Courage and the costs of it

I am sure many of you know the story of the young officer who, facing his first terrifying need to lead his men under fire out of the trenches, scared and near panic, turned to the diary of his heroic and much decorated father who had done the same thing, a man whose courage was legendary, a man whose reputation the young soldier had grown up in the shadow of… and discovering that his father… had been truly courageous. That he too had been utterly terrified… known the probable fate that awaited him, and yet found the courage to lead and to inspire. The young officer went forth to do the same.

That is courage, and it takes a brave soul to do it.

To be ignorant of the dangers and blunder in is not courageous either. If it were I’d be a hero many time over. It’s just stupid, but occasionally unavoidable.

To be fearless is not to be courageous. The story of gung-ho-the-fearless bashing up yet another vast number of foes may appeal to immature children, who have never really had to face their fears and deal with them. The strongest and most courageous thing any human can do is to face their fears and the consequences, knowingly. To know the price is too high, and to still dare because you must… that is a hero. And most of the rest of us know, heart of hearts, what real heroism means by now. What real courage requires of a man. It’s not always easy like either. It’s a word that cheapened by use for things which may be good, but are not brave, not courageous, whose costs are irrelevant and rewards ample.

Unless there is fore-known substantial real risk and potential danger and cost and hurt… it may be many other things, (good, needed, terrible, whatever) but it’s not courage. To use this word for that, is an erosion of the sacrifice of real courage. If, as a society, we want people to make those sacrifices (and we do. We need them, we should look up to them) we need to see the value of those words retained.

Recently the woman complaining of sexual harassment and setting out her how to, on the basis of her experience in a very supportive, protective environment, where the accused has no direct power over her, where she is well-connected, and the grandees of the field have rallied around and provided a critics-will-be-silenced shield, has been called brave and courageous. The outgoing president of SFWA is talking about new sexual harassment enforcement for cons. Very brave we are told. Authors –the darlings of the field– come out with the full support of their editors and a sycophantic industry press with ‘Brave new (and entirely PC) visions of the future.’ And are hailed for their courage.

Now you may like these books, support the enforcement, and admire the woman who took the steps against the accused, and support all of it all the way… but I have yet to see quite what vast adverse consequences they knew of to make it ‘courageous’. Support it, like it, call it good, if you feel that way about it. But let’s not call things brave or courageous, unless there is some enormous consequence possible which the person knowingly risks because they believe it is the right or needed thing to do.

Running with the mob, is not courageous. Standing against it – when you stand alone, have nothing to gain, and everything to lose, is. It takes balls the size watermelons. Even when you only have a little to lose. It’s also bloody hard to live with – both as the person, and those around them. It’s as often as not being Cassandra (For example as a minor case – I belong to a list of sf/fantasy writers – some good people, some of the standard crop. If I was good at running with the herd and patting egos, a good place to make contacts and elevate oneself. By having the integrity to say, politely, on several occasions, that I think the herd is running towards the cliff edge… I’ve lost that. I don’t think a soul listened, and I knew the consequences, but I still think it’s a cliff. Shrug. It’s not the first time in my life, nor the last. It annoys me about myself, but it is me.)

It is that courage, and what having to live with it that I want to write about today.

I have been struggling through the current book, CHANGELING’S ISLAND for six months – yes- there have been a few interruptions, but it is still a very long time for a guy who usually manages 2K a day as a minimum. Books such as RATS, BATS & VATS which in a substantial part was about my experience of the army as a conscript (as well being a second-class citizen, and what it means to be human and… a lot of other things, and bad puns) poured out of me like a flood (basically 20 days -as fast as I could write. This is not typical, but how fast it can be.).

I have in some ways been battling (besides the usual reasons of real life, and writer-exhaustion, and edits) partly because I am being a coward, engaging in displacement activity, and partly because it is just damned hard to do well, and it needs, nay, deserves to be done well. The story grubs into an area of myself I am not proud of, and don’t really want to go back to, but I think worth writing about. It goes back to when I was young and insecure about myself… and lived in a house of lions. As a kid… you want to fit in with other kids. Maybe you dream of leading the pack one day, but first off, you just want not to be the outsider. Not the one kid not chosen in the teams till last. Not the one kid sitting on his own in the playground (and that’s if the others aren’t tormenting you.). Not the kid who wore the wrong shoes. Not the kid whose parents did the weird and were, frankly, as out of place in the adult norm as possible. I was that kid, and of course, so were millions of others at different schools and different places. But, by Heaven, you do feel alone then.

My parents did that terrible thing to me, especially my Dad. He spoke his mind, honestly, did what he thought was right, which meant he never ran with a pack in his life… As far as society in general was concerned he was a royal PITA, and they punished him for it (later I found there were places he was much loved, but it wasn’t among his neighbors in suburbia. In the harbor, a different matter). As a kid… I loved him. Idolized his knowledge of the sea, bush, African languages… and wished, desperately, that he could be like everyone else’s dad. Do a normal office job, and play golf instead of fishing, keeping bees, and shooting (fishing was not cool back then and there. Especially not when you did as a second job on a ratty line-fish boat.) Of course, by the time I grew up, and gained some perspective, my attitude changed. Then I was enormously proud of him. I understood what a price he’d paid for being what he was, and my mum too. (mum was part of the De la Rey family – look up Generaal Koos De la Rey if you want context, and Dad’s grandfather was a British Army Surgeon-General in that war.). As someone who grew up and thought in Sotho, but yet had the English gentry background, he was poised between two worlds that generally didn’t meet, and understood both. And his understanding made him neither popular with those who supported apartheid and those who opposed it. He took his positions honestly, spoke up for people no-one (including him) liked, and, I think, mostly proved right, but like Cassandra, it certainly made him enemies and stood in his way. He knew that. It took courage, and of course bloody minded pig-headedness.

I guess I have tried to copy that courage, with indifferent success. It’s meant that I open my mouth to change feet a lot. I do the pig-headed bit well though… and thus it is with the current book. It’s a brave book, which may find no market (which is just stupid, no? Write something else. You have books which are sold, waiting.) The lead character is a kid who just desperately wants to be like all the other kids, especially the cool ones. Only he’s small, not wealthy, and not much at ball-sports, or anything physical (simply because he hasn’t found his métier, really. And because physical exercise isn’t much of a part of urban life.) To make matters worse, weird things happen around him, and it’s always his fault… In his attempt to be cool, and show off, he’s ended up brushing the law, and gets sent away from home, transported… in the modern sense, to live with a grandmother on a poor rural farm. Grandmother is by way of being a woman who made her choices. She turned her back on her people and their world, and was thus rejected by them, and yet was not accepted by her husband’s people. He was killed, and she was effectively left in a wall of her own pride to get on with it. She believes what she believes, says so, and stands her ground.

It’s not a comfortable place to stand, but he’s stuck there, standing in it with her, desperate to get out. The boy finds his métier (he’s born to fish and hunt, basically. Very un-PC now, but that is what he does well, it’s in his blood, and he takes easily to it), but he’s still seeking that acceptance, still… wanting to fit in to a modern urban boy’s life. It’s a mold he was never designed for but he’s spent his whole life among people who assume that is the only and right way to be. His place is the back-of-beyond, on the land, but he’s still striving to get to the city to be the cool kid there. Of course, being a fantasy/sf writer, I’ve mixed legend, myth and magic into it, as well as the price the using of it takes. Still, at the end it becomes a book about courage. About realizing the value of honor. About moving from being a child where you want to run with the crowd – something a lot of people never seem to grow out of, to being a man, taking the decision to break the law again. This time not gain acceptance or to show off, but because he believes it must be done. He’s been running from trouble wanting to be thought well of. Now, he’s doing what he knows may lose him what shelter he has established (where he actually found, against all his preconceptions, he is happy and belongs), because he believes it’s the right and needed thing to do, and that he’s the only one who can do it in time.

It’s been difficult to write, partly because I don’t want to talk about, but to show these things, and still to make the book accessible, easy to read, not preachy. And partly because in writing I’ve come to understand myself and my father more. He used to drive me nuts. It’s scary to find myself becoming more like him.

I just hope someone wants to read the book, but that is a risk I take. It’s a risk, may cost me money, but I have some faithful readers who will give it a try, even if no one in trad publishing wants to touch it. But the new author who invests time, money and effort in a book, has done the homework and knows the risks… they’re rather brave.


    1. If I manage to ever finish at this rate ;-). I am eternally grateful to Amazon for making it possible for me to dissent… without being quite so brave.

      1. Well, it’s quite possible (I did it a little yesterday) to bumble into dissent with your ‘betters’ without even intending it. You are being brave, because you know what you’re doing. When you finish, I’m hoping for a paper copy, I’d like to give it to my son (knowing my daughters will read it as well). He’s got a lot of growing to do, and I’d like to give him some examples.

        1. Huh. You’re going to have try bloody harder to find some of these ‘betters’ 😉 to dissent with. Haven’t got it right yet, have you? (which is a compliment, as you may tell a certain gentleman). Actually daughters would be worth a trial read – the target is a male audience, but I have a soft spot a mile wide for the heroine. The relationship stuff, which does not move beyond holding hands (at least, not in this book) when she’s scared, does bother me to write. It’s been a while since I was that age, and um possibly longer since that sex!

          BTW I had a teen fangirl squee the other night, when one of the kids on a school tour figured out at the Scottish country dancing that I was the author of a book she’d read. Odd experiences of the island writer. I took notes. I only had sons, and squee was relatively new to me 😉

          1. Working on my dissents 🙂 I’m relatively new to this game, give me time! LOL

            I saw that about the fangirl, and had an amused moment imagining you rather taken aback with the feminine enthusiasm.

            Here’s the thing, my favorite books to read, growing up, weren’t ‘girl’ books. I read Jack London, Kipling, Kjelgaard, my Dad’s Westerns, and was all joy when the librarian let me take the John Carter books out of the dusty back room they had been exiled to (I read all of ERB I could get my hands on.) I’m all for children reading about both boy heroes and girls, too, because that is true equality, when we stop judging whether it’s any good based on what gender it’s about. And just maybe, my girls can read about a good boy, and be more discriminating with their life choices.

    2. I agree with you, Cedar. I applaud Dave — as well as others — for being the voice of dissent. It’s not something most people do easily, especially right now when the other side makes no bones about how willing they are to subject their nay-sayers to trial by social media.

      Dave, I can’t wait to read this!

      1. Trial by internet, threats of lawsuits, threats, expulsion… We’ve all had times when we have Jackass arguing. It’s not always easy, but it seems to have gone crazy. sign of a changing time, I believe (Cassandra, Model 300023)

        1. Hoo yeah. And I’m afraid I may be rocking — or maybe wreaking and wrecking — their little social media row boats tomorrow. We’ll see. Certain folks may discover that It isn’t nice to make Amanda angry.

  1. I have noticed that when someone is praised for doing something “courageous” these days it usually means agreeing with everyone else.

  2. It took some trickery (buying copies for the school and having his teacher assign them for in-class reading), but my son finally read the Cuttlefish series are liked it (he said it was epic). When you finish this book, I definitely want it for myself and him. And the younger kids when they get older.

      1. My motto is “when the going gets tough, cheat” for a reason.

        Besides, having it in the school library might be the stroke of good luck some other kid needs. I wish it had sold enough to justify volume 3, but I don’t have that kind of budget.

        1. My way of putting it is you can kill giants with a lot of effort, bludgeoning and pain, or a well-placed scalpel. Which do you think is the more sensible?

  3. Dave, your book sounds a lot like the best parts of the film “Second Hand Lions,” a movie I love. I really look forward to reading your book whenever you finish it.

    1. You know, over the years, a number of peoplewhose opinion I respect have mentioned the film – in I must try to see it. (as I watch at least a movie a year, I’m a little behind)

  4. Never underestimate the value of “pig-headedness”. I swear more battles are won by people whose character will not let them back down than by courage.

    1. Australia anyway has an odd re-enforcement for this which I really like. Winners get respect, but battlers (people who get knocked down, get up get knocked dowm get up… do not necessarily ever win, but keep trying) are the nation’s darlings. It’s a good thing to encourage, if you ask me.

      1. An example of the “battler” ethos which hits close to my interests: Dick Johnson, Bathurst, 1980.

      2. This could be good or bad. Sometimes if you keep getting knocked down, it means you’re doing the wrong thing.

        1. true enough. But the national – or at least the back-country character seems to be: ‘well, that didn’t work, we’re broke, we’ll try this. And that works for a year or two, and then there is a drought. So they get up and try the third thing, until they get it right or die trying.

  5. “The story grubs into an area of myself I am not proud of, and don’t really want to go back to, but I think worth writing about. ”

    Those are ALWAYS the sticking points.

    When something won’t move (current chapter), and I keep asking Why? it always turns on ‘because this is a place where I’m going to have to cut myself and let the blood run out onto the page.’

    So? I’m learning more and more that this is the reason I want to write, and that is all I have to give it.

    Remember: for every writer who can actually do this, there are hundreds, thousands of readers who think the same way – and can’t write it for themselves.

    You will find them – and Amazon means you can put it up there, after all that bloodletting, and it can be found – instead of languishing forever in a drawer because some agent/editor/publisher/gatekeeper didn’t see an immediate commercial value.

    1. Yes! I am a new writer– and I have discovered that every time I get “writer’s block” it’s more about the plot going on a collision course with my personal issues than about a lack of enthusiasm or that the creative well is sapped (for the time being).

    2. To add another piece of forearamed is forewarned – you will bleed on that page. You will think you’ve done at least your best, and some ass will say ‘good popcorn book’ ;-). Which in a way means you’ve succeeded in making something very hard accessable

    3. ABE, I’m an “only published once” author, so one of my projects is probably insane. In spite of looking for many years, I never found a woman willing to look past the surface that would have me. Now, broken by age and multiple disabilities, I probably never will. In spite of that, I very much Love children. There are two young women, who are like daughters to me, and another is my adopted Granddaughter. So, I do have a “background” for a project.
      I’m working on a book (unknown length, called “Advice to my Children.” In it, I am putting down a *lot* of deeply personal things about what I believe, and why. I’m writing it as if they were sitting across a table from me, learning all the things that I’ve tried to teach by example, and _why_ I did them. My hope is that my “daughters of my Heart (Thank you David Weber, in an Honor Harrington book), and Adopted Granddaughter will read it, and pass it on, _with_ additions, to their children and grandchildren. Even tough it’s written to three young women, it’s pretty non sex specific.
      It applies to both Boys and Girls, because much of child raising and life, is *not* gender specific. Regardless of anatomy, looking like 5 pounds of lard, in a three pound plastic sack, is _not_ sexy. (If I were to wear a “speedo,” I would like 10 lbs. in a 3 lb. sack, and I know it.) I hope that they, and any others that read it, will see how a decent person acts, and why. That means putting in a lot of deeply personal memories, many of them very painful. When you are _not_ Handsome (pretty), sexy, charming, free spending to impress, but trying to be the kind of person you’re told that women (men) want is hard.
      I read “The Man of LaMancha” at about 10-12, and later in the original Spanish, in H.S.It became a guide stone for me, as Christian. The way a Man was supposed to act, not what most teenage boys did. I learned the hard way that girls/women _claimed_ they wanted: sensitive, caring, gentle, men. The truth was that they want someone they can “make over” into that. I have plenty of other flaws, so I would still have been a “project.” I never thought of myself as perfect, because I never have been. I just wanted to be judged “good enough,” for more than picking up emotional pieces, and watching them go back to the same type that caused the damage. I wanted a real, second look, not “I want you as a friend, but never anything else.” Being a very strong empath, made it even harder. I _*can’t*_ judge on looks alone, and I don’t want to be.
      Teaching children to “what’s right, not easy,” will make it hard for both of you. But, they will be able to say that they are courageous enough to do it.

      1. I love Man of La Mancha – read it in prep in Mexico in Spanish as a teen.

        Looks alone are relatively unimportant – to the right people. After all, even those who are considered special snowflakes melt after a few years, yes, even the ones who keep trying to pretend (and have themselves turned in fake plastic snowflakes).

        Where did I see recently (really need to pay more attention): Intelligence is an aphrodisiac.

        Keep writing. People who don’t like writing out their real pain end up writing fluffy books – no depth.

        Although I’m as attracted as the next woman to conventionally handsome young men (less and less as I get older – what would we talk about?), I know several couples where I’ve wondered what does she see in him – until I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know him. Someone you can talk with without either partner dominating is a real joy to aim for.

  6. Is Toni interested, or are you going to go Indie with this one? One way or the other, you know you’ve got a loyal fan base and solid starting base for sales, in the Barflies.

    I don’t recall now if you gave us a snippet, or if it was more of a synopsis of the start. Whichever it was, I’ll be snapping it up promptly.

  7. Consider at least one copy bought, I will be keeping my eye out for it!

    Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes.

  8. Consider one copy bought, I will be looking for it!

    “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes.”

    1. I’ve a theory that – especially at the frontiers – it’s the misfits who actually stop everything from collapsing, drive it forward… and are rewarded by not fitting into the civilization they create. ;-/

  9. This book will have very personal resonance for me. Thank you for writing it. People have long ago forgotten what real courage is, and what real danger is, and that trouble isn’t just a word– it is an event that has a fractal mapping and tends, once you engage it, to take over your life.

    We have even forgotten what makes great literature great. Hint: Not because it tells us what we want to hear. I look forward to reading it!

    1. 🙂 And I will be very surprised if it lives up your expectations – simply because it is very hard, and I am trying to keep it accessible, not miserable but entertaining for 12-16… But thank you.

      1. Here’s the thing. Entertainment without pain is empty, generally speaking. In my experience, the hardest work is the stuff that’s the most “worth it” to continue. So I’m not just cheerleading because I think it relates to me, but because the trouble you are experiencing tells me that it has real value. But when one is in the middle of it, that can be hard to see.

        Besides, your father and mine would have gotten along wonderfully well. Heck, for all I know they knew each other. My father spent some time in a South African prison. The only reason why he survived the experience is that he was bailed out by Western Union agents. People laugh, until I explain that they were trained by the SAS. But YOU know that, because of where you come from.

        In case you were wondering, he was an international freight pilot, who had to explain to his boss the hard way that you MUST pay bribes to do business in places like that. That it’s not just a matter of honor, that it is a matter of, well, making it out alive. So he went into the country knowing that he could be killed over the “parking fee” for an airplane. And… he’d do all that for the guy who paid his paycheck. Just as long as he could “keep flyin'”. Most people thought he was a sucker, or just plain crazy. But it’s the kind of crazy I can get behind. 🙂

        The lesson you are writing about is so insanely important in this day and age. Seriously, our civilization needs to hear this, and this is the sort of lesson that makes for better fiction than what people want to hear. And chances are good that fiction is the only way that they will be willing to hear it.

        1. He sounds like the salt of the earth. Something we who know it say, with a a grim shrug… TIA. (this is Africa) when people suddenly discover these nasty realities.

          1. The truly sad part is that we “in civilization”, have forgotten that how my dad did things– is how things get done generally. Very often it is the only path to improvement. The more risk involved, the less willing the average person is to commit to such a course. The other trouble is, *many* people have to decide over a period of generations to make those risks and die trying– without any apparent reward or benefit– against the meat grinder of ruthless practicality. And without that realization, we risk being vulnerable to it. Then we must contend with the seemingly impossible slog out of that pit.

            It is Africa because those scraps of comfort are more important than building a culture of trust– which takes a long, painful tapestry of sacrifice over generations, involving members of all populations. Also, being that close to the edge of things, it can be forgiven to see those comforts being a slim margin away from the difference between death and survival. Suffering itself is not the answer– deciding to stand for something greater than what you can get, and what you can see, is.

  10. I’ve decided that my next anthology project is going to be a collection of stories written by men–there are dozens of anthologies of genre fiction from women writers, so why not a collection of stories from men? It’s an idea I’ve had for a while, but I’ve always worried about the fallout. This post has helped me to decide to go ahead and do it, and damn the torpedoes.

    1. I think it’s a worthwhile experiment. I can’t contribute, but I can encourage my man to write something for it, and I can push it on my blog when it comes out. I’ll take some flak along with you. They can’t make me turn in my woman card, I have pictures and four progeny!

      1. It’s going to be an anthology of paranormal romance stories, because I’ve been wondering what men’s take on the genre would be–I know that I’d like to give it a try, and I’m hoping that other men will, if given the encouragement.

        I probably won’t even start putting out the call for submissions until mid-September, but I hope that the Mad Geniuses will let me post the link here once I get it rolling.

    2. I’m a small time ebook author (John Van Stry). I would like to be a part of this anthology if you’re willing to have me. Because yes, there are too few stories about men in scifi these days it seems. Everyone is writing about women.
      Which makes me wonder, where are the men going and what effect will this have on our future?

  11. A very peculiar Anime I have been watching had an interesting scene where two characters were playing a word game. One was making a point that you could make anything bad sound good by invoking courage.
    “The courage to lie to your lover.”
    “The courage to betray your comrades.”
    “The courage to admit defeat.”

    1. Indeed. precisely WHY it is being hi-jacked. The trouble with that is it’s short term gain for a few people – at the expense of real heroes, real courage. They are per se, stealing that, cheapening it in the long run. So we all lose.

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