A Generation of Pussies


Until recently, I thought a trigger warning was a sticker attached to a new firearm. As it turns out, a trigger warning is something writers and publishers put on their product to advise potential readers of content which may dredge up memories of traumatic events from the reader’s past.

Trigger Warning: This article contains descriptions of trigger warnings that describe bad things that happened to your Aunt’s friend’s deceased therapist’s third-cousin’s mailman. Your will likely need to be cuddled and spoon-fed warm broth for several days.

Think of a trigger warning as when your mother would tell you not to watch Nightmare on Elm Street because it would give you bad dreams. Except for the fact that as a writer, the chances of me having to rock a reader back to sleep are pretty slim.

2TriggerWarningThe origin of trigger warnings, as near as I can tell, was a casting of the net to ensnare as many people as possible into the category of victim. A society of victims and those who rush to kowtow to them are pliable. The media, universities, and public schools have been steadily pushing a culture of victimization for at least twenty years.

I noticed it during the first Iraq war when all the Baby Boomer burn-outs dusted off their old protest signs and re-lettered them with “No blood for oil” slogans. By this time, their bell-bottoms no longer fit, so they had to make a run to Ross for appropriately worn-out jeans with holes in the knees. Besides, the old geezers had already passed on the originals as hand-me-downs to their socially conscious, spoiled brat teenagers to wear.

Profoundly unhappy by the collapse of their communal dreams, but all too happy to have ridden the rising economic tide of the Reagan policies, the old hippies had sought refuge in academia to wage generational insurgency against conservative principles.

These were the same people who, along with their vegetarian children, celebrate Earth Day, Cesar Chavez’s birthday, and NAFTA. They love an underdog to the point of self-loathing. And their ranks have grown through indoctrination.

7Trigger WarningThe first little while after coming back from overseas is an adjustment period. You forget to flush the toilet because you have used port-a-potty for so long. Driving at highway speed scares the crap out of you because for the past six months top speed was forty kilometers per hour (That’s 24 mph for the metrically impaired). There is a moment of panic when you reach for an M-4 that you’re no longer carrying around everywhere and think you lost it. You put on shower shoes for the ten foot walk across the carpeted bedroom to the bathroom. Even for the fobbits, little peculiarities hang on for a while.

Depending on a guy’s job, how much time he has outside the wire, and what all he got up to, it might be a while before he can go to the Fourth of July fireworks show without his butt-hole puckering a little.

I don’t mind cutting those guys, or anyone who has endured authentic trauma that leaves them a little fucked up, some slack, but only after something sets you off. The reason for that is twofold.

4TriggerWarningFirst, if something as mundane as a college lecture or a piece of entertainment has the capacity to flip your switch so profoundly that you can’t function normally, I would suggest you dedicate your free time to fixing what is broken.

Exactly why is it your wife’s fault when you’re the one punching and choking her out in your sleep? It’s the same way with trigger warnings. You know you do it, so why make everyone else walk on eggshells because you’re damaged?

The second reason for my hard-ass position has to do with an accounting principle. If you own stock in a company, and the company decides to raise money by issuing additional stock, the value of all the existing stock is diminished somewhat because there is now more of it available on the market.

Posting a trigger warning in front of a lecture hall or printing a content warning in a book has the effect of diminishing the realness of the problem. In our current victim culture you’re nobody unless you have overcome or are currently suffering from something someone else did to you. After two centuries of being winners, the height of American social status is to be a victim.

I hate to break it to people, but Little Suzy Sorority Sister regretting the drunken Pledge Night anal gang-bang is just a shade different from being the only survivor from your MRAP hitting an IED.

In either instance, it’s nobody else’s responsibility to modify the way they do things to fit you. If you’ve really got something going on in your head, speak up about it. Even a jackass like me will work with you. However, putting up a warning sign is inviting every slacker who readers it to manufacture a reason to get out of pulling his weight for a class.

5TriggerWarningThe entire concept of placing warnings signs on everything that might run afoul of someone’s sensibilities is absurd. Outside of emotive, overly-sensitive, progressive bastions such as universities and social media, exactly where in life will the traumatized be catered to and so thoroughly coddled? The bar is continually lowered.

Colleges in general have become gathering places for the perpetually offended. Now, the nineteen year old who has literally done nothing but go to school and play video games his entire life, is having his extended adolescence reinforced by college leadership who worry entirely too much that their charges might be made to feel uncomfortable or, God forbid, take responsibility for their themselves when faced with an idea that does not line up with their own.

When did American start raising such little bitches?

Offended students can get professors fired. They can influence the administration to un-invite speakers. They can have monuments to Confederate heroes removed from universities those same men founded. Colleges have become such easily offended places that several big name comedians (Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld, to name two), refuse to book shows at colleges because the amount of grief offended and emotionally triggered college audiences give them is not worth the trouble.

8triggerwarningThe Depression Generation, born prior to 1945, was the last American generation to know widespread hardship. They did nothing less than save the world from fascism, whether they carried a rifle or worked in the Arsenal of Democracy. My big complaint about the Greatest Generation stems precisely from the hardships they endured; they spoiled my parents’ generation rotten.

Having had my head filled with propaganda in a government school about the fall from economic grace that was the Great Depression, I once asked my grandmother what it was like to live during that time. Her response could have been the inspiration for a line from “Song of the South” by the Oak Ridge Boys.

“We was always dirt poor. We didn’t notice much difference until the Roosevelt Man told us we were poor.”

Maybe that’s why I escaped so much of the touchy-feeliness. There simply wasn’t time given over to worrying about how something made you feel. Grandpa died in a farm accident shortly after returning from the war, and the other side of the family are those pre-1965 Immigration and Nationality Act immigrants, which were entirely different from the Teddy Kennedy immigrants allowed in for the past fifty years.

Bloodied BoxersThere has been a halving of greatness each generation since 1945. My father was half the man my grandfather was. I’m half the man my father was, and my sons will be lucky to be half the man I am. The same goes for the women, and the generations as a whole. We are all lucky to be half of the generation that preceded us. And it is slowly destroying the nation.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is nothing new. I imagine it has existed since the first cave man was attacked by a Sabretooth Tiger. Noah probably had a rough time surviving the flood. King Saul is described to have had “The spirit of God left him, and an evil spirit sent by the Lord tormented him.” (Samuel 16:14).

22triggerwarningIn World War One, it was called Shell Shock. Then, Battle Fatigue in the Second World War. Before the current generation of pansies who inhabit universities and bookstores, people understood that when something reminded them of “the bad thing,” the onus was not on everyone else to pop out a boob and let you suckle until you felt better.

Just like my grandfathers, when your grandfathers woke up from a nightmare, they didn’t wake up your grandmothers to cuddle and talk about their feelings. Those men went to the kitchen, had a couple shots of whiskey, and went back to bed…like men do.

God help the millennials when they have to fight their war. Between all the women, fairies, and trannys, we will most assuredly lose because the sort of man you want fighting your wars refuses to join such a military.

Honestly, the first time I ever heard about a trigger warning was during a drunken Facebook party, which is basically me all alone on a Saturday going through my social media accounts while doing my best to polish off a bottle of Kentucky’s finest corn squeezings.

01TriggerwarningAt first, I thought the subject was raised by someone trolling to stir up trouble, but the responses flummoxed me. I understand the ratio of responses was in no way representative of anything. The writers who think trigger warnings are demeaning to readers, unnecessary, or simply more politically correct hogwash more than likely refrained from getting mixed up in the silliness.

I lurked because I didn’t want to introduce research bias.

The fear I find laughable is possible civil liability for actions taken by a reader. If you’re writing is sufficiently powerful to push a suicidal person over the edge or cause some mental patient to shoot up a movie theater, quit your day job immediately and start writing full-time because you’re wasting your life doing anything else.

Not a one of us could afford to buy the publicity that would come with a single teenager dangling from a noose in his parent’s garage, much less a rash of them.

A somewhat more reasonable explanation for the desire to strip every semblance of tension and surprise from the plot with a content warning is the heartfelt concern of triggering a reader into a PTSD episode.

If a writer has so little faith in the reading public’s ability to understand their own weaknesses, recognize a possibly hazardous situation as it approaches, and put down the God damn book, why publish such a destructive piece in the first place? A written work powerful enough to shut down a person’ normal daily function should not be available to anyone.

02triggerwarningJohn Hinkley is only the most notorious in the string of people who is associated with Catcher in the Rye as a contributing factor to his evil deeds. Stephen King no longer allows Rage to be published because of his belief it contributed to several school shootings.

We should have a Universal Background Check for all book purchases to make sure they do not wind up in the hands of the wrong people. Perhaps even a full registration scheme where we track ownership and location of each book by its ISBN. It would only be a minimal intrusion on liberty and make our children so much safer.

I’m sure some writers put content warnings on their work with the best of intentions. They want to avoid freaking out readers. Although, I shudder to think what the world would look like had Stephen King slapped a trigger warning on his early work.

03triggerwarningAt this stage of his career, you would be hard pressed to find a reader who does not know what to expect between the covers of a Stephen King book. The man’s name is its own warning label.

I wonder how many readers, both first-time and life-long, Stephen King would have missed out on had his early work carried trigger warnings. Stephen King is a master of the long reveal where the reader’s limits of disbelief are stretched so gradually that conscious suspension is not necessary.

Imagine if Carrie had a content warning that the book contained bullying, child abuse, domestic violence, self-injury, filicide, mental illness, rape, matricide, and a school massacre. The government would confiscate every copy as a hate crime.

Carrie CoverIt would be a draw for weirdos like me, but I’m a strange duck, and hopefully, the world is not overrun with my ilk.

I don’t see anything on the cover of the first edition that promises any of the horrible things listed above. Truth be told, it looks more like a romance novel than a horror novel.

The ultimate effect of plastering over book covers with warning labels will be a net loss to the writer. The minuscule number of those “helped” by avoiding whatever it is that gives them the vapors will not reward you by purchasing another title of yours. On the contrary, those readers will be lost forever because they have pigeonholed you as a writer that is not for them.

Another segment that will vastly outweigh the first group are those who don’t have the confidence to deal head on with your subject matter. These are wishy-washy sorts that occupy the middle of the Bell Curve who would not know to be on the lookout for offense unless they were clued into it by the content warning. I think there is a sizable portion of the population who would gladly feign butt-hurt out of a sense of political correctness.

And then there are the jackasses like me who, rightly or wrongly, equate trigger warnings with poor story telling. A book’s cover and back material make certain promises to the reader of what he will encounter inside. Content warnings take away much of the suspense and pleasure of discovery by telegraphing what are inevitably crucial plot points.

It’s your book. Do what you want with it. However, you won’t ever see a content warning on my material because it benefits me nothing. A trigger warning only serves to handicap me as the writer.

Advertisements

ISIS, Foreign Fighters, and Drunken Spanish Teachers


Ostensibly westernized Muslims pour into Syria and Iraq intent on joining the ranks of ISIS. Each news cycle brings another story of British, Canadian, Australian, or American youths fleeing their nation to fight in support of a cause that is repugnant to their fellow citizens. Young men, and increasingly women, from largely middle-class backgrounds are trading in their Xboxes, lattes, and shopping malls for Kalashnikovs, hand grenades, and suicide vests.

The young part I understand. As a child, who did not daydream of an adventurous, exciting, and danger-filled life? No child dreams of being an accountant when he grows up. Most aspire to careers that involve a degree of danger; soldier, cop, pilot, EMT, fireman, construction worker, college intern for Joe Biden.

3523899All seemingly exciting careers until you are in them and realize that once you do anything for a living it becomes a job, boring as any other.

One of the benefits of youth, besides the welcoming of adventure, is the general sense of invulnerability. Neither the Grim Reaper, his younger brother, Medically Induced Coma, not their second-cousin, Two Years Physical Therapy, will ever pay a visit to a teenager. Combine that perception with a couple decades chaffing under parental control and longing to strike out to make one’s mark on the world, then stealing away from the family farm to participate in a war that isn’t any of the youngster’s concern seems perfectly reasonable.

The summer I graduated high school, I took a trip to Europe; fifteen days divided between Rome, Paris, and London. Of course, counting time spent traveling, it was closer to four days in each country, but who cared? I was finally getting to go someplace “as an adult,” more or less, and I wasn’t quite old enough to vote.

Even though we had chaperones, they were a couple of hippy, dippy women who didn’t believe in keeping kids on a short leash. That was their first mistake.

Peroni
Fine Italian Piss Water

I still smile when I drag up the fragmented memories our last night in Rome. I was straddling the window sill of my third story hotel room, piss drunk on Peroni lager, and giggling like a fool every time an electric streetcar sent a shower of sparks to the ground from the overhead power lines that provided electricity to propel it. I had decided to give up the ghost when I realized I wouldn’t be getting past second base with the chaperone’s daughter, and what better way celebrate than experimental binge drinking.

I’ve always enjoyed a good risk. If there is a way to do something dangerously, I’ll figure it out.

My wife is in possession of the photos of seventeen-year-old Carlos, in varying degrees of consciousness, sprawled out on the bathroom floor of a Roman hotel room. Photos that were courtesy of the effort and forethought of my hotel-mate Mike. Hopefully, my wife will never show those photos to any of my children. I probably should have destroyed them a long time ago, but seeing as Mike was a no-shit professional cameraman working at our local news station at the tender ago of twenty, these are the best photos ever taken of me, and I can’t bring myself to toss them.

BFFs
We are sooooo annoying to the rest of the world.

Mike and I had volunteered to bunk together since the girls we were playing touch-feely with in the back row of the shuttle bus were BFFs (or whatever teenage girls call their obnoxiously close, borderline homoerotic friendships) and we were both quick to pick up on the unfolding situation.

I took some quiet satisfaction the next day when Mike came to the same “no nookie for you” realization on the Rome-to-Paris train. After he and the two girls passed the wee hours taunting and cajoling me like an orangutan in a zoo, I finally struck just the right pose to memorialize my youthful degeneracy. Luckily for Mike, I recalled virtually none of it the next morning. Hell, I don’t recall how we got up the mountain to Tivoli the next morning for a spaghetti breakfast overlooking Rome.

I say “luckily for Mike” because immediately prior to launching my one-man bacchanal, I chanced to make the acquaintance of two flaxen haired, corn-fed Iowa farm girls who divided their extracurricular activities between cheerleading and gymnastics. I can only suppose they had never met a couple of olive-skinned guys who were fluent in Romance Languages.

Good times.

Despite the lack of bodily fluid exchange, they were far more fun than the two that came over on the plane with us. Most likely because their mother wasn’t on the trip with them.

As an aside, I have to talk about my classmate Steve. That son-of-a-bitch I caught having sex in the bushes of Hyde Park with some London woman about the right age to be his mother. Had I known then what I know now about what the English call “Dogging,” I would have discretely made my presence known and waited for her husband to point out the end of the cue.

A part of me still resents how that goofy, gap-toothed, gangly, hook-nosed Portage was able to come in under the radar like that. But really, the joke was on Steve. He spend the next few weeks running back and forth to the doctor absolutely convinced he had a case of herpagonasyphilaids.

Hemingway WWI
Ernest Hemingway (1918)

So having once been young and idealistic (but always reckless and self-destructive), I understand the lure of adventure and possible fame associated with the big war of your generation. Hemingway fled the farm to drive ambulances in Italy during the First World War and returned to Europe two decades later to report on the Spanish Civil War. Those two little adventures produced A Farewell to Arms, The Sun Also Rises, For Whom the Bell Tolls, much of the short story collection Men Without Women, and several others. Despite its destructive nature, the paradox is that war can serve as a wellspring for massive amounts of creativity.

Jack London 2
Jack London (date unknown)

Twenty years before Hemingway, a bored and equally restless Jack London, who always followed the advice of “write what you know,” tired of writing about life in a cannery plant and nights spent pirating oyster beds. London hopped a sailing vessel headed for Alaska where he promptly abandoned ship and worked his way to the Yukon gold fields. Along the way, he collected the backdrop, characters, and scenes for The Sea Wolf, Call of the Wild, White Fang, To Build a Fire, etc., etc., etc.

Winston Churchill reported on the Boer War for The Morning Post before entering politics. George Orwell fought for the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. J.D. Salinger, Norman Mailer, and Kurt Vonnegut saw combat in the Second World War. Richard Hornberger (writing the novel MASH as Richard Hooker) served in the Korean War. And the list goes on up until the present day. At the tender age of “not needing to shave regularly,” many a writer has struck out to put himself in the direct path of danger, and likely scared his mother nearly to death in the process.

In the spirit of the adventurous writers who had gone before us, Steve and I developed a reasonably sophisticated and only mildly harebrained plan to ditch our tour group and make our way to the fighting that had recently broken out in the Balkans. We had grown up in the time of Reagan, Thatcher, and John Paul II pushing back the Soviets and destroying the Evil Empire. That was great for the world, but personally, Steve and I were at a loss.

What dragon would our generation have available to slay? In what crucible would we forge our manhood now that the Berlin Wall had been reduced to public monuments and souvenirs for tourists? Like the rest of the world, Steve and I had no notion of what lay in store a decade into the future.

We put our plan into motion visiting an ATM every day to withdraw as much of our after-school job savings as each of us could. This was before the days of common currency and open borders in Europe, so we planned to trade our Pounds for Francs, our Frances for Liar, and so on down the line. We bought train maps of our intended route and the cities we would likely pass through on our odyssey to literary inspiration. We put together a list of hostels, in the event we had to deviate from Plan A of riding EuroRail all the way and sleeping on the train. Even looking back now, the plan seemed reasonably solid; especially for a couple of dumb kids.

Another part of the plan where we were not complete idiots was understanding that no commander in his right mind would allow a couple of war zone tourists without any combat experience and looking to launch writing careers to join his ranks. We figured to hook up with the Red Cross or some other humanitarian-type group willing to take on people dumb enough to enter an active war zone unarmed. We imagined being ambulance drivers or litter bearers or some such protected non-combatant. This was a time before ISIS was turning non-combatants into human Pez dispensers, so being unarmed didn’t carry as much danger as it does now.

Having the experience of age, I realize the person who really decides whether you’re a non-combatant isn’t in Geneva, part of NATO, or employed by the Red Cross; it’s the guy pointing his gun at you who makes that decision.

The plan was coming together as smoothly as Johnny Cash’s scheme to pilfer his way to a new Cadillac until our penultimate night in London, from where we intended to give our travel group the slip and strike out on our grand adventure.

I’ve always harbored a suspicion that Steve got cold feet as D-day loomed and H-hour approached. Maybe Steve came to his senses enough to realize returning to live in the room he grew up in and commuting to San Jose State was the less potentially lethal of his two options. My parents were on the verge of divorce and had casually announced two days before my departure that I would have to pay my own way through college. Lacking much of anything to go home to, running off to a faraway land seemed like a perfectly reasonable option.

Lushes
Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb

My suspicions of Steve being a snitch were cemented when our chaperone (who was also our Spanish teacher) dropped by my room while Steve was there. This was the only time either chaperone had come by my room or anyone else’s that I knew of. Even when I was trying my level best to have sex with the other chaperone’s daughter, both of the adults supervising us kids were too busy boozing it up to pay their charges much attention. It was like being chaperoned by Kathie Lee and Hoda.

She eyed the new pair of hiking boots resting on the dresser, the maps laid out across the bed, and the freshly purchased backpack into which I was stuffing essentials. Being rather cagey and astute, the evidence before her confirmed what she likely assumed was a wild-ass story Steve had told.

Despite her being half in the bag since boarding the plane in California (and rather keen on taking us all on a day-trip to a nude beach), our chaperone knew returning with fewer students than she departed with would be the end of the discounted trips. She snatched our passports (although, I later saw Steve in possession of his), threatened to tell our parents, and kept a close, bloodshot eye on her potential mavericks for the next forty-eight hours.

My chaperone’s husband was an ethnic Croat who had fled what was then Yugoslavia after the Second World War. He had seen, and no doubt relayed to his wife, the particularly nasty nature of armed conflict in the Balkans. Whatever the probability of success for the plan to gather experiences worth writing about, it had been thwarted by a snitchy friend and a chronically Chardonnay-besotted, middle-aged Spanish teacher. As an adult, I would not have let such a small setback dissuade me from my purpose, but as a kid, small obstacles quickly dampen enthusiasm and extinguish the flame of ambition. Or maybe my heart just wasn’t in it.

ISIS teensThe trio of English girls and the pair of Australian brothers (and scores more young adults) who are intercepted in route to ISIS battle lines are probably as marginally committed to their endeavor as I was. Getting rolled up by The Man before the fun even starts isn’t terribly different from my version of adventure frustrated. The difference is in the mindset.

Admittedly, I wanted to go gallivanting off to war for purely selfish reasons. I dreamed of kick starting a writing career. These Jihadi Wannabes that keep emerging leave a trail of clues that their goal was assimilation into the caliphate.

NYT2008102420151587C
Winston Churchill (~1899)

I just wanted to experience (as Winston Churchill would describe) the “exhilaration of being shot at without effect,” and get some writing material.

Advice to new writers has always included, “Write what you know.” This probably explains why the work from my youth was terrible. Not that it’s much better, now. Fortunately, I knew it was wretched and have committed probably half a million words to the fireplace rather than rape my readers’ eyes with my early efforts. I will give the Jihadi Janes credit for getting further along in their scheme than I did. Bravo! But where exactly did they think they would be able to use the makeup, hair curlers, and electronic devices they took with them? Those devout Muslim warriors to whom their hands were pledged in marriage might be a tad bit less permissive than their Westernized parents. The parents and grandparents of those girls who fled the exact same craziness not so long ago; much like my grandfather who looked around and said to himself, “This place sucks. I’m so outta here.”

Peaceful and prosperous childhoods lull their beneficiaries into believing annoyances such as an incorrect, overly complicated coffee order are harbingers of doom.

Try waking up to an incoming rocket attack and tell me if that doesn’t put a few things in perspective.

The futures of these novice Holy Warriors are not terribly bright. Considering the Taliban and Al-Qaeda long ago distanced themselves from ISIS for being too radical, I don’t think any of these Western kids heading over to fight will find much opportunity to use their social media accounts. And increasingly, their countries of origin are stripping citizenship of people known to have gone over to fight and arresting those whom return home. The good old days of being able to inject oneself into a war you neither have a stake in nor with which politics you are intimately familiar are gone forever.

Trench killingThey will learn the hard way that ISIS has no place for them in the Caliphate. There are multiple open-source accounts of Westerners recruited to ISIS who find the reality on the ground starkly different from promises the recruiter made.

Imagine that. The Muslim utopia differs from a Western teenager’s idea of utopia.

ISIS5The realities of life are rarely as fun, exciting, or carefree as we imagine them. I suspect the fate of all these foreign fighters will be the same as foreign fighters throughout history. They are rarely assimilated into any of the combatant societies. Rather, they are typically shown the door with varying degrees of force. That is assuming they survive to see the cessation of hostilities and are not killed outright the same way excess roosters are culled from the flock. The last thing any of these ISIS racists want is a foreigner, especially one from the corrupt and decadent West, consuming resources past their immediate usefulness in establishing the Caliphate.

These dumb kids will be lucky to escape with their lives and a book deal.

L’homme Theroux Pre-Orders and Mustache Removal


I put L’homme Theroux to bed a couple of days ago.  Even though I spent longer formatting than I had expected, I seem to have things trucking along.  As of this moment, L’homme Theroux is available for pre-orders on Amazon and Smashwords.  There will be others in the next few days.  I’m toying with the idea of releasing chapters here, so if you have an opinion one way or the other, let me know.  My guess is that everyone likes free and sneak peaks, even if it’s only five days early.

Kinda looks like Steve Buscemi But it's Hitler
Kinda looks like Steve Buscemi
But it’s Hitler

But this brings me to my next problem.  The novel is done.  Complete.   Finished.  Fin.  Acabado.  And even though I have the outline for the next book in the Coureur des Bois series sitting next to me, I feel a little bit at loose ends.  Partly because I decided to take a few days rest before diving into Little Crow’s War.  I spent three months devoting every spare minute to my creation, and now that I have pushed it out into the world, I’m not sure what to do with myself.  Sort of an “empty nest” feeling.  Maybe I can fill my time Photoshopping out moustaches on historical figures?

Pre-order at Amazon and Smashwords. Available October 2014
Pre-order at Amazon and Smashwords.
Hits shelves October 12, 2014

I want to give a special thanks to my cover artist, Dydee Nichols.  She created the cover with only the vaguest of terrible concepts from me.  She took it a completely different direction from what I thought I wanted and created a cover far better than I had imagined.

One thing that struck me as odd was how long proofreading took.  It was a full three weeks.  I know that I am a slow reader, but Jesus-tap-dancing-Christ, it took forever for me to finish proofing.  I’m sure there will still be little things I missed.  And then the bugga-boo with formatting.  I had forgotten all the silliness involved.  Mark Coker at Smashwords has a pretty good guide for writers that makes the uploading easy.  Fortunately, once L’homme Theroux was in shape for Smashwords, it was also in shape for Amazon.  I literally replaced “Amazon Edition” for “Smashwords Edition” on the title page and licensing statement, and was ready to go.

I would suggest writers become familiar with how styles work on their individual version of Word before delving into the formatting for publication.  I spent a whole lot of time finding the functions in my particular configuration of Word.  Despite all the frustration over two days of formatting, it went through clean the first time, and that is what is important.  I’d rather put in the work on the front end than have to play cleanup later.

My Next Victim
My Next Victim

Now, where the hell is that photo of Joseph Stalin?  He’s next to get his mustache lopped off.

 

Free sample chapters of L’homme Theroux available on Smashwords.

Order at: AmazonSmashwordsBarnes & NobleApple iBooksTxtr

Archetype-Cast: 8 People Who Should be in Your Story


L’home Theroux follows a “Journey of the Hero” structure as first laid out by Joseph Campbell in ”Hero with a Thousand Faces.”  Inside the Separation, Initiation, and Return structure of the Hero’s Journey, and the stages that serve as milestones to move the plot forward, are specific functions filled by archetypes.
When I attended High School and college, it was still socially acceptable to venerate the dead, white males who made up the bulk of the literary cannon up until the last couple of decades.  I recognized and had studied all the writers Robin Williams referenced in Dead Poets Society (Thank you, Mrs. Patricia Colucci and Michelle Shibley).
A quick recap: an archetype is a recognizable pattern of behavior.  I always thought it wasn’t a big leap from archetype to stereotype, so all the times I’ve been accused of racism, I was really identifying a pattern of behavior I recognized.  Most people disagree.  Either way, a writer does well to avoid stereotypes when building characters or risk readers throwing up their hands and saying, “Great.  Another token black sidekick who says ’nigger’ all the time.”
An archetype fills a specific role in a story.  Often a character plays more than one archetype, and sometimes multiple archetypes at the same time.  I have two suggestions for a character who carries more than one water bucket.  First, try not to have your character wear too many archetype hats.  If one character has all the answers for your protagonist, perhaps they should swap roles.  Second, authors should be aware of a character bouncing between archetypes.  Transitioning from one to another isn’t a problem, but once the character moves from one role to another, he should leave the old archetype behind.
Despite the connotations of the word “hero,” he (and increasingly, she) does not go it alone.  There is a cast of supporting characters who make the Hero’s Journey possible.  The list of possible archetypes can be quite exhaustive, depending on how far you want to stretch definitions, but here are the biggies.

1. Hero

The hero is the main character of your tale.  The story is about him and each character is there in relation to the protagonist.  The audience experiences the adventure through his eyes, and it is vital that the audience relate to the hero.  Even an antihero needs to be relatable, and even likeable, to maintain audience interest.

The hero leaves his familiar world for an unfamiliar one where he has his main adventures and returns home changed in some way.

He leaves ill prepared for his adventure and requires help from the other archetypes.

2. Mentor

Generally, the mentor is the first archetype the hero encounters. This is because the mentor not only provides guidance and advice to the hero, but he provides exposition for hero and audience. The new world in which the hero finds himself is so unfamiliar that what few skills the hero possesses are completely inadequate.  The mentor clues the hero in to the dangers he faces, the skills he needs, and often, the boon the hero seeks.
In addition to the hero’s lack of skills, is a lack of equipment.  Conan had to luck his way into possession of his sword and Luke had to be given his light saber.  Even though these are two different methods of acquiring the necessary tool to complete the task, the archetype of the mentor provides exposition, tools, and advice.
Mentors frequently provide another service to the story by initiating the plot.  After receiving the call, and possibly refusing it, heroes often require encouragement (and sometimes a boot in the ass) to cross the threshold into their adventure.  After the hero is on the right path, the mentor disappears.

This probably explains why mentors do not live to see the end of the story.

With his purpose served, the character playing the mentor would likely become a nagging harpy, always second guessing the hero, so he is killed off to preserve the positive feelings about the character and provide the hero a heightened sense of motivation. It’s the ultimate vanishing act until the mentor comes back as a ghost in the Return Stage to nod approvingly.

3. Ally

Just as countries like to have allies when they go to war, the same is true for a hero.  The importance of an ally to the hero is even more important.  The hero needs someone to create distractions, tell the princess her savior has a plan, and hold the horses so they can escape.

A sidekick is always an ally, but an ally is not always a sidekick. In the case of a “buddy movie,” it might be difficult to tell exactly who is the hero.

The ally also serves a couple other purposes.  An ally helps fill time during travels (and what’s a Hero’s Journey without logging some miles?).  The audience gets the chance to learn about the hero during the exchanges with his ally.  An ally also serves as a cathartic sacrificial lamb when someone has to stay behind to blow the bridge, hold the enemy at the pass, etc so the hero can make his final escape.  It’s harsh to say, but once the ally has served his purpose, he is no longer necessary to the story.  Like the mentor, the ally can provide one last bit of heartstring pulling with his death.
Depending on the plot, an ally may or not be friendly to the hero.  Sometimes, an ally is downright antagonistic, or at least, reluctant, leaving the audience to wonder why the hero and the ally are teamed up at all.  The answer is conflict for a subplot.  Most times, a crotchety ally comes to appreciate the hero, and often becomes friends his friend.

4. Herald

The herald archetype is the catalyst for the entire series of events that make up the adventure proper.  The herald might be a simple messenger that brings news of a threat far away or an event that pushes the hero into action.  Whatever form the herald takes, this is the point where the hero must make his decision to embark.

The herald is closely tied with the Call to Adventure stage in the Hero’s Journey.  The herald can be a tricky archetype in that it is as often an event as a person.

For a well established hero such a Beowulf, a call for help from a neighboring kingdom to defeat Grendel can serve as the herald.  First time or reluctant heroes are typically spurred into action by an event.  A sufficiently life altering event may leave few choices for a hero, who embarks on the adventure out of revenge, to right a wrong, or simply seeing no other way out.  A cataclysmic event in the hero’s everyday life, such as death of an entire household, is a classic herald to move an unlikely hero into his adventure.

5. Trickster

The trickster provides comic relief in a story. An audience cannot be on pins and needles the entire duration of a story.  To do so becomes emotionally draining and turns catharsis into a downer.  Entire scenes with the trickster serve to lift the mood of a story, particularly after a heart wrenching event.  He lightens the mood between tense peaks in a the story.  Just be careful the transition is not too abrupt.

The trickster also serves a purpose similar to the chorus in Ancient Greek plays.

He can be a sounding board for the story or actions of the hero by being the voice of society.  By voicing dissent or outright questioning the hero, the trickster forces the hero to articulate his reasoning for the audience.  The trickster can also push the hero to view problems in a broader perspective or offer alternatives the hero has not considered.

6. Shapeshifter

The best way to think of the shapeshifter archetype is someone who betrays the hero.  The shapeshifter may or may not be known to the hero.  Some of them may not give indications before screwing the hero over.

Some are of questionable loyalty and waver back and forth for various reasons.

The uncertainty injected into the relationship between the hero and the trickster can add an interesting dynamic for the audience and even an entire subplot to the story.  A spurned lover, relative, or colleague all make for a believable shapeshifter, since their motivations are very understandable to an audience.  Which might not speak well for the people that make up an audience, but that’s another subject.

7. Guardian

Sometimes called the threshold guardian, the guardian archetype tests the hero before the big challenges begin.  Guardians can show up at any point in the story, and they often vary in ferocity.  While quite snooty, the doorknob is “Alice in Wonderland” is a guardian.  A funnier threshold guardian is the Black Knight in Monty Python’s Search for the Holy Grail.

Whether ferocious and dangerous or humorous and condescending, the guardian has one purpose; it tells the hero to give up the ghost and head for home.

Of course, any hero worth his salt rejects the message and bypasses the guardian some way or other.  Depending on the situation, this could be as simple as ignoring the guardian or go the full measure by killing him.  It just depends on the nature of the threshold guardian and the options available to the hero.

8. Shadow

The shadow is the villain of the story.  The head bad guy.  Mr. Evil himself.  Despite any redeeming characteristics you ascribe to him (which you really should do since one-dimensional villains are boring), the villain’s purpose in life is to make the hero’s life hell.  At minimum, in the absence of some sort of personal beef against the hero, the villain has plans at odds with the hero.  And don’t get too wrapped around the axle making the shadow an actual person.

The shadow is something the hero struggles against.

So in “Moby Dick,” we see a whale as the shadow.
A shadow becomes particularly effective when it mirrors the hero somehow.  Think in terms of “the path not taken” as shown in the Wolverine Origins movie or any other brother versus brother story line.  The audience sees what the hero could have become or might become in the future.  The hero also sees it, and this can add to his internal struggle.

Wrap up
It’s unusual for a story to have one character per archetype because archetypes are roles that may not span the entire length of the story.  What usually happens is one character will shift from one archetype to another.  Also, more than one character can fill the role of one archetype.  A hero can have multiple mentors over the course of a story.  Likewise, the nature of the trickster can easily find that character playing to ally, or herald, or both.
Just be sure not to use an Archetype Checklist for the sake of having them all in the story.  They may not all be necessary.  However, if you have a character that does not fill an archetype role, you should consider whether the character belongs in the story in the first place.

Holding Out for a Hero


Available October 2014
Available October 2014

L’home Theroux, debuting October 12, 2014, follows a “Journey of the Hero” pattern.  Then again, the structure as laid out by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces and The Power of Myth is sufficiently fluid that a clever lawyer-type has a fairly good chance of making just about anything fit.  Similar counter-arguments can be leveled against archetypes.Power of Myth

Within The Hero’s Journey, there are milestones that move the plot forward and archetypes that perform specific functions within the story.  A quick recap: an archetype is a recognizable pattern of behavior.

In my collegiate career, I took just about every literature class offered at Evergreen Community College to fill my electives.  Perhaps I was a masochist for taking so many, but since we only had the one literature professor, I could have given several of the lectures myself by the time I graduated.  As a consequence, I am well-schooled in Joseph Campbell (a big “Thank you” to Mr. Sterling Warner because without him, L’homme Theroux likely wouldn’t exist).

JosephCampbell
Joseph Campbell

Even discounting for my bias in favor of Joseph Campbell, he is a giant in the literary community.  Not so much for the works of literature he created (come to think of it, I can’t think of anything he wrote outside of academia), but because of his contributions to our deeper understanding of literature and providing we writers the frames on which we stretch our furs to dry.

Whether readers, writers, and viewers recognize it or not, The Hero’s Journey is the basic structure of virtually every novel, movie, or television show ever produced.

Time for a quick heretical joke to illustrate a point:

Q:  What’s the difference between religion and mythology?

A:  Nobody practices a mythology.Thousand Faces

The point behind this joke is that at one time every bit of “mythology” was part of a living, breathing religion practiced by living, breathing people who believed them true just a fervently as Christians believe God created the universe from nothing.

However, a funny thing happened on the way to Nirvana, and it smelled a little like teen spirit (or perhaps, their first album Bleach.  Oh, Nevermind).

Looking back across time to the various creation myths, Joseph Campbell identified commonalities such as worldwide floods, miraculous births, resurrections, and superhuman feats that followed similar patterns with characters that performed similar roles.  In Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell first identified a whopping seventeen stages along The Hero’s Journey that were common to stories told across cultures, religions, and times.

Not every monomyth (as Campbell coined the phrase) will contain every one of the seventeen stages.  To complicate matters, only a few of the stages really need to be in a particular order or a specific place within the story.  Nor should they, unless writers want to produce predictable work.  The flip side of that caution is to include enough of the elements for the story to feel complete. So, that is the quandary.  How many are enough?  How many are overkill?

I don’t have a stock answer.  It’s like identifying pornography. You know it when you see it.

Much like the Three-Act Structure, The Voyage of the Hero is divided into three parts; Separation (or Departure), Initiation, and Return.

  1. Separation: This is the portion where the main characters, especially our hero, are introduced and established.  We find out their strengths, weaknesses, and quirks.  There may be some minor adventures, but nothing like what is to come.
  2. Initiation:  This is where all the real excitement happens.  Somewhere near the end of this stage should be the ultimate resolution.  If a series, at least enough resolution to bring the story to a good stopping point.
  3. Return: Just like the name implies, this is when our hero comes home, somehow changed or in possession of something significant.

Within the three main parts of The Hero’s Journey are the milestones that must be reached to remain true to the pattern.  Again, the particular order they appear in, or even if they are all present, is not super important.  As a matter of fact, I’m going to omit what I think are the less important ones because it’s kind of like the Pirate Code.  It is more a set of guidelines.

Call to Adventure (Separation)

We find our hero in his everyday life, where he may or may not be content.  Younger Heroes tend to be restless and possessed of wanderlust.  Older heroes are usually quite happy in their lives.  Either way, something happens where our hero has the choice of whether or not to embark on his adventure into the unknown.  Literally, every movie has the call to adventure, so I am left the dilemma of too many choices to give a specific example.  I will use the old standby of Star Wars when Luke’s aunt and uncle are killed.  The basic idea of the call is that it is what sets the entire story into motion.

Refusal of the Call (Separation)

Alvin York
Alvin York

This milestone can rightly be considered optional depending on the nature of the call to adventure.  Refusal of the call could carry such dire consequences that our hero does not even consider it as a possibility.  In Taken, this touchstone is completely absent, as any father would tell you it would be.  Sometimes, refusing the call is anathema to our hero.  An interesting example of possibly refusing the call can be found in the movie Sergeant York.  Alvin’s conflict between his pacifist beliefs and his duty to country was an opportunity not only for inner conflict, but also part of the story arc where the hero discovers something about himself.

Supernatural Aid (Separation)

For a modern audience, I think this stage would be bettered called “gathering” or “tools” or “the stuff that will allow the hero to come out on top.”  You’ll see why in a second.

After our hero has committed to the journey, he will come into possession of some sort of item he will need later because whether he knows it or not, our hero begins his quest unprepared in some fashion.  This want could be in character, skill, gear, or some combination of all three.  When what our hero lacks is a tangible item, it is often bestowed by the mentor archetype.  Sometimes it is given indirectly such as the notebook Indiana Jones’ father kept in The Last Crusade.  Sometimes the hero comes into possession of the item through serendipity as when Conan found his sword by accident.  He was having one adventure and fell ass first into the king’s tomb to find the damn thing.  Why can’t I have luck like that?

Once our hero has committed to the quest, consciously or unconsciously, his guide or magical helper becomes known. More often than not, this supernatural mentor will present our hero with one or more talismans or artifacts that will aid him later in his quest.

Crossing the Threshold (Separation)

While not exactly crossing the Rubicon, this is where the real adventure begins. Our hero kisses mom goodbye, promises his sweetheart he will be true, tells his kids that he loves them, or whatever else, as the plot requires.  He is leaving his comfortable, known world for a dangerous, unknown world.  Changing his mind about accepting the call after this point would disgrace our hero.

If you want a bullshit opportunity for our hero to experience self-doubt, add in “Belly of the Whale.”  It’s technically a separate stage, but I’m omitting it.  I don’t mind a nervous hero, but I look down on heroes so wracked with doubt that it induces cowardice.  Both physically and symbolically, this will be the farthest our hero has ever been from the shire.

The Road of Trials (Initiation)

All the stuff that happens between leaving home and achieving the goal.  The list of events here is so long it is impossible to be specific.  At its heart, this is the plot.  There are usually failures and setbacks in this stage.  A hero that wins on the first try is actually kind of boring.

As a rule of thumb, the trials should become increasingly difficult and complex.

Often, solving one small problem will create (at least) one more bigger problem for our hero or someone else.  All the trials don’t have to be life-of-death, but should have progressively higher stakes.  If our hero rescues the kitten from a tree after he prevents the dam from bursting, the best scenario will be that you just made an unintentional joke.  Then again, do you really want to create comic relief when you should have a catharsis happening?  Laughs are to give an audience a chance to unpucker their buttholes, so you can you smack them with more tension in a little while.

The Meeting with the Goddess (Initiation)

Ah, the love interest.  What’s a good story without a girl to impress and her favor to win?  Every time a writer introduces a clunky romantic subplot, he is cleaving to Joseph Campbell’s pattern.  I must raise my hand here because I did it in L’homme Theroux.  My defense is that it set up a lot of possibilities for conflict and love triangles.

Calypso
Calypso

Woman as Temptress (Initiation)

Before the feminists fire up their brooms for the ride to my house, I would like to point out that selecting women as temptresses was neither my decision nor done in my lifetime.  Joseph Campbell formulated his theories at a time and about a body of work when women were neither the heroes nor well represented.  Change the name of the stage to “temptation,” if it bothers you that much.

That is really what this phase of the story is about, anyway.  Women are a metaphor.  The hero is tempted by something to divert his attention from his task.  He risks abandoning it completely, if the goddess he encounters also plays the role of temptation.  It’s not unheard of for a man to abandon a task in favor of a woman.  Does it really sound so farfetched our hero would give up appearing human for some girl-ogre ass?  It happened in Shrek II.

Atonement with the Father (Initiation)

Damn Joseph Campbell and his metaphors.  Here’s another one that should be renamed because here our hero confronts the incredibly powerful being (at least, in our hero’s mind) that holds sway over our hero’s life.  Whether the atonement is working through a loggerhead with Dad, whacking the Old Man with a light saber, or conquering a fear of heights, the gist of this stage is the confrontation itself and the guts to knock the power from its pedestal.  The hero may fail.  Actually, the hero may fail on several attempts.  The “try” and what the hero learns in the process is the important part here.

The Ultimate Boon (Initiation)

The hero achieves whatever it was he set out for.  It’s almost not worth an entry, but important because everything previous has led our hero to this moment.

Refusal of the Return (Return)

Have you ever gone somewhere on vacation and found yourself giving serious consideration to how to make a living in that area so you wouldn’t have to go back home?  Yeah.  Me, too.  Heroes aren’t immune to stuff like that, either.  Our hero may not want to go back to his boring old life after getting a taste of adventure.

The Magic Flight (Return)

Odysseus at the Mast
Odysseus at the Mast

I almost skipped over this, but then I would have wasted a perfectly good example.  When you hear magic flight, think Odysseus.  The entirety of The Odyssey is an example of magic flight.

Once in possession of the boon, our hero has to make his escape.  However, modern interpretations tend to either significantly shorten or entirely eliminate this aspect of The Hero’s Journey.  About the best we can usually hope for in a movie is a decent “Get to the chopper!” scene.

Rescue from Without (Return)

This one I find interesting for its danger.  I’m not talking about danger to our hero.  I’m talking about danger of the writing accidentally slipping into deus ex machina.  Unless what you are writing is set in, performed in, or written in Ancient Greek, leave the divine intervention out.

Anybody who helps our hero make his escape should have been introduced long before the moment of rendering our hero aid.  Just trust me on this one.

Another interesting aspect of rescue from without is how it is applied currently.  There seems to be a pairing of it with magic flight that often includes self-sacrifice for the sake of the hero.  From a writer’s standpoint, it almost has to happen because you can really only get away with resurrecting your hero one time.  And since much of the road of trials involves the hero escaping sticky situations, a writer eventually runs out of ways for the hero to cheat death.

Freedom to Live (Return)

Whether or not our hero returns with girls, money, and fame, he still comes home with the experience.  Done properly, our hero has learned something (often about himself) that gives him the ability to live his old life in a new way.  Now, he may not necessarily return home in the physical sense.  “Home” may shift to operating a bar and boat rental in Fiji.  “Old life” is a metaphor for the day in, day out existence he led prior to his adventure.

Think about it for a second.  Even your dream job would become ho-hum sooner or later, so the return to normal life isn’t necessarily completing the circle exactly where our hero began.  And if he does wind up in the same physical locale, our hero has changed in himself or his view on life (or possibly both) to the point where home isn’t boring anymore.  He approaches it in a new way.