How Am I Different Than Before 9/11?

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black-nwr-9-11-never-forget11With this year’s anniversary of 9/11, I didn’t necessarily want to just rehash where I was on that date (although I’ll never forget working at WONU-FM as a morning show producer watching it all happen and then helping to report it on a radio station). I’ve been down that road repeatedly. It is helpful to revisit the past and to understand we all share a similar story from that day. We can all remember where we were…what we were doing…how we felt.

But what I wanted to spend a few minutes today on was who I was then compared to who I am now. In a way it’s a very difficult assignment. The lives we lead are continuous, leading us constantly along an edge — a cliff — of who we are now compared to who we used to be. But I think I can accurately answer some things about the “me from the past.”

I always loved history and geography (I teach both of those subjects at the high school level now), but what 9/11 did for me was open my eyes to the lives of those in these strange and distant lands. Sure, there was the initial hate and desire for revenge, but we also were able to see the women and children who had been kept in a state of fear and repression in the old Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. We were suddenly made aware of the oppressive governments in the Middle East — some that operated from a basis of Islam, and some that merely used Islam as an excuse, a smokescreen.

At the time, I was a newly-minted college graduate. I had mastered four years of post-secondary education and came out on top. I knew what I needed to know to make it in this world, and then 9/11 came and shook me to the core. Who were these people that had spent years planning and plotting to kill and hurt us? You could easily dismiss them as simple radicals who operated outside of their religion (and for the most part be correct), but by slapping a label on them you would be ignoring the reality of their lives. You would be ignoring what led to their feeling of hopelessness so much that they felt they needed to lash out at America.

Out of the discovery of what was actually in the Middle East, what happened? Many things — invasions and wars. Some may have been justified, some not. That isn’t a discussion for today, but ultimately what those 19 terrorists started 14 years ago has led eventually to Saddam Hussein being taken out of power in Iraq. It’s led to the Arab Spring were numerous despots saw their power they held get taken away from them. It’s led even today to the Refugee Crisis that has dominated the news lately. Our actions do not happen in a vacuum. They have long and sometimes unintended consequences. Did the terrorists hope to destroy and cripple the U.S. 14 years ago? I believe they did. In the end, if they could see the chaos they unleashed in the Middle East, would they repeat their actions? I’m not so sure.

But again, as I look at myself and the person I am today, I know that the events of that day changed me. I became more empathetic. I saw people on TV as people. When I saw the grainy forms falling from the Twin Towers, I cried for those who felt no other option than to plunge hundreds of feet to their deaths. When I saw the anguish from family members searching in vain for those who would never return home, I couldn’t stop my emotions from getting the best of me.

And why would I want to?

It hurt when I saw those things. I wanted to cry with every additional second I watched television that day and the next few days. I felt an emptiness in my stomach for the lives that were shattered and broken on that day. But for all the pain I felt, I am grateful. I am a changed man, discovering a world outside of my own shell. Before that day, I mostly was concerned with myself. In this post-9/11 world, I think I have more sensitivity to the pain around me. And that pain, while it hurts in the moment, leads to more compassion, more love, more of what it really means to be a human. Not just an American, but human. Our nationalities are an accident of birth. I am lucky beyond belief to be a native of this country, but what if I had been born in North Korea, or Afghanistan, or Liberia? How are they deemed less worthy of a life than me just because of the country of origin?

I suppose in some ways, this also helped open my eyes to adoption as well. I was still three years away from being a father for the first time, but after that, my wife and I decided adoption was what we wanted to do for our second child. In a pre-9/11 world where I was oblivious to the plight of the areas of Not-America, would I have done this? I don’t know, but somehow I doubt it. And my life is richer for it. Some of the moments in the adoption process were difficult, but at the same time, I am not sure I would have made it though them were it not for the emotions I felt as I sat in front of a TV 14 years ago.

Today I spoke to one of my classes about 9/11. I thought I would make it through just fine, especially since the seniors in high school were just 4 years old when it happened. We didn’t share the event. But as I spoke and the room quieted down, I realized the trauma is still with me. As it is with most every American who went through that day. I don’t like it, but I don’t want to give that up, either. As John Green has said, “That’s the thing about pain, it demands to be felt.” I got choked up talking about what I experienced on that Tuesday, but it helped make me into who I am.

How am I different? I’ve changed in so many ways it is just ingrained in me. Of course, I would never wish 9/11 to happen, but with it, I believe it helped transform me into the man I am. My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone on this day. #neverforget

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Book Review — Nomad

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Whew.

After reading Nick Cole’s The End Of The World As We Knew It and Matthew Mather’s Nomad within a day of each other, I was mentally exhausted. The two books wore me out. I described how Cole’s book was an exercise in retracing our steps in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse yesterday, but Mather’s book was a visceral look at a very specific end of world event. Both had the hallmarks of apocalyptic fiction, but they were as different as can be when it comes to the action and plotting.

nomadIn Nomad, Matthew Mather tears things apart. Families, countries, economies, planets, galaxies…all get ripped apart between the covers of his latest novel. I read his earlier book from this year — Darknet — and found it frightening in a way that was almost difficult to describe. In Darknet, the threat is real, but invisible. In fact, the antagonist can strike and be gone again without you even knowing it, the only traces are digital breadcrumbs left in its wake.

In Nomad, Mather does it again, creating an invisible villain — the titular astronomical anomaly — but the effects this go-around are more immediate, more violent, more physical. Instead of bank accounts and identities being torn asunder, it is the literal earth that undergoes an upheaval in Nomad.

The story is fast-paced and energetic from the get-go, placing all of our characters in Rome. Some are there for pleasure, some for work, and others are trying to hide from the authorities. The latter is our young protagonist Jessica. We first meet her while she is on a tour of an Italian castle with her mother, but her story goes much deeper and gives her a rich and detailed backstory. In fact, as the story kept unfolding, we kept seeing new aspects of Jessica’s character that led to numerous “aha” moments. Mather wonderfully wove her story in the fabric of Nomad and gives us a great character we can live through in this book as well as others to come.

What was great about Mather’s previous books was the scientific reality he’d grounded things in from the technological terror of Darknet to the scenarios he plays out in CyberStorm. The same is true for Nomad, with actual astronomical possibilities. In fact, the very anomaly he showcases in the book popped up in the news as a discovery in just the last few months. The terror of space really isn’t what we can see — it is what we can’t see, and Mather proves it with this book.

Mather takes the reader on a wild ride, and all of it feels genuine and authentic. Our characters are real and we want them to be real and to make it in the face of overwhelming adversity. With all that can possibly go wrong, can humanity go on? What will an event like this bring out? The best, or the worst in us?

As for the next books in the planned trilogy, Mather certainly has a plan for the second book with the path for our characters, but planted enough seeds along the way to make sure the reader knows the path will be rocky and difficult. I massively enjoyed this book and am very much looking forward to Sanctuary

Book Review — The End Of The World As We Knew It

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With the long weekend and another day off yesterday, I was able to polish off some of that reading list that never seems to shrink. I posted my review of Hank Garner’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son yesterday, but that was really the tip of the iceberg.

On Tuesday night, I finished Nick Cole’s latest book, The End Of The World As We Knew It (TEOTWAWKI). It was epic. It was grand. It was heartbreaking and yet hopeful. More on that in a bit.

In a Nick Cole hangover today, I finally got around to starting Matthew Mather’s Nomad. I kept hearing great things about it, but it just came out at a bad time to get to it immediately (same thing with Cole’s book). With a few hours riding in a car today, I figured it was as good as a time to start as any. I couldn’t stop. Any free moment I had, I was back at the Kindle, craving more of Mather’s version of the apocalypse. I LOVED it, but for different reasons than why I loved Cole’s novel. I’ll share my thoughts on Nomad later this week…first I want to get TEOTWAWKI off my chest.

teotwawkiFirst off…I hate Nick Cole. I hate that he can write like he can. I hate that he makes me care about his deeply flawed characters. I hate him so much I can’t help but love him just a bit.

I will admit when I first opened the book, I struggled with the first few pages. Found footage in book form. Ugh. It seemed like an unnecessary plot device, but after a few pages, it settles down. Yes, there is the aspect of these recordings and journals being found and pieced together, but the stories are quite broad and involved.  As a reader I found the two main stories quite distinct and after a while I forgot they were “found footage.”

In that case, it does draw comparisons to the modern-day standard in zombie fiction — World War Z. Max Brooks’ classic is well known for being a series of vignettes that are only tied together by the slimmest of threads (NOT the movie, which features Brad Pitt as a very capable thread). In this case, there is a sense of that as well, but instead of it showcasing the tales of survival (or death) at the hands (and teeth) of the zombies, Cole shows us the humanity left behind in its wake. He shows the emotions, the torment, the shame, the bitterness, the economics, the brutality, the…life that is left when the plague wipes out most of the nation. What he does better than Brooks from a narrative point of view is he uses the protagonists of Alex and Jasonn (mostly Jason) to find all of those aspects of humanity in the aftermath. Jason’s journey is one made by countless characters throughout literature, starting with Odysseus. He needs to find the love of his life, but with Alex he only has the vaguest idea of where to look. Along the way we see his faults, his fears, his failures on his trek from New York to Los Angeles.

There really is so much to take in along the way, Cole could have easily tripled the size of the book with the rich details he added with developed secondary characters. Shoot, Cole could write a whole other story with just the character of Chris, or The Lady, or…any number of them.

But we get Jason and Alex. Star-crossed lovers, separated by thousands of miles of land and millions of infected zombies between them. Who are they? What choices do they make? How does that affect everyone else? What does that do to their very souls?

I loved Nick Cole’s book. Described as “The Walking Dead” meets “The Notebook,” I can honestly say as someone who hasn’t watched either (I know, I know!) that this book delivers. If you like a healthy dose of philosophy and romance with your zombie literature, this book is for you. I really could go on and on about what I felt as I flipped each page of this book, but suffice it to say I felt all the things. I felt joy, sadness, anger, shame, courage, and fear. Cole places you at the center of the apocalypse and makes sure that you know that each character has their own apocalypse. Each person gets their own ending and even with similar circumstances, each ending is unique. Read this book. You won’t regret it.

Book Review — Seventh Son of a Seventh Son

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7thson

Today I’m reviewing Hank Garner’s latest novel, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. I’m a big Hank Garner fan, but not just because of his writing. He has definitely been emerging as a talent and its hard to deny it when people like Nick Cole rave about his writing. But, lately I’ve been taken so much by his Author Stories Podcast. Hank has been running his podcast for a little over a year now, putting out a weekly interview with an author. Many of the authors are indie up and comers, but lately he’s had HUGE interviews with Andy Weir (The Martian), Matthew Mather (Nomad), and Hugh Howey (WOOL). I love listening to these things and I get a lot of encouragement and motivation from them each week.

But, when you come back from his podcast page, check out his latest book. Here is my Amazon review:

When I read Hank Garner’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, I kept loving it, seeing Garner’s growth as an author with a fantastically creative novel. The first thing I read of Garner’s was Mulligan, and while it was good, there were a few pacing issues that sometimes could keep the reader distant from the action. In Seventh Son, Garner has amped up the action and keeps his characters moving with a clear motive and momentum throughout the book. Even the characters are not always who we think they are and their actions go against the grain at times, adding to the intrigue.

I remember first hearing about Garner’s book when it was tied to the Apocalypse Weird series, but somewhere along the way, Garner separated it from that universe. It is clear Garner’s book can stand on its own, with a full realized backstory going back thousands of years to set up the action that takes place simultaneously in 1865 as well as the present day.

Our main protagonist, Oliver, is the title character who is tasked with being the secret keeper for his family’s legacy. The main problem is that the life he was destined for arrives when he least expects it and the secrets he protects are even a secret to him. As he tries to figure out what he is meant for, and who is actually is, the reader is taken on a great ride of ancient sacrifices, futuristic travelers, and secret organizations.

I loved Seventh Son of a Seventh Son and look forward to the next book from Mr. Garner.

Remembrances of my Grandma

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This was quite a summer. I didn’t get all the things done I had planned, but I did a lot of important things. Things I don’t regret one bit.

One of those things was saying goodbye to my grandmother. Grandma Long was 99 years old when she died in July — a month shy of her 100th — and was the cornerstone of my mother’s side of the family. I know I can’t claim much when it comes to Grandma Long; all the grandchildren except for me and my siblings lived in North Dakota by her. But I still knew I would regret it if I didn’t make it to North Dakota for her funeral. It was a long trip, but it was worth it.

Since we didn’t live in North Dakota, my parents tried to make sure my siblings and I got time with grandma and grandpa. I was the last one to spend significant time with them — six weeks over the course of the summer of 1991. She taught me a lot and I learned a lot about the value of hard work during that time.

But perhaps what I learned most from Grandma Long was what I ended up taking when I left. My mom asked if I wanted anything when I got ready to leave the farm this summer and I took…books. Ultimately that’s what I learned from grandma — the love of words on a page. Everywhere you went at grandma’s house, you could find a book, or a Reader’s Digest from 1986, or some other piece of literature.

Of course, I didn’t learn to read or fall in love with reading at grandma’s house, but her love of learning meant she was a teacher in a one-room school as early as the 1930’s. Her educational career spurred on her children — all four of grandma’s children (my mom, two aunts, and uncle) worked as teachers at one time or another. That educational line trickled down even further into my immediate family with my older brother and I both going into education with our wives working as teachers as well.

So when I had a look around, I didn’t want gold plated dishes, jewelry, or priceless heirlooms. I was grateful for a handful of books from her shelves. The books she surrounded herself with were dated for sure. (I have a story about a science report I attempted to research once at her house using World Book encyclopedias from 1960. About the Moon. The Moon. That we didn’t land on until 1969. Oy.) But while the copyright dates might have been from her childhood or even before, the knowledge was immeasurable. In an era before Kindles and Wikipedia, my grandmother had a library at her house. Her house in the middle of North Dakota miles away from the nearest town.

I hope that I can pass along my own love of knowledge and my passion for learning to my children and my students. When people look back at my life, can they say what we did for my grandmother? If they can say a tenth of what they did about her, I’d be honored.

Flash Fiction Challenge – Repulse

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Repulse (2)

What’s this? 

A little cover I whipped up for a flash fiction story I wrote last week. It’s called Repulse and it’s up for voting at The Leighgendarium, Preston Leigh’s blog. He’s had an open call for Flash Fiction for the past couple weeks with some sweet prizes up for grabs. I’m not gonna deny I would like to win, but there are some great stories up on the Flash Fiction Challenge page. What I am going to ask you to do is read through the stories (including mine) and vote with your heart. (and your fingers of course) You can vote for three at a time and you can vote once each day (24 hours). If my story is good enough for your top three, thank you very much. If it isn’t, thanks anyway.

Regardless, I plan to include Repulse in a short story collection down the road, so you’ll see it again.

What’s it about? Here’s a short blurb:

It’s been twenty-three years since his home planet was destroyed. A typical day clearing asteroids brings him a life changing message, a voice from the past that he will never forget.

Well, what are you waiting for? GO VOTE!

David Bruns Reviews The Immortality Chronicles

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We’re getting some AMAZING reviews in for The Immortality Chronicles, but one thing the authors featured in the book cannot do is review it ourselves through Amazon. I’ve been mentioning the past few weeks how I felt about many of the stories, and fellow author David Bruns has taken it upon himself to write up his own review of sorts.

So click on David’s face to be taken to his blog where he shares his thoughts on the book.

David author pic - cropped-minhttp://davidbruns.com/2015/09/the-immortality-chronicles/