A Change of Heart: My Thoughts on This Christmas, 2016

Hello everyone,

We are fast approaching the end of the year and what a year it’s been: personally, nationally, globally, an incredible and awful year, a year of fundamental shifts in consciousness, regression and progression. Many people have cried out for this year to end. Many have lost icons, family, had their belief in people and political systems shaken and challenged, many have wept, suffered both in physical and emotional ways. Every year holds both the positive and negative of course, yin and yang is the nature of life, but 2016 has felt like a particularly strange year in which events have transpired to subvert our expectations. The highs and lows have felt, well, very high and very low.I could never have made it through without my wonderful partner, Michelle’s, unwavering support.

I want to do a few things in this blog. Firstly, I want to thank everyone, for coming through this year with me, for supporting me when there was so much other shit going on in the world, for letting me know there was someone out there who wanted to hear my voice. On a personal level, aside from the political upheavals which have swept the planet, this year has been my most challenging yet. In fact, near the start of the year, I was at the lowest I have been in some time. I don’t want to dwell on why or how, it just happened. But, as with all things, ugliness gives way to beauty in the end, chrysalis to butterfly, and I emerged from it with a new perspective on my life, the people around me, and literature. From this pain and seeming isolation came The Meaning of the Darkwhich marks a new, more thoughtful and literary direction for me as a writer, one I am excited to take. Don’t worry though. I will always write speculative fiction. There’s undoubtedly magic in my life of both the dark and light kind, and to not write about it would be a profound lie.

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Though by some it might be considered trivial compared with personal and, indeed, the political struggles of this world, this year has been a sad year for publishing. Though there are many people doing fine work (we’ll come on to them in a minute), there are lots of atrocious things happening: publishers getting more and more restricted, less voices being heard, contracts becoming harder and harder for writers. I, for one, had no less than 3 publishers renege on contracts this year. They signed and agreed, and then, dropped the projects. It’s not their fault. It’s the climate, the financial pressures and in some cases personal pressures too. They are only human, after all. However, this meant I had to get creative about releasing my work. Thankfully, I was able to self publish some of it, with the help of some other wonderful professionals and fellow writers in the industry,  and find new homes for the rest.

But like I said, it wasn’t all bad. If we talk more about the highs of this year for a minute: let’s talk about getting involved with Storgy Magazine. The guys at Storgy: Tomek, Anthony, Ross are unsung heroes fighting on a front people barely perceive; they are fighting to keep short stories and great literature alive and they are, against all odds, winning. Their work is exemplary and they have redeemed me. Taking me on board for reviews as well as more short fiction writing was a serious turning point in what I thought was going to be my worst year of writing ever. It’s turned out to be my best! The reviews I have been writing, the literature exposed to, and then my fiction: Orifice, the special edition of Seven Dark Stars, Four Horsemen and of course The Meaning of the Dark. Those are just the books I released. What’s way more exciting is the things I’ve written that have yet to come out. There are some amazing things coming your way next year. I can’t wait to show you.

There’s now over 1,000 of us on this blog. What a great milestone. I’m not delusional about it. It’s not 50,000 people like some YouTubers or musicians, but it’s a start.Thank you! I want to make it easier for people to use this blog as a forum and discussion board, much like Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds site or Chuck Palahniuk’s The Cult. I need to give that some thought. I hope people are enjoying the content I’m providing, I’m working on showing you the most unique worlds I can. If you ever have suggestions, I’m easy to get hold of. Tweet me, comment on this blog, or email.

Another great event of 2016 was getting the chance to meet my hero, Richard Thomas, founder of Gamut magazine and author of 100s of amazing literary stories. We had a 2 hour skype interview at 2:00am. He was warm, generous, insightful, and shared so much of his vast knowledge. I came away from it with an exploded mind, seeing writing in a new light. He thanked my by sending me a copy of the collection he put together at Dark House Press: The New Black. The title refers to the genre ‘neo-noir’ which is a new movement in the literary world towards intersecting genre and literary fiction. The book was signed, with a dedication to me:

“Joseph, You are the New Black.”

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This really shook me. I’m not ashamed to say I was close to weeping. It’s rare we meet our heroes and rarer still they honour us. Thanks, Richard, once again, for everything. Soon, you’ll all get a chance to read the interview at Storgy.com and see what the fuss is about.

This year, I reconnected with some old friends, and boy, did we have a good time. It was great to see them all; I’ve missed you being in Guildford, and I’m so glad we got to connect as often as we did. I also made some new friends, both in the real world (REAL FRIENDS) and online. The Storgy team were real pals to me, giving me so much support and urging me on to better things. I’ve connected with a bunch of awesome indie & professional authors who are really cool, thoughtful, caring people. You probably know their names by now, but if you don’t, go check out Michael Bray, Moira Katson, Christa Wojciechowski, Jamie Parry-Bruce (fellow Spewer), Matthew Blackwell and the many others. You should also check out my dad, James Sale, who’s poetry collection has just been released: The Lyre Speaks True. It’s nothing short of epic (review coming soon); the first introductory narrative alone, regardless of the poetry, is enough to make you weep. You can follow him on Twitter at @thelyrespeaks for poetry and spiritual reflection.

So what do I want to say to round up? I guess, I want to say thanks again, to everyone and anyone who’s been involved and made this happen. We’re going somewhere, people. This train is moving. For a long time it felt sluggish, but now it isn’t. The fiction is powering up. The change is happening. People have woken up – and maybe that’s what we needed? A few bad things to happen to scare us and kick us into gear. For me, the political and global deficiencies are mirrored in the staleness of the current literary world’s zeitgeists. But this is changing. The “big four” publishers no longer have absolute monopoly: there are ways for writers to be heard that circumvent their controls. And there are ways for smaller, ambitious publishers to get their feet on the ground. Indie game developers are stronger than they’ve ever been. Undertale almost won Game of the Year last year for heaven’s sake. The great Kojima has finally been set free of Konami to do whatever he pleases with Death Stranding. 

We are the captains of our ship. We do not have to watch what Hollywood feeds us. We do not  have to read the same procedural thrillers over and over. We do not have to let our beliefs and values be crushed time and again by the wheels of greed. What am I saying to you? True revolution doesn’t look like molotovs and violence, it’s internal, it’s a change of heart. Remember Change of Heart from the old Yu-Gi-Oh series? It was the most important card of all. Yu-Gi’s favourite card, in fact.

This year, I had a change of heart. I recognised what was important in my life, who I wanted to become, as a writer and as a person. The change in my literary identity (or rather, the blossoming if you’ll permit such a cliched image) reflects an internal change, a move towards more empathy, more love, move joy. Some people say I am already loving as a person, but I want to go higher and do more, because I do believe in the words of Martin Luther King:

“Love is the only force capable of turning an enemy into a friend”

That, my friends, is how we win, not lambasting people who think differently to us. That only entrenches them. That only mires us further in the hate and suffering.

No, we love them. Everyone. It’s bloody hard but so necessary for our health, sanity, hell, our world.

So, to bring this essay (sorry) to a close, I guess, that’s what I’d ask you to reflect on this Christmas/New Year/December holiday, whatever it is your celebrate. Think about having a change of heart. Think about love.

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