Today is a big day. April 11, 2023 is the release of my latest anthology, THE HITHERTO SECRET EXPERIMENTS OF MARIE CURIE (Blackstone Publishing), co-edited by Henry L. Herz (buy here) and we debuted at #1 in hardcover. It’s been a real whirlwind the past few years with COVID, among other things—an odd time, in some ways, to create books, but The Hitherto Secret Experiments of Marie Curie was born. Fittingly, it tells fictionalized stories of the youth of one of the world’s most famous scientists, Marie Curie, whose own life was filled with tragedy and struggles—not just as a female pioneer in STEM, but with deaths in her family, oppression of her people, and more. Unlike COVID, Marie has left the world a much better place, however, and she did so at great cost. It is widely believed she died due to the effect of radiation exposure from her great discovery of radium. Marie was not one to let obstacles stop her. She pushed and she worked and she fought and she conquered time and again. She’s an inspiring and fascinating woman, and we hope our stories are inspiring too.
These stories are fictional. Although they are based on real characters in real situations and real history, but none of these events actually happened. Instead we invited 18 of the top Young Adult and horror writers (line-up here) working today to collaborate on fun misadventures filled with mischief, mystery, monsters, and yes, science, as they imagined what life might have been like for young teenage Marie. Marie’s life was largely shaped by the tragic loss of her mother and sister at a young age and so are these stories, but Marie conquered adversity time and again, and she does here too.
THE HITHERTO SECRET EXPERIMENTS OF MARIE CURIE won’t change the world but it can entertain and inspired. We hope these stories inspire you to face any obstacles you encounter with courage, drive, and determination. Women can change the world in STEM or anywhere else. We celebrate possibilities and great futures and wish the same for you.
Thank you for reading. The book is now available on hardcover, audiobook and CD and ebook here.
Luckily for humanity, scientist Marie Curie applied her brilliant mind and indomitable spirit to expanding the frontiers of science, but what if she had instead drifted toward the darkness?
At the cusp of between child- and adulthood, at the crossroads between science and superstition, a teen Marie Curie faces the factual and the fantastic in this fabulous collection of stories that inspire, delight, and ask the question: What if she had used her talents for diabolical purposes?
The Hitherto Secret Experiments of Marie Curie includes twenty short stories and poems by award-winning writers including New York Times bestselling authors Seanan McGuire, Scott Sigler, Jane Yolen, Alethea Kontis, and Jonathan Maberry, plus Sarah Beth Durst, Lissa Price, Christine Taylor-Butler, Mylo Carbia, Jo Whittemore, Dee Leone, Susanne L. Lambdin, Steve Pantazis, Emily McCosh, Henry Herz, Bryan Thomas Schmidt & GP Charles.
I just had the opportunity to watch the movie GREEN BOOK for the third time as I shared it with my parents (their first), and what continues to resonate with me is how much this film speaks into the divisiveness of modern American culture. We live in an age where people all too often regard people who disagree with them as enemies rather than friends, as people to avoid rather than to friend, as evil rather than ill-informed even, and the result has been a lot of hostility and anger with accusations of bullying from cyber attacks, accusations of this-phobia, that -ism and so on such that people feel they can’t exercise their right to free speech or even to be themselves freely anymore. And it’s a sad state of affairs.
GREEN BOOK is about the relationship between two men who come to discover how much they have in common and how the expectations and biases they imposed on each other at the start of the relationship are barriers that hindered, not helped their interactions. Tony Lip is a blue collar Italian-American bouncer who struggles to get by and feed his wife and kids, just survive in a dog eats dog world. As an Italian and lower class, less educated man, he is often looked down on by other whites, especially those of means. And he has learned to do what it takes to stand up for himself and get by. Doctor Don Shirley is an African American pianist who lives an elite life surrounded by the wealthy. His apartment is above Carnegie Hall, for example, and he finds himself distanced from his own people because he can’t relate to their daily lives and they can’t relate to his.
When Shirley decides to launch a tour of the Deep South, his record company puts out a call for a driver, and Lip—having been temporarily laid off when his club shut down for remodeling—responds. He’s rough, curses a lot, and even looks down on blacks similarly to how other whites look down on him. But he needs the work and Shirley needs a protector, so they wind up together. Of course, they clash. Ironically, Lip can’t understand Shirley’s lack of affinity for popular music and food often enjoyed by other African Americans, while Shirley tries to help Lip modify his own attitude and presentation to fit in better with the white upper crust they will encounter on their trip. Both resist, but through dialogue and continued determination, each starts to see wisdom and logic in how the other thinks. But only because they push through the discomfort and listen to each other.
By the end of the film, Shirley stands up for himself much as Lip has done for him, and he even learns to enjoy the popular music and food common to African American culture. Lip changes his attitude toward people of color and also begins learning how to communicate in more sophisticated, thoughtful, and polite ways as well as confront conflict with words not violence. The result is they forge a genuine friendship and respect for each other, despite their differences and each change a bit to be better men. Now, this movie is based on a real story, which makes it that much more moving to me because the possibility exists for all of us. All of us can come together with people who don’t see the world the way we do and don’t agree with us on important topics and, by listening and actually hearing and being open to what each other are saying, come to deeper understandings about the world and ourselves that can change us for the better. It’s a message of hope for those of us struggling in modern society, and much needed reminder, if you ask me, of times when disagreement was not automatic enmity and could be respected instead of scorned.
GREEN BOOK is nuances and subtle in its message, however. It does not slam you in the face with it. None of this is stated overtly. Instead it flows out of the story naturally and subtly over its course and the results are quite moving and powerful. In fact, each time I see it, I find something to think about that I’d missed the prior viewings. And to me, at least, that is the sign of a great film. We need more films that speak to this because our society is becoming more divided, not less, more hostile, not less, and more angry and resentful, not less. We compromise less than ever and so do lawmakers, with the result that we all pay a heavy price not just mentally but financially and physically as laws and decisions sorely needed fall by the wayside and nothing changes.
I have had several friendships similar to that of Tony Lip and Don Shirley, and they are among my most cherished relationships because those people are friends I can count on to hold me accountable and make me think through and question myself when I need it most. It’s so easy to shut one’s self off in a box and avoid conflict—surrounding one’s self instead with like minded friendlies—but the danger of that is when you are operating on half information and assumption, you may never correct your course and may carry on with false understandings that can do real harm. Instead, the Tony Lips to my Don Shirley are the very antidote needed to make sure this doesn’t happen to me, and I hope I am the same to them, because I think these kinds of relationships leave us better people for the results. And I don’t know about you but one of my goals in life is to constantly strive to be a better me.
I was first diagnosed in 3rd grade at the world-renowned Meninger’s Clinic in Topeka, Kansas: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. For my physician and nurse parents, this was a huge relief. Finally an answer to their son’s odd and frustrating behavior. For me, it was the day I found out I would never be normal.
There’s nothing like slapping a label “disorder” on someone to make them feel like a freak. And for years it was “did you take your meds?” or “go chill out, you’re hyper” and other dismissive remarks whenever they found me annoying, odd, or difficult. It was never about celebrating and appreciating how these things made me unique–how the intense focus and energy bursts could result in huge bouts of productive creativity. How the racing mind could sort through so many more scenarios and options at a faster rate than anyone around me and keep juggling them all there even while discussing or writing–giving me a lot of info to utilize. It wasn’t about how I could get more done in a focused bout of 45 minutes than most people could do in 2 hours. It was always about the “disability.” No discussion of benefits. (My parents are not altogether bad or unsupportive people, by the way, I am talking about one particular circumstance only).
As a result, it took me a while to identify these traits as having positive benefits. And to adjust my life to live in ways that utilized them and made the most of them, rather than just trying to medicate them away and hide my abnormality. That’s a terrible burden to live with, by the way. A terrible burden to put on a child.
Now don’t get me wrong. ADHD is a real thing and I always cringe at parents who both over diagnose with it or ignore it because they think it’s overdiagnosed. Let the experts really tell you. Get a second or third opinion if you must. For your child, knowing and helping them learn to cope is really important. I just wish my parents had handled that differently. It wasn’t until I got to be an adult that I discovered adjusting my working habits and lifestyle, diet, etc. would all be things I could use to make the most of my “unique gifts” and live more productively and get along better with others. Before that, I had “disorder” on the brain. It was a curse, some horrible burden God put on me for some unknown reason–why did he hate me?–not something I could overcome and use.
It wasn’t until my early thirties that I really grasped the concept that no one is normal. Everyone has quirks and issues. The so-called “normal” people love to talk about and bandy about like a standard is really a matter of point of view, perspective. There is no catch-all, set absolutely, scientifically determined state that constitutes “normal.”
What really brought it home to me was events that started in 2009, when my beloved wife, a Brazilian (who doesn’t like me to use her name about this so I am not) began acting very strangely in ways that were dangerous. When her flight to St. Louis got layed over in Chicago for a long delay, she called me in the middle of the night from downtown Chicago where she was wandering around pulling her suitcase just to “sightsee” alone. Yep. We knew no one in Chicago. She’d never been before. And she just went downtown to see the city alone, at night. With a suitcase. To say I was panicked is an understatement. I woke up a lot of people that night seeking help. And I didn’t hear from her again for several hours, making it worse.
A few months later, she started being up at odd hours, running around hectically, cleaning obsessively, etc. all night. And then one day, while I went to Mexico to teach free music classes, I sent her off to the bus to attend a seminar for her new hospitality job at a hotel. Once I crossed the border, the phone went off so I could avoid the expensive “international roaming” cellular phones on the U.S.-Mexico Border struggle with at great expense for their owners. That night, I arrived home to multiple messages on both my voicemail and answering machine of an increasingly aggitated, worried, and then angry wife berating me for not calling her back and coming to get her.
Despite searching, calling her cell and friends, etc., I did not see her again for over 6 hours, until the El Paso PD brought her to my door at 5 a.m. It turns out she’d never made it to the bus and had wandered the city on foot, eventually discarding her shoes–which fell apart–her jewelry, ID (including key immigration documents like green card), and more and was found wandering on Interstate 10, dodging semis (she was actually struck on the shoulder by a semi’s mirror and stayed standing with only a scratch), babbling about trying to get home. The Police thought she was suicidal. The gibberish she was speaking scared the hell out of me.
By 2011, we were divorced and she had gone back to Brazil, but this was after 5 forced hospitalizations, dozens more incidents, my losing my day job and so much more that really made our life chaotic and turned it upside down. I lost the love of my life. I lost my partner, lover, and best friend. I lost a really well-paying job I enjoyed, a house we wanted to buy, and many friends who were alienated along the way not understanding the drama or the situation. I wound up on dozens of meds for heart rate, blood pressure, depression, and so much more. The doctors thought I’d have a heart attack at 45. For two years, the meds seemed to be doing nothing to help. A month after we divorced and my ex went home to Brazil with family, my levels went back to normal and the meds were no longer needed.
THAT, my friends, is stress.
Why do I tell you this? I tell you this because my ex’s biggest struggle with her illness was her frustration, fear, and pain of being told she was not “normal” anymore. That really destroyed her self-esteem. She didn’t want meds, she wanted a miracle. She wanted to be the normal person she’d been before, not some mentally ill person. What I had realized with my Ritalin was that sometimes the medicine IS the miracle, but that was a concept she was not ready to accept. Her self-identity was too threatened, her sense of esteem too violated. So she didn’t medicate consistently, she blamed and lashed out at those around her, and various side effects occurred that made things worse, not better.
Now as I watch another family member going through that 6 years later, my heart breaks for them daily. I want to reach out, hug them, impart all this wisdom, and tell them: “It is okay to be you. Normal is relative. You are awesome as you are.” To take away the fear, pain, paranoia, and more so they can just face up to their new reality, take the meds, and live a relatively similar life to what they did before. But they are not ready yet, just as my ex was. Then, as I said, it took me years to accept that I had my own “normal,” and I was fortunately diagnosed as a kid. These two people (my ex and relative) are adults. How much harder must it be for them to adjust to that idea?
So here’s the thing. No one is mainstream. No one is straight normal. No one. We are all unique. If you believe in God, He made us that way. Or perhaps you’d prefer to think of the amazing science of genetics and DNA. Either way, there is a reason DNA can identify people. We are all unique. And for the love of God, there is nothing wrong with being unique. There is nothing wrong with not being “normal.” Be yourself. THAT was the lesson I needed to learn, and the lesson all “mentally ill,” “disabled,” and family members of those afflicted must learn to accept. “Normal” for you is different than anyone else. And that is okay. It is not a disaster. It is nothing to be ashamed of. It is something to figure out and adjust for and live happily and well with. And anyone can do it. You just have to believe, accept, and put in the work.
I’m not saying I don’t still struggle. I am not saying ADHD does not still affect my life and relationships. It does. I still can’t always read others’ reactions to me well in social situations. My overabundant, hyper energy can still be offputting. It has made it hard to keep steady day jobs. But that is my “normal,” and I have adjusted by becoming freelance, by becoming more blunt and open about who I am in relationships, and by continuing to take whatever meds and dietary things help and adjusting my working style, etc. accordingly.
What is normal? It is that label that is the “disorder” or “disability” if you allow it to be one. But it is one you can overcome if you have the patience and determination to try, to do it. It takes time, yes. It is hard, yes. But it is accomplishable. It is possible. And realizing and accepting your unique you is a better way to live than under a label of “abnormal” or “disorder” will ever be. Trust me. I’ve learned the hard way and it took me almost 37 years. Hopefully, this post might help a few people get there faster and avoid a lot of heartache. That’s what I hope for, at least.
For what it’s worth…
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and Hugo-nominated editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online and include entries in The X-Files, Predator, and Decipher’s WARS, amongst others. As book editor for Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta’s WordFire Press he edited books by such luminaries as Alan Dean Foster, Tracy Hickman, Frank Herbert, Mike Resnick, Jean Rabe and more. He was also the first editor on Andy Weir’s bestseller The Martian. His anthologies as editor include Shattered Shields with co-editor Jennifer Brozek, Mission: Tomorrow, Galactic Games and Little Green Men–Attack! (forthcoming) all for Baen, Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6, Beyond The Sun and Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age. He also coedited forthcoming anthologies with Larry Correia and Jonathan Maberry set in their New York Times Bestselling Monster Hunter International and Joe Ledger universes.
I went through a lot of drama in my former marriage due to my wife’s mental illness. I didn’t realize until recent events how much that changed me. For one, I have a very low tolerance for other people’s unnecessary drama these days. There are things worth drama and things that are blown out of proportion. I see this a lot these days. Rumors, scandals and drama abound. People assume, get angry, start hurling insults, and it just escalates into real nastiness from there. In the midst of such overwrought drama, real issues, real problems that deserve the attention get lost. People lose interest because they hate conflict and drama. Change doesn’t occur.
There are a few things I have learned that I wish a few others would learn about these kinds of situations. Here they are:
1) Freedom of Speech does not just apply to those you like and agree with. People these days are quick to demand that those they find offensive shut up. So much for freedom of speech. Apparently it only applies to those who say the right things. Unfortunately, a little document called the United States Constitution would take issue with that.
2) People have a right to an opinion of their own. Even if it’s not the same as yours. That’s a founding principle for democracy, folks. And it should be treasured and respected.
3) When someone is offended by something because of their assumptions and background, not specific words, they are not due an apology. Happens a lot these days. Someone writes something and people interpret it as offensive. They demand an apology. Others line up to support them. But what the author owes them is: nothing. Common courtesy would suggest a clarification might be prudent even polite. And if the words themselves were clear and inherently offensive, then an apology would be appropriate. But if the complainers takes meaning not inherent in the words, they are choosing to be offended by interpreting the words a certain way. It’s not them to whom an apology is due. They owe one to the author. Especially if a clarification was offered and they refuse to accept it.
4) Sensitivity and Respect go both ways. If you want people to be sensitive to your feelings, etc. or those of others around you, you cannot be dismissive of theirs. Impugning anyone with whom you disagree is no more appropriate or acceptable than anything you might accuse them of saying. If the response is just as or more offensive than what provoked it, you are also just as wrong. Bullying in the name of anti-bullying is still bullying, folks. Bigotry in the name of anti-bigotry is still bigotry, too.
5) Your views can be just as offensive as those of your opponents. Especially for those watching you shove them arrogantly down everyone’s throats. In fact, I know many people who agree in principle with the loud voices who wouldn’t stand up and be counted because they don’t want to “act like that.” The harshness of the behavior does more harm than good to the cause. You won’t convince anyone to change by chasing them off with rudeness and insults. If you are so aggressive that people shut up and walk away, you have lost, not won. You have defeated your cause. You have not been heard.
6) Just because a group someone belongs to was guilty in the past or has currently guilty members does not make all members of said group responsible. This is a big one. “You are a priveleged white male, so you are guilty of racism, sexism, etc. by being a white male.” This is just one common example. Sorry, but no dice. I am not responsible for the sins of my ancestors. I am responsible for my own sins and actions. If you can’t separate the two, the problem lies with you. This article on Kafkatrapping and Logical Fallacies addresses how ridiculous these claims really are. And I think we should judge people as individuals not classes, groups, etc. Isn’t that what eliminating discrimination is all about?
If more people remembered these things, I think the internet and society would be more pleasant. Certainly Science Fiction and Fantasy as a community could benefit, but I believe that’s just a reflection of broader culture. I need to remember these things. I hope my readers will as well. Most of all, I hope some will learn to do them. Productive and effective communication doesn’t occur well in the irrational environment of inflamed emotions. But it can occur in productive, reasoned dialogue. As I said before, I’ll say it again, stopping the insult hurling and talking is the better path.
For what it’s worth…
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction including the novels The Worker Prince and The Returning, and the children’s books 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (Flying Pen Press, 2012) and Beyond The Sun (Fairwood, July 2013) and is currently editing Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age (Every Day Publishing, November 2013) and Shattered Shields with co-editor Jennifer Brozek (Baen, 2014). He also edits Blue Shift Magazine and hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and can be found via Twitter as @BryanThomasS, on his website at www.bryanthomasschmidt.net or Facebook.
This weekend I had the privilege of attending the funeral of two high school friends’ mother. I call it a privilege because this was no somber mournfest. This was a celebration of life and love. In fact, it was so good, it made me regret not taking time to get to know their mother better when I had the chance.
The pastor recalled how when the mother learned her cancer had recurred she came to him and told him her diagnosis, the treatment, and that if didn’t work she’d die. Then she said something he hadn’t heard in twenty years of ministry. “I’m ready. Like anyone, I’d like more time. But I can deal with all of that. What I need your help for is helping me to walk my husband and family through this with me.”
Yep. The woman had been given horrible news about her life and possible death and he first concern was helping her loved ones.
But that’s the kind of person she was. And the more he talked about her life and joys, the more moving it became.
Until that cell phone rang.
And not only did it ring, but the guy reached for it then let it ring. He didn’t shut it off right away.
First of all, it ruined the moment. Which is selfish and disrespectful to say the least.
Second, if you left work in the middle of the day to come to a funeral, what’s so important that you can’t at least put your cell phone on vibrate?
Or better yet…turn the damn cell phone off.
The funeral isn’t about you. It’s about honoring a woman and her loved ones. I hadn’t seen my friends in twenty years, but I went because I remembered them well. Because of the closeness once experienced by me and them and by our parents who were colleagues. I went to show my respect, my support, and my caring. I didn’t want anything in return. I drove forty-five minutes each way, took ninety minutes out of my day. It’s a sacrifice, yes. But is that too much to ask?
I remember when my birth mother and grandmothers died. The people who surprised you by showing up just to let you know they care often were the ones whose presence meant the most.
And in this case, I was all the more blessed by the message of a life well lived. I’m sure I got more out of my presence than the family did. And what a blessing.
But thanks to the bozo who disturbed the moment. He didn’t ruin it for me, but he did interject a bit of a reminder of how selfish and stupid people can be into things. The opposite of the person being recognized and honored, in fact.
Taking time to be present is a lost art these days, I think. But it’s so important and meaningful, I think we all should learn to do it more often.
Making time for others is an act of kindness, respect and love that means so much and takes so little. I still got my editing and work done that day. I just had to schedule around it. And in doing so, I got to see some old friends and get insight into their family I never would have had in a way that brought admiration and joy despite their sad loss.
Oh, they were all happy to see me and we spent time catching up, for sure. I even saw another high school friend.
But the most important thing was to be present in the moment and join with them. That’s why I went. It’s kinda why I assumed everyone went, and the service was well attended. Except the cell phone guy. He was too busy to make time, apparently. At least, that’s what the cell phone rings and his response implied. And it’s too bad.
One of my pet peeves in church and movie theatres has always been people who can’t be bothered to silence their cells. My dad’s a doctor and can’t turn off his cell or pager, but he always had a headphone earpiece he wore to keep them from disturbing anyone else. If he had to talk, he’d quietly slip out and do what he needed to do, then return.
I wish more people had such manners these days. Because sometimes people need your presence. They need your attention. They deserve your respect.
Turning off the damn cell phone is just one indication that you want to be there, that they deserve and have your respect, and that being there at that moment is priority number one.
Is that too much to ask to honor the life of someone?
I hope not. If it is, maybe don’t bother. Don’t ruin the moment for everyone else. Don’t call attention to your lack of dedication. Just don’t come.
Freedom is a funny thing. Celebrated far and wide as an ideal. Yet when you have it, you don’t always feel it, because freedom does come with a certain weight of responsibility. Some choose to ignore that. More and more these days, it seems. But that’s still true. After all, unrestrained, unabashed freedom can lead to chaos and conflict. Unless you live alone on an island with a volleyball, like Tom Hanks, perhaps.
Certainly I’ve always valued and appreciated freedom, most particularly freedom of speech, without which I couldn’t practice my trade as a writer and musician. And I’ve traveled enough to have some appreciation, though limited, of how fortune we are in the U.S. to have the freedoms we have. I used to take it far more for granted than I do today. But all things considered, we really do have it better than many, even most.
We haven’t always exercised our freedom wisely, for sure. The longstanding tradition of hailing ourselves as “the greatest country in the world” strikes me as arrogant these days. After all, others are proud of their countries, too. Do we deserve to consider ourselves better than everyone else? I certainly feel like the country has gone some negative directions of late. And history reveals many missteps as well, from those in times of war, to those in economic, political and civic matters and more. No doubt we are fortunate to be where we are. But we can do better, and we should do better. And one day, I hope we do again.
No, this is not one of those down on America posts. But given that patriotism tends to flare during July 4th, and it’s reflections of that Independence Day celebration which have led to this post, I wanted to admit, this is not one of those raging patriotic posts either.
For me, life is much too complicated.
Nations are only capable of being the best they can be on the heads of the people themselves, and given that people are flawed, with good and bad parts all, nations also struggle to rise to the top from time to time and even more to stay there. Doesn’t mean our nation isn’t wonderful. Doesn’t mean we aren’t fortune. But it does remind me that we mustn’t become to complacent or comfortable. There’s ongoing work to be done.
One of the things I appreciate about freedom is the ability to listen to and compare opinions with people from a variety of places, backgrounds, experiences, and beliefs. Compromise, after all, has always been vital to successful democracy, and from the very start it’s played a huge role in the successes of this country. And one cannot compromise, if one does not understand everyone’s wants, needs, etc. Understanding them doesn’t mean you agree with them or even like them, but that you acknowledge they exist.
And, to me, compromise is what’s missing all too often from our society these days. Everyone is so polarized, something the media and pundits love to exacerbate. Tempers flare and people rage at the slightest provocation, it seems. And people are quick to assume and impugn motives, too, seemingly always reading everything in the worst light, rather than the best, which just feeds their tempers.
For me, part of maturity has been learning to think calmly whenever emotions come into play. After all, while emotions are free, we all have them all the time, they should not just be given free reign. Emotions are fickle and irrational, the antithesis of common sense, the enemy of compromise. And especially in days of the world wide web, it’s hard to really know what someone means or intends without deeper conversations, unless you know someone well and have had interpersonal contact.
And sadly freedom these days also allows people to have ignorant opinions in an ongoing way. After all, to be informed or not informed, to be educated or not educated, are choices people make. Intellectual capacity is not, however. And some of both come into play.
But I think racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry, while I wish they’d gone away, will always exist as long as humans exist, because we humans love to categorize everything from other people to beliefs, systems, things, etc. Inevitably such categorizations lead to comparisons, and feed the desire to distinguish one’s self from the pack in various ways. And that leads many, out of arrogance, insecurity or both, to find ways to belittle others in order to elevate themselves. The fact that such is occurring using false criteria goes ignored. And that’s unfortunate.
As I said, there’s much work to be done. I’m of the belief that with freedom comes responsibility. And the greater the freedom, the greater the responsibility. Exercising freedom with responsibility means taking time to not assume and impugn but to question and dialogue and try and understand. You don’t have to agree, but chances are you’ll discover more common ground once you take that time and that will give you a foundation for deeper discussion. T0 me, such discussions have always proven worthwhile. The chance to look at the world through the eyes of Africans, Brazilians, poor, rich, and in between has made me a better person and broadened my worldview and perspective in every way. It hasn’t always changed my opinions. Often it’s affirmed them. But it has given me an ability to respect and value the diversity of our world.
For me, that’s one of the best parts of freedom–the ability to go and experience the world in broad and diverse ways through people, places, and things. It’s certainly been one of the freedoms I’ve most exercised, having traveled to Africa, Europe, South America and Central America numerous times over the past twenty years. And it’s one I hope to go on valuing, along with the freedom to take what I learn, process it, and let it inform how I live, what I do, what I say, what I write and more.
Freedom is a wonderful thing, indeed. I’m glad I have it. I hope others gain more daily. But I also hope they learn to use it responsibly. If everyone did, I have no doubt we c0uld create a better world. And that’s a goal I consider always worthy of hoping for.
I love interacting with people from other cultures. Discovering the world through their eyes, looking through that other lens, exploring it, seeing where it leaves, discovering new questions, new answers, new approaches. It’s why I got hooked on traveling to foreign places like Ghana, Brazil, Mexico and more, interacting with natives and trying to understand their lives, their world, etc. for over a decade. Those times enriched me and expanded my own box in so many ways. So it’s ironic to find myself a bit flummoxed by my own culture these days.
I grew up being mostly an optimist. While, as Christians, we believed in the depravity of man and doctrine of sin, my basic assumption was that most people are good people or trying to be. Every once in a while you’d run into someone who tested your faith in that theory, but mostly it panned out. A lot of people were doing good things to make a better world, a better life, a better community, sometimes with great sacrifice. And most people I met, it seemed, had a sense of fairness and politeness that dominated them.
But these days I run into more and more people who seem to believe the opposite: all people are evil and trying to be evil. They seem to automatically assume the worst in every case from actions to words to events, etc. Everything someone says is analyzed, and dissected with the assumption it’s meant to insult, offend, or malign. They jump right onto it too, accusing, blaming, critiquing and riling up their allies about it, all the while impugning motives that may or may not be the truth. Intent no longer matters. Who can be bothered to try reading intent in the modern technoage anyway, right? Intent can’t be discerned well via the web, so why bother?
Yet, I come from a belief that intent matters, and more than that, you can choose be insulted or upset, or you can choose to assume the person means well until they prove you wrong. Not so this new breed. (Or maybe they’re an old breed I just hadn’t encountered much before.)
Although we definitely are a more cynical and nihilistic culture now than we were then, it’s flummoxing for me because you really can’t argue or respond to that kind of flawed reasoning. It’s emotionally based, which is irrational by its nature, and it’s fed by deep seated hurts and insecurities that no words can ever heal. It’s a rather unfortunate way to go through life, if you ask me. I certainly don’t enjoy wallowing in misery or past hurts and pains. I’ve tried it, believe me. Moving on is always better.
After all, there’s plenty more to come. And plenty to be genuinely upset about without looking for opportunities. They will find you no matter what. No need to seek them out.
But for some reason there are people who operate this way. It continues to puzzle and sadden me. The results are often false assumptions, broken relationships and destructive behavior patterns, all of which seem to feed on themselves.
In a nation already polarized over politics, religion and more, that just adds to existing problems, I think. And it’s unfortunate, because, again, trouble will find you all by itself without asking or going looking for it. That’s the world we live in. Regardless, I hope that this way of thinking remains the minority. I certainly have no desire to culturally adapt. It offers no appeal whatsoever, just a whole lotta unneeded drama, and who needs that? I’ve had enough, thank you very much.
Unfortunately, it’s become more and more the kind of trouble that will find you whether you look for it or no. As has happened to me and several others of late. So be it. If it happens to you, my advice is be nice, don’t waste time trying to argue or engage, just let your life speak for itself. And know that, in the end, that will speak louder than any rumors and last far longer. You’ll be happier, too.
You can be the hero of your own story, despite the flaws. And I’m talking about the kind of hero others might look at and identify as heroic, not the kind that makes people wonder are there any heroes left these days? You don’t have to put on tights and a cape and be perfect. We’re all flawed, that’s not the point, but you can choose to rise above your flaws and work harder to be a better person and positive contributor, or you can live for “me first.” That choice is yours.
Not that I have that all figured out, mind you. I’m still flummoxed. But that’s the dynamic of cultures for you. There are always things we struggle to understand about each other; things/ideas/concepts/behaviors/traditions that challenge us to accept or reject them but refuse to allow us to deny they exist.
When you’re a guest in someone’s country, the polite thing to do is to make those reactions internal while maintaining a respectful interior — something not always easy, I admit but which all too many American tourists get wrong to our country’s detriment. But when it’s in your own country, it’s harder. You start seeing it around you more and more, and there’s no escape. You can’t go home and remove yourself, because it’ll still be there tomorrow, waiting, lurking in the shadows, so to speak.
So you carry on and find a way to live with it, I guess. For me, that involves learning how to identify it and also how to avoid adapting it myself. That might not solve the issues it creates, but it sure makes for an easier walk, if you ask me.
You know, it always amazes me the gall some people have. There are guys who can just walk up to women, have a friendly conversation, and then decide that the woman wants to have sex. They then start hitting on her. Some guys skip the friendly conversation altogether and go straight to propositioning. I’m not talking about behavior just in bars, either. I’m talking about behavior on airplanes, in parks, on the street, at work–everywhere.
Maybe it’s residue from my background as an outcast, in part, but I was also raised with strong women around: my mom, grandmas, and sister. It never occurred to me that this kind of behavior was okay. So it always puzzles me. Even in a dating relationship, I have to know the girl is comfortable with such talk to even initiate it. Otherwise, I wait for her to make it clear she wants to go there. That’s just respectful to me. And it always amazed me some people see it any other way.
Richard Branson must. Virgin Airlines now has the ‘Get Lucky’ policy. No surprise, it has led to sexual harrassment. I’m sure legal trouble will follow. I can’t believe his corporate lawyers even let that one slide through. Of course, he is the boss. Maybe he ignored them. It will be at his peril, I guarantee.
And in the past year, we’ve heard more and more reports of serious–egregious–sexual harrassment at conventions. People grabbing, stalking, etc. What’s up with this behavior, guys? I could write it off as sociopaths, but it happens to so many women, it scares me to imagine our society is filled with that many sociopaths.
Instead, I think it’s just arrogance and ignorance. Or maybe bad social training.
Here’s another question: do women encourage it? And should they have to?
First, you can argue that if men are so bad at reading signs, then perhaps some indication of interest would be a good idea. At the very least, this would avoid accidental harrassings (if there is such a thing). But beyond that, it would at least make men aware of mutual interest, even though it would not tell them where the line is.
Second, I know women have been direct with me in the past and I appreciated it, so I think they do do this. But again, should they have to? In an ideal world, probably not, but in our confused culture, maybe it’s one way to start straightening things out for the foolish men (all of us to some degree).
I’m not here to man bash. But I do think male behavior in these cases is clear evidence of a drought of common sense. If women were going around harrassing men like this, it wouldn’t be an issue up for debate. It would have been cracked down on or solved. I’ve actually had someone come on to me and make me feel uncomfortable, and it was not pleasant. You feel helpless and trapped. And it’s frustrating when the person can’t understand or refuses to accept the word “no” as a literal response to stop.
I think the moment the word “no” is uttered, one should pause and determine the context in which it was said. I just don’t understand the excuse of “she didn’t mean it” or, even worse, “I got carried away.” That’s ridiculous. If someone is saying “no,” then you should assume they mean it and find out. Heat of the moment aside, I’m serious here. If you are moving so fast that you have lost control, then think twice about what you’re doing altogether. As my friend Rosie says: “Don’t wait for a ‘no.’ Get an emphatic ‘yes.’ It’s way sexier, anyway.”
Let’s ask some female friends when they consider it appropriate to “hit” on them. What are the signs a woman might use to encourage it?
First from my friend Leah Petersen: “I’m never offended by a tasteful and polite come-on, but I expect the man (or woman) to take an equally tasteful and polite brush-off without having to be hit over the head with it. I’ll qualify that with: It’s never OK if I’m clearly with my husband. Though even that one I’ll give people the benefit of the doubt on, if it’s not clear. I don’t wear a ring that people identify as a wedding ring easily and half the time I forget to put it on, so I assume anyone who chats me up has done so with the assumption that I’m single.”
From Rosie at makemeasammich.org:“I’ll start by saying that it’s even important to recognize signs that a woman isn’t interested. It’ll save you a lot of time and energy and will reduce discomfort on both sides. Here are some signs (and their counterparts when appropriate) (and note that these are generalizations referring to heterosexual women, because someone will always point out that not everyone is the same, some people are shy, etc.):
– If a woman tends to turn away from you, she’s probably not interested. When a woman is attracted to a man she tends to turn toward him–full on–when they’re interacting.
– If a woman makes moves to put distance between you, she’s probably not interested. Don’t keep closing that distance, because if she is interested (and is just defending her comfort bubble) that is very likely to drive her away. Give her space and watch for other signs.
– If a woman refuses to look you in the eye while you’re interacting, this is a sign that she may not be interested. Women who are attracted to a man and want to encourage more engagement tend to look him in the eye and fully engage.
– If you touch a woman (which you should never do without permission), and she doesn’t respond by touching you back in a way that is unmistakably affectionate and encouraging, she is probably not interested. If you touch a woman without permission, chances are you will know right away whether she likes you enough to forgive your rudeness. If not, she will move away from your touch and possibly injure you, depending.
Now, here are a few signs a woman is interested:
– She’s fully engaged when you talk to her, looking you right in the eye and smiling or otherwise emoting appropriately.
– She closes the distance between you.
– She engages in surrogate touching: playing with your keys, touching your drink glass, messing with a button on your sleeve.
One thing I think people need to learn to recognize is the difference between that feeling of ‘I find this person attractive’ and ‘Zing! We are attracted to one another.’ Being pursued by someone you’re not interested in is one of the biggest turnoffs I can imagine, so it behooves you to know the signs and signals and to recognize the mutual (vs. one-way) chemistry that occurs when two people ‘fit.’ It’s really pretty simple in many cases: A woman who is interested will make excuses to be around you. A woman who is not interested will make excuses to get away from you.”
Pretty helpful stuff. It comes down to this: don’t assume. If you have to guess, you’ll probably be wrong. Wait for definitive encouragement.
And don’t give me that “it’s part of the game” crap either. Because no, it isn’t. It’s not a game to make someone feel threatened or scared. It’s no game to make someone feel uncomfortable. Yeah, there may be masochists out there who get off on such things, but find a group of like minded people. Don’t try them out on random strangers. Seriously.
It sucks to hit on girls a lot of times. It’s nerve wracking and it takes guts. That’s why so many men put on the machismo attitude and pretend it doesn’t matter. In truth, a rejection from one woman doesn’t matter much. It may feel humiliating in the moment, but it’s not going to stop a woman who’s really interested from saying ‘yes’ five minutes later. I’d much rather be with someone who has the same desire to be with me as I have to be with her. Wouldn’t you? Seriously. Even if you’re looking for a one night stand. If someone wants to screw their brains out mindlessly, it should be mutual. And there are women out there who might. But it’s not your call to pick them. They must nominate themselves.
If Richard Branson is your hero, well, I don’t know what to say about that. Because he’s certainly lost some respect with me for his new policy. Regardless of the publicity stunt and humor angle, it’s irresponsible. And it creates and encourages situations bound to make flying Virgin anything but pleasant for a whole lot of people. Why would a business owner in his right mind want to do that?
Why would a man looking for love want to make a woman uncomfortable? Why would a man looking for a willing sex partner want to make a woman uncomfortable?
If you don’t have good answers for these questions, then I hope you’ve gotten the point. If not, please find a friend and read it together. This is too important to miss the point. Rape culture has to stop. And men, I hate to tell you, but the onus is entirely on us.
Today, I have the pleasure of hosting Mary Sutton, whose YA fantasy debut chapter book I edited for Delabarre Publishing. As a software technical writer, Mary has been making her living with words for over almost 20 years. Power Play is her first published fiction work. She is a member of Pennwriters and is the incoming secretary for her local chapter of Sisters in Crime. Find her online at marysuttonauthor.com. Here are her thoughts on world-building:
The Importance of World-building
by Mary Sutton
One of the most important things in fiction is that activity known as “world-building.” Most people associate this with fantasy fiction, but you have to do it no matter what kind of fiction you write. “World-building” is where you draw the world in which your characters live. This world can be completely fictional or set in the “real world.”
World-building is a tricky exercise. If you use the real world, as in your story is set in New York, you have to get the details right. This is anything from the names of any famous streets or buildings, to basic geography and history of the locale, to the “feel” of the world. For example, New York is a busy place. People talk fast, walk fast, and drive fast (well, when they aren’t stuck in traffic). It would not be believable if you wrote a story where the “city that never sleeps,” slept.
Fantasy worlds have their own challenges. A lot of people think fantasy and science fiction give the author free rein to make up whatever she wants. Well, that’s sort of true. Your world still has to make “sense,” it has to have a certain degree of believability. You may decide to create a science fiction world that is devoid of gravity, but you better spend some time thinking through things as simple as “how do objects stay in one place” or “how do people go to the bathroom” or your readers, who do have certain expectations of basic physics, aren’t going to find your story “believable make-believe.”
For Hero’s Sword, I had to create two worlds. First, I had to create the “real-life” world of middle school. Fortunately, a lot of things haven’t changed since I was in eighth grade, some thirty-odd years ago. There are still cliques; still the kids on the “outside,” and kids still have those seemingly impossible crushes. I was also fortunate in that I have a first-hand view into today’s middle school through my kids. So it wasn’t hard to build Jaycee’s school world. Between memories and observation I got a very good feel for what I was trying to do.
Slightly more challenging was making sure my characters felt like they belonged to this world. The vocabulary and speech of the characters that inhabited that middle-school world had to be right. It’s been a long time since I thought or spoke like a thirteen-year old, but again I was fortunate enough to be able to observe my kids and their friends.
For the fictional world of Hero’s Sword and Mallory, I had a bit more freedom. After all, this was the world of a video game, so I had lots of options. I could have gone all out with magic, dragons, elves, and wizards – all the trappings of high fantasy. But that’s not really where I wanted to go.
Instead, I wanted more of a medieval “real world” feel. Sure, there’s a certain amount of fantasy. After all, Jaycee is transported into a video game and that’s pretty fantastic.
But I didn’t want to get involved with inventing a new set of rules – or explaining them. It would be far easier to simply base the world of the game on some basic tenets of history, including feudalism, over lords (the “Empire”), petty wars between feudal lords (barons, or in my case, estate owners).
This freed me of the need to develop my own complex set of “standard operating procedures” for my world. Anybody who has ever played a game based on feudal principles would understand the rules of the road. But since my game world is fictional, I was able to build the relationships between Empire, estates, lords, and commoners pretty much how I wanted to – such as simultaneously allowing a woman to rule and having her people not completely approve of that because of a long history of male rulers.
Once I got into the groove, I really enjoyed my fictional world. Since so much of what I write is crime fiction that is very much based on fact (face it, there are certain things a police officer just cannot do), this was an extremely fun and liberating exercise.
I really enjoyed the world of Mallory and I hope I get to spend a lot more time there. And I hope you did to.
So tell me – what is the one thing you need in a fictional world to make it believable?
by Mary Sutton
All Jaycee Hiller wants to do is survive eighth grade. Mostly that means hanging with her friend, Stu, avoiding the cheerleading squad, secretly crushing on Nate Fletcher, and playing her favorite video game, Hero’s Sword. When she receives a new video game controller, Jaycee finds herself magically transported into the Hero’s Sword video game world. Survival takes on a whole new meaning. No longer battling with a plastic joystick, Jaycee picks up a real sword and bow & arrow and readies herself for battle. Can she save Lady Starla’s rule in Mallory, keep herself in one piece, and maybe even learn something about surviving middle school?
We all do what we do for various reasons, but, in my experience, understanding your motives is a key factor to great satisfaction and success. It allows you to focus and to fine tune decisions. It keeps you pressing on when obstacles and frustrations arise. And it gives you a sense of purpose, which, as writers know, can be hard to hold onto and easily lost in the midst of the labor of creating a manuscript.
Pamuk’s reason is quite compelling and worth looking at (use the link above), but what it did for me is cause me to reevaluate what my own answer might be. So here’s what I posted at Writer’s Digest’s site:
WHY DO YOU WRITE? Love to hear others’ answers but here’s mine: I write because I can’t NOT write. It’s a compulsion, an addiction. It’s not about money or fame. I write because there’s stuff I need to get out there into the world. I hope people are moved by it. I hope they’re entertained. I hope it makes them think. But I’ll still write regardless, because I don’t have a choice. At least the writers will understand that, I think. It’s a way of processing the world, understanding the meaning of life, making decisions and striving to grow to be a better man. It’s a way of exercising demons, demonstrating better ways and exploring human nature. I write because there’s a voice inside me crying to break free. I write because it’s who I am. That’s why I write. The question becomes how can I NOT write?
You hear a lot of arguing these days about people who “sell out” by using various antics. The guy who made himself into a bestseller via paying reviewers and other dishonesty or the person who leveraged hundreds of thousands of twitter following strangers into decent sales. But to me my mind, these are gimmicks that mean very little for the long run. They may make a big splash for a moment, but what happens in twenty years? Will the fame still exist? Will they still be writing? Will they still be getting bestseller rankings? Will they come to realize the fleeting satisfaction was empty and couldn’t last? Only these people probably will know the answer and not for a couple of decades.
Whether you believe in a Higher Power or not, you are the decision maker for your destiny in so many ways. You are in charge of who you are and who you become. You may ignore concern for it. You may just pretend to go with the flow. But the act of deciding to do that is choosing your destiny, in every sense. “Damn the consequences, I’ll deal with it later” is a decision. It may be a decision to deal with regrets some other day, but it’s still a choice you’re making.
For me, I prefer to have more direction. My SFFWRTCHT friends will mock me as being anti-chaos. But I’ve had my share of chaos in life, especially the past three years. Anyone who’s ever dealt with unemployment and a mentally ill spouse and all that comes with them at the same time, constantly, will understand what I mean. If you haven’t been through that, you really don’t. But even before all that, I’ve always been a purpose driven person–wanting to do things for a clear reason and with certain deliberation. It doesn’t mean I can’t be spontaneous. For example, I rarely do much outlining for novels or short stories and I am really good at improvising as a musician. But both of those have an overarching framework that gives them a sense of boundaries and structure. In one case, it’s the story idea, characters and/or setting. In the other, western musical theory. And I don’t think that means I can’t live in the moment at all, frankly. I just may put more thought into than some. Is that really so wrong?
You have to do what’s right for you, of course, but I do think asking yourself the questions to have a sense of boundaries–knowing where you want to be, where you are and how you plan to get there is helpful, especially for writers. Most writers will never achieve stardom and wealth. Many will toil in full time jobs and lives, while writing on the side, for their entire lifetimes. Others strike lightning. Good for them. I don’t know which I’ll be, and, honestly, I don’t care. I’d like to make a living from this. This month I will likely make half of what I need to live from freelance writing and editing. Full time would only put me mid-20k per year, which is not rich. But what it is is satisfying, and I can’t tell you how valuable that is. After 29 months of unemployment, my wife’s illness, divorce, cross country moves, near bankruptcy, unemployment problems, and more, to be doing something I enjoy sitting down to do and earning my living from it is such a blessing.
In my 43 years, I have worked many jobs that didn’t satisfy me creatively or fulfill my goals. I did it for the paycheck. I did it because I had to. I sacrificed stability to found a non-profit and teach the arts in developing countries to people who couldn’t afford or get that training any other way. I worked freelance so I could do fundraising and take time off to travel. I loved every minute, but it gave me no financial stability and benefits to help me through the crises I now face. What it did give me was a longing to be doing what I love, to chase my passions. And that I am being blessed with the opportunity to do that now is so gratifying.
But I know why I write. Why do you write? What keeps you going? Where do you want to be? How will you get there? I’d love to hear thoughts from fellow writers and readers. I hope this encourages yet challenges you. Most of all, I hope it makes you ask those questions to be reminded there’s a motive and reason that drives you. We all need that from time to time. I know I did.
I wish you happiness and continued success. May you live your dreams. For what it’s worth…
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Books For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on World Encounters and Space & Shadows: SpecNoir with coeditor John Helfers, both forthcoming and Beyond The Sun via Kickstarter. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.