Why is Dystopian Sci-Fi so Popular?

1984

Farenheit 451

Brave New World

What do those books have in common? Well, any true readers knows that they are some of the most popular works of fiction in the last century. More specifically, they are some of the best dystopian works penned in the last 100 years. Many of us were introduced to those books in high school, though I doubt we truly understood the underlying meanings hidden in the books. Reading them now is chilling. I know many people that read 1984 and start putting things together. They finish the book convinced Big Brother is staring at their forehead. To tell you the truth, with the debate boiling over the use of drones in the US, who knows where we’ll be in another 50-100 years.

the-11-best-dystopias

Crazy conspiracies aside, you have to wonder why dystopian books and movies are so popular. There are different types of dystopian fiction. Some of them revolve around some alternate governmental society that is inevitably controlling every aspect of society. When I think about this type, I always think of V for Vendetta. It was an amazing graphic novel and translated perfectly into a movie. Aeon Flux is another example. The Hunger Games is one of the latest of this type of dystopia to make it big, and it introduced the genre to a whole new generation. The recent self-published success story, Wool by Hugh Howey, would translate into a fascinating film or TV series.

zombies

Another type is apocalyptic dystopia. Who doesn’t watch the Walking Dead? That’s the ultimate example of this type of dystopia. Revolution is another.  There is really no shortage of apocalyptic dystopia fiction out there in both written and film formats. They are certainly not new, but there sure have been a bunch of them lately. It seems like the more our own government gets tangled in a political wasteland, the more apocalyptic fiction pops up. 

What does the popularity of dystopian fiction say about us as a people? Well, we love the idea of rebellion and destruction. When we watch an alternate reality government controlling its people, we draw lines to our reality and say, “Look, that’s what is happening to us. If we don’t stop it now, we’ll end up just like them.” Then we love to watch or read about how the people, us, rise up and overthrow their government. We know we can’t do that ourselves, so we do it vicariously through the fictional characters. Sure, it’s not real, but for a little while it sure does make us feel better.

As for zombies and apocalyptic destruction, there is another reason our love affair with those things. This one is simple. Many of us feels like we could survive and that we would be better off. They even have shows of people preparing for any scenario, aptly named Doomsday Preppers. Not only do we think we could survive, but we want to happen. It would be a fresh start, putting everyone on an even playing field (the survivors anyway). With society being so unequal nowadays, it really says something that people would actually want to usher in a doomsday scenario. It is borderline desperation. Let’s face it, once the economy collapsed, many people would have killed to have zombies marching down the street. Heck, if they had our movie and TV skills back in 1929, I can guarantee there would have been some doomsday works of fiction all over the place. If you think about it, one of the factors that drew the US out of the depression was a real apocalyptic scenario called WWII. 

Our fascination with dystopia is here to stay. It’s been around for quite a while, and until we create the perfect society (Plato, where are you?), it will always be around. Heck, it really is fun to let your imagination run away with different scenarios of rebellion and mayhem. We create fiction for entertainment, and I just happen to like this type more than many others. 

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Publishing – The latest medium to succumb to the internet?

Self-publishing has taken off thanks to the ease brought forth by Amazon, Smashwords, PubIt, LuLu, etc. Of course, the rise in eReaders has certainly helped. Just wait until everything is digital (I love my regular books, but I am also a realist). Unfortunately, there are many (and I mean MANY) people out there that refuse to buy anything self-published. Some of that is the individual authors faults (errors and snobbery) but most of it has to do with simple tradition. People have always bought their books from traditional publishers and they just simply don’t know of the other routes.

I remember when I downloaded my first illegal music file. It was 1999 and it came from a thing called Napster. I thought it was the coolest thing! I didn’t have to buy anymore CDs. I didn’t really think about how bad it screwed the artists over. Now I do, but I also know that the music industry had to adjust. The big labels and musicians didn’t go down without a fight either. They whined and moaned and told us that their way was the best because they knew what they were doing. They sued and sued. In fact, they won most of their cases. Unfortunately for them, they were fighting a new era brought on by the internet. Nobody could stop the digital world of sharing. So, instead of trying to stop it, they eventually came around and adjusted. Sure, people still download illegally, but with iTunes and Google Music offering better solutions for all involved, everyone came out on top. The artists get paid and we get our music for a relatively cheap price.

I know it is not exactly the same, but I equate the music situation with the publishing situation. Self-publishers are the ones downloading the free music and crashing the party of the major labels. They are breaking into their profits (supposedly) and not playing on their established field. So, how are the publishers responding? Slowly and not happily.

One of the main arguments coming from “real” authors is that self-publishing waters down their work. Yeah, I guess they have beef, but can they really stop it? Nope. There is absolutely no way they can stop self-publishing. They know that deep down, and we have seen them work to adjust to that reality. They are now picking off the best self-publishers. You know the biggies, but some examples are Fifty Shades of Grey and of course, a great indie success story, Wool by Hugh Howey.

I see it as a good thing, and not just because I’ll be self-publishing soon. Sure, we have some kinks to work out, but it offers everyone freedom. First, it give the authors a chance to be found. Let’s face it, publishers really do miss some good work. They are not book gods. Often, an authors hard work is left in the hands of an intern who’s job it is to decide whether a piece of work is worthy or not. I know, they have a lot to do, but now, the public can be the gatekeepers. They can decide what is good or not. Very American, huh?

In the end, and if they play their cards right, publishers can get in on this. They can almost let the public do their job for them in scouting good work, pluck off the indie authors with good deals, and publish them. Sure, the power shifts to the author more than ever, but I like that. Power at the top sucks no matter what you are talking about. 

Can you be successful without a young adult audience?

Think about the latest science fiction/fantasy to really take off. What has been the most popular in the last year or so? The following are what come to mind for me-

Hunger Games – dystopian sci-fi

Twilight – vampire fantasy

The Avengers/All Marvel – comics/sci-fi

Percy Jackson series – fantasy

What do those things have in common? None would be nearly as popular without the young adult audiences. Sure, a few would hold up without the young girls and boys to fuel them, but they would not be nearly as successful. So, what does that mean for prospective science fiction authors?

Well, I think they need to seriously consider who their audience is going to be. Of course, they already do that. When writing a book or short story, an author is always conscious of who will be reading their material. Some set out from the beginning as young adult authors, some do not. An author will tone their book to the intended audience. Foul language and sexual descriptions are likely to be left out of books geared towards younger audiences.

Pandering to both young adult and adult audiences is hard. Many people I know won’t go near the young adult/teen section of a book store or Kindle store. Why? Not really sure. Maybe it’s psychological. Maybe they think they are less of an adult if they pick them up. Some adult sci-fi readers just prefer adult stories. As a writer, I love reading young adult books books. My reading mind has never really left childhood anyway. Heck, I’ll pick up Dr. Seuss if it helps my creativity. I read the Hunger Games and Percy Jackson books very quickly. The thing about well written young adult books is this – sure, on the surface they have kids in them, but the things those kids are dealing with are pure adult situations. They teach acceptance, responsibility, courage, and leadership. Those lessons are great for youth, but even better for a forgetful adult generation.

Can an author hit both audiences? Many have. They are the ones that have been most successful so far. To do this, the author can’t make it seem like a young adult book at all. I think it has to be an adult book that has some aspect in it that young adult audiences will respond to. Having a young adult being a main character in the book is a good way to do this, though I know how hard it is to integrate kids into an adult plot while ensuring they remain a vital character that can be taken seriously.

I guess success in science fiction is measured based on the needs and wants of the individual author. Some have no interest in catering to the young adult audience. Those authors should also be prepared to not reap the success that can happen if the younger ones go crazy over something (a la Bieber, One Direction, Hunger Games, etc). They bring a new meaning to viral. Of course, Stephen King and others manage to do well all on their own. Us indies have seen Hugh Howey explode to success without many young adult readers. So, it is possible, just harder.

I can’t wait to see how the new movie After Earth does in theaters. Sure, its a movie, but it can be a good case study. Will Smith, a favorite among almost all age groups, stars along side his son, Jaden Smith. Jaden is fourteen and will attract the younger audiences even though the plot and trailer make it seem to be a completely serious film (meaning, not geared towards younger audiences). It looks like the movie will revolve around those two, so it should be interesting.

Will Smith                                                            jaden-smith-300

After Earth trailer here!

Self-Publishing Editing – The Biggest Indie Flaw

BookEditing

So, since I’ve been integrating myself into the indie author scene, I’ve realized major themes that are constant. I mentioned many of them yesterday in my blog post about covers, but I want to talk about editing today.

We have always heard that editing is sooooo important. My high school English teachers and college professors would pretty much threaten us if we turned in badly edited papers. Of course, we all thought our work was fantastic as it was. We had read over it at least once, so it had to be great. Right? Nah.

No matter how great of a writer you are, someone else has to read your work. There are many benefits to this other than just finding grammar and spelling errors, and trust me, no matter how many times you have read your work, there will still be errors. It’s natural for us to miss our own mistakes. We have already written it once, so when our brain is reading it again, it knows what to expect. It jumps ahead. Unfortunately, our brain has a bad habit of jumping right over all of the errors.

I was a teacher for a while, so I have a new appreciation for the editing process. I didn’t realize just how easy it was to spot errors in a paper/book until I started reading stuff that had not passed through some kind of gatekeeper. Some of you may think that one or two errors are fine, and usually you’re right. A few errors can be forgiven if your book is spectacular. But finding more than a few, especially obvious errors, leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths. When I am reading a book and keep running into errors, I form a picture of the author in my mind. I picture them as sloppy and maybe even a little snobby. I mean, if you think your stuff is already good enough to not be edited, then I’m sorry, I won’t be reading any more of your stuff.

Sure, have family and close friends read your work. Tell them to be honest and brutal if need be. Guess what? They will still sugarcoat it for you. If you rely on family for editing, use them for part of the editing process, not the whole. Get your work out to acquaintances, not necessarily friends. Make sure you get it to people that will not hesitate to take a red pen to it!

Within a few days of being involved in the indie scene, a few people offered to beta read my book. As soon as I get my local copies back from editing and make changes, I’ll be using them. Who am I using locally? Well, of course my family, though I know not to rely 100% on that. I’m also going to be giving it out to professionals in the area that I have connected with throughout the years. They are friends, but they certainly have no problem being blunt. Two are former Marines, one has a doctorate in theology (my book needs God on its side), and others are marketing and finance professionals. I’ll feel pretty confident that most of the errors will have been found by then.

I mentioned above another benefit to the editing process. As long as this is part of the agreement, editors are great testers. Tell your editing crew to look for typical spelling, grammar, and flow errors. But also tell them to give you advice. Here are some questions I am sending along with my book –

  1. What intrigued you about novel?
  2. What disappointed you about the novel?
  3. Did anything surprise you?
  4. Who was your favorite character and why?
  5. Is there anything you would have cut? Added?
  6. Anything else I need to know?

I’ll think of a few more, but you get the point. By the time your book is ready to publish, it should have run the gauntlet. One of the biggest complaints about self-published authors is our lack of a gatekeeper. Well, it’s time to pony up and make our own gate. The only way to really change the minds of others and to gain a much larger readership in the indie scene is to make our work better than published work. It can be done, but first we have to get past ourselves.

Your Book Cover Matters!

I have been doing a great amount of research about self-publishing. I mean, I have literally sat in front of the computer looking up what works and what does not for hours on end. I have come across many helpful blog posts and I try to let an author know when what they have written is helpful to me. Here are some of the main things I have come across that seem to be constant.

Write, write, write – Get your story out and a first draft finished

Edit – No matter how good you think you are, get your work edited

Cut – Don’t be afraid to let go of entire chapters or more if they don’t work

Market – Self-published authors are entrepreneurs first, authors second (darn)

Book Cover – Spend time working on the cover

I know there is so much more, but that is just off the top of my head. Today, I want to tell you about a conversation I had with a good artist friend of mine about my book cover (does not exist yet). My friend has never worked on book covers (that I know of) and does not have any first hand knowledge of self-publishing, but man, she had some great advice.

First – You, as the author, have to know what you want. If you don’t, then you are asking for trouble when working on a cover. You have to ensure that the cover conveys what is inside, but more importantly, that it has a personal meaning for you. You have to be attached to what the cover means. If you’re not emotional over it, ditch it.

Second – Make sure the artist is actually interested in the project. If you simply seek out any artist to design your cover, they likely will just treat it as just another commissioned work and not put forth all of their effort. Sure, you’ll get something, but it probably won’t be as good as it could have been,

Third – If the artist is not giving you advice and input, as well as seeking yours, back away. Think of it as a partnership, not a cold business deal. You put time and effort into writing your book, so make sure you have someone designing a cover that realizes that.

Fourth – THE COVER IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING! No matter how eloquent and thought out your book is, if nobody picks it up or clicks on it, you aint got nothin! (Southern side)

I have spent hours in the local book stores and just as many online scanning book covers. I take note of what makes me reach my hand up. As a reader, choosing a book is a step-by-step process. The cover grabs you, you pick it up, you read the description, you put it back down or buy it. The decision to buy a book or not is usually made, for me, in less than fifteen seconds. The most important part of that is the cover because that’s what made me pick it up.

I’m chugging along with my first book, but I am scared to death of not having a great cover. I know exactly what I want. Now I just have to find someone that can become attached to it as much as I am. The cover I want is simple but attention grabbing. I made sure that I didn’t see anything else like it and that it meant something to me. You have to be comfortable with your cover artist so that they can translate what you want purely and naturally. If you’re not, then good luck.

Anyone that has any experience with this, PLEASE comment below. 

Character Development Stinks! But I Solved the Problem

fictionvnon

Too much description…too little description. Your character seems stiff (no pun intended). Your character is boring. The protagonist lacks connective qualities. The antagonist does not seem very antagonistic. 

Any of that sound familiar?

Character development, for me, is the hardest part of writing. I am finished with the second draft of my first book and will soon be giving it to about eight people for their verdict. Honestly? I’m scared to death of what they will say about the characters.

My background is not fiction writing. Far from it. Everything I have written has been pure non-fiction. Political science papers, APSA formatting. Education papers, APA formatting. No first person, no feelings, no twists, turns, or loops. Just factual writing based on solid research. I was good at it. I was so good that one of my jobs as a graduate assistant was to edit professional papers and books. All non-fiction and research based.

Making the switch to fiction was hard. It took me a while to flip the switch. Contractions had been pounded out of me to the point that my finger still has a hard time finding the apostrophe button. Using “I” would have gotten me shot. Same goes with using “he” and “she.” This certainly makes for some good writing, as long as you are turning it in to be peer-reviewed. It does not work well for fiction.

Following non-fiction guidelines for writing makes for tough fiction reading. Our brains function differently when reading each type. If we are reading non-fiction, we expect the syntax and grammar that comes with it. It doesn’t feel awkward. If we grab a fiction novel off the shelf and the author follows those strict guidelines, then it will feel like we are reading something a robot wrote (maybe SIRI).

It has been extremely difficult for me to break my own rules and switch to fiction. I think I have it down now, but I hope I’m able to switch back when I need to. Anyway, back to character development. That, too, is a skill that non-fiction does not teach you. There are no characters to develop in research papers and books. I struggled with what to do about that until a few days ago.

In researching and publishing in a journal, you have to develop an argument (not necessarily a conflict, but argument as in stating a point). In many ways, developing an argument and developing a character are similar. Both have to have an introduction. Both have to have background information conveyed and explained subtly yet forcefully. Both have to build and create themselves throughout the work and conclude with dignity. Most importantly, both an argument and a character have to stand on the work put into them once the story is complete. They have to stand strong and leave the reader convinced of their authenticity.

Unfortunately, I made that connection after I finished the first draft of my book. Hopefully my subconscious mind made the connection for me as I was writing. Breaking into fiction was hard. I considered myself to be a good non-fiction researcher and writer, not a story teller. Now I want to tell some stories. I can only hope that I make my characters come alive in my readers’ minds.

Has anyone else had this problem. Maybe you are great at fiction and not so great at non? Let me know in the comments!

“THE NEXT BIG THING” AWARD

Thank you so much to Ellie Carstens for this nomination!

the-next-big-thing1

WHAT IS THE TITLE OF YOUR BOOK?

Journey of the Kings

WHAT GENRE DOES YOUR BOOK FALL UNDER?

Science Fiction/Thriller – great for sci-fi nuts and young adult/new adult audiences

WHAT IS THE ONE SENTENCE SYNOPSIS OF YOUR BOOK?

A story of redemption for a father as he and his son discover a deadly betrayal.

WHERE DID YOU GET THE IDEA FOR YOUR BOOK?

Honestly, I have recently been engrossed in James Bond books and the Ender’s Game series. This book blends the two with ideas that are very personal to me.

WHO OR WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WRITE THIS BOOK?

Hugh Howey is a huge inspiration for me. I’ve had these ideas in my head for a while but I always figured that I would never get through a publisher. Now I’m going to try my best with self-publishing.

HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO WRITE FIRST DRAFT OF YOUR MANUSCRIPT?

First draft took me 18 days to get completed. The other drafts….well, I’ll let ya know.

WHAT OTHER BOOKS WOULD YOU COMPARE THIS STORY WITH IN YOUR GENRE?

Ender’s Game and Earth Unaware by Orson Scott Card and Colony by Scott Reeves

WHAT ACTORS WOULD YOU CHOOSE TO PLAY  YOUR CHARACTERS IN A MOVIE RENDITION?

Seth Morning – Chris Pine     Seth 1

Benjamin Allen – Aramis Knight     Aramis-Knight_406

WILL YOU BOOK BE SELF-PUBLISHED OR REPRESENTED BY AN AGENCY?

Self-published

WHAT ELSE ABOUT YOUR BOOK MIGHT PIQUE YOUR READERS’ INTEREST?

This is a story about space colonization, but with a much more personal arc. The main character is battling decisions he made many years prior to the book and much of that has to do with his son, who is on the journey with him. The story is a thriller on the outside, but one of forgiveness and redemption on the inside.

MY NOMINATIONS ARE…

I don’t have a huge indie author base of friends yet, but here are a few.

David Eccles, my new friend from overseas.

Jaclyn Lyons

Science Fiction is Screwed

melies

I love science fiction. Seriously, even bad science fiction. I love it so much that I’ve decided to publish my own science fiction book (lol, we’ll see). Lately though, I have been thinking about how screwed modern science fiction creators are.

Star Wars gave birth to the modern science fiction era. I know, Star Trek came first by more than a decade, but it lost its popularity and didn’t become mainstream until Star Wars smashed the world with its dominance. Then we had these two major star epics, able to maintain themselves despite one another because of their differences. They both created and maintain HUGE fan bases. I’m a big fan of both (say whaaaat? That’s not legal).

So I walk up and down the science fiction sections of my local chain book stores and I see huge sections dedicated to Star Wars and Star Trek. Their popularity is not going away. With the rebooting of Trek and the upcoming Star Wars movies, they will probably gain new, younger fans. They have both entrenched themselves as science fiction kings (and they both somehow managed to get the same king to direct them – J.J. Abrams).

So where does that leave the rest of the science fiction world? Screwed. Nothing has reached the popularity of those two giants, and I doubt anything will. The best anyone else can do is hope to avoid comparison to one or the other. Unfortunately, almost all space science fiction will draw those comparisons. It takes something truly different to break out in science fiction, and even then, it is tough.

I love Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game series and the movie based on it is coming out on November 1st (barring any controversial holdup). Unfortunately, it is going to suffer comparisons to the star greats. It will also be compared to Hunger Games. Speaking of Hunger Games it seems like that Suzanne Collins hit the right trend in sci-fi.

It seems like dystopian sci-fi is what is really working now. Maybe that’s because so many people are unhappy with the current state of global affairs. It sure does sell books! Of course this is nothing new. I loved 1984, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451. Those books were great successes, but really only as books. Maybe we’ll see some of them become movies soon, but that seems to be where books like the Hunger Games come in. They have capitalized on dystopian sci-fi.

Hugh Howey’s Wool is an awesome work of science fiction and I could connect with it. I also never thought of comparing in to the major sci-fi greats because it is so different. Again, it is a dystopian sci-fi adventure, so it is getting in on the current trend.

So, when I say science fiction is screwed, I really mean space-based sci-fi. The kings of that genre are already in place and anyone that wants success will really have to lower the bar of what they consider a win. Successful sci-fi will have to reinvent itself.

For the record, my sci-fi thriller is on Earth, then space, then back into a dystopian-like Earth. Maybe I’ll get lucky.

Chapter One of my Book – Part 2

I posted part 1 of the first chapter the other day, so be sure to check that out as well (reading one without the other won’t make a difference though). This book is a sci-fi thriller. No, there is really no way to tell this is a sci-fi book from the first chapter, but I don’t have a problem with that. The first chapter is a thriller and is used to establish one of the protagonists. Again, comments, suggestions, and criticism all welcome! Thanks for reading and have a great day!

Journey of the Kings – King’s Series, Book I

Part One – Earth

Chapter One – The Agent

June, 2039

Following Yasef Masam was the easy part. Seth had been studying the man’s habits for a few weeks. The markets of Damascus had been mostly unchanged for the last few hundred years. Crowded and noisy with hagglers, tailing someone with a daily routine was basic agency training. Langley taught them how to disappear in the open, and Seth mastered that task a week into training. He may have been the youngest recruit, but he was definitely the smartest. He wasn’t the most physically demanding specimen, but that didn’t matter. He had proven that there was no situation he couldn’t think his way out of. If thinking his way out of the situation failed, he certainly knew how to kill his way out.

Yasef turned left at the dealer hawking live chickens on the corner. The same place he turned everyday. Seth had to wave off the carpet dealer that had no customers. There were few things in the world more annoying a Muslim marketeers. Business must have been slow if the man wanted to talk to the one person clearly not there to buy anything.

Turning the corner about twenty seconds after Yasef, Seth saw him heading for the stairs about forty yards away. Today was going to be different for both of their routines. For the last few weeks Seth never had followed him up those stairs. There were too many locals in the hallways of the run-down apartment complex that they led to. The complex housed a darker crowd that might notice him if he entered.

Unfortunately, he had no more time to tail him. He knew that Yasef was a lower ranking member in the Syrian Freedom Group, but he never seemed to lead Seth to any higher ranking members within the organization. The group likely organized much like Al Qaeda did before the US destroyed them. No single layer of ranking led directly to the other. It was a safer, if less efficient way to conduct business. It was time for Seth to find out who Yasef reported to. Maybe then he could at least move to someone a little farther up the food chain.

Seth held back a little bit, but never let Yasef out of his sight. He went up the stairs about ten seconds after the Syrian, but immediately slowed when he saw a group of shady looking locals gathered. They all stopped talking and looked right at him. Seth had grown out his beard and had gotten a considerable tan, to the point where he would easily blend into the local scene of Algeria or Morocco. He hoped it would be enough for this part of the Syrian city. Much of his career with the CIA had been spent undercover in the Middle East or India, so looking the part was usually not a problem. Any Westerner would never suspect that he was actually an American.

He knew he might encounter people such as this today, so he dressed in trashy clothing and rubbed some dirt on his arms and face earlier in the day. He needed to look like he belonged. If these guys were thieves, he didn’t want them thinking he had anything to offer. Apparently they came to that very conclusion, because they quickly resumed their conversation. As he passed by he overheard them talking about a policeman that had been killed the night before. They were speaking in Arabic, but Seth had spoken the language fluently since he was nineteen. He figured these men had something to do with the death, but he was not going to stick around to ask. He saw Yasef head up the stairs at the end of the narrow hallway to the right. He needed to speed up a bit.

He was too far behind. By the time he got to the next floor Yasef had already disappeared into one of the small apartments. Seth figured that he would have only had time to get into one of the first three doors. Any other day would have proven harder to figure out which door he went in, but there had been a small sand storm the previous night and there was only one door in which the sand in front was disturbed. Seth approached the second door and listened. He heard a chair being moved and knocked.

Less than five seconds later the door opened. No wonder this guy was so low ranking in the organization. He didn’t even check to see if there was any danger lurking outside before he opened the door. Seth was inside the tiny apartment before Yasef knew there was any danger. He had him on the floor and the door closed less than two seconds after entry. Yasef would have screamed for help if not for the silenced .22 caliber pointed in his left eye. Seth quickly scanned the place and noticed only one other exit; a small window that probably dropped to a back alley behind the complex.

In Arabic Seth said, “Say a word and it will be your last. Stay quiet and answer my questions and I will be gone in three minutes.” Yasef looked at him with terror in his face, but quickly nodded his agreement to the demands. Seth took about thirty seconds to tie the Syrian to the chair with the para-cord he had hidden under his tunic.

“Okay. I’ll make this quick. Who is your contact within the SFG?” Seth knew he what the response would be.

“I do not know,” Yasef said. Seth knew he didn’t know. None of them knew the other members. Sure, they may see each other at a drop every now and then, but other than that, for all they knew, their coworkers and neighbors were also members of the terrorist group. It was meant to be that way. Their organizational structure made it incredibly hard to wipe them out. If one member was captured, they couldn’t give up more than one other person.

Seth had to show some anger or the guy wouldn’t believe his threats. He pushed the chair and Yasef over on his left side. Yasef hit the floor with a loud thud, but to his credit, didn’t utter a word of complaint.

“Where do you receive your orders?” Seth didn’t need to know exactly who the person was, just where they would be and when.

Yasef didn’t want to give up this information. He said nothing. Seth didn’t have the patience for this so he put the gun barrel against Yasef’s leg, the one pressed against the floor, and pressed it into his femur. Yasef still didn’t answer. The sound of a silenced small caliber pistol shot filled the room and Yasef screamed out in agony. Seth had to hurry in case someone heard the scream.

“I will not ask again. If you want me to leave this place with you still breathing, tell me where you get your orders,” Seth pressed the barrel into the new wound, causing Yasef to wince in extreme pain. Tears were rolling down his dirt stained face. Poor kid, thought Seth. He was probably recruited from the streets and given this opportunity because he had no other. He didn’t look a day older than twenty. Such was the desperation of the area, Seth thought. He knew that until poverty was eradicated from the area, there would always be people like Yasef to recruit.

“I pick up messages from a man every Tuesday,” Yasef mumbled pathetically, “right after mid-day prayer in front of the new coffee shop near the market entrance.” He knew that even if he made it out of the apartment alive that they would kill him when they discovered he had divulged this information. It was only Wednesday, so he thought that maybe he could get his leg fixed and get out of the country before they knew what he had done.

Seth had everything he needed. It was not much, but he had more information than he did four minutes before. The only way he knew to infiltrate the SFG was the start low and move up the chain of command. Picking off the lower ranks like Yasef would be easy, but it would certainly get harder as he moved up.

Seth got up before the blood pooling under Yasef’s leg could reach him. He didn’t want to draw attention to himself by having fresh blood on his clothing as he walked back through the hallways. He untied the young man and tore off part of a shirt nearby on the floor and told Yasef to wrap it around his leg to stop the bleeding.

“Thank you, Yasef,” Seth said. As the Syrian began to wrap his leg, Seth took a few steps towards the door, angled himself a bit for a clear shot, aimed at Yasef’s head and pulled the trigger. His body fell with a small thud. He was already on the ground so he didn’t have far to fall. Seth walked out the front door and back down the stairs, past the hallway thieves, and into the market. He had six days to figure out how he would approach his next target. 

We are why kids hate reading!

greatgatsby-cover                 orig-11091641                wuthering-heights[1]

I’ve taught high school. Luckily I was at a good one, but I noticed one thing. Almost all kids hate to read now. Sure, there will always be the student that can’t put their books down, but they are few and far between. Why should they read now? They have phones, video games, and TVs to keep them busy. I don’t blame them. I get distracted by the same things.

Our English language arts programs don’t do us any favors either (I’m sure I’ll be dodging shoes of my English teacher friends in a minute). Seriously, look at what we make our kids read in school. Here is what I remember reading in high school: Wuthering Heights, Frankenstein, and To Kill a Mockingbird. I know other classes covered the Great Gatsby. Other than that, I don’t know what else there is. I do know that almost all the reading lists are based on what we consider English classics. 

So, when do we stop considering them classics? Maybe we’ll always make our kids read those books. Why? Because its what we’ve always done. Guess what? That’s why our kids hate reading. Most of them simply cannot connect with those authors and their writing. Seriously. Every time we started a classic in school all I wanted to do was throw the book out the classroom door. I had to seek out 1984 and Fahrenheit 451. I connected with those.

What would be the problem with letting our kids read more contemporary works. What is wrong with Harry Potter or the Lord of the Rings books? I know, I know. There are some serious politics that go into book selections. Some parents don’t like the witchcraft and magic in those books. I wonder where those same parents were when Dr. Frankenstein was putting parts together to make a living being? Honestly though, there are so many different books that offer the same literary concepts as the classics. They are just as easy to use in instruction and they have one major advantage – more kids will connect with them.

Teaching the classics just to do it is stupid. If we are doing it because we think our kids need to have an appreciation for the them, then we are doing it wrong. I won’t pick up any of them because I was forced to do it in school. Maybe we are so reluctant to change because we think it will be too much work to rewrite our lesson plans. If that’s the case, then I know why modern education is having trouble staying relevant. Laziness.

Don’t get me wrong, I know a lot of reading motivation has to come from home. I rarely ran into a student that was an avid reader who didn’t have great familial support behind them. Parents have to encourage their kids to read, but if they don’t, the last reading hope is their school. Why not offer them something they’ll actually enjoy while also getting them same instruction they would with the classics. I’ve always been on the fence with homeschooling, but they definitely have the advantage here.

Tell me what you think.