My Thoughts on Censorship

This morning, I read The Guardian’s interview with Neil Gaiman. Coraline is absolutely one of my favourite books. And Neil Gaiman remains one of my favourite authors, not just because of his books, but because of his inspiration and example. So, his words on the subject of censorship made me rather reflective on my own experiences, reading and writing. I’ve been wanting to write a blog article on censorship for some time and never could figure out where to start until now.

Thankfully, my parents never censored what I wanted to read, but I had one public school teacher tell me The Hobbit was too difficult for a fifth grader. (I read it anyway, loved it, and it’s the book that inspired me to write stories of my own.) And my churches and private schools often made it known which books, genres, and authors were “evil”. I was admonished not to read Thoreau, for example, because he was too humanist. Scare tactics were openly used to frighten me away from Dungeons and Dragons games and books because of the belief that they were Satanic. And I remember being told in chapel that the entire fantasy genre was evil because it involves authors creating new worlds that usually employ some form of magic; since only God can create worlds and perform magic, when mortals do it we’re playing God. And it’s a sin to want to be like God. So, according to at least one preacher out there, ALL fantasy genre books (indeed, all fiction, if you’re going to look at it from that point of view) should be burned for blasphemous content … but the Bible itself, with all of its rapes and murders and adultery and multitudes of other sins, is okay for even very young children to study in depth and interpret literally.

Creation of Adam
Shame on you, fantasy writers (and artists). Apparently, only God can use magic, build worlds, and create character sheets … and nudes.

And this censorship didn’t apply to just books. Rock music was banned from my church and private school’s campus, and they held bonfires for burning music collections that they encouraged students to join — yes, real-life literature and music burning as a form of censorship. Fahrenheit 451, anyone?

Having experienced that kind of extreme censorship, my take on censorship now is this: books should never be censored. Period. If you don’t like a book, don’t read it. If you finished reading it, but didn’t like it, give an intelligent, articulate review explaining why the book was poorly written (meaning: know your own prejudices and know something about how literature works before grinding an author into the ground for writing something you, personally, did not enjoy). Books that are badly written may or may not be bought by other people, depending on what they like or dislike, but you cannot control other people’s likes and opinions. The purpose of a review is merely to let other readers know what you enjoyed, or did not enjoy, about the book, so they have an idea whether they may, or may not, enjoy it, too. It is not the purpose of a review to steer other readers away from books — that’s bullying and assumes everyone has the same tastes as you. Books that receive mean, screaming, one-star, personally insulting reviews only tell other readers that the reviewer is mean, very opinionated, and probably takes his fiction way too seriously — just like censorship. (Censorship and book shaming are both control issues: participants desire to control the author and readers.) And in my experience, mean-spirited reviews indicate the reader doesn’t recognize his own prejudices or understand how literature works. (That’s not to sound elitist. I am anti-elitist when it comes to arts. I simply mean we have too many readers who think, “I hate it, therefore it’s bad.” And that’s just now how art works.)

I have never been traumatized by anything I’ve read, even the stuff I didn’t enjoy. I’ve read almost every book on those “How Many of These Censored Books Have You Read?” lists that float around the Internet, and I’m thankful for the valuable lessons I learned from them. Because the true danger in books is that they have the potential to either prompt people to think for themselves (against the establishment) or parrot propaganda (favouring the establishment). Discerning readers will develop better critical thinking and empathy skills as a result of reading. But there are people who take what they read to heart, literally and seriously, so that they turn it into a religion, regardless of what topics are presented … even in fiction. So, like any other inanimate thing, information (fact, fiction, conjecture, or opinion) is nothing but a tool. But ANY tool created for good can be turned into a weapon when it falls into the hands of people who have ill intentions.

One of my favourite censored books is Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. I hated that book from beginning to end, but I loved what I learned from it so much that I’ve read it multiple times. If I were to take it literally, I’d say it promotes casual rape and other forms of violence for sport — that it sympathizes too much with violent people. But it’s fiction; it’s not meant to be taken literally. It’s meant to make people think about what it means to have free will and reconsider how we treat the lowest class of citizens in society … prisoners. It’s an extremely difficult book for many reasons, but well worth the read. It uses negative elements to challenge readers to consider how our humanity itself hinges on our freedom to make our own choices … even when they come with bad consequences.

If we wipe the criminal mind to make it docile, are we simultaneously stripping away a prisoner’s humanity? If we alter a person’s mind against his will, isn’t that also a rape? The story challenges the concept that tyrannical peace is a viable option for creating and maintaining a moral society. Is there really such a thing as “good” tyranny? The book reminds us that we cannot sacrifice free will for the sake of a crime-free society, or we will become tyrants. It’s a fine line between lawful good and lawful evil.

This book was a huge influence in my own writing concerning themes of tyrannical peace, but I have yet to hear of anyone blaming Clockwork Orange for inducing him to be a serial rapist. And even if he did, he would have missed the “moral of the story” because of his own inability to comprehend it. Blaming a book for a reader’s lack of wisdom and ethics is preposterous. Blaming the author for saying, “What if this hypothetical situation were true?” and excusing a reader for employing a literal interpretation as some kind of life guide or Bible is just as illogical.

I remember a case in the news years ago where a woman stoned her child to death because she believed God told her to and promised He would resurrect her child as an act of faith. Where do you think she got such an incredible idea? Ummm … the Bible, maybe? The Bible does admonish parents to stone disobedient children. And she was following Abraham’s example with Isaac, after all. Apparently, God just didn’t see fit to reward this woman’s faith with a spare ram, for some reason. But what judge in what court is going to punish her Bible’s publishers because this woman chose to interpret those words literally and murder her own son as an act of faith? Or, if Bibles inspire such crimes, should they be on the ban list, too? Can you imagine the outrage of all those book banners if the Bible were included on that list because of its immoral and violent content?

No book, no matter how immoral, violent, or factually wrong, should be banned. There are better ways to make people aware of the content of a book so that they can judge for themselves whether they wish to support the author by purchasing it, or not. Then, ultimately, the user must take responsibility for what he does with the information, or tool, in his hands. There will always be some people who have trouble discerning fact from fiction due to lack of education or critical thinking skills, or if psychological manipulation or influences are present, such as indoctrination or mental illness. But you cannot help people become better critical thinkers by banning difficult or controversial books. In fact, quite the opposite will happen. Keeping readers away from difficult reading material encourages quick judgment and avoidance, rather than understanding or problem solving, when facing controversy. And you cannot punish all readers, the writer, and the publisher just because some readers might twist the message, or take a twisted message to heart and act upon it.

Digital Books For Everyone

Having finally published The Atheling yesterday, today, I’d like to throw out reminders that even if you don’t have an e-reader, this book (and many, many other e-books) are still available to you if you have a computer or smartphone.

Kindle app
Amazon Kindle store offers free reading apps for PC’s, pads, and phones.

Amazon has a free reading app that you can download here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/digital/fiona/kcp-landing-page… . I have a Kindle reader, but I also use this one on my computer. If you use i-products or Android products, you can purchase from the Kindle bookstore and at checkout choose to have the book sent to your Kindle or device with the reading app.

Here’s an article with more information about how to do that:https://netgalley.uservoice.com/…/54717-can-i-use-the-kindl…

Smashwords logo
Smashwords offers nine download formats .

Smashwords is my other current publisher because they offer nine different formats, including pdf, text, an on-line reader, and the original document. Would you believe PDF format is actually their most popular sales? Here’s an article on that: http://blog.smashwords.com/…/most-popular-ebook-formats-rev… . They suspect it’s still popular because of its easy formatting, universal PC acceptance, and familiarity.

So, if you’re interested in digital books, but don’t have a specific reader, give some of these other options a try. Many sites also offer public domain or discounted books for free or lowered prices. I still love my paper books, and my novels will eventually go to print. But I also love my digital readers since I can take lots of books with me and not have to worry about storage space. (Because, yes, I’m one of those people who has starry-eyed visions of some day owning a ceiling to floor library in my forever home.) 😉

Book Launch: The Atheling

The Atheling cover
The Atheling by Melody Daggerhart

The Atheling is now available at Amazon and Smashwords in a variety of digital formats! (Paper versions will not be available until the digital series is finished.)

Woo, woo, woot! One year in the making, three months past the due date I had in mind, and fighting high word count every inch of the way, this book has proved to be my most challenging yet. But it’s finally done.

A word about the series first: the Elf Gate books comprise a portal tale that stretches across several volumes like a story arc. Aija is mistakenly abducted into the land of the fae, where humans are outlawed and to be executed on sight. But she can’t find her way home because the gate she came through collapsed. With the help of Trizryn, the enigmatic elf who mistook her, Aija discovers fae have modernized like humans, only differently; that they are on the brink of civil war; and that she must learn to defend herself in a world full of magic she doesn’t understand. In trying to find a gate home before dragons destroy them all, they must unravel secrets not even Trizryn is aware of about himself and the fae court. This dark fantasy series combines elements of horror, comedy, romance, and adventure, in a modified steampunk setting. Rated for older teens due to language and violence.

I’m still in the process of updating author pages and such, but I’m ready to get word out there that the fourth book in the series is finally available. I published a short interview on Smashwords for its release. You can read the whole interview here: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/MelodyDaggerhart . But here are some highlights.

THE ATHELING picks up where THE DARKLING left off. Aija and her fae friends have a lot to accomplish in this book. They have to fix a broken airship and use it to rescue the hostages Ilisram is holding in Absin’navad and be prepared to confront him and any necromancy tricks he has up his sleeve. But, of course, things are never that simple. …
Time is running out with the dragons destroying the gates before Trizryn can find one to take Aija home, which means the falling gates are also taking chunks out the Veil that divides alternate realities. The dragons that have already risen are growing in number and are still prophesied to attack Brinnan, and Ilisram’s conspiracy against the Derra Eirlyn is looking more clear, yet more muddled at the same time. They need to get word out to the rest of the kingdom about what’s really happening in the fae court because they can’t trust the King to do it. And the King is still after Trizryn’s and Aija’s heads. …

This is still a coming-of-age story for Aija. This is still a spiraling-inward journey for Trizryn. Most of the characters introduced so far come together once more, along with a few new ones, for a full-blown assault on Absin’navad in attempt to free the hostages, locate the body of the Princess, and defeat Ilisram. So, there’s a lot of action in this book compared to the first couple where they were still learning to trust each other. I hope readers enjoy this fourth installment of the series.

The most difficult part of producing this book was, without a doubt, word count. I don’t usually care about it, but books that are too thick, particularly books by indie authors, don’t sell well. The fact that this is the fourth book in a series helps because fans who have enjoyed the first three books will hopefully look forward to more in the fourth. But I don’t want it to be too expensive to print or impossibly bulky for print when that time comes. Otherwise, I’m a big fan of series and long books, so I enjoy having more material to read on characters I’ve learned to love from books and TV shows. I love big books with new worlds and familiar characters that I can take my time exploring extensively.

The easiest part of this book was the flow of the action and dialog. My characters have a tendency to take over the story, and this one was no exception. But the interaction felt more fluid this time around — too fluid, if that’s possible. Which is why the excessive word count had to be curtailed. I had to cut out one scene entirely after about the third draft, but I fought hard to save everything else, even if it meant meticulously scrutinizing and cutting 20K words or more.

Many of the series questions will be answered in this book. Many more are pending. There are still one or two more books to finish. I initially drafted the final as book 5, but if it’s too big, answering all plot threads started is more important. I will split a large final book into 5 and 6, if necessary, to be able to give it the proper conclusion. The final book(s) will probably take longer to produce, partly for this reason and partly because I have a lot of personal things going on in my life right now that are demanding attention — the kinds of things that really don’t give a damn about whether I have readers waiting for the next book to drop while ideas are fresh in my mind. (*sigh* … life …) But I’ve already started revising the draft of book 5, so I promise diligence until completion as much as possible.

As always, I’ve also updated the previous books in the series to include information on book 4, correct minor errors, and give them more unity in publication formatting. You should be able to upgrade your previously purchased copies at the locations where you originally bought them.

Lastly, if you’ve enjoyed reading my drafts of this series as free web serials, please consider purchasing the final copies. Writers have bills to pay, too, and while these stories might be readable in a matter of a few weeks, they each took a whole year to craft. If you purchase a copy from either Amazon or Smashwords, please consider leaving a review to give other readers an idea whether these books might be something that suits them.

To those of you who have already left reviews for other books in the series or for the web series version of this one, or who just were present to offer support when I doubted myself (because artists forever doubt themselves), thank you for being patient and encouraging me to keep writing. I write first for myself because it’s part of who I am, and I will always have stories to tell because it’s how I process and play with the world around me. But without readers those stories are like plush toys in an attic, lacking children to love them. My readers are important to me. And I sincerely hope you enjoy the latest adventure in this series. 🙂