Hold On To The Light: What Is Normal?

normalI 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).

crazy-person-3As 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.

crazy-person-2It 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.

crazy-person-1A 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.

crazy-jack-nicholson-shiningBy 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?

happy-person-1So 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.

cropped-for-webI’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 s Headshots-bryan-0002 websizeBryan 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.

Website/Blog: www.bryanthomasschmidt.net
Twitter: @BryanThomasS
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bryanthomass?ref=hl
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3874125.Bryan_Thomas_Schmidt

Rumors, Scandals and Other People’s Drama, oh my!

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…


Beyond The Sun revised coverBryan 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.

Take Time To Be Present aka Turn The Damn Cell Phone Off

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.

At least that’s what I’d do.

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 (ebook only) 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 is working on Beyond The Sun (Fairwood, July 2013), 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 atwww.bryanthomasschmidt.net or Facebook.

 

Ruminations on Freedom

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.

For what it’s worth…


BTS author photo 2Bryan 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 (ebook only) 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 is working on Beyond The Sun (Fairwood, July 2013), 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 atwww.bryanthomasschmidt.net or Facebook.

A Culture of The Worst?

Optimist Pessimist memeI 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.

For what it’s worth…


BTS author photo 2Bryan 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 (ebook only) 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 is working on Beyond The Sun (Fairwood, July 2013), 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 atwww.bryanthomasschmidt.net or Facebook.

Let’s Talk About Hitting On Girls, Boys (i.e. Don’t Sexually Harrass)

No crossed outYou 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.

For what it’s worth…


Beyond The Sun revised coverBryan 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 (ebook only) 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 is working on Beyond The Sun (Fairwood, July 2013), 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 atwww.bryanthomasschmidt.net or Facebook.

Guest Post: The Importance Of World-building by Mary Sutton

purpleToday, 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?

 

Power Play coverPOWER PLAY

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?

Buy your copy today at Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00AAN4GCU/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=wwwbryanthoma-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B00AAN4GCU

#Write Tip: Why Do You Write? Knowing Yourself Is Key

Recently, Writer’s Digest posted a contest based on Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk’s 2006 Nobel Prize acceptance speech in which he addresses the questions: WHY DO YOU WRITE? Now normally I ignore such things, but I’m in a very contemplative mood today. And it’s a very valid question, one I think many writers may not be asking themselves enough.

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.

If you’re interested in the Writer’s Digest contest, enter here with a comment: http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/there-are-no-rules/why-i-write-one-of-the-best-things-weve-read-all-week. Click here for Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk’s 2006 Nobel Prize acceptance speech.

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.

Broadening The Toolbox Through Cross Cultural Encounters: On Resnick, Africa & Opportunity

I’ve often called Mike Resnick a friend and mentor. And recently as he was honored at ChiCon as Guest Of Honor, I’ve gone back and revisited some of the works of his which have most inspired me. I was not a longstanding Resnick fan. In fact, I barely knew who he was when I read a review in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction comparing various speculative fiction stories which made use of other cultures. Discovering Mike’s passion for Africa and success with stories inspired by it, I looked him up and emailed him about my passion for Africa. The next thing I knew he’d sent me files of all of the stories and I began to read. Then we opened a dialogue that launched me into my Resnick discovery. What I admire so much about Mike’s use of African characters and culture is that unlike so many Westerners he seems to find value in their dedication to traditions and their passion for their traditional ways, while still recognizing some of the weaknesses and failings which have resulted. He’s done a remarkable job of writing characters who feel authentic without making them look silly or backward but leaving it up to us to decide who deserves admiration and who doesn’t. In his trilogy of Chronicles Of A Distant WorldParadise, Inferno and Purgatory–he used African history and political events as the inspiration for planetary colonization, getting inside the minds of alien races as well as human colonists and, in the process, wound up predicting some events which happened in real African history in the cultures he used for inspiration. I think, like me, Resnick has seen the value of observing a culture without making snap judgements based on our own presuppositions and he has sought to present those cultures in a respectful light despite any obvious failings.

[My brief reviews of several such Resnick books can be found as follows: Kirinyaga, Inferno, Purgatory, Ivory.]

Resnick is not the only author to dabble in African storytelling, of course, Nigerian-American Nnedi Okorafor has used her culture in her writings extensively and Alan Dean Fosters’s Into The Out Of makes great use of African cultures as well. Writers like Paolo Bacigalupi and Jason Sanford have used their own crosscultural experiences with Asian nations in their writing, and Lucius Shepard is well known for his stories of Latin American culture. I myself just had a short story published that employed US-Mexico border culture. And I think these kinds of explorations are rich fodder and rife with the opportunity to break away from traditional storylines and tropes. One of the great advantages for writers of world travels is the opportunity to get inside the heads of those who see the world very differently from how we see it ourselves, study their traditions, customs, ideas, etc. and find inspiration for writing more complex and interesting and nuanced tales. You don’t have to agree with a point of view to get inside the heads of those who hold it. You do have to respect their right to have their own beliefs though, I think. And perhaps that’s where the challenge lies today, particularly here in the United States where ideological political differences more often divide and destroy respect rather than encourage it. It’s hard to accept those with whom we strongly degree, it seems. And media and pundits work hard to keep it that way.

But for me, an upper middle class doctor’s kid, spending time in African cities and tribal villages and Brazilian cities and slums, etc. has made me see the world as a much bigger place than I ever could have imagined before those experiences. It’s widened my box and my lens and allowed me to ask questions I wasn’t accustomed to asking and even consider options which might not have occurred to me before 2000 when I started my world travels. I find some of the customs and attitudes I encounter in these places to be frustrating and misinformed, yes, but I also find some of them inspiring and worthwhile. There are many things of value we could learn from each other if we just took the time. For example, the unity of African community is something that would benefit us greatly in the West. I blog about it here and how much I think we could learn from their sense of oneness and unity. Their focus on conversation and hanging out represents another lost opportunity. Africans love to spend their evenings not in front of the TV, but gathering with neighbors and friends to discuss news, weather, life, work, the universe and everything in between. Even when they do watch television or movies, they invite people to join them. I rarely saw them sitting around alone doing such activity.  Life is a communal experience. Africans seem to find joy in the little things and lack of things which we take for granted as well. It was a stunning reminder to me that those who have often lose appreciation for their condition and that those who are accutely aware of their lack often have a freedom we lack.

This is why what Apex and Lavie Tidhar have done with their Book of World SF anthologies is so important. There are other ways to see the world through the specfic lens, and by taking the time to see them, we can learn a lot about ourselves which we’d never expected and might not see any other way. We can also discover possibilities for viewing the world which never occurred to us. People operating with different experiences, assumptions and histories tend to view the same situations through different eyes. And there are few things better for teaching us how to write diverse and real characters with truly different points of view than seeing the world through the eyes of real people with such varied points of view. Admittedly, what we see isn’t always going to be pleasant. But then the nihilistic trends of the media and much fiction have left behind the happy ending fairy tales of our youth anyway. Those open to the possibilities of positives will find them, while those focused primarily on negatives will not. It’s not even that one should want to or have to write characters of different cultures as much as getting inside the heads of people who push us outside our stereotypes and go-to ideas so that we can write something different than we might have before. Resnick, Okorafor, Foster, and others have done this quite well, which is why, looking back at their work now, I am reminded how much difference it can make for writers to take the time to experience such things for themselves.

When I spent time volunteering in prisons, I came away telling people that everyone should go and experience that for themselves because “the inmates are a lot more like us than you’d imagine.” For me, it was a scary and yet sobering reminder that human beings no matter their backgrounds, etc. have more in common than different. The same held true of my experiences in other cultures. I tell everyone to visit a developing world country at least once. See for yourselves what you’ve only imagined from the pages of National Geographic or TV specials about starvation, etc. Go there and experience it and be forever changed. If you’re not changed, you’re doing something wrong. I don’t see how you couldn’t be. Don’t fear this kind of change. It’s the good kind–the kind that makes you smarter, wiser, more aware and more appreciative. It’s the kind that makes you a better person and inspires you to write better stories and live better lives. That kind of change can’t be a bad thing, can it?

I’m grateful that writers I admire have taken the time to make use of those lessons and changes from their own lives. I only hope that I and others can do a better job of it in the future, for there are great stories that deserve to be told, waiting to be told, waiting to be discovered. And there’s a far richer tapestry than we often remember with which we can tell those stories. In a genre where it’s often said “there are no new ideas, only new ways of telling them,” it’s hard to pass up any chance to broaden one’s storytelling horizons and toolbox, isn’t it? I know it has been for Mike Resnick, Alan Dean Foster, Nnedi Okorafor and for me.

For what it’s worth…


Accra, Ghana, West Africa, Summer 2000 with Eyram Gbewonyo

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- Lost In A 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. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Do It Your Way aka Thoughts On Consequences Of Buying Reviews & The Culture of Cheating

There’s always going to be as many different approaches as there are different types of writers. It’s a fact one must accept, despite any strong opinions an author my hold on various publishing & writing related subjects. The furor this past week over the whole “paid reviews” scandal and John Locke’s How I Sold One Million E-Books In A Month is just a sign of the realities. For many authors, writing is an art and integrity is the goal and of high importance. For others, those who buy into the fairly common myth that all authors are rich, writing is a means to fame and fortune. They want to get rich. Writing a quality book is secondary as long as people buy what the put out there. Others lie somewhere in between. Wherever you are on that scale, it’s easy to be frustrated by the many pitfalls and struggles one faces on the writing journey. And when someone seems to take an unethical short cut to get there, it can make you mad.

Paying for reviews has been around for a while. Library Journal, Kirkus, and Publisher’s Weekly allow people to pay to have books reviewed under certain circumstances: 1) it’s three months past release date; 2) it’s self-pubished. There are others which you can find on their websites under Review Policies. But there’s a big difference between paying for their time and attention to your book (they are not cheap in what they ask, mind you) and paying for a guaranteed outcome. Paying for five star reviews is something that’s about dishonesty and cheating. Paying for the time of respected review sites which are swamped and by which association–good or bad review–your book will draw more attention, that’s the reality of the marketplace. So while paying for reviews isn’t new, the trend toward buying success definitely is and it’s quite disconcerting.

Reviewers, like editors, bookstore staffs and publishers, are gatekeepers. What happens when it becomes public knowledge that the keys to the gate can be purchased? For those who count on gatekeepers to weed out the wheat for the chaff, how will they know where the lines of quality expectations are drawn? Admittedly one of the issues with the rise of self-publishing and POD is that sometimes really good books get mixed in with a whole lot of low quality crap. There are no gatekeepers and it’s way too easy, so some people write their book and rush it onto the market with no money or time spent on editing, quality art, etc.  These are not artists, these are capitalists. And so the reader and book buyer is left looking for a way to be sure they spend their limited budget wisely, especially in the current climate. And gatekeepers provide one trusty way to at least cut down the odds that you’ll be buying crap. There’s no guarantee that you’ll like every book you buy from such professionals, but you can at least be sure someone who makes their money warding the gates took a look and signed off on it. You can expect certain standards of editing, layout, art, etc. And for many, those things are indeed a comfort.

So the saddest possible outcome of scandals like this “buy a good review” outbreak is the loss of trust readers may develop in gatekeepers which, in the age of self-publishing and POD, are becoming even more important than ever. Book bloggers are going to play a big role in the future as the publishing industry model changes. This is especially true for independent authors and small presses who don’t have mega-corporate budgets for marketing and must rely on word of mouth.  You need reviewers in whom readers place their trust and confidence to help spread the word about your books. If readers begin thinking all reviewers can be bought, you’ll be in big trouble. This is something you should think about long and hard before buying a review. Because the long term impact on the market could be staggering.

But another sad reality is the pressure some may feel to compromise their integrity and beliefs because “that’s what you have to do to make it.” From fellow authors to small presses, if the trend continues, pressure may grow to participate in buying reviews. As New York trade houses cut their staffs and buy less books by new authors, newcomers may find POD and self-publishing is the best way to open the door. But without marketing, they stand no chance to succeed. If buying reviews is the only option or what works, many many put aside their ethical questions to “go with the flow.” And that would be unfortunate, because such decisions can lead all kinds of places, most especially to regrets about what one can never undo.

I think integrity still matters in life and in writing. Readers who know you continue to sweat over your words and put out quality stories, characters, etc. will wait, despite the length of your process, anticipating your next book with excitement. The integrity of your process may frustrate their patience but it won’t disappoint their sense of respect for you as long as the books are worth the wait. There’s still value in remembering who you are doing it your way. No matter what pressures arise in a culture of cheating like the one that seems to be arising around buying reviews and all kinds of other aspects of publishing. If it truly gets to the point that people of integrity have no place in publishing or in society, we’re in big trouble. We’ve already seen major repercussions of that around the world.

So despite the claims of those who would buy their way to the top, I would still remind and urge fellow writers to Do It Your Way, be yourself. It’s okay to say “No, that’s not for me.” It’s okay to separate wrong from right. It’s okay to pursue dreams with a moral compass and do the right thing. It’s still okay to believe in art.

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- Lost In A 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. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

A Humble Plea For Help To Any Who Would Hear

Well, this is very hard to write. I hate being anything but positive in energy, and more than that, I hate asking for help. I was raised in  a family that helps and gives to others, not the other way around. We’re mostly very lucky and blessed and have always had a lot of blessings some others don’t have.

But the situation is dire. As depression goes, today is one of those days where you feel like you could lay down, go to sleep, and never wake up and the world would be a better place. It’s been a long time since I had a day like this, despite being on depression meds for almost eighteen months. But the burdens of the moment feel so overwhelming.

For those who don’t know, in May 2010, I was laid off/fired from my technical writing job. There were excuses made about work being adequate but no great and not having enough for me to do, but no one could or would provide concrete examples. Up to that point I’d been praised for my work. Some clients friends did some checking and found that the company had financial issues and one of them was providing health insurance, as a small business for their fifteen or so employees. Since my wife’s mental illness issues were flaring and she was on a lot of meds, in and out of the hospital, and having lots of medical appointments, I began to suspect it was more about that liability than my performance. Never had enough to prove so I had to let it go but I was offered a six month severance package and asked to sign a termination agreement to not sue the company now or in the future for anything. This just made me more suspicious.

In any case, I went on unemployment and began honing my resume and looking for work. As of this date, I am still unemployed. Three times I have reached third interview and had the company apologetically tell me they had a last minute hiring freeze. None of those freezes, to my knowledge, have yet been lifted. Twice I was a final candidate and told someone else had a slight edge and was chosen. I worked with many “resume” excerpts through this 26 months on various resumes and kept trying.

In the midst of this, my 18.5 year old cat died. She’d been with me half my life. I’m still getting over it and feeling like I lost both child and best friend.

Then my part time job decided since I was looking for work out of state, they couldn’t wait to see what happened and replaced me. About this time, misfiled paperwork from the full time job messed up unemployment in a cycle that cost us all income from November 2010 through February 2011. Just as we got it reinstated, my wife’s mental illness flared again and she spent the next six months in and out of the hospital. I was forced to commit her against her will multiple times and to file several thousand dollars worth of legal actions to get guardianship just so I could oversee her care. Although she did finally get the treatment needed and turn around, she also decided to divorce me as much for taking away her rights as anything else.

So I spent more money for a divorce and, finally, last Fall, relocated back to Kansas to be near family who could help with the dogs, etc. and to have cheaper cost of living. After going through 2.5 years of hell with very little close support (new city, new friends, not enough established ties so people mostly walked away or kept emotional distance), I finally came back where I at least had strong shoulders to lean on. But try as I have, and I apply to jobs constantly, revise my resumes again as I have, I am still getting nowhere on jobs.

To their credit, Grail Quest Books and Delabarre Publishing have given me some opportunities to both edit, copyedit, and to write kids’ books, etc. This has been good to have, but it’s not enough to get me back to financial stability and it’s also case-by-case, not steady. I still carry the burden of web costs for SFFWRTCHT’s website as well as related materials when the publishers don’t provide them. This includes postage and packaging for giveaways, etc. (You’ll notice we’ve been having less). I do this without complain because I love what I do and am proud to help the SFF community and other authors. But there are costs involved like anything.

This weekend I went to Con-tamination in Saint Louis. They offered me a free dealer table. I stayed with family. I ate most meals free. Just had to pay for gas. Sales were slow and paltry but I did make connections. But I also arrived to discover that somehow my digital camera LCD had been damaged. Then, driving home my engine somehow burned out and has to either be replaced or I may have to get yet another car. This car was bought in February with help from my parents.

My dad and mom are retired. They have been helping us now for 2.5 years and carrying an incredible burden. Several hundred a month to over a thousand when things came up. I was left with significant debt in the divorce, a portion of which they paid to refinance for me. I’ve so far made no payments on that but instead have had to pay on other debt, student loans, etc.

Sum it up by saying, I’m in big trouble here. I am living as frugally as I can. But I can’t cover this car replacement or repair nor a camera and my parents are really overburdened.

So I find myself asking if anyone knows of work or financial aid or anything that might help. It really hurts to ask. But the economy is not getting better. Unemployment benefits may well run out again because I’m on my last extensions. And I’m feeling lost and hopeless as to how to change anything. In any case, if you pray, I appreciate prayers. But if anyone call beyond that bryan.thomas at anchoredmusic.com is my PayPal. Or you can send by Dwolla at yaornw at yahoo.com. It sucks to be in this position but I’ve kept busy doing SFFWRTCHT and helping others promote books, writing, freelance editing, and volunteering even as I search for work. If I was paid for the hours I put in it would be full time. This crisis, unfortunately, is one too many. My second novel releases tomorrow. And I’m getting ready to cancel the next two cons etc. if I can’t get past this and maybe even if I can. I just can’t go on like this. We’re waiting on the final estimate but for a new engine or car it would run $2-4,000. My camera can wait, as I have a film one that functions, but I’ll have to spend $100-150 for that, too, at some point.

Anyway, thanks all for listening. I have nothing to give back other than time and friendship beyond what I already do. There are stories free on my website but I am mid-novels with nothing new to offer as an extra, so I count on your good hearts.

Blessings,

Bryan

The Importance Of Reaching Beyond Female Stereotypes

My friend and fellow editor Kat Heckenbach asked an interesting question on Facebook today which really got me thinking about stereotypes: Are authors obligated to make characters fall into certain stereotypes because readers expect it? (For example, most people think of Goths as angry, snarly, dark, and Poe-obsessed. But when referring to a little kid, they can and do use the word cute–but if a Goth character in a book said that, would it just throw you right out?)

Stereotypes are common in literature, there’s no doubt, and in Science Fiction and Fantasy this can be particularly the case, especially with female characters. Damsels in distress are a mainstay of our genres, both inside the stories/books and on the covers. Most of us have seen Jim C. Hines’ posts about the silliness of the way women are posed versus men in such art. These images feed the stereotypes. Yes, they are an attempt by publishers to sell books using sex, which has worked forever as a means of moving product, not just books. But what message do they send culturally to women, young women and, almost more importantly, men, about the roles women have to play in our society? Are they just objects for lustful stares and wet dreams? Do these images leave open  the possibility for far more substance below the surface? How silly do male characters look when dressed and posed like female characters typically are? Take a look at this imagining or Avengers with such poses.

Think I’m kidding? Take a look at two cover examples below. One is an older example, the other more recent. Do artists and publishers actually think anyone could fight dressed this way or would? It kind of questions the character’s intelligence, doesn’t it? To make it worse, in the case of Ringo’s book, the publisher site describes the character as “soccer mom and demon fighter.” Wow. A soccer mom who walked around in that outfit would be accused of indecency, wouldn’t she? Not to mention being shunned by fellow soccer moms.

For me there’s no question that bucking stereotypes is far more interesting and adds nuances. If you start out with the typical housewife who raises kids while the hubby works but then turns out to be a zombie fighting badass, how much more interesting did she just get? I think, in particular, with women characters, fantasy struggles with this. The traditional epic fantasy has strong, sweaty fighting men protecting their helpless women, but is it really that interesting anymore? And can’t we change our views of women enough to include more possibilities? Even history would demonstrate that women have played far more diverse roles than the stereotypes a male-dominated society describes them with. There has been at least one female Pope, for example, whose gender was only discovered after she became pregnant. That was hundreds of years ago and she had to conceal her identity. But this is a different age. Why should women have to hide their true selves? I’d like to think we’re more enlightened than that, but I know not all of us are.

I grew up with strong women around me. From my Mom, who was the stay at home housewife, a woman who retired from nursing to raise her three kids, to my twin sister, cousins, aunts, and grandmothers, the women I grew up with were not stereotypical. They had common traits we might associate with women, of course. They were often more emotional than men and could talk about it more freely. Most of them were better at cooking and laundry, etc. than we men. But this was not because we were incapable of it, rather it was because that was the role they were expected to take on. They took it on gladly, too, but my Mom sat me down at fourteen with a stern warning. “You’re going to learn to cook, clean, do laundry, basic sewing, and anything else I think you need so your wife can’t send you back some day and tell me you’re not finished.” And so I did learn, and those skills have been invaluable to me. In fact, when I got married, my wife didn’t know how to sew, so I was the one who fixed buttons, dog toys, etc. in our house. I also helped with cleaning. In fact, there were some tasks I really don’t enjoy which are typically associated with menlawn work, for examplewhich my wife enjoyed and did while I helped with so-called “women’s work.”

There’s a ridiculous term if I’ve ever heard one: “women’s work.” The work typically grouped under that heading is the work necessary to daily living. If you’re a bachelor, unless you’re rich, you’re going to have to do laundry, find a way to cook and eat, etc. It doesn’t make you suddenly sprout breasts and start generating estrogen. “Women’s work” is an insulting term because its origins come from a sense of superiority by men that the “important work” is not for women. Because, of course, raising good, responsible citizens while the men are at the office working sixty hour weeks is unimportant. Keeping a nice home so the man can come home and actually relax during down time is menial. We’d all survive without those things, right? Yep, without “women’s work” we’d still be the greatest country on Earth.

Hardly. Some of the most meaningful character-building times in my life were working with my mother and grandmothers on the very tasks typically called “women’s work”learning to cook, fold clothes, sew, etc. I’m a creative after all, and cooking and sewing, in particular, very much stimulate my creative impulses. Add to that the fact that walking around naked outside of performance art has tended to be frowned upon, especially if your ribs are showing like a starving African kid, and, well, they really did me a service teaching me to care for clothes and feed myself. I’m just saying…

And look at this cover for Raven 3: The Frozen God. Seriously. A woman dressed like that fighting monsters on an ice field? Oh yeah, that’s realistic. Yeah, this warrior woman is so badass, she doesn’t even freeze. Yep. The only time women in my life ever dressed this way was to go swimming, at Halloween of costume parties, or in changing rooms at the store. In fact, other than my wife, none of the women mentioned from my life in this post ever dressed this skimpily. It’s not even appropriate for the task. Unless, as my editor suggested, the only way to kill this monster is to get it aroused. Doubtful.

You just can’t stereotype women any more than you can men these days. The fact is that we are all individuals and just when you meet a women whom you think embodies all the “typical female traits,” five minutes later she’ll surprise you with aspects you never would have imagined. It used to be “men’s work” to get an education and write, for example, and where would our genres be without Ursula LeGuin, Connie Willis, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, A.C. Crispin, Leigh Brackett, C.L. Moore, and numerous others? How much would be have missed out on if the Cat Valentes, Kij Johnsons, Nnedi Okorafors, and N.K. Jemisons had never put pen to paper? Seriously. What about Ellen Datlow and Paula Guran, Beth Meacham and Liz Gorinsky, Anne Vandermeer and Sheila Williams? They buy stories from men as well as women and all are amongst the top editors in this business.

I get the whole male instinct to want to protect their women. But it’s not like those instincts don’t also exist in women. Think I’m wrong? Go to a playground and act weird around some woman’s kid. Be sure and take a picture of that black eye and get a copy of the mug shot, too, okay?

I think it’s incumbent upon all writers, male and female, to carefully consider the roles they give to characters. Yes, with minor roles, sometimes stereotypes can be expedient. And sometimes they get the job done, but push yourself to make sure that for every stereotype you employ ten characters who buck such narrow definitions. Not only will your plots and themes and work expand in scope and meaning as a necessary result, but it will resonate more profoundly with modern readers and even help erase stereotypes as functions of our culture. I can think of no greater goal and contribution Science Fiction and Fantasy writers could make, can you?

The world needs more ninjas posing as suburban housewives who save the world. It needs more mothers who don’t wait for their husbands to save the day but draw their sword or blaster and take on the kidnappers themselves, kicking ass to free their kids. Our modern world has plenty of room for men in the kitchen and sewing, too. After all, think of Top Chef and other cooking shows: Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck, Curtis Stone,  Gordon Ramsey, Calvin Klein, Bob Mackie, and Guccio Guccishould these men be considered abnormal for the excellence they’ve worked hard to create? Hardly.

As much as I applaud them for having this panel, it’s 2012. Should we really still desperately need panels like this:

(PR) Kicking ass in high heels: These days women can kick ass, save the world, and still have time to fall in love.
But why are they still doing it in hot pants and high heels? Can heroines be a size 18 and still be beautiful?

Unfortunately, we do need them, and it’s because of the perpetuation of stereotypes. Think of the other issues we could be putting our time into if we just put aside these silly limitations and moved on?

One of the worst insults I got in a review was a review which said I had “shockingly outdated female roles.” This was for a story where I have female political leaders, female starfighter pilots, female warriors, female military leaders, and so on. I thought I was trying hard to break the molds, and yet here comes a reviewer to tell me I hadn’t done enough. I still think they’re wrong, but, at the same time, it pushes me to strive harder, to ask more questions, and to do everything I can to prove them wrong so I never hear such a disappointing criticism again. After all,  my Mom reads my books. I don’t want her thinking I didn’t learn a thing from all her efforts. But more than that, I don’t want my daughters and other girls who read my books to ever think I’m telling them they can’t be anything they want to be.

The world may set limits, but in the worlds of your fiction, possibilities are limitless. Don’t let yourself write within the familiar box of the world in which you live. Instead, tear down the walls and shoot for something no one’s seen but should be seeing. Push the boundaries and see where it takes you, your characters and your story. Let no one accuse us of writing the same old fantasy or space opera. Instead, let us together launch a new age and work to redefine what “same old” is. To my mind, we owe it to our wives, mothers, sisters and daughters to open the world’s doors. After all, making the world a better place is a responsibility for all of us, not just a “chosen male few.” We live in an age when the distinction between what women can do for careers and what men can do is fading to almost nothing. How can our fiction represent our times and a bright future if it doesn’t reflect that?

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the new anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

The Invisible Enemy: And This Is NO Science Fiction

Imagine a girl, 22 years old, star athlete, straight A student. A solid, loving home with dedicated parents who are so proud. Off in college at a great school. She’s expected to conquer the world one day. Then it all falls apart.

Imagine a girl, 29 years old, she’s smart, probably genius IQ, hard working, attractive, energetic, dedicated, passionate, well liked with the future shining bright ahead of her. She’s just married and she’s fulfilled her dream and moved to the U.S. from Brazil. She’s a straight A student as a foreigner at a U.S. college. She’s going to school full time while working full time, too. Then one day, she just starts walking and walks over forty miles. Along the way, when her shoes and purse become hassles, she just tosses them aside and carries on. It’s 12 hours before the police have to halt Interstate 10 at night to stop what they think is a suicide and find her dodging cars. She’s disoriented. Insists someone moved the highway. She’s just trying to get home. They eventually take her home and her husband is worried sick. She’s up constantly, cleaning obsessively or talking to herself. She puts perfectly fine things she used to value out for the trash. She begins destroying her immigration documents, her photos, etc. She becomes increasing hostile toward her husband who just wants to know she’s okay. There are two more police incidents the next few days until a court order is sent to put her in a mental hospital for evaluation.

Both are real people I know.

Such is the lot of millions of men and women around the world. Their lives are so blessed and perfect, until, one day, an invisible monster knocks them off track and they’ll never be the same.  Studies have found that 1 percent of the U.S. population  suffers from various forms. 40-50% of the U.S. homeless population suffers. 40 million suffer in Europe. It’s not a fluke. It’s not freak incidents. It’s a real problem. The police and medical personal have difficulty because the mentally ill are irrational at times but other times can seem perfectly normal. After all, police and hospital personnel have often never met them before. How are they to know it’s true when the spouse or a family member says they’re not normal? With HIPPA laws, the patient has a right to refuse treatment or make their own decisions. The spouse and family have no say without the patient’s signature. If what the patient says seems plausible, they have to go with it, and the family member will just have to deal with it.

When they’ve had enough of this crap and feeling helpless, fearing for their own lives and for their loved one’s life, some families give up. If they can’t commit the relative, they just kick them out. Enough of ruining my home life. Go take care of yourself if you can. Most wind up homeless. The family feels guilty but it’s better than living with that kind of drama. After all, mentally ill people can harm you with incredible bursts of anger and strength. And they certainly cause stress, sleepless and other issues that become really destructive to one’s lifestyle. Oh sure, there’s medicines available that can make them normal most of the time, but the sick person quits meds every time they feel better. “I’m normal. Why should I have to take that?” they say. In a few weeks or months, the nightmare starts all over again. One can only live with that for so long. The sick loved one has lost everything, but at least they don’t realize it much of the time. That seems more merciful than living with the pain daily: feeling like you failed them, knowing you gave up, knowing what you’ve both lost, etc.

It’s an invisible enemy, my friends: mental illness. It afflicts millions of people and families around the world. To those on the outside, the afflicted seem immature, odd, quirky, eccentric with their inappropriate behavior. Some are feared. Others mocked. All avoided. Most written off. By anyone who doesn’t know them. Families struggle to get help and support. Friends abandon them because the afflicted person’s behavior is too hard to be around and/or understand. The only help they can reach for is impersonal, cold medical and social workers or law enforcement. And none of those encounters is usually pleasant. People call them “lunatics” or “wackos.” “Put them in a home,” they shout. They look down on relatives talking to adult loved ones like children in public, totally unaware the person is having an episode or has a history of behavioral patterns that loved one is trying to cope with.

A checkout lady scolded me at the store and accused me of being a “controlling bastard husband.” Told my wife to divorce me and find someone who respects her. All this because I refused to buy stuff we couldn’t afford and didn’t need that my wife wanted during a manic episode. Every time I went to that store, near our apartment, I got evil stares from people who’d seen it. There was no way to explain that they’d believe. They didn’t see her enough to know the difference. They couldn’t see our credit and bank accounts. I was accused of spousal abuse for restraining her when she tried to hurt me and herself with knives, darts or other objects. By Texas law, they had to file a case against me. Luckily the grand jury threw it out after seeing evidence of her mental health history, but imagine if I’d had to carry that stigma around? Who would ever believe I really didn’t abuse my wife?

The hospital staff and their damn HIPPA law made it all the worse. If my wife hated me that day, they cut me off from any information or input. If they wanted to do expensive tests, my wife, who was manic, could say ‘Yes’ and I’d be billed for it. Even worse, I was treated like an abuser because despite the doctor, who knew me, telling them I would never do that, my manic wife made the claims and laws are laws. It was humiliating, heartbreaking, insulting, and frustrating. It was stressful and angering and so much more. I felt like a victim, too. I was a victim.

Chances are someone you know, maybe even someone you love, has some form of mental illness. Chances are you encounter people in the world who do. Please remember these stories. Please educate yourself. A well researched article on Mental Illness From Stanford can be found here: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/mental-illness/. Please sympathize with and pray (if you do) for their loved ones. Most of all, please don’t dismiss them as irrelevant. Having a person you love–same face, same voice, etc.–saying terrible things, treating you like an enemy, abusing you, etc. and feeling helpless is one of the worst things you’ll ever experience. Far worse than you could ever imagine.  Families are broken apart. Hearts broken. Children lose parents. Spouses lose their mates. Parents lose their children. And the sick person loses their future.

May is National Mental Health Month. Please remember.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the new anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

 

 

An Alternative To A Song Of Ice And Fire

I respect George R.R. Martin as a writer. He’s immensely talented. I’ve met him. He’s a nice guy. I respect the achievement that is regarded as one of the greatest fantasy series of all time. I read the first two books. I enjoyed them for what they are. But I couldn’t finish book 3. A Storm Of Swords just lost me. I have wrestled with that for a couple of weeks now and finally sorted out why.

Why would I want to read a book that deals with heroes like reality does? GRRM takes all the archetypes and knocks them off one by one. Killing any admirable heroes and leaving us with mostly unlikable scum. Oh Jon Snow and Arya and even Tyrion still have likability, despite flaws. But you know, I get this kind of depressing reality on the news daily and the internet, I don’t need it in my fiction.  I read fiction to escape. I read it to hope for a better world. I read it to see possibilities, not realities that are depressing and sad or reminders of that.

Maybe I’m more thoughtful than some people. I’m painfully aware of my frailties, failures and inadequacies. My life’s quest has been to try and conquer them or at least counter them by living a life that makes a difference. From teaching to volunteering to mission  work, I have sought to help and encourage others and myself by seeking to make a better world, at least in the portion that I touch. And when I write, that’s why I write old fashioned heroes where the good guys are good and admirable, despite being flawed, and the bad guys are bad. You know who you want to see win and that’s okay because it’s natural. It doesn’t have to weaken the characters to have them be people who make us want to be better people ourselves; to make us hope people, including ourselves, can rise above our depravity and lead better lives, lives of significance that make a better world.

As my friend and editor Randy Streu states it: “It’s like, somebody decided that ‘nuance’ meant that, to be a real hero meant to be so flawed and depraved that actual heroism was dead. Acts for the greater good are a biproduct of self interest.” I guess some people do probably believe that. But I don’t. I think heroism is alive. I sometimes think the media wish it wasn’t. They go after anyone with character or fame like sharks at a steak cookout, tearing them to shreds, cutting them down to size, poking and probing at every potential weakness or flaw to tear them down. Reality TV thrives on this. It’s a celebration of mediocrity and failure. It’s about taking people we admire and bringing them down a  notch. That’s why it’s so wonderful when someone actually survives the reality TV feeding frenzy and comes out shining. Take Clay Aiken on the current Celebrity Apprentice or even Arsenio Hall. Arsenio lost it once, but then apologized and let it go. And he showed himself to be the class act most of his fans always hoped he was.

But Song Of Ice and Fire as well written as it is, as deep as it can be, just leaves me cold. Are people really this bad? Probably. But why are we celebrating it? Why are we putting that out there as a tale of fantasy when it’s really more a tale of sad reality? Don’t get me wrong, GRRM has a right to write what he wants. I stand up for his freedom of speech. I’m just saying that the alternative to A Song Of Ice and Fire appeals more to a lot of people and that’s not bad or wrong. I wish there were more of it.

I recently interviewed Robert Silverberg about the rerelease of the incredible Majipoor books which changed my life. The hope and excitement they inspired not only in the possibilities of what one man can do but what one writer can do have been formative in my life. Are there bad guys in that? Yes. Is the hero flawed? Yes. But there’s an underlying sense of wonder and optimism which is inspiring and moving. Lots of books used to have that. Less have it today and I wonder why. Is our nihilistic age destroying our ability to hope?  My childhood memories are filled with books which so inspired me: from Winnie The Pooh to Dr. Seuss to Huckleberry Finn and Laura Ingalls Wilder. Some of these books, like Finn and Wilder dabble close to the vest with reality. It’s not that characters don’t face real problems or flaws but that they triumph and grow into better people and the overall theme is hopeful and makes you want to do the same in your life. Is that such a bad thing? Does anyone who has kids really want them reading books with the tone of A Song Of Ice And Fire to set their expectations for the world and their lives?

Again, I am not saying A Song Of Ice and Fire is bad. I am just suggesting that another type of literature has its place and its importance and is still needed and wanted by many readers today and that, perhaps, the focus on moving away from that is misplaced. Rowling’s Harry Potter books are popular for a reason. They celebrate the triumph of flawed heroes over strong forces and great odds. And the protagonistic characters are admirable and likable.

It’s funny to me that so much of Christian literature took it to the opposite extreme. There, heroes are so whitewashed and villains so tame that readers living in the real world quickly grow bored and frustrated. The books don’t engage their reality enough, rather than the opposite of perhaps engaging too much. Instead of lacking heroes, they lack realistic people. The characters are cardboard and perfect and don’t resemble anyone we know and the world is too neat with too many rounded edges and not enough jagged ones. If that makes any sense. Whereas the Bible is filled with powerful heroes who are flawed men and woman fighting to rise above their flaws and facing incredible odds. Those character types still have power and meaning for audiences today. I think that’s why so many classics continue to be reprinted again and again, like the Majipoor series.  I’ll continue trying to write it, and I hope others will as well. I really hope the kids of tomorrow can find books to inspire them like I used to.  And I’ll continue to seek an alternative to A Song Of Ice And Fire.  Not that I refuse to read such things but that I’ll visit them sparingly. They offer me less of what I seek and need and thus don’t satisfy my cravings.  The HBO version has just made me feel stronger about it as they ditch the story and important POV characters like Arya for any scene where they can show more flesh and more gritty sex, violence, etc. They emphasize even more the darkness and they’re losing their way with the story in the process.

Yes, I still believe real heroes exist and the world can be a better place if we do our best to rise above our flaws and make a difference. I still believe story telling even on film doesn’t need to be darkly discouraging and total depravity, that there can be hope in its midst. And I hope I always will. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the new anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

Journey Through The SFF Classics: A Beginning

Okay it’s time. For two years now, I have amassed a library of classic SFF books but have not managed so far to tear into reading them. To be fair, I read 52 books a year just for SFFWRTCHT. And I do get requests for other interviews now, so I read another 20-40 for those throughout the year. That’s a lot of reading for a guy who takes about 5 days to go through a 350 page novel. That amount of reading will not change. I am still committed, happily, to that and grateful for the way it has allowed me to read a broad spectrum of SFF contemporary works by a wide variety of authors.

But I have this gap in knowledge that keeps coming back to haunt me, and, as time goes on, I fear it only deepens. As I go to Cons and participate in panels, as I talk with other writers about craft, not being familiar with some of the very classic works everyone so often talks about is a handicap and I must overcome it. So I am challenging myself to a Journey Through The Classics. I’m starting with a few core books and will expand as I can.  I am going to read these, most of them fortunately much shorter as older novels used to be, and then add more to the list, with the hopes that I can start catching up my knowledge of the SFF field through history. I have also acquired a number of older magazines, some pulp, some 20-year-old issues of magazines like F&SF, Analog and Amazing. I am going to work my way through those as well. But first, I need to get going on these books, so here’s my list, most of which I have not yet read, some of which I  may have at some point but don’t remember.

The Dying Earth by Jack Vance
The Skylark Of Space by EE Smith
To Open The Sky by Robert Silverberg
Do Androids Dream Of Electronic Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
The Caves Of Steel by Isaac Asimov
The Listeners by James Edwin Gunn
The Weapon Shops Of Isher by A.E. Van Vogt
Nerves by Lester del Rey
Necromancer by Gordon R. Dickson
The Triumph of Time by James Blish
Swords Against Death by Fritz Leiber
Neuromancer by William Gibson
Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein
Stranger In A Strange Land by Robert Heinelin
Dune by Frank Herbert
Doc Savage: The Thousand Headed Man by Kenneth Robeson
Stands Of Zanzibar by John Brunner

It should be noted before someone suggests it, I have already read the entirety of Asimov’s Foundation. I realize Van Vogt has more noted books but so far I have not found them so I will read one of the ones I have. The Silverberg and del Rey are personal choices. I have never read del Rey and feel I should since he is an icon. Silverberg is my favorite of all SFF authors and I have not read his early work and want to do that. A friend recommended To Open The Sky as one with faith (not just religious) themes, and since I have done panels on this to great reception I feel it’s time to start reading source material for those so I can only increase their value.

I am also not committing to read these books in any particular order. Honestly, I likely will attempt the shorter ones first, because of my reading time and just to get in a flow. I plan to do reviews/commentary on these as I finish for my own value more than anyone else’s, although I will share that here. These will not be full on reviews but really more my own ponderings and interactions with the texts. They’re classics. What do I have to add that hasn’t been said before by many people? Not much as a reviewer, but as a fan and writer interacting with them, I hope there will be some nuggets of learning and discovery worth sharing.

I certainly reserve the right to update my list at my own discretion. In other words, I will allow you to suggest books but I feel no pressure about which I choose to read and when. I have left A Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams off the list because I read half and didn’t care for it. I do need to read it again but I’ll have to get in the right mood. And before the smart alecs show up, I do have a sense of humor. I love comedic books. I just found this one odd, not all the funny. But I do respect its place and regard amongst fandom and I do feel I should give it another chance at some point so I’d expect it to come on the list at some point during this Journey which may last several years because it takes as long as it takes.

For a good list of some of the books I’ve read in  the past, including many considered classics, I posted my 70 Most Memorable SFF Books I’ve Read here.

I hope some of you will engage with me on this journey and perhaps even join me. Who we are today is very much informed by the past. And often whom we become and the strength, value and character of it is determined by our knowledge of the past. After all, we not only learn from our mistakes but those of our forefathers.

I very much look forward to the education of this journey and to your thoughts and my own along the way. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, the children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing and editor of the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  An affiliate SFWA member, he also hosts Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter and is a frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and Hugo nominee SFSignal. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via www.bryanthomasschmidt.net.

 

ConStellation III Report

Well, we survived it: A Science Fiction Con with no WiFi. Most of us were less than happy about that, and the hotel had a plethora of problems, including a badly leaking roof which forced staff to evacuate the art show to a new location due to the heavy rains and tornado weather. However, the Con was so well run, we all had a great time in spite of this. Even the hotel staff urging us downstairs at one point couldn’t dampen spirits for long.

The dealer’s room was a happy place with a generous group of people supporting each other and steady visits from always helpful staff even as attendees made their way through. I sold 13 books at the Con and had 3 more online sales during the convention, which makes it my most successful Con for book sales so far. Attendance reached 250 this year, a new height for the Con, and I’d say that definitely helped. I also gave out a lot of cards with my website info on it as well. Despite my new ebook cards drawing interest, I didn’t get the first sale on them but that was due in part, I believe, to Sams Dot not having ebooks and thus not wanting to push them, and I didn’t go out of my way either. They were readily in sight for anyone who looked at the table. At ConQuest, when it’s just me at my table, I’ll try a different approach. I must admit, I do prefer selling paper copies, however.

Two of my three panels were well attended. 10 people showed up first thing Saturday morning at 11 for CHARACTER BUILDING. They were attentive, but, perhaps, tired. It took me a bit to work them up to interaction, however, they were all eager to learn. My reading that afternoon had no one present, but I waited there for 15 minutes and then got an influx of people and wound up reading to 6, which was almost double my reading at Conclave last October. And they really seemed to enjoy that as well as the Q&A time following, so I felt good about it. I also know at least two of those people bought books, so I’d call that a success as well.

On Sunday, I did two panels back to back. The first, FAITH IN SFF, drew a dozen very engaged people. I didn’t go to all of the other panels, but I’d say I had as many as the Conan panel before had drawn and these people engaged very  much with the material and me, leading to a great discussion. They even applauded at the end. I had approached this as a discussion of faith in all of its forms: not just faith in Higher Powers, but faith in magic or science or even wealth. I asked everyone to be respectful and stated that our purpose was not to argue validity of beliefs but discuss how they motivate us and how their presence is handled in world building. I read my list of SF classics with religious themes from SF Signal and then added those mentioned in the comments on that post as well as a few others I’d discovered. Attendees added even more. I’ll have an even longer list when I do this panel again at OsFest. In fact, the OsFest chair was present and complimented the panel,  encouraging me to repeat it at their Con. I honestly wasn’t sure we’d get much interest in the topic and that, if we did, it might devolve into incivility. I was so pleasantly surprised. Very enlightening for all of us, I felt. I learned as much as anyone.

My second Sunday panel, GREAT READS, drew only 3 people but they were lively and we had a great discussion on books we’ve loved. I read books from my 2011 Year’s Best Reads List and didn’t even get to my 70 Most Memorable SFF Reads which I also had brought with  me. My list of books people suggested, which I want to read includes:  Starplex by Robert J. Sawyer, Persistence Of Vision by John Varley, Flight of The Dragonfly by Robert Foster, Chung Kuo by David Wingrove, The Leandros series by Rob Thurman and Integral Trees by David Niven.

My own schedule was so busy that I didn’t get to hear Elizabeth Bear’s panels, unfortunately. Between my own panels and reading and then dealer room duties, I missed her activities. I did, however, introduce myself and I’ll see her again soon at Convergence in Bloomington, MN. She also agreed to do an interview by email for SFFWRTCHT soon, so that will be two great chances to learn about her more.

I also sold a series of interviews with short story writers to Sams Dot Publishing for their Aoife’s Kiss zine and booked Jack McDevitt, who turned around my questions so fast, I’d already turned the thing in Monday, well ahead of the May 1 deadline for the June issue. I’ll be looking into Tanith Lee and others for upcoming issues, 1 per month.  This is my first paid interview series. The small press pays a token amount, but it’s regular income of a sort and, added to other sources, is a step in the right direction.

One of the more humorous events of the Con also involves McDevitt, whom I told in my emails I would look forward to meeting at OsFest in Omaha this July. He’s list as Guest Of Honor, only, he said he wouldn’t be there. Too busy. I ran into the Con chairs of that Con at my panels and mentioned that to them, suggesting perhaps emailing Jack soon might be a good idea. To say they were a bit worried would be an understatement, but on Monday, Jack informed me he would indeed be at the Con. He said he’d forgotten to write it down and commented: “I’m beginning to understand why my wife won’t let me out alone at night.”

Altogether, a success and enjoyment. I’d certainly do it again, if asked. I certainly recommend it to other dealers and creatives as well. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing along with the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

Top 10 Silliest Things People Get Annoyed About On The Web

We’ve all seen it. People flaming mad over silly things someone did on the web. And I’m not talking political or religious posts or family infighting, either. I’m talking fairly common little things which really shouldn’t be that big of deal to anyone. They are always things that really deserve people getting riled up about them, so why people waste their energy getting so mad over so little is beyond me, but here’s my Top 10 Silliest Things People Get Annoyed About On The Web:

1) Facebook invites–Whether to games, pages or groups, the posts on your wall are often more Facebook’s fault than your FB friend’s fault. FB has a silly set up for these things. Sometimes they happen and people are even unaware. The first time one appears for a particular application, page or group, click the x to block all posts and you’ll never see one again. It’s eas. So if you’re going to get all bent out of shape about something this small, you probably shouldn’t be on the Web.

2) People Who Don’t Do Social Media/Webbing Exactly Like You–What? You have time to read and comment on tons of blogs? You spend hours a day keeping up? You do everything just right, dotting i’s and crossing t’s. Hey! Good for you. But not everyone has time or interest and there’s nothing wrong with that. The freedom that makes the web great is the fact users can employ its capabilities on their own terms. Just because someone doesn’t do it the way you think it should be done, doesn’t make them an idiot. Your furor over it is far more idiotic.

3) Celebrities Who Don’t Follow Back Or Reply– REALLY?!!! Seriously people? You honestly think they have time? They don’t have a million followers for nothing. In fact, many of them have assistants who do all their web posts and tweeting. How are you to know if it was genuinely them responding anyway? Does it make you better than everyone else if they do? I don’t think so. Get over it!

4) Hashtags–“They use too many!” “They’re confusing!” “They’re annoying!” “They’re stupid!” #gotnewsforyou #hashtags are #heretostay. They’re not going away. #deal withit! They can actually be a lot of fun and, more importantly, big time savers.

5) Lists Omitting Their Personal Favorites–Uh, hey, these lists here, like this one? They are a person’s OPINION, okay? They are subjective. Great freedom of the web: you can make your own list. So why are you getting all upset over mine? I may not like or rank your favorite things the same as you but you can counter with your own list. No need to insult my intelligence or question my parentage or integrity. It’s OPINION. Repeat after me.

6) Other People Daring To Talk About Things They Themselves Don’t Care About–“So-and-So is so annoying. Why can’t he post about something interesting that I like?” I don’t even know what to say about this. Unfriend, unfollow or shut up and respect free speech.

7) People Having More Friends/Followers–It’s not high school. The Web is a great equalizer but you do have to be interesting and you do have to make an effort. If someone has more followers and they’re not a celebrity, they’re probably just following back more and interacting better. Maybe they’re providing more useful content. You can always up your game but it’s not a competition and it’s nothing worth getting all steamed about.

8 ) Chain Posts–Okay, they are silly. And they don’t make sense. No, you are not denouncing Jesus if you don’t repost. No, you won’t go to hell either. No, you are not unsupportive of veterans, etc. either. Some people enjoy being sheep and others march to their own drum. You’re fine either way. Just hide the posts if they annoy you but don’t even give it a second thought.

9) People Using Foreign Languages On The Web–This one’s so obvious, I almost forgot it. Really? English is the dominate language for website language because of the html developers using it, not because English rules the world, people. You have users from all over the world. If you get to a site where they are using a different language, learn it or leave. Now, posting comments in a language no one can understand is rude and silly, too, of course, but it harms the poster more than the recipient. I mean, if they really wanted to communicate, they’d get with the program on that. So stop bitching, really.

10) People Who Get Annoyed At People Who Point Out Their Silliness In Posts Like This–You know you’re out there. If we can’t learn to laugh at ourselves, how can can we survive? Seriously. In a nihilistic world, it’s important to separate what’s worthy of raging and angry energy and what needs to roll off our backs. Did I poke at your precious annoyances? Maybe they shouldn’t be so precious. Save your wrath for things which really matter. The internet and your lives will be happier places, trust me. There really are plenty of legitimate things to get mad about, but these ten just aren’t them. After all, web piracy is alive and well and so are things like child porn, abuse, bullying, etc. So let’s try and keep things in perspective.

Well, there’s my Top 10. What would you put on this list? Feel free to comment below. I’ll be interested in hearing. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012 along with his book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing and the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novel for author Ellen C. Maze (Rabbit: Legacy), a historical book for Leon C. Metz (The Shooters, John Wesley Hardin, The Border), and is now editing Decipher Inc’s WARS tie-in books for Grail Quest Books.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

Write Tips: The Power Of Diligence

In a recent interview with Charlie Rose, Steve Martin talks about how important diligence has been to his success. And the website Study Hacks, which explores how some people succeed and others don’t explores his comments. I also recently read that a high percentage of Robert Frost’s most acclaimed poems were written after he’d reached the age of 50. That got me thinking how important diligence is to the writer’s journey.

If anyone hasn’t figured it out yet, the writing life is a lifelong journey. The day you stop learning new things or striving to get better, you might as well close up shop because that’s what it’s all about. Through all the rejections, all the bad reviews, all the starving days, all the tribulations of artistic life, only one thing is sure: you can always get better. You’ll know know everything.

That’s why diligence is so vital for success as a writer.

If someone as respected and famous as Robert Frost did his best work in his later years, if someone like Steve Martin values diligence, how can we not ask ourselves to be diligent too?  You can only be the best you can be at any moment. But if you continue to grow and learn, i.e. through diligence, you can get better and better. And, like Frost, the highlights of your career can come later in life. Martin won two Grammys for his banjo albums, both well into his career as movie star, post-career as standup comedian. He’d been playing banjo for 50 years when he won one of them. Now that’s diligence.

How successful do you want to be? Do you want a career or just a hobby? One requires diligence, one doesn’t. Period. To do anything artistic well, one must constantly reexamine and strive to improve technique, craft, etc. No one’s perfect and there’s always room to grow as an artist. There’s a reason writers talk about the “writer’s journey.” There’s also a reason you don’t hear successful authors say “the journey is over.” In fact, many would say “my writer’s journey’s just begun.”

Think of writers like George R.R. Martin, who is writing a 7 book series but taking more than a decade to do it. The gaps between books are years, not because he intends to drive readers and his publisher to distraction, but because he’s diligent. He wants to get it right. Would anyone begrudge him that? To me, there’s something to be admired in that kind of dedication. It’s a level of intensity I sometimes wish I could match. On the other hand, GRRM has more financial security as a writer than I do and I wonder if I’d survive such long periods between paychecks. Still, I admire his dedication and diligence in writing it the best it can be and doing it the way he needs to in order to get there.

To do anything well, one must be willing to work hard. Some times working hard means different things for different people. For some, certain things come more easily than for others. I have writer friends like Jay Lake who turn in what they call “clean first drafts.” Others of us spend days going over copyedits. I think these are things one can improve on with time. I know some who struggle with POV and description, while others roll intricate flowery emotional prose off their keyboards like breathing air. (I hate them for it, don’t you?) Some are stronger on science than character. Some are stronger on dialogue than plot. Part of being human is to be imperfect. It’s not a crime. It’s a challenge. But it’s a challenge that can be overcome with diligence.

It’s a cliche, I suppose, to say anything worth having is worth working for, but in a sense, that’s just truth. The writers whose careers last decades are known for diligence: Robert J. Sawyer, Robert Silverberg, Mike Resnick, Anne Rice, Orson Scott Card, Ben Bova, Stephen King, Peter Straub, etc. All have worked hard to perfect their craft. All write with great discipline and take advantage of every opportunity. All produce multiple books and stories every year. And all will tell you it’s hard work and that they are always seeking to improve.

For me, part of following their example is modeling myself after their efforts. I am diligently blogging, writing, and networking. I am diligently educating myself about this business. I am diligently reading to be aware of what’s come before and who’s writing what. And I am diligently studying storytelling, craft, prose, etc. to understand how others do it well and improve my own work in the process.

How’s your diligence? Is it a priority for you? Are you in it for the long haul or short run? Good questions to ask, I think. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012 along with his book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing and the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novel for author Ellen C. Maze (Rabbit: Legacy), a historical book for Leon C. Metz (The Shooters, John Wesley Hardin, The Border), and is now editing Decipher Inc’s WARS tie-in books for Grail Quest Books.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

 

The Importance Of Strategy & A Career Plan For Writers

I recently commented on a post by Mike Duran, an author friend, who got slammed by self-publishing fans for the gall to suggest one might actually want to have patience and explore options before rushing into self-publishing. HOW DARE HE?! You’d have thought he was talking about abortion or gay marriage from the vehemence of the responses. Most seemed not very thoughtful (not all) and very knee jerk reactions.

Ask yourself this right now writers: Do you want a writing career or do you want a writing hobby?

By writing career, I don’t necessarily mean full time. That’s  a pipe dream for the majority of writers. But you can publish a lot of books while holding down a day job and be quite successful as well. That’s a writing career.

By writing hobby, I mean someone who just wings it. You write, you throw it out there, repeat.

It does not matter if you are an outliner or pantser, if you want some kind of career arc with longevity, you must consider strategy and planning for how to approach your career. Yes, those plans will evolve over time. Things will happen you never expected. That doesn’t negate the need for careful thought. And one of the most important considerations you can make is which publishers to work with and why.

FACT: The market is flooded with self-published books.

FACT: There is a lot of stuff that’s self-published because no professional publisher, small or large, in their right minds would pay money to publish it.

FACT: When you self-publish, people will look at you as if you might have written crap. It’s up to you to get them to discover differently and it’s a hard road.

So why is it so offensive, then, to suggest that people exercise patience? Hey! I know how hard it is to be patient when it comes to your passions. I have ADHD and patience is something I never pray for, fearing God will actually test me. But the advantages I’ve found to the reactions for my novel, published through a small traditional press, and my self-published short story collection are significant. The novel gets taken far more seriously by reviewers, readers, etc. It’s easier to sell. It’s easier to promote. It lent a sense of legitimacy to my career as a writer that the collection just didn’t. Now, I’ll admit the novel’s better. But even so, the collection was carefully prepared, beta read, and edited by others before I put it out there. I did approach it like a professional rather than just throwing it out there. But the stigma of self-publishing is a fact.

I walk into bookstores with my novel or sit at tables and the first thing people ask is “self-published?” People are inundated. And people are wary. They actually look relieved when I tell them it was published by a professional publisher.

These are just observations I’ve made from the past five months as an author out promoting his book. So it amazes me that so many people will jump down the throat of someone who suggests the common sense to think before you act in regards to self-publishing. It seems plain and simple to me. In fact, it seems stupid not to think it through.

The difference between those who want to be professional writers and those who are hobbyists is some thoughtful consideration of what to write, how you’d like to see it published, whether to have an agent, etc. It involves consideration of craft and growth, constant educating and reeducating of one’s self to stay on top of not just prose issues but the industry and genres. It involves being a harder critic on yourself than anyone else can be and approaching your work like a pro: seeking gatekeepers to help vet it and make sure it’s polished. The difference between a self-published novel where the author hired editors and made sure it was polished and one where the author just threw it on the market is huge. Do people occasionally get lucky? Sure. But luck is no foundation on which to build your career. Most of career building comes from hard work. It’s surely a symptom of our cultural addiction to instant gratification that people ignore that. There’s been plenty of evidence to prove it.

If you want to play Russian roulette with your career, you do have the right, of course. But if you don’t, attacking someone with common sense for daring to suggest you use some yourself is foolish and ignorant. It shows a lack of seriousness about yourself and your work. It shows the lack of a pro attitude.

I approach my writing as a career I’d like to make a significant portion of my income from. It’s what I’ve wanted to do since I was but a young child. It finally seems possible. After years of struggle, rejection and heart ache, I am finally getting success. I want more success, greedy bastard that I am, not less. So every move I make in regards to contracts signed, publishers I submit to, etc. is very carefully considered. I ask friends. I do research. I pray. I’d like to get to the goal of three novels a year. So far I am at two written. I’d like to have an agent. And I’d definitely like to make a profit as a novelist. Not there yet. So before I consider self-publishing, I think long and hard about my decisions. I can’t afford to be casual. I can’t afford to be careless. If you’re serious about your writing career, neither can you.

Let’s be clear. I am not saying all self-publishing is crap. Read this again if you think that. Never said it. But I am saying the stigma is real. And cannot/should not be ignored. What if your work gets lost in the shuffle? Are you okay with that? What if it’s not ready and you realize that after it’s out there associated with your name? Could it scare off future readers? Yes it could. Can your work be rejected without being read just because of the stigma? Yes. So give it careful consideration. Self-publishing may be right for you. But the stats speak for themselves. It’s not a get rich quick scheme. And above all, it’s no reason to attack a man suggesting patience as good sense in your approach to publishing.

If you’re serious about writing, it should be approached like a business. And most successful businesses have strategies and plans beyond an hour from now. Think about how you spend your money, where you spend it and why. How do you present yourself? What’s your audience? Are you a long form writing? A short fiction writer? A nonfiction writer? Or all three? What are your weaknesses? What are your strengths? How do you need to improve and what are things you can do to make that growth happen? Set goals. Most of all, write. Every day. It does take patience to succeed, especially in the writing business. It also takes smarts, not just passion, but wise thinking and strategizing with every move. How will the decision you’re making right now advance your career? If it doesn’t advance your career, is it worth doing? Where do you want to be in six months? A year? Five years?

Have a strategy. Have a plan. Know what you want. Go for it thoughtfully. That’s my two cents.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince—which received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Best Science Fiction Releases of 2011—and The Returning, both from the space opera series Saga Of Davi Rhii. He also wrote the collection The North Star Serial, and short stories published in Tales Of The Talisman and the anthologies Of Fur And Fire and Wandering Weeds: Tales Of Rabid Vegetation, amongst others. A freelance professional editor and proofreader, he’s edited books for authors like Leon C. Metz, David Brown and Ellen C. Maze. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Twitter (#sffwrtcht), where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, A.C. Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website: www.bryanthomasschmidt.net. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

‎18 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $3.99 Kindlehttp://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

 

Eleven SFF Series I Read And Was Surprised To Love

I read a lot of books for my author interviews on SFFWRTCHT and blogs like GraspingForTheWind.com, www.SFSignal.com, and Ray Gun Revival, as well as my own blog. In fact, reading for those dominates my reading time. I rarely squeeze in books for fun or learning anymore. Most of the time, I’m excited to read the books because I love discovering new authors and for years I didn’t read speculative fiction at all, so I am way behind in my genre knowledge. But every once in a while you come across one that makes you think “I probably won’t enjoy this” for various reasons. Isn’t it wonderful to instead discover you adore them? Here’s Eleven series I had that initial reaction to which are now among my favorites:

1) The Majipoor Books by Robert Silverberg–WHAT?! You say? Well, I’d never heard of Robert Silverberg when my twin sister gave me Lord Valentine’s Castle for Christmas at age 15. It was not a book on my Christmas list, and, frankly, I was annoyed that she would dare deviate from my carefully prepared list. The cover intrigued me though with its aliens juggling and such. And boy, this book knocked my socks off. Other than The Hobbit (I had yet to read Lord Of The Rings), this book had the most amazing world building I had ever seen. It absolutely knocked me out. And I adored it. I snagged Majipoor Chronicles as soon as that came out, and the alien sex scenes certainly stimulated my young teenage boy mind (HEY! I’m only human people!) It took years for me to get the rest and read them, but I finally did and reread the first two as well. My favorite novel series of all time, hands down. Amazing characters, amazing world building, masterful storytelling in every sense. True classics. Not to be missed. His second series surrounding Presimion is maybe even better than the first, but Lord Valentine’s Castle remains my favorite. They are all getting released starting this month by ACE/ROC Books, too.

2) Black Blade Blues by John A. Pitts–An urban fantasy with dragons and a Lesbian heroine with romance. Dragons are overdone. They’ve been done a million times. And I’m straight, not gay. To each his or her own, but when I do read romance, I just prefer male on female. Also, this just sounded like a teen set, girly appeal book to me. Not because John himself is all that girly. He’s really not. In fact, he’s become a good friend. But this was one I expected to not enjoy and instead turned out to be one of my favorite series ever. Pitts writes really good characters and action. He also does some unique POV things, with all Sarah Buehall’s chapters in 1st person, and 3rd person for the supporting POV characters. He takes old tropes like dragons and the blacksmith and breathes new life into them. He also takes modern SCA reenactors and throws them into their living fantasy and mines it for humor skillfully. Just a delight in every way and should not be missed. SERIOUSLY. Straight guys too!

3) Greywalker by Kat Richardson–I read this after meeting Kat at Rainforest Writers. She was delightful. But urban fantasy had never sounded like much of anything I’d enjoy. Instead, I’m hooked. And I have Kat to blame. At first, it sounded too Sixth Sense-like for me. As one of the few people who didn’t care for that movie, this was not a draw. But man, I love this series. I’m hooked. I went out and tracked down copies of every one. I’ve since read another and interviewed her. And it inspired my own idea for an urban fantasy detective noir series I am working on. Love these books. They are even better than you’ve heard.

 

4) Shadow Ops: Control Point by Myke Cole–Military fantasy? Military anything really. Okay, I like John Ringo. And I am pro-military. But it just sounded odd, although I adore the book cover. I could not have been more wrong. I absolutely got my socks knocked off, and I still can’t find them. Cole is a master at world building and working old tropes inventively into the modern world. He also knows his military and it shows. It’s like an inside view of military life in so many ways, and I think it makes you respect all the more, the sacrifices our troops make in serving our country. Sure to make you patriotic in a good way but also challenges the idea that obeying orders strictly is an ideal rule of thumb. Cole infuses his characters with humanity, even the goblins, yes, and makes you care about them and root for them. Really fun and exciting possibilities with this one. And women, you’ll love it just as much. He writes good, strong females as well. I can’t wait to read the rest. And I am telling you, this one is for everyone!

5) The Parasol Protectorate by Gail Carriger–Okay, parasol in the title. Pretty much said it all. Romance. Also, vampires and werewolfs AGAIN?????!!! Not my favorite. No one can top Anne Rice in the vampires, if you ask me, although Charlaine Harris is giving her a run for the money at the moment. I read it because Carriger is a leading steampunk author, a genre I love. And I’d heard good things. I am in love with this series, too. Went out and tracked them all down. Carriger is hilarious and she uses old tropes in new ways while making absolutely fantastic use (and fun) of her Victorian setting. She even gets the Old Queen herself involved. Yes, there’s romance, but not in a sappy, smarmy way. (Well, not too much.) Her lead character is not one of those sappy females with dreamy eyed looks and emotions at all. She’s a bit rougher around the edges, and, as such, a bit of an outcast. She also has gifts which set her apart. I won’t spoil it for you. But I adored the first book and can

6) The First Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant by Stephen R. Donaldson–I picked these up because the Darrell Sweet covers were so intriguing and I wanted something fantasy to read. I had been reading a lot of science fiction but not as much fantasy. Then the main character was not so nice and he raped a young girl. I almost put it down right then. So glad I didn’t. The redemption journey of Thomas Covenant is so worth the effort and Donaldson is so masterful a writer. I am thrilled to have met him and had him sign my copy a couple of years ago. And we have an interview coming up for SFFWRTCHT with him where I focused on this series. He’s got two trilogies and a 4 book final cycle in this universe now, and they are rightly regarded as classics of the genre. Also, the later cycles have a female lead, so if you women are turned off by Covenant’s behavior, you really should still give this a chance. The world building is rich and unique and the journey is one that touches the heart. I promise.

7) The Retrieval Artist series by Kristine Kathryn Rusch–I read these because I had read her first Diving book and several great short stories, but the idea of a noir detective in science fiction didn’t sound like my thing. I have never been a huge mystery reader. I think Rusch changed all that with these books. I adore this series and her mix of genres. She also does some really fantastic world building in here as well. Her use of tropes in new ways, her alien species, etc. are so well thought out, with real cross cultural conflicts and consequences arising from their different world views. Authors don’t always think it through that far or even strive to incorporate it all, and she’s challenged me as a writer to go further as a result. Highly recommended. Kris has become a friend and one of my favorite authors.

8 ) The Ender Series by Orson Scott Card–This one I had hesitancy for silly reasons. I wasn’t reading science fiction at the time and I’d only heard bad things about this author’s strong opinions. But my cousin David and his wife insisted I’d love these. They even gave me their copies, so I felt obligated to give them a chance. After all, David and I have always been close and our mutual love of speculative fiction is one reason. David introduced me to D&D, Star Wars and so many things. He was right. Ender’s Game is called a classic with good reason. No matter what you think of Card’s religion or opinions on politics, he’s masterful at writing and those themes don’t come into it with this series (at least so far). This is really good militarySF and space opera. And not to be missed by genre fans.

9)  The Chronicles Of A Distant World series by Mike Resnick–I am now a huge Resnick fan and he’s become a friend and mentor. He even blurbed my forthcoming novel and wrote a story for an anthology I edited. But full disclosure aside, I read this when I really had no idea who this Resnick guy was. I just knew he’d won a lot of awards and was a big shot amongst writers (everyone said). He also had a passion for Africa and so do I. But could a white guy from Ohio really do the African cultures I adored justice? I think he did splendidly, frankly. This series of science fiction inspired by African history and imagining what the future might look like has been a touchstone for me. In fact, the predictions Resnick made came true in some cases. Very unique and not like most other SF you will read but that’s all the more reason you shouldn’t miss it. Masterfully done and really deep world building and cross cultural explanation. No preaching. No judging. He just lays it out there like the expert he is and lets readers to the rest.

10) The Posleen War Series by John Ringo–I am not a big military story reader. I support the military. But reading military books is rare. I love political intrigue like old school Tom Clancy and WEB Griffin, but the idea of war books didn’t appeal. But people kept raving about MilitarySF. And people said John Ringo was a great place to start. Plus I heard an interview with the author that impressed me. A Hymn Before Battle blew me away. I went out and bought the series and can’t wait to tear into the rest. Reading schedule, as mentioned above, has so far prevented me, but they are on the shelf where I can see them and one of these days, soon, I’ll pick them up and tear into them again, and I can’t wait!

11) Pathfinder Tales by various–D&D tie-ins, really? I imagined characters stopping to roll the dice during attacks, and more silliness. I just couldn’t wrap my mind about it. What I never expected to find was good sword & sorcery/fantasy novels, but these are a real find. I have read four so far and enjoyed them thoroughly. This is some great stuff. Don’t let the tie-in stigma scare you off. Editor James L. Sutter is doing some great stuff with some great authors like Howard Andrew Jones and Dave Gross. If you enjoy fantasy and magic, even if you’re not into RPGs, you’ll love this. If you are into RPGs, that’s just a bonus.

Okay, there’s eleven series I loved in spite of initial reservations. I’m sure I’ll discover more, but what about you? Please post yours in comments. I’m sure we’d all love to discover more!’ll be tearing back into this. Military culture is well handled, of course, but the alien invasion and character drama is fascinating too. He really is the Clancy/Griffin of SF writers. His tension and the intrigue level is far more than I’d anticipated. It really keeps you hooked and turning the pages. I really enjoyed these.


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012 along with the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Rensick. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novel for author Ellen C. Maze (Rabbit: Legacy), a historical book for Leon C. Metz (The Shooters, John Wesley Hardin, The Border), and is now editing Decipher Inc’s WARS tie-in books for Grail Quest Books.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Happy Birthday, Doctor Seuss…Some Thoughts On Lessons Of Childhood

Well, it’s Theodore Geisel’s birthday again and with the movie release pending for The Lorax, it has me thinking once again about my childhood. Seuss’ The Cat In The Hat is one of the first books I ever remembering owning. I got it for my birthday as a young child. (I can’t remember which one my twin sister, Lara, got). I read that book ’til the cover fell off, over and over. I loved Seuss’ magic with words.

“The sun did not shine, it was too wet to play,” possibly the most well known opening line in twentieth century children’s publishing. Who could forget those words and what child couldn’t grasp the emotion behind them? Many a child had their days ruined by weather. No sand castle? No playing outside? No swingset? No bike? Sigh.

But as much as I loved The Cat In The Hat, I still remember The Lorax as my favorite. What I loved about The Lorax was the mystery of the hand reaching from that perilous tower, and the young boy wanting to know more, as so many young boys do, who gets a tale of a lifetime. I was one of those kids: frustrating adults with all my questions. In many ways, I still tend to be. I’m always questioning “What if?” “Why?” etc. That’s probably why I went into writing science fiction and fantasy.

But for me, The Lorax‘s message was so important. Despite being raised Conservative in a Christian and Republican home, the environment was something I always had a special relationship with. The Earth and nature resonate with me in a unique way. They inspire me, move me, touch me, and fill me with emotions at the experience of their beauty, aliveness, scents, smells, etc. I grew up in the farmlands of Kansas, far from the logging country of the Pacific Northwest, where that industry is such a part of the culture and economy that it’s iconic. I don’t think I saw my first logging truck into my teens or twenties. And it was on a trip somewhere, not around Salina where we lived. But one of my favorite singers, John Denver, sung a lot out the environment and I always found myself wondering why humans are so careless with the planet and land God gave us to live on. For me, it’s a no brainer. We need the Earth, the Earth doesn’t need us. We need the planets and animals and other ingredients in our food chain. We need the various products which give us quality of life. While they might not forage well, the cows and sheep and pigs probably wouldn’t mind if the slaughter houses shut down. And they probably wouldn’t get emotionally distraught at the disappearance of their farmer-owners. Just saying.

Seuss’ The Lorax taught a great lesson about how much our drive for more and more, whether it’s money or wood or anything else, leads humanity down dark and troublesome paths, with end results we should carefully consider. It taught lessons about respect for nature and the appreciation of the unknown. It reenforced my dad’s lessons about not being wasteful and about making full use of things as much as possible. From water to food, we were conservation minded at home. My dad installed Naval shower heads to cut our water waste from long showers. So much so that it was a huge adjustment switching back to regular shower heads when I moved out on my own. He taught us to turn the water off after we got wet, apply soap and shampoo, then turn it on to rinse, then get out of the shower. No dilly dallying or long shower concerts for me, his wannabe rock star son. That stuff had to occur elsewhere. He taught us about composting everything from orange rinds to grass clippings, using toilet paper conservatively, and minimizing trash. To this day, my parents are lucky to fill a 15 gallon bag of trash in two months at their house. I have several trashcans, with specific ones devoted to aluminum, milk cartoons, hardboard, etc. And I make an extra run to the recycling center monthly, since the city offers no street pick up.

The Lorax reenforced these lessons and did it in a non-preachy, fun way. Like so much of Dr. Seuss’ work, it was simple, with basic vocabulary and stunning rhyme, yet at its heart lay an important lesson for us all. It saddens me a bit to see the Hollywoodization of The Lorax now which seems to contrary to the message. I haven’t even seen the movie yet but there are wasteful tie-ins of paper, plastic, etc. everywhere. How many of those will wind up enlarging our nation’s landfills or landfills around the world? Is that really what Dr. Seuss would have wanted? I doubt it.

But The Lorax is still in print and so we can do our part. We can buy the book for a child we know, and help them get a start. We can teach them of its wonders, of the lessons that it holds, and watch their eyes light up with magic at the beauty of its prose. We can share it with a stranger or a neighbor or a friend. We can share it with our grandkids or our children once again. For me, it’s really simple, and a thing I mustn’t dodge. For the lessons of The Lorax still are needed quite a lot.

Ok, I’m no Dr. Seuss, but I hope you get my point. For what it’s worth…

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss. May we honor you well. And thank you!

Dear Valentine: A Poem – February 14, 2012

Dear Valentine,

I miss you.

You’re three thousand miles away.

You’re in another hemisphere,

where I hear you’re going to stay.

 

Dear Valentine,

my heart is yours,

despite the troubles we’ve known.

Because good memories are golden

and we’ve got by far way more of those.

 

Dear Valentine,

my heart is broken,

from just longing day by day

for you to come back home again,

and promise that you’ll stay.

 

Dear Valentine,

I took for granted,

things were so good they seemed plain.

And I’m sorry I forgot

how much I treasured every day.

 

Dear Valentine,

God Bless You,

whatever paths your life may take.

May your world be full of laughter,

may you smile and jest and play.

 

Dear Valentine,

you’re not forgotten.

And worry not, you’ll never be.

For, my Valentine, when you went away,

you took a piece of me.

It’s been since June that she’s gone. It’s my first Valentines without her present in four years and the first in seven years without her as my Valentine. So I’m thinking of her, one of the great loves of my life…lost. And wishing somehow things could be different for us. Knowing they can’t be.


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

4 5-star & 12 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

Origins: February 13

This post is part of the Origins Challenge Blog Series. Almost 200 blogs participating. Click here for the listSo the challenge is to blog about how we got started writing. This is an ironic date because writing about the origins of my writing on February 13th means I’m writing about origins on the day of my origin. Yes, February 13 is my birthday, so how’s that for interesting parallels?

I got started writing through play really. My mother says I never played with a toy the same way twice. I would get mad when the toys couldn’t do all the awesome things I imagined them doing in my mind. I’d get bored and move on.

On the playground at school, I organized elaborate make believe scenarios with my friends, from firefighters fighting fires to astronauts. I’d take charge and lay out the storyline and direct the actors. Amazingly they came back to bossy me for more.

In third grade, my friend Chris Marshall and I wrote our own stories for The Littles series of books about little mouse-like people living inside a human family’s house. We wrote book after book of them, so, as best I can remember, this was my official start to writing.

However, at the same time, I wrote my first song in kindergarten around the time I started piano lessons. So I’d been doing lyric writing and such for a while by the time Chris and I wrote those books. Which counts as the first? Chicken or egg, my friends.

Over time, my active imagination continued and I’d make up stories. My 3rd grade friend, Chris Marshall, and I got hooked on John Peterson and Roberta Carter Clark’s Littles children’s books and started writing our own sequels. That was my first dreams of being a professional writer and yes, despite my stand on fanfic, I did start there like so many.

As I watched TV shows, I’d make up stories and scripts for them: Emergency, Hill Street Blues, Miami Vice, L.A.Law, Life Goes On… This eventually led to spec scripts and film school, where I actually pursued a TV career. My most successful were scripts for L.A. Law and The Wonder Years.

The idea for my debut novel, The Worker Prince, came to me in high school while I wrote all those TV ideas. I even created my own TV show and wrote the first 13 scripts plus pilot for that and plotted out episodes for two whole seasons.

In college and grad school, I wrote three nonfiction books which never went anywhere, but then my devotionals started getting used a lot and I sold some of those. Eventually, I tried prose and The Worker Prince was the second novel I finished. So here I am. That’s the story of my origins as a writer.

I’m 43. This year will see publication of the second and third anthologies to feature short stories by me, one of which I edited, my second and third novels, and the first print magazine to feature one of my stories. So far the journey’s going well.

What’s yours?


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

 

The Returning: How I Dealt With Middle Book Syndrome

Well, we’re four chapters from finalizing the editing of my novel, The Returning, sequel to my debut The Worker Prince. ARCS will go out next week, and then copyediting. As I look at this book, a book which I’m amazed even got written–written in the midst of my life completely falling apart (unemployment, mental health issues and hospitalization for the wife, then divorce and a cross country relocation), I also marvel at how well this second book actually works. I know, I know: “We’ll be the judge of that” you’re thinking. And yes, you will. But from beta readers to editors, responses have been encouraging. They comment that it starts out fast like a Bourne movie and never lets up. They talk of the stakes being upped on every level from character development to complexity of plot to emotional arcs and actual events of the story. The stakes were higher in every way. And although that was deliberate in part, I find myself pondering how important second books are for us as authors and in trilogies generally. And how hard they can be to write.

When I started The Returning, I had no idea what the book would be. I knew where the story would have to go for the ending in book 3. But unlike Book 1, which employed the biblical story of Moses as a framework, and book 3, which will also employ more elements of that, book 2 had to fill in gaps and required me to create more of my own storyline and structure with these characters. I knew there were mistakes I’d made in The Worker Prince which I didn’t want to repeat. I also knew there were things I wanted to do with the characters. But I wrote in total chaos. Outlining a chapter at a time is usual for me, so that’s not what I mean. What I mean is that my life was so chaotic in the background of writing that I often went a month or weeks between chapters or even scenes. Coming back to it, I found concentration hard, so I couldn’t review what I’d written as fully. And often I didn’t want to reread the previous six chapters just to write. Unlike The Worker Prince, this book took 9 months to write. And it went out a chapter at a time to three beta readers as I went. They urged me for more quite often. Their patience was greatly appreciated. I didn’t look at their feedback until after I’d finished.

I was amazed.

First of all, as I hinted at above, I’m a pantser. I let the story go where it takes me. I always have some key plot points in mind. And I always have a rough idea of the base storylines (plots and subplots). But in this case, I had no idea how I would end it until I was well over 2/3rds through. It’s a middle book. There was no real ending. Many events in this book carry over into Book 3. But at some point, I realized I could still create a satisfying denouement, even if it was a cliffhanger ending. And the book most certainly has that. At the same time, the events push toward the point where a chapter feels closed in spite of that.

Early on I realized Book 2 needed a sense of everything being turned upside down. The Worker Prince was a happy story overall. It almost feels like a standalone. Despite the survival of the antagonists and potential for more stories, everything gets wrapped up in a pretty happy ending. But for the characters to progress and the story with them, I needed to tear all the stability and happiness apart again. Their lives, relationships and future all needed to be in jeopardy, and readers needed to be surprised. So, as I wrote, I set that goal. In addition, I wanted a fast pace, action packed novel, both emotionally and physically. It required a more complicated plot. And wound up with seventeen point of view characters, a hell of a cast to manage. (Some only have a scene or two from their POV. There are major POV characters who have scenes throughout as well.)

As I reached each plot point I’d planned, I examined my options and looked for the unusual choice, the surprise twist. What could happen here that would make readers say: “Whoa! I cannot believe that just happened!” Where can I take things that makes it more complicated and pushes them further from their goals and happiness again? At every chance, I made such choices. Unlike The Worker Prince, I knew that meant important characters would have to die. In the end, four do.

It’s hard to kill characters. You spend so much time with them that you begin to feel a bit like they’re family. So killing them, unless you’re psychopathic I suppose, feels wrong and mean. Who wants to be mean? But in order for the heights of the emotional arcs and plots to be reached, the stakes had to get higher and higher in The Returning, and I found no way to do that without endangering characters. In choosing the characters to subject to this “cruelty,” I also tried to make surprising choices. I chose characters I liked but characters who, ultimately, have less interesting arcs left to them than the ones who remained. My readers may disagree, but I hope not. Because the deaths of these characters actually redefine and energize the arcs for other characters in Book 3. They serve to drive the rest of the story.

I also did more exploration of my solar system, using more alien species and worlds, and exploring more of how the Boralian Alliance got to be in control and treated the natives they encountered. This will be a big part of Book 3 as well, and I think it made for some very interesting worldbuilding along with some nice plot twists and turns.

Obviously, I can’t say too much. The book doesn’t release until June. But in any case, by the time I concluded writing The Returning, I knew I had the makings of a very satisfying chapter in my saga. In fact, editors and my beta readers all agreed it’s a better book on every level than The Worker Prince. [That’s a compliment writers. We need to grow with each book. So I took it that way. It was also my goal as mentioned above.]

And so now I can’t wait to share it with you. It goes out to reviewers and other authors for blurbs next week. I have some pretty cool people lined up, including a couple of Star Wars authors. I can’t wait to hear what they think. I hope you’ll take the time to read The Worker Prince and The Returning and love them as much as I loved the experience of bringing them to life for you.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

Do Something: Live A Life Of Significance

This is not a lecture. It’s an observation. And it’s not a self-aggrandizing post but I do need to give some detail on my own life to make the point, so I will.

Recently, I saw Wayne Koons, a former Marine, then NASA Engineer, then pilot/astronaut speak about his education, his life and his faith. Speaking at the same event were one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, a Nicaraguan musician and the head of athletics for University of Kentucky, Mitch Barnhart. Other accomplished people joined them but all of them shared a similar message: Do something. Koons pointed out that the median age of all employees at NASA up into 1969 when Apollo 11 landed on the moon was under 40. And he said it to point out to college students that they can make a difference.

It got me to thinking. I’m a guy who often feels frustrated by lack of success in areas of my life. 23 months unemployed. And I have a hard time getting a job because I’ve done so many things, despite a Masters, and despite the fact my career had been somewhat steady until I was fired by my ex-employer in May 2010.  Resumes don’t explain all the variety in my life. But what does explain it is an inner drive I was raised with to be someone who made an impact on my world and community.

My parents are a doctor and nurse who believed in service. Of my grandparents, one was a farmer, one a teacher, one a housewife and one a utility worker. (The housewife was all about service. She raised six kids and helped manage a farm in addition to serving church and community so don’t write her off as less significant.) My family has a legacy of service to others–careers and jobs which make an impact far beyond the walls of their homes. So naturally, I grew up expecting to do the same.

My earliest dreams fluctuated between being a rock star/composer and an author/writer. I focused on TV and film in college but then wound up leaving my time in Hollywood to travel doing music. Fun as those days were in many ways, I found them unsatisfying. I still wanted to make a difference and entertaining people wasn’t enough. So I went back to school for a Masters while working in sales and other retail jobs to get by, often working 30 hours plus while taking a full time load of classes. It was hard. Grades suffered someone. But I was serving and that made me happy.

After I got my Masters, I founded a nonprofit and travelled for the next decade to Africa, Brazil, Mexico and other places bringing musicians and other qualified arts people to provide specialized training to people who couldn’t afford or get access to it any other way. I raised money,  recruited volunteers, led teams and taught. And to this day, I still hear from students who grew and went on to great success from what Anchored Music has done. We still exist. Life just sideswiped me a bit and have been less active the past two years due to many personal crises in my life. But the point is, we made a difference. I got paid nothing. I took consulting or contract jobs instead of full time to have the freedom to take weeks off and do the mission work. I sacrificed a career path, in other words, but I was doing something and that’s what mattered. No matter what other failures I experience, no one can take that away.

It’s funny when you’re an author. No matter the genre or book itself, people just assume you’re accomplished. Not that I am belittling what it takes to be published. There is hard work and some degree of intelligence generally involved, most of the time, yes. But do all authors deserve to be treated like heroes? Not so sure. I do know when your book teaches something or brings a message of hope and change, it’s much more satisfying than just writing to entertain. Because you’re doing something with your words.

What’s my point? When I was 17, all I wanted to do was be the rock star/composer, find a girl, fall in love, and have a family like the portrait painted by my hero John Denver in his songs. How disappointing it was to find out years later that even John Denver couldn’t live the ideal he sang about. His “perfect” family life was far from it. But I never imagined the roads and paths down which life would take me in my quest to make a difference. Or how much frustration and heartache there could be with employment as a result.

Still, I don’t regret it, because even if I die tomorrow, I have accomplished a lot for a 43 year old man: national radio singles, opening for major acts, name on national TV, TV and radio appearances, songs used in six languages and sung in churches, published books, and most importantly students who took what I taught and went on to make better lives for themselves and their community. That last one is the greatest accomplishment of all. To those people, my life matters. They still tell me that every time they track me down online. I made a difference. I did something and it had significant impact for their lives.

Wayne Koons and Mitch Barnhart never imagined growing up where their paths would take them. Neither did a little African boy who was just feeling lucky to be alive every day in the Sudan. But now they are educated, accomplished men with better lives than any one of them could have ever imagined.

No matter who you are or what your dreams or background, you can do that, too. You can do something and be significant. Your liffe can matter to more than just you. I urge you to consider that. Strive to serve more than just yourself and your own desires. Strive to reach beyond you spouse, kids and immediate community. As Christa McAuliffe said, before dying in NASA’s Challenger accident, “It’s better to shoot for the stars and miss than shoot for nothing  and hit.” So shoot for the stars. You never know, you might just change the destiny of a solar system. Your life can be significant. It can matter. And all you have to do is DO SOMETHING.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

4 5-star & 13 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

VLog: How To Respond To Reviews

Recently my friend reviewed my book at SFSignal. I never expect anything less than an honest review from reviewers, especially friends. Anything is unhelpful because people tend to see through it anyway and because honest evaluation is the only thing a writer can rightfully expect from anyone. You hope they love the book. It’s hard if they don’t. In this case, the reviewer liked it but had some hard criticisms of a few aspects. Nonethless, I went on the site, said I was sorry it didn’t all work for him, linked to the B&N Year’s Best mention of the book, and thanked him for reviewing it. My friend, instead of taking my thanks as appreciation for his work, thought I was upset with him and it made him very uncomfortable. We’ve now sorted that out but it really got me thinking about how we respond to reviewers as writers and here are some thoughts:

Bryan Thomas Schmidt VLog1: Responding To Book Review from Bryan Schmidt on Vimeo.

To read my interview with book blogger/reviewer Sarah Chorn at sffwrtcht, go here.

Why Is Respecting Others So Hard?

I like to post things which are interesting on my Twitter, Facebook, GooglePlus, etc. I do it because they made me think and perhaps others will think, too. I hang with a lot of writers and smart people who like to think, so my assumption is, maybe they’ll find this interesting. Just because I post it doesn’t mean I want to get in a long drawn out debate. GooglePlus allows you to disable comments, a feature I really like. Facebook doesn’t. You just have to block people. So I recently posted something and stated: posting this to make you think. I don’t want to debate it. What happens? Someone takes me on immediately.

Now, ironically, this happened on GooglePlus and I hadn’t turned off comments. I figured, why should I have to? People should respect each other. Well, they don’t. And you know, that’s pathetically sad. It indicative of a general cultural problem which has divided our country and our world.

Why do people feel the need to attack everyone they disagree with? I have friends who cross the spectrum of beliefs from gay to straight, religious to Atheist to Agnostic, African to American to Mexican to Brazilian, none of whom are the same and none of whom believes exactly as I do. I don’t go attacking them every time they post something. I respect their right to disagree. If they want to disagree, fine. But personal attacks are so common. Why? I thought we treasured free speech and individualism in this country? Why is everyone so threatened?

I’m not asking why everyone is angry. I’m furious at being constantly disrespected for what I believe. I am furious at being called a bigot and all kinds of things by people who stereotype a group some of my beliefs align me with and generalizing that I must be like the most extreme members of said group. They don’t know but they assume. And it’s infuriating. It’s insulting. I feel bullied. I have always marched to a different drummer. I resent being told I’m just like everyone else because, frankly, I try really hard not to be. I work at it.

So why do we have such a hard time respecting other people today? I don’t have the answer, but I can tell you this much: it often seems like civil conversation is impossible these days and it’s unpleasant to live in a world like that. I think we can do better. I think we should do better. I think it’s worth the effort. And I wish more people agreed and would make the effort. Because the guy who did this to my post tried to force a discussion I said I didn’t want to have. And although I like and respect this person, I feel beaten up and disrespected by his actions. I feel bullied. And that’s not a good feeling.

For what it’s worth…

On Girl Scout Cookie Boycotts, Boy Scouts & Other Insanities

Okay, this is ridiculous. Folks, come on. I get livid when people complain about the Boy Scout’s moral policies because the Boy Scouts were founded as a religious organization and they have a right, as do churches, to set moral standards for their members. The fact that they are the “only act in town” doesn’t matter. If someone doesn’t like their policies, they can go out and start their own group. The Boy Scouts have a right to set moral policies. We have separation of church and state in this country. And private religious organizations have always had a right to be respected in their policies even when people disagree with them.

So do the Girl Scouts. Only the Girl Scouts were not founded on religious principles. They were founded to give girls the same options boys had through Boy Scouts. The Girl Scouts are a fine organization and were one of the first to include disabled girls in all activities at a time when no one did that. They have always been inclusive. And they have a right to continue to be. So they have transgender members? So they support Planned Parenthood? I abhor Planned Parenthood’s support of abortion but Girl Scouts are in a country with protection for their freedoms and they have a right to make their policies too.

I spent years in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. I cannot recall a single word of discrimination uttered against anyone and I was in small town Kansas. I didn’t know any gay people at the time but the scouts were open to all races. I never heard a single defamatory statement that I can recall during that time. I did learn a lot about respecting others, service to the community, working as a team, respecting people with differences, and how to be a better person. A whole lot. None of which I consider bad things.

My sister had positive experiences with Girl Scouts and she never brought home such issues to debate either. I think she was in Brownies and never in Girl Scouts. I never got far beyond Cub Scouts myself but I had lots of close friends who did. I don’t think either organization is indoctrinating people the way the accusers like to insist they are. I think both strive hard, despite any policies and any controversy, to serve their members and communities well and be positive influences. And these days that should be saluted, not disdained.

So people, if you don’t like the Girl Scouts because of their policies, don’t enroll your girls, but boycotting them and acting like asses over it is really uncalled for. Organizations like the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts send kids out to learn community service, working with others, and character. What kind of character will they learn from idiots protesting their cookie sales? That adults are stupid and they shouldn’t want to grow up? Do them a favor, let them wait a little longer to learn that sad reality.

For what it’s worth…

Life, Death and Other Ruminations (Thoughts On Suicide & Depression)

Okay, it’s Write Tips day, I know. Mondays I always post them. But this week I don’t have one ready, and part of the reason is that I just can’t get suicide off my mind. I got news yesterday that takes me back to a dark time in my own life.

When I was in my teens, I once sat with my dad’s Army reserve pistol in my mouth, aching to pull the trigger. The barrel was cold against my lips, the gun heavy–it shot .22 caliber but weighed like a .55 (he was a military doctor and didn’t need or want real firepower). I’d loaded it, because I had done so many times using it for target practice in the fields on my Grandpa’s old farm. I don’t remember why I didn’t want to live. I just remember wanting the pain to stop–pain of rejection, not fitting in, no one understanding me, feeling so alone. I also remember picturing pieces of my head all over the wall and my mom’s face as she had to kneel down and clean it up. (She probably wouldn’t have had to do it herself but that never occured to me.) I just couldn’t do that to her, so I put the gun away and left their room and went on to live another day.

Since that time I’ve toyed with the idea a couple times when I was depressed or down, but never seriously thought of suicide again. Not to the point of acting on it or even planning it. But a high school classmate’s older brother, who was a family friend, killed himself when we were in high school. He ate a shotgun in a Kansas field, and so I can’t help, as I watch another family go through this nightmare, thinking about that day and wondering what was in my friend, Todd’s, mind all those years ago, which made him pass that point of no return.

Most people have a really hard time understanding suicide. Most people just don’t get why anyone would do it. Oh they joke about people who had nothing to live for or this and that, but when it really comes down to it, they just can’t imagine. But for those of us who have had serious depression, it’s easier to contemplate. Because being in that deep, dark place is a very dangerous place to be and it feeds on itself in its attempts to defeat you. No one’s told me the specific circumstances of my latest friend’s actual death, but he had to have been depressed. Happy people don’t take their lives. Happy people have hope. Deeply depressed people couldn’t find hope if it stared them in the face.

How is this possible?

Depression is such a deep darkness and sadness that literally it’s impossible to believe at the time that you could ever get out. God can’t even reach you there, and, if you believe in a God who’s everywhere, that’s devastating. People may know you’re down and say encouraging things but they just bounce off the surface, never sinking in. Because people always do that for those they care about but you know the truth of your own real patheticness and worthlessness. They’re just being kind but you know they can see. Your life isn’t worth a thing and you’re just a burden one everyone. Eventually you reach a point of such anger at yourself for wasting everyone’s time and emotions and energy on your worthless self that, frankly, relieving them of the burden seems the only kind thing you can do. Enter suicide.

Most people don’t want to be a burden. Especially to those we love. Even if we don’t really believe they can truly love us or understand why. We don’t want that delusion to be a burden so it’s our fault for deceiving them or sucking up all that energy and if we die, they’ll be better off. Oh it may hurt in the short run, but they’ll eventually realize we were holding them down and be so glad we’re gone. So relieved the burden is over.

Sounds nuts? Well, it’s not right thinking. But that is somewhat what it’s like to be depressed and suicidal. It’s hard to explain to someone who’s never lived it. In any case, it’s truly a tragedy when someone goes there and doesn’t find the way out.

The M*A*S*H* theme song went: “Suicide is painless. It brings on many changes. And I can take or leave it if I please.” But the song is, frankly, entirely bullshit. Suicide is not painless and you either take it or you don’t. It’s final. It’s permanent. And the changes mostly come for the pained people you leave behind. Most families live with that pain the rest of their lives. Parents may divorce after the suicide of a child. The burden is just too much to bear and they wind up taking it out on each other. Siblings may follow in the suicidal footsteps, especially if one is close to the dead sibling. Or they may engage in other dangerous behaviors from drinking to promiscuous sex, etc. Whatever the details, suicide absolutely is NOT painless. It’s devastating. It’s not a gift to a family. It’s one of the most selfish, cruel acts known to man. Killing one’s self is never the right thing for anyone but you. And only in your mind is it right for you.

It’s so sad to think about anyone taking their lives, but especially the two young people I have known. The tragedy of a life cut short. A lost hope for victim and all who loved them. A lost future. A waste.

So my thoughts are on suicide and life and death and depression today. Don’t worry. I’m not suicidal. I’m just grieving the broken world in which such destruction of lives happens way too often to way too many good people.

If you have loved ones, give them a hug today. Tell them you love them. Tell them how much you look forward to every day with them and to the future, whatever comes, with them in it. Then think about my friends and their families and say a prayer. Both for comfort for them and for the blessings you have. None of us really deserve them. Whether you believe they’re from God or in God or not. Take the time to do this. Because life is precious and every moment counts.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎

4 5-star & 11 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $3.99 Kindlehttp://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

 

Hello 2012! Good Riddance 2011! (Predictions & Reflections)

Well, 2011 is gone and I am as glad as anyone it will never return. I thought 2010 was a bad year but 2011 was so much worse. In may 2010, I lost my full time job. By the end of the year, my part time one also went away due to my out of state job search and their wanting continuity. Unemployment problems began. We made it through 2010 without a relapse of Bianca’s health issues, but in February, 2011, they came back with a vengeance, resulting in her spending most of February through May in various hospitals against her will and causing a great deal of financial and emotional stress for me. While I did sign my book contract at the end of 2010 and see my debut novel published to good reviews and even a B&N Book Clubs Honorable Mention on Years Best SF releases, overall, 2011 was pretty unhappy. I did complete a sequel to The Worker Prince and start a new heroic fantasy novel. I outlined some other ideas and I did see stories published. I made my first paid sale to Tales Of The Talisman early on but it won’t appear until Summer 2012. Residential Aliens finally bought my long standing Worker Prince prequel story, “Rivalry On A Sky Course” and published it a few days before the novel’s release. I also sold stories to the anthologies Of Fur and Fire and Wandering Weeds and got the editing assignment and completed Space Battles, which will feature yet another Worker Prince universe story. Both Wandering Weeds and Space Battles should appear in 2012 along with The Returning, book 2 in the Saga Of Davi Rhii and hopefully other things which have yet to materialize.

SFFWRTCHT became a major thing in 2011. I started it in Fall 2010 and it grew into a majorly respected interview series with a column, guest posts and much more. I got bigger name guests and publishers partnered with me to get me arcs of their books. I also started columns on the  blog as well and am looking into a podcast.

My first book tour was a success and a lot of fun in 2011 and I plan another one for mid-2012 to promote both The Returning and Space Battles. I did my first podcast interviews, author interviews and guest posts all as part of this tour. Additionally, I attended my first Cons as a panelist and author guest. And moderated my first panels. I now do them a lot more often and am enjoying the opportunity to share my knowledge, vision and ideas with a larger audience and interact with them. I really feel like I got legitimized as a member of the professional SFF community this year and that’s a really good feeling.  I also got my first reviews. Most were positive, thankfully. And I’ve learned as much as I can, applying it as we edit The Returning for its 2012 release.

As for 2012, after what I’ve been through, I’m hesitant to make too many prediction, and, frankly, not very optimistic. But based on the few positives from 2011, I can make a few guesses. I imagine SFFWRTCHT will continue to grow. If it’s approved, my membership in SFWA will commence as an affiliate member. I will have three more books published, two anthologies and one novel with my material. North Star Serial will finally come to ebook and I’ll be writing more episodes at some point. I also hope to make my first traditional publishing deal and get an agent. I really feel like those are the next steps in my career but we’ll see.

I have quite a few Con appearances and signings scheduled for 2012. My first signing was a success despite low attendance. I didn’t promote it well due to a date change and just not being on the ball. But we sold well above the statistical average number of books for a signing which I consider a huge success. I will be an Author Guest at Convergence and ConQuest. With Convergence having an average attendance of 5k, that’s a big deal and it will coincide with my having Space Battles and The Returning released, giving me five books with my work to sell. I also plan to attend ChiCon WorldCon and several more area cons and will aim for World Fantasy and GenCon as well.

I have to write book 3 in the Saga Of Davi Rhii, finish The Relic Of Aken, my heroic fantasy, and do draft two of Sandman, as well as write those North Star stories.  I have two steampunk novel ideas and an urban fantasy I would like to get to. And I’d like to get back to short stories outside North Star despite my failure this year to do much with them. I really feel I am terrible with that area of craft but since novels are doing so well for me am focusing my attention there for now. The sole exception being North Star because the present run is almost exhausted and the zine wants more episodes to complete the cycle.

In any case,  I also hope 2012 brings financial stability again, either through a book contract or a steady job or both. This living on the edge has been very devastating, causing me to have serious depression for the first time, gain a lot of weight, and have a lot of health issues. And getting back on a even keel would really change how I produce and enjoy life in 2012. With Congress playing games on unemployment extensions, my current account runs out in February and it’s uncertain how I’ll get by. My parents have strained their resources helping me and I don’t know how to burden them any further. Let’s hope 2012 is not my return to flipping burgers. That doesn’t seem like a good use of my Masters.

Anyway, there’s my reflections and predictions. I tried not to be too negative. Most of you have already seen my hard life posts so why rehash it. After all, isn’t the goal to predict a happier future?

In any case, I hope 2012 brings better times for all of us.


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎

4 5-star & 11 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $3.99 Kindlehttp://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.