Yes, You Can Be an Atheist and Like Bits of the Bible, Too

As with any collection of writings, even those chosen more for “God wants you to include this and will curse you if you don’t” rather than literary merit or storytelling chops, the Bible has a few gems of real value amongst all the religious dross. I don’t really approach it differently than any other body of mythology: I’m a writer, and I will damned well cannibalize anything. In fact, back before I was even an atheist, I had an atheist character who regularly spouted bits from the book of Revelation, and would have bopped the noggin of any one of the crowing Christians who love to scream “GOTCHA! You DO believe!” whenever he did so. Revelation spoke to him; God, not so much, and certainly less than the Norse gods. If he ever converts to anything, it will be something to do with Odin long before Yahweh gets an audition.

No, even the story he tells where Satan possesses him in an attempt to murder God while God just sits there and watches, drinking coffee, doesn’t mean he’s a believer. It means he’s a writer who knows how to use myth and powerful imagery to make a point.

Image shows a black cat and a white cat in the sky over a city against a stormy background. Caption says, "Basement cat vs. Ceiling Cat. Final Battle for our souls has begun."

I’ve become more like Chretien, as I’ve grown older. For one, I have become an atheist, and for another, I’ve fully accepted doing what I like with the Bible, just as I do Buddhist and Hindu and Norse texts. Any body of mythology is up for grabs; any stories people have told each other in order to make sense of the world and find their way in it can be powerful, and worth incorporating. And sometimes, the language is just pretty.

I do try to stay away from overtly Christian themes, however – not because they’re terrible (although sometimes they are), not because I don’t want people claiming me for Christianity (although I’m sure they’ll try anyway), but because they’ve been done. Often, they’ve been done to death. But sometimes, you can incorporate them in such a way they’re fresh and relevant, and so I’ll do that (still not a Christian, Christians). Sometimes, it’s the character who’s Christian and, when that’s the case, the Christian theme is unavoidable. And sometimes, it’s because I’ve discovered something new (to me, at least) in that terribly old book.

All of this is a long lead-up to a Thing that was going around some time ago, about atheists and their favorite Bible verses. There are several bits that I sometimes enjoy, and a lot of things that are beautifully stated (not that their equivalent can’t be found elsewhere – what a long stint in reading history and comparative mythology taught me was that nothing was original to Christ, and often I can find the equivalent said by some non-Christians in profound and beautiful ways. Sorry, Christians who like to believe God said it first and best). However, one verse has rather come to the fore, both because it’s beautiful in and of itself, and because it’s the one that springs to mind whenever I see these Good Christians™ doing things like demanding we send children away to die, or enthusiastically endorsing the death penalty. It’s the one I hope Jesus says to these disgusting little shits should that particular myth prove to be true and he comes back to whup some ass. And it’s one that turns out to be Ed Brayton’s favorite, as well:

I was a little surprised that no one offered up my favorite verse, Matthew 25:40.

Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

I have always found this to be a powerful statement of human compassion. It is the core of all moral reasoning, the idea that we must treat others well because we wish to be treated well.

That’s some powerful stuff, indeed. In context, it’s basically saying that the folks who refuse to give sanctuary to refugee children (because brown) or who advocate for the painful executions of possibly innocent people (because criminal and probably brown) aren’t getting that mansion in heaven they thought they already had the keys to. And there’s no extra credit for treating people well who looked and acted like you. That’s not difficult, after all. What’s hard is having empathy and taking care of people who are different or sick or even fuck-ups. Not all of us can live up to the standard of treating everyone well, but we should at the very least refrain from actually demanding harm.

So that’s a good verse.

The other bit I discovered recently whilst doing other things was one of the Proverbs I’d never read. Did you know that the first thing God created was Wisdom? And that Wisdom’s a woman? Well, definitely a she. Read it right here, for yourownself. I really like the final bit:

“And now, my children, listen to me:
happy are those who keep my ways.
Hear instruction and be wise,
and do not neglect it.
Happy is the one who listens to me,
watching daily at my gates,
waiting beside my doors.
For whoever finds me finds life
and obtains favor from the Lord;
but those who miss me injure themselves;
all who hate me love death.”

Of course, I’m sure my definition of wisdom is different from religious people’s definition of wisdom. But it’s a very nice thing to have in my mental pocket, that, waiting to be unloaded on someone who insists upon being an ignorant dipshit.

Now, after encountering some of the folks who spout Bible verses and expect you to repent or be damned, or who claim you’re not an atheist just because you have some money in your pocket that has “In God We Trust” stamped upon it by the government (who really shouldn’t be doing that), you may be reluctant to even look at the bloody book, much less consider any verse of it worth keeping. And I don’t blame you. There have been times when I wish we could get rid of the whole sorry lot, too. But Valerie Tarico is right, here:

As a young adult, I struggled to recover from the crazy parts of my childhood. I once had a therapist who said, “You’ll know you are independent from your parents when you can do what you want for yourself even if they want it too.” To my mind, the Bible writers are like dysfunctional parents to our whole society, parents we have turned to, collectively and individually, for guidance. but who all too often instead have caused harm or trauma. One of the ways we will know that we have truly outgrown them is when we are able to claim what we believe to be useful and beautiful, even if they said it.

Indeed. So I’m bloody well calling dibs on some good bits. You can have the other 9/10ths that are either long boring stretches of begats or a bunch of horrifying drivel, dear Christianists. And the best part is, it will probably drive you into conniptions.

Image shows a cat with its eyes closed and tongue stuck out. Caption reads, "Phht. That is all."

Get Your Ideas All Up in My Business!

All right, my darlings, it’s now less than two weeks until the day I hang up my shingle, and I haven’t got any idea what name to put on it. Well, I have a few ideas. You may have better ones. Think!

Image is a black cat in a suit. Caption says, "We need to think inside all the boxes."Think of names for a store selling all sorts of geology-themed thingies. And you know I like a nice Spanish flavor. Something like… Mercado Geológica, f’r instance. Mega Mercado de la Verdad? Give me ideas! I rather suck at naming things. One of you has to be better.

Some of you may want to help out, but come up just as blank as I do on names. No problemo! You know what else you can do? Let me know what kind of products you’d like to see. I’m going to be opening up a store on Cafe Press or Zazzle or Red Bubble or some site like that, maybe more than one – what sort of stuff do you want me to put up there?

I’ll be doing some crafty sorts of things and selling them through Etsy. That store will include things like my scarves, mufflers, wraps, hair wraps, scrunchies, and such. Anyone interested in handkerchiefs or other simple little fabric things? I can do simple bags, throw pillows, pillow cases, and things like that. I’ll also be doing custom work, so if you need something done, hit me up for an estimate. I might be able to save you a ton of money on curtains, for instance. And if you have a bit of fabric needing turned in to something, let me know.

Outside of sewing, would you go in for hand-collected pebbles for fountains, Zen gardens for your desk, rock sample magnets, things like that? Would you like me to look in to what it would take to make and sell coal and rock candy?

I’ll be looking in to getting some necessary items soon, too. If any of you has a used rock tumbler that works well and is in good condition you’d like to sell, let me know.

Now, on to writing, which will be the main focus of this whole enterprise: I am most definitely doing the Mount St. Helens book so many of you have requested! Two, in fact: the one about the May 1980 eruption, and I’m going to also do a geology travel guide. Probably more than one, now I’ll have time to investigate the other roads to the mountain! And I’m hoping to write up the more recent dome-building eruption, too.

I’m also writing a geological guide to Discovery Park, a book on women in the geosciences, and will be collecting and expanding some of the best posts from both ETEV and Rosetta Stones.

I’ve got a ton of other things planned, but your ideas are always welcome, so if there’s a bit of geology (or any other subject) you’ve been wanting me to do a post on, let me know.

All right, I’m off to begin putting the house in some semblance of order. Hit me with all your suggestions and demands!

An End, A Beginning… and a possible major freakout

Today’s the day I put in two weeks’ notice. Ye olde daye jobe will soon be defunct, and I will be working for the worst boss of all: meownself.

People at work keep asking me if I’m sure. As if trading stability for risk is ever something you can be sure of.

Image shows a cat on a boat, staring at a bird on the dock. Caption says, "Risk vs. Reward. Choose wisely."Of course I’m not sure. I’m not sure my books will sell. I’m not sure the merchandise I’ve got planned will move (although I have a feeling you guys are going to love the stuff based on geology puns!). I’m not sure the economy won’t tank and flush me just as things begin to take off. Can’t be sure of anything.


I’m sure I can’t play it safe anymore.

I’m sure I want to step off that mountain, even though there’s no way of knowing if I’ll fall or fly.

I’m sure there’s a lot I want to do that I haven’t got time for now: so many books to write, and fun things to design, and adventures to go on.

I’m sure I’ve got the world’s best cheering section (that would be you, my darlings!).

And I’m sure the time is now. Because if not now, it’ll be never.

So I’m all in.

Image shows a squirrel sprawled on a deck with a thick scattering of seeds in front of it. Caption says, "Awl In"Two weeks, and the badge gets discarded forever. I kiss the sweet union-bargained benefits goodbye. I say sayonara to the steady paycheck. And probably panic a bit before I get my footing. Shit’s a little scary, y’know. But I’m ready to take the plunge, because even if I fall, I can manage to land somewhere soft enough. And who knows – maybe this is the day that I fly.

Wish me luck.

When You’re Prepared to Give Up Name and Face

I’ve known for a very long time that I want to write for a living. Been writing since childhood, y’see, and at some point it occurred to me that being a writer was the most sensible thing to do for a person who was decent with words and wanted to be lots of things. A writer can vicariously be whatever they damn well please. A writer can spend all day every day fantasizing, and get paid for it.

So yes, I knew by my teens that I wanted to be a writer. And I began doing all of the things necessary to become one. Literature classes. Creative writing classes. Job in book store. Change name.

Oh, yes, the name change was essential. I share my legal last name with a well-known retailer. It isn’t the done thing to crack your adoring public over the head with your latest hardcover for cracking jokes. And a character of mine had filched my first name and refused to give it back. And stalkers. And I wanted to be taken seriously. That, I thought, required picking a male pseudonym – or at least masquerading by initials.

It amazes me now just how I took for granted that women aren’t equal to men in SF. I’d absorbed that lesson to such an extent that I saw talented women as anomalies; if a woman’s name was on the cover, I automatically assumed the contents would be pink and fluffy and not at all as good as the stuff by the men. So what if some of my favorite authors were unapologetically female? They were exceptions to the rule. Just like I would be. If anyone gave my writing a chance, anyway, and didn’t dismiss it on the automatic assumption that it could be safely discarded due to having been written by a girl.

And so I planned for my future in the genre by spending hours shuffling combinations of initials with potential last names, searching for combos that wouldn’t give my gender away.

Then there was the great face debate.

Author Details Unknown

Author Details Unknown

The whole smoke-and-mirrors with initials would be for naught if I plastered my picture on the back of the book. This mug o’ mine ain’t exactly masculine. So at first, I decided that particular personal touch would have to be avoided. I don’t remember thinking so far as which pronouns to use in the author bio, but of course one misplaced “she” or “her” would give the game away. I’m not sure I’d have risked it. Granted, it wouldn’t be so obvious as a girly name or photo, but still, if people had paid attention, the jig would be up and I’d be back to trying to get a fair hearing despite being female.

I knew it wasn’t fair. But hey, you can’t fight reality, right? Do what you gotta do, and don’t be a pathetic whiner about it.

My reluctance to put myself forward as a female faded gradually. I got older, and perhaps braver, and definitely less inclined to accept the world as-is. I chose the name of a goddess – although not an overtly feminine name, I didn’t dismiss it because it didn’t belong to a male, but reveled in the fact that it belonged to a kick-ass goddess who was mother to a whole people. A bit later, I decided I’d do a photo. I figured it was time to join the ranks of unapologetic women who were demanding people acknowledge that SF wasn’t just a man’s genre. I started paying attention to the gender mix in my stories: I’d always had a strong female lead, but struggled to overcome a heavily male-skewed supporting cast. I started battling the tendency within myself to give women authors automatic short shrift – and it’s a good thing, considering the number of women doing excellent work.

A lot of things have gone in to undoing a lifetime of cultural conditioning against my own gender, but this questioning a previously unquestionable status quo, and the encouragement of those writers within the SF community to address gender bias in both authors and characters, certainly contributed much of the initial momentum. I still haven’t wrestled my birth name back from the character who filched it, but at least I’m not ashamed to have a woman’s name and a woman’s face on my work. I won’t give them up again.

Moi at Monterey Bay Aquarium. Image courtesy Cujo 359.

Moi at Monterey Bay Aquarium. Image courtesy Cujo 359.

Some interesting articles while we’re on the subject of women in SF:

Ask Nicola: A shocking UK sf ‘favourites’ score: men 500, women 18 .

The Guardian: The incredible shrinking presence of women SF writers.

Fantasy & Science Fiction: Women Writing Science Fiction: Some Voices from the Trenches.

NPR’s Monkey See: Women, Men And Fiction: Notes On How Not To Answer Hard Questions.

Wikipedia: Women in speculative fiction.

Answering an Aspiring Author: Who Do I Love

The friend o’ mine embarking upon a program of self-loathing and torture bit of sci fi writing asked me about my influences, including novels and short stories. So I took a quick turn about my shelves in search of. I have lots, yet they’re only a tiny fraction of the SF universe, and tend to cluster around just a few decades and authors. So grain o’ salt, follow your own star and all that.

The list appears below, but first, I shall say a few words about reading in order to become a writer.

J.R.R. Tolkien, da morto. Image and caption courtesy Daniel Prati via Flickr.

J.R.R. Tolkien, da morto. Image and caption courtesy Daniel Prati via Flickr.

All writers will, of course, tell you that you must be a reader first, and that is true. Reading the works of other authors is the only way to get a broad and intimate view of the art of wordsmithing. I’ve listed my influences here, meaning those authors whose work was particularly potent, the stuff with staying power. But they don’t include the vast number of authors I read who were wretchedly bad, or indifferent, or classic but not particularly influential to me – at least, no consciously. But all were valuable. The bad ones taught me which mistakes to avoid, boosted my self esteem, and gave me hope that if they could make it, so could I. The indifferent ones taught me how to punch my own writing up; without them, I may not have recognized the dull bits. And the classics gave me a solid grounding in what used to be state-of-the-genre, and probably taught me much more than I knew, even when they weren’t firing me up.

Octavia E. Butler. Image courtesy Nikolas Coukouma via Wikimedia Commons.

Octavia E. Butler. Image courtesy Nikolas Coukouma via Wikimedia Commons.

Reading fiction is essential, but so is reading about the craft of fiction writing. To that end, I’ve included a short list of books that were particularly helpful in turning me from a rank amateur into someone who could scribble things of interest outside the immediate circle of family and friends and others who felt they owed me shameless flattery. I’ve read a lot of books on writing. Some have been rather hackneyed attempts to take advantage of inexperienced but eager people, but many more have been quite useful. Some writers can teach themselves the craft, but it’s always helpful to have good teachers.

But it’s not just books on how to write that are useful teaching tools. Get your hands on books about some of your favorite authors and their creations. Look for biographies, literary criticism, philosophy of their worlds, science of their worlds, other authors’ essays on how awesome that author was and how their own writing was influenced by, etc. Choose one or two or a few amazing authors, and delve into their craft, learning as much as you can about how they did what they did.

Read collections. Collections of the best, the boldest, the cutting edge, the classics. There are endless anthologies out there – avail yourself of them. Stuff yourself with stories until you’re overflowing.

Robert Jordan. Image courtesy Jeanne Collins via Wikimedia Commons.

Robert Jordan. Image courtesy Jeanne Collins via Wikimedia Commons.

And speaking of stories, don’t forget they’re found in more than prose works. Read comics: there is some extraordinary storytelling being done there in those colorful pages. Watch teevee: many television series can teach you essentials of the craft you may not have picked up from your reading. So can movies. And don’t forget to listen to the commentary, where you can pick up all sorts of useful tips and tricks. Video games, I’m assured by those who play them, can also contain amazing stories and provide inspiration. And all of these very visual (and sometimes auditory) mediums can help you visualize your tale in the kind of vivid detail it takes to help create story worlds your readers feel they’re actually in, story people they feel are more real than the flesh-and-blood folk around them.

Connie Willis. Image courtesy Ellen Levy Finch via Wikimedia Commons.

Connie Willis. Image courtesy Ellen Levy Finch via Wikimedia Commons.

Finally, don’t forget that influences and inspiration come from all sorts of unexpected places: it’s not just within your genre or things immediately related to the art and craft of storytelling that will influence you. Be prepared for anything. Consider each moment, each experience, to be potential fodder. A writer never stops writing, even when they’re not putting words on a page; words aren’t always what influence our writing the most.

That said, words are important. Here is a list of people who are very good with words indeed, and books that may help you on the journey.


Neil Gaiman. Image courtesy moi.

Neil Gaiman. Image courtesy moi.


Books on Writing

A note on submissions: most of these books were written before the electronic age. Find another source for current submissions guidelines.

How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card. (No, I can’t stand him as a human being, but that doesn’t change the fact this book was invaluable when I was just starting out.)

Elements of Fiction Writing series by Writer’s Digest Books.

Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maas. Sounds like a gimmick, I know, but it’s solid advice by a good agent and helped me immensely.

Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy by the Editors of Analog and Asimov’s. It’s worth it for Connie Willis alone.

World Building by Stephen L. Gillett.

The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler.



Neil Gaiman

C.S. Friedman

Octavia E. Butler

J.R.R. Tolkien

Robert Jordan

Michael Flynn

Ursula K. LeGuin

Connie Willis

Patricia A. McKillip

Robert Holdstock

Terry Pratchett

Lynn Flewelling

R.A. Salvatore

Guy Gavriel Kay

Ken MacLeod

Elaine Cunningham

Melanie Rawn


Patricia A. McKillip. Image courtesy Stepheng3 via Wikimedia Commons.

Patricia A. McKillip. Image courtesy Stepheng3 via Wikimedia Commons.


Story Collections

Redshift. Al Sarrantonio, ed.

Again, Dangerous Visions. Harlan Ellison, ed.

Legends 1 and 2. Robert Silverberg, ed.

Flights. Al Sarrantonio, ed.

Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Datlow et al, eds.

Fairy Tale Series. Datlow and Windling, eds.

Starlight I and II. Patrick Nielsen Hayden, ed.



Buffy and Angel

Battlestar Galactica


Doctor Who

Answering an Aspiring Author: What I Loved

A friend o’ mine is about to embark upon a program of self-loathing and torture a bit of sci fi writing. He turned to me for advice. A few questions have been asked, and I figured answering in public may perhaps be useful in case anyone else in the cantina plans to embark upon the same soul-destroying madness career.

"This artist concept illustrates how a massive collision of objects perhaps as large as the planet Pluto smashed together to create the dust ring around the nearby star Vega." Alternatively, it describes the brain of a speculative fiction writer. Image and part of the caption courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.

“This artist concept illustrates how a massive collision of objects perhaps as large as the planet Pluto smashed together to create the dust ring around the nearby star Vega.” Alternatively, it describes the brain of a speculative fiction writer mid-novel. Image and part of the caption courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.

One of the questions was this: “What kind of stuff do you like to write?”

Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say like. Love is a safe word. It’s the right word for the kind of tempestuous, tumultuous relationship a writer has with their fiction. Like is too mild, too constant a word for this passion we share, this rollercoaster of high and low and in between emotion. So. What do I love to write?

I don’t actually know.

"The planet GJ 1214b, shown here in an artist's conception with two hypothetical moons, orbits a "red dwarf" star 40 light-years from Earth.... Astronomers have confirmed that this alien world has a thick atmosphere, but can't yet determine whether the atmosphere is primarily hydrogen or a steamy soup of water vapor." Rather a bit like my fiction writing feels at the moment, that is.  Image and part of the caption courtesy CfA/David Aguilar (NASA)

“The planet GJ 1214b, shown here in an artist’s conception with two hypothetical moons, orbits a “red dwarf” star 40 light-years from Earth…. Astronomers have confirmed that this alien world has a thick atmosphere, but can’t yet determine whether the atmosphere is primarily hydrogen or a steamy soup of water vapor.” Rather a bit like my fiction writing feels at the moment, that is. Image and part of the caption courtesy CfA/David Aguilar (NASA)

We’ve been experiencing a separation of over a year now, fiction and I. I’m shacking up with non-fiction at the moment. It was a polyamorous relationship, but we got a bit exclusive and froze fiction out. I haven’t time to devote to both. And when that changes, and fiction once more returns for some smouldering nights of amore, it won’t quite be the same, as we’ve both changed.

So, to rephrase the question along the same lines, but this time answerable: “What kind of stuff did you love to write?”

Um… things… and stuff…

I loved to write things one might classify more as fantasy than science fiction, but although it contained things like special powers and beings like unicorns and dragons, I did try to ground some of it in science. (Hence the current freelance career as a science writer. Research rather took over there. Heh heh heh whoops.)

"Dear Moon" by Haflinger-Sama.

“Dear Moon” by Haflinger-Sama.

I loved to write about trying to save the universe. Well, don’t we all, right? Few things more exciting to write about than the universe in peril and the plucky people trying to save it.

I loved to write about good and evil and how you can’t tell them apart at a glance sometimes.

I loved to write about how things got to be the way they are. I loved delving the past of my story worlds, searching for the origins of civilizations and relationships, and conflicts and such.

I loved to write about people. Sometimes they weren’t human people, but they were people nonetheless. I loved to write about good people trying to do the right things, and bad people bad ones, and just when we thought we knew them and could figure out what they’d be up to next, I loved watching them do something unexpected and sometimes seemingly out of character. Because people and situations are complicated, and you can’t always predict them, and you haven’t always got them right.

Dragon Sphere. Image modified from Sneinton Dragon by N Harrison.

Dragon Sphere. Image modified from Sneinton Dragon by N Harrison.

I loved to explore relationships: between people, between civilizations, between enemies and friends, between folks and land, and folks and objects.

I loved finding out why things were the way they were, and people were, and worlds were.

I loved exploring worlds, and showing their wonders, and why they might just be worth dying for. I loved speculating about what different worlds would look like, and what relationship people might have to their universe when their sky had two (or more) suns, multiple moons, a different hue.

"This artist’s impression shows a sunset seen from the super-Earth Gliese 667 Cc. The brightest star in the sky is the red dwarf Gliese 667 C, which is part of a triple star system. The other two more distant stars, Gliese 667 A and B appear in the sky also to the right. Astronomers have estimated that there are tens of billions of such rocky worlds orbiting faint red dwarf stars in the Milky Way alone." Many worlds - many civilizations? Image and part of caption courtesy ESO/L. Calçada.

“This artist’s impression shows a sunset seen from the super-Earth Gliese 667 Cc. The brightest star in the sky is the red dwarf Gliese 667 C, which is part of a triple star system. The other two more distant stars, Gliese 667 A and B appear in the sky also to the right. Astronomers have estimated that there are tens of billions of such rocky worlds orbiting faint red dwarf stars in the Milky Way alone.” Many worlds – many civilizations? Image and part of caption courtesy ESO/L. Calçada.

I loved asking hard questions, like what is good, and what is evil; what’s right and wrong, real and unreal, and all sorts of other things that may seem black and white and simple, but turn out to be grayscale and fiendishly complicated.

I loved writing about art and literature and wine and wonderful things that make life full and rich and amazing.

I loved writing about things I didn’t know about, because learning them was a majority of the fun.

I loved writing about myths, and things influenced by myths, and putting a twist in the myth.

And all of these things, I’m sure, I’ll love writing still. But I’ll certainly love writing about science more. And some of the things I assumed, I’ll have to question, because my perspective on a great many things has changed.

But above all, I’ll love the speculation, the what-if and could-be and not-utterly-impossible-but-very-improbable; and I’ll love the fantastic characters; and I’ll love the raw power of writing worlds into being. Which is rather what SF is all about.

The pulsar planets PSR B1257+12 b, c, and d are all that remains of a dead solar system. They are constantly beamed with intense radiation. (Artist's concept) Image and caption courtesy NASA.

The pulsar planets PSR B1257+12 b, c, and d are all that remains of a dead solar system. They are constantly beamed with intense radiation. (Artist’s concept) Image and caption courtesy NASA.


Atheism for Believers: Do We Need a Book?

Some interesting comments on JT’s “Happy Ask an Atheist Day!” post got me to pondering that question. Do we need a book about atheism which we can comfortably hand to believers?

I’ve not really thought about it before. I’ve got close friends who are believers, but I’ve never felt uncomfortable recommending books like The God Delusion to them when they express interest in learning more about atheism. The conversations we’ve had haven’t swerved into completely uncomfortable directions, like the whole “But you’re going to hell!” trope. We’ve had sticking points, and we’ve had to talk things over, but they’re strong people who can handle strong ideas. Their faith doesn’t leave them flummoxed when confronted by the fact that someone they love is godless.

I’ve been lucky. But others haven’t. Chantalwallace says,

I recently deconverted (yay!) but my family is not taking it well. They think i’m being influenced by the devil. How do I explain to them that freethought is a good thing, atheism isn’t evil and that i’m not turning my back on them, just their belief system?

That can be tough. And when the people you need to explain this to are family members or close friends, that conversation can get very, very uncomfortable. But still, it’s a conversation that can be had. You don’t necessarily need a book or several for it.

Then I came across this comment by Wren, a Tru Hoppist:

My mom is Catholic. However, we’ve done a lot of talking since I came out as an atheist to her. She says she doesn’t understand, but loves me anyway. I don’t feel like I’m good at explaining myself in regards to my atheism. Do you know of any books that aren’t confrontational (like the God Delusion) that I could give her?

And Doctorburger’s response:

I’m in the same boat actually. I don’t know that I have any book I’d want to hand to my mom.

In the few conversations I’ve had with my parents about my atheism, it’s not that explaining atheism was difficult, rather it’s helping her know I’m the same child she’s always known and loved.

The question’s been bothering me ever since: do we need the kind of book you could hand to your mom? JT says it’s more important to read the books and put the arguments into our own words, and that’s true – to an extent. But it could also be quite helpful to have a handy little tome to hand to a family member who genuinely wants and needs to understand their loved one’s atheism. Sometimes, these conversations are most fruitful after people have had a chance to ponder in solitude. It can be hard to speak extensively face-to-face. Just to take an example from science: I’m perfectly comfortable talking to people about geology. I could do it until they pass out from sheer exhaustion. But it’s easier for both of us when I can tell someone who’s vaguely interested but overwhelmed by the difficulty of concepts they may be encountering for the first time, “Here’s this wonderful book. It’s an easy read, and the concepts are clearly explained in non-scientist language. Read it at your leisure, if you’d like, now I’ve got you interested. And feel free to come to me with any questions, confusions or concerns.”

A lot of times, people want that book. Books can do things conversations can’t do. It gives folks a chance to go at their own pace. They can re-read the stuff that they’re not quite absorbing on the first go. They can put the things in the book together with the conversations they’re having, and possibly understand more than they would with either just a book or a talk alone. And in this case, it gives some much-needed distance. There are some things that are too emotional at first to discuss face-to-face.

So I think we may just need that sort of book about atheism, one we can hand to the believers in our lives, that will help facilitate the conversation. My question is, what do you atheists who need such a book need it to do? Because it’s just possible I could write such a book. Not one that soft-sells atheism so much, of course – I’m Gnu – but at least does the job of explaining some things about atheists, freethought, and what it’s like to live a life without gods. Maybe there are common tropes you’re running in to that you need to have addressed, gently but firmly. Maybe you need a way of saying, “I’m an atheist, but I’m still me, and it’s a grand old life.”

I’ve actually got a book written that I think could be retasked to do the job. But before I rip it apart and rebuild, I want to know what you’re looking for, so I can make sure it would meet your needs, and I’m not just wasting everybody’s time. With two blogs (and occasionally a third and fourth), a busy field season ahead, and other writing jobs to do, I haven’t got any of my time to waste, much less yours! But if this is a necessary thing, and you’d like me to give it a whirl, tell me what you’d like. What’s in that book you wish you could hand to your loved ones? What about it is different from books like The God Delusion?

And in case there are any believers in the audience, what sorts of things help you understand and accept where atheists are coming from, even if you don’t agree with us? What helped you make peace with the heathens in your life?

Let me know.

Pitch 2.0: Naming Names

Veterans of the Nymwars will know why my ears pricked when a member of the audience asked the panelists at Pitch 2.o about pseudonyms. And they’ll know why I scowled a bit when the first response was along the lines of “Why would you?” They came out pretty anti-nym, but for a good reason: identity. While it wasn’t made clear in that brief time for discussion, I think they’d agree that it’s not the ‘nym that’s the problem, but starting over from scratch.

If I’m mistaken, they’ll hopefully be by to set me straight. But let’s proceed on the assumption I’m correct.

(Apologies in advance for not identifying who said what – I don’t do shorthand and was scribbling too frantically to pop a name by the notions. I’d make a lousy reporter, wouldn’t I just?)

Right. So. Pseudonym. Should you? The question was from someone who’d written something outside of his normal sphere and was thinking of publishing it under a ‘nym. And when he said this, looks of horror crept across the faces of every person on stage. These are, mind you, folks who’d just got done talking about platforms (which I shall get to shortly – exhaustion is forcing me to write out-of-sequence in search of the low-hanging fruit. It is also apparently making me segue. How much does a seg weigh? Anyway. Where were we? Right. ‘Nyms).

One said, “Why give up the platform you have just because it’s different? You shouldn’t have to use a pseudonym just because you’re an expert in only one area so far. Show them your expertise.”

Another said, “We’re all complex people with lots of interests. Your followers are too. Something about you appealed to them. X % of people interested in your former thing will be interested in the new.”

And the last said, “People follow you because you’re a good writer.”

I didn’t jot down the rest. It had to do with being the world’s expert on trumpet polishing, and having written a widely-admired book on trumpet polishing, and then going on to write a treatise on strawberry slicing. You could do that under a ‘nym, yeah, and build a reputation as the world expert on strawberry slicing. But you’ve got this platform you built as the world expert on trumpet polishing, and your audience will have a subset of people in it who’d be thrilled to find out this nifty new technique for strawberry slicing. So why not keep your name, and show them your expertise, thus keeping a portion of your existing audience while also building a new following of strawberry-slicing fans? I don’t believe this bit was mentioned, but it’s also possible your strawberry-slicing fans will also contain a few trumpet polishers, and they’ll be glad to know their search for the best book on trumpet polishing is at an end.

So here’s what it’s about. It’s about an identity, not a name. We veterans of the Nymwars know a “real name” isn’t an identity. So if you, like me, write under a ‘nym, breathe a sigh of relief. You’ve got an identity you’ve established. People know you as your ‘nym. Your ‘nym has name recognition. The silly thing isn’t writing under a ‘nym to begin with. But it’s possibly very silly to write about trumpet polishing under one ‘nym and then create a new ‘nym to do the strawberry slicing thing, just because you’re worried people will somehow become upset if the world’s foremost authority on trumpet polishing has also some quite useful things to say about strawberry slicing.

I, personally, have never minded when my favorite authors of one sort of thing have pursued other sorts of things under their established name. I may not be in to everything they do, but I appreciate the opportunity to discover whether I am or not. Neil Gaiman, for instance, writes some fabulous children’s books I’d never have read if he’d published under the name Bob McRobert. Most readers will understand that you are no more cardboard than your characters (and your characters aren’t cardboard, right? Right?). They’ll be happy to let you prove your mettle at something a little different. They might even discover interests they never knew they had.

Some of your fans may gripe about you wasting your time on strawberry slicing when you could be spending your valuable time writing Trumpet Polishing Two: Electric Bugaloo, but no one’s forcing them at gunpoint to read Strawberry Slicing Secrets Revealed! And if someone is, in fact, doing so, then they really need to assess whether it’s wise to continue their relationship with that particular bookseller.

Now, if you’re known for wholesome children’s picture books, and you wish to write some rather, erm, vivid pornography, I suppose a case could be made that a new ‘nym might not be such a terrible idea. And authors choose to give up the platforms they have as one name and do something else under another quite often. It sometimes works. As with all things in writing, rules are bendy.

But you have to keep in mind what you’re giving up. You’ve got to create a new audience from scratch. You’ll have to create a website, perhaps a blog, certainly a Facebook page and perhaps a G+ one, and if you’re wise you’ll do a Twitter account, all under a new name. You’ll have to feed that identity as well as your previous one. You’ll have to keep the two separate. It’s twice the work. So the benefits should be pretty spectacular before you decide to create all that extra work for yourself.

Be sure it’s worth it before you spawn an alter-ego.

Also be sure to check out the comments on the previous post – Jason Black and Nathan Everett, two of the professionals who made Pitch 2.0 such an informative and fun time, put up comments that will certainly repay a perusal. Our own Hank Fox has direct experience with CreateSpace, which is welcome news for those of us considering whether or not to go this route. It pays to consider your options carefully, but isn’t it nice we have got them at last?

CreateSpace and Amazon’s Pitch 2.0: Completely Worth It

So, last night, I attended a free event put on by CreateSpace and Amazon called Pitch 2.0. It very nearly didn’t happen, and I’ll be paying dearly for it for the next three days, but it was totally worth it. It was even worth the rush hour traffic on the 520 bridge, which locals know is the kind of hell you usually only associate with cities like L.A. and New York.

I took copious notes and I’ll be blogging about it for some time to come, starting soon (probably as soon as work finishes making me pay for my pleasure). The main thing I took away was this: publishing has changed, and independent authors have some fantastic resources available to them now. I’ve been seriously considering the whole self-publishing route for some time. Unless circumstances change, this event has pretty much convinced me that this is the right choice for my books. I’m not interested in spending years trying to get them traditionally published after finishing them. I want them in the hands of my readers ASAP. And with the tools available now, those books won’t lack for anything in the product quality department. The only possible failing may be the author herself, but I’ll be doing my utmost to make sure the contents match the beautiful, professional packaging.

A lot of excellent information came out of this event: help with pitches, marketing, distributing, and various other topics. We won’t lack for Dojo material, I can tell you.

I can also tell you that if CreateSpace and Amazon throw one of these little soirees in your neighborhood, get your ass registered and attend, no matter what it takes. It was worth several months’ worth of perusing the best writing blogs out there. Not that you shouldn’t be doing that, too, but there’s nothing like an event like this for helping you become a better author and, if you wish, your own publisher.

That’ll Be Me. In a Book. A Paper One, Even

So, I’m in the midst of a frantic day of playing catch-up, I glance at my email, and I see this thing that says “Welcome to Open Lab 2012.” And for a moment, I’m not really absorbing that. I’m like, “I didn’t sign up for any conferences yet. Oh, hey, there’s an email from the folks who’re doing that pitch workshop tomorrow night that work doesn’t want me to go to because poor planning on their part constitutes an emergency on my part, and… ZOMG WTF?”

Oh. Right. Open Lab’s not a conference, it’s an anthology. One that Chris Rowan nominated me for (yeah, saw right through that innocent whistle, buddy). So I open the email, and it’s got all this verbiage about how “Adorers of the Good Science of Rock-breaking” has been accepted and here’s a contract and some edits and professional author stuff. Oh, and we need these rights so it can be published world-wide.


They are going to chop down trees and make them into paper and print my words on it, and then bind that paper together with paper that has got words from rock-star quality science bloggers on it, and they’ll put all those pages in a nice cover and release it to the world next fall, and I still can’t quite believe that’s actually taking place. I’ll probably be clutching that book, looking at my by-line, and still not believing this is actually taking place. I’ll have to find a good psychiatrist before then. That way, I’ll have a professional specializing in the treatment of psychiatric disorders assuring me that I haven’t had a psychotic break.

On the assumption that I have not, actually, had a psychotic break, thank you! Thank you, Chris Rowan, for nominating me. Thank you, my friends in the geoblogosphere, for inspiring me. Thank you, my readers, for giving me a reason to write words down and post them. Thank you, Open Lab, for briefly taking leave of your senses and choosing that post of mine for inclusion. Thank you, everyone who believed I wrote words worthy of this.

Now, if one of you happens to live in the Seattle area, would you kindly drop by and give me a rather large pinch?