Category Archives: The Writing Life

Being a Creative Writer: Under Oppression

In 2017 America, we have access to countless narratives of people existing and surviving under oppressive conditions, be they social, psychological, or political. In my own life, I’ve read Soviet writers who worked in the USSR as well as Western writers who visited the USSR and wrote about their experiences and observations afterward. I was reminded of this today when I saw in The New York Times an article by Margaret Atwood entitled “Margaret Atwood on What The Handmaid’s Tale Means in the Age of Trump.” In this article, Atwood talks about her novel and its setting: an America which has gone through a coup that establishes a strict patriarchal rule based in 17th century Puritanism. Under this oppression, human rights, especially women’s rights, are minimal if they exist at all. Only “the elite,” i.e. those in power, have human rights and freedoms. They dominate and control everyone and everything else. Atwood wrote this story in 1984, during the Reagan era in America. It was in 1984 that I first met Evan Quinn, the protagonist of my Perceval series, and began to explore who he was and what his story was.

Since the November 2016 election, I’ve been thinking about the role of the writer in a society that is hostile toward the arts, especially literature, and is obsessed with money. Commerce rules in America, and there’s nothing sweeter than gigantic profits. The sign of success? Your income level, earned, or especially, unearned, as in investments. If you are a member of the Working Poor, you are not a success according to American society. The number of writers in the top 1% income group are few. Most writers fall somewhere between the Working Poor and the middle Middle Class. And no, I don’t have specific statistics on that, just what I’ve observed in Minnesota which is an active literary area in the country. For the last 2 months, we’ve seen a new president and government that wants to keep writers either subservient to them or silent. They’ve acted to destroy the press, calling various media news outlets “the enemy of the people.” They’ve acted to cut federal government support of the arts by defunding and abolishing the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. This government doesn’t like writers.  Why?

Moscow. First secretary of the Union of Soviet writers Konstantin Fedin (tribune) makes a speech at the fourth Congress of Soviet writers. Photo TASS / Yevgeny Kassin; Vladimir Savostyanov

For the same reason the USSR’s government didn’t like them. And I know that I may be making a controversial comparison here, but please bear with me (I’m not making the Nazi comparison because it’s redundant). The Soviet government established rules and bureaucratic procedures by which every citizen had to abide, except for the ruling elite who enjoyed all the power and perks. Writers observed life in the Soviet Union and how this system affected that life and they wrote about it. And many were “disappeared” because of it. The government tried to corral writers into a governmental structure called the Union of Soviet Writers which was created in 1932 by the Central Committee of the Communist Party. If a writer gained membership in the Union (and the Communist Party), he enjoyed financial support and publication. If a writer was not a member, he enjoyed poverty and being banned from publication. Members of the Union had to adhere to the Party’s Socialist Realism in all their creative expression. In this way, the government controlled what the writers wrote.

Example of Socialist Realism in architecture: All-Russia Exhibition Centre in Moscow (from Wikipedia)

I’m a bit surprised that the Bannon-Trump government hasn’t thought about merging the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities into one artist union with departments for literature, painting, music, dance, etc.  (In the Perceval novels, it’s called the Arts Council.) Perhaps they haven’t yet thought of it, or maybe they have and have concluded that it would be a waste of money since they believe the arts are not very profitable but dangerous to them.

What should American writers do right now and going forward? As always, write the truth as you experience it. Whether in nonfiction or fiction, writers need to continue doing what they do best: observe, witness, reveal, and be clear and true in all of their words. In the April 2017 The Writer, Gail Radley (“Through the Looking Glass”) writes about what facts are and how to find the truth. She’s comprehensive in talking about the internet, trusted sources, and how to tell when a website is not to be trusted no matter what it looks like. Her tips could also apply to government websites masquerading as private websites.

Write to resist. Write to witness. Write to record for posterity, whether in a fictional format or nonfiction. If you have activism running through your blood, protest and demonstrate non-violently, peacefully, and meaningfully. Keep it simple. Writers know how to reveal character through dialogue, right? Use that skill to actively communicate to your elected representatives or when you are protesting in a group.

I know, I know. All this sounds rather paranoid. Perhaps it is. But I do think that those in power right now are truly serious about what they want to accomplish. Those who disagree with them, anyone who wants to insure the arts will be available to anyone and everyone forever, all need to be just as serious and determined in what they want to accomplish.

Update: Taking Perceval to the Next Level

After 27 days, my Taking Perceval to the Next Level fundraising campaign at GoFundMe has raised $530. I need another $8370 to meet my goal.

My deadline for paying off the debt is May 30. The $0 interest promotion ends shortly thereafter and I’ll be back to paying off interest as well as the principal.

I’d love nothing better than to put this baby to bed sooner rather than later. Not long after I launched this campaign, I received an e-mail that still haunts me, calling this campaign “online begging.” Perhaps it is. Or perhaps it’s an opportunity to be generous, to do something nice for someone who is in need, or to invest in a writer who’d really like to get Perceval’s Secret published as a paperback.  That won’t happen until I’ve paid off my debt.

Taking Perceval to the Next Step GoFundMe Page

Click HERE to donate!

At this blog, I have an Appreciation page where I’ll list everyone who has helped with donations. I’ve run a promotion with giveaways at Facebook, and I plan to run another one soon. I’ll let you know when the next Facebook promotion goes live.

In the meantime, please consider a small donation to this campaign. Every little bit helps!

Thank you!

C. C. Yager

Taking Perceval to the Next Level

230px-gofundme_logo_april_2012This past Monday, I launched a crowdsource funding campaign at GoFundMe to raise the money to finally, FINALLY, pay off the debt I’ve accumulated from the publication of Perceval’s Secret as an e-book. As part of this campaign, I’m also raising money to publish Perceval’s Secret as a paperback, and to pay the fee for a review for it by Kirkus Reviews.

Taking Perceval to the Next Step GoFundMe Page

Taking Perceval to the Next Level GoFundMe Page

My regular readers may remember that in the fall of 2013 I launched a crowdsource funding campaign at Kickstarter where their policy is not to pay out any of the funds raised unless you make your goal.  I raised over $3000 but did not make my goal and therefore did not receive any of the money I’d raised.  I published Perceval’s Secret in March 2014 and have received wonderful reviews at Amazon since. Sales have not been so wonderful.

But the debt never just went away, of course. I’ve been paying it off, a little every month, and as a result have depleted my bank account. I should have launched this campaign a long time ago, but it’s painful and embarrassing to ask for financial help.

I’ll promote this fundraising project for as long as it takes to raise at least what I need to pay off the debt. Please help me by promoting it to your friends and family as well.  There’s also other ideas to help, if you don’t want to donate money, at the project page.

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I’ll also be setting up a promotion on Facebook for this fundraising effort. Go to The Perceval Novels public page for the announcement!

And what will I be doing while this fundraising project is running?  I have a couple urgent writing projects, nonfiction, that I’ll be completing as I continue to work at my part-time job and search for a fulltime job. Fiction writing has landed on the back burner for the moment since dealing with paying for basic living expenses has taken priority.

Life has once again intervened to force me to set aside my fiction for a while. If, after perusing the GoFundMe project page for Taking Perceval to the Next Level you find it in your heart to help out with a donation, every little bit will help!

Thank you!

C. C. Yager

 

Food for Thought Going Forward

Music Score by the blue deviant fox

Music Score by the blue deviant fox

My blogger friend, Damyanti Biswas, lives in Singapore and regularly travels around the world. She’s posted a thoughtful reflection on using social media in a time of upheaval and intense disagreements. I think it’s worth our time to read her words and think about them, think about our own behavior on social media and how we might help others to understand us and how to understand others.

Thanks for reading.

Damyanti’s post: How do you disagree on #Social Media?

Music often brings people together in ways that words cannot. Right now in the USA, the political scene swirls with rumors as well as Trump’s pronouncements. It’s difficult to know what’s real and what’s not. One of those “rumors” is that Trump wants to pull funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as any other kind of government financial support for the arts. This includes writing in all forms. Let’s be vigilant and stay informed about what is really going on, what Congress really intends to do. I encourage anyone who wants to do so to contact their federal representatives and share your thoughts and support for the arts calmly and respectfully.

Creating Character: Flaws

Creating flawed characters in ink

Creating flawed characters in ink

For the last several months, I’ve been fascinated by Donald Trump. Not because I agree with him and I voted for him.  No. He’s a perfect example of a character with hubris. What is hubris? Pride and arrogance, full on demonstrated by narcissists who possess absolutely zero internal power, i.e. a healthy self esteem. They make fabulous characters in fiction, especially for tragedies. Why is hubris considered a character flaw? Well, the excessive pride and arrogance tend to fuel fantasy thinking rather than reality thinking. Watching someone with hubris is like watching an out-of-control train heading for a massive wreck.

Characters with flaws are far more interesting than perfect characters. Human beings are imperfect creatures, so to have a perfect character is to strain credulity. The challenge for writers is how to create imperfect characters without going to the extreme. Donald Trump is an extreme character. I suppose his wife sees other aspects of his personality as well as those he displays in public, but his choices still point to an extreme character. For example, he chooses to respond to something inconsequential but that he perceives questions something about him whether it’s intelligence, ability, or his “alternate facts,” as KellyAnne Conway so hilariously put it regarding Sean Spicer’s comments in his first meeting with the press as Trump’s press secretary. You can be certain that Spicer, as well as Conway, was saying what Trump wanted them to say. So, I’d say that Trump would be a warning against creating an extreme character, unless of course, the writer wanted to make the point that extreme personalities tend to lead to or cause tragedies.

Writers must notice human behavior, write notes about it, study it, explore it, all in the service of creating plausible human characters. People-watching, then, is part of a writer’s work whether that be politicians or people in an airport, restaurant, walking down the street. And what of human flaws?

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Start with “the seven deadly sins,” for example: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. Greed is a wonderful flaw (Trump has this one too, in my opinion) and lust doesn’t need to refer to sex, but also could be a lust for power and/or control. It’s a good place to start. Nowadays, there are all sorts of psychological flaws that humans can have — narcissism, PTSD, mental illness whether mild or extreme. And there are physical flaws, also, of such variety and degree, and how that affects a character’s personality and/or psyche. Sometimes flaws become obstacles that need to be overcome. Sometimes they end up being what has strengthened the character to overcome the obstacles in his way. For a character to NOT have any flaws at all would nowadays be greeted with a certain amount of disdain for not being plausible.

When I was learning about the characters in Perceval’s Secret (or rather, they were teaching me about themselves), I would make lists for each character — one for strengths, one for weaknesses or flaws. Sometimes each played roles in the stories, sometimes not.  For Evan Quinn, his flaws are obstacles that he must overcome.  He is stronger than he realizes, as is true for most people. But he also possesses a flaw that is an effect from another flaw, i.e. the way he perceives the world and other people, as well as himself and what he wants. Because of this flaw in thinking, he makes choices in the moment that are motivated by the deeper flaw. So you see, writers can layer flaws, have one feed into another, and do the same thing with strengths. That will give depth and richness to the character.

Although I’m not at all happy about Donald Trump now being President, it will be interesting to see how he lives out his story as the deeply flawed main character.