Andy Peloquin

I am an artist – words are my palette

Category: My Thoughts (Page 1 of 16)

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Less Testosterone = More Civilization?

I stumbled across an article yesterday on Psychology Today titled “Did a Drop in Testosterone Civilize Modern Humans?” Basically, the article explains how the physical changes in Homo sapiens (skull and facial feature sizes and shapes) indicate a decrease in testosterone levels.

How is this possible? Studies have proven that impaired testosterone can lead to less “masculine” features among men: less prominent brows, a rounder face, etc. Higher testosterone levels lead to more masculine features, including a longer face and more prominent brows. So, the fact that the Homo sapiens’ skull and facial structure changed could very well be the result of lower testosterone levels.

But the article goes on to link these changes to an increase in civilization. Before Homo sapiens, there was little in the way of tools, language, written language, agriculture, and other early technology. Some pre-historic humans went extinct before Homo sapiens developed these things. If this correlation actually did exist, it could point to some pretty interesting things about the role of testosterone in society.

Testosterone is the hormone responsible for aggression in both men and women. One study found that increasing the levels of testosterone in the male brain led to increased reactivity of the hypothalamus, amygdala, and periaqueductal grey when confronted with angry facial expressions. The result: a higher aggression and threat-processing response. In the same test, MRI imaging revealed that men with lower testosterone levels responded less aggressively to the same stimuli.

We’ve all heard people talking about what would happen if women ruled the world, how there would be less violence and wars. Perhaps there is some truth to that! After all, women tend to have lower testosterone levels, meaning less reaction when confronted with anger or negative emotions that would trigger a threat-response or aggressive reaction in men.

This isn’t a dig against men—after all, I’m definitely fully in the “man” category of my species. But I find it an interesting look at the way our biochemistry could work against us.

As men, we have a natural reaction to respond to hostility with hostility. When we perceive someone or something as a threat, our instinct is to get aggressive and “deal with it”.

Time to stop and realize that it’s just our brains triggering that response! Once we realize that our instinctive reaction is biological instead of something that is actually thought through and analyzed, it may help us take a step back to avoid the hostility or confrontation. We could all afford to dial back the aggression a bit, so understanding the way our brains trigger this reaction gives us the power to say, “No, this is not how I actually feel, so I’m not going to react this way.”

Combat and aggression averted!

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The Origin of Bias and Prejudice

Sadly, it is human nature to be biased or prejudiced against those who are different from us. No matter how “evolved” we think we are, there will always be a subconscious reaction to the things that separate us from those around us and vice versa.

The belief that “opposites attract” is absolutely true. As humans, we are attracted to the new, unique, and novel. Our curiosity is aroused when we encounter something that is different from what we are familiar with. We have to explore it, study it, and find out as much as we can about it. The human brain has an innate desire to broaden our horizons and understandings.

Knowing that, it seems odd that we would feel bias or prejudice toward something that is different or new, right?

Well, it’s all about how our brains process new information. One new piece of information, we can absorb it no problem. Ten to twenty, sure! But when our brains are overloaded with new information, it can be too much all at once for us to handle. This triggers feelings of fear and distress—the primal instinct that protects us from danger.

When we are introduced to someone or something that is “too different” from what we know, it can bring on those feelings of fear and anxiety. The human response is aggression or avoidance of anything that causes those feelings. Thus, we are instinctively biased against the new or different because it makes us afraid.

Prejudice is defined as “preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience”, while the definition of bias is “prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.”

Notice how prejudice is “not based on reason or actual experience”? It’s just our brains responding to an overwhelming amount of new information that it isn’t equipped to handle. When we see someone of a different color, facial structure, sexual or gender identity, or hair color or hear an idea that is too far outside our normal way of thinking, our innate reaction is fear, disgust, and avoidance or rejection.

Understanding this is the key to overcoming bias and prejudice. Once we realize that bias is OUR fault—the fault of our brains being overloaded, really—it puts things into perspective. It’s on us to help our brain adapt to the new information (however long it takes) so that we can once again experience the wonder and joy of exploring the unknown.

 

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What is Grit? 

One of the things I’ve realized about most of the protagonists I’ve written (in The Last Bucelarii, Queen of Thieves, and my short stories) is that they all tend to be very gritty, determined people. When faced with an obstacle or challenge, they “buckle down and get on with it”. Even after the initial hesitation or trepidation, they rise to the challenge.

I like to think of myself of a gritty person. No, not that I am sandy or pebbly, but that I have the resolve to take on daunting challenges.

I found an interesting article on Psychology Today that looks at the four traits of a gritty person:

Interest – In order to succeed, there has to be something you’re interested in. But more than that, you need to be passionate about it. The passion is what helps you to keep pushing forward when your motivation fails. Your love for something is often the only thing that stops you from giving up.

Purpose – This is sort of a companion to interest or passion. We all have a reason for doing something; not just the immediate, short-term benefits, but the long-term payoff. By understanding how our present efforts will benefit us (and possibly others) in the long run, it’s easier to have something to cling to when the going gets tough.

Practice – Gritty people are always practicing, but not only to keep doing the same thing day in and out. They are conscious of what they’re doing and trying to improve every day. This helps them to capitalize on their existing skills, develop new skills, and combine the two to become a master at their craft.

Hope – This is an abstract concept, but it’s possibly the most important one of the four. They say, “You’re only beat when you don’t get back up.” We keep getting back up because we hope things will get better with time, or that our efforts will improve our or someone else’s life. Without that hope, grit fails. Hope can carry us through the greatest hardships.

 

 

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Why I Keep My Writing Area Clean

No, this isn’t a “look at me, I’m so good” post. It’s actually something I wanted to share because it has helped me to improve my productivity significantly.

A few months ago, as I was checking out Psychology Today for interesting articles to blog about, I found an old post about the importance of getting rid of clutter. The post was aimed at people with ADD, but I took the advice to heart and decided to unclutter my desk.

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Where the magic happens

 

Or, at least the part of my desk that was directly in my field of vision. Since doing so, I’ve been much more productive and far less prone to distractions. By keeping my devices (phone, iPad) and other necessary items out of my direct line of sight, it was easier to forget about them and focus only on what I was doing.

Yesterday, I found another interesting article on Psychology Today titled, “5 Reasons to Streamline Your Life“. Basically, it gives five simple reasons why it’s important to unclutter your spaces:

  1. Clutter stops your home from feeling like a “retreat”. Your home (or work space, for me) should be your place of peace, but clutter actually stops you from identifying the space as “home”. Instead, it feels more like something else that needs cleaning.
  2. Clutter creates stress and decreases mental wellbeing. A 2017 study found that a clean, uncluttered environment helped to improve “mental hygiene”, leading to better workplace satisfaction.
  3. Clutter leads to poor food choices. Say what? An Australian study found that people who lived in chaotic environments were more prone to poor food choices (snacking).
  4. Clutter impedes efficient thinking. Your eyes are always processing information, so anything in your direct field of vision is taking up “mental real estate”. That means less real estate is available for processing other, more important information.
  5. Clutter prevents effective visual processing. More visual stimuli can “dilute” your attention, making it harder for your brain to process information. The more cluttered the background, the harder it is to interpret emotional expressions on others’ faces.

Fascinating, isn’t it? A bit of clutter really can make a huge (negative) difference in productivity. I’m going to keep doing my best to unclutter my desk and maintain a distraction-free field of vision. It’s worked wonders so far, and will continue to free up mental real estate for all the important tasks I need to accomplish throughout the day.

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Author Spotlight: Joshua Robertson

Instead of my usual Monday blog post, I’m going to do something a bit different. I’m going to talk about an author who has done a lot to help me in the recent past—an author whose work I believe deserves attention.

Joshua Robertson is a fellow dark fantasy author, one I met through one of the many Facebook groups I’m a part of. He released his first book (Anaerfell) around the same time I released Blade of the Destroyer, and our marketing/promotion/writing efforts have run along a similar vein. Joshua also started his own press (Crimson Edge), which has gone on to publish some pretty amazing books.

I’ve also enjoyed reading his books, as you can see by the reviews I posted:

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His Short Stories

Throughout the last year or so, I’ve found myself asking Joshua for advice on all sorts of topics related to publishing, marketing, and building an author brand in general. For example, he was the one who advised me to release my short stories as a collection (coming October 2017!) rather than posting them individually on Amazon. He’s also given me A TON of excellent advice that has helped me to improve my author brand in general.

I’m sharing this with you today (not my usual Book Review Wednesday) is because Joshua is running a special promotion on Anaerfell that ends today. I figured it was a small way I could say “Thank you” for everything he’s done to help me in the past.

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Drast and Tyran might be considered a bit black-hearted, or even immoral. Drast is cunning but reckless, hunting for admiration. Tyran is calculating but tactless, searching for affection. When the two brothers set aside their ambitions to fulfill their father’s desire for immortality, they readily discover many opportunities for redemption.

Now, while wielding a powerful magic that drains their life, Drast and Tyran will embark on a maddening quest, facing skin-switchers, dragons, and the God of the Dead.

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Find the Book at $0.99 on Amazon (60% Discount)

Here’s a Taste:

The room still whirled from last night. He tried to close his eyes to keep his stomach from doing the same, but closing his eyes actually made it worse. Drast was somewhat surprised that the drink was still affecting him like this. He had been having more than his fill for—he did not know how long. How long ago did Tyran leave? His mind was too foggy to remember. And Walstan was gone, too.

Vaguely, Drast saw that the sky was just turning blue with the rising sun. At least, he was fairly certain it was sunrise. None of the hues of sunset had begun to color the sky.

“Ser Drast?”

He turned his head to the entrance into his chambers and pulled himself more upright to lean against the nightstand beside his bed. One of the serving women stood just inside of his room. “What?”

“The Arkhon wishes to speak with you.”

He was not certain what string of curses came from his lips, but the maid blanched and her face grew pink, almost to the color of her hair. The room swirled again while she spoke.

“What?” he asked again.

“I said, Ser Drast, the Arkhon instructed me to remain with you until you came to meet with him.” Her voice quivered.

She was right to fear him. Her voice was fuzzy, just like everything. But, he knew he had not been particularly kind to any of the servants of late. He had managed to avoid his father by effectively frightening the servants. Their fear, combined with late nights, ale, and sleeping until the sun set, had allowed him to avoid talking with anyone who did not enjoy a mug or two.

A few of the servants had initially joined him in drinking. He loosely recalled this maid among them. Ura? Mura? Lura?

“Kura,” he finally muttered. He had been a little too handsy and she had since avoided him like—he could not clearly comprise a simile. Like. Like? Like the moon avoided the sun? Good enough.

“Yes, Kura,” she murmured.

Drast spat at the chamber pot. He was fairly certain he missed. “Well, come on in, Kura.” He belched. “I know how we can pass the time.”

About the Authors:

Joshua Robertson was born in Kingman, Kansas on May 23, 1984. A graduate of Norwich High School, Robertson attended Wichita State University where he received his Masters in Social Work with minors in Psychology and Sociology. His bestselling novel, Melkorka, the first in The Kaelandur Series, was released in 2015. Known most for his Thrice Nine Legends Saga, Robertson enjoys an ever-expanding and extremely loyal following of readers. He counts R.A. Salvatore and J.R.R. Tolkien among his literary influences.

Website: www.robertsonwrites.com/
Twitter: @robertsonwrites

J.C. lives in the Midwest with his wife and two dogs. He recently earned his MA in English Literature and is working on his debut novel for his own fantasy world. Despite growing up with Dungeons & Dragons, Lord of the Rings, and a collection of both Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms novels, J.C. has an abiding love of classics and spends his free time reading anything he can get his hands on.

Website: www.crimsonedgepress.com

Twitter: @jcboyd_author

 

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The Endless and Exhausting Pursuit of Happiness

In the last few years, more and more people have talked about “finding your bliss” or “doing what makes you happy”. But how realistic is that?

Every time I hear that, I get an image of the scene from Love Actually:

That would be my “bliss”: a beautiful background, peace and calm to sit and write my heart out. But that begs the question: How realistic is that? Given today’s market, not very realistic or practical.

I found an article on Psychology Today with a title that I LOVED: The Pursuit of Happiness Never Ends Well. It said something I definitely agree with “Happiness is a state of being, not a pile of stuff.”

But I’m going to take that a step further. “Happiness is a state of being, not a state of bliss.”

There are many, many ways for you to “find your bliss” in life. God knows I LOVE being a writer, being able to sit down and tell my stories and actually make money doing so. But is it a state of bliss? Absolutely not. Writing is hard work, and that’s before I get into the editing, proofreading, marketing, and everything else. Plus, seeing as I’m still near the beginning of my writing career, I have to have the “day job” to pay the bills until I’m making my millions off my novels.

But if I was to spend all of my time on the “bliss”—in this case, writing the fun stories—I doubt I’d live very long. I’d end up starving because the “fun” doesn’t pay the bills. No, to do that, it all comes down to good old fashioned hard work.

I’m firmly of the opinion that you should find your bliss, but you can’t spend your whole life in the endless, exhausting pursuit of happiness. Happiness is something you find in small things in your life. For me, it’s being able to write dark fantasy novels. For someone else, it’s the time they spend fixing their car on the weekend. For still others, it’s gardening or playing with their dogs or taking their kids to the park. The state of being that is happiness doesn’t have to be your entire life.

I believe that many people end up unhappy as a result of their pursuit of happiness. They focus all of their time and energy on finding that one thing they think should make them happy. When they don’t find it—or they discover that one thing isn’t enough to make a person happy for the rest of their lives—they are dissatisfied and thus expend even more energy in the vain pursuit of something else they latch onto as their bliss.

Look for the things that make you happy. If you can find a way to make those happy things pay the bills, even better. But don’t make that pursuit of happiness your life’s mission. Find a way to be happy where you are with the things you’re doing. Don’t be bouncing from passion project to passion project just because you’re not deriving the sense of satisfaction you think they should give you. Nothing will ever be 100% blissful. Happiness is a temporary state; a deep-rooted sense of contentment with your state in life is what really matters.

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The Key to Success: Failure

That may sound like a pretty odd way to succeed! After all, isn’t failure the exact opposite of success?

There’s a lot to be said for a perfect record. Someone who has never failed will definitely have a lot of confidence in their abilities. However, remember the old saying, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.” The more success you have, the harder you’ll be hit by failure.

The happiest, most content people in the world aren’t the high-powered, driven, hopeful, and passionate youths (teenagers and people in their 20s and 30s). Instead, research has shown that people in their mid-life and beyond tend to be the happiest. Their lives are more settled and stable, and they’ve achieved a lot. They’ve also learned a lot, usually through all their great successes and epic failures.

Think about how you learned ANYTHING:

  • You learned not to touch a hot stove by burning yourself. FAIL!
  • You learned how to interact better with people of the opposite sex by embarrassing yourself. FAIL!
  • You learned how to be a better writer/lawyer/orthodontist/leprechaun-wrangler by being terrible initially. FAIL!
  • You learned how to drive by knowing what would happen if you crash. FAIL!

Everything you learn in life is either driven by previous failures or the fear of failure. You become better at everything in order to avoid that failure.

Basically, in order to succeed, you need to fail first. You need to have a taste of that failure to see what it’s like and know you NEVER want to suck on that particular lemon again. Once you’ve tasted failure, you’re going to do your damnedest to succeed, no matter what.

One social worker says, “Success in life is a process of elimination. You make mistakes – be it in changing the oil in your car, handling a job interview, hanging wallpaper, or dating someone outside your typical comfort zone – and walk away with one more lesson learned.”

As you push your comfort zone, you inevitably fail—perhaps not always, but definitely more often than you’d like. But that failure teaches you a vital lesson, one you can carry over into every other area of your life. As time goes on, each new failure builds on the lessons you’ve previously learned, and you walk away from each situation with a greater understanding of how NOT to fail.

If you never fail, you’ll never learn anything. Failure teaches you both the good and bad and prepares you for success!

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Everyone Has a Unique Sense of Smell

One thing I’ve found  about the best books is that the writing engages ALL the senses. You’ll read about the sights, sounds, sensations, tastes, and even the smells of the location where the book is set. Using these senses helps to draw the reader into the book and makes it more compelling.

In The Last Bucelarii series, the Hunter of Voramis (the protagonist) is a half-demon assassin with heightened senses. In addition to keen hearing, he has a strong sense of smell (a very animalistic trait, a part of his demonic heritage). Smell plays a very large role in the story. Not only does it help to set the tone for his environment (the heady floral perfumes of the nobility, the musky stink of working men, the rotting stench of the demons, and so on), but it also enhances the way he perceives the people around him.

Some examples:

  • He has memories of his “lost love”, and the memories include her scent: jasmine and honey, cinnamon and berries.
  • The children (Farida, Hailen, etc.) have a “clean, innocent” smell.
  • The men he bonds with tend to have honest, hard-working smells (leather, sweat, horses, etc.)
  • The scholars smell of ink, parchment, leather, dust, vellum, etc.
  • The demons reek of rot and decay.

His sense of smell is much stronger, like an animal’s.

Through the books, he travels from the city of Voramis (far in the south) northward. He goes from his medieval Europe-style city to cities with more Arabian, Mediterranean, and Oriental environments. Each new city exposes him to a different array of smells, just as it would be in the modern world.

Here’s an interesting fact I found today: the scent receptors in animals’ noses develop according to the scents to which they are exposed.

There are 1000+ olfactory receptors, making the olfactory system the most complex of the senses. Genetics do play a role in the sense of smell—the genes of the mice determined which olfactory receptors were present. However, the most important factor was the environment. Mice which grew up under laboratory conditions had a different sense of smell from genetically similar mice that grew up outside a lab.

Think about it like this: every country/city/environment has their own unique blend of scents.  A Brazilian growing up in the U.S. would have a sense of smell more on par with an American than a Brazilian on the streets of Rio. The same would be true in Mexico City, Tokyo, or Riyadh.

A fascinating concept, isn’t it? Had the Hunter spent his life living in an Oriental-style city, he’d be accustomed to a totally different range of scents. The same if he’d grown up in a Viking-style city, an Arabian-style city, or a hut in the jungle.

The sense of smell is conditioned by our environment as well as our genetics. Perhaps that’s why a scent that smells nice to one person is repulsive to another, and vice versa.

 

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My StokerCon Experience

I spent this last weekend at StokerCon, a convention organized by the Horror Writers Association, held on The Queen Mary in Long Beach, California.

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The convention was very much focused on writers, with daily workshops, panels, discussions, and even pitch sessions for horror writers. I, however, went as a volunteer, meaning I was coordinating the Dealer’s Room (where the vendors set up tables).

Highlights of the Weekend:

– OF COURSE, getting to meet the one and only George R.R. Martin himself.

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I was fortunate enough to be roped into serving as the Kevin Costner to his Whitney Houston. Thankfully, there was no need for me to dive in front of a bullet or throw any screaming fans overboard. However, I had the chance to take a private tour of The Queen Mary with him and a few other guests.

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– I also got the chance to talk to Chuck Wendig, creator behind the Terrible Minds blog, the latest Star Wars novels, and more. I made the foolish mistake of thinking he was Max Brooks, the author of the Zombie Survival Guide. Thankfully, he’s a cool guy who only hated me A LITTLE for that. Hehe.

My fellow San Diego HWA members also joined in on the fun.

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I spent most of the three days I attended on call around the Dealer’s Room, available if something needed to be moved (people seem to think I’m good at that). It was nice to interact with other writers, listen in on a few discussions, and even get a bit of writing work done. Bonus: I got to set up and sell a few books.

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All in all, one heck of a weekend! Major props to Kevin Wetmore, Kate Jonez, Lisa Morton, and all the other amazing Horror Writers Association people for making it a whole lot of fun.

 

 

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Why Are We So Violent?

Here’s a pretty terrifying fact: the rate of lethal violence among humans is 7 times higher than among other mammals. Of more than 1000 species studied, humans were the ones most predisposed to violence—not only to other species (prey/food), but to each other. Humans are the only species to not only kill each other, but to constantly innovate and create new ways to do so.

One psychologist published this in 2016:

“Our violence operates far outside the bounds of any other species.  Human beings kill anything.  Slaughter is a defining behavior of our species.  We kill all other creatures, and we kill our own.  Read today’s paper.  Read yesterday’s, or read tomorrow’s.  The enormous industry of print and broadcast journalism serves predominantly to document our killing.  Violence exists in the animal world, of course, but on a far different scale. ”

“Carnivores kill for food; we kill our family members, our children, our parents, our spouses, our brothers and sisters, our cousins and in-laws.  We kill strangers.  We kill people who are different from us, in appearance, beliefs, race, and social status.  We kill ourselves in suicide.  We kill for advantage and for revenge, we kill for entertainment:  the Roman Coliseum, drive-by shootings, bullfights, hunting and fishing, animal roadkill in an instantaneous reflex for sport.  We kill friends, rivals, coworkers, and classmates.  Children kill children, in school and on the playground.  Grandparents, parents, fathers, mothers–all kill and all of them are the targets of killing…”

(Source: R. Douglas Fields, Why We Snap, p. 286, 2016.)

Pretty scary, isn’t it? So what’s causing it? Why are humans so much more violent than other creatures, even predators?

Territoriality – Primates are among the most territorial mammals on the planet, and humans are no exceptions. We have an innate need to protect “our land”. Why else do you think countries, nationalities, and territories exist in the first place? We humans have a need to “drawn a line in the sand” to mark our territory. When someone else crosses that line, violence is our instinctive reaction.

Conscious Awareness – Our intelligence and consciousness is actually one of the primary contributors to our violent tendencies. We can think beyond our basic survival needs, but that consciousness leads to violence for a broad number of reasons (personal offense, territorial disputes, entertainment, etc.).

Tight Living Environment – Too many people living close together is a breeding ground for violence. The territorial nature of humans increases the chance of violence should someone “cross that line” of our property. The fact that we’re packed so tightly together means there’s less space for us to inhabit and a greater risk someone will cross that line.

Easy Access to Weapons – Bears only have their teeth and claws, elephants only have their tusks and trunks. Humans have access to THOUSANDS of weapons (all of which we created thanks to our conscious awareness) which make it easier than ever to kill.

Freedom – Hard to believe this is true, but it absolutely is. State-run societies intended to suppress violence tend to lead to lower crime rates, but the “freedom” common in modern governments places emphasis on personal choice/decision-making. Given humans’ tendency toward violence, it’s very likely the freedoms are a contributing factor in the higher violence rates.

These are the primary factors that have led to higher incidences of violence among human, but there are HUNDREDS of tiny things that contribute as well.

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