I have faith in humanity. I have to.

Making art is a very personal act. Visual arts, music, the written word—all of it requires the creator to briefly let down personal shields and imbue the work with a tiny piece of the self.

Sometimes, that makes creating art really difficult. Sometimes, it is so difficult it actually paralyzes the artist with fear. I mean, opening up a bit of your soul to others is a big deal. It is an exercise in faith in humanity.

Faith that your opinions are not completely crazy. Faith that your eccentricities are not unique. Faith that the darkest corners of your mind can actually be restored to light because someone else already has the candle.

The extra-sensitive artists, like myself, have an almost insurmountably difficult obstacle to get around.

Okay, I’m going to lower the forward shields for a minute and tell you a secret: I am super sensitive. I have built a quasi-functional wall around myself to ensure that I can accept criticism of my writing with grace and open-mindedness, because that is that only way I’ll improve. This wall also helps keep out irrelevant exterior criticisms, say about my fashion choices or what kind of movies I like to watch.

The problem is that all the strength is in the forward, exterior-facing wall. The inward wall, the one that faces friends and family, has not been fortified. So, if a friend or family member lobs an off-hand comment about…oh, maybe how they hate the shoes I’m wearing in my direction, it’s bad news.

Critical hit. Red alert. MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY WE’RE GOING DOWN.

Seriously, it gets to me. It shouldn’t at all, but it does. This makes it hard for me to write sometimes. Why? Because my friends and family will be the first people to see my writing. They get the first round of beta-reads; they are the “Is this total horse shit or should I keep going?” litmus test.

Sometimes, my little wall works—criticism is ingested with an open mind and helps me make the project better. Other times, it doesn’t. And then I think about all the exterior people who could possible hate my writing and I wilt. What’s the point? Why write anything? Hell, why leave the house? It’s a sneaky doom spiral and it sinks its poisonous claws into me more often than I’d like to admit.

The mantra of the ever-terrifying and totally awesome Chuck Wendig is to “harden the fuck up, Care Bear,” and he’s right.  But how do you balance the adamantium exoskeleton with the slow leak of soul-juice into your project?

How do you fortify that which you have put forward with a gooey center?

You can’t, not really. You sort of have to accept on faith, that someone, somewhere, is going to defend your work, and by extension, that tiny bit of your soul.

You have to have faith in other people. Other artists. Other soul-chips bouncing around in the ether.

My personal and current beacon of hope is Brandon Stanton, creator of Humans of New York. He is a street portrait photographer and if you haven’t seen his site, you’re missing out.

Mr. Stanton roams the streets of New York City (and Tehran, and most recently, Boston) and finds interesting people to photograph. The portraits are everything from hilarious to despairing, and every last one of them is beautiful. He asks each subject a few questions and puts the most revealing answers as captions for his photos. Some people merit full-on stories and the audience discovers how different people are, and some times, how judgmental we all can be.

Stanton’s project is interesting in that each portrait carries two soul-chips. The one that is captured from the subject by the camera, and one of his own. The people he chooses to photograph reveal something about the photographer. Namely, that he is open-minded, courageous and selfless.

Open-minded because he approaches people society would revile.

Courageous because he approaches subjects that scare him, or may put him in danger.

Selfless in that he wants to tell the stories of the people he photographs and in doing so, teaches the rest of us not to judge a book by it’s cover.

I don’t know how he balances the exoskeleton with the slow-leak of soul, but I’m glad he’s got a handle on the technique.

It helps me remember to write even though I am afraid, and sometimes because I am afraid.

Writing Mentors: Where’d they go?

Whatever happened to mentors?

I want to know what happened to the one-on-one, master-apprentice relationships people had a long time ago.

The modern equivalent seems to be an internship, which is great for vocations that are objective, like particle physics or journalism, but don’t really have a place in the world of the arts.

Oh sure, you could intern at an art studio, answering phones and designing brochures, and maybe getting the office coffee once or twice. You could intern with a creative content team and do similar stuff. You’re there for a few months and then they kick you out, sometimes unpaid, into the cold world.

But where have all the apprenticeships gone? Those artistic relationships where one experienced, successful artist cultivates a developing, still-feeling-around-in-the-dark-a-little artist? For, occasionally, years? What happened to those?

I mean, there are seminars, and workshops and retreats and classes and all manner of other resources nowadays, resources that have more or less taken the place of a true mentor. And they are great! All that information you can learn is useful and can help.

But it’s all so…fractured.  Part of my goal for this blog is to provide a consolidated list of resources, and my own experiential writing advice in the hopes of alleviating some of that broken feeling. I’m trying but it’s hard, because I’m just starting out myself. It’s the person-with-a-flickering-flashlight leading the mostly-unable-to-see around in a dark tunnel over here.

The amount of information out there on writing and publishing is overwhelming. I have a degree in creative writing and I still feel like I know absolutely nothing. My professors were encouraging, sure, and I had the benefit of an independent study class, but there was no real mentoring. There were hundreds of students in each field of study—it was nearly impossible to form that kind of relationship with the teachers.

For one semester, I mentored 17 freshmen in English and Biology. I was able to get a solid rapport going with three or four, but I had my own schoolwork to do, so I’m not sure how effective I was. And they had all their other schoolwork and parties and hey, that person is hot, etc., so even if I was an effective mentor, they may not have benefitted from it because, you know, ooh shiny.

Mentoring appears to have gone the way of the dodo because “ain’t nobody got time for that.”

I don’t know, maybe I just overlooked all the mentee opportunities that drifted in my direction. Maybe I am just woefully uninformed. The timing wasn’t right. Who knows?

Here is my proposal: If you are an expert in your field, make the time to mentor someone. Help cultivate skills and careers. Introduce new ideas. Encourage exploration. Assist in networking. Teach your little bird everything you know, and then point them in the direction of more knowledge before throwing them out of the nest.

Do this not because you are getting paid to do it (because, really, you shouldn’t be), not because you want to feel generous and loved (though, that may be a bonus), but because the arts deserve just as careful a cultivation process as the sciences.

If you, the expert, sees someone flailing around, don’t laugh or deride them. Throw them a freakin’ rope.

And you, the non-expert—the potential mentee—until you find an in real life mentor focus your energies on someone in your field that you admire, whose sensibilities jive with your own. Follow that person on Twitter. Read his blog. Stalk her on Facebook. Perform some distant Vulcan mind-meld and absorb all his thoughts like a desperate sponge.

It helps, when swimming through that muddle of information, to have a buoy to guide you. Your unknowing Internet mentor may not know ALL the ways of your art, but perhaps, that guidance will help whip your thoughts into an orderly line.

Meanwhile, is there anyone looking for an older-model mentee? Because, uh, I know a girl.

*

Here are some handy links on writing mentors I found:

What is a writing mentor?

How to find a mentor.

For you script writing television types, CBS has a writing mentors program you can apply for–but you have to live in Los Angeles.

Poke around on Google, and you will find other mentoring programs that are hyper-local for which you can apply. I like the idea of a more organic, one-on-one relationship, but you find what works best for you.

Good luck, my doves.

New Release: Venus Rising is Out Now!

I am excited! The sequel to Dan Harris’ ASCENSION POINT just came out. If you all haven’t read it, you totally should. And then you should immediately purchase VENUS RISING. Because it’s the right thing to do.

dan-harris.net

It’s been edited, re-edited, and polished until shiny, and now VenusRising–the second book in The Unity Sequence, and the follow up to the occasionally critically acclaimedAscension Point–is available from all good online bookstores. Here’s the blurb:

_________________

A year has passed since the events of ASCENSION POINT, and the galaxy shifts uncomfortably as the opposing forces of progress and tradition threaten the new and fragile peace. Titan society teeters on the brink of civil war, the Commonwealth bristles with hostility towards the returning Seryn, while the Collective remains silent in the spaces between the stars, watching. And waiting.

VR-smallAgainst this backdrop of turmoil and unrest, the Peacetrooper brother of Commonwealth Senator Neela Kane has gone missing. Intelligence places him on Karak, an Independent desert world, and Operative Dante Zo is dispatched to bring him home—or confirm his demise. Quinn, employee of the shadowy Seryn…

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Lie to Me

I was looking around the NBC News site the other day when I came across a slide show of pictures from space for 2013. I, being the science nerd that I am, clicked through the slide show. There were a variety of pictures in it, including shots of earth from space (city light patterns, patchwork of fields), shots of space from space (supernova, Venus seen through Saturn’s rings), and shots of space from earth (the Northern Lights).

It dawned on me when I reached the picture of the supernova that though I was fascinated, and had I been more awake, probably awed, I never once thought to myself “this is impossible,” or “this has to be fake,” or even “how scary.”

I’ve said before that I don’t feel small looking into space, even though it is a giant swath of sparkly, dangerous unknown. No air, no sound. Just big balls of heat floating in an endless void, occasionally circled with smaller, round objects that are unlikely to support life.

It dawned on me, when I saw that picture of a supernova, that I was different.

This supernova, discovered in 1604 by Johannes Kepler, belongs to an important class of objects that are used to measure the rate of expansion of the universe, known as Type 1a supernovae. The view you see here, released March 18, was produced using data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory as well as infrared and optical imagery. The Chandra X-ray observations led astronomers to conclude that the supernova was triggered by interaction between a white dwarf and a red giant star.Via Month in Space: March 2013 Slideshow http://www.nbcnews.com/id/6955261/ns/technology_and_science-space_slideshows/

Credit: CXC/NASA/JPL-Caltech

This supernova, discovered in 1604 by Johannes Kepler, belongs to an important class of objects that are used to measure the rate of expansion of the universe, known as Type 1a supernovae. The view you see here, released March 18, was produced using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory as well as infrared and optical imagery. The Chandra X-ray observations led astronomers to conclude that the supernova was triggered by interaction between a white dwarf and a red giant star.
Via Month in Space: March 2013 Slideshow http://www.nbcnews.com/id/6955261/ns/technology_and_science-space_slideshows/
Credit: CXC/NASA/JPL-Caltech

I wasn’t like the scientists, who would see such an image and think of all the technical possibilities and implications. I wasn’t like some of the public that would see such an image and wonder at the technology used to get it. I wasn’t like other parts of the public that may fear such an image for reasons I can’t begin to comprehend.

Nope. I had the unique perspective of an avid reader of science fiction. The technology used to get that image, in my mind, is a foregone conclusion. It’s a miracle of science, but it is also just an exploratory tool. I couldn’t ever hope to understand how they made it, but I know that they did, and that it works, and that it sends back images of a larger truth.

That little robot they sent to Mars? The Curiosity Rover? Also a miracle of science. But when I heard about it, one of my thoughts was “Damn, it’s about time. Don’t they have jetpacks now? Where are those?”

People, scientists and everyone else, are stunned when they find evidence of life on other planets. Such discoveries are groundbreaking, and exhilarating, and at the same time I think “Well, of course. We can’t be the only ones.”

Even such things as solar or wind power, that can be so revolutionary, are mundane to a certain section of my brain because I have seen civilization master them.

I have been to different solar systems. I have found sentient life on hundreds of different planets. I have been part of (at least) two empires that spanned galaxies.

I have seen things the majority of the population has yet to dream about, all thanks to the power of the written word.

I started reading science fiction shortly after I was introduced to the Star Wars movies in late elementary school. I started reading the expanded universe books, and then I moved on to more true science fiction and read Dune.

Frank Herbert, I think, was probably the most influential in developing my perception of space and technology, and the implications that galactic rule might bring.  Reading those kinds of books really warped my concept of reality, in a good way. That which most people find impossible I may only find improbable.

That supernova picture, which is essentially a snapshot of the distant past because we’re seeing light that has taken countless years to get to us, is neither impossible nor improbable.  It’s simply truth. Beautiful, sparkly, dangerous truth.

It’s funny how reading a bunch of lies based on theoretical concepts gave me a more open mind.

Lie to me, science fiction. I promise I’ll believe.