Carv's Thinky Blog I'm an author with a focus on satirical sci-fi and agnostic commentary.

18May/171

On Success

After a long conversation with my mom the other day, I've been thinking a lot about the nature of success. Sometimes it's happening to us and we don't even notice it.

Forty years ago, a silly space opera hit theaters. Little did I know it'd be one of the pivotal events of my childhood. On the heels of Ray Bradbury's S Is for Space, it set me on the path toward being a professional storyteller. And I am. I tell real stories; I tell stories I made up. Every April I get to tell the IRS I write for a living...and I'll pay them when I can. It's not the best-paying job in the world, at least for folks who aren't Ray Bradbury or George Lucas, and that makes it harder for me to see when I'm succeeding day to day.

Thirty years ago, I was utterly lost. Two years out of high school, I was still paying heed to a religious sect that forbade me from going to the college I so desperately needed. Instead, I knocked on doors as a full-time evangelist. Yes, me. I honestly can't tell you how many Watchtowers I distributed, but I can tell you for sure it was more than the number of OLY ARTS I've distributed. My mom's patience was running out, though, and it wouldn't be long before she paid a visit to East Central University to enroll me behind my back. I gave her hell for doing that...but I was only playing the role expected of me by our moral "superiors." I knew she was right and all my other authority figures were wrong. You can feel that sometimes.

ANY success I've had in my adult life was the direct result of her act of rebellious frustration. Rebels are important; they certainly have been to me.

Twenty years ago, I was graduating from SIU-C after three of the most difficult years of my life, less than two months before I filed for divorce. Graduation is a success no matter how you slice it, especially for an ex-Witness trailer trashbag from Crowder, Oklahoma, but all I could feel was relief. I escaped. I escaped Illinois with my MFA, I escaped Crowder, I escaped a foolhardy marriage, I made it all the way back to L.A. and earned work in the entertainment industry. Simply braving the freeway was one of the greatest achievements of my life. I had a serious driving phobia back in those days, and merging onto the 110 felt like diving into a tank full of sharks. I arrived everywhere dripping with flop sweat. It was like that EVERY DAY. People tell me I was brave for trying to "make it in the big leagues." I wasn't. That was something I just had to do. The brave thing I did was arriving where it might happen.

Did I succeed in Los Angeles? To this day I don't know. I worked for Warner Bros. I passed that shield every day on my way into the office. Can you say something similar? I was on network TV dozens of times and appeared on screen in big-budget features. For a week, so I'm told, I was the writer of Terminator 3. I attended movie premieres and hobnobbed with the stars. But I was only a credited performer in two indie projects, neither of which I'd ever show you on a dare. My video-directing project collapsed into ignominy when my editor couldn't put her bong down for half an hour straight. But I did have my writing produced and performed on Sunset Boulevard. I had lightning shoot out of my eyes on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And when I left Hollywood for good in 2004, I knew I could hold my head high after all those slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. I could do that because, while I never really "made it," I also never lost my integrity or ability to tell a story in a meaningful, from-the-heart way. I never once created product; I told stories. And oh, my friends, the Hollywood stories my Hollywood accomplices and I could tell you.

Ten years ago I arrived in Washington state and auditioned for my first play here, TAO's Taming of the Shrew at the Minnaert Center black box. I made my first Pacific-Northwestern friends and earned a job teaching remedial algebra at Olympic College in Shelton. I started work on Salvation, the novel renamed Lightfall for publication in 2010. Sounds pretty good, right? But I was a lonely guy earning minimum wage, living with his mom at age 39, with no romantic prospects in sight, angry and so, so depressed from what felt like a life going nowhere. I told someone at a PARTY for God's sake that I'd been a disappointment to everyone who ever cared about me. What I didn't know was my life was about to take off like an Independence Day rocket. The seeds had already been sown. I was months away from my first date with Amanda (also my first date in Washington). And though Lightfall would come to feel like a nine-hours' wonder, breaking my authorial spirit for years, it would actually lead to writing jobs at the Weekly Volcano and Cengage Learning. Those would in turn prepare me for Chegg, then OLY ARTS.

I don't know if I'm a success. I look at my sister and brother-in-law's restaurant or my brother's inauguration at Valdosta State University and I'm not always thrilled by the comparison. But I have two novels and at least a dozen short-story publication credits to my name, I've written for a national magazine, I have loyal readers and a thriving marriage. I get to travel and see parts of the world no reasonable person would've predicted for my life thirty, perhaps even twenty years ago. I read the other day success can be defined as stumbling from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm. If that's true, then yes, I suppose I really am a success. For no matter how bad things may seem sometimes, I can still feel the fire inside me burning. I have stories yet to tell and opportunities to tell them. And my goal for the next year or so is to keep telling your stories with you. Success, it seems to me, is never really a solo enterprise. You and I, we're in this together.

Let's be successes. Let's never, ever, never, NEVER give up.

"Let me tell you something you already know," a fighter once explained. "The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place; and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you permanently there if you let it. You, me or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done. Now if you know what you are worth, go out and get what you are worth; but you gotta be willing to take the hits and not pointing fingers, saying you ain’t where you want to be because of him or her or anybody. Cowards do that..."

And that ain't us. I know it ain't you...and I know it ain't me. Not for long. Not now, not ever.

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13May/170

3 Impossible Questions

Given that it's mentioned in the Fishnapped! program, I believe I can safely announce this now: A play I'm in the latter stages of writing, called 3 Impossible Questions, will be the fourth play in Olympia Family Theater's next mainstage season. It adapts fables from all over the Islamic world and introduces Western audiences to a beloved figure in many of those countries: Mullah Nasreddin. Nasreddin is a sort of wiseacre imam who teaches via riddles and paradox. I compare him to Bugs Bunny in American popular entertainment. For folks who think of Muslims as humorless, especially with respect to questioning Islamic beliefs and traditions, his popularity will come as a shock; but he appears in comic books, TV cartoon shows and bedtime stories all over the world.

I've had a wonderful time getting to know Mullah Nasreddin (as I also spend time with the congregants at the Islamic Center of Olympia), and I look forward to helping introduce him to you. This show will be directed by Ted Ryle, and it's my debut as a full-length, professional playwright. (I've had short plays produced in four states.) Look for exact dates and audition notices as we get closer to Questions' early-2018 run, insha'Allah.

Incidentally, my Muslim friends know I'm agnostic and are absolutely fine with it. One of them, in fact, likes to introduce me to other congregants at the mosque as "Christian...who isn't one."

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1May/170

OLY ARTS, Spring 2017

Often when I'm directing a play, there's a moment early on when I take stock of everything that has to happen and think, "Hm. There's a good chance this may not come together. It's too much." But then opening night, as the cast and crew accept their justly earned praise, there's me in the back of the house smiling quietly to myself because I see now the enormity of what we've accomplished. We built and decorated a room including furniture, we built or found costumes and props, we generated print and video content, we learned 80 pages of material so well we have actual emotions about it...It's easy to lose sight of that gestalt "when your head's down over your pieces, brother."

So it is with OLY ARTS. When Ned Hayes recruited me to be the editor of that publication, we had less than two months to hire a staff while creating a brand, a media kit, an entire website including a functional calendar, a social media presence, a weekly newsletter and not one but two print publications. (The first was a 12-page demo edition seen only by advertisers.) It seemed impossible--but then we got to work and forgot how impossible it was. Then, seeming days later, it was finished and holy...We actually managed to pull this off! Look at everything we got done! When our first official issue of OLY ARTS rolled off the printers in the nick of time for Lakefair 2016, we were so proud and excited we couldn't contain ourselves. Look at it: 16 whole pages! With advertisements, some of which we hadn't given away free in order to build business relationships!

If you have one of those copies, keep it; it's a collector's item. We "sold out" the entire run of that issue, but it wasn't easy. No one knew what we were trying to hand them. Several venues didn't want to let us in. I encountered residual bitterness from years as a theater critic. Here we were, though, hawking a magazine that looked like a real, honest-to-Dionysus arts magazine. Now the question that loomed, it seemed, was this: Could we possibly maintain that level of quality issue after issue?

Flash-forward ten months. Now when the spring 2017 issue arrived, I was so busy stuffing it into our new downtown office that I barely snapped a look at the cover. ("Yes," I thought, "it's bright green. That should move.") Then came Arts Walk. Our distribution team handed out many thousands of copies, a much easier job this time because people came asking for them. Olympia knows us and likes us now. I was told people read the issues cover to cover. We're entirely advertiser-supported, including the five podcast episodes we produce every week (84 to date). Our advertising and business managers, new acquisitions since the summer edition, are both aces. Not only is our spring issue over twice as long as the Lakefair 2016 issue, I'd say it's at least twice as good--but we produced it in less time.

As crowds gathered for Procession of the Species, I saw hundreds of people reading their copies and showing each other photos and articles. Ned drove past Starbucks and saw a line of people absorbed in OLY ARTS as they finished their lattes and Unicorn Frappuccinos. One woman told me she noticed my writing and would look for my books. That's good for us, it's good for local business, and it signifies an important fact about our publication: It gets read. I walked around downtown Olympia after the Procession and, of the thousands of copies we gave away in two short days, I found exactly two lying in the street. Instead what I saw was copies rolled up and tucked into back pockets. People kept OLY ARTS as an ongoing entertainment reference. When I offered a copy to one guy, he said, grinning, "I already have one sitting on my coffee table at home."

So this is me expressing gratitude to everyone who contributes to OLY ARTS, from our writers and photographers to Tabitha the ad champ to our outstanding distribution team to, of course, publisher Ned Hayes. I can look around and see what we've accomplished now. I see the house we built rather than the rough spots I need to find time to sand down. Our writers already have their assignments for the summer issue, our sixth print edition, coming just in time for Lakefair 2017.

If you'll excuse me, I need to get to work. I have four new articles stacked in my inbox, and those need to be edited and posted this week. Tomorrow's StoryOly podcast episode is edited and ready to take live, but I've barely started Thursday's installment of Sound Stages. With a well-deserved mini-vacation coming next week, I need to make two of everything by Sunday, not to mention ensuring our employees get paid. Duty calls...but oh, what a thing we've all managed to build here, and what a community we've built it to serve.

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7Mar/170

Why It Happens

This morning my wife told me a story about a woman who discovered the profile of a guy she was flirting with on an online dating site was a sham, designed for the goal of exploiting women like her. Basically, the guy pretended he was someone else in the hope of soliciting nude pics and/or sexual hookups. My wife asked me why guys do that. It's a tough question to answer. See, I abhor guys who do that. And if I'm able to explain it, doesn't that mean I sympathize with guys like him, people who are basically sexual con artists?

Well...I think I do know where some of this comes from. But please, please understand and believe me when I say I'm in no way endorsing this behavior. If you're a guy who sends unsolicited crotch pics to women, you're on your own, dude. Not only do I find such behavior boorish, I'd be shocked if it even achieves senders' goals. I can't imagine a blushing bride recalling, "I was sitting at home minding my own business, when Joey here sent me a photo of his penis. I mean, I barely knew him! He was just some guy who worked on the other side of my office! But the moment I saw that photo, I called my mom and said, 'Well, Mom, start planing a wedding, 'cause this is the one.'" More to the point, can the reciprocation rate possibly be worth the risk and trouble? This is the kind of thing that should get more guys fired.

What I do know is this. Growing up, I somehow absorbed the notion that a man's true value was measured largely by his ability to get laid. I didn't act on that, mind you; I was still one of Jehovah's Witnesses back then, and I took their anti-premarital-sex policy seriously. But I did assume all my high-school friends were shagging each other all the time when I wasn't around, and I understood all too well it made them cooler than me.

In college, I was no longer a Witness. Instead, I was a serial monogamist. When I made a relationship agreement, I stuck to it. But as my "number" increased, however slowly that happened, I felt better about myself. I was never the handsomest guy on the block, or even in my own house, though, so I had to learn "game" to land those first and second dates. I developed a comedian's patter and a knack for the unexpected but memorable romantic gesture. Yeah, I did okay on that front. I'm not bragging. I'm sure most of the other guys in my circle posted higher numbers. I'm just saying I did well enough I could feel relatively okay about myself.

Now. Let's go darker. Imagine there's a guy with my looks, or lack thereof, and no game. Imagine a guy who possesses no special wit, no creativity, no career to keep his wallet full of spending cash. Imagine that guy's social life. Imagine a guy--I don't know, maybe this is tough for some people to envision. Imagine a guy who has very little prospect of having sex with another person in any given week. Or month. Maybe even the next year. Understand that this guy's sense of self-worth, his own self-perceived value as a human being, comes largely from his ability--or lack thereof--to have sex with another person. I'm not saying he should use that metric to judge himself. I'm saying he does, because his culture's spent decades making sure he felt that way. If you were that guy, how would you feel? I'm not trying to get anyone to empathize with a sexual predator. I'm just saying I believe I might understand. I don't approve. I don't condone. I have no interest in further normalizing any of this. I'm just saying I think it's what's at the root.

See, a lack of self-worth is an intolerable situation. It can't be borne. We'll go to vast lengths to make that go away. We'll do stupid things, crazy things, to feel any kind of better about ourselves. If you don't think that's true, consider all the crazy things we do to lose weight...gain hair...lose hair...lift our breasts...hasten our erections...minimize wrinkles...maximize dental whiteness. We spend significant fractions of our few days on earth making ourselves look better. And we can say, "I'm not doing it for you, I'm doing it for me"--which is true. Sure. It is. But when I do it, I'm doing it at least partly so you'll help me feel better about me, by complimenting me, looking at me favorably, perhaps even sleeping with me. If it weren't for you, I wouldn't care how much hair I've lost. I'd lose only enough weight to keep myself out of immediate heart-attack danger, and that'd be fine with me.

The problem, I think, is how we treat sex in western culture. By creating and insisting on a complex code of rules and taboos and thou-musts and shalt-nots about it, we all but ensure it'll be central to our feelings of value. I can understand that set of rules in a world where sex runs a high probability of inciting pregnancy. In that world, yes, one needs a system of cultural rules to ensure guys stick around and help care for little humans. But in a world with effective, affordable contraception and meaningful sex education and yes, safe first-trimester abortion as a kind of last resort, that approach makes less sense. In that world, sex doesn't have to be as dangerous as it is in our world. It also doesn't have to be as venerated.

I know this sounds crazy, but maybe what we need is a world that doesn't find sex all that special. We need a world where women feel valued for their brains, absolutely, but we also need a world where the amount of sex a guy is able to have or the number of sexual partners he acquires (whether through seduction or something uglier) has no bearing on how we feel about him, nor on how he feels about himself. Gandhi wasn't amazing because he was a stud muffin. Hedy Lamarr's sexual attractiveness wasn't the most interesting thing about her. We don't need to live like this. We just do.

I hope I've made it clear I'm sex-positive. I think sex is natural and fun and good exercise and often hilarious, even for two people who may not be each other's true loves for life. I'm in favor of people dressing or undressing however much they want, whenever they want, and I don't consider exposed skin a sexual invitation. I don't think a culture of puritanical clothing ends sexual desire. I'm not even convinced it's any safer for women. The problem isn't how we enforce rules against sex. It's not that we don't have enough sexuality in our culture. The problem is we act like it's the brass ring of male existence, so of course our male culture demands women present themselves as sexually attractive--and available, for me but not for him (because even if you sleep with both of us, that wouldn't raise my value relative to his). It's appalling. It creates so much risk and mistrust and ugliness. But I have to let you know, this doesn't happen because men are generally happy or fond of themselves. In fact, I think the opposite must very often be true. And while that isn't as sad as rape or sexual harassment--not by a long shot, of course--it's still no sunny afternoon at the beach.

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16Dec/160

A Slightly Longer Time Ago…

"A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..." says the familiar graphic, and then we're back in the Star Wars galaxy. Everything feels a bit different, except nothing has changed.

I have no interest in spoiling Rogue One for you--that's the full on-screen title--because its pleasures deserve to be discovered in situ. What I will say is we know the plot already, for the most part, assuming we've seen a heist film like Ocean's Eleven or a Mission Impossible before. That's not where the special treats lie. Rather, this is a basket of Easter eggs for fans both casual and obsessive. We're talking deep, old-school geekery here.

The movie has two flaws, both of which are significant but neither of which are utterly damning. One is the repeated use, dare I say overuse, of cameos from the Holy Trilogy of 1977-1983. ILM deploys cutting-edge effects wizardry to make this happen, and it works more often than not. Still, I bet there will be at least one occasion, perhaps in Jedha City, when you find yourself wondering, "Was that callback really necessary?" The other flaw, at least as many viewers will perceive it, is the pacing of the first hour. I should point out the original Star Wars is paced rather slowly in its own first hour, more like a Western than an action movie, but The Empire Strikes Back accelerated the pace to a clip seen as impatient by critics of its day but expected by popcorn blockbuster audiences now. Let's be gracious and call the pace of Rogue One's first two acts "leisurely."

I don't want to mince words here: The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite movie of all time. I couldn't tell you how many times I've watched it, but I can promise you that number will go up. Empire expanded on its fairy-tale predecessor by enriching the dialogue, finessing the cinematography, and upping the stakes for its characters. At the age of 12, I perceived the movie as more "grown-up" than "A New Hope." And when Return of the Jedi was released three years later, I loved it, of course, but recognized it as a retreat to Toys 'R' Us immaturity. In The Force Awakens, cowriter-director J. J. Abrams nailed Star Wars' wide-eyed innocence. Rogue One steps deep into Empire's moral complexity and more stylized cinematography. You might expect, then, that I enjoyed Rogue One even more than the giddy degree to which I loved The Force Awakens, but that wasn't the case. Both films are deeply entertaining, but I suspect I'll rewatch The Force Awakens more often. You may disagree, but I found Rogue One rewarding, exciting and tense without always being...well...fun.

It's a war movie. People get killed. Actually, a lot of people (including nonhuman people) get killed, though I don't recall a single drop of blood. The good guys don't always hold the moral high ground. The baddies are at times sympathetic. I admire that. Is that Star Wars? Is it a family film? I don't know. I suspect we'll be debating that for years.

Because the rest of Rogue One is so Star Wars! If you love this stuff at all, the last half hour will make you wriggle in your seat. I heard grown men gasp and commend the action on the screen. (True confession: I was one of them.) The last word of dialogue and crash to end credits earned a round of enthusiastic applause. Online chatter from critics and fans alike would have us believe Rogue One is the best Star Wars movie since 1980; I'm afraid I can't go that far, but it is very, very good, in exactly the Empire vein adult fans have been craving. I don't think there's any denying this is a better film all over than Return of the Jedi. Without all the clumsy fumbling of Episode III's final minutes, Rogue One transitions perfectly into Episode IV--so neatly, in fact, that the Holy Trilogy can now be said to comprise four films.

There are three characters at least that you'll fall in love with, including protagonist Jyn Erso (played impeccably by Felicity Jones). Rogue One's scale and spectacle are jaw-dropping, its action scenes tense and geographically clear. I'll happily buy it on video and pore through every arcane bonus feature. It seems clearer than ever that Star Wars is in good hands at Disney's Lucasfilm, respectful of fans but eager to please the movie masses. Grade: A-.

Now bring on Episode VIII !

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8Dec/160

Sore

sore loser: a person who becomes very upset or angry when he or she loses a game, contest, etc.--Merriam-Webster

I've been accused of this a lot lately, so I looked it up to make sure I knew what it meant. When I first read the definition above, I thought, yep, that's me, all right. Because I am mad as hell. I really am. I haven't gotten over it one tiny bit. I'm amazed that almost a quarter of all Americans would be so selfish, short-sighted and logic-proof as to elect a guy who stands squarely against decent treatment of women, Mexican-Americans, Muslim-Americans and anyone who doesn't think Trump is God's gift to the stars and stripes. I'm angry that even as I keep getting told to get over it, give him a chance and quit playing the victim card, he keeps appointing staff and cabinet members who represent the absolute worst of us. I mean, actual neo-nazis--Didn't we agree decades ago that those were despicable people? I'm angry at the news for false equivalence and normalization of fascism and nazism, I'm angry at Facebookers for embracing memes and propaganda, and I'm angry at people I'm trying to love despite their hurtful vote against fairness for my loved ones.

Except here's the thing. I guess in some sense an election is a contest, but it isn't a game. Elections have consequences. Elections tell the world how we want to look and act. Presidential elections decide who we want representing us and our ideals to other countries. Elections embolden outsiders--good sometimes, not so great now. Yet we treat our presidential election like we're voting for American Idol. We're drawn to the most entertaining candidate, even if that entertainer plays to our basest characteristics. We devolve into a binary, us-versus-them mentality that leaves no room for compromise or conflicting information. Then, once the election mercifully arrives at a decision, the "victors" act like hey, we won, the game is over, why are you still crying? The rest of us moved on to the next thing. Why can't you?

I'll tell you why. Because every time a candidate for leader of any other country in the world ran the kind of campaign this guy did, it led to fascism. Fascists don't choose the best candidates for staff positions, they choose the most loyal. They choose rubber stamps.

Okay, let's say Trump turns out to be an absolutely godawful president who somehow avoids impeachment. The other thing about fascists is they don't give up power easily. They don't submit to fair elections. Hell, they don't even like reviews of the election they supposedly won.

Meanwhile, as of this morning, Hillary Clinton leads the popular vote by 2.6 million and growing. I know that's not how the "game" is played, that in fact it's only the electors who count. I get that. But let's not pretend we should all submit to a decisive victory, because that's not what happened.

So no, this election outcome isn't a game to me, and it shouldn't be to you. If you think Donald Trump is a relatable comedian who's about to boost employment for high-school-diploma folks, lessen the influence of lobbyists in D.C., improve health care for poor and working-class people and revitalize inner cities, I sincerely hope you're right. Honestly, nothing would make me happier. I would love that. I would love to be wrong, because I can be a pessimist--but when I am, I almost always turn out to be right. But if I'm wrong, fantastic, and please check to make sure I admit that down the road. It's only fair, right?

But I do want you to do one thing for me. Just one, okay? Tonight, when no one but you and your conscience are looking, I want you to look in your bathroom mirror and ask yourself one honest question: What if all your friends who are scared to death of a President Trump turn out to be right? What if attacks against women and minorities continue to increase? What if, as I contend, Donald Trump is a b.s. artist who has no idea how the American economy and healthcare work or how to improve either? What if yelling memes eclipses reasoned debate based on facts in the national dialogue? What if your wife, mother, sisters and daughters aren't as safe as they were a few months ago? What if non-Christians like me get marginalized, harassed or attacked? What if my Mexican-American family members, all of whom were born here, get treated like second-class citizens and told to "go back where they came from?" What if we turn the clock back on civil rights, social security and just basic community-level kindness? How would you feel about your vote then? Would it still be a game to you? Would you still wave your as-long-as-I-get-mine pennant? Would you ever in a million years admit you were wrong?

Because if you are wrong--IF, I say IF, so many of your intelligent, well-informed, essentially decent friends are right about this man and his crusade to reshape America to his own, greedy liking--then we'll need you to fight with us. We'll need you to fight FOR us. I worry you won't be able to admit your mistake and commit to real change. But I will do my best to get along with you now, because if things go the way I increasingly dread, our neighbors and loved ones are gonna need all the friends they can get.

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23Nov/160

Here’s Why It Hurts

I address this to those in my circle of friends and family who voted for Donald Trump. If you haven't already unfollowed or unfriended me on social media, then at least I must be trying your patience. For Pete's sake, the election was two weeks ago! It's just politics! Get over it, am I right? Well, unfortunately, no. It isn't that simple this time. If your vote for Mitt Romney resulted in a win, I doubt you and I would have nearly as many issues. If your vote for John McCain yielded a McCain-Palin administration, I'd have done everything in my power to keep John McCain alive and well, but my Facebook photo would not be a rebellion symbol with a safety pin through it. I'd let it go—for the most part. I would.

But it's important to me that you understand this is absolutely, categorically different. What happened here is much worse, and you were one of many who helped light the match. Look, I'm not asking you to read this just so you'll feel guilty. You should, I think, but that's neither here nor there because it isn't my job to fine-tune your conscience. I'm asking you, for just a few minutes, to put yourself in my shoes. Forget my liberal friends. Buncha kombucha-sucking, tree-tonguing, Trader Joe's shoppers, am I right? Spoiler alert: I am right. But they're also Americans like you, folks struggling to raise their kids and pay their bills and get some enjoyment out of life, the best they know how. They fill jobs you don't want, like processing L&I claims so injured workers get checks in a timely fashion. They wear jeans, at least on laundry day, and ask their kids not to go postal when your kids call them horrible names. ("Libtard?" Really? Is that a word you feel good about?)

But seriously, forget liberal activists. They're not your people; they're mine. But so are you, so let's just talk about me and my wife and family instead.

I'm Mexican-American on my dad's side, which means I have Mexican-American family members. I've been told I don't fit your stereotype of Mexicans, so you may think I don't count as a Mexican-American. But trust me, if you met some of my cousins and aunts, you'd agree they qualify. Their ancestors were legal immigrants from Mexico. When Donald Trump literally began his campaign by saying most Mexican immigrants were rapists, that amused you and horrified me. When Trump said the federal judge overseeing his fraud case couldn't be trusted, solely because he was Mexican-American, I was already finished with "giving Trump a chance." I knew immediately that when he said he wanted to make America great, at least part of what he meant was minimizing my family's place and success in this country. He meant we didn't belong, that this country would be better if we'd just go away.

You may not hate Mexicans. You may think that means you're not racist against Mexicans. But you seem to agree we can't be trusted, and guess what? That does make you racist. I know you don't like reading that, because you know racists are bad people and you're not a bad person so how could you be racist? Well, it's the same way I can be a good person and still be a grouchy snob sometimes. It's simple human imperfection. We aren't living "Good/Evil" switches stuck in just one position. We have ranges of ethics, you and I. That's why it's so important that we look at ourselves honestly. I need to acknowledge my reflexive distrust of people with southern accents, and you need to acknowledge you weren't crazy about the notion of a mixed-race president. Because that's racist. You can justify it by saying you also distrusted this or that policy decision or statement, but let's be honest: it was mostly the fact that he was browner than you feel comfortable around. He didn't look like your mental picture of a president. And that is racist, racist, racist, and you need to deal with that. I can't make you deal with it. You need to process that for yourself.

My Mexican-American ancestors passed through Mexico on their way from northern Spain. They were Sephardim, which means they were Jews on the run. I'm ethnically Jewish on my father's side. Donald Trump has openly courted the white nationalist movement, which believes Jews aren't fully human. Trump's chief strategist and senior advisor, Steve Bannon, was the executive chair of Breitbart News. That's important because this summer, Bannon himself called Breitbart "the platform for the alt-right," a softer name for the white nationalist movement. That movement, by the way, includes neo-Nazis. Yes, actual neo-Nazis—or, as some dub them, "skinheads in suits." They insult the press in German and give heil-Hitler salutes. I'm not kidding. You probably haven't seen this, because your social media feeds are more conservative than mine, but you should pay attention to actual video of that happening in a government office. It's a red flag to end all red flags, because it's a red flag with a swastika on it. Yes, this really is happening, here in America, NOW. The time to prevent it has already passed. This is already a national emergency.

Incidentally, I myself am in the press. I'm the managing editor of a multiplatform arts publication. So when Trump pulls news reporters into a room, off the record, as he did two nights ago, and berates them at length for telling the truth, I need you to understand this is unprecedented in modern American history. The president-elect doesn't get to scream at and threaten the media. The news media exist, in part, to make presidents nervous, not to flatter them like toadying flunkies.

My wife Amanda is my best friend. I'm a mama's boy and a proud feminist. So when Donald Trump says horrible things about women and how they look, it disgusts me. Fine, you're no fan of Rosie O'Donnell. I get it. But what do you think he'd say about you, if you're a woman, or the women you love? Trump said plainly that he enjoys walking up to women he barely knows, even married women, and kissing them and grabbing them in ways they didn't ask to receive. Then he walked over to a married woman he barely knows, only months after his own marriage to Melania, and did exactly that. It wasn't just talk; he came right out and did it. That was sexual molestation, and we have very good reason to believe he does it all the time. Now you've rewarded him for that. You've said it's okay for our president-elect to harass women, and frankly, that makes me violently angry...yes, at him, but sometimes at you, too. It's not okay. You can't say to me or even yourself that he really didn't do that, because he did it on camera. It's not your job (nor mine) to decide reality. Reality happens, and then we must deal with it. The way you dealt with this reality is to spit in the face of women you care about, and I'm not okay with that.

You'll notice I haven't said anything about Trump's qualifications to be president. He has none. Being rich is not a qualifying credential, though it is the fastest way to buy ads and gain media attention to get there. Mr. Trump is a flat-out con artist. In fact, now that he's settled out of court for $25 million in the Trump University case, I can accurately call him a fraud. He conned you. He defrauded you. He has no idea how to fix your problems. In fact, not to put too fine a point on it, Donald Trump does not give two shits about you. He told a restaurant full of rich Manhattanites at the 21 Club their taxes would go down, but experts agree yours will not. He has no idea how to bring jobs back to the Rust Belt. His stated plans are all "trust me, believe me"—all sizzle, no steak. He told you he'd lock Hillary up for, you know, something, but now he says he won't. He told you he'd dismantle the ACA, now he says there's no guarantee and by the way, it won't happen overnight. Overturn Roe v. Wade? Enh, we'll see. He's a bullshit artist. Longtime readers of my blog know I don't often swear here, but I can't think of any clearer way of saying it: Donald Trump is completely, 100% full of shit. And you bought it. Doesn't that make you embarrassed? It should. But that's okay, because embarrassment can turn into righteous indignation and we need you to feel that right now.

I haven't mentioned the distinct possibility that Russian hackers altered voting in Trump's favor in three swing states, thereby tipping the electoral college. I haven't mentioned Hillary won the popular vote by (as of this morning) two million votes, earning more votes than any presidential candidate in history other than Obama in 2008. I haven't mentioned the pernicious campaign of lies and character assassination that made even liberals reluctant to vote for Trump's opponent. I haven't mentioned the CIA carefully timing false announcements about Hillary's email. I certainly can't prove Trump raped a 13-year-old girl, but I can tell you he's friends with a guy who was found guilty of running a child-sex-slavery ring for rich, Manhattanite friends. If Donald Trump is a Christian, then I'm a Rebel X-wing pilot. If he's a humanitarian, I'm Grace Jones.

I feel grief about this, and I'm hardly alone. My doctor tells me much of Olympia is on antidepressants right now. This isn't just depression, a condition I'm used to, it's a sadness that won't go away. I find it difficult to think about anything but the election and the very real possibility you voted for an aspiring fuehrer. It's affecting my work, my sleep, my health, and yes, my feelings about you. And even as I think about that in the self-judgmental, cynical light of day, it makes perfect sense that I would feel that way. You voted for the antithesis of every one of my values. You voted for a guy whose vice-president abhors my gay friends. You voted for a guy who won't accept the idea that presidents should avoid conflicts of interest. You voted for a guy who's been following the Hitler playbook, emboldening American terrorists and meeting every definition of a fascist. Should I really overlook that? Should I really shrug off what you've expressed with that vote about my family, friends and beloved wife, let alone what you've expressed about me? Am I really supposed to think our friendship should be bigger than that, when you've effectively told me you don't consider me a friend?

To be honest, I've given up hope I can reason with you. I can't persuade you by thinking, so instead I must talk about how we feel. You obviously feel I can't be trusted. You feel my wife is fair game for a sexual predator. You feel LGBTQ people should be ostracized. You feel people of color aren't as deserving as white people. Last week I visited a mosque, and when I looked into the eyes of the men, women and children who worship your shared God there, I saw real terror. You helped cause that. And I do want to meet you in the middle and talk about how we might continue Obama's crusade for jobs (you're probably unaware of this, but unemployment is actually quite low right now), but I can't do that until you admit there's a problem that needs fixing. And in order to do that, I need to make you see how you contributed to that problem. You were scared, you were played by a guy I've come to realize is a media genius, and it made you gullible. You have to join the fight on our side now. You have to push back against white nationalism and "post-facts" propaganda and mistreatment of women and minority groups. You have to cite legitimate sources when you post things on the Internet. You have to get smarter about how to recognize illegitimate sources. You need to put what's right and kind ahead of party loyalty or your identity politics. Be a grown-up, okay? Be a good person. Put your arm around the shoulder of someone who's scared and upset and ask how you can help. Understand we're not just whiny sore losers. We've been hurt to our very guts by the feelings you've expressed about us, and we can't somehow make you not have done that. All we can ask now is that you roll up your sleeves and help us limit the damage you helped cause.

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9Sep/160

Two Quick Links

Words, Words, Words: Science Fiction

Before I write anything else, I want to thank everyone who came out to hear me read from Mr. Klein's Wild Ride this week in Lacey, Olympia and Tacoma. If you bought a book, double thanks. Let me know what you think of it. In fact, please let everyone know, especially if you enjoyed it. Go to my Amazon page via the links in the post below and leave a critique. Authors say this all the time, but we say it because it's true: reviews from readers like you matter. If someone looks for my book and finds few or zero reader responses, it de-legitimizes both me and the book. So even if you don't like it--and I'm pretty sure you will--post a review. It shows the book is getting some action. And it may just talk someone else into buying it!

Now, then. In addition to writing novels and being the managing editor of Oly Arts, I also still write for the Weekly Volcano. This week's cover article is a preview of 10 shows planned for this theatre season that I think you're most likely to enjoy:

"Top 10 Shows Not to Miss"

And here's an essay about why you should attend a show I curated, called Words, Words, Words: Science Fiction. It's a benefit for Theater Artists Olympia that collects beloved tales of the fantastic from 1897 to the present. I chose half; our stellar cast chose the rest. You're gonna love it. And if you buy one of my books while you're there, I'll donate two bucks to the Midnight Sun Performance Space. Everybody wins!

"Futures Past and Present"

I hope to see you out there in the stars!

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6Sep/160

Mr. Klein’s Wild Ride Hits Shelves TODAY!

Woohoo! At long last, you can hold a copy of Mr. Klein's Wild Ride in your hot hands TODAY! If you live outside the South Sound, it's available on Amazon in print here and electronically for Kindle here. Either way, it's a mere $12, a hell of a lot cheaper than tickets to a high-end theme park like, say, Bliss Panerotic.

If you do live near me, you can come see me in person tonight at 7 at Olympia's Browsers Bookshop, 107 Capitol Way N, where I'll read an abridged version of Chapter 1 followed by a related short story, "Retreat." I'll read the same pieces Thursday at 7 in Tacoma, thanks to King's Books at 218 St. Helens Ave. I'll sign books and answer questions from listeners at both events.

I sold a handful of advance copies last night at Creative Colloquy Olympia, and I've already started doing interviews about the book, so I have some idea what I'll be asked this week. Here's a mini-FAQ to get the conversation rolling:

Q: Why did you use a pen name for this book?

A: Books with sex in them sell better when they're written by women. That's the most relevant answer. But I also wanted to shield my wife, my family and myself from folks who would judge the book's subject matter harshly. It didn't seem fair to my in-laws, for example, to drag them into the conversation. So last summer when the first e-book edition was released, I did my best to con people into thinking Lynn Savage was a real person and I was just her sometime writing partner. But of course Lynn is me, and my in-laws have gotten so used to my nonsense by now that I don't think this will rattle them much.

Q: Will your family read the book?

For the most part, no, and I suspect we're all happier that way.

Q: Can you give me any sex tips?

I can, but mostly they center around communication and body comfort.

Q: Admit it, you're a swinger, right?

I'll tell you I'm open-minded, but otherwise my marital secrets are staying that way. It's only fair to my wife.

Q: Yeah, but really, though, you two are freaks, I bet.

It's interesting to me that when I wrote about Oklahoma religion in Lightfall, no one assumed I was a Freewill Baptist. If I wrote a spy thriller, no one would think I walk around with a garrote in my pocket. But when I wrote about sex, everyone assumed it was an autobiography. The sex had by Gary and Summer Klein in this book is about fictional characters, not me. This isn't the Penthouse letters column.

Q: Why isn't there a real theme park for swingers?

Because swingers tend not to have billions of dollars.

Q: If I tell you I'm a swinger, is that gonna get weird?

No. When I told people I was writing a book about an adult theme park, folks in "the lifestyle" came out to me by the dozens. That is not an exaggeration. I found myself with a mountain of anecdotal research material, most of it fascinating.

Q: Do you really believe people will have sex with robots someday?

You and I probably won't, but yes, I think that will happen. It kind of does now. In fact I believe the day will come in my lifetime when a person seeks to marry an artificial intelligence, ambulatory or otherwise.

Q: Will you sign my book?

If I see you in person, absolutely. The nature of the book might even make that inscription rather special. But if you live anywhere away from western Washington, I'm afraid I probably won't. It costs more for me to ship you a book than I can profit by selling it. These things add up. Also, my publisher can't spring for an out-of-state book tour, so my friends around the country are out of luck. I would, however, happily accept gifts of plane tickets and couch stays if you're really that excited about it.

Q: Is this book erotica?

That's a subjective question, but my gut response is no. I have no intention of being coy. My feeling is if you plan to write about sex, your book had better be sexy. So yes, when it came to the sex scenes--of which there are several--I was trying to turn readers on. (I'm told by male and female readers I succeeded.) I don't fade to black at the moment of truth, nor do I suddenly get all dainty about my language. But the overall intent of the book is not to titillate. It's to incite conversations about sex, a taboo topic in most cultures including ours, and to ask whether monogamy deserves to be the prevailing marital arrangement in the 21st century. Also, I try pretty hard to make readers laugh.

Q: Shame on you for even talking about this.

No. Flatly, no. I feel no shame whatsoever. I expected to, kind of, but I don't. Sex is great. Most of us enjoy it very much. It's terrific to share your body and time and care and joy and passion with someone whose company you enjoy. Rape is awful; pornography is a mixed bag of awful and helpful. Erotica is often badly written but usually harmless, if not helpful. Sex itself is phenomenal. Even the Bible thinks so, at least from the Song of Solomon's perspective. If your religious culture and/or upbringing have made you ashamed of your body and sexual appetite, I can sympathize, but otherwise that isn't my concern. I don't have to be party to other people's hang-ups. I can share my voice--and, behind the scenes, the voices of people I've loved for years--to share the message that sexuality is a core element of what it means to be, and love being, a grown-up human person. Your body, male, female or indeterminate, is your personal property to use, display and share as you see fit. Your childhood pastor does not get a say in that. I get no say in that. If you want to stay celibate and live in a burlap sack, have a blast. I do not. Neither of us is inherently wrong. I do not believe sex, married or otherwise, is a sin. I don't believe sin is even a thing. I believe unkindness is a thing, as are dishonesty, betrayal, cruelty, and a lot of other traits and behaviors that exist within sexuality. But do you honestly believe God gives a care what consenting adults do with their crinkly bits? If He did, then why make them so much fun? Now that human beings have invented contraception and STI preventatives, I believe the real sexual fun park exists all around us.

And this, my friends, is just one tiny phrase in the grand tale of why Carv will never, ever run for public office.

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31Aug/160

We Ride! (UPDATED 8/31)

Mr. Klein's Wild Ride

--UPDATED WITH NEW APPEARANCES!--

Friends, I've been telling you I have big news, and I have big news. The good people at Mud Flat Press are publishing a brand-new print edition of Lynn Savage's sexy 2015 novel Mr. Klein's Wild Ride. The official publication date is Tuesday, Sept. 6! At 7 that night, I'll appear at Browsers Bookshop in a downtown Olympia debut event called "A Wild Ride With Christian Carvajal." Hey, some titles just write themselves.

If you aren't an acquaintance or family member who'd be embarrassed by unrepentant sex talk, I sure hope to see you there! The event itself is free. The novel is a trade paperback, so we're able to keep its cost at a low, LOW $12. I'd love to sign a copy for you! And while you're there, pick up a tall stack of reading at the amazingly refurbished Browsers Bookshop.

If you can't be there, perhaps you can make it to King's Books in Tacoma two nights later! That event also starts at 7, and of course I'll be reading and signing there as well.

If you simply can't wait that long, you can catch a shorter reading at Creative Colloquy Olympia on Monday, Sept. 5, at 6:30 p.m. in Lacey. "CC Oly" is a terrific monthly event no matter who's reading, one it's been my pleasure to host in months past.

You can also just order the book directly from Amazon, and it'll be in your sweaty palms a few short days later. Because it's already for sale there! Same goes for the Kindle edition!

I mean, come on. How exciting is this?

We'll really be kicking out the jams at the "Creative Colloquy After Dark" segment of Creative Colloquy Crawl on Oct. 5, and I bet I have more to say about that down the road.

Here's the official book description from Mud Flat Press:

Mr. Klein’s Wild Ride is the tale of Gary Klein, a marketing guru who accepts the job of brand manager for a sexy new theme park...at which point his life and his marriage spin into chaos. His tragicomic downfall culminates at Bliss Panerotic, a paradise for lovers and a feast for the senses. It's an island playground for couples whose lust for adventure knows no bounds. Mr. Klein's Wild Ride is a satire that calls to mind Jurassic Park and Exit to Eden, yet merges its own cutting-edge technology with polyamorous sexuality.

Are you ready to walk on the wild side?

Preview Mr. Klein's Wild Ride by clicking HERE!

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