Ferguson In My Back Yard

So this is a thing that happened close to where I live: “Lawyer: Autopsy shows Saratoga Springs man shot from behind.” In case you didn’t read that on Wednesday, September 10, 2014 a young black man carrying a “Samurai-type sword” was shot and killed by police officers in Saratoga Springs, Utah. An autopsy of the young man, Darrien Hunt, showed that he was shot exclusively in the back, which seems to be completely against the police description of the incident. This of course brings to mind the equally tragic shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO.

For those of you not familiar with Utah, it is a predominately white, Mormon/Christian, conservative old timey sort of place. Yes, we do have our diversity in small doses scattered around the cabinet. I even have one black and two gay friends. Diversity!

The reason I point this out is to note that issues like what’s happened recently in Ferguson, MO don’t really hit home here in Utah. I feel outrage. I feel disgust. I feel sad. But I never feel like stuff like that is real. It’s all stuff that happens somewhere else. I’m mad it happens anywhere, but I’m very distanced from it. I know a lot of that isn’t just geographic. Hell, I’d be willing to wager all my money that if I went to a Panda Express with a sword strapped to my back the worst I’d get is turned away from the restaurant and maybe have my sword confiscated.

I once had my bag searched in the airport because I had gone camping and forgotten to remove my knife before flying to Florida. And don’t think I was a Wally Cleaver white boy at the time. I hadn’t shaved in a week, my hair was long and messy, and I was wearing what could have been a pretty decent unabomber costume. When the TSA found my knife after I had just told them I didn’t have any weapons with me you know what they said? “Do you want to mail this home or leave it with us?” That was it. I left my knife and flew through the sky like a dove.

Point is, I wasn’t even worried when the TSA searched my bag or when they found a dangerous weapon I had just lied about. Sure it was unintentional, but I had no reason to worry. I’m white. So when I hear about young black men being killed, it bothers me but it doesn’t have the full weight of reality. I think a lot of people in Utah feel that way. When 90% of everyone you interact with is white, racial inequality is something you have to make an effort to see and understand. It’s not something you notice every day, even when you see it. Then a young, black man is shot in the back and killed in my metaphorical back yard, and suddenly it’s real. It’s here, in my life. And it’s something I can’t take for granted anymore.

Now, just to be clear, I’m not making any statement of guilt regarding the specific incident with Darrien Hunt. I don’t know who the officers involved are. I don’t know anything about them. I will make a guess though that they don’t see themselves as racist. I will guess that they were a bit freaked out and acted more out of fear than livid, burning hate. I will guess that they have families and friends and colleagues who respect and love them and support them right now, and I will guess that they deserve that support. Finally, I will also guess that the reason they shot a man in the back has a little to do with the sword he was carrying and a lot to do with the color of his skin. And that’s the real dangerous canker we find in our society today. As individuals, it’s not our fault. It is, however, our responsibility to fix it because whether we see it or not, it’s part of our lives.


Book Review: Lud-in-the-Mist

I’ve wanted to do a review of this fantastic novel for some time, but I never really knew how to start. This review says everything I’ve wanted to, and does so in a particularly eloquent way.

Naturally, an Annotation

The first couple of pages of Hope Mirrlees’s novel are filled with deceptively charming descriptions of the quaint and picturesque Lud-in-the-Mist, a city of merchants at the confluence of two rivers, the Dapple and the Dawl, in the country of Dorimare. In the very first paragraph, though, we are told, rather matter-of-factly, that “towards the west, in striking contrast with the pastoral sobriety of the central plain, the aspect of the country became, if not tropical, at any rate distinctly exotic. Nor was this to be wondered at, perhaps; for beyond the Debatable Hills (the boundary of Dorimare in the west) lay Fairyland.” The surname of its protagonist, Nathaniel Chanticleer (= Rooster), Mayor of Lud-in-the-Mist, is a further hint that we’re in fable territory. We also discover that the Dapple has its origins in Fairyland. But very soon, the narrative takes a subtly menacing and sinister turn: Nathaniel Chanticleer, for…

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Depression, Suicide, and Robin Williams: Hopping on the Bandwagon

So earlier this week Robin Williams killed himself. That was a shock to most people. It was a shock to me. It made a lot of people think and talk about depression. It made me think. It made me want to say something, but I didn’t know what. I read this article in Slate today, and it opened me up. There was one idea that kept popping up in my head in a very inarticulated fashion. The article addresses it perfectly:

“There were a lot of comments on Twitter about how much Robin Williams was loved and what a shame that he didn’t know it. I didn’t know Robin Williams, but I bet he did know that he was loved. I know that I am loved. Maybe not on a Robin Williams scale, but I have friends and family who would do anything for me, and I absolutely know this. But there comes a point where love does not matter. When things are bad, I don’t care that people love me. All I can see is that I’m a burden, that everything I have ever done is wrong, and that these good people who love me are wrong as well. At my lowest, love cannot save me. Hope, prayers, daily affirmations—none of these can save me. Therapy and medicine are what matter, and those don’t always work either.”

My situation isn’t nearly as dramatic as that of many people with depression. I don’t feel, like the author of the Slate article, that I am a burden to those around me. I have felt similar to the author of this web comic that I never wanted to commit suicide, but sometimes in my life I’ve felt that it wouldn’t be the worst thing if I just got hit by a bus. I don’t want to scare or panic anyone close to me here. I promise I will never kill myself. If anything, I might just disappear one day the way my uncle did. Although I will be kind enough to leave a note. Even then though, I recognize that these things aren’t good solutions to any problem. They’re just not reasonable. Besides, I’d rather keep my family and friends happy.

The thing is though, when you’re depressed or otherwise mentally ill, these things aren’t good enough arguments. I know people love me, even when my brain is fucked up and doesn’t really understand it. I love them too, and I’d never want to hurt them. But sometimes life is just so damn frustrating, and you just want it to be over. Even remembering the joy and love and happiness doesn’t help because you know the problems will be back and life will be shitty again. In the end, suicide isn’t actually about the emotions. It’s a perfectly rational, logical conclusion to a disappointing life. Pain will never end, so why not just end it?

Now, I’ve only become aware of my own dealings with depression within the last year. I don’t know if it’s a thing I’ll have to deal with forever or just temporary for me. I do know a lot of people for whom this is a constant, daily issue. And what I really want to say, to them, to everyone else, and mostly to myself is this: I understand the despair. I understand the desire to be done. I understand the rationality of the decision. And most of all I understand that it’s all bullshit.

A trend in the past few days is the phrase, “Depression lies.” I don’t know about that. I don’t know that life isn’t pointless and frustrating and sometimes awful. I do know that life is important. I know that a life doesn’t belong to just one person. Every action you take has consequences. Suicide is not about you, or it shouldn’t be. You might think you’re a burden on others. You might think they’ll be better of without you. You might be tired of putting up with the drudge that is life. But it doesn’t matter. Because you’re life doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to the people around you, the people who care about you, and ending it WILL put a burden on them. So this is what I have to say: if you are considering suicide call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline here 1-800-273-8255 (US only I’m afraid, but it has counterparts all over the world.) Then, call the people who own your life and ask them first if you’re allowed to end it. I guarantee they won’t be cool with it.

Hometown Is Now Available!

Although I haven’t read the full novel yet, I can tell you Matthew Keville is one of the best underappreciated writers I’ve encountered. Get this book, and you won’t be disappointed.

Dreams of the Shining Horizon


I am proud to announce that, after months of work and anticipation, Hometown has now gone live!

Hometown is available at Amazon (in both print and Kindle versions), Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords.

My thanks go out to everyone who has supported me on this long road.  Special thanks go out to Ruben de Vela, who did the fantastic cover art, and to Meaghan Horner, who turned it into a proper cover.

Now comes the part that’s hardest for any self-publisher: promotion.  That’s a big part of what publishers are for, after all.  With that in mind, I’d like to ask you all for your help: please help me to get the word out.  Tweet.  Share on Facebook.  Reblog.  Pass it on.  Word of mouth is pretty much all I’ve got.

Thanks to you all.

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A Story For Five-Year-Old Me

It’s been a while since I’ve published an actual story on here. Digging around some old files on my computer, I found this one. It’s a true story, not my usual fare, and one I haven’t told many people. It was never meant to be published and as such has a number of technical problems, but I don’t want to do a major edit right now. Besides, sometimes it’s nice to just let something stand on its own, even when it’s weak. Sometimes, it’s nice to let something be imperfect. Sometimes, it’s good to remember that stories, like people, can be worthwhile even through their faults.

sleeping child with black dog

Bootsie, My Dog

“Turn around! Go home!”

Although I loved our family’s cute little poodle-chihuahua mutt dearly, I hated when she followed me to school. I was on my way to afternoon kindergarten, and had just left home when I noticed her trailing behind me. I yelled and ranted at her, but to no avail. She couldn’t understand me, and I shouldn’t have expected her to. Of course, my five-year-old brain didn’t know that. I saw her run the other way, and thought that was the end of it. “Go home!” I shouted, and pedaled onward without a backward glance.

Now 5000 South, the street I lived on, was just a quiet, backwater, boondocks, middle of nowhere road. My siblings and I often played our games of football, frisbee, super heroes, soccer, and everything else right on the street and never once did we hear a, “Get out of the road!” or “You’re going to get yourselves killed!” Not parent nor neighbor nor well-meaning stranger ever scolded our blatant disregard for the dangers of the asphalt. Simply put, there were no dangers. Not for us. Not in our barely traveled, barely settled part of town.

Half a mile from my house down 5000 South was 2500 East. 2500 East was the main thoroughfare of our neighborhood. Although not heavily traveled by anyone’s standards, 2500 East was dangerous. Long stretches of road sat on a hill with steep ditches on either side. There were no bike lanes. No sidewalks. Kids walked or rode their bikes on the side of the road, but that offered little protection. In addition to these extreme circumstances, the road ran along a series of gently rolling hills, and while this may seem idyllic it also gave motorists a distinct disadvantage regarding their line of sight. It was not uncommon to only be able to see up to a tenth of a mile in front of you, and if you managed to come over a hill and run into a gaggle of safety blind pre-adolescents, a screeching of brakes and honking of horns was quick to ensue.

I was just over the crest of one such hill when I happened to look behind me, I forget why, and there she was. Happy, loving, smiling over her whole face as she pranced along after me. I stopped my bike and waited for her to approach me, still smiling, happy to have been allowed to come along for the ride. I scolded as well as a five-year-old is able, but we were too far from home to send her back. As much as it bothered me, the only solution was to continue on to school, then call my mother to come pick her up.

We enjoyed a pleasant ride the rest of our trip. I did enjoy her company, though it bothered me to be put upon in such a way without my consent, and I found myself happy to spend this time together. We arrived at the school, and I placed my bicycle on the rack. I didn’t lock it, not in those days and that neighborhood. My friends often locked theirs and wore helmets, two occurrences which I found incredibly senseless and endlessly hilarious. I placed my bicycle on the rack, free for any would-be brigand and headed into the school.

“Stay! Stay right here,” I told her in my sternest voice. I didn’t want her running off and getting lost or mangled. I had faith that Mrs. Walker would let me use the telephone, my mother would come retrieve her and all would be well. This wasn’t the first time this had happened. I knew my phone number and address even before starting kindergarten. 3000 East 5000 South. 789-8553. I was always good with numbers, and I have to admit mine weren’t the most difficult for anyone to remember. I was confident, with a surety that only children and the mentally ill possess, that all would be put to right.

The first thing I noticed when I entered my classroom was the lady behind the desk. Most notably, she wasn’t Mrs. Walker. Mrs. Walker was my teacher, and she had taught a number of my older siblings. She was kind and approachable. I knew I could trust her. This stranger wasn’t any of those things. To be fair, she probably possessed many of the same qualities as Mrs. Walker, but to me and my five-year-old, agitated, shy brain she was the worst possible situation. All the same, I couldn’t leave Bootsie outside in a strange place not even tied up.

I approached the impostor with trepidation. I was a shy child, and I was very respectful of authority. Yet while it is no lie to say I was respectful, it was a respect born out of fear. I intensely feared being reprimanded and, more than that, branded a bad child. All this led me to the conclusion that the best thing for me to do was stand by the teacher’s desk until I was noticed. The stranger was busy doing something. In my mind she was scribbling away in a notebook, but whatever the truth of it she was busily looking down at the desk. When she finally raised her head, her gaze swung up straight past me and to the clock on the wall.

“Everybody take your seats. It’s time for class to start.”

Being the dutiful boy I was, I now felt completely torn. I was afraid for the well-being of my dog, but didn’t see I had any recourse except to be silent and obey teacher’s orders. I grudgingly marched to my seat, where I spent the next few hours worrying over Bootsie. As soon as I was dismissed (by the teacher not the bell!), I ran to where I had told her to ‘Stay!’ I am sad to say, she was not there. Sometimes, when she got lost, she found her own way home. Sometimes a kind neighbor brought her back. This time she was simply gone.

For a short time I held out hope she would turn up. I felt, in the way only a child can feel, that I was directly responsible for her demise. I never spoke up when my mother or a brother or sister wondered what could have happened to Bootsie. I didn’t want to face it myself. My wife tells me, “But you were only little. There’s no way you could have known. Besides, you were scared and just trying to be a good kid.” Although this is all true, none of it really helps. I still feel that childish guilt and responsibility. I still want to tell Bootsie I’m sorry, and that if I could go back I’d stand up to the stranger. I want to tell my five-year-old self it’s okay to speak up, and it’s even okay to get in trouble, especially to help a friend. But I can’t do any such thing, so I tell the five-year-old still inside me it’s okay to feel bad, that next time we’ll do the right thing, and damned be the consequences.

Proactive Anti-Sexism

Sexism is nothing new in the world. We’ve been trying to fight it in our culture for a few decades now, but still it persists. In fact, it seems like it thrives in places, and unfortunately a lot of those places are where I like to spend my time. I’m talking about the world of gaming, literature, speculative fiction, and just nerdery in general. These of course aren’t all the places we still find sexism, nor even the worst of them, but it’s still a problem that needs addressing. I like to think of myself as a feminist/humanist/egalitarian whatever you want to call it, and I think in my life I’m fairly good at not being a total dick towards women. And you know, that’s great. Good job me for not being terrible.

While that’s a great starting point for feminism, it’s not really a great landing point. I was reading this article yesterday from Polygon, which is basically just a showcase of the horrible treatment women in gaming receive. That article links to this one from Leigh Alexander, which is not necessarily better but was more useful for me personally. I don’t contribute actively to the sexism in industries I love. I find it appalling, disgraceful, horrific, and completely disgusting. But I don’t really do anything to actively combat it either. I do try to share articles like these two. I try to be a good example of not being an asshole. I do my best to educate people about bigotry when given the opportunity. But I don’t really do anything. Part of that is just that there’s not much to be done, or rather there’s not a lot that I can do personally. However, reading these articles, I decided I can be more proactively anti-sexist.

One of the ways I am still allowing our inherent cultural sexism to influence my life is in my choice of authors. Most of my favorite authors ever since I was a child have been male. That’s not surprising seeing as industry (not just publishing, but most if not all western industries) has favored male products over female. Most of the books on the shelf were written by men. But not all. And that’s the point. I didn’t have to have mostly males as favorite authors. I just bought in to our society’s sexism. I don’t have to do that anymore though. So, from now on, for every book I read by a male author, I’m going to buy one by a female author too. If I buy a male authored book, I’m also going to buy a female authored book. If I check a book written by a man out from the library, I’m also getting one written by a woman. This in no way will fix all the sexism in the world. It won’t even fix all the sexism in my life. This is a small step on the way to making myself less sexist. It’s the beginning of what I hope will grow into a lifestyle not just absent from active sexism, but proactively anti-sexist.

Acea and the Seven Ancient Wonders: A Preliminary Review

I recently got to read the sequel to Acea and the Animal Kingdom, which I review here. At least, I read a draft of the sequel. Through my mad connections, which I totally have you guys, author Kyle Shoop sent me an early draft to read and comment on. Because it was an early draft, the book that is eventually published will not be the same as I read it, and for that reason I don’t want to do a full review. I do, however, want to say a couple things about the book and the experience.

First, it’s really fun to get an early copy of something. Especially as a writer, looking at someone else’s work before it’s all polished and shiny is really interesting. I can’t wait to read the book in its final version to see what has changed. In addition to professional interest, it’s also just fun to have access to something most people don’t. It feels like being a kid again and joining a secret treehouse club.

Second, the book itself is immensely fun. It’s written for children, and that comes through in the writing. That is not say it’s bad writing, but simply that it’s not as nuanced or subtle or dense as say James Joyce. Think early Harry Potter style. Easy to read, and fun. You guys, so much fun. It was hard to stop reading. There are different views on art and on what constitutes good art. One thing many critics forget is that kids loved The Power Rangers, not because it was good but because it was fun. I’m not comparing the Acea books to the quality of The Power Rangers. God knows, they are so much better than the writing for that show. What I am saying, is that the strength of these books lies in just how imaginative and fun they are to read. For my money, that’s exactly what I want from a kids’ book.

Sorry, that’s veering dangerously close to actual review territory, but I hope you get the point. If you liked the first Acea book, you’ll love this one. Finally, I want to say thanks to Kyle for letting me read it, and trusting me enough to make suggestions and comments on it. One of the hardest things about writing is finding good people to criticize your work in the way you need it. I hope my suggestions helped, but even if they’re all rejected it was an honor just to be a part of Kyle’s writing process. Thanks Kyle.