Special thanks to my friend and fellow author Sarah Rosmond for the new image.
Excerpt from Chapter 5
There was laughter echoing down the maze of mirrors, a slow rumbling movement of a malignant will. There was no source, but it filled her, penetrated her, and she felt a compulsion to stare at the nearest mirror.
Amanda turned and gazed long at the scar that ran up her face. As she looked at her reflection, the glass turned back time. Her wounds unknit and exposed flesh opened. She reached up to touch her face and felt the shock of the same pain she had felt on the day when the explosion had rocked her convoy. She pulled her hand away and looked down in the reflection and saw that there was blood. Then, shocked at the sight she lifted her same hand to her face and saw no blood. Looking again into the mirror she saw the wound gaping, bits of skin hanging from her mangled face. Her leg in the mirror was a shattered wreck. The moment her eyes touched the reflection of her leg, she felt the pain of her wound surge and grow till she crumbled to the floor.
It was the pain that broke her gaze. Later, she would realize it was the pain that protected her, had saved her from the madness of that moment. But Armin was still staring. He was a statue, raptured by the seduction of his reflection. His body tensed. His fingers were flexing and clenching in rhythmic movement.
Armin’s jaw worked. “No.”
Amanda said, “Armin, what do you see? What is it?” He stared into the reflective surface; his eyes fixed his mind focused. Amanda could see sweat gathering on his forehead in the dim light. She thought about what she had seen and wondered if Armin saw that very same thing.
“No it’s not true.” His voice was barely a mask for his rage.
“Armin?” Her voice quivered. Gooseflesh took possession of every pore of her skin.
“Armin.” She stood, moved forward and rested her hand on his shoulder.
But Armin did something he had never done before, something that Amanda had never thought him capable of. Armin, the joker, as he was always known in the squad, had never seemed to have a hateful bone in his body. Armin, the person who was the life of the party, always quick with a joke or a sarcastic reply, did not even turn his head as he raised his left arm and punched Amanda hard in the face.
The blow was so violent and so forceful that Amanda couldn’t understand how he was able to gain the leverage he needed to knock her back. She stumbled and fell, a shot of pain crawling up her leg for her ancient wound, like tiny spiders nibbling on her nerves.
Armin screamed. He drew his pistol and fired, his finger worked and moved and gushed out lead into glass. The sound of the air changed quality as the ringing took possession of her ears. The mirror cracked and shattered and bits of glass fell to the ground and tinkled with an almost lyrical quality despite her muted ears. Armin fired till he was empty and then threw his sidearm at what remained.
Some of the scraps hung in malformed triangles and Armin screamed again, pounding his fists on the glass to knock out every tiny piece. Blood leaked on his forearms and gathered on the tips of the triangles. Some carried the stain with them as they fell to the ground.
Even as the last pieces fell to the floor, Armin did not stop. Instead, he began his work on the next mirror, and Amanda watched as the glass cut down deep to tendon and bone, though he seemed not to notice.
She had to do something. She forced her body up, her leg crying in agony as she did. She mustered all her strength and charged him. She felt the collision in every nerve, and as they both fell to the floor, bodies mingled from the impact. He moaned like an angry beast.
Armin’s blood flowed freely, and as Amanda lay on top of him, it seeped and stained into her skin and garments.
“Armin. Stop. You have to stop.” She shook him.
His eyes were glassy, and he craned his neck to try and gaze into yet another mirror. But Amanda, realizing that it was the pain that had broken her hypnosis grabbed one of his forearms where the glass had cut deep and squeezed as hard as she could. Armin yelped and looked at her, eyes full of rage.
“Armin snap out of it. Don’t look at the mirrors.”
But his neck stretched and reached for a glimpse like an addict craving a fix.
With her free hand, she smacked his face. It was barely a slap, but it was all she could muster.
He fixed his eyes on her again, the rage focused. He reached up and grabbed her by the throat for a few moments her held tight, and she could feel the blackness swarming behind her eyes. Just before she lost consciousness something softened in his eyes. He let go.
“Amanda?” His voice was rough and muted by the ringing in her ears.
“Armin…” She coughed and sputtered but forced her words through the mucus built up by his stranglehold. “Don’t… look… at… the… mirrors.”
He nodded and stared at her for a moment. “How did you get blood all over you?”
She returned his gaze. “Armin… look at your hands…”
He did. For the rest of her days, she would never forget the look of horror and revulsion on his face.
I am an avid reader, and so sometimes I run across unique and interesting books that I think are worth recommending. Two days ago, I picked up the book My Life in His Hands by author Sarah Louise Rosmond and I loved it.
The book is the first of three about the life of the author, who grew up in a terribly abusive household under a monstrous father and how she endures years of abuse, both physical and sexual.
That topic may not sound like something most people would want to read but the author has a unique voice, one that is capable of displaying that despite all of this, there is a sense of hope and persistence that we can all aspire to. The blatant honesty and presence in every paragraph drive you forward. The pacing is just excellent and I read the entire first book in just a little over twenty-four hours.
I simply cannot recommend this book enough and I am already reading book 2 to find out what happens next. I am certain I will finish the trilogy in relatively short order.
We have all had the experience right? Someone decides that it’s time to blow up your post about something you feel passionate about, or worse, something that you simply thought was funny. Next thing you know, it’s all out war on your page and you’ve spent 4 hours of your life you never get back, leaving you to feel emotionally and physically exhausted, if not in a terrible mood.
But why does this happen? There are lots of articles that talk about confirmation bias and that people are more divided than ever before or how hard we cling to certain ideas, and so on…
But after teaching a college course specifically on diversity in the modern world, I have come to discover a few things when having in class discussions about social media. Now I may not be the first to notice these things, but I think there are at least three major problems (feel free to comment if you see an additional one) that we face when communicating online that we should consider.
1.People have different intentions for the internet
This one, in particular, was really hard for me. As a person who loves books and learning and the spirit of debate, I view the internet as a space to discuss important issues and try to learn from and understand people who are different than me in both philosophy and culture.
For years I loathed it when people shared cat videos or jokes or posted memes. I would grumble to myself about “what a waste of an amazing opportunity” and yes, sometimes I would comment just to be a jerk. Or, someone would post something that was clearly misinformed and I would go on the attack, because, of course, I must. How else would they‘learn.’
Do you know what I learned from thinking and behaving that way? I was completely and totally wrong. Also, people think your an asshole and it’s counterproductive to any useful thing you might say.
People use the internet for a host of reasons. It may be to share news, or keep up with family, or post information about their baby or their cat, or perhaps they like to joke or are looking to relieve stress after a hard day at work. Maybe they are promoting their new book, or using as a space to promote their business. Some people are looking to build awareness around particular issues and provide a space for discussion. I have to tell myself all the time that for some, critical debate is the absolute last thing they want to engage in at the end of their day (or the beginning).
There is also another side of this. Some people use the internet because they want to troll and bully others. Their idea of humor is to harass and bully and get cheap laughs at the expense of others. So we have this group into the mix aswell, which further complicates things. A few weeks ago, when discussing this exact topic in a class, one student raised their hand and said, “But don’t you think it’s funny to write a bot program to troll people and have them waste all their time arguing with a mindless bot?” My response was, ‘well, I suppose that’s one way to engage online.’ But in reality, I think that is hugely problematic for a number of reasons, but I won’t get into that here.
The point is, when you are on social media, it is hard to remember that people’s intentions and use of the social space vary greatly. We are not all on the same page, and so this alone creates conflict, confusion, and misunderstanding.
2. There is no paralanguage, and so we put things on other people that might not be there.
Paralanguage is the components of speech that help us to understand the meaning. It includes pitch, tone, speed, gestures, and facial expressions. It’s how we understand if the following phrase, “That’s so amazing.” is a sincere expression or a sarcastic one.
We don’t have that in written speech. Grammar helps, and a good writer can create a scenario where you understand the tone and attitudes within dialogue, but even then, stuff can get lost in the translation. Also, think how hard it is to tell if some people are joking or not. I am told often, that I have a dry sense of humor, and it’s hard to tell if some of my jokes are serious and that’s in person.
So add this to a forum of total strangers. You don’t know any of these individuals, or you might know a few from previous online interactions. So, someone makes a statement like, ‘That’s so amazing,’ to something you said. But the context of the conversation is such that you could interpret it as either.
In that situation, what your brain does is make assumptions. If you are in a bad mood, or you have had other bad interactions in this conversation, your brain may frame the statement as an attack or a comment in bad faith, which could launch a series of escalating replies and blow up the whole conversation, even if the person was commenting in good faith.
I can’t tell you how many times this has happened to me on both Twitter and Facebook and recently even had to unfriend and block someone who took a comment that I said, as support, in a way where she nuked my page because she understood my comment as something completely different.
It is always always important to get clarification before you lash out at someone online, on social media or in anemail, because a lack of paralanguage will have our brain fill in the gaps. Depending on our history and our current experiences, we may completely misunderstand what the other person is saying. Remember when you assume you make an Ass out of U and Me (I have never stopped loving that play on letters).
3. When it comes to issues of diversity people are both at different stages of understanding and different states of acceptance
First of all, before I dive in here, there is a very excellent episode on the Netflix series “Explained” on PoliticalCorrectness that I highly recommend watching. It is a highly complex thing, and there are no easy answers there. The episode talks about the history of the phrase and some of the debates around free speech vs. censorship. But it does not provide you any clear answers, and that, in this case, is a good thing, because there are none.
The internet is constantly alight with debates of diversity and inclusion. Regardless of how you feel about these conversations, they are, for the most part, productive and useful to ensure that people who are sincerely facing injustice and oppression, are opening other’s eyes to their experience.
The problem with these conversations is multi-leveled. And when I say problem, what I mean is, why they are so combative and tense. These are important conversations. This is how society changes into something better.
I will illustrate this with my own experience. I am a white guy, as white as you get. All my ancestors are white as the snow in the northern countries from which they originate. I am a Cis, I am straight, and I grew up in an all-white community. For the first 12 years of my life, before I moved to Colorado, I grew up on the east coast in Philadelphia, in what was possibly the whitest community you can imagine. Segregation in Philadelphia (and many North East Cities) is a real problem (See this for more). So, when I moved to Colorado at twelve years of age, I was shocked to discover there were still Native Americans alive. I had been taught, by omission mostly, that all Native Americans had died out years before I was born.
Let that sink in for a moment.
I could go in more detail, as to the various kinds of ignorance I had going into college, (middle school and high school was also an all-white experience)because, for me, college was terrifying. Everything I thought I knew was challenged. It was a kick in the gut, it was uncomfortable, but it was a good thing. Why? Because there are a near infinite ways of experiencing the world, and I had made endless assumptions that really, the world was simple, orderly, and experience was mostly universal.
I was, legitimately ignorant of so much of the rest of the world. And that’s a real thing. There are a lot of people out there like that. Even ones like myself, who became an anthropologist, who lived and worked with other cultures, took a long time to challenge all those deeply planted ideas. And I am a person, who is willing and open to learning and accepting that I might be wrong on things. The reality is, some people aren’t willing to learn. Some people are, what we call, willfully ignorant. In other words, no matter what you say, no matter how well you craft an argument, you aren’t going to change their opinion on something, even if you have all the data and truth on your side.
Remember too, we are all ignorant of something, we all have sizable holes in your knowledge and experience. This is based on your gender, race, class, religion, family, language, etc. You cannot know everything, and it is not reasonable to expect someone, who grew up in vastly different circumstances to intuitively understand something you do. If you have never seen poverty for example, how can you understand what it’s like to live that way for your whole life? You can, but it’s no easy task, and you have to think critically about it.
So, when discussing online, the first thing you have to figure out is, which kind of ignorant do you have? Do you have a person who is willfully ignorant? Or is this a person who simply lacks exposure? That does make a difference, and it is a big mistake to treat both kinds of people to ad-hominem attacks because both of those individuals have entirely different intentions when discussing.
This comes to the next point, which is, even people who are willing to listen and learn, they can’t do it all at once. Keep in mind, that by the time you are an adult, your brain has been programmed to think in a certain way for at least eighteen years of life. Neurologically speaking, you simply cannot dismiss ideas overnight, unless you have a massive brain trauma that changes your brain chemistry drastically.
Using myself again as an example, when I first discovered the Implicit Bias test, (the test that measures our subconscious assumptions about things like race and gender) I thought, of course, I would receive the coveted neutral result. Because I didn’t hate anyone or any group right? At age 23, when I took this test and got “A Strong Bias Toward Individuals of European descent,” I was shocked. But, this is entirely explained by the background I grew up in, which I already explained. After that, I went out into the world and studied anthropology. I learned about other cultures, worked with them, and lived with them. After a few years, I remember that test. Took it again, and got “A Moderate Bias Towards Individuals of European Descent.” It wasn’t until after graduate school, that I finally got a Neutral result.
The point? If you are online, you cannot reasonably expect people to understand an issue overnight. You are fighting against years and years of programming and often, lack of quality education. People need time and space to digest things, to shift gears in their thinking. Acceptance of a new idea, rarely happens overnight and the older you are, the longer it takes because there is more social programming.
Does that mean you don’t hold people accountable for saying or posting really awful things? Of course not. But remember what you are fighting against. Remember, that you may not win that discussion, but also, other people are reading and watching even if they aren’t interacting, so it’s still worth having those discussions if you have the intention and inclination to do so.
To Sum Up
The internet can be the most amazing place for building ideas and spreading important social critique and creating a space for inclusion. But it can also be a messy imperfect mess that allows for long-established ideas, to persist and spread. We have seen some pretty terrible events in the last few years, like what happened in Charlottesville or a number other instances of social media being used to spread all kinds of nastiness.
But, if you want to avoid dumpster fires on your social media, keeping some of the above things in mind, may help. In reality, though, it’s not possible to avoid problems, because well, people are messy creatures, and any social space is fraught with controversy and difficulty. But I hope this lengthy piece was useful to the few of you who got all the way to the end. I wrote it, because I believe, that we can do better.
Note: Sometimes I have friends read my blog posts before I post them to get feedback.
I am very happy to say, that I successfully hit the minimum goal for NaNoWriMo this month working on my fourth book in the Chronicles of the Great Migration, Serah of the Runners.
However, at 56007 words, the books is really only about half done. I do have to say, I am very excited about the direction this book is going. Serah’s story is fantastic, and the aftermath of the Battle for Langeles may just shock you. I never thought things would turn out this way, but these damn characters surprise and shock me and every turn. And, if you finished Battle for Langeles, you might just be wondering what happened to a certain few characters… Some of that is answered here, some of them you won’t see again until Book 5 The Children of AEIS
I plan on continuing my current writing pace all throughout December so that the first draft of Serah of the Runners can be finished by years end. That way, I can release it early next year! My hope is to get Book 4 late winter, Book 5 late spring and conclude the series by next fall. At the pace I am writing at it should work… provided the final book in the series isn’t much longer than I think it is.
Also, a very special thanks to Lyndsie Clark, who I met at MileHiCon several weeks ago, and who basically became a badass writing partner during this month and held my ass accountable. Thanks for spending all the hours in coffee shops in silence with me Lyndsie! Check out her blog here
To me, stories have been among the most important things in my life. From a young age I was always an avid book lover and of course, I grew up watching tons of media and even enjoying stories in the video game world (Final Fantasy 7 and Bioshock Infinite are among my favorite game stories).
Stories influence us, they shape us, they help us to ask difficult questions all while giving us the distance to think about them in a meaningful way. Few other things in this world are impactful as sharing personal stories or reading a good book.
For my Masters Research, I worked with the Romero Theater Troupe, a theater organization that lets everyday people tell their stories on stage and share their struggles with the world. It was working with the Romero Theater Troupe that I realized how powerful our stories are for making a positive change to society and I had a moment of personal reflection where I realized I wanted to focus and tell more stories myself because I believe that it is through storytelling that we can really change the world.
I have always written, but after working with the Romero Theater Troupe, I started thinking about the stories that have influenced me in life. One of the most important influences to me was Douglas Adams, the Science Fiction Writer who is best known for his Series, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
I’ve read this series four times, and each time I grew to realize just how much depth there is behind the laughter. Adams brings in so many relevant points about politics and power and other, still relevant, issues that we face in daily life, all through the eyes of a man who not only reluctant to go on a journey in space, but just wants a good cup of tea (He actually almost gets an entire spaceship full of people killed over a cup of tea) and to go to bed early.
Sometimes as authors we put little easter eggs or allusions hidden throughout our work, marking tribute to the contribution of other authors or things that influenced us. In book 3 of my series, The Chronicles of the Great Migration, The Battle for Langeles, I have a small tribute to Douglas Adams.
What Author’s or Stories Influenced Your Life? Feel Free to Share in the Comments.
Excerpt from Chapter 13 Rigel’s Dream, Rigel’s Debt (Spoiler Free)
Louis glided down the hall, his upper body stiff and his feet pumping furiously towards Dr. Solidsworth’s Lab. His motionless shoulders and arms moved only with the rhythm of his torso. He took wide, gapping steps. He moved quickly enough that several times he had to reach up and adjust his glasses.
Louis Franklin was the only person in the entire city of Manhatsten, and possibly the remainder of humanity, that still wore glasses. These were no ordinary reading glasses, they were, by ancient standards, granny-grade frames with bottlecap-thick lenses. Louis didn’t like the idea of laser eye surgery, and the idea of a digital optical implant–they had replaced contact lens in 2042CE–going anywhere near his eye was the most terrifying thing he had ever heard of.No, glasses worked perfectly fine.
Sweat gathered at the line between his short, slicked-back hair and pale, light-skinned forehead. His lab coat, which stopped early at his upper thighs, shifted as he moved. He had to hurry, the timely delivery of the news could make all the difference. He rushed into Dr.Solidsworth’s door, slamming his body against the hard metal surface. Louis had forgotten that Dr. Solidworth had extra security protocols on his lab and that the door would not open on approach.
“Keypad,keypad, where is that keypad.” He searched to the left and the right of the door but did not see it. He looked again; he still did not see it. Then he remembered that there was a request access code for a holo-key pad display, an extra precaution to unwelcomed visitors. “AI, would you please display the holo-key pad.”
“Please state your authorization code, Dr. Franklin.”
“Alpha, Gamma, Seven, Six, Nine, Eight.”
“What did the dolphin say?”
Louis rolled his eyes, he forgot about the security answer. He could understand why Dr. Solidsworth was paranoid after the attempt on his life decades earlier, but how many passwords and secret phrases did he think he needed before he felt safe?
“I don’t suppose you could give me another hint.”
“No, Sir, Dr. Solidsworth does not allow additional hints.”
He racked his brain. He knew it had something to do with one of Dr. Solidsworth’s favorite books, but for the life of him, he couldn’t remember it. Something about fish… fish and dolphins, what would the dolphin say? He knew dolphins never had the power of language in the way that humans did. Of course, Louis had never actually seen a dolphin other than in ancient movies and a few pictures. He would have never even looked them up if Dr. Solidsworth had not given him the passphrase.
“Ah ha! I remember! The dolphin said, ‘So long and thanks for all the fish.’”
If you are a fan of Science Fiction and in the Denver, Colorado area, you should definitely check this event out this weekend.
I have an author table and I will be on four different panels discussing science fiction in the classroom, writing strategies, how to create authentic fictional religions, and reading some of my humorous work. So, if you are in the area, come visit. If not, let me know what cons are in your area and maybe I will visit this next year!