fictional worlds, I’m God, and there’s a lot of demigods working under me. When the character pray to any other deity, they’re still praying to me. And the sad truth is, I’m a cold and petty God. I’m an old testament-style God who believes that people need to suffer to build character. I’m a “fair” God who believes in tossing crap at the bad people as often as I do the good. But if you pray to me, you need to be careful what you wish for. When I’m in the mood to give people what they want, the results are terrible and tragic.

Do I believe the real God is this petty? No, like I said, I don’t think the real God even notices we’re here. All the pettiness in our world is all on us. The only way to counteract those petty acts is to work to right the balance in little steps. Not because it’s going to win me karma points in heaven, because I don’t know if there is a heaven. I choose to work for a positive change because in this finite life, there’s too much pain to go around, and so little love to be shared.

But I have faith that there are other people like me, people who want to share the love and faith and dispel petty hate and ignorance. I believe that in this finite life, the only thing that matters is our interactions with each other. I think we don’t put enough weight in the seemingly mundane moments of our lives, but it’s because we fail to appreciate the cosmic miracle of our existence. Out of millions of uninhabited worlds, ours is the one that sustains teeming multitudes of life. Out of the billions of stars, ours is just the right age and size to sustain us. We don’t look at miracles of that size. It’s too big for us to appreciate. So instead, we focus on the petty day to day grindstone, and we wonder what it’s all about.

I don’t know, and nothing in my faith requires that I make you see my point of view. But I appreciate the miracle that I am, and I have faith that if we have a shared purpose beyond this world, one day we will discover it. If not in this life, then perhaps in the next.

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Zoe E. Whitten lives in Milan with her husband Luciano. She has written several novels and novellas, including The Lesser of Two Evils, Little Monsters, and Zombie Punter. Belfire Press will release duel sci-fi novellas from Zoe in May, Adopting a Sex Doll and When a Sex Doll Dies, and Skullvines Press/KHP Books will publish her first bizarro ebook later this year, NINJAWORLD.

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OTHER CONVERSATION STARTERS

-Road to Mo*Con VI: Guest Blog by Zoe Whitten
-Road to Mo*Con VI: Guest Blog by Lucien Soulban
-Road to Mo*Con VI: Guest Blog by Brad Grammer

Spotted in the Wild – King’s Justice (Warning: May be too ghetto!)

I’m a little late in the reporting, but The Knights of Breton Court Book Two:  King’s Justice has been spotted in the wild.  First reports came in from fellow Indiana Horror Writer member, Rodney Carlstrom, with a sighting in the Barnes & Noble in Noblesville, Indiana.

With Jeff Heimbuch providing confirmation from New Jersey (look how it towers, TOWERS!, over its shelf companions)

The advance reviews have been very good (whew!  You always worry about how your baby is going to be received, especially if it has to live up to an older sibling).*  And it was chosen as the book of the month for the SFBook Club.  As Publisher’s Weekly mentioned, King’s Justice is a great jump on point for those new to the series.

I will be doing a special signing for King’s Justice.  It is Saturday, March 26th from 2:00pm – 4:00pm at the

Comic Carnival (3837 North High School Road, Indianapolis, IN  46254)

Come on out.  I’d love to meet you.  And this location has a special tie in to the novel.

By the way, with King’s Justice—for those playing along at home—you get introduced to and get  to figure out which characters in the novel represent Sir Agravain, the Red Knight, the Invisible Knight, and Tristan and Isolde.  Plus, Angry Robot loves to do “bonus features” with their books.  So in addition to getting a preview chapter of the final book in the trilogy, King’s War, there is also a short story entitled “Collateral Casualties” that you will enjoy.  Let’s just say that the protagonists of that story would feel perfectly at home on King’s streets.

Speaking of short stories, Angry Robot has a few of my short stories for sale in their electronic store.  Buy me often!

*Yes, I’m ignoring a review that warned that the novel may be “too ghetto.”  I’m charitably going under the assumption that said reviewer also describes stories taking place on Mars as being “too Martian.”

More Love for Dark Faith

When I mentioned that Dark Faith had been nominated for a Bram Stoker Award, I said that Catherynne Valente’s story  “The Days of Flaming Motorcycles” had been picked up for Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year 3.  Ellen compiles a list of Honorable Mentions, stories that were of significant note for each year.  A complete list of her honorable mentions can be found here and here.  Dark Faith got a few nods:

Ekaterina Sedia – “You Dream”
Nick Mamatas – “The Last Words of Dutch Schultz Jesus Christ”

Kelly Barnhill – “Hush”

Gary A. Braunbeck – “For My Next Trick I’ll Need a Volunteer”
Matt Cardin – “Chimeras & Grotesques”

And I was quite pleased to see that our promotional chapbook, Dark Faith:  Last Rites, received some love:

Nate Southard – “The Taste of Memories”

Sara Genge – “Little Gods”

Basically Dark Faith:  Last Rites was our P.S. to the Dark Faith anthology (because if I had included any more stories into Dark Faith, Jason Sizemore would have crawled through the Internet to choke me).  There are a few copies of Dark Faith:  Last Rites available if you order Dark Faith directly from Apex Books.

On the other hand, Paula Guran has announced the ToC for her Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2011, and some MORE Dark Faith stories represent:

Jay Lake – Mother Urban’s Booke of Dayes

Ekaterina Sedia – You Dream

Alright, I’m done pointing out many great stories may or may not be in this anthology (okay, that should probably read “I feel so validated as an editor.  yay!”).

Dark Faith, Stoker Nominee

The official ballot for the Bram Stoker awards has been announced.  Dark Faith is among some pretty good company.  So, to date Dark Faith has been:

-been nominated for a Black Quill award

-had Jennifer Pelland’s story “Ghosts of New York” nominated for a Nebula award and can be read here for free.

-had Cat Valente’s story “The Days of Flaming Motorcycles” reprinted in John Joseph Adams The Living Dead 2 anthology and picked up for Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year 3 and can be read for free on the Apex website.

-a new trailer

On the tail of receiving two Nebula nominations and two Stoker nominations within the last two weeks, Apex is having a two-week sale starting… now… on works by their authors who have received (or contains work receiving) Stoker & Nebula nominations.  You can pick up a copy of Dark Faith for $11.97 (and the digital version is also 40% off).  Come see what all the fuss is about.