Tag Archives: entertainment

The Steep Climb

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In late 2003, I had a manuscript for the first book of a fantasy series, my first child on the way, a dead-end job at a crappy private college, and zero interest from a major publishing house. In my gut, I knew the series had promise, so I made the decision to self-publish. Back then, self-publishing was much more involved than today. E-readers were still in their infancy (when I submitted book one to Kindle, there were only 40,000 titles available, if memory serves), and self-publishing then meant launching an entire publishing company from scratch. As an educator, I didn’t have much money, so I secured funding through my aunt and uncle, who both read the book and agreed it deserved to be on the market.

There wasn’t enough money to do a color cover in an offset print run, so I decided to go a different route. I wanted to make the cover look old, like a relic from a bygone era. Looking back, that was my biggest mistake. Few people got it; most just thought it was ugly. But I still love the simplicity of that original cover. On February 21, 2005, my son’s first birthday coincidentally, book one returned from the binder, and The Brotherhood of Dwarves series was on the market.

For the first few months, I traveled to every bookstore, comic shop, gaming store, and library in a hundred mile radius, trying to get on their shelves. Some were receptive and encouraging, helping me gain a foothold; others were complete jerks. I organized book signings at local venues, and beat the pavement every free moment I had. I quickly learned that book signings by an unknown author are a complete waste of time. But in June or July 2005, I attended my first fandom convention in Knoxville and sold a bunch of books and T-shirts, so I began focusing my attention on conventions and festivals with solid incoming crowds. By late fall, I had sold about 75% of that first print run and decided to do a second. I made some tweaks to the cover, trying to get the right feel of an aged relic and added a blurb from my friend Cameron Judd, the bestselling Western writer.

At first, the second printing sold really well. I had tremendous momentum, and everything felt like it was moving in the right direction. Then, it was like I hit a wall. Nothing worked. By summer 2006, I couldn’t give the books away, quite literally. During this time frame, my relationship with that crappy private college was deteriorating rapidly, and my marriage was strained. I was working two jobs, plus running the publishing side of things and writing book two. I ran on three to four hours of sleep for almost a year. On September 5, 2006, my second child was born, and despite the joy of that event, everything in my life was crumbling beneath me.

The period from 2006-07 was one of the bleakest of my life. My books weren’t selling at all, my marriage evaporated, my career tanked, and on December 25, 2007, my wife interrupted me playing with my sons to tell me she wanted a divorce. I knew our marriage was over, but the cruelty with which she and the man she left me for handled it will never be forgiven. My memories of early 2008 are a fog. Being a father was the most important aspect of my life, the one thing that kept me going, and losing that full-time role was a blow I almost didn’t get up from. Unless you’ve been through it, I cannot explain the emptiness I felt.

Luckily, I have Scottish genes. Luckily, those genes infused me with an obstinate nature. Luckily, I refused to let her break me. In May 2008, I relaunched book one with a new, color cover and also released book two, Red Sky at Dawn. I slowly started getting back on the convention scene. I worked on book three. I focused more efforts on building an online presence. But sales were sluggish. Too much time had elapsed between books one and two. Most of my earliest readers had forgotten about me, and for a couple of years, I slogged onward, feeling as if I were starting from scratch at every new convention I attended.

My personal life was a wreck. I dated the worst possible women, emotional vampires who spoke sweet lies but beat me down at every opportunity. For several years, I made terrible decisions in my personal life, mistakes that probably set me back professionally, but that’s water under the bridge. No sense dwelling on things I can’t change now. Hopefully, I’ve learned my lessons and won’t repeat those same mistakes ever again. Today, I’m personally in a much better place and with a much, much, much better partner, a woman who accepts me as I am. But again, that’s all a different post for a different day.

By late 2010/early 2011, I realized I had gone as far as I could go as a self-published author, so I began talking to Seventh Star Press about taking over the series. I thought about looking at other publishers, but there was something about Seventh Star, though still a fledgling at the time, that appealed to me, and honestly, I didn’t trust any other publisher to take over my baby. No one else would’ve allowed me to keep the artistic freedom I demanded while offering as much support in terms of platform. On November 28, 2011, SSP released The Fall of Dorkhun. A few months later, they re-released books one and two with new cover art.

From the moment I signed with SSP, momentum began to turn back in my favor. Ever so slowly, I began to inch upward from a completely unknown, self-published author to something more. At conventions, I noticed a shift in how people perceived me. It’s difficult to describe the change, but it was palpable. In December 2012, Between Dark and Light was released, and just recently, book one became a legitimate bestseller during a promotional campaign. It’s been quite the climb, and I’m still not finished.

So here’s my warning to writers chomping at the bit for fame and fortune. Are you willing to wait nine years to see any return? Are you willing to drive 100 miles to sell two books? Are you willing to sit at your booth at a convention for eight hours and speak to every single person who walks by? Are you willing to stay at your booth for sixteen hours because there was a mix-up at the convention and your table is in an unsecured hallway? Are you willing to have doors slammed in your face? Are you willing to feel like you’ve let down everyone who matters to you? Are you willing to endure the slings and arrows from small, petty people? Are you willing to work two jobs AND still write a book? Are you willing to lose everything in your life that matters to you? More than once? Are you willing to press on despite every rational indication insisting that you will never break through? Are you willing to sleep in the back of a broken down SUV for seven weeks because you have nowhere else to go? Are you willing to endure those poisonous late hours all alone, with no promise of brighter days, yet still keep writing?

If you can’t honestly answer yes to every single one of those questions, a career as a fiction writer may not be the right path for you. Every serious writer I have ever met has had to pay their dues, in one form or another, and the great Steve Earle said it best:

Some folks say, if you keep rolling
And you keep it on the yellow line
It’ll take you to the big highway.
But there’s a toll to pay
So if you’re going,
The keeper at the gate is blind
So you better be prepared to pay

There is no secret to success other than never giving up, refusing to lose, refusing to accept no as the final answer. The only formula that works is persistence and faith during the darkest, hardest moments. Everything else is just window dressing. My climb is far from finished, and some days, I feel like there isn’t much gas left in my tank. But failure isn’t an acceptable option for me, so I’ll keep traveling to conventions, talking to readers, engaging people on a personal level, caring about them as human beings not dollar signs, writing these blog posts about my road, asking for reviews, and sincerely thanking people for using their hard-earned money to buy my work and their precious time to read it. That’s how I inch forward; that’s my formula.

I’m D.A. Adams, and I’ve just begun kicking ass!

Want to teach your students about structural racism? Prepare for a formal reprimand.

This article is from Slate:

Shannon Gibney is a professor of English and African diaspora studies at Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC). When that’s your job, there are a lot of opportunities to talk about racism, imperialism, capitalism, and history. There are also a lot of opportunities to anger students who would rather not learn about racism, imperialism, capitalism, and history. I presume MCTC knows that; they have an African diaspora studies program. Back in January 2009, white students made charges of discrimination after Gibney suggested to them that fashioning a noose in the newsroom of the campus newspaper—as an editor had done the previous fall—might alienate students of color. More recently, when Gibney led a discussion on structural racism in her mass communication class, three white students filed a discrimination complaint because it made them feel uncomfortable. This time, MCTC reprimanded Gibney under their anti-discrimination policy.

Elevating discomfort to discrimination mocks the intent of the policy, but that’s not the whole of it. By sanctioning Gibney for making students uncomfortable, MCTC is pushing a disturbing higher-education trend. When colleges and universities become a market, there is no incentive to teach what customers would rather not know. When colleges are in the business of making customers comfortable, we are all poorer for it.

For the white students who escalated their discomfort to the administration at MCTC, what seemed to upset them most is the concept of structural racism. As a teacher, I find that all students struggle with the idea of structure. The American myth of rugged individualism is alive and well. We love to believe that nothing determines our life’s chances but our capacity to dream and work hard, despite reams of evidence to the contrary. For most students, my class is the first time they have ever talked seriously about capitalism or had a black woman as an authority figure. And when the structure in question is racism and someone who looks like me is leading the discussion, white students struggle particularly hard. How can something be racist if they do not intend it to be racist? And why should they listen to me? Sociologists like Joe Faegin and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva have dismantled our post-racial delusions, showing how racism happens without racists.

Take white flight, for example. Few white homebuyers request only to be shown houses in white neighborhoods. But real estate agents consider this screening part of their jobs. And when neighborhoods get too diverse, white families start selling, sparking a downward spiral of declining home values and tax bases that affects resources such as schools. If you’re the brown and black kids in one of those schools, it doesn’t matter if anyone intended to be racist. For those kids and their life chances, structural racism is real regardless of intent. Gibney’s class discussions sound solidly grounded in mainstream research. A white student may feel discomfort when it’s pointed out to him how he has benefited from structural racism, but to compare that discomfort to discrimination is a false equivalency. Hurt feelings hurt, but it is not oppression.

But hurt feelings can be bad for business. And a lot of powerful people think colleges should act more like businesses. When they do, students act more like customers. And our likely customers might not be amicable to discussions about structural racism. If the customer is always right, then the majority share of customers is more right than the minority. While blacks and Hispanics have increased their college participation—and they are projected to continue to do so—61 percent of all college students are still white. A survey from researchers at Tufts and Harvard found that “whites believe that they have replaced blacks as the primary victims of racial discrimination in contemporary America.” A sizable number of male voters seem to believe that men are still more naturally suited to be president of the United States. Young people think racist and sexist slurs are wrong, but “they don’t take much personal offense.”

If I want to piss off the majority of higher education’s customers, then defying the natural superiority of men by being a female authority figure, countering white oppression beliefs by appealing to structural racism, and making young people feel the emotions of being offended would seem like a good way to go. If, like Gibney, I were a professor hired to teach diaspora studies, doing so would be my job.

Teaching what people would rather not learn is especially tough if you are a woman or a minority professor. Research shows that our customers rate Asian-American, Hispanic, black, and women professors lower than white male professors across all subjects. Most disturbingly, student evaluations of women of color are harshest when customers are told that the results will be “communicated to a third party for the purposes of evaluation.” Our customers are not only disinclined to like tough subjects; they’re also inclined to take their discomfort out on minority professors, who are the least likely to have the protection of tenure or support from university administration.

Learning is—should often be—uncomfortable for individuals. When universities have a mission to serve the public good, they balance the needs of individuals with benefits to society and the power of the majority against the humanity of the minority. Calls to “unbundle” the university never talk about what happens to that mission when we only learn what makes us comfortable—what it means for minority students and professors or the counternarratives they produce. The promise of market models of higher education like massive open online courses is that student-customers can build their own degree from a buffet of choices. But the buffet is heavy on science and math classes, and light on courses like humanities and social science where structural racism, sexism, and classism are taught. It is easy to imagine that in a college buffet, students who make nooses as a team-building exercise won’t take courses that might make them uncomfortable about doing so. Students wanting that choice make sense. Universities giving them the choice to make a few dollars does not make sense. Visionaries who sell us on these buffets allude to a future meritocratic economy. The implication is that the future does not need gatekeepers, leaders, or citizens who understand why making a noose in the student newsroom might be bad for morale.

Of course, nooses in the newsroom are only bad for the morale of some members of the team—the members least likely to make it to the newsroom because structural racism and sexism makes it harder for them to get there. And should they swim upstream to make it to the hallowed halls of higher education, the newsroom, or the technocratic future, we need not worry about their comfort, because profit margins chase market share. In the higher education market, we’re being sold “the customer is king.” That means a college’s highest purpose is co-creating a future that looks a lot like our past: educated but still unequal. That makes me very uncomfortable.

Tressie McMillan Cottom is a Slate writer and Ph.D. candidate in sociology at Emory University. Follow her on Twitter.

Read the original article here:
http://www.slate.com/articles/life/counter_narrative/2013/12/minneapolis_professor_shannon_gibney_reprimanded_for_talking_about_racism.html

Nu Edgykashun Policies

Committed to excellense

Merica is the greatest country on earth, and we at the Bureau for Educational Bureaucracy are committed to providing the highest quality of education to our great nation that supports our troops.  The following are new guidelines to improve educational efficiency:

1) Students are hereby known as Customers.

2) Customers are always right, so A’s all around.

3) The term “teacher” is hereby banned from usage in all educational institutions.  Educators are now referred to as Customer Service Representatives, effective immediately.

4) Free thought is code for socialism.  We’ll tell you what to think through Common Core.

5) All Customers and Customer Service Representatives shall recite the new Pledge of Allegiance daily:

I pledge allegiance to the logos
Of the Corporations of America
And to the CEO’s for which they stand
One nation, UNDER GOD,
With liberty and justice
For those who can afford it.
Amen, IN GOD WE TRUST!

6) YouTube and video games are more effective educators than customer service representatives.

7) Customer Service Representatives are not content experts.  All Common Core curriculum will be developed by professional administrators and delivered top-down.

These guidelines are for your protection and are not to be broken or disobeyed for any reason. The BEB is a subsidiary of Government, Inc.  No part of this transmission may be duplicated without expressed, written consent from our corporate headquarters.

Wednesday Night Ramblings

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The zombie apocalypse has already occurred; it just wasn’t how Hollywood had envisioned it.  Instead of decaying corpses feasting on human brains, we have cat memes, sports fanaticism run amok, celebrity worship, and puppet show political “debates.”  Meanwhile, our infrastructure is quite literally crumbling around us and our civil liberties are disappearing almost as fast as species are going extinct, but the masses are so distracted by the bright and shiny locomotive, they refuse to acknowledge the approaching ravine.  It sickens and frustrates me.  I feel like Plato’s prisoner, trying to explain the sun while the cave dwellers measure shadows cast on the wall by firelight.

I write about our imploding educational system, one or two people notice.  Someone posts a video of cat attacking paper, two million views.  Our elected officials refuse to negotiate or compromise for the betterment of our entire economy, people shrug.  A football player goes through a slump, fans go to his home to berate him.  Our priorities are askew.  We deserve the impending corporate shackles soon bound to our ankles.  We deserve this Huxleyan nightmare we’ve built and all the soma that comes with it.  I’ll catalog a few more of the failings of our system, just to fulfill my goal of illustrating to the outside world that some of us fought against it, but I’ve given up hope of enough people in this country noticing or giving a damn.

Friday Morning Ramblings

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I’m trying to remain positive, trying to find optimism, trying not to succumb to the mounting frustration that gnaws at me every day. But it’s not easy. When cat memes go viral, when horrifically written novels sell millions of copies, when shoddy journalism prevails, when everything that garners national publicity seems substandard, it’s hard not to allow the negative to overwhelm my consciousness. When students day after day show less and less regard for knowledge, less and less concern for their own abilities, less and less connection to the world outside their smart phones, less and less ability to do for themselves, it’s hard not to hate what’s been done to education. But I’m trying.

Those of you who haven’t spent decades of your life studying a craft, pouring everything you have into creating something, and struggling for years just to get noticed, can’t possibly fathom how much it stings to watch steaming piles of manure rake in millions of dollars. It’s not that I write for the money. I don’t. I write because that’s who I am, and I’m pretty damned good at it, too. But the simple reality of this world is that we need money to survive, and not being able to break through that barrier of earning a living by my craft grates on me every moment of every day, especially when I see so much mediocrity succeeding in so many venues. I don’t want to grow cold and bitter, but it’s not easy.

Those of you who haven’t stood in front of a room of students and tried to share knowledge with them, can’t fathom how frustrating it is to watch them text and tweet or stare into the distance with slack-jawed apathy. You can’t understand how hard it is to find the motivation to continue when instead of blaming the students for being lazy, disconnected, and stupid, administration blames teachers for not “engaging” them properly. You can’t fathom how hard it is to squelch the scream building in the pit of my stomach as I want to grab them by the shoulders, shake the hell out of them, and wake them from whatever zombie-robot-drone slumber they’re gripped by. I don’t want to lose hope for the future, but it’s not easy.

Those of you who haven’t been shackled by the modern indentured servitude of child support can’t fathom how maddening it is to work 60 hours a week and barely keep enough of your earnings to survive. And no matter how much you loathe your job you can’t just walk away because the system has the authority to jail you and revoke your driving privileges and label you a deadbeat dad for missing those payments. If you haven’t been through it, you can’t comprehend the prison that creates, feeling tethered to a job in an economy with little opportunity for change by fear of contempt of court. I don’t want to live my life angry and spiteful, but it’s not easy.

I want to be an upbeat, positive person. I want to greet each day as a new opportunity for growth and renewal, but it’s hard to find positive day in and day out. I want to believe that my life hasn’t been futile, but sitting here mired in obscurity while my country devolves into the New Dark Ages, it’s difficult not to feel as if all the career choices I’ve made are wrong. I feel obsolete, small, and insignificant. I feel trapped in a system that punishes hard work and rewards sloth. I want to believe that tomorrow is a new day and that better times await, but everything tangible in my life points in a different direction. I want to find the motivation to trudge forward and press on, and it’s not easy.  But I’m trying.

Tuesday Morning Ramblings

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I don’t know if I can find the proper words to describe what’s happened to education, but every single day the system gets a little worse. The bureaucrats have transposed manufacturing principles onto instruction, expecting to increase productivity by implementing lean production measures. But teaching a human being how to read, write, calculate, and think is not the same process as bolting together two components. Everyone learns a little differently, and skilled teachers adapt their methods to individuals. Today, the bureaucrats want a one-size-fits-all homogeneous model that only skims rote memory. It cannot and will not produce practical application of skills.

For most of us who teach, morale has never been lower. We are grossly overworked, grossly underpaid, and grossly frustrated by political forces that on one hand blame us for the failures of their system while on the other accuse us of causing economic turmoil with our luxurious pay and benefits. Most of us are quite literally at our breaking points, emotionally and financially. We have been placed in an impossible situation, asked to do an impossible job, stripped of nearly all authority, and then blamed for poor student performance. Meanwhile, we’re competing for the students’ attention with Twitter and YouTube. It’s nearly impossible to pry them away from their smartphones and laptops, but then, we’re blamed for not “engaging” them properly.

Our only hope for fixing this situation is for enough people to come forward and demand change. We need lower student-teacher ratios, higher pay, less standardized testing, more focus on application, less bureaucracy, and more autonomy in the classroom. We have to shift accountability back onto the students themselves. We have to halt this trend towards homogeneous curriculum and focus on personalized instruction that fosters skills application. We have to find some way to teach the next generation that not everything is supposed to be entertaining, and instead of catering to their deficits by adding flashing lights and buzzers to curriculum, teach them how to focus for more than thirty seconds. I say the next generation because I’m afraid this one is already damaged beyond repair.

Please, heed my warning: This country is about to lose an entire generation of educators. Once we are gone, whether it be from burnout, breakdown, or disgust, a wealth of knowledge will be lost from the system. Once we are gone, I fear what the system will become and what it will produce. Once thing I see for certain, we as a country are losing our ability to compete with other developed nations. We are falling woefully behind and more closely resemble a developing or third world country than the greatest nation on the planet.