Have you heard the legends of the “Cursed Forest of Massachusetts?” Shortly after the birth of America, the small, secluded community of Andonville, Massachusetts, rested on the border of a forest steeped in legend and rumors. People start disappearing, and Abigail loses everything. She wants nothing more than to abandon Andonville and the terrible forest, putting the past and the problems of the city behind her. Fate has other plans, however, and she gets sucked into the mysteries around her.
You can read this short story here.
I wrote a blog before about how characters are expected to change and grow. That is a fair expectation, if all characters were static they wouldn’t be interesting. Everyone changes to some degree, but how many people change significantly enough where they would be considered a “dynamic” character in a book? Honestly, I do not know the answer. Maybe it’s everyone, maybe the number is a small minority.
From my limited perspective, the anecdotal evidence in life seems to indicate that people both change and stay the same simultaneously. How is that possible? As people grow older their behaviors change, become more refined, their habits that are good and bad become deeper entrenched. It is common from what I’ve seen for people to become set in their ways and when they encounter challenges to their lifestyle they become defensive. However, they become set in their ways after adapting to the environment form their childhood and early adulthood.
True change is hard. I think we all can say we do things that we wish we would change, but despite hating certain behaviors or habits, sometimes they still rear their ugly head. From my limited point-of-view it appears that people eventually accept these habits as a part of who they are. As I said, change is hard. It takes active participation every day, and frankly not everyone has the will to follow through. There are things I am challenged with daily too. There are things that I do sometimes that I know are wrong yet do them anyway because they have become ingrained in me. This is a struggle that we all deal with, but I want to actively try to change them. Sometimes it is discouraging because it never feels like there is going to be a light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes “discouragement” is too weak of a word, “depression” and “hopelessness” are more fitting. We feel like we can’t be better, we are a slave to our whims, passions, and habits. However, we can change. Every one of us, no matter what the issue may be. Let us all actively work hard to be better men and women everyday while accepting perfection isn’t going to be possible. We don’t have to be slaves to our habits and become set in our ways.
As an author I feel it is my job to pay attention to cultural leanings and norms. I’ve written before about the politically charged climate we live in. People have adapted an “us verses them” mentality not just with politics but faith, lack of faith, and even mundane things like movies. Yes, movies, I’ve seen some impassioned arguments about them on the internet. With these discussions one primary accusation comes up; the other person or side is a hypocrite.
The truth is, no one likes a hypocrite and we can smell hypocrisy a million miles away in another person or group but struggle to see it in ourselves. It’s undoubtful that everyone has been a hypocrite before. I certainly have, everyone I know has been. That is an inevitable part of being human. There is a problem when hypocrisy is a pattern or even a lifestyle.
Hypocrisy can evolve to a point where a person is utterly lacking self-awareness. The problem compounds when such lack of self-awareness spreads throughout a culture like a cancer. Perhaps I’m cynical but from my perspective this seems to be where we are at in western society. We see this especially in politics. If someone from our “team” is guilty of something we look the other way and justify their actions. However, if the “other side” does the same thing we lose our minds and catastrophize the situation. The same thing is with religious verses irreligious folks. The common attitude is that people can have their faith and believe what they will, but they must keep it to themselves. However, irreligious folks, sometimes flood the internet with comments about how people who believe differently than them are delusional idiots.
There is a surface celebration of diversity in our culture, but rarely are diverse ideas met with approval. It is the norm to shout down, belittle, and attack those who think differently. Maybe we should try to understand why someone believes differently instead? That is much harder. It also goes against human nature. It requires an immense amount of empathy, but it is not impossible. I’m directing these comments as much to myself as anyone reading this. This is how we become self-aware and do not become what we hate in others.
We all undoubtedly have memories of doing something stupid and our parents saying something like “if all your friends jumped off a bridge would you do that too?” The point, just because other people are doing something doesn’t mean we should do it too. This is one of the major themes in my latest short story.
Most of us know intellectually that following the crowd and believing what others believe just because it’s popular is not healthy. However, most people are still guilty of this. I know I have been. It is hard being the odd person out. Humans desire to have belonging among other people because we are social creatures so it becomes easier than we like to compromise our beliefs, or at best downplay them. How many kids swear they will never smoke, but do that exact same thing when they are a little older because their friends are doing it?
It is easy to spew platitudes about thinking for ourselves and doing our own thing, but in practice it is far more difficult. This is the inspiration for my latest book The Cursed Forest. There are many odd beliefs circulating lately that I would wager most people who adhere to them don’t really know why they believe it. Look no further than our current political climate. How many people vote simply because there is a “D” or an “R” after a candidate’s name? His desire to fit in, I believe, is the driving factor behind the tribalism in our culture.
How many dangerous ideas spread quickly due to fear of what others might think? Children’s television shows constantly teach “being your own person “but some adults don’t adhere to this logic though. Take a look no further than the atrocities of the 20th century. Sadly, history is replete with examples of group think and allowing or attributing to terrible things. The best way to curb this is to know why we believe what we believe and to resist compromising our believers because an ideology is popular.
As far as personal tastes go, I understand that everyone is different. Most people are into sports and that is something I couldn’t care less about. There are people who feel the same way about my books and the fantasy genre as a whole. I respect there are different hobbies and different points of view. That is what makes us human. However, there is one thing in the literary world that particularly bothers me, the attempt to claim that erotica is not pornography.
The last sentence of the previous paragraph undoubtedly raised the ire of a few. Questions such as “how can you claim to be respectful of other people’s interests and make that claim?” For me it’s simple. I am a logical person. As the old saying goes if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. On twitter especially I have seen erotica authors (which seem to be a dime a dozen on there) make various impassioned arguments that erotica isn’t porn at all.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines porn as “the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement.” That sounds a lot like erotica. After all, what is the point of a story that primarily centers around sex if not for the soul purpose of arousal? Sex by itself is not a plot, other plot elements may be intertwined with the story, but if that was the focus it would cease to be erotica.
I bring this up because all other genres may not be enjoyed by all people. I don’t particularly fancy romance, but at the end of the day it is still art. That is what sets erotica apart from all other genres. Strictly speaking, erotica isn’t art, it’s porn. A quick search into the definitions of the two clearly makes a distinction. This isn’t about me pushing my morality onto others or to insult those who read erotica, but I want us to drop the pretense that it is some sort of extreme romance and not functionally a literary version of late night Pay-Per-View.
I believe this is an important topic to discuss. Especially considering the popularity of the genre and recent scientific findings of what porn does to the human brain. As always though, anyone reading this is welcome to disagree. I encourage everyone to research it themselves. Especially the effects of porn and the differences between porn and art. From my point of view the evidence is undeniable, but of course there are those who feel passionately that I’m wrong.