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Lost in The Wood -- Leonard and Ann Marie Wilson

Social Self-Defense is a Critical Survival Skill

Woman in black blazer wearing eyeglasses Photo by Maksim Chernyshev on Scopio

An experienced martial artist doesn't have to wait for a blow to land to know what's coming. He doesn't have to be told. He watches. There are only so many ways a human body can move. His opponent is going to telegraph what's about to happen based on little cues of stance, momentum, etc., so he analyzes his opponent's position and capabilities to predict and counter what's coming.

Social combat works the same way. When someone wants to bend you to their will for any reason, there are only so many moves they can make to achieve that—and there's no substitute for experience when it comes to being able to predict and counter those moves through context.

Experienced social warriors around the world have been watching in horror for years now while political extremists land blow after blow after blow against the people who don't know how to read their moves. We want to warn their targets about what's happening—we try to warn them—but they react to our warnings like we're practicing some sort of witchcraft because society doesn't teach even the most basic arts of social self-defense.

So here's lesson one. If you don't already know it, learn it. Memorize it. Burn it so deeply into your mind that you can never forget.

The lie any human being is most susceptible to is the lie he wants to believeand every successful social predator in the world knows that.

Nearly everyone is familiar with this sort of lie when it takes the form of flattery, but it still it works a treat on most of us. We all want to believe the good things people say about us--even if sometimes we can't bring ourselves to.

Far more insidious are the lies we want to believe even when—on the surface—they seem only to make us angry or scared or miserable.

Inside your head you keep a working model of who you believe you are and how the world is supposed to work. Everyone does. Those models anchor us and empower us. Without them, our brains couldn't function. We'd be adrift in a raging, relentless storm of chaos. We cling to those models for dear life. We will react to any information that threatens their integrity as a personal, violent attack. 

Social predators know this too, at least instinctively. They don't fight against our models. They graft new, supporting beliefs onto them. They sculpt the information in our heads like topiary figures by feeding us harmless little lies that will support the weight of progressively larger and more audacious ones.

Whether you want to protect yourself from street hustlers, fake psychics, domestic abusers, cult leaders, or political propaganda, it's all the same. Learn your own weaknesses. Learn your opponent's moves. Stop focusing in on the specific lies and start watching the patterns of behavior.

Useless Answers to Real Questions #8

Blue white and black abstract painting Image by Elm Ben on Scopio

 

 

"Is perfectionism okay?"

 

 

— Asked on Quora (Perfectionism)

 

Sure! But only if you do it exactly right.

— Leonard

Fantasy Fiction Doesn't Need Gatekeepers

Silhouette of person Photo by Josh Joshua on Scopio

The first full-length novel I ever read was The Hobbit, followed soon after by the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The books became a formative part of my childhood, even if I did give up on trying to read the Silmarillion.

As something of a Tolkien fan, it hasn't escaped me that there's currently a culture war raging over the presentation of dwarves (particularly dwarven women) in the new Lord of the Rings TV series. I personally have no memory of the books saying anything definitive on the matter of female dwarves having beards, or of the books mentioning dwarven skin tones. I did, however, grow up with what I'm sure was a Tolkien-inspired tradition of bearded dwarven women in Dungeons & Dragons and Disc World. And I expect dwarves possessed a pallid, Nordic complexion in Tolkien's imaginings, just as they did in my own imaginings and in all screen-adaptions of Tolkien's work up to now.

So when I saw the promotional image of the beardless, dark-skinned dwarven princess in the new Middle Earth show, I found myself instantly struck with an overwhelming and total lack of concern. In fact, I found myself so completely non-incensed I thought, "Wow. That's a strong, beautiful looking woman I totally buy as a dwarven princess. This show might be cool."

From that moment, I simply couldn't restrain my lack of any impulse to start writing/recording angry rants about how she represented some violation of Tolkien's work, so that's exactly what I sat down and didn't do. What's more, I didn't do it without a moment's hesitation, and I refuse to apologize for not doing it.

Despite being a white, middle-aged, male fantasy enthusiast myself, I still don't get where this outrage comes from. I utterly, viscerally do not get it. I just don't.

I was very much an unpopular child. Some of that was my own fault. Some of it wasn't. But fantasy worlds were the place I'd retreat to to get away from everyone who wanted me to conform neatly into their well ordered little world, even if that well ordered little world didn't really want me in it.

Even when I felt unwelcome everywhere else, I could always retreat into a book or into world-building. And later, when my peers wanted to retreat into fantasy for any reason, I was the guy who knew how to make it happen. I was the dungeon master—or the game master of whatever other role-playing game might be at hand. At the very least, I was the seasoned player who knew how to organize an adventuring party and keep the action from bogging down. I knew the rules. I knew how to guide the stories.

In the tabletop role-playing hobby, where story met socializing, I finally found a place I could belong. I spent the rest of my childhood and my early adulthood using the games as opportunity to hammer out basic social skills, and I slowly but steadily became less painful to be around. Through it all, my goal remained the same: welcome everyone who needed a refuge into these fantastical worlds so many bullies loathed because they couldn't control them. 

Call it nostalgia if you like, but at the time I really did believe that fantasy fandom by its very nature welcomed the outcasts and the dreamers. The whole point was to let the imagination wander and explore "what could be," free from the bonds of both physics and authoritarian society. And when fantasy became big business and started ruling the box office, I let myself believe that meant dreamers had won the culture war.

In some ways we do still have an upper hand we lacked before, but the war wages on. Bullies will be bullies, fighting to impose their will even amid the ever-shifting sands of a world that never existed. They fight to make that world their own, imprinting their beliefs and values on beloved stories, and trying to deny every other version by declaring economic war on the content creators they see as corrupting "their" fantasies.

So rather than run the risk of having someone fight this fight over some future adaptation of my work, let me say this explicitly, here and now, and for the permanent record: I never want to hear my name invoked even posthumously (don't think I'm above coming back to haunt you) to defend some rant about the color of an actor's skin in a screen adaptation of any of my stories.

Do I imagine most of my characters to look European? Yes. Most of the people I know look European.

Does that matter to me or to the stories? Not one bit.

I would be flattered to have anyone see themselves in any strong, compassionate character I created. I'd even take it as a compliment if they saw a little of themselves in my villains, as long as they understood the humanity in those characters is supposed to be a warning that anyone can fall from grace.

And while I would like to retain a certain amount of control over my creations for the present, I can only hope that fifty or a hundred years from now they'll be anything but pristine replications of my original vision. If they're still pristine by then, it can only be because they're dead. The enduring characters of fantasy fiction are the ones that change and evolve with their audience. Each new generation reimagines existing heroes to meet its own needs. The King Arthur of today is not the King Arthur of my childhood, who was not the King Arthur of T.S. Elliot, who was not the King Arthur of Sir Thomas Mallory, who was not the King Arthur of Welsh Legend.

Maybe I actually want my creations to outgrow me some day because my first publishing credits were all role-playing adventures. I still love hearing how things went down dealing with the ghost of Mistmoor Manor, or how the story of the Heart Blade turned out. It took me a long time to figure out how to write the middle and ending of novels because I'd spent my youth just writing beginnings and freeing them to go play in the imaginations of other storytellers.

Regardless, fantasy fiction doesn't need anyone to protect it. It will be what it will be, and you've already got your own version of every imaginary place and character you care about locked safely away in your head where no one else can touch it. Fighting over whose version is the right version is like fighting over which drop of water is the true incarnation of a downpour. There's room enough in fandom for everyone to come indulge and have their non-sociopathic fun, free from outrage, bullying, and intimidation. Let them.

Useless Answers to Real Questions #7

Pen on a notebook with a drawn heart Photo by Aillia Naqvi on Scopio

 

 

"Feeling humble. Just received a request from a gentleman in Pennsylvania, asking for an autograph to be sent. (I'm UK) Anybody else experienced similar?"

 

 

— Asked on Facebook (AmWritingFantasy)

 

Yes, I was a gentleman in Pennsylvania once—but only for a few hours, passing through on my way back south from Canada.

— Leonard

Useless Answers to Real Questions #6

Ren Faire Reader Photo by Sunpreet Kaur on Pixabay

 

 

"Why did Shakespeare give so many of his characters names that do not suit their nationality or timeframe? E.g., Juliet is more French than Italian."

 

 

— Asked on Quora (Shakespeare Plays, William Shakespeare, English Literature, Literature)

 

It's not a problem that was unique to Shakespeare. Everyone at the time was having trouble naming things.

To be painfully honest, the baby name web sites and random name generator apps of the Renaissance left a lot to be desired. I mean, seriously: Henry VIII? Louis XIV? How abysmal does the selection have to be if you're going to re-use one name that many times?

— Leonard

In Search of Epic Fantasy Horror

Ghostly skulls in a forest fire Composite photo by Giacomo. Original skulls by Ville Hasala on Pixabay. Original butterflies by Igor Levchenko on Pixabay

So here's something that feels kind of weird.

I grew up thinking I didn't like horror stories because, but it turns out that was because during most of my childhood, "horror" was practically synonymous with "gory slasher flick".

At the same time I'd loved Scooby-Doo from an early age and found myself fascinated by pretty much anything Gothic and spooky. I started playing and game mastering D&D when I was nine, and within a couple of years I was latching onto any D&D material that skewed toward Gothic horror.

It started with the gonzo haunted-house goodness of Bob Bledsaw's classic Tegel Manor, made it inevitable I'd snap up The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh when it first appeared, and—as will surprise absolutely no one with any deep knowledge of D&D—led me straight down the Raveloft rabbit hole.

Oddly, I never got into playing Call of Cthulhu or any of the World of Darkness games. Guess it turns out I prefer my horror with a little more distance too it--set in some magical land beyond the wardrobe, or maybe in a galaxy far, far away.

I think what that means is I love the rollercoaster ride, but when I close the book or walk out of the theater, I'm done. I don't want to be left trying to convince myself there's nothing lurking out there in the night or just out of sight in the cabinets. The real world is plenty scary and dreadful enough without any help.

Sprinkle in the fact I love long, evolving stories full of characters I get to know and revisit, and I guess it was inevitable I'd wind up writing epic fantasy horror with Gothic sensibilities.

The weird part is realizing even though I've been telling epic fantasy horror stories in one form or another for most of my life, I haven't actually read much of anything I'd call "epic fantasy horror."

I'd like to change that. But so far I'm finding the search engines mostly spit out grimdark fantasies like "A Song of Ice and Fire" when I ask for "dark fantasy" books, and they mostly spit out modern horror/urban-fantasy horror when I search for "fantasy horror".

The audience is there—getting people to stop and go, "Oh, cool!" over the books Ann Marie and I write is easy—but finding other peoples' stories in the same vein feels harder than it should be.

To be clear, what I'd like most to find is books with sensibilities like the streaming mini-series "The Haunting of Hill House" and "Midnight Mass"--great fun--but I'd like to see those sensibilities transported into a world that's clearly not Earth.

Bonus points for books that:

  • Have audio versions
  • Feature proactive, capable, and interesting female characters
  • Were written by indie authors.

So do you have any specific recommendations for me? Tips or tricks for pinpointing them through search algorithms? Author or reader communities good for discussion?

Self-promotion absolutely allowed. Just please keep it simple and non-garish.

 

Useless Answers to Real Questions #5

Doctor checking patient Photo by Jorge Antonio Flores Delgado

 

What will you personally lose if the US enacts universal health care?"

 

 

 

—  Asked on Quora (Universal Healthcare, Healthcare Policy, Health Insurance, The United States of America)

 

My car keys.


Not that I expect the two events to be related in any way. I'm just that good at losing my car keys.

— Leonard

Useless Answers to Real Questions #4

Street sign: Truth, Reality, Lies Photo by Gerd Altmann on Pixabay

 

 

"What is more important- truth or fact, and why?"

 

 

 

— Asked by Anat Eliraz

 

Who, where, when, how? They all fade into insignificance unless propped up by a good, solid, "What?"—preferably with at least two or three exclamation marks.
I can't begin to count the number of times I've inadvertently omitted the What from my babblings, only for the listener to fix me with a perplexed, incredulous stare and emphatically demand that I supply one.


I suppose that's a truth, though—rather than a fact—for want of a verifiable external existence. The "What?!!!" generally gets packaged up and delivered to me as part of a larger, opinion-based declaration about where I ought to go and what I should do there.

— Leonard

Useless Answers to Real Questions #3

Grayscale photo of silhouette of woman with devil's horns pointing her finger under cloudy sky Photo by Minja Milošev on Scopio

 

 

"What do you think are the 5 darkest series in all grimdark?"

 

 

— Asked on Facebook (Fantasy-Faction - Fantasy and Science Fiction Book Discussion)

 

In no particular order:

• ABC World News Tonight
• CBS Evening News
• NBC Nightly News
• BBC World News America
• Teletubbies

— Leonard

Useless Answers to Real Questions #2

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"A friend of mine is looking for a book. No title or author name. Here's the description: two brothers (grown men), one a little slow-witted, both enjoy jigsaw puzzle, slow one has the ability to teleport. They are being chased/hunted, possibly by the government. Any help is appreciated."

 

 

— Asked on Facebook (Sci fi and Fantasy Book Club)

 

I'd appreciate any help I could get, too, if I was being chased/hunted by the government. Not familiar with the book, though.

— Leonard

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