Seven year itch

Today is January 6, 2021. That means a few things. First, I somehow survived 2020. Despite all odds, despite the world throwing everything in my way, I’m still breathing. Whether I want to be, well, that’s the question, isn’t it? And 9 months into the two weeks to “flatten the curve” has me wondering what the answer really is.

Second, it’s the day the electoral votes are supposed to be counted. (I’m actually writing this post the night of the 4th, so I don’t know what’s going to happen.) That’s a whole other story, one for a different post. Suffice to say, this is one of the last chances to stop the coup against our great nation, to stand up for liberty and against oppression.

But today also marks an anniversary, of sorts. More of a commemoration, actually. Seven years ago, my cousin passed away. And that changed my life for the worse, in ways that still reverberate to this day.


It was a Monday. As is often the case after Christmas, my sleeping schedule was horribly out of balance. I can’t remember the exact times, but I had stayed up through the night before, and I was ready to fall asleep around 4 PM. I’d just climbed into bed, in fact, when my grandmother called. She was talking to my mom, and my brother suddenly ran into my bedroom.

As a quick digression, my aunt is a mother of one and a huge animal lover. Her only son was named Joey. Her dog was named Zoë. (Yes, the dots are necessary. She insisted.) The rhyming was intentional, and it stemmed from an incident whose details I can’t quite recall. Whatever it was, it happened as she was bringing the dog home, all the way back in 2005.

Anyway, back to the story. As I was getting comfortable, my brother burst into my room and said, “Zoë’s dead!”

I was shocked for a moment, because it’s always sad to hear about a family pet dying. But it’s only a dog, not a human being. So I made a little joke, we laughed, and I shrugged it off. A few seconds later, I hear a bloodcurdling scream from my mom downstairs. “No!” she wailed. And I do mean wailed. I had never heard a sound like that out of my own mother. I didn’t know she was capable of it.

Well, I had to find out what was up. Surely she wouldn’t be doing that over a dog. As I’m coming down the stairs, I hear her crying and saying, “He can’t be!”

Zoë was female, so there went that theory. What really happened was that my grandmother (ten days shy of her 91st birthday) had misheard “Joey” as “Zoë” at precisely the wrong time. The one who had died was not, in fact, the dog, but the man.

That Monday was awful already. It was the coldest day of the year, with a temperature that never got out of the 20s and ended up somewhere around 0° Fahrenheit. Bitterly cold for Tennessee, and actually the coldest January day for my small town since the 1980s. The doors of my mom’s car were frozen shut. The pipes running to my upstairs bathroom burst in the night. And we would have to brave this frigid evening, because my cousin really did die.

We met at my grandmother’s house. Trailer, rather, the same one where she passed away a little over a year later, and the same where my uncle did the same in 2020. My brother and I rode with my mom and stepdad. Another of my aunts, who lived next door, had come down, along with her youngest daughter. Everyone was on the verge of tears, if not openly weeping. We hugged, shared words of consolation, and generally settled into a kind of vigil, waiting for more news.

That came soon enough. Joey had been sick. I recall that very well. He’d had the flu at Christmas Eve; I caught it from him. Influenza rarely kills someone 35 years old, but it can happen, and it’s even more likely than a person the same age dying to the Wuhan virus. Especially if that person is, to put it bluntly, morbidly obese. He wasn’t one of those people you see on TLC, eating everything in sight and never moving from their beds. No, he was a very active, very energetic man who just happened to have some kind of medical problem that left him almost totally unable to lose weight. So he was probably north of 400 pounds at the time of his death. (A lot of it was muscle, to be fair. And he was tall: 6’5″, the tallest in our family by a good 5 inches over second place, which happened to be me.)

In his later years, he’d had problems with his heart, stemming from his weight. He also had some kind of spider bite (I think?) on his leg that never properly healed—his treatment was on hold until he recovered from the flu. So he was by no means in perfect or even good health, but death always comes as a shock in someone so young.


I didn’t see him until the funeral. I couldn’t. While everyone else went to my aunt’s house, about a quarter of a mile up the road, I stayed with my grandmother. Except I didn’t so much stay with her as lock myself in her room where she couldn’t see me cry.

And cry I did. Pretty much constantly.

I’ve often mentioned my emotional attachment to music. On this occasion, I listened to Black Eye Galaxy, an album by blues rock musician Anders Osborne. I’d never played the whole album in one sitting before then, and I haven’t since. It’s just too powerful, too poignant. No set of songs has ever, in my opinion, encapsulated such pure, undiluted anguish. That was exactly what I needed at the time. I needed someone to tell me that they had felt something like what I was feeling.

Because Joey might have been my cousin, but he was more than that to me. He was closer to a big brother. I looked up to him. After my father left, I did so even more, using him as inspiration for my own big-brother nature. He was a friend to everyone, a big, cuddly teddy bear of a man who could still get angry if you crossed him or his family.

Most of all, he respected me like no one else in my life. When I spoke, he listened. If he needed advice on anything from computers to music to stereo modding to growing peppers, he turned to me, and he wasn’t afraid to tell anyone why. That’s what I lost. Seven years ago today, I lost not only my cousin, but my best friend, my mentor, my biggest fan.

I haven’t been the same since.

Two days after he died, I dreamed of him. We were out shopping with our respective mothers, and I followed him to the games aisle. Our family has a tradition of game night, and the two of us often talked about new games to get. (Settlers of Catan was the one I wish we’d had a chance to play.) In the dream, we were browsing the shelves when I suddenly looked over at him and said, “I guess we don’t get to play games anymore, do we?” If anyone ever tells you that your heart can’t break in a dream, they’re lying.


I was a pallbearer for the first time in my life, as I had been the odd man out for my grandfather’s funeral in 2012. I was also the music director for the service, and I still have the list of tracks I used:

  • Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Simple Man”
  • Randy Travis, “He Walked On Water”
  • Brad Paisley, “When I Get Where I’m Going”
  • Vince Gill, “Go Rest High On That Mountain”

Not all my kind of music, I’ll admit, but it served its purpose well. And I only cried for one of the songs, but I dare anybody to listen to Vince Gill without getting at least a little misty. It’s just impossible.

The days that followed were the hardest for everyone. My aunt refused to take down her Christmas decorations, because he was the one who put them up. She still takes weekly visits to the cemetery where he was buried, and she was very upset a couple of weeks ago, when the road was blocked due to a suspicious vehicle scare. (This was right after the Christmas bombing a hundred miles away in Nashville.)

We all had to adapt to life without one of us, without the natural leader and protector we had lost. Our family parties are a lot…less now. Smaller, less raucous, and I’m the one leading all the games. Before, that was an honor: Joey, first of anyone else, declared me the permanent game master. If we were playing any kind of trivia game, he said, I had to be the one asking the questions. Otherwise, nobody else could win! Since he left this world, that position became a necessity, as we just don’t have enough people to balance out my, ah, wide body of trivia knowledge.

Most of all, I lost one of the very few people I felt I could trust to stand beside me through thick and thin. My uncle’s health was growing worse, my mom was spending more and more time taking care of him and my grandmother, and I just didn’t have anyone older to talk to. Not in the same way I could talk to him. Just as when my father left, I became the older one, the man in charge. I wasn’t ready for that when I was 12, and being 30 didn’t make it any easier.

The loss, and the responsibility that came in its wake, sent my depression to a level where I could no longer ignore that it existed. For seven years I’ve lived with it, dealt with it in whatever way I could. Two years ago, I realized I would be older than Joey had been at the time of his death. Something about that resonated in me. Call it survivor’s guilt, because I honestly felt like I didn’t deserve to outlive him. I didn’t actively consider ending my own life, but I did passively accept that, if it did happen, it wouldn’t be unjust. After all, I wasn’t half the man he was.

I still feel that way. He never married, never had children. Given the state of the world and my life, I doubt I’ll have the chance to outdo him in either respect. But he had a decent job, a number of loyal friends, and a generally positive attitude that, in my seemingly eternal depths of despair, I outright envy.

Seven years have gone by. In one sense, that’s nothing. In another, it’s forever. So much has changed that he’d probably find the world almost unrecognizable. He’d be asking me for help to navigate some of the strangeness we have to face today that just wasn’t there even as late as 2014. Or we might have found ourselves on different sides of this great divide that is taking over every aspect of life. I can’t say for certain. I do know that there are times I miss him more than ever, and times when I would gladly give my own life if it would bring him back.

“Family comes first” is a motto I use in all my books. The first novel I released, Before I Wake, was my way of illustrating that. It was in a lot of ways, for him. The protagonist, Jay, is so named because those were my cousin’s initials. And I’ve added small nods to him in other works, as well. The Soulstone Sorcerer has as Ian’s boss a very…large man named Joseph, who recently had gastric bypass surgery; my cousin had been considering that for some time. The Endless Forms series has a number of references. As his mother was the one who pitched it, I felt it would be a good place to toss in as many as I could fit.

But those are only small reminders, my way of coping with a tragedy. After seven years, the memory remains. So does the wound. Oh, it’s no longer fresh, but it left a scar on my very soul, one that will never truly heal.

The end

We’ve finally reached the end of this miserable year. It seems like just yesterday we had things like hope, friendship, and society, but it’s really been nine months since such concepts were outlawed, ostensibly to protect us all from a ravaging virus that, as it turns out, is about as deadly as the flu we deal with every year. Add in a real-life coup d’etat right here in the good old USA, and it seems as if the world is in the throes of a nightmare the likes of which we haven’t seen since the days of Nagasaki.

My own nightmare reached new depths, too.

2020 was supposed to be the year I turned it around. In January and February, before the world went (rather, was driven) totally insane, I had plans. I was going to get a full-time job. I’d move out on my own, maybe to somewhere around Nashville, like the uncle I had just bid goodbye. This Christmas, if everything went just right, would have been the first I’d celebrate as a husband, and maybe even an expectant father.

Well, none of that happened. Instead, I’m stuck in my bedroom, the place I’ve spent most of the year. The last time I was inside a place of business was getting my glasses in June; I walked right back out the door when they demanded a temperature screening. Since then, I don’t go in anywhere but the homes of family members, with the lone exception of Election Day.

I’m a loner by nature, but I’ve never felt more alone than this. And that, I think, encapsulates 2020 for me. It’s the one lesson I’ll take from this year. I’m alone but for my family. There’s no one looking out for me. No guardian angels, whether in the literal or metaphorical sense. If I’m going to succeed at anything, it’ll be by my own merits, my own luck…neither of which I have in any great quantity.

The current political situation has forced me to ally with all manner of people I used to consider undesirable. Fundamentalist Christians, conspiracy theorists, and people who really do deserve to be called racists. I don’t love them. I really don’t even like them. But they at least share some of the ideals I hold most dear. They have hope, and I envy them for it.

They have faith, as well, and that is something else I’ve lost. I can’t look at this mess of a world and see any grand plan. Nor can I forsake it entirely, in the belief that suffering through this life is necessary before getting the “true” reward that awaits beyond. When I read right-wing posts going on about Biblical prophecy or equating a vital medical procedure to murder, I have to shake my head. They would call me a heretic or heathen. The only reason I still associate with them is because the other side would call me worse.

I know I don’t fit in with them, and I never will. Honestly, that doesn’t bother me much. I’ve lived 37 years without fitting in. Given the choice between gritting my teeth through sermons or walking on eggshells each day to avoid being canceled, I’ll go with the ones who aren’t starting riots and destroying the lives of those they disagree with.


But where do I go? That’s the real question for 2021, and it’s one I’ve been thinking quite a lot about.

I can’t keep pretending things are going to just get better on their own. I also can’t believe anyone is going give me a real chance to better myself. They haven’t yet, so why would next year be any different?

One of the great things about the internet is the vast wealth of knowledge available. That knowledge is an endless source of fascination. If that weren’t enough, it has also taught me much about myself, showing me that the things I considered personal were, in fact, already in existence. Indeed, they’re often named and studied, but I never knew until I thought to look it up.

In this case, I’m referring to a personal philosophy. “Bionatalism” is the word I didn’t know I’d been looking for, and I found it last week. Put simply, it’s the belief that reproduction is a moral imperative.

That belief is one of my most fundamental. I recently found out that my cousin has been cheating on her husband. Obviously, that’s horrible, but there are extenuating circumstances that make it not all her fault. You see, he had a vasectomy a few years ago. Without telling her beforehand. Something about that really did repulse me more than the thought of her cheating. A part of me felt that he deserved it.

I’d never do such a thing. I made that vow to myself when 37 was closer to my mom’s age than my own. Since summer of last year, when the prospect of a serious relationship became a tantalizing possibility, I’ve been thinking of that vow, along with others that follow the same line of thinking.

Unlike many people my age, I want children. I want the chance to be a father, to teach a son and a daughter all that I know. I yearn for the chance to hold that bundle of joy. I’d take the 3 AM feeding and the endless crying and the diapers and all of it, if only I could hear the “I love you, Daddy” when I get home from work. As long as I can watch their eyes light up on Christmas morning, or see their expectant, hopeful faces as I unwrap my own Father’s Day gifts.

You won’t hear most men say it, but I’ll shout from the rooftops that I want to raise babies as much as I want to make them. To me, that is the ultimate goal of life. I’m without even one child, when I’m almost at the age at which my father was working on his fourth (whom I’ve never even met!), and I consider that my biggest failure by far. Everything else I’ve screwed up pales in comparison to the thought that I can’t accomplish the one thing life does. My one inherent purpose.

With each passing year, I get that much closer to the end of my time as a man physically capable of reproduction. If I reach that point with nothing to show for it…well, I try not to think about that. Doesn’t mean I’m successful.

So much of my depression and anxiety come back to that, especially this year. I’ve put enormous effort into getting my life on track, setting goals and whatnot, only to be beaten back at every turn by a world that has gone beyond uncaring and become actively antagonistic. I constantly feel like a failure, and that robs me of what little joy I have left, sending me further into the depths of despair.

I know I’m running out of chances, but what chance is there? I couldn’t support a family on minimum wage, I’m apparently unemployable for anything else, and starting my own business just isn’t possible until we push out the pandemic scaremongers.

My options are limited. My dreams are hanging on by the slimmest of threads. I’ve pushed away my truest friends, given up on those whose friendship was contingent, and isolated myself. Why? I think it’s because, deep down, I feel like….maybe it’ll hurt them less that way. Like a dog that runs away from its owner when it knows it’s going to die, I’m hiding to keep from hurting those I love.

Rationally, I know I’m often making it worse, but I’m reaching the point where I just can’t bring myself to care anymore. Are we really better off living in the fantasy of “things will get better” forever? I don’t think so. Things only get better if we make them, and I’ve tried that. I’ve given all I have, and I’ve got nothing to show for it but the pain of failure. Over and over again.

2021 may be my last chance in so many ways. I’m willing to become a revolutionary, if that’s what it takes. I will suffer so that others might be free. I love liberty more than myself. Depression has only changed the magnitude of that difference.

I’ll continue to write. If I can’t have children in the real world, I’ll create my own. The pride of seeing my name in print is still enough to bring a tear to my eye, and the steadily growing collection of paperbacks I’ve written is…something like a family, I guess.

As for the rest, I can’t say. Whatever happens, though, I know only I can fix me. And I’ll have to do it alone. Just like always.

Twospeech: An experiment in English diglossia

The English language is, like so much else in today’s world, in a state of conflict. Especially in America, our language serves two purposes which are distinct and even, in some cases, diametrically opposed. Not only must it serve as a native tongue for the vast majority of inhabitants of numerous countries (the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, South Africa, and so on), but it has also been adopted, in the so-called World English form, as a modern-day lingua franca for most international communications.

Those two purposes, however, work against one another. By serving as an international language, the value of English as a literary language is devalued, for we native speakers lose the connection that every other language allows. Conversely, the “Anglo” cultural connotations present in the language can be seen as relic of colonialism. Why must speakers of, say, Japanese or Arabic care about how a particular offshoot of the Saxons lived a thousand years ago? On the other hand, why shouldn’t Americans or Canadians have the opportunity to forge a closer cultural bond with each other than they would have with nonnative speakers?

In other words, we have a clash between a culture wanting their own language and a world needing a language without strings attached. But there is an answer.

The lingua franca

In days gone by, people—Europeans, rather—would turn to Latin. The Romans ruled a large swath of Europe, along with parts of North Africa and Asia Minor, and they spread their tongue throughout their realm. Thus, even centuries after their decline and fall, their speech was still seen as a model. It helped, of course, that many of the languages spoken in those regions were descended from Latin: the Romance tongues of French, Spanish, Italian, and so on.

Latin, of course, suffers from numerous problems of its own. It’s a complex, baroque language, and the “New Latin” movement that started shortly after the Renaissance only made the situation worse. On top of that, it is still a human language, associated with a culture.

As that culture is now extinct, we can counter most of the anti-colonialist arguments. Using Latin as a lingua franca doesn’t spread Roman culture any more than using modified Arabic numerals in mathematics spreads Islam. Time and evolution have detached the Latin language from its roots.

To a lesser extent, we can say the same thing for Classical Greek. Here, the situation is murkier. Greek is a living language, spoken (obviously) in Greece. But there are significant differences in phonology, grammar, and lexicon between the writings of Homer or Plato and what’s spoken on the streets of Athens today. In that sense, we can make a lesser argument that Classical Greek is sufficiently acultural to serve as the basis for a global language.

Contenders

One might also consider other possibilities. Chinese script, for instance, spread throughout East Asia, penetrating Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, among other places. Sanskrit is the ancestor of languages spoken by over a billion people, and has a rich literary tradition of its own.

These do have their own problems. Chinese might have a unified script, but this hides a wide range of variation in the spoken form, so much that what Westerners call dialects should, in fact, be treated as languages in their own right. Thus, for a spoken global language, we would have to choose one, and that disadvantages speakers of the others. Mandarin might be the most prominent, but why pick it over Cantonese?

Sanskrit’s daughter languages are even more distinct, much the same as the Romance languages of Europe, so cultural favoritism isn’t as much trouble. Rather, the problem here is one of connotation. In the West, Sanskrit is often considered to be the tongue of mystics and monks at best, New Age pseudoscience at worst. In a quirk of history, its vocabulary didn’t penetrate far enough outside its initial borders to gain global recognition. Thus, we should call it a more distant third choice after Latin and Greek.

Two other contenders, Classical Arabic and Old Church Slavonic, we must also reject due to connotations. In this case, the factors are religious, as they are inextricably linked to Islam and Orthodox Christianity, respectively. As we want to create a world language that respects diverse cultures while promoting none of its own, those best known as liturgical or scriptural won’t work.

English as spoken

Fortunately for our purposes, English already has numerous loanwords and coinages in Latin and Greek. (Most of those coming from Sanskrit and its children are cultural loans such as yoga.) By some estimates, as much as 50% of English text derives from these two languages, and that percentage is even higher in technical and scientific contexts. Modern terms often combine the two, creating forms such as television or hexadecimal, further diluting any connections to the native tongues.

This extensive vocabulary can be the beginning of our world language. Indeed, it already is. Scientific terms built from Latin and Greek roots have been borrowed into languages all over the planet, no matter whether those places and peoples were ever even conceived by the Romans.

Thus, we see one fairly simple path to removing the appropriation and colonialism of English: using and creating new “classical” terms wherever possible. English is a more isolating language, though, meaning that it uses a lot of purely grammatical words. Articles such as the, linking verbs like be and do, and many more have no lexical content at all, so there’s no harm in keeping them. It’s only the “content” words we need to worry about.

Conversely, the “native” form of English should favor native-built content words rather than classical borrowings and neologisms. English-speaking nations and peoples share a culture with a long and storied history, the same as any other on earth. We should maintain it, add to it, without forcing it upon the rest of the world or leaning on others as a crutch.

In time, we would have two different varieties of English. One is the “internal” native tongue, respecting its history and culture without attempting to spread them. The “external” language, by contrast, serves as a truly cosmopolitan manner of speaking, accepting all but favoring none. Rather than a distinction of station, what linguists call register, we would see a dichotomy of inner and outer, effectively two languages, although they would remain very, very close in many ways.

This state is called diglossia, following the “classical” tradition of Latin and Greek neologism. Using a more native approach, we might call it twospeech.

What it’s not

Let’s get this out of the way first. Twospeech is most emphatically not another attempt at linguistic purity, whatever that may be. We’re not trying to remove all traces of foreign influence from English. Instead, the goal is to create a more solid cultural boundary between speakers of Native English and those of World English. On one side, we have the tongue of the common citizen of the United States, England, and other countries where English is the primary language. On the other, we have the citizens of Earth itself, humans of all stripes, who should transcend barriers of race and ethnicity.

What it is, or could be

The “world” form would, most likely, become the educated variant, in much the same way that European university students throughout the Renaissance and Enlightenment periods learned Latin, then used it in scientific publications. We’ll call this style epiglossia (the “over” language) or worldspeech, depending on which form we’re speaking.

“Native” English, however, would be the word on the street. Perhaps it would receive “rural” connotations, but the interconnectivity of today’s world will act as a brake on such tendencies. The key is that this form is only intended for English speakers. Yes, it sometimes brings back old words, including some designed by linguistic purists in the past. It also adds naturalized loans, particularly those from Anglo-Norman or the Viking invasions, and it necessarily must turn to its higher-class sibling for scientific talk. But it retains its own character despite that. We’ll call it demoglossia, the “people’s” language, or kinspeech, to emphasize the shared bond between English speakers.

Epiglossia

Epiglossia, then, has the following characteristics:

  • The lexicon is built mostly from Latin and (Classical) Greek roots, with borrowings from other languages allowed when appropriate, but only if they retain their cultural context. In all cases, phonological considerations should be taken into account, as well as the limitations of our script.

  • Grammar is formal English, as would be used in a research paper, professional speech, or government memorandum. In particular, colloquial phrases should be avoided.

  • Slang, being specific to a subculture, is best omitted, but common abbreviations are allowed. For example, “chem” for chemistry is acceptable.

  • Speakers should take care to consider the audience, using forms such as singular “they” if appropriate.

Demoglossia

Demoglossia charts its own course, with these guiding principles:

  • English grammar remains unchanged, but colloquialisms are allowed for all but the most formal situations, encouraged whenever speakers feel comfortable.

  • Although lexical items can be borrowed from Latin and Greek, as in epiglossia, prefer native constructions and coinages, using roots from Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Norman (and its related dialects of Old French), and words imported into English-speaking areas historically.

  • Deriving shortened forms from classical roots (including epiglossia itself) is acceptable. Illustrative examples include phone and TV.

  • Creativity is key, as the goal of demoglossia is to embrace the Englishness of our language.

Conclusion

This is just a sketch, but it’s an idea with merit. Many have tried throughout the years to create a “world” language, whether a fixed form of English or an auxiliary language such as Esperanto. Twospeech leans more toward the former, but attacks the problem in a different way, by accepting the inherent conflict between the two ideas of what English should be.

Today, the language is under assault from multiple directions, and they will eventually cause a split or perhaps even the fall of English as the international standard for communication. Embracing the notion that the language we speak to outsiders doesn’t necessarily have to match the one we use among friends is only doing what every other culture has to do on a daily basis. In that regard, Twospeech fosters linguistic equality.

It is true that this proposal doesn’t remove all the parochialism from World English, but it’s a significant step forward. In the coming weeks, I’ll expand upon this initial sketch, because I believe it to be educational, even enlightening.

Paperback Release: Lair of the Wizards (Hidden Hills 1)

It’s been awhile, but I’m back with a new paperback release. This time, it’s Lair of the Wizards.

For ages, the wizards guided the people of Stada. They brought knowledge, advancement. They were the bearers of the future. But generations have lived since the last wizards left the land for parts unknown. Now war with a neighboring realm is bringing Stada to the brink, and the tribulations of battle reach even to the city of Karston. Here, the wizards may be gone, but not forgotten. Here, their knowledge lives on, their secrets have been preserved. The tales all tell that the wizards lived in the Hidden Hills north of town. Although they left, their home remains, and when an earthquake rattles Karston, it reveals the path leading to the lair of the wizards.

The setting is circa 1500, in terms of technology and society: after the Middle Ages, around the start of the Renaissance, and with the Scientific Revolution almost in sight. So it’s not exactly fantasy, but a lot of the elements are still there: a feudal society, belief in magic, a moderately heavy emphasis on religion, etc. Oh, and it’s teen-focused, much like Orphans of the Stars. That’s just how I roll.

This one’s massive. Seriously. It has 52 chapters. The paperback weighs in at 660 pages. The manuscript itself hit 233,000 words. It’s my largest release to date, and the third-longest book I’ve ever written. (The longest is the sequel, Rise of the Wizards, which isn’t quite ready for release yet. And I promised myself I wouldn’t bring Heirs of Divinity into this discussion. Oops.) But that extra size gives me a lot more freedom. I can ramble, as I tend to do. I can build up more slowly, take a little time for digression. In other series, I sometimes feel rushed. Not so here.

I’ll be honest. I didn’t intend it that way from the start. Indeed, Lair was originally conceived as a series of short stories! By the time I’d finished four chapters, I realized that wasn’t going to happen, and I switched gears, turning it into the epic it became. Then, I started making plans to turn it into a novel series. I’ve got four in total: Lair, Rise, and the unwritten sequels Return of the Wizards and Legacy of the Wizards.


Before I give you the links to Amazon and Patreon, I want to talk a little more. First, the writing process, because this one took a long time. I started writing in 2015, finished the draft in 2017, and took three more years to edit it into the masterpiece I released today. In a way, it has covered my entire writing “career” up to this point. It grew. Vastly.

So did I. At the start, I didn’t have much of an idea where I was taking it. I’d written the first Otherworld novel (plus two and a half that I threw away), Heirs, Before I Wake, and a couple of short stories.

And then I had an idea. What if a few teens in a medieval-style fantasy world found evidence of modern-era technology? It would be, in a way, the converse of Otherworld. On top of that, I would be able to write something closer to “traditional” fantasy in terms of setting. Well, except for the fact that I find traditional fantasy settings boring. I actually like the post-medieval era more. One author (I can’t remember if it was Martin or Jordan or who) once said that the invention of gunpowder is the end of fantasy. I disagree, and I’m willing to prove it. The Hidden Hills series has early guns, and most of my fantasy-like settings are similar. (Occupation is closer to Victorian than medieval, and even Otherworld has early cannons now!)

Worldbuilding on this one was very, very sparse. I have no map of Stada, not even an outline. I didn’t make out demographics tables for Karston. Where I did take it into account, I made sure to go into detail, but this series is more focused on characters and plot than setting, so I cheated a bit to start. Since then, I’ve expanded in a lot of areas, such as the polytheistic religion of Stada or the geography of the wider world it inhabits. But the main focus continues to be the interaction of pre-modern characters and near-future technology.

As for the name of the series, that one came to me early, and it’s dear to my heart. When I first started writing, I imagined a town near a line of large hills or small mountains, much like where I live. Some of those hills would have their own history, as told by the people dwelling beside them. One pair, actually connected in the middle, gained a bit of a reputation for being haunted.

I live on such a hill. No joke. Wikipedia has two pages for my town: one for the town itself, another for the street my house is on. And that’s the longer one, because not one, but two ghosts have been sighted on this street. One dates back to the Civil War, the other to 1775. (For the record, I don’t believe in ghosts, but I’ve heard some awfully suspicious sounds over the last 18 years.)

The idea of a local legend about a haunted hill was just natural. It also made the perfect excuse to hide a secret underground bunker. But people couldn’t live there forever, right? They’d go crazy cooped up like that, a fact I recognized long before lockdowns were a thing. So they would have to come out eventually, and they would gain a reputation among the more mundane inhabitants of the town. Their technology, their secrecy, and their otherworldliness would set them apart.

From there, connecting the dots was pretty simple. The outsiders had to be wizards, right? And there’s the fantasy angle, even if there’s no “real” magic going around. Starting the story with an earthquake? A little hacky, but it let me hit the ground running, while also giving a reason for what was hidden to become somewhat less so.

But I still needed a name for the “haunted” hills, and this is where my family history comes in. Before I was born, my parents lived in the Hidden Hills trailer park. (Note, not a mobile home park. This was Tennessee in 1982. They were called trailers, even if they stood still.) Later on, my aunt lived there, too. In 2015, when I started writing Lair, my stepdad’s brother, who had been living over our garage until his COPD got too bad, moved into the very same place. In fact, the very same lot where I may have been conceived 33 years earlier. It was on my mind, and it just felt right.

I’m always looking for ways to give shout-outs to the ones I love. Lee’s son in Otherworld gets a native name I can shorten to Tommy so he can be named after my stepdad’s other brother, who passed away while I was writing A Bridge Between Worlds, as well as my grandfather. Ian’s boss in The Soulstone Sorcerer is an obese man named Joseph, in honor of my deceased cousin. Cam’s friend in Endless Forms is named Katherine Key for my aunt Kathy, whose initials are KEY. His favorite streamer is my brother. And the fourth book, once I get to writing it, is going to be based in Nashville for two reasons. One, my late uncle, who made a career there in music (and other things I can’t talk about) and always wanted to go back. Two, it’s much nearer to the woman I love, and putting her in a book looking like the only way I’ll ever get to be close to her.

For Lair, then, I went with the hills that were the most influential on my life. Not Signal Mountain, Lookout Mountain, or Walden’s Ridge. Nope. This series and its centerpiece location are named after a trailer park. Why? Because family means something. Especially these days, when you can’t count on anyone else.


So that’s the story behind the story. Now you can get to reading the actual novel. Make time, though. As I said before, it’s huge, and it’s priced accordingly. Over at Amazon, you can pick up the Kindle version for $5.99, while the paperback is $19.99. (Overpriced, I know, but it’s the only way I make any reasonable profit.) If you’d rather support me on a recurring basis, head over to my Patreon, where you can get Lair and a ton of other books in DRM-free EPUB format, starting at $1/month.

And, as always, keep reading!

On luck

Luck is a funny thing. Some people say it doesn’t exist. Others swear it does. Me? I’m conflicted on the subject, and here’s why.

I’ve stated my humanist leanings numerous times on here. I won’t say I deny the existence of deities or other supernatural or metaphysical elements. I simply believe that, if they do exist, they play little to no role in our daily lives. One look at the state of the world today is enough to support that notion, if you ask me.

But luck is different. While it might be considered metaphysical, it’s also quantifiable, in a sense. Take random chance, say the rolling of dice or drawing of cards. We can measure the positive and negative outcomes and, using statistical methods, determine the likelihood of each. Given enough samples, patterns might emerge. Anyone can have a run of good outcomes, a hot streak. Likewise, we’ve all experienced extended periods of bad outcomes. For most people, they tend to average out.

I’ve had my share of ridiculously bad luck. When I played online poker (before it was made illegal in the US in 2008), I got a royal flush once. That’s a rare outcome, around 1 in 31,000 hands for Texas Hold ’em. I also had a run of over 160 hands without being dealt a pocket pair: about 1 in 640,000 odds of that happening. You play enough, you tend to see some odd things, so no big deal. And we all knew that PokerStars was rigged to generate action, making that whole “3% chance to win on the river” more like a n 80% chance. (Fans of tactical strategy games and RPGs like XCOM and Fire Emblem understand my pain here.)

Running statistical tests on the hands I played and their outcomes showed that I did, in fact, lose more than I should have. Consistently. Not all of that can be chalked up to janky algorithms. Over the 4 years I was on PokerStars, I was about 1.5 standard deviations below the mean, so in the lowest 15% in terms of how likely I was to win based on the percentages.


Speaking of standard deviations, let me digress to a case where you might say I had extraordinarily good luck.

IQ tests are notoriously unreliable as indicators of absolute intelligence, as everyone knows, but they can be useful for comparison. If two people the same age, from roughly the same background, take the same test around the same time, then yes, you can compare their IQ. Get enough people like that, and you can start drawing a few conclusions. Not quite as many as proponents claim, but a few.

Now, IQ is traditionally defined as a normal distribution with a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 15. Thus, a person of “average” intelligence (for their age—this part is important!) has an IQ of 100. By the rules of math, about 68% of people have an IQ within one standard deviation of the mean, or in the range 85-115. Two standard deviations (70-130 IQ) covers around 95% of the population.

I’ve only taken one proper IQ test in my life, when I was 5 years old. (The one I took at age 9 was flawed for numerous reasons.) A funny thing I learned only recently is that those tests max out at 175. That makes sense. An IQ of 175 is five standard deviations above the mean, so 99.99994% of people are going to be just fine. But if you’re in that 0.00006%, what then?

Well, you get told that the people administering the test were “afraid to keep going.” In 1989, I didn’t know what that meant. In 2020, I understand that it was my mom’s way of saying that I hit the grading cap.


Yeah, I’m smart. So you could say I hit the lottery at birth, but everything since then? Not so much. Oh, I can hit those 1-in-10 and even 1-in-100 chances, but the bad ones certainly seem to outweigh the good. Parents divorcing during childhood? That was something like a 25% probability at the time. Major depression? Affects around 10-15% of Americans, myself included. The list goes on, and it has led, especially this year, to a lot of personal pessimism. I tend to expect the worse when I’m involved, for no other reason than I’m used to it.

Of course, some things I can control, to some extent. And those generally turn out decent, though rarely great. I take pride in my books, for instance; the only luck involved there is getting noticed, which I’ve yet to accomplish. It’s a similar story for the software I write. As long as I have a high degree of control over an outcome, I can make something out of it.

That’s not luck. That’s skill, determination, grit…whatever you want to call it, I’ve got it. If I’m working on my own, with my own deadlines and objectives, I’m good.

Only when other factors get involved does everything fall apart. Social situations, relationships, and my eternally unsuccessful job hunt are all good examples. Those aren’t situations where I can just try a little harder to push through to the end. It doesn’t work that way.

And that, I think, is what constitutes bad luck. It’s the state where, if you’re relying on someone or something beyond your control, you’re going to be let down more often than not. That does exist, whether you want to attribute it to probability (for every me, there’s surely someone with incredibly good luck; they tend to be CEOs, athletes, and politicians) or supernatural factors like curses. Honestly, I’d accept that I’m cursed—it would make a lot of things make more sense.

Until I see some evidence for that, however, I’ll continue to believe luck exists, and that I used all mine up for a brain that’s one in a million.

Novel month 2020 – Day 30

Today’s word count: 2,722
Total word count: 52,495

And we’re done. Whew. Considering there were about 5-6 days where I wrote nothing at all, and another 2-3 where I didn’t do much better, this is actually an accomplishment. I’ve finished 6 chapters (counting the prologue) of On the Stellar Sea, and it’s shaping up to be a decent novel. A worthy addition to the Orphans of the Stars series, in my opinion.

I might take a break from working on it now, though. As has been the case all year, my depression has interfered with my writing all month. I’ve suffered. I’ve made the ones I love suffer in turn. Nanowrimo this year was catharsis, plain and simple. It was a chance for me to get lost in a world of my own making, the one place where I still have a modicum of control. That may have saved my life. I’d say it saved my sanity, but I’m not sure I have any of that left.

It hasn’t been without hardship. The continued lockdowns have worn me down. The election madness leaves me genuinely scared for the future, and far less certain about my own place in it. I’ve spent eight months documenting my thoughts on such matters, sometimes speaking in great detail of the toll 2020 has exacted. Each new obstacle, each new attack on the life I was trying to build, leaves me one step closer to giving up for good.

I’m almost to that point. In 2017, I wrote like a maniac. Over 1.2 million words in total, quadruple my output this year. I told myself I was doing it because I didn’t want to deal with the real world. Now, I simply don’t feel I can deal with it. Yet I sometimes feel I can’t write, either. I’ve had more periods of genuine writer’s block since March than at any point in the past decade. I would say that it hurts, but…everything hurts these days. One more pain doesn’t change much.

I’ve failed at getting a job. I’ve failed at starting my own life. I’ve failed to respect the woman I love. I’m sure I’ll fail at nearly everything else I try in the future, because that’s just how my luck runs. For this one moment, however, I can say I succeeded at something. If November has one silver lining, it’s that I can always fall back on that.

Novel month 2020 – Day 29

Today’s word count: 2,263
Total word count: 49,773
Daily average: 1,716
Projected total: 51,489

We are on the precipice, folks. My goal for tomorrow is to finish off Chapter 5. Call it about 2,200 words again. That won’t quite be the halfway point of the book, but it’ll be close. With everything that’s happened over the course of November, I’m calling it a well-earned victory.

Assuming I get it done, that is. Let’s not count those chickens until they start hatching. After all, you never know. I could dump 400,000 totally legit words at 4 AM tomorrow.

Novel month 2020 – Day 28

Today’s word count: 1,864
Total word count: 47,510
Daily average: 1,696
Projected total: 50,903

So close now. I’m about halfway done with Chapter 5, and I have a real shot at finishing it in the next two days. (Assuming something else doesn’t happen to screw it up. Watch this space.)

On another note, why do so many of my books end up delving into adolescent relationships? I get that it’s because I like writing child characters, but On the Stellar Sea now has 5 of the things, because I goofed and ended up pairing Alicia and Aron completely by accident. Add in at least three from the Hidden Hills series (blatant plug: Lair of the Wizards paperback out next month!) and even Dusk & Dawn from The Linear Cycle, and I clearly spend too much time on this topic. Maybe it’s because I’m hopeless at handling anything more mature?

The merchants of despair

I am a humanist.

I’ve said that before, but it bears repeating. Now, most people who call themselves humanists do so out of a kind of rebellious nature. They’re agnostics or atheists who disapprove of such labels for whatever reason. Worse, too many tend to be the “militant” sort of atheist who hold their lack of belief with the same dogmatic zeal as the most fundamentalist Christian or Muslim.

I’m not like that at all. Instead, I see humanism as a celebration of humanity and its accomplishments, as well as a belief in its capability for good. We can achieve great things. We have. History is full of human milestones. We’re the only species on Earth (and, as far as we know, in the universe) to domesticate plants and animals, use spoken and written language, harness the power of fire, work metals, build cities, travel to the moon, cure diseases, split the atom, and a thousand other things. Above all, however, we introspect. We philosophize. We are aware of ourselves in a way no other creature has the capability of being.

That’s beautiful, in my opinion. The creations of man, whether mental, physical, or indeed spiritual, are beautiful. While we have made some awful mistakes and inventions, progress is, on the whole, a good thing for everyone involved. The rapid explosion of progress since the two most pivotal eras in history, the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, has given us much to be thankful for. We live longer, healthier lives than our ancestors. We have more material wealth. We understand the world far better than they could hope.

Some people don’t like that, and I honestly can’t understand why. Why are they so dead set on keeping us poor, sick, ignorant, and isolated? A thirst for power explains a lot of irrational behavior, yes, but naked displays of dominance aren’t usually so…insidious. In 2020 alone, we have seen countless examples of human beings arguing for their own extinction, a position not only evolutionarily suspect but morally bankrupt. Yet this position finds backing in the media, on campus, and even in scientific papers. Why? Is there some kind of secret death cult out there?

Until a couple of weeks ago, I would have dismissed that notion as a conspiracy theory on the same level as the Illuminati and Pizzagate. But then I read a book that made everything click.

Humanity’s enemy

Robert Zubrin is best known for his advocacy, often to the point of mania, of manned Mars missions. For over 30 years, he has led the charge in fighting for a permanent human presence on the Red Planet as soon as possible. Growing up, I heard his name on numerous space documentaries, and I still see interviews he has given on the subject. (The series Mars is one example.)

He has other writings, though. In 2011, he published Merchants of Despair, in which he describes an “antihuman” movement that, according to his theory, has been operating for nearly two centuries with the express goal of controlling population by subverting progress.

Numerous examples show the antihumanists in action. Most are concerned with eugenics, the hateful policy of forced sterilization, abortion, and contraception for a specific set of undesirables: blacks, Jews, Indians, Uighurs, the mentally disabled, etc. The targets change depending on who’s doing the extermination, but the principle remains the same. If we don’t stop “those people” from reproducing, eugenicists claim, they’ll overrun us good and pure folk and drag us down to their level. Obviously, any sensible, rational person would reject such notions, but most people are neither rational nor sensible. Thus, population control movements have grown over the past 200 years.

It began with Malthus, who argued incorrectly that the Earth was running out of land for food, and severe measures to curb population growth had to be implemented right now in order to save our race from extinction. His theory was so wildly inaccurate that it couldn’t even predict past resource use, but he had friends and believers in high places. Malthusian principles created the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s, then racked up an even greater death toll in 1870s India. In both cases, the country in question was a net exporter of food at the time, yet the British government forced residents to starve in order prevent some mythical calamity.

Fast forward to the 1930s, and we know what happened. The Nazis were the gold standard for eugenics, raising genocidal population control to an art form. Following the same principles as Malthus, Hitler argued that Germany would eventually be too crowded to feed itself. But now there was an added wrinkle, because science could “prove” that some races were more degenerate than others. And wouldn’t you know it, but Hitler’s enemies just happened to number among them!

Before the true horrors of the Holocaust were revealed—or even started, for that matter—many Americans were wholeheartedly in favor. Herbert Hoover attended the Second International Congress of Eugenics in 1921, seven years before he would be elected President of the United States and plunge our country into the Great Depression. J. P. Morgan was there, too. Representing the British (45 years after the India debacle, mind you) was Charles Darwin’s own son.


That was before World War II. With the end of the war, the opening of the death camps, and the subsequent Nuremberg trials, the whole world got to see what eugenics really looked like. So you’d think that would be the end of it, right?

Wrong.

Now, instead of open calls for extermination, those advocating population control became more subtle in their efforts. The best way to stop overpopulation, they decided, wasn’t to kill people who were already here, but to stop them from being born in the first place. Thanks to some politicking from such notables as Robert McNamara, forced sterilization became a condition of US foreign aid to Third World countries. Doing it at home (mostly for criminals and mental patients) was legal until the 1970s. The entire Vietnam War can be seen as a eugenics experiment, as those in power took the slogan “Better Dead Than Red” literally.

Abortion as a political and population-control tool also sees its birth in this era. Planned Parenthood formed out of the eugenics movement, and its original goal of choice carefully neglected the possibility of choosing to have children. Around the same time, one Communist Party official in China read up on these efforts and got the great idea of limiting all families in his country to one child each. Never mind the disastrous consequences for the fabric of society. Isn’t running out of food worse?

Yet the biggest crime to lay at the feet of the antihumanists is, in my opinion, environmentalism. In the past decade, and especially in the past four years, we’ve seen more radical forms of the Green movement grow like a cancer in our society, but they were there from the start. The Sierra Club has deep ties to eugenics, for instance.

Hatred

Here’s where it gets interesting. And evil, in my opinion.

We’ve all seen it this year. “Nature is healing,” they say, as they show weeds growing through cracks in concrete or wild animals overrunning a city street. “We are the virus,” they claim, often adding that the Wuhan coronavirus (most likely created in a Chinese lab, so not natural at all) is some kind of divine wrath for our excesses. How a virus with a fatality rate of around 0.1% is supposed to be apocalyptic is beyond me, but you can’t expect logical consistency from some people.

Such extreme environmentalism has been around for over half a century, and Zubrin argues that it shows a more modern form of antihumanism. Instead of calling for deaths or preventing births, green eugenicists want to use economic and government pressure to make having children financially unbearable. To do this, they have blocked the progress of technologies, inventions, and medicines that save lives. We must not help people, they argue, because then those people will breed. Better if they die sick and miserable than be fruitful and multiply.

DDT was the first casualty, according to Zubrin. The endless campaigning against nuclear power is another front in this fight. Though he was writing with incomplete information, he even targets global warming, and here is where the last piece fell into place for me.

We know that the fears of global warming are overrated. Even top climate activists such as Michael Shellenberger (Apocalypse Never) admit this. Current climate trends are well within the limits of human civilization. Sea levels aren’t rising rapidly; the Maldives archipelago, to take one example, was supposed to be completely underwater by 2018, but they’ve now announced that they’re building new airports in anticipation of heavier tourism. Add in the work done by sleuths such as Tony Heller, who illustrate how temperature records are being manipulated to claim accelerated warming, and you get the feeling that somebody somewhere isn’t telling the whole truth.

Earth isn’t going to become a second Venus because we drive too much. In fact, as Zubrin illustrated nine years ago, the slight overall warming predicted through the 21st century is actually beneficial. It increases arable land, and actual climate shifts may open up even more. We’re seeing that today, with record crop yields all over North America.

Those who fail to learn from history will find that it repeats itself. 2020 America is in real danger of turning into a mirror of 1845 Ireland. We have plenty of food. We have plenty of jobs. We have plenty of toilet paper. Yet government control and overblown fears are preventing us from using these resources properly. They’re just saying it’s because of a virus instead of overpopulation by “inferior” races. That’s all.

But the result is the same. Lives are being lost. Not to starvation, as then, but to other preventable factors. Suicidal depression, of course, is one I’m intimately familiar with. Yet we also need to look at the back side of population control. How many children weren’t born because of lockdown restrictions? How many couples didn’t get a chance to meet because they were under effective house arrest? How many relationships ended (or are on the verge of ending, or never really got going in the first place) due to the loss of a job or the failure to find one?

Whatever that number is, it’s not zero. I know for a fact.

Humanity’s hope

That’s why I’m a humanist. I see these problems in the world, and I realize how many of them are of our own making. Worse yet, they’re easily fixed. We have the means to give food to everyone on Earth. We have ways of making power literally too cheap to meter. There is more than enough wealth to go around.

We shouldn’t have to force women into tubal ligation surgery out of some fear that they’ll have too many kids. We shouldn’t distribute condoms as business cards or demand IUD implants as conditions for government aid.

We shouldn’t claim that a one-degree change in temperature is going to wipe out all life on Earth. We shouldn’t argue that the cleanest, safest form of energy production we have is actually nothing more than a way to make bombs. We shouldn’t pack millions of people into unsanitary cities, then deny them treatment for the diseases that inevitably occur.

We can be better, but only if we embrace progress. Not progressivism, but progress itself, the liberal ideals of the Enlightenment which state that, as man is the only animal with the capability for reason, it stands to us to use that reason to shape the world, and society, in a positive way.

To do otherwise is to advocate for death on an unimaginable scale. Earth’s population is roughly 7.7 billion at present. With our current technology, we can easily feed, house, and care for at least twice that. But the goals of the environmentalists, the globalists, and others who, I now see, have been aligned with the idea of eugenics all this time, are to reduce our numbers to pre-Industrial levels. The problem with that is simple to recognize: technology allows our carrying capacity to increase. By banning those advances which produce more food or lead to longer, healthier lives, that capacity drops precipitously.

They would kill not the six million of Nazi fame, but over six billion. Some claim the goal is inscribed on the monument known as the Georgia Guidestones: a population not to exceed 500 million. Think about that. To reach that figure, we would first have to let over 90% of the world die. Then, those who survive would be forcibly limited to replacement-level reproduction. How many children would never be born in such a world? How many artists, statesmen, inventors, scientists, friends, and lovers would never take their first breath?

These are our enemies. They must be, for those who value life must always stand against those who preach only death.

Now I understand the cult-like behavior I see so often in the world. It really is a cult. It’s a cult of despair, destruction, and death. Looked at in that light, the lockdowns, the Great Reset, Chinese propaganda, Antifa, global warming fearmongers, and so many other things make sense. They all share one thing in common: they’re antihuman.