New year’s resolutions be damned, these things I will ALWAYS do

I don’t really believe in new year’s resolutions. I get the concept, and it’s an entirely admirable pursuit, but it’s often like crash dieting or NaNoWriMo – it’s fundamentally unsustainable. People make all these promises to themselves in the heat and excitement of a new year, and then sink in guilt and stress when those things may not come to pass.

After all, January 1st is only one day after December 31st and it’s entirely arbitrary that we choose to tack onto that day a new identifier for the year. The Chinese aren’t celebrating their new year until February 10th next year, for example. It’s all bollocks, as is all time. As Terry Pratchett said, we just invented time to stop everything happening at once. Which is funny, but also not true. Time is a purely human invention to help us make sense of things and organise when to meet at the pub.

My simple point is this – making specific resolutions for the new year is a fine sentiment, but it’s often very hard to follow through. For example, saying, “I will lose 20kg in 2013” is potentially opening a person up to failure. But if you say, “I will be a healthier person in 2013: eat healthy, exercise and try to lose some weight”, then that’s more of an attitude than a particular goal and easier to hang onto for a longer period of time. It’s easy to look at that sentiment throughout the year and try to stick to it, as there’s no specific measurement involved that might slip away. And if you fall back from that attitude for a while, it’s pretty easy to look at it, remind yourself and get back on that horse to ride again. Giddy up, motherfucker, there’s no point in crying when you could be trying.

So instead of making new year’s resolutions, I’m going to list a bunch of things I intend to hang onto all year. Not resolutions, but attitudes to never forget. These are ways of being that I’ve always tried to maintain, and intend to maintain into the future.

So, in 2013 (and beyond):

I will continue to work hard at being the best writer I can be, because this shit isn’t easy, nor should it be.

I will finish all the things I start.

I will continue to pursue publication in all the places I’ve yet to crack and further publications in the places I’ve already been featured.

I will have more work published.

I will write novels, novellas and short fiction, because stories are great in all sizes.

I will grab every opportunity that comes my way, because I am a fucking professional and time is made, not found.

I will celebrate the successes of all other writers, because their success is proof I can succeed too. And they deserve it.

I will share the good shit and ignore the rubbish.

I will help my writer friends wherever I can, because I didn’t get where I am now without help.

I will strive to excel and improve, because where I am now is nowhere near where I want to be. I want the moon and the fucking stars, baby.

I will continue to read like a voracious word devourer, because a writer who doesn’t read is a crappy writer. And a bad person. A really, really bad person.

I will look after my health.

I WILL WRITE, because the only actual requirement to be a writer is that you write. Being published, being famous, being rich and successful, being happy with your creative endeavours, none of it comes unless you write. First and foremost before everything else: WRITE. You will not find the time to write – you MAKE the time to write. If you really want it, you will make it happen. Only got one hour, twice a week? Fine, start there. Write for two hours a week, every week. Guess what? You’re a writer now. Then make more time. Make. It. Happen. Then all that other stuff can follow.

These are only my writerly attitudes, of course. Similar philosophies apply to my life as a martial artist, instructor and personal trainer, and to my life in general as a human person of Earth. It’s good to focus on these things and remind ourselves of them regularly. New year is a fine time to take stock, but so is every other day of the year. These things are not resolutions. These things are constants.

May 2013 be everything you want it to be. I wish you all (and myself) happiness, health and success in all you do. Now get out there and make it happen, motherhumpers. I want to hear your names sung from the mountaintops, and mine sung along with them.

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A Killer Among Demons (featuring me!) cover reveal

A Killer Among DemonsAs if the announcement about the new CSFG anthology, Next, wasn’t enough, there’s also this. Check out this freaking awesome cover by the amazingly talented Vincent Chong.

This is the cover for the Dark Prints Press anthology, A Killer Among Demons, which is coming out around April next year. It features ten tales of paranormal or supernatural noir and will contain my story, The Beat Of A Pale Wing. Check out the table of contents:

Stephen M Irwin – ’24/7′
Angela Slatter – ‘Cuckoo’
William Meikle – ‘Truth Decay’
Alan Baxter – ‘The Beat of a Pale Wing’
Marilyn Fountain – ‘The Intruder’
Greg Chapman – ‘A Matter of Perception’
Chris Large – ‘New York, New York’
SJ Dawson – ‘The Tape’
Madhvi Ramani – ‘Angel’s Town’
Stephen D. Rogers – ‘Grievance Visitation’

Seriously, how cool is that selection of names? And if you’re not familiar with them, pre-order this book now and I guarantee you’ll get ten stories that are just awesome (even if I do say so myself!) You can pre-order the book now right here.

Go on, get yourself some dark, spooky, supernatural crime action.

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“Next” anthology – table of contents announced

I’m a very proud member of the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild, better known as the CSFG. I’m proud for many reasons, not least among them the fact that I’m a two and half hour drive from Canberra, but they’ll still have me. Living in the country like I do, it’s difficult to get involved with anything like a writers’ group, so it’s nice that the CSFG extend their welcome to people like myself.

The CSFG is a great and supportive group of people, with regular gatherings, short story and novel crit groups, a very active mailing list and more. And they also have a publishing arm, through which they produce regular anthologies of short fiction. All the anthologies are managed by a slush wrangler, so all the submissions are read blind by the editors, which means there’s no favouring friends or Guild members, as the submissions are open to everyone, Guild or not.

The latest project from CSFG Publishing is the “Next” anthology. Here’s how they pitched the anthology theme:

Sequence. Succession. Cause and effect. Show us what happened. next.

Next suggests ‘change’, perhaps, but it doesn’t have to invoke change, it can simply be an account of cause-and-effect. Soemtimes it’s the absence of change, the sense of inevitability, that gives the story its terrible power and its resonance. Or it might be a rite-of-passage; of invention and exploration; of the testing and transgression of boundaries; or a story laden with doom or hope or just the inevitability of inescapable repetition. Yup, this theme is a theme for all seasons; it’s a cut and come again theme that can mean pretty much whatever people want it to mean.

Today, the CSFG announced the table of contents for the book and I’m very happy to say that my name is among them. It’s going to be a big book, with 30 stories from established names and newbies alike. Here’s the full ToC:

Next Table of Contents (in alphabetical order):

Kris Ashton: ‘The Midway Hotel’

Daniel Baker: ‘Stories in the Square’

Alan Baxter: ‘Quantum Echoes’

Adam Browne: ‘Animal the Colour of Waiting’

David Coleman: ‘Gambler’s Blues’

Craig Cormick: ‘Ned Kelly and the Zombies’

Elizabeth Fitzgerald: ‘Phoenix Down’

Ross Hamilton: ‘When Money Talks’

Richard Harland: ‘Here’s Glory For You’

Edwina Harvey: ‘Next, cried the Faun’

Rik Lagarto: ‘The Wild Hunt’

Chris Large: ‘Girl Finds Key’

Martin Livings: ‘Cause and Effect’

Tracie McBride: ‘Wooden Heart’

Chris McGrane: ‘The Cat and his Zombies’

Ian McHugh: ‘Vandiemensland’

Claire McKenna: ‘The Ninety Two’

Shauna O’Meara: ‘The Dream Tracker’

Robert Phillips: ‘A Dream of Something More’

Gillian Polack: ‘Someone’s Daughter’

Angela Rega: ‘Almost Beautiful’

Nicky Rowlands: ‘On the Wall’

Leife Shallcross: ‘A Little Warning’

Daniel Simpson: ‘Those Days’

Steve Simpson: ‘The Electrician and the Circus’

Helen Stubbs: ‘Casino Five’

David Versace: ‘Imported Goods—Aisle Nine’

Janeen Webb: ‘Hell is Where the Heart Is’

Catherine Whittle: ‘The Room’

Suzanne Willis: ‘Of Starfish Tides’

Editors: Simon Petrie & Rob Porteous

It’s a great cross-section of authors, and there are several names there I’ve never come across before, so it’ll be good to read their work. Out of those 30, there are 11 CSFG members, including myself, which is a good result for the Guild.

The book is scheduled for release at Conflux 9, which is next year’s Australian NatCon, so that should be a lot of fun. When there’s a cover reveal, I’ll let you know.

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Get your Christmas out of Sol Invictus! (Redux)

Originally posted on December 20th 2011. I think I’ll probably repost this every year.

We’re nearly at that time again. It should be stated from the outset, and really doesn’t need to be for regular readers, that I hate Christmas and everything about it. I do love being able to spend time with friends and loved ones, enjoy good food, exchange gifts and all that malarkey. But you don’t need a special day for that. Just like you should tell your partner that you love them all the time and not only on February 14th. But what really pisses me off is all the Christians who think it’s okay to berate people who leave Christ out of Xmas. Given that the whole thing is stolen and shoe-horned into a medieval fantasy in the first place, it’s a bit rich.

I’ve also taken to responding to, “You can’t have Xmas without Christ!” with, “Then you can’t have Thursday without Thor! Where’s your celebratory hammer?” There’s history with all these things, and it behoves the modern mind to know it.

Evil SantaIf you get off on the whole Christ mythology, then bully for you. Why you pick one crazy mythology out of hundreds and insist it’s the truth absolutely mystifies me, but if that’s your wagon, then giddy up. And the Western world has certainly jumped on board the whole Xmas lunacy and subverted it into a materialistic circus of misery and one-upmanship. So I can understand the desire to suggest that people look past the crass commercialism and look for what Xmas is really about. But you know what? It’s not Christ. Sure, it’s been hijacked to be about Christ, but if these people were really honest with themselves, they’d admit there’s more to the story. Then again, as that great physician Gregory House said, “Rational arguments don’t usually work on religious people. Otherwise there would be no religious people.” – (Season 4 Episode 2, The Right Stuff.)

The Christians, since some decades after the death of Christ when the Christians began (thanks to the cult set up by Paul), have always been keen on appropriating something popular, pretending it’s theirs and then using it to further their own agenda. They’re like a virus, chewing up holidays and spitting out Christian rhetoric. But it’s not only the Christians who have pinched things for their aims.

Over the years we’ve merged and melded many things into our modern culture and, while the Christians always shout the loudest at Xmas, there are many other influences that have survived the Jesus takeover.

Burning candles, mistletoe and holly berries, for example, are originally from Yule, the Pagan celebration of the sun god, Mithras. Who is also a very clear blueprint for the myth of Christ himself:

“Both Mithras and Christ were described variously as ‘the Way,’ ‘the Truth,’ ‘the Light,’ ‘the Life,’ ‘the Word,’ ‘the Son of God,’ ‘the Good Shepherd.’ The Christian litany to Jesus could easily be an allegorical litany to the sun-god. Mithras is often represented as carrying a lamb on his shoulders, just as Jesus is. Midnight services were found in both religions. The virgin mother…was easily merged with the virgin mother Mary. Petra, the sacred rock of Mithraism, became Peter, the foundation of the Christian Church.”

Gerald Berry, Religions of the World

Mithras (from the Persian god, Mithra, adapted to Greek as Mithras) allegedly has many features Christians might find familiar:

– Mithra was born on December 25th of the virgin Anahita.
– The babe was wrapped in swaddling clothes, placed in a manger and attended by shepherds.
– He was considered a great traveling teacher and master.
– He had 12 companions or “disciples.”
– He performed miracles.
– As the “great bull of the Sun,” Mithra sacrificed himself for world peace.
– He ascended to heaven.
– Mithra was viewed as the Good Shepherd, the “Way, the Truth and the Light,” the Redeemer, the Savior, the Messiah.
– Mithra is omniscient, as he “hears all, sees all, knows all: none can deceive him.”
– He was identified with both the Lion and the Lamb.
– His sacred day was Sunday, “the Lord’s Day,” hundreds of years before the appearance of Christ.
– His religion had a eucharist or “Lord’s Supper.”
– Mithra “sets his marks on the foreheads of his soldiers.”
– Mithraism emphasized baptism.

Funny old list, that, eh? I said allegedly above as there’s often about as much evidence for these things as there is for the mythology of Christianity; that is to say, not much at all. Though the vast majority of it is backed up by archeological evidence well predating Christian times.

Repoussé silver disc of Sol Invictus, Roman, 3rd century, found at Pessinus (British Museum)The Roman emporer Aurelian first instigated Dies Natalis Solis Invicti in 274 CE, which is the birthday of Sol Invictus, the sun god, often considered to be one and the same as Mithras. This birthday festival was celebrated with a huge party and feast on December 25th, a date I’m sure you’ll find familiar. It was Constantine who decided, for mostly political reasons, that Christianity would be the state religion, though he did release an edict in 313 CE proclaiming religious tolerance of all faiths. But there were still enough adherents to the Mithraic tradition that even in the 5th century, Augustine preached against them as Christianity continued its takeover.

Incidentally, it was also Constantine who made Sunday a day of rest. Not because of Christ myths, but for Sol Invictus. In March, 321 CE he decreed:

On the venerable day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed. In the country however persons engaged in agriculture may freely and lawfully continue their pursuits because it often happens that another day is not suitable for grain-sowing or vine planting; lest by neglecting the proper moment for such operations the bounty of heaven should be lost.

But I digress. Going back to Christmas being a Sol Invictus celebration, even the Syriac bishop Jacob Bar-Salibi wrote in the 12th century:

“It was a custom of the Pagans to celebrate on the same 25 December the birthday of the Sun, at which they kindled lights in token of festivity. In these solemnities and revelries the Christians also took part. Accordingly when the doctors of the Church perceived that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnised on that day.”

Ernest Renan, in 1882, pointed out how things could have been when he said, “if the growth of Christianity had been arrested by some mortal malady, the world would have been Mithraic” (Renan, E., Marc-Aurele et la fin du monde antique. Paris, 1882, p. 579)

And the whole celebration of the sun god idea can be taken back to well before Roman times. There is much evidence — including many ancient monumental alignments — to demonstrate that the event of the winter solstice, and the return of the sun through longer days, was celebrated hundreds to thousands of years before the common era in numerous parts of the world.

When “the people” are really into something, the worst thing to do is try to tell them they can’t enjoy it any more. The best option is to co-opt it into your own agenda over time. So the Pagan sun worship was Borged (resistance is futile) by Mithras and Sol Invictus celebrations, and those in turn swallowed by the Christians; not as biblical doctrine but to compete with Pagan cults.

Regardless, in the end the effect is the same: “Christmas” is not the birth of the “son of God” but the birth of “the sun”. The deity Mithras and the celebration of Sol Invictus, inextricably intertwined, also ended up drawing in the Christian mythologies and the Christ myths gathered the most adherents and strength and swallowed up those things that birthed them.

Then combine into this Saturnalia, described by the poet Catullus as “the best of days”, which was a big old party in honour of the Roman deity, Saturn. There was a huge banquet followed by gift-giving and partying, where social norms were put aside in the name of hedonism and good times. Which sounds damned fine to me. This festival was originally held on December 17th, but subsequently extended right through to the 23rd. After all, why party for one day when you can get your groove on for a week? And many of those practices were also taken into the Christmas celebration and made a part of the whole thing.


Saturnalia

And everything I’ve written here only touches on the depth and complexity of the history of our culture. So the next time some twat says, “You can’t have Xmas without Christ!” you can respond with, “Yes, you can, actually. Just ask Mithras.”

Enjoy the things that make you happy. Be nice to each other, have fun and indulge yourselves. Give gifts, eat too much, drink too much, and don’t forget to spare a thought for those less fortunate and try to do something to help them as well. But don’t be wilfully ignorant. It’s never been easier to explore truth and history, to understand yourself and your culture. Get out there and expand yourself.

And blessed Solstice to you all.

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My name in the writing credits of a video game

The title of this post says it all, really. I’ve mentioned here a few times about the video game, Leornian, that I’ve been working on for the NSW Department of Education. I blogged a little bit about the game here and you can also see the game trailer if you scroll down my Bibliography page here.

The team have just put the end credits up on YouTube, however, and that’s the bit where it says “Written by Alan Baxter”, which is bloody cool. Well, I think it is, anyway. So here, have a look for yourself:

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