Thursday, August 14, 2014

God, the Soul and the Afterlife the Greatest Hoax.

The Creation of Adam, Michelangelo Buonarroti


Louis Shalako




The idea of God, the soul and an afterlife are the greatest hoaxes ever perpetrated.

Most who read this will be shocked.

How arrogant. How mean and miserable of Louis Shalako! To deny his fellow humans and their afflictions the comforting notion that a sincere prayer can be efficacious, or of any real help at all.

There are no atheists in a foxhole, but there may be a few hypocrites. If you don’t believe in God, then surely a quick prayer can’t hurt anything—is that the attitude?

How much of the fabric of our society would unravel if there really was no God?

Think about it—if we can. For surely we have been very carefully trained not to think, not to inquire, but simply take it on faith—usually based on someone else’s word for it. We have been trained from birth to think in these terms, and that’s why it is seen as ‘natural.’

It is anything but natural, ladies and gentlemen. It is a legal and moral fiction.

In the beginning, it was seen as an essential part of the Big Picture, when reality is composed of lots and lots of little pictures, not all of which can be observed at once and with perfect clarity.

Without God, there is no Society, many will bellow through bullhorns from right in front of our home. The louder they shout, the more true it must be.

If there is no God, and there never was any God, then how did all of this ‘creation’ come about?

What if it wasn’t created? What if it simply is…?

Since each of us will probably only live a hundred years, most likely less, does it even matter what happened six thousand or six billion years ago?

***

Surely you must ask, if there is no God, how did constitutional government come about?

How did any sort of ethical society come about? If there is no God, there is no real justification for all of this, the human and natural rights which we all take for granted. Surely we must all now massacre each other, for without God, what meaning does our human existence actually have?

Or did society come about in a kind of recognition that all of us are entitled to something better than naked savagery?

Do you not see the inherent Nihilism, the underlying basis of all supernatural beliefs? It is a lack of confidence in ourselves, that is the root of all ‘evil.’ When the Bible tells you that all men are born unclean, and evil, and that this must be purged out of them by the fire and the sword, baptism and submission, this is a lie, ladies and gentlemen. It’s a lie that has been around for a very long time.

I am not saying all human beings are born perfect, for there is no perfection, only life, death and renewal. 

This is not a miracle, it is the result of perfectly understandable forces and processes.

I am saying the laws we live by do not come from God. They come from other men, they come from science and nature itself. They come from reason and not fanaticism.

Surely you have a question.

Even if Louis does not accept my religion, how come he doesn’t agree, like many of us do, that other people’s belief systems are somehow evidence, whether it is the elephant headed boy-god of India or the river-gods of ancient times? Because I hold a mistaken belief, and my neighbour holds a similar but different mistaken belief, does that not somehow lend credence to mistaken beliefs elsewhere?

Ten thousand philosophers have attempted to define the nature of God. They are all mistaken.

It is not a case of, “We may have it wrong, possibly mucked up some of the details, but surely somewhere in the world, someone has the genuine revelation...”

There is no revelation.

This is the revelation.

God is not a requirement to make the physical universe go around.

There is no spiritual universe, and so we do not need to account for any of its alleged phenomena.

***

What makes me laugh is when people try to relate the physical nature of our bodies with the intangible nature of our minds.

How come you can’t take it on faith? It does work, after all.

This ancient puzzle is probably what led to all initial speculations of a metaphysical nature (religion) to begin with. As a writer of speculative fiction, I really got to hand it to the ancient Greeks: some of those guys could really write.

They really had the most marvelous imaginations, and over time they really were standing on the shoulders of those who went before. Their greatest contributions to western culture were all factual. Things like geometry, and trigonometry, and science, and the freedom of inquiry. No one today takes the ancient Greek religion seriously.

***

I’ll give you a clue as to your own consciousness: it has a physical location. It’s up on the top of your body, right in behind your eyes, your nose, it’s actually a little higher than your mouth, isn’t it? It’s right in between the ears. You know right where your mind is. Where else could it be? And isn’t this what people mean when they say the soul will travel on? Surely that soul must have consciousness, or what frickin’ good is it?

Hopefully I’m not the first guy in history to explain that one…

Consciousness is a process rather than any one thing, and that, in my humble opinion, is where all the ancients went wrong. They were off in la-la land, looking for a spirit, they were looking for magic, a God that doesn’t exist, rather than inside of the physical body, looking for a biochemical outcome.

Consciousness is the biochemical result of large-scale information processing and the necessarily ensuing generalizations. This does not necessarily hold true for an electromechanical information processing system. It is uniquely animal in nature. Animals are mobile, and predatory in nature. They are opportunistic. A machine intelligence would exist in a totally different environment, which leads to the question of evolutionary psychology, which is the study of the character, beliefs, actions and make-up of rational human beings over eons of species-development.

What we think is a part of life, and living, and it would be absolutely remarkable if we could recreate intelligent life in a lab with current technology.

And yet in the not too distant future, by attaching neurons to the brain of a mouse or rat, we can take a conscious animal and give it greater intelligence. We can create a higher form of life, using the building blocks of nature.

That’s why all religion, however useful it may have been in the past, as a form of community, as a form of social self-regulation, aristocratic high-jacking notwithstanding; is obsolete. Our religion is as obsolete for modern conditions as the religion of ancient Greece was to the very next generation, i.e. the Romans. They came, they saw, they laughed, and they conquered. They took much of it over and made religion serve the needs of the state, ladies and gentlemen.

To perpetuate that original error, from which all subsequent errors are derived, for millennia to come, is only to compound our problems and their ultimate solution. It is to ignore the evidence of our own senses, our own minds, and surely this is the true hallmark of madness.

Should you get rid of all your religion?

No, I think you should keep it. I think you should bear it in mind in the daily actions of your life, for surely no man can escape his upbringing. And your mother and father meant well for you, I say that in all sincerity. 

They were doing their best and they simply didn’t know any better way.

But now we do, ladies and gentlemen. Now we do.

***

It seems to me that if a person can believe in God and exhibit nothing in the way of Christian values, then the opposite must also hold true.

It is possible to have what are essentially Christian, or universal* values, without actually believing in God.

You could simply apply those values in practical terms, without requiring supernatural validation of your own thoughts and actions. You might even thank your parents for that.

It’s a question of taking responsibility and not pointing the finger at somebody else, and passing the buck somewhere else.

It is a personal challenge, but one well worth accepting. And if you should try and fail, you could always ask your fellow human beings for forgiveness.

They talk enough about it, don’t they?

Let them show, not tell. They say that a lot too, don’t they.

***

Anyhow, I thank you all for listening, ladies and gentlemen.


END


*To hear them tell it.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Writing a Series A Challenging Art

"Paris the the whore, perpetually young and yet still captivating."







Louis Shalako




If a book is a work of art, then a series is also a work of art.

It is challenging from the artistic point of view. Assuming you want to write more, that is--you could always break off and abandon it.

It is a work of greater length and complexity. This offers certain opportunities.

In The Maintenon Mystery Series, I have one novella, The Handbag’s Tale, and then the three novels, Redemption: an Inspector GillesMaintenon mystery, The Art of Murder and Blessed Are the Humble.

Since Maintenon is described as low fifties in Redemption, and since Handbag takes place in 1927, he’s a grown man and a complex character. He was in the police in 1914 when WW I broke out and would have had to ask permission to resign and join the French army. He was at Verdun and said so in Redemption (I think.)

His wife is sick in ‘Maintenon4,’ my working title. I have a great title, but I’ll finalize and announce that later.

In the three novels already written, the reader has never met Ann Maintenon. The themes in this book can be pretty dark, for I’ve got something like thirteen victims, all women and girls, and a man awaiting the guillotine when Maintenon is asked to take another look at the case.

In this story, Maintenon isn’t even an Inspector—he’s written the exam, but competition is fierce and not all qualified candidates are taken up in rank. There’s a yearly quota, much like the ‘list’ in Royal Army terms. 

They’re only going to make so many Inspectors in any given year. He’s Detective-Sergeant Maintenon, but he’s solved a couple of high-profile cases and the President himself is asking for him. There is the pressure of internal politics, and there is the pressure of time.

Sergeant Andre Levain, who plays a prominent role in the ‘later’ stories, (which I wrote first) is the new guy and he and Gilles have only worked together on a limited basis, all under the supervision of superior officers. As a writer, and as a work of art, this offers the chance to explore the earlier days of this relationship. We have the chance to explore Gilles’s relationship with his wife and his work, at a different age and level of proficiency. Good cops are made over a long time—they don’t spring, fully formed from the genie’s bottle. But I can slot new stories in almost any year, and one case might span a year and a half—theoretically, he’s off solving new cases, cases made into books, even as that one in particular is still ongoing. It is a fact that homicides have been solved after thirty or more years and cops never forget, essentially.

Then there is the whole challenge of historicity. In 1924, at the time when the story actually takes place, Paris is all wrought up in the summer Olympics. As of June 13 they have a new government, and a President who is perhaps a little more radical than modern voters might be comfortable with, no matter which side of the political spectrum they might be on.

It is a time of worker ferment, bureaucratic corruption, and great art, great music, great culture—and Paris is a great city in the peak of its form in spite of all faults.

Paris is the whore that is perpetually-young, and still captivating in spite of all the warts and blemishes that do peek through.

(That line might even make it into the book. – ed.)

In a series, your work of art acquires greater depth and precision. The more books in the series, the greater the clarity, where incidents in one book support the events in another. Anything is possible because there is no set length. Other characters come and go, but Maintenon remains.

It is inevitable that I must end up studying the world I write about. The really strange thing is that I chose it at random, mostly to avoid modern forensics and the CSI fixation on biochemistry and zooming down through the bores of scanning electron microscopes. I wanted a certain feel, I wanted something French.

I wanted, like Lovejoy, a period piece, no matter how new it actually was.

In terms of building that world, Paris and France from about 1920 until the 1930s, I check my facts, without going nuts on the politics of the day. I have to nail it down in time and place;  and then I try to weave as seamless a tale as I can. Inevitably, it will have its limitations, and there you go. That’s the way it is.

I can always write another one. A really interesting period to write about might be on the eve of WW II, in which we might be looking through the eyes of a very old, very tired, and very jaded man.

That depends on a number of factors, including the question of whether I live long enough.

Right?


END


Monday, August 4, 2014

Kindle Select Results, Caveat Auctore.


















Louis Shalako




To keep doing the same thing over and over again and expecting to get different results is a form of insanity.

I forget who said that, but it’s true enough.

I wanted a better fate for my new novel, The Mysterious Case of Betty Blue. 

Previous science-fiction novels such as Third World were essentially published and died. The same day.

I would be hard pressed to claim even ten copies of that book sold.

And yet I have always resisted the Kindle Select Program. Part of that was pure dogma. It is my opinion that authors and readers alike are served best by a healthy ecosystem, where no one party is dominant. But Amazon is dominant. At some point I just had to admit that and take appropriate steps. One reason for being slow to do that, is that I really wasn’t selling all that many books on Amazon to begin with. The same could be said of Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, Google Books…the list goes on. Barnes & Noble is my best platform—a platform that Joe Konrath says will die very soon now. If that happens, then I guess my sales are dead as well.

You can read all kinds of blog posts about how Amazon  will destroy literature and take over the world.

Some of that comes from  traditional publishing, and some of it comes from places like the Smashwords blog.

I owed it to myself to find out what would happen. Normally, I publish a book on Smashwords, Amazon, Google Books, OmniLit, etc.

Okay. So on my first free day, I gave away a grand total of 35 books through Kindle Select, in the U.S. I gave away four in the U.K., one in Germany, etc . I had one sale, through Kindle Unlimited, Amazon’s new subscription service.

Using another pen name, I published another title. This one is a short story of 12,000 words, literary fiction, and it’s not the most exciting thing in the world. I would say that a book on friendship is not as enticing as a book about vampires, werewolves, thrillers, or the like to the modern reader. Romance books will beat that one every time.

Another challenge is how to promote any book these days. People rapidly tire of link after link on your Facebook feed, and there are so many voices on Twitter, your tweet quickly disappears, drowned out by fresh links.

I’m not real good about seeking reviews, providing advance reader copies, or anything, really.

When I’m done writing a book, I publish it and move on. If passive discoverability works, then it really ought to work here! The only positive news here is that Heaven Is Too Far Away, my WW I memoir/historical parody, sold four books in June through Createspace’s Expanded Distribution. Since I have no real way of promoting that book, it must be passive discoverability.

For what it’s worth.

As far as promotion on Kindle Boards, for whatever reason, I had never bookmarked my KB-Amazon Book Pages. I got rid of Internet Explorer, and then Google Chrome. It’s hard to even find them again. I don’t know how to upgrade my marketing images, the ones in the signature and on the book page itself. 

When I raised my prices last year, the novels were no longer $2.99, but $4.99 and up. You can only post free, or books up to $2.99 on Kindle Boards. Basically, I just stopped going there. That’s one less promotional tool to work with; and some say it is an essential tool.

So it is my own mistakes and my own lack of knowledge that really kills any attempt to promote any book. 

Low sales, low incentive to learn, I guess. And yet learn we must, or die.

So here’s what I learned from Kindle Select.

If your book is not in a particularly popular genre, your results will reflect that. If your cover is not that good, if your blurb is not that good, Kindle Select cannot save it. The date you choose has an effect. For whatever reason, I chose a holiday weekend in summer. I have three more promotional days for The Mysterious Case of Betty Blue, and another two and a half months of exclusivity before I can publish it elsewhere. This is the price of knowledge, one might say.

What’s really interesting is that when Amazon price-matches your book on another platform, (Kindle Select Titles are exclusive and I’m talking about other titles) your monthly result in terms of giveaways can be far superior to the Kindle Select exclusive promotion.

I know that for a fact, because I’ve given away 173 copies of The Shape-Shifters in the first four days of August. That book is not exclusive to Amazon. You can get it for free on any number of sales platforms.

Whether it’s caveat scriptor, or caveat auctore, (writer beware) all I can say is that unrealistic expectations and a distinct lack of skill in the promotion can kill a book pretty darned quick.

That’s why I try to write and submit short stories as much as possible. A sale is a sale, and it’s a ray of hope as well. As to whether I will write another novel and begin submitting to traditional publishers again, I don’t know.

For that you need the motivation, but more than anything you need patience—and some shred of hope that it will be picked up.

Who knows, it might even change my life.

END

Friday, July 25, 2014

Thoughts On Publishing.

I don't want to get sucked into your debate.












Louis Shalako




Whether it’s the debate over traditional publishing or the whole Amazon-Hachette dispute, I don’t much like being sucked in.

I kind of resent people assuming I’m on one side or another. I don’t like it when people assume which side I am on, or try and tell me which side I should be on.

 
Sometimes I don’t really care at all; about who does what, and with which, and with whom, or to whom they do it.

I don’t have any major criticisms of traditional publishing. I don’t have any major criticisms of Amazon or Hachette.

Quite frankly, I don’t really give a damn.

***

When I write a book or story, and then publish it myself, one could say the job is done. I like that feeling.

For better or worse, I’ve accomplished my primary mission, which is to write worthwhile stories and then get them into the hands and in front of the eyeballs of readers.

If I went the traditional route, I might submit a manuscript to any number of agents or publishers.

That’s the classic theory.

When submitting a short story, the classic theory is to submit it over and over until it is sold.

If an agent accepts a book, for example, my job is still not done. The agent submits it here and there.

They call me up once a week, or once a month, or once a year and tell me what they’re doing, and ask what I’m working on.

They submit it around some more.

And even if an editor or publisher is interested, my job is still not done.

Classic theory holds that I should have written my next book at least by this point, (or more) in which case we would start a whole new process for each and every book. Some of those books might never interest a major or other traditional publisher.

And my job on the first book is still not done. There is an in-house process, one that ultimately could take many months or even years before I achieve the laudable and reasonable goal of seeing the thing on bookstore shelves. Only then could my job be said to be done, if we ignore the need to engage in at least some promotion. If we can get it. Otherwise we’re on our own, and it might be six months more before the first royalty cheque rolls in.

Nothing in my experience has really prepared me for this kind of long-term, high stakes kind of game. It’s a whole ‘nother line of thinking.

They say poor people are their own worst enemies, but there are times when immediate needs take precedence. Money coming in right now might not beat a lot more money coming in two years from now, but until one actually sells a manuscript, that’s all just pie in the sky anyways.

And there really is more than one way to skin a cat.

In the ‘classic’ theory of modern, digital self-publishing, you write, you publish, write, publish, write some more, publish some more, and then you just keep going on like that.

With appropriate choices of material and genre, over time we will build up a readership and eventually build up our own business. We do it all on our own, and in my own case, without a lot of outside or expensive help. I don’t need an IP lawyer to interpret what I’m signing, and I don’t have to worry about pleasing agents and editors, who may like the basic story but want a lot of changes when I’ve already sort of put a book behind me. Because of course I want to move onto the next project. That sort of process might be stressful and distracting from what I really want to do now.

It’s still a long-term game, but the thinking is clearer, it requires less patience. You do it in small, incremental steps. You don’t have to rely on other people, and if you don’t like the terms of service, you can just take your books down and go elsewhere.

That’s not a criticism of anybody, it’s just an observation.

But we all have our own needs, our own goals, and our own strengths and weaknesses.

Honestly, if someone had offered me a hundred thousand dollar contract for my first or second book, I would have been scared shitless. I wasn’t sure I could really write professionally at the time, and of course I would be dealing with professionals of long experience.

It might have been intimidating or something.

It says something about where I was at the time.

END