Are You Willing to Die for Your Art?

My network of friends and associates includes a lot of artists. I know actors and dancers, photographers and writers, comic book artists, comedians, fashion designers, musicians, DJs and filmmakers. All of them bring passion to their craft. Each of them has made sacrifices for the chance to express themselves. I often feel humbled comparing my novels to their work. But the news over the past few weeks has forced me to think about the limits of creative dedication. I wonder how many of us would risk our lives to pursue our art?

The Sony hack over The Interview and the terrorist attack in Paris, are the latest examples of attacks on expression. This isn’t a new phenomenon. Totalitarian regimes, extremists and insecure people of every type and class have used censorship, intimidation and violence to suppress art throughout history. Our perspectives and opinion shape our expression. Those who don’t agree with an opinion and feel threatened by its existence have a tendency to lash out in anger. Every artist risks retaliation the moment they expose their creations to the public.

I don’t expect masked gunmen to kick in my door and shoot me down over the books I write. My current work doesn’t focus on the political or religious maniacs who hide behind AK-47s. Some people might not enjoy my depictions of sexual expression or my attacks on misogyny, but most people don’t care so I’m safe for now. The worst attack I face is a bad review or an inane comment on my wall.

But if I wasn’t safe, would I stop? If I had to risk more than time, money and what little reputation I have, would I give up publishing? If I started getting death threats or survived a real attack, would I keep writing? I can’t answer these questions with any honesty because I’ve never been in those situations. I like to see myself as an artist willing to sacrifice for his craft, but until the moment of truth comes, who can tell?

I don’t know if my artist friends are willing to die for their art, but the relationship between expression and retaliation is inherent in the world we live in. The spectrum ranges from benign online trolling to murder but artistic expression is not a safe lifestyle. We all risk something when we expose ourselves to the world. Maybe the decision to sacrifice security is part of the creative condition. Maybe our passion is what makes us so threatening. I don’t know. But I respect every artist willing to put themselves out there, whatever risks they face. The most respect goes to those who know they are in danger and continue to create in spite of, or perhaps because of the threats against them.

Have fun.

My Top Ten Books for 2014

Many successful writers advise other writers to read more than they write. I enjoy reading, so I accepted the advice without much fight. I set out to read thirty books in 2014 and according to my tracking on Good Reads, I managed to get through forty books this year. A few books were horrible, several were excellent. To look back on my year, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite books for 2014.

Keep in mind this list is for books I read this year, I’m not worried about when the book was released. I also don’t care about format. I read a combination of print, e-book, graphic novel and audio book. I’m concerned with content, not medium. The list includes fiction, non-fiction, how to and humor because I try to be well rounded...

10. The Curriculum by Stanley Bing (audio book): This humorous crash course in business combines concepts in his earlier books (How to Throw an Elephant and What Would Machiavelli Do?) It’s not a funny as the first two books, but it offers more practical advice with it’s laughs.

9. Elektra: Relentless by Rob Rodi and Sean Chen (graphic novel): This book has all the elements of a great Marvel Knights book. It’s a self -contained, character driven story that focuses as more on the humanity of the supporting cast than the “hero” who is almost a force of nature.

8. Words for Pictures by Brian Michael Bendis: Most people see comics as a hobby for nerds and children. A few people see the potential for money with all the movies and TV shows. Word for Pictures focuses on the business and the craft of creating comics in a way I haven’t seen for more than twenty five years.

7. Call for the Dead by John Le Carre (audio book): This turned out to be my least favorite book from one of my favorite authors. Le Carre retains all his skill in creating setting, characters and an intricate spy plot, but the ending he chose seemed forced and unsatisfying.

6. Handbook of Practical Spying by Jack Barth: This light hearted book from the International Spy Museum in Washington manages to offer a lot of real world advice, some historical context and without being dry or convoluted. It’s a painless introduction to modern tradecraft.

5. Being Wrong by Kathryn Shulz (audio book): This exploration of the physical, mental, social, and historical sources of mistakes is disturbing and enlightening at the same time. It doesn’t cover every aspect of error, but it covers enough ground to make you wonder how we haven’t managed to destroy the entire planet by now. 

4. Graveyard of Memories by Barry Eisler (audio book): This is the origin story for the iconic assassin John Rain (soon to be played by Keannu Reves). It contains all the elements of a great Eisler story (meticulous tradecraft, psychological insight and lush settings) but the formula for the story will be familiar to anyone who has read a Rain story before. It’s like listening to your favorite band play live. You know what they’re going to play, but you’re still amazed when they play it. 

3. Sexual Intelligence by Marty Klein: Most sex help books focus on technique or trying to get you back to some golden age of performance in your past. This book focuses on your present and future sexual expression by helping you get past technique and into physical and emotional connection. It rejects performance for pleasure and covers a wide range of sexual situations and examples. The main problem with this book is the people who read it probably don’t need it and the people who need it probably won’t read it.

2. Write, Publish, Repeat by Johnny B. Truant: It’s hard for me to listen to the podcast this book came from (The Self-Publishing Podcast) because the three hosts are friends who work together and spend two thirds of their time on the air self-promoting or meandering off topic. But these three writers have a deep understanding of the business and craft of independent publishing and what it takes to be successful. A lot of my ideas and inspiration to write came from this book when I read it the first time and it is even better the second time around. If you ever thought about writing a book, read this book first.  

1. Talk Dirty to Me by Sallie Tisdale: In a lifetime of reading books, only a handful will be transcendent. Talk Dirty to Me is one of those books for me. This intimate philosophy of sex explores the subject from fundamental questions of attraction, desire and expression and unpacks issues like pornography, prostitution, sexual identity and sexual repression in a thoughtful voice free of shame or blame. Talk Dirty to Me is a book that I’d like to read several more times. It’s not only my favorite books of 2014. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in ten years.

So what was your favorite book of 2014? Comment below and let me know.

Have fun and Happy New Year.


Police Brutality Beyond America

Protesters and critics in the United States might view the deaths of Garner and Brown as symptoms of a problem unique to our country. But a recent op ed piece by Usayd Youis points out Britain's long history of police who were not punished for violence against minorities.

Does this suggest parallels between U.S. and U.K. law enforcement in terms of tactics, or does it flow from a more basic concept of power corrupting the very people who are supposed to protect us. 

America's Love Affair with Torture

A poll conducted in the wake of last week's CIA Torture report suggests that up to fifty percent of Americans believe the CIA program was justified. Responses were split along party lines, race and gender, with Republicans standing behind the legacy of Cheney and Democrats split on the issue. Minorities, women and younger people were more likely to reject the program while older white males accepted it.

The results aren’t earth shattering, considering the history of American society. Our treatment of indigenous Americans, African slaves, Chinese migrants and women in general has included systemic violence since before we were a country. Modern examples also support this premise. From what I understand, entertainment popular in the wake of the 9/11 attacks from 24 to Zero Dark Thirty, depicted torture as a viable means to extract critical information in a short period of time.  The poll results only clarify what we already knew.

I’m not innocent when it comes to using torture in my work. Both Smooth Operator and A Taste of Honey include torture scenes. The difference between my stories and other situations is the goal of the torturer. In my books, the torturer wants to punish the torture victim or use images of the torture victim to force action from a third party. The collection of information is secondary or not an issue at all. Based on my understanding of the subject, torture is not an effective way to gather information, but it’s a great way to display aggression, generate fear or act out repressed anger.

I think those of us who support CIA torture are less interested in intelligence and more interested in venting the feelings of rage and insecurity in the aftermath of 9/11. They accept torture because they imagine it acted out on someone who does not look like them or follow their beliefs. One of the few Republicans to speak out against torture was Senator John McCain. His position is influenced by his own experience as a POW tortured by the North Vietnamese. I’m sure if more Americans found themselves or their loved ones in the horrible position of being tortured, they’d be less likely to throw their support behind this program.