Crossing the Equator 1: From Tech Blogging To Fiction

I had originally intended to quit blogging. In fact, I started shutting down social media accounts. For example, I went from 2,500 Twitter followers to zero. I don’t miss it. That addiction to internet micro-approvals wasn’t healthy. “Likes” feel like genuine social connection and retweets feel like cultural influence, but let’s not kid ourselves. Social media is crack for anyone insecure enough to seek external proof of value– and all of us become guilty of that, at some point in our lives.

In the 2010s I learned, the hard way, that technology companies can’t be trusted. It began in 2013 when Hacker News began representing my comments as having performed more poorly than they actually had– a moderation practice called “rank-ban”– largely because I criticized the prevailing business model of Bay Area venture capital. I was able to prove the existence of this “rank ban” using accessible historical data. In 2015, I was banned from Hacker News and then Quora (also owned by Y Combinator) under false pretenses of a more serious nature. Quora, in addition to blaming a Y Combinator partner by name, threatened to expose my viewing history to the public.

You know what? To some extent, it’s on me. I trusted my reputation to privately-owned technology platforms. That was naive, and I got burned. I spoke out about the tech industry’s social injustices and moral failures and was attacked by everyone from anonymous trolls to billionaire venture capitalists.

So, I quit tech blogging. On that topic, I’m still quit. Fuck tech, and fuck tech blogging, and fuck everything the private-sector software industry stands for… which is perhaps a vacuous fucking (like wind fucking other wind) because it stands for nothing. I refuse to waste any energy, or to put my livelihood or reputation further at risk, in a vain effort to save it. Given the risks, if I ever publish essays on those topics, I’ll be charging for it– either self-publishing e-books or through print magazines. Because of what I’ve written, I’ve had to take expensive security measures to protect myself and others close to me. That cost has gone unpaid.

Still, I need to write. In late 2016 and early 2017, I found myself in a negative mood. I don’t wish to expose precise political opinions or economic interests, but… this is not a time to sit down. Too often, I hear people express a wish to sleep through unfavorable political events or adverse economic circumstances. Here’s the scary secret: it’s very easy for most people to “sleep through” bad times. That’s how the villains win. It galled me in 2016 (especially, leading up to Nov. 8) when people talked about how “this election” had been so exhausting and dreadful (thus, creating a false equivalency between a classical campaign, with as many negative elements as any other, and a terrifying one). Yeah, our right to vote is such a bummer; fuck off with that spoiled whining.

In February, I pulled together the hundred pages or so that I’d written for Farisa’s Courage, which I originally figured I’d finish in my late 30s– I’d attempted it a couple of times, but it never quite “took”. Of that hundred pages, a decent proportion was still good. About sixty would make it into the final novel.

In late March, I figured out what was wrong with the original story, and how to make it better. The truth is that writing (like programming) is either a lot of fun or an absolute slog and, when it’s the latter, it’s a sign of something wrong. In fiction, one might not be ready for the project. That’s not a big deal. I had a very successful blog here, even six years ago, but I wasn’t ready to write Farisa until this year. It takes time. The tech industry is quick to crown people as “experts” after they give one presentation or write a popular blog post– I was once crowned an expert, by a reputable source that shall go unnamed, in a technology that I’d picked up three months before– but writing projects can span ten years between conception and completion, even for the most advanced writers.

I realized the one best way to tell the story of the first 21 years of Farisa’s life. (Farisa’s Courage is the first in a series, called The Antipodes.) I’m speaking vaguely here, because I want to avoid spoilers. Once I figured it out, I got to it. I wrote. Soon, I had a 134,000-word novel on my hands. (After revision, it’s 124,000.) The story, as far as I can tell, works. It’s compelling, it has a couple of great characters, and there’s the right mix of sad, scary, funny, and sweet moments. I’ll probably do one or two more passes’ worth of editing before I start querying agents, but it’s good.

The last chapter of Farisa’s Courage is entitled “Crossing the Equator”, and so is this series of essays.

What do I wish to write about? Well, let me talk about what I’ve learned over the past few months.

First of all, deleting social media accounts leads to happiness. Try it. The danger is that it can be hard to get them back. As someone who’s going to be publishing a book soon, that 2500-follower Twitter account had value. Oops! Social media can be useful, but it has become, for most people, a waste of time that compromises real-life interactions and that drives out more meaningful channels of information– like books. It’s really nice to be reading books again.

Second, I learned that I need to write. I guess that that was obvious. I’m glad that I quit tech blogging. I hope to be out of private-sector software entirely before I’m judged to be too old for it. Always better to leave on your own terms, right?So I didn’t write for a while. Still, that need to use the written word would come out, one way or another. Even after I quit, I wrote several unpublished (never-to-be-published) blog posts and I spent too much time, some anonymous, on Internet forums. I got to a point where I said, “Fuck it, might as well write something that matters.” So, I got to work on Farisa.

Third, I’ve improved as a writer. I was a 99th-percentile tech blogger for some time, but the standards of publishable fiction are higher than that of business writing– especially, internet business writing. Like I said, it wasn’t until my 30s that I had what it takes to write a novel. It’s not that hard to write 50,000 words of grammatically correct prose. It is much harder to come up with a complex story that anyone would want to read, and to tell it in a compelling way. I’ve already learned a lot in the (I hope, successful) attempt. Authors don’t get second chances. If someone gets bored at page 17, that reader’s typically gone forever. There are too many other things competing for the reader’s time. I know, because I worked in the tech industry. I helped build some of them.

Fourth, I’ve gained a sense of what I care about and what I don’t. In 2012, I would have said that the most important thing would be for every technology company to ditch Agile and implement open allocation. I still feel that this would be an improvement, but my mind fixates itself on bigger issues now. In 2012, I saw global techno-capitalism as inefficient. Those irritating product managers and under-capable executives were getting in the way of programming savants like me. (How dare they?) In 2017, I recognize global techno-capitalism as dangerous. Look at the political situation, anywhere in the world… and then keep looking for the next ten years because, where it isn’t bad, it will be soon enough. This is a lot bigger than open allocation versus Agile or whether Google’s cafeteria is better than Facebook’s.

Fifth, writing helps give purpose to suffering. The past 10 years have been a mix of good and bad, but there’s been a lot of of bad. I did meet my wife and get married. That has been good. I have two cats. Again, good. I wrote a novel of better-than-publishable quality. Good. Yet, for the challenges, in no particular order: I lived through the global financial meltdown; in 2012, I was fired for refusing to commit felony perjury; there were several deaths in my family; I was flagged in Silicon Valley as a “union risk”; I received death threats from highly-positioned people in the Bay Area;  conditions within my chosen industry (private-sector software) deteriorated; that same industry became an adversary of the world… and now I can only watch as technology-driven unemployment sets off a global wave of dangerous, reactionary populism. I’ve had many unpleasant experiences in the past few years… but I wouldn’t have been able to write Farisa’s Courage without them. That puts the weight on me to make it good.

On that note, back to work.

Farisa’s Courage (novel) is Revision Complete

“Revision Complete” means that I won’t be adding characters, changing scenes, or altering storyline in any major way. (ETA 5/2/17: I lied. I’ve added a couple scenes.) “Edit Complete” (i.e. fine-tooth comb, zero typo tolerance) will be a couple months from now. I’d like to have something finished and ready for the world by Oct. 1, 2017. (ETA 5/2/17: I doubt that I’ll make this date. The book will be ready, but publishing is slow.) We’ll see what I can do.

I’m sending out a finite (fixed but undisclosed) number of copies, even before I shop this out to publishers. It’s an intermediate draft (obviously) and So, to people who’ve read my writing, if you’re interested, please let me know.

Here’s the summary / blurb / trailer for Farisa’s Courage, intended as the first in a series (“The Antipodes”).

The Antipodes

The planet is hot. Civilization thrives close to the poles, but the tropics are uninhabitable. Sea temperatures exceed 50°C (122°F), so violent storms make the equator impassible by ship. Deserts broil. Jungles are full of strange creatures like skrums, squibbani, and ghouls. Thus, two hemispheres have been out of contact for thousands of years. There are rumors of a high-altitude path between the two worlds: the Mountain Road. The known path passes through dangerous cities, cursed caves, and a desert reaching 80°C (176°F). No one has made the trek and returned.

State of the World

Humans have won. Dragons, orcs, and elves still exist, but the human world stands at a population over 1 billion. Technological marvels like steamships and machine guns dominate the world. Trains achieve a blistering pace of 25 miles per hour. Plank turnpikes supporting carriages connect the cities. Yet, all is not well. The industrial economy is in decline. Age-old ethnic hatreds are broiling. Cryptic graffiti on city walls suggests danger. Economic inequality and climate change are roiling continents.

The Global Company

The lynchpin of the modern world is the Global Company. The Global Company in the business of… everything, from alcohol to fuel oil to railroads to murder. It began as a detective agency specializing in witch hunts, strike breaking, and bounty hunting. Now controlling 70 percent of the world’s economy, it hasn’t lost its taste for mayhem. It funds pogroms, rigs elections, and topples nations.

Hampus Bell, the largest stakeholder in the Global Company, is its Patriarch. (In addition, he holds political offices, but those don’t matter because the Company won.) Even Bell isn’t safe from his own firm. He faces internal intrigue, bureaucratic incompetence, and the mysterious syr Konklava. Bell seems to be losing his grip on his firm and his own mind. An executive includes a grisly murder in a corporate presentation– and his career thrives. Mysterious suicides by high-ranking officials mount. There are rumors of atrocities by (and within) the Company that even Bell does not know about.

The Blue Marquessa

Magic is real, but people with the gift, or “mages”, suffer from a terrible disease. Known as “The Blue Marquessa”, it can cause infertility, amnesia, insanity– even death. Every spell has a cost. This is a world where everything has consequences. A mage must be careful, for her practice is one that has led many to insanity or early death.

The Heroine

Farisa La’ewind is a smart, good-looking 20-year-old girl “from everywhere and nowhere”. She’s a brown-skinned girl in a snow-white land, a bookish erudite in a dumb war, and a lover in a world where hate thrives. Worst of all, she’s a known person in a society where invisibility is the greatest asset.

She’s also one of the most powerful mages in the known world. She stands accused of two crimes. One, she could not have committed. The other, against Hampus Bell’s only son, she did. This has made her a witch hunter’s prize. With the bounty on her head, she’s literally worth her weight in gold.

26 April ’94

It’s two in the morning. Something awful happened. Farisa can’t remember what. Barefoot and in ill-fitting clothing, she runs into the declining industrial city, Exmore. She believes that she can find safety in “House 139”, but she’s never been there. In the dilapidated outskirts, she encounters cryptic, threatening graffiti. She learns something dangerous. Someone is watching her– and seems to know precisely where she is.

The two most powerful people in the world are drawn into a conflict that neither of them wants to fight. Farisa must avoid Hampus (and his spies) to survive. Hampus must find Farisa or face danger within his own company. The only safe place left for Farisa is… the Antipodes. Yet the Global Company, running out of world to conquer, wants to head South as well. The stakes get higher and higher with every mile, and soon it’s not only Farisa’s fate that hangs in the balance. If the worlds are joined, much more is at risk.

Farisa meets a gun-toting steam-era knight in a leather jacket. She meets a beautiful resistance fighter with a secret past. She purchases Jakhob’s Gun, a trash novel believed to hold coded messages. She fights orcs and ghouls and dragons and even other mages. Her skills develop. She finds love and friendship. As she fights to regain her memory, she learns not only who she is but who she was– and that may be what threatens her the most.