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An Old god . . .

My son, Sean, recently shared with me some thoughts on content and media in the wake of the introduction of a new game console. His insight into story and creating content are very interesting from the point of view of the twenty something generation. Here it is:

 “every great thing that ever was, was small on the day before it became great” Michael Hyatt

The biggest problem we’re facing in the modern world is not hunger or disease, government overreach or corporate ownership, shifting global industries or climate change (though believe me, all those issues are important and vital to address in one way or another.) No, the biggest problem facing our generation is this: what do we do with the time we’re given?

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We live in an unprecedented season of human history where technology, social development and worldwide prosperity gives an increasingly large portion of the world more free time than they know what to do with. Access to tools for information technologies and public information create a world where secrets can’t hide, and if they can, they can’t hide for long. Information access is the great socially destabilizing force of our time. When combined with the reshaping of world socio-economic systems, a larger population of the world’s population has access to a larger pool of comfortable free time than at any other point in human history.

 

Like Clay Shirkey points out in Cognitive Surplus, we’ve spent the last 50 years trying to reckon with this enormous shift in social and cultural life around the globe. Shirkey asserts that like the gin craze of industrialized London, society has coped with our influx of free time by investing in something easy and palatable (though by no means healthy): the television. We befriend characters (fictional and “real”) and we live vicariously through them, letting producers and writers take our nigh-genetically-encoded hunger for story and shared experience and transform it into a multimedia, multi-national conglomerate entertainment complex. For many years, television viewership was like a national religion – the shared set of stories and cultural understandings that grounded us in modern life.

 

But (and this is a really, truly crucial but): the world is changed. Ironically, the information access that created this coping mechanism’s key systems is also slowly dismantling it. With the advent of personal computing, interactive entertainment and affordable mobile electronic devices, people have more opportunity than ever to actively participate in and sometimes even co-create the media they consume. Smartphones enable users to photograph or record any event they choose; games like Minecraft and even Mass Effect allow users the opportunity to custom-tailor their story experience and tell stories of their own; and digital hosting like Youtube or Instagram allow for easy and free distribution of created material. We have participated in stories because we must be involved in shaping our understanding of our world; we have consumed them passively through commercial media production because previously we have had no choice.

 We have participated in stories because we must be involved in shaping our understanding of our world

That has changed. Reality has shifted, and media creation (and participatory media consumption) is now within reach of (if not already a reality for) a vast majority of people in the developed  world (and a good portion of the developing world too.) Humans have always had a nigh-infinite capacity for creation and self-realization; technology now allows our created works to finally catch up with our imaginations.

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Most people realize that this change has come about on an instinctive level. They share photos and videos of their lives on Facebook; they post pictures to Instagram and keep up with far-flung acquaintances through digital audio and text. The capacity for deliberation and deep, honest engagement with people of like mind has never been greater. Therefore, for most people the television has become the new household god, a marker of cultural identity maybe, and a presence to which people feel great affection or deference, but not the overwhelming, monolithic driver of human existence and identity that it once was.

It’s an old god in a new world, having the appearance of power but slowly losing any of that power’s realities, not by outright defeat, but by a slow fade into irrelevance.

 

There’s a secret to that god, one that its fondest worshippers diligently spend millions of dollars a day to obfuscate and disguise. The secret is this: the god was never real, and was of our own making from the beginning. Before television, before commercial radio, we created: we told stories, we laughed at bars, we wrote songs on our porches. Sure, there were always consumptive media (and interactive experiences like games, incidentally), but we have always actively engaged them: we have gone to the theater, we have cheered at games, we have sung together in church. One of our human prerogatives is to create, and no amount of media consumption has ever fully suppressed that compulsion. We’ve consumed because we’ve been trained to; we create because we have no other choice.

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So that’s my invitation to you: create. Make something. Do something; do anything. There is no amount of cultural gatekeeping that can keep you from creating. The tools are there; the desire is there. You need only to act. Michael Hyatt says every great thing that ever was, was small on the day before it became great. You have no idea how important your stories are: to you, to your loved ones, to me, to the world. You just have to tell them. If you do, if we create and share, then the world will never look the same again.

Summer is coming and you an find supernatural thrillers to read at the beach. Check out The Chronicles of Jonathan Steel and my newest book, “The 11th Demon: The Ark of Chaos” at the ORDER tab on this website.

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No Supernatural Elements, Thank You!

That seems to be the sentiment from traditional publishers. We welcome thrillers. But, NO supernatural elements.

I want to thank Mike Dellosso for a kind email response to my last post. He has an awesome new book out. You should definitely buy it. Right now! Don’t wait!fearlesscover

Mike was asking about Christian speculative fiction and its future. I mentioned that I had attended the first Platform Conference in February, 2013 and mentioned some comments from Michael Hyatt.

I revisited my notes from that conference and I wanted to expand on some of Michael’s ideas. These ideas, of course, are part of Platform University (I strongly recommend joining if you have any kind of blog or website) and his own personal site which features one of the best blogs for authors out there and one of the best podcasts for authors of any kind.

At the Platform conference, there was a great deal of discussion of “tribes”. In his book, Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, Michael Hyatt discusses how as authors, we garner the interest of readers who are attracted to our genre. We may start out with a few readers who like our work. They begin to follow our website, twitter feed, Facebook page, or blog. This is what Michael calls our “home base”.

Once these followers begin to come back to our social media on a regular basis, they become a tribe. And, our goal is to keep our tribe interested, happy, and to give them more to consume. As we move away from our “home base” through interaction with other sites, commenting, reposting, etc. our tribe begins to grow and enlarge.

The tribe of Christian speculative fiction is growing. And, it is growing quickly. But, that interest and growth doesn’t necessarily translate into book sales. It reveals a growing interest in the supernatural that is reflected in the current glut of zombie, vampire, and werewolf television shows and movies. It reflects a growing fascination with the fantasy we see in such shows as Game of Thrones. If reflects a growing obsession with science fiction as seen in the huge number of science fiction movies just this summer and the success of super hero movies (and in the case of Arrow, television shows).

Interest in speculative fiction is huge right now. Michael has commented on this aspect of fiction in the past. But, there is a disconnect from the secular readership embracing spec fic and the success of Christian spec fic. Why? The reasons are paramount and the subject, no doubt, of a future post.

 

Michael shared these encouraging words in the first session of the 2012 American Christian Fiction Writers conference on  why ‘today is the best time to be a writer.’

 

1 — It is easier than ever to do the writing. The tools have never been easier to access, from conferences and books about writing to specific software for writers and other technology.

 

2– It is easier than ever to do market research. Google made it possible. Facebook and twitter have made it personal. Authors can research their characters and scenes with a few key strokes. Understanding the target audience for a book has never been easier with tools on the internet. ‘Group-think’ is facilitated by creative groups engaging each other through social media and writing circles. Authors can engage readers directly like never before. Authors have the tools to figure out what their platform is, and to build a tribe around it.

 

3 — It is easier than ever to get into print. Traditional publishing is no longer the only option. Self publishing is viable. It is not necessarily the best option for everyone, but it can be a great option for some. Traditional publishing is far from dead, and if traditional publishers learn to ‘lean into the changes’ being brought by the self publishing phenomenon, it can be an exciting place to be. Traditional publishers need to ask: What do these tools and this model make possible? What are the new opportunities? How can I find new readers in more places?

 

4 — It is easier than ever to build a tribe. Authors can engage their fans directly. There are new tools like the recently launched bookshout.com site, where authors can interact real-time with readers inside of their own book. Another new site called bookjolt.com, allows readers to read whole books for free online, and interact with authors. These are part of a new concept called social reading, and literally, an author’s book becomes a platform.

 

5 —  It is easier than ever to build a business around your content. After all, it is great to write for writing sake, but most authors would like to earn some income from their writing too. Websites and blogs help you build your platform, engage readers, offer free content, and sell books. A small book business can be a sustainable business.

 

(Thanks to http://blog.outlawsalesgroup.com/tag/mike-hyatt/ for the above summary! Check out the site for more info on Michael’s comments.)

 

So, the question for those of us who love speculative fiction is: How do we turn our sub-genre into a successful genre? How do we overcome the obstacles out there that stand between the desire of our culture to consume spec fic and the awareness that these good stories are already there just waiting for them to pick up the book?

 

What do you think?

 

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