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Author of queer, wry sci fi/fantasy books. On Amazon.
Editor of all fiction genres.

Tuesday, 2 November 2021

The Elusinian Mystery Cult

This article's title comes from the worshippers Demeter, Persephone, and Hades, a secretive Hellenic religious group who formed an understanding of the year's cycle from the actions of the gods. Hades (with Zeus' permission, allegedly) kidnapped Demeter and Zeus' daughter Persephone, brought her to the Underworld, and made her his equally-powerful queen and wife, there to reign over the riches of Earth and the multitudes of the dead. Her mother Demeter was unaware of the plan, and mourned her daughter's disappearance. The earth and harvest goddess allowed nothing to grow or bloom while she mourned, and unfortunately, humanity began to suffer and die. 

That meant no sacrifices - which was a big problem for the gods of Olympus. Eventually, Demeter solved the case of her missing daughter - and approached the culprit. But Hades, lovelorn for his new queen, could not bear to lose her forever. A famished Persephone accepted a handful of pomegranate seeds during her sojourn below the ground, and in doing so, bound herself to the underworld forever. This left Persephone torn between two people she loved, both longing for her in seemingly incompatible ways.

Zeus, seen as the rule-maker and judge of his divine family, settled that Persephone would remain with Hades for a quarter, third, or half of the year (accounts vary), and spend the rest above ground, with her mother. Demeter was content with this, but each year, when her daughter left to spend time with her husband, Demeter returned to mourning and would not allow the natural world to flourish.

 Behold: I am not dead, I rise again - though not in spring, as might be expected, but in winter, a time when my mind is sometimes more fruitful and active than in the warm, exciting seasons. 

It's been a second plague year, and as if that weren't enough to deal with, my personal life has been - well - full of ups and downs. I've spent most of the year hunkered over my computer, working on publishing and releasing actual books, working on my mental health to actually improve the damned thing, and trying to get in quality time with friends. The delight of a new relationship has also occupied many happy hours. Unfortunately, all of that has been on the background of a major personal upheaval within my family - and the long and short of it is, it annihilated my blog posting scheduled hopes.

But, as the snow and cold return in autumn, so too did I return to my creative projects - but also to Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo. Long-time readers of the blog and followers of my own media will be aware that I adore this book, and have read it several times - but after a nasty mental health breakdown a few years ago, I developed the common malady of reading anxiety. However, my male partner suggested recently that I take up a familiar and beloved book. On a whim, I indulged him, and found myself immediately captivated and delighted by the Robin Buss translation that I had not touched in many years. In a few words, then, if my writing voice is pretentious as hell, you can blame the best 19th century Black author I've read. 

But of course, my thirst for endless cultural analysis and commentary remains unabated, and so, in the dark of the night, I found my way to a video in my queue that was potentially thematically resonant for an upcoming Call of Cthulhu 7th edition game I plan to run for my local TTRPG (tabletop roleplay game) group. Inspired by the imminent game and the turn of my thoughts lately, my next posts will be about a moral panic video about Dark Academia, but also about the intriguing quandary of villain narratives. I also want to write (or more accurately, finish) a series of posts I've made about various writing techniques, including the applicability and utility of writing for and playing in TTRPG games to writing fiction. 

This November, I will also be continuing revisions on the coauthored romance novel I helped write last year, as well as trying to finish book 5 (and possibly 6?) of The Meaning Wars series. If that sounds like a lot, it probably is, so we'll see how far I get. I'm not setting especially hard deadlines, but I'd like to have the writing series out throughout the winter, book 5 out by December (or January), and Book 6, out in February or so. That means the anthology of The Meaning Wars won't be out by December 1st, as I'd hoped - but you can still grab the two most recent books, which are currently Kindle exclusives! (It's for marketing reasons, not borne out of any love for BezosMart.)

The books are a soft reboot of the series, so you can read from the very start, or you can pick up things from book 3 onward! They're about 40K apiece, or about 100-odd pages in paperback equivalency. 

They’re queer, anti-colonialist, anti-capitalist space opera tales - and the second book is a beach episode. 

The Meaning Wars - book 3 of The Meaning Wars 

On the way to a new wormhole-building gig, Crystal and her husband Jai fight over the future of their family. But the safe haven of their base is paradise compared to Pluto. Recovering from her imprisonment, Sarah and her cousin Toby try to scrape their lives back together and stay out of trouble on the icy planetoid. Rebel leader Patience Ngouabi's actions have triggered a growing insurrection on the colony planet of Indus, and the shock waves have reached even the Solar system's worlds. Both Crystal and Sarah will have to decide between uneasy peace and constant danger - if they get to choose at all.
Content advisory: this book contains references to abuse, sexual scenes, torture, and mental health issues. Reader discretion is advised.










Poe's Outlaws - book 4 of The Meaning Wars

Leaving her abusive husband, Crystal finds herself desperately in need of a vacation. She heads off to Nirvana, a resort planet far from the Solar System. Craving company - and wanting to save an old friend from the Human Conglomerate's unjust judiciary system - she invites Sarah, her cousin Toby, and Sarah's mentor Paulo to join her at the resort. Paulo calls on a former partner, but his arrival - and the job he offers - throw Crystal and Sarah's new lives into chaos. Temptation and a stunning revelation bewilder Crystal. Meanwhile, Sarah decides on a risky rescue mission that puts her ideals to the test. It's time to put up or shut up - because a revolutionary icon needs their help.









If you're glad I'm back, and you want to support me, then grab my books, hit me up on social media, or reply to this post. How are you handling the second year of COVID? Were there things you hoped to do, and didn't, or hoped to do, and did? Any plans for year 3? Your questions, comments, and contact are a huge motivation for me, so I'd love to know what my community - tiny, but very treasured - is up to.

***

Michelle Browne is a sci fi/fantasy writer and editor. She lives in Lethbridge, AB with her partners-in-crime and their cats. Her days revolve around freelance editing, knitting, jewelry, and learning too much. She is currently working on other people’s manuscripts, the next books in her series, and drinking as much tea as humanly possible.
Find her all over the internet: * OG Blog * Mailing list * Magpie Editing * Amazon * Medium * Twitter * Instagram * Facebook * Tumblr * Paypal.me * Ko-fi




Monday, 17 May 2021

Changing Words is Hard

 Using the right words is not especially easy. I should know; I help people do that for a living. I also try to make words do things to say stuff and express my feelings. 

Content warning: I allude to slurs in this piece, citing a couple of them, and also discuss ableism.

Sometimes those feelings are angry, contemptuous, dismissive, or that sort of thing. It's useful to have ways to belittle or express aggression towards people - say, for political reasons, or to express helplessness, fear; there's a constellation of reasons to embrace both negative emotions and negative communication. 

When that happens, it's easy to reach for words like "idiot," "moron," "stupid," and other things. But the origins of these words and their deployment in modern speech is often against people with disabilities - or those perceived as inferior. In the same way as calling someone "blind" to express that they're actually being stubborn, making a bad decision, or deliberately ignoring something is actually inaccurate, it also demeans people with visual impairments. 

There's been a popular push to stop using slurs - first and most easily, of course, is the n word (with or without a hard r on the end; if you don't know which word "the n word" is, you're probably beyond my help). The word "retard" and "faggot" are also falling out of use, and have been for the better part of a decade, for good reason. The latter and the n word are used rarely and in acts of reclamation by particular communities - but that's a different matter, and not one that requires policing - least of all, by a white woman, even a queer one. 

The type of language I'm talking about encompasses more than the most infamous slurs, though - it includes more ordinary words, which can easily pass unnoticed for those unaffected by particular traumas.

Why bother?

This probably sounds like needless nitpicking - I'll be honest, I've had that exact thought in the past - but the way we use words and language shapes the way we think. More educated people than myself have talked about this at length.

Although I have sometimes grumbled about this very topic, it ultimately aligns with my principles to avoid ableism and try to reshape my language. One can have a bit of emotional attachment to words - the sharp slap and sting of particular insults and curse words is very pleasing and useful. But what are humans if not innovators? It's one of our primary advantages as a species.

Sometimes it's also useful to reach backwards and time and see if there's anything to offer - generations of teachers have made use of this particular list to engage students' attention, and frankly, it works pretty darn well. Some of these do definitely fall in the "derogatory language" pile, insulting perceived intelligence and whatnot, but a lot of them are pretty darn fun, satisfying, and useful. 



Who cares about this? 

A lot of people, actually. I'm far from the first person to talk about it, but I thought bringing my own perspective to things - and being honest about my own limitations in adopting better language - might benefit some people. I've peppered references and links throughout my essay, as usual, but a quick search of ableist language on Google will reveal millions of hits and articles. A lot of people care about this.

The fact of the matter is, existing with a marginalization or multiple marginalizations makes the world feel like a hurricane of gravel. One gets inured to the storm, but that doesn't mean one's tolerance for pain is endless or infinite. And if we can reduce that careless pain for others - and refine the precision of our own language, expressing more in the process - is there really a downside? Sure, there's some inconveniences, and it's not always comfortable to examine our own internalized prejudices, but the benefits ultimately outweigh the costs. Yes, it's more work. Yes, it's uncomfortable. But not watching friends' shoulders tense up after a casually-deployed slur is rewarding.



Is this censorship?

In a word, no, but let me explain why. First of all, the process of censorship refers to government or organizationally-sanctioned or rejected terminology. In addition to the fact that different groups will reject and accept particular terminology - for instance, conservative groups tend to avoid queer-affirming language when they discuss things like anti-trans legislation - the intent here is to provide tools for anger that do not cause additional harm. 

There is a strong difference between internally rejecting the use of something and being forced to do so by an external body or power. Choosing the words we use is very different from being told we can't use particular words. 

Interestingly, none of the sources or sites or people I've talked to about this issue were against swearing; neither did they express a refusal to tolerate emotional anger or angry expressions. 

To provide yet another comparison, it's a bit like using a focused attack rather than an area-of-effect attack in Dungeons and Dragons - to quote a common internet witticism, "an arrow may have your name on it, but a fireball is addressed 'to whom it may concern.'" Why use a fireball, and risk the chance of friendly fire damage, when we can precisely target our opponent or the source of our frustrations? 

I certainly can't think of a good reason to casually inflict harm on people I care about, and if I can insult someone just a little better, it's going to be more satisfying. 

***
Michelle Browne is a sci fi/fantasy writer and editor. She lives in Lethbridge, AB with her partner-in-crime and their cats. Her days revolve around freelance editing, knitting, jewelry, and learning too much. She is currently working on other people’s manuscripts, the next books in her series, and drinking as much tea as humanly possible.
Find her all over the internet: * OG Blog * Mailing list * Magpie Editing * Amazon * Medium * Twitter * Instagram * Facebook * Tumblr * Paypal.me * Ko-fi


Tuesday, 11 May 2021

During Disasters, Life Can Still Crash

I have not been okay lately. 

In late March, a dear friend's husband passed away. In April, I almost had the chance to acquire a home - something rare for Millennials and even many Gen Xs - but due to family reasons, it fell through. Then friends' pets kept passing away or getting very ill. As mentioned a few times here, I have thanatophobia, a rather unpleasant phobia of death. In addition to being pretty empathetic and caring about my friends, this was all rather hard. My co-author and dear friend's Greater Swiss Mountain Dog also died rather suddenly, and despite our locational differences, it was rather hard. 

Normally, I like to present a clever conclusion or a flourish of words, a solution or suggestion that might benefit people both individually and at large. I'm not sure I have one of those today. Despite the fact that vaccines are rolling out in rich countries, my own included - I got my first shot of Pfizer yesterday - this pandemic is not going to be over any time soon. In addition to personal struggles, the world is in the middle of a very prominent and unavoidable crisis. 

Instead of trying to fix it, something beyond my power, all I can say is that it is time to learn how to accept things being not okay. It's not just the serenity prayer bit about accepting what you can't fix, changing what you can, and knowing the difference. It's about understanding the scale of this situation, and also the value in merely enduring and surviving. In order to do both of those, I know that I personally have to adjust how I talk, as well as what I say.

What's wrong with me


It's not just about diagnoses or individual situations; it's about the way life continues on after a situation ends, or changes. Just because the initial situation of harm is over doesn't mean that the after-effects vanish instantly. 

After talking to local friends and online friends, I can say this - making room to just not be okay is extremely important and valuable. Furthermore, though, not trying to perform happiness or okayness or tranquility is extremely important. It's so easy to just shove those feelings in a box or hide them from others or just not talk or be present when one is in a bad place. I don't just mean this in a cute, self-care-y kind of way; I mean it in the "getting by day-to-day" way. Personal and international ongoing crises are persisting, and they will persist after the pandemic - and the culture I've grown up in is particularly ill-equipped to handle that. So I find myself trying to make a better way, and sometimes grappling with direct lacks and absences in my frame of reference.

Do words really matter for therapy? 

Although we can't change the pandemic directly, there are unhealthy, dangerous, and unhelpful thoughts that we can challenge. After all, one can talk about society and culture - but we are also part of society and culture, and what we change in ourselves is a gift we can offer to others. Being able to destroy social constructs we've internalized, and which are harming us, is useful. 

A friend of my counterpointed, "but shouldn't we just say 'fuck society' and get on with our lives?" 

The problem with that is that we carry society with us. There's so many little tiny things and rules that I picked up to survive, and I know other people have learned the same. So if I can build forge tweezers from the stuff in my soul - I'm gonna hand them to someone else when I'm done. Sometimes you gotta pry ideas out of yourself like the head of a tick lodged in skin.

There's a good side, though - I am not alone, and neither are you. Humanity's greatest gift and weapon is our requirement for others. We are social animals, and although Rousseau and many others saw other people as our chains, chains can also be used to pull something out, not just hold it down. 

Some chains must be broken. Others can be forged. The work does not end, but new works can still begin. 
***
Michelle Browne is a sci fi/fantasy writer and editor. She lives in Lethbridge, AB with her partner-in-crime and their cats. Her days revolve around freelance editing, knitting, jewelry, and learning too much. She is currently working on other people’s manuscripts, the next books in her series, and drinking as much tea as humanly possible.
Find her all over the internet: * OG Blog * Mailing list * Magpie Editing * Amazon * Medium * Twitter * Instagram * Facebook * Tumblr * Paypal.me * Ko-fi

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Love Me Like You Hate Me

 Saddle up, kids, because the Magpie is mad about a video on the internet again. Content warnings apply for discussions of sexual assault, consent, queer stuff, and a whole plethora of different types of prejudice and phobias.

As readers of my articles and general members of my social sphere may know already, I'm a big proponent of sex work advocacy. I find the area interesting, it's sometimes ethically fraught and complex, and it's one in which a lot of marginalized oppressions and issues dovetail together. There's a ton of societal prejudice involved as well. So when I see discussions about sex work - which are related to issues of drug decriminalisation, police abolition and reform, and prison abolition and reform as well - I perk up. 

This time, however, I was about to be very disappointed.




Don't trust the character witnesses


 Let's start by talking about two of the figures alluded to in the video. There was a controversy surrounding much-maligned influencer Belle Delphine's use of bondage and a gag in a photoshoot that appeared on her Twitter. Personally, many of Belle Delphine's "scandalous" activities don't bother me in the least. They're one of the best things about her. I agree that she's hilarious and clever - but stealing other sex workers' nudes is absolutely not okay. in addition to just being theft of someone else's hard work, it's a huge violation of privacy. 

That being said, people subscribing to her who complained about sexual photo content featuring a kink are absolutely baffling. They have the option to unfollow her, and not consent to things. If someone is explicitly a sexually-focused adult content creator, being upset when they stray outside certain norms seems stupifyingly naive and entitled. Content warnings aren't a bad practice - but when a certain type of content is a normal part of someone's output, it seems disingenuous to be shocked. After all, this is not just another Disney starlet turned provocateuse we're talking about - it's someone who explicitly makes, well, explicit content. 

Hot girls want respect 


In relation to the sex industry, erotic content, and the like, discussions of the nature of sex work and its inherent morality in the context of exploitative systems often crop up. However, these discussions usually occur about sex workers rather than with them - a prime example being Hot Girls Wanted.
   Actual sex workers HATED Hot Girls Wanted because the production mistreated the same people it was trying to "save". It doxxed sex workers and included a ton of footage without their consent. 

Do not trust people in the rescue industry or who talk about "human trafficking" in hushed tones, but focus on the 13% of sex trafficking rather than the other agricultural and domestic labour trafficking that comprises the majority of the market. Jones particularly shaped the narrative to fit that kind of "sex is empowerment, but uh-oh, girls are over their heads" perspective that anti-sex work rescue organizations tend to push. It's condescending and disrespectful to the adult people participating.
 
I'm not saying that there aren't nuances to this, but the fact remains that the majority of people actually abused in sex work tend to be people of colour, often trans or queer youths, or those with disabilities or mental and physical health issues - or a combination of the above. And even then, what we should be doing is not "registering" or "legalizing" sex work - which tends to involve barriers for the very poorest people trying to survive on it - but should be decriminalizing it and providing access to health clinics and other resources.
   Now, with that said, let's talk about the broader issue of consent and perceived exploitation - especially in reference to the video's comment section. 

Talking first matters

 
The fact that people don't know the difference between BDSM and abuse is really disturbing. BDSM is not abuse because by definition, consent is involved. Abuse happens without consent. If someone wants something, and asks for it, that's so drastically different from a guy choking a girl without asking. (Note that the video references only straight-facing or female-male interactions, ignoring the long history of association between queerness and kink; something that I'll get to in a second.) Broadly, the lack of understanding of female, afab, and other genders' roles in their own pleasure is kind of disturbing. And after all, someone doesn't need to know about BDSM to treat a woman badly. 

Of course it's absurd to penalise people for enjoying "vanilla" sex - that shouldn't be insulted either. We can have both acceptance of kink and non-heterosexual or unconventional sex, while leaving plenty of room for "normal" sex. The fact that all of this is a shifting target, that "normalcy" changes anyway, should not be ignored either. But as usual, people are a lot madder at some teenage girls on Tiktok for normalizing something than they are at men for exploiting miscommunications or not saying things in the first place. And besides - it's not like Tiktok invented mainstream kink.

Fifty Shades of Are You Kidding


The fact that the video blatantly ignores or forgets the existence of the hyper-marketed Fifty Shades series, which - for all its many, many faults - mainstreamed the concept of pornography for women, especially kinky pornography, is stupifying. I realise the creator is 22, but even if she somehow didn't know that the international series existed, it would be hard to search BDSM without the series cropping up somewhere in the Google results. 

 It's certainly frustrating to see people blame young girls and women simultaneously for their ignorance and for role-modelling bad behaviour. But this begs the question - at what point are people allowed to stop being treated as potential role models? That can stifle self-expression. 

There's also a subtler problem, not mentioned in the video but discussed in the comments - the fact that kink isn't just a thing played with by straight or straight-facing couples. Kink and BDSM have deep roots in the LGBTQ+ community. 

Acceptable queerness


The comments on the video mention the relationship between kink and Pride events as well, with many readers expressing disgust or discomfort with "children seeing that sort of thing." Others countered that Pride wasn't about catering to straight people's families. All of this, however, avoids a brass tacks discussion: what specific kinks and displays were people finding offensive? 

People alluded to seeing leashes and bondage harnesses, and mentioned nudity - but full-on nudity would indecent exposure anyway. As radical a position as I often take, I'm fine with saying that people should cover their genitals in public. That seems like a pretty reasonable stance. 

I checked in with other friends who've seen a few Prides over the years, and they mentioned that the worst they've seen were a few leather daddies - men in chaps, harnesses, and that sort of thing; maybe bottoms that were too tight. I've seen some rope harnesses here and there, but never actual nudity at parades. 

Here's the thing. Online adverts, movies, side banners, game ads particularly - any of these display women in sexually provocative gear on a regular basis. But because it's catered towards a straight male gaze, it passes without comment. I have never had a problem with sexual advertising, but I do have a big problem with the double standard for queer folks and non-gender conforming presentations. Things that wouldn't draw a second glance if a hot blonde woman wore them, when transposed onto other bodies, are suddenly shocking and appalling and not fit for children.

It is also interesting that of the people who've been caught performing non-normative kink acts in public, all of them were straight or straight-facing couples. Queer couples aren't even allowed to get married in every country, meaning that they're usually deprived of marriage-locked social system benefits, including things like seeing one's partner at the hospital during a health emergency. Marriage isn't just a cutesy conformist luxury - it represents an access to certain rights. Because LGBTQ+ couples are tolerated in many countries, but only just, and persecuted or criminalised in many others, it's perhaps unsurprising that all of the people inflicting their kinks on the public outside of Pride events are overwhelmingly straight-facing or straight and white. 

What's the takeaway? 


Lecturing the person getting choked unexpectedly for not talking about what they're into is victim-blaming. There is no way to be a good enough person to avoid aggression. The problem is the person performing that aggression in the first place. 

And once again - why are we policing women, or afab people and queers, rather than demanding that men be the ones to learn how to talk about kink? Why are guys not getting consent before they choke someone?
***
Michelle Browne is a sci fi/fantasy writer and editor. She lives in Lethbridge, AB with her partner-in-crime and their cats. Her days revolve around freelance editing, knitting, jewelry, and learning too much. She is currently working on other people’s manuscripts, the next books in her series, and drinking as much tea as humanly possible.
Find her all over the internet: * OG Blog * Mailing list * Magpie Editing * Amazon * Medium * Twitter * Instagram * Facebook * Tumblr * Paypal.me * Ko-fi

Monday, 8 March 2021

The Secret of Evil

 I'd been sitting on this concept for a while, and then I found myself relaxing on Youtube one night, watching a film reviewer's analyses - and I was jolted from my comfortable mood and into a flurry of expository frothing. 

Possible content warning for talk about cults, general acts of violence, the dark side of humanity, cops, abuse - you get the idea.




Now, I think Ryan Hollinger does a great job of analysing this giving the constraints of his expertise and knowledge. I generally love his channel, and would recommend it. However, the underlying concept of this movie bothered me so greatly that, well - here we are. 

What is evil?

For our purposes, "evil" refers to socially unacceptable, transgressive acts that cause harm to others. Examples include violent acts, sexual assault, murder, theft, fraud, lying - you get it. 

Now, as long as humanity has been living in groups, squatting near our little fires, we've quarreled and bickered and occasionally wronged or harmed each other - sometimes, more severely than at others. The call to understand both our own dark impulses and bad decisions and to understand those taken by others appears to be pretty universal. Narratives and folkloric tales about evil, good, punishment, and morality appear in every single human civilization and culture, from small subsistence clans and tribes to our modern era. 

I have a strong interest in cults, extremist groups, new religious movements, and that kind of thing. I've always wondered how "evil" came to be. It was a while before I understood that evil is a verb, not an actual force in the world. 

But writers - especially in Hollywood, but in the general creative sphere as well - don't all have degrees in the human condition. And while that's fine, what is not fine is the way that evil is portrayed and continues to be portrayed. Not to mention the fact that criminality is often portrayed as "evil," regardless of whether or not the criminal actions harmed anyone (i.e. an expired license plate vs a speeding ticket vs an assault charge). 

Now, fun, lighter-hearted portrayals of evil aren't really the issue here - I'm talking more about the serious portrayals, where a movie or story is really trying to Say Something. The silly portrayals of things, however, are rooted in the more serious stuff - so let's talk about what we see as evil.

There's no such thing as "born evil" 

Take a minute with it. If you already know that, and are going, "yeah, duh," then let me explain the whole "evil" thing in the context of murderers. I'm so tired of these bad, stupid true crime narratives about someone who just "wakes up and does bad things". They allow us to ignore the massive preponderance of people who a) commit crimes for survival purposes, b) the misunderstandings of how mental health issues and neurodivergence works (i.e. "evil autistic" etcetera), and c) socio-economic factors, not to mention d) the cycle of abuse. That's not even including e) cultural dehumanization of others caused by privilege - such as with wealth, perceived moral authority, or racist or gender-based ideas, to name but a few. 

Let me run through those again with examples. Now, I'm not saying these are actually all "causes of evil," but they're various examples of causes of harmful acts, that some people might label - fairly or unfairly - as evil. Some of these groups and people are especially vulnerable to maltreatment, and especially innocent of what they're accused of, but culturally, we don't usually act like that's the case.

a) survival criminality - doing something bad for either good reasons or personal safety. Example: stealing a TV to pay for a child's school fees; stealing to pay for drugs in the case of an addiction 

b) mental health issues and neurodivergence - people who experience impaired empathy and/or struggle to conform to societal cultural norms. Example: an autistic child slapping a caregiver during a meltdown, because they feel angry and/or threatened.

c) socio-economic factors - poverty is often criminalised, and some people - in Canada, that includes Indigenous, Metis, and First Nations people, and Black, African, and Caribbean Canadians in particular - are disproportionately accused of and suspected of crimes. This can lead to being forced into the prison system, loss of opportunities, prejudice, and murder. If you've heard the phrase "school to prison pipeline" regarding the way Black people are treated, you'll know what I'm talking about. (If you don't, look it up; it's very important. Also horrifying.) Example: a store manager points at a Black child for acting "suspicious," assuming the child has stolen a candy bar. (Depending on the portrayal, either the child will be implied to be "evil" or the store owner will be "evil".) 

d) the cycle of abuse. Abuse survivors who don't deal with their experiences in some way go on to abuse others. Example: a man who is assaulted by his uncle may later go on to assault his daughter's friend in her teen years. Alternately, an abused child may go on to abuse her spouse in adulthood.

e) cultural dehumanization of others caused by privilege - such as with wealth, perceived moral authority, or racist or gender-based ideas, to name but a few. The trope of the Evil Rich Executive from the 80s is a good example. See also, President of the US #45 for abundant and horrifying examples of dehumanizing and abusing others. 

Does evil even exist? 

I mean, colloquially, sure. As a primeval force? No. Even companies that profit from true crime content will, with some bashfulness, admit that a significant majority of the "terrifying killers" they love to portray are just severely abused people who've ended up lashing out in the worst possible ways. In the exceptionally rare cases where multiple murderers aren't actually abused in childhood and/or suffering severe adverse effects, there's often neurological damage involved. 

However, as you can see from this brief analysis, it's pretty clear that evil is more of a verb than a state of being. Someone's actions can be evil, but defining a person as "evil" assigns a certain kind of evaluation that is both dehumanizing and oddly absolving. I won't dive into the depths of Christian theology about evil right now - but even in games like Dungeons and Dragons,  confronting the question of "evil races" (yikes) has required some updates and changes. And frankly, that's a good thing. 

How do we write about bad things and evil, then? 

Don't take this essay as the vituperative howling of an inveterate killjoy. Rather, it's a plea for authors to realise that the old stories we've been telling are not only dusty and boring from overuse, they're deeply inaccurate. The real world's cues are so much more interesting and fertile, and trying to tell the same old mortality tales that have already been explored - without adding to them - is both artistically annoying and actually pretty harmful. 

All of these things can still make for incredible, nuanced, interesting, gripping stories...but NoOoooooo, Hollywood still loves, "but what if just pure evil?" At this point, the thought experiment side of it is no longer a good argument. It's become the predominant understanding of how crime, especially murderers, work - and that's really, really bad.

We learn about the world from the narratives we take in - whether that's pursuing true crime tales late into the night or listening to harrowing tales of social justice and fights against societal forces, or even just watching a fun, dumb horror movie. Luckily, there's a lot of wonderful work that's been coming out that does take these nuanced, complicated stories into account - to list some podcasts I love, How We RollDungeons and Randomness, Campaign: Skyjacks, The Adventure Zone, and Critical Role all tend to feature plenty of nuance in the "evil" characters, as well as in the "good" ones.

So ask yourself - who are the heroes in this tale, and in the world? Who do you instinctively take the side of when you see a real-world conflict? Although we all pride ourselves on being able to tell the differences between facts and fiction, our construction of the world comes from stories - and that means we have to be honest about who we label "the bad guys," and why.

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Michelle Browne is a sci fi/fantasy writer and editor. She lives in Lethbridge, AB with her partner-in-crime and their cats. Her days revolve around freelance editing, knitting, jewelry, and learning too much. She is currently working on other people’s manuscripts, the next books in her series, and drinking as much tea as humanly possible.
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