Tears of Abraham, now Available!

What would another civil war really look like? That’s the question I try to answer with this new thriller, set in the near future.

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The country is more polarized than it has been at any time since the years leading up to the first Civil War, and there is a deep undercurrent of anger which is now spilling onto the streets. If Democrats win the White House, where does all that rage go? There is a revolution of some sort on the horizon, and it is my fervent prayer that it’s not the violent kind. Once, folks on the fringe spoke of it in whispers, but now the idea is gaining traction, with politicians and leaders using rhetoric designed to incite outrage.

One reader noted that “if Hemingway and Clancy wrote a novel about the next American Civil War, it would be this book.”

I wrote this book to entertain, but also to spark a dialog. Those who clamor for war seldom know what that really means, what the cost will be.

I hope you will read, enjoy, and talk about it!

http://www.amazon.com/Tears-Abraham-Sean-T-Smith/dp/1618688197

 

 

 

 

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America Divided: Trump and The Next Civil War

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I hoped the GOP would field a candidate that represented the best in the United States. I would have voted for that person, but it looks like we won’t have that option. Trump will win the nomination and leave the majority of the country and the world shaking their collective heads. How did this happen, and what will the consequences be?

Trump appeals to angry Americans who feel threatened, unheard, and disenfranchised, and to these folks The Donald is a beltway outsider willing to say and do whatever it takes to take America back. He is the candidate of insult and outrage, capitalizing on the mistrust of anyone “not quite American.” He wants to build a wall along the southern border and insists that Mexico pay for it and prevent Muslims from entering the country with some magical Muslim detector he will no doubt install at airports around the world. He is quick to attack the poor, pointing a finger at entitlements and insinuating that our economic problems would be solved by eliminating food stamps and medicaid.

The billionaire is a brilliant politician, somehow resonating with families who live paycheck to paycheck, convincing them that he is on their side. It appears that no matter how outrageous, inflammatory, and false his statements are, his double-digit lead will only continue to widen. He is Frankenstein’s monster, birthed by the FOX News propaganda machine, empowered by the Tea Party, which ostensibly believes in less government. Trump beyond the control of the GOP establishment now, and is bashing his way through the countryside.

The Election

Trump will win the GOP nomination. Either Hillary or Sanders will win the Democratic nomination.

In a general election, poll after poll shows either Hillary or Sanders beating trump soundly. Sanders will be able to steal many swing voters and independents, while Hillary will galvanize her base. This outcome is what scares the hell out of me, along with the GOP establishment.

After a long campaign rife with mud-slinging, veiled hatred, and ever increasing vitriol, what happens when the Democrats win? Where does all the outrage go?

Rumors of War

Texas will not go quietly. Petitions have circulated in the Lone Star state to secede from the Union. Remember Jade Helm? The distrust of the federal government runs deep in the south. When the election is over and the Republicans lose again, many citizens will feel that the outcome is unfair, that they have not been heard. More hate groups will spring up, more militias. At some point, Hillary just might get aggressive about gun control. The next President will not be able to heal a nation that fractured years ago.

Texas could sustain itself as a separate country, with its industrial, economic, and agricultural base. Texas has ports for international trade, and of course, oil. If Texas goes, much of the south will go with it.

The next President will have a hard decision to make. Abraham Lincoln chose to go to war to preserve the Union; what will Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders do?

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War

The first Civil War took more than 600,000 American lives. The next war will be worse. We didn’t have nuclear weapons, tanks, fighter jets, or drones in 1862.

Take America Back

We are the nation that invented Rock and Roll, the light bulb, and the internet. America stopped Hitler and put men on the moon. We are innovative, hard working, and decent. The American Dream is more real to the rest of the world than it here within our borders. We are admired for our goodness yet we doubt ourselves and fight one another. The ideals of our founding fathers have been usurped, eroded, and manipulated.

Our great republic is now an oligarchy where elections are bought and sold to the highest bidder. We have been played. We must not succumb to the hate and steady stream of misinformation, but instead fight back with our votes, with acts of kindness, and open conversation with people we disagree with. Rather than howling, we should converse. There is no reason for us to be this polarized.

My next novel, Tears of Abraham is about the coming war, seen through the eyes of heroes, innocents, and villains. I believe in the essential goodness of the American people, and I hope that we can drown out the sound of evil.

 

 

http://www.amazon.com/Sean-T.-Smith/e/B00IKHPGEK

 

A Few Good Sentences

Readers often ask me about my creative process, so here’s a general snapshot of how I write.

I’m a slow writer compared to most of my peers. I’m not sure I could crank out a book in three months, and if I did that it would be unreadable. I know authors who crank out four good books a year. I’ll never have that sort of output.

It all begins with an idea

I tend to marinate on several ideas at once, before deciding what I’m going to write. I’ll make notes on legal pads, bar napkins, and the back of company notebooks. Once I’ve got a general idea of the topic, then I move onto characters. With Objects of Wrath,
I began with the idea of a family struggling to survive the next world war.

I sketch the main character first, and then surround him with the surrounding cast. Often at this point, I don’t know enough about the story to fill in the details, but I like to have a general idea.

Next comes the broad outline. This is only a few pages long, with enough space in there to add things. I use a legal pad, and I draw a diagram of a suspension bridge. The high points are the big scenes in the middle and the climax, and the lines in between are the rising action, the building tension. Sometimes I’ll actually use one full page for this diagram, and divide the rising action into specific chapter ideas. The point of this diagram is that I want to have a general idea of what I’m writing towards. It sounds simplistic because it is. But it is very helpful to me in terms of pacing.

The next thing I do is write a first chapter, just to get a feel for the characters. So far, a surprisingly big chunk of my first chapters have made it to the final manuscript. I go back later on and move things around, and work especially hard on the first fifty pages, but the bones are there.

Storytelling

I tend to plot out a few chapters ahead of time as I’m writing. For me this is the best part of writing books. I have notebooks crammed with ideas, where I just let things rip. “What if…” and then I’ll try that idea out, often in paragraph form.  One idea leads to another, and I’ll end up with various branching plot lines.

When I’m in this mode, I can write unfettered, and it is where I probably do my best work. It’s here that characters start to misbehave in good ways. A minor character becomes important, while a character that I’d planned on keeping alive has to die. I’ll stumble upon an idea that lights me up, and spend a few hours writing one paragraph working to get it right.

I alternate back and forth when I’m writing a novel, between storytelling mode, and the actual pounding out the words at the keyboard.

Here are a few random examples of paragraphs or sentences I worked very hard on.

From Objects of Wrath: http://www.amazon.com/Objects-Wrath-Volume-Sean-Smith/dp/1618682245

“I had seen Gunny in action, had been trained by him, and knew how quick and deadly he was, but Chilli was an artist in his prime form, painting death with deft strokes. With perfect economy of motion he dispatched a seemingly unending supply of enemies in an unrivaled masterpiece of destruction. I hacked and shot behind him through the smoke, and despite the chaos, I marveled at Chilli’s artwork. His canvas was the battlefield, and he was the Rembrandt of the knife, painting darkness, not light. He was the Picasso of the blade, leaving twisted corpses in his wake, his hands and feet brushes that flicked out almost delicately, precisely, colorfully”

From Children of Wrath http://www.amazon.com/Children-Wrath-Book-Volume/dp/1618683411/ref=pd_bxgy_14_img_y

“Most of us are blessed with a moment when sunlight is gold dust, warm and glittering, and the air is clean and tastes like hope. Sometimes we pay attention, savor the sweetness and are glad of it. Too often, we realize the rareness of it too late to revel in the glory of it. Looking back, though, we know the moment. That’s the yearning and the hurt later, because the memory is not the time, it is an echo. There is no way to feel exactly that way again, you can only recall the wholeness of it, remember the preciousness. My moment was long and my soul sings with the echoes I hear, but by the time we began our assault on Dugway, my moment had already passed.”

From Tears of Abraham, coming in March 2016

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“Stand up for yourself,” his father had said when Henry walked home with a bloody nose again. Henry’s old man, Tim Wilkins peered down at Henry. A tall, rangy man with a straight back, pale blue eyes, and a face worn out by life, Tim Wilkins was not prone to overt displays of affection or sympathy. But he was the center of Henry’s universe.
In Henry’s eyes then, his father was granite, solid rock, unbreakable, unchangeable, and strong in the way of a proud mountain. The lens of hope and faith filtered out the cracks and fissures, the broken blood vessels on Papa’s wind burned face, and the hurting eyes of a man eroded, but not yet completely worn smooth. Blasted by hard years, bad luck, and the love for the wrong woman, Papa remained undefeated.”

From Fate of the Fallen, my work in progress:

“Religion, Malak reasoned, would be at the heart of it. Money and power led to war between men. Religion could destroy mankind. Sometimes money and power were the religion, the worship of those things, by men who held armies on a leash. The worst of it was when money, power, and religion all combined. At the end of the day, it was always some kind of religion.”

Savoring the process

I love writing, whether it’s a song or a novel. I relish the entire process, and enjoy lingering over a passage, turning the words over, shifting things around to find a cadence and melody to the words. Some readers find this aspect of my writing a hinderence, and I understand that many folks want to read an adrenaline-driven book that’s primarily plot-driven. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I enjoy books like that  sometimes. The older I get, though, the more I want some real substance to the things I read and the things I write. I love Steinbeck, Hemingway, Dickens, McCarthy, Irving and O’brien. I’ve got a long way to go before I can attain that level, but that’s what I shoot for when I sit down to tell a story.

That’s my process, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!

Southern Pride and Rebel Flags: Guest Blog with Kelli Freeman Smith

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The controversy raging around the display of the Confederate flag breaks my heart. This symbol of southern pride, adopted from a war which pitted brother against brother and  usurped by the KKK, should not be a symbol at all. We southerners have many things to be proud of, and that flag isn’t one. Our heritage is richer than that, runs deeper and truer, and we should not allow ourselves to be defined by the stars and bars.

I was born and raised in the deep south, and I’ve lived there all my life. I grew up in a sleepy town on the Florida-Georgia line, where football players were rock stars and Friday nights in the fall were the highlight of the year. A town of Magnolia trees and live oaks draped in Spanish Moss, where pickup-trucks with mud on the tires lined the Baptist Church parking lots every Sunday morning. My southern drawl is sweet as honey-dew or ice-tea on a lazy afternoon in July. I say “ya’ll, bless your heart, and amen.” I love the poetry of Faulkner and Merle Haggard and the opening notes to Sweet Home Alabama.

The land I played on as a child and the woods I scraped my knees in with my cousins were farmed by my Grand Daddy. My mother worked the fields with her 8 brothers and sisters, and in tobacco season her hands were raw and her face was burned by the sun. Most of my family still lives on that land, and our family reunions are feasts of friendship and fresh vegetables and laughter. There is pride in that. In family, a thing which we southerners take very seriously. We take care of our own.

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Driving through town, you’ll see American flags flying,whether it’s July 4, Memorial Day, or just a random morning, because patriotism runs deep here in the south. Throughout Americas wars, the South gave many of its sons to the United States. God, Family, and Country. This is much of what it means to be southern. There is also a sense of rugged individualism. My Daddy taught us, like his taught him, to work hard and to think for myself.

And then there’s the icky part. Slavery, the Civil War, Jim Crow, and lingering racism. Unfortunately the Rebel Flag symbolizes those things, particularly to those who are not from the south, and in a more subtle way, those who are, as well. I wish it was not so.

Abraham sample cover

There is a great dichotomy between patriotism and embracing a symbol of sedition. A contradiction in reading the King James version of the Gospel, and then uttering the N word with the same mouth. A lack of gentility and hospitality in flying a flag which is inherently offensive to others. A celebration of the War of Northern Aggression which was actually a war to preserve slavery, a codified, immoral, abomination couched in terms of states rights. The right the states wanted, though, was the right to own people. That’s not something to be proud of.

My social media news feed is rife with posts with rebel flags, and people, some of them dear family members, who defend the idea of displaying the flag because it is a part of southern pride and heritage. Maybe they’ve forgotten or overlooked what it actually means. The more angry the rest of the country gets, the more entrenched these folks become, rather than questioning what they believe to be true.

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Once again, brother is pitted against brother, and this flag is hurting the south again, tearing at families, destructive as Sherman’s march. Only now, we are burning ourselves to the ground. The war is over, the south lost, and it was a foolish war in the first place. Get over it and embrace what it truly means to be southern, not some romantic, idealized notion of a past that was never was. We have much to be proud of. Let’s celebrate that.

http://www.amazon.com/Objects-Wrath-Volume-Sean-Smith/dp/1618682245

Altering the cycle… Love and Hate in America

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“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

   Martin  Luther King, Jr

Baltimore burns and the nation cringes. We see the non-stop coverage on CNN, the same inflammatory images repeating on an endless loop. Hate is like that, too. It doesn’t stop until we turn it off; unfortunately many people are turning it up, until rhetoric is a scream which drowns out any sort of hope to solve the underlying problems. The racial problems in this country, from economic disparities and police violence, to political disenfranchisement must be addressed. The nation is hurting and the rage seethes just beneath the surface, spilling out into the streets with increasing ferocity.

I’ve seen a staggering number of internet posts claiming that our current racial tensions are President Obama’s fault. The people who believe that are deluded. When Obama was elected the racists kicked into high gear, really putting their backs into it, finding ways to sow fear and cruelty and divisiveness. Hate-mongers with microphones and laptops have done their best to frame issues in the meanest, most lopsided ways possible, worsening a greater problem.

So the cycle continues something like this: poverty, lack of opportunity, and a toxic environment lead to a feeling of powerless, gut-wrenching anger. When racial profiling and police brutality are not only systemic, but systematically denied by governments, those same people get even angrier. They protest. Most of them are peaceful, but violence erupts, gasoline on the fire. While the news spends 90% of its time playing the inflammatory images of police getting hit by bricks or of stores burning, the media misses the greater story. The country misses the truth, and the truth is not black and white. The greater story, the real one, is more complicated… it’s more than one story. The one where blacks and whites are working together for positive change. The story of children handing out water bottles to police officers, cops risking their lives to save teenagers, grandmothers and fathers marching for justice that has thus far been elusive. The story that black teenagers know all too well, of the conversation their parents had with them when they first got their driver’s license. “If you get pulled over, keep your hands in sight at all time. Say ‘yes, sir,’ and don’t make any sudden moves.”  White kids don’t get that talk.

White people and black people alike are appalled by this violence in Baltimore. It’s counter-productive. It only serves to confirm racist suspicions coiled around the back of many people’s minds, triggering otherwise sane and seemingly decent people to spout bile like Linda Blair in The Exorcist. Rather than stepping back for a moment and asking why these people are so angry, it’s easier to say “what kind of people burn their own city?”

And there it is, couched in what passes for discourse and news coverage. Words like us and them…Those people. There is an “otherness” about the dialogue, rather than a togetherness. Hate, rather than love.

Racism and bigotry are a choice. If this nation is to heal, each of us must do some collective soul-searching. We’ve got to choose love over hate. We must place a priority on our nation’s future, and that means creating more jobs and educational opportunities, putting an end to the bloodbath taking place every day in our inner cities. It means voting for leaders who recognize the severity of the problem and who offer realistic ways to address it, regardless of what party they happen to be affiliated with.

Rather than be outraged at the violence we’re seeing on the news, we should be shocked for the reasons it is happening. We must come together as one people in the spirit of unity and love, for that is the only way to end this cycle of hate.

http://www.amazon.com/Objects-Wrath-Sean-T-Smith/dp/1618682245/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1430488688&sr=8-1&keywords=objects+of+wrath

The War on Christianity: The Enemy is Also Us

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Christians face many dire threats around the world, from the decapitations in the Middle East to genocides in Africa, to the persecution carried out by China and Russia. Here in the United States, we hear much about the war against Christians, but it seems to me that the greatest threat comes from within.

The word “Christian” is first used in the book of Acts, and it means one who follows Christ. In America, this definition has been lost, ursurped by other things. Politics, and economics have nothing to do with following The Lord, and yet it seems that many Christians identify themselves by how they vote and where they shop. There is a shrill meanness to the way many Christians go about it, and it gives the rest of us a bad rap.

Jesus gave Christians a great commission, to spread the gospel to the corners of the earth. In the United States, generations are turning from God, and well meaning Christians with microphones and political signs and spirits full of judgement are a big part of the problem.

What Would Jesus Do?

Remember this catch phrase? It was effective because it asked an excellent question. So what would Jesus do now, in this world of sinners like me? Let’s look at what he actually did.

He offered forgiveness. We celebrated Easter last week. Jesus was nailed to a cross so that our sins would be covered. We know that none of us are perfect, that the wages of sin are death. Christ died so that we would not be condemned, giving us grace we did not deserve.

It seems many Christians have forgotten this.

Jesus spent his time among the outcasts. The prostitutes, the tax-collectors,  criminals and sinners. He admonished men to leave behind their worldly belongings and follow Him. He was welcoming, not shunning, leading by example and truth, offering healing in a hurting world.

Judgement is reserved for God, not man. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone..

Love Transcends Law…”The Greatest of These is Love”

The Old Testament Levitical laws no longer bind us. Entry into Heaven is given, not earned, and it is through faith not deed that we come to the Father. In James we read that “Faith without deeds is dead,”  but again, it is not for us to decide who has faith and who does not.

Christians seem to be focused on the wrong things. If we should, as Paul says in Hebrews “Fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith,” we have lost sight of the things that matter, missing the forest for the trees. When I see the new pope washing the feet of a Muslim woman, I think, that’s what Jesus would do!

One of my favorite verses in the New Testament is Ephesians 2:3:

“Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive in Christ been when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved.”

A God-Shaped Hole

America is indeed hurting, and there is a God-shaped hole in each of us individually, and the nation entire. What we need is more Jesus, less hate. Greater love, less judgement. Faith which manifests itself by doing what Jesus actually did, bearing fruit that sustains a hurting world. Giving to the poor, helping the sick, spreading the gospel not with a sword but with the Truth.

http://www.amazon.com/Objects-Wrath-Volume-Sean-Smith/dp/1618682245

Jamie Mason’s Guest Blog: Canadian vs. American Post-Apocalyptic Visions

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DEATH OF A NATION Canadian vs. American Post-Apocalyptic Visions

by Jamie Mason

Broken windows stretch to the horizon. A noxious twist of grimy smoke clutches the clouds and a stench of bodies – the piled carnage of the City’s dead, an odor to corkscrew even the heartiest stomachs – lies heavily on the street. A door opens in a darkened shop-front and a man swathed in camouflage steps into view carrying an automatic rifle. The pearl-colored light reflects in his mirrored shades and the red, white and blue of his shoulder patch provides the only flash of color in an afternoon the hue of gun-metal and sorrow. A noise. He spins, bringing the rifle to bear … and is brought up short by the sight of a young, unarmed woman with a backpack slung over one shoulder, a maple leaf sewn into its pocket flap. She grins and flashes a peace sign. 1. The journey inevitably influences the traveller. But it is equally true that the traveler defines the journey. This is never more true than in the post-apocalyptic genre. One of my favorite films is the oft-overlooked 1985 gem REVOLUTION, starring Al Pacino. When Tom Dobb, the illiterate fur trapper Pacino plays, sails into New York Harbor on the eve of the War of Independence, he sums up the chaos unfolding in the streets tersely: “New York, goin’ crazy.”

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The opening scene of that film confounds every expectation by painting the launch of the American Revolution with images of unimaginable brutality and human ugliness. Mobs smash British shop-windows, tear down statues of the King and (sadly for Tom) confiscate boats for the cause. Although history has vindicated the wisdom of the American Revolution as a critical step in the advancement of human freedom, I can’t help believing that the film’s portrayal is likely accurate. Strip away the historical bunting, and America was basically a colony that revolted against its landlords. Its birth was midwifed in a blaze of gunfire and death. War is war and, no matter how noble the cause, it’s always certain to unleash a level of apocalyptic violence. Canada’s birth was more ambiguous. We came into existence two short years after the end of the American Civil War, the result of a process that began in direct response to that conflict. By the time the British North America Act was passed, Canada was a sprawl of disconnected communities, ripe for annexation by a vigorous and ambitious neighbor. Invasions had been attempted five times in two previous wars and there was no reason to expect it wouldn’t happen again. (Indeed, a few of Lincoln’s generals lobbied for it.) Independence from a war-weary Britain seemed the most prudent way to secure the national welfare. Negotiations were lengthy and complex, tangled in British legal red-tape and impeded by competing colonial claims. Sir John A. MacDonald, our first Prime Minister, rose to lead a nation that was still very much unexplored and only just beginning to understand itself. Canada very literally emerged, blinking and uncertain, from the mists of the historical wilderness into a deafening silence.

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2. In our beginning lies our end. These two emergence narratives have served to shape, fundamentally, the contrasting American and Canadian visions of the post-apocalypse. I would hold that while television shows like THE WALKING DEAD and JERICHO and novels like WORLD WAR Z and THE PERSEID COLLAPSE portray a uniquely American apocalypse, Canadian equivalents such as ORYX & CRAKE, the collected stories of FRACTURED: TALES OF THE CANADIAN POST-APOCALYPSE and my own KEZZIE OF BABYLON (Permuted Press, March 2015) offer an equivalent Canadian vision unique in its own right. While there will always be an appetite for American entertainment north of the border, our American friends might be surprised to learn how our apocalyptic visions differ.

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http://www.amazon.com/Kezzie-Babylon-Jamie-Mason-ebook/dp/B00U1WUGDI/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

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http://www.amazon.com/Fractured-Canadian-Post-Apocalypse-Anthology-Number-ebook/dp/B00N01MPAE/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=14279

3. ENEMIES & ANTAGONISTS Every good post-apocalyptic tale needs an enemy, and in American stories that enemy is usually a group or (in the case of zombies) a faceless horde which must be attacked and defeated militarily. THE WALKING DEAD handles this trope well, providing combat engagements pitting the protagonists against legions of zombies as well as human threats like the Governor and his dystopian serfs. WALKING DEAD s/heroes pack guns and katanas and these tools are always the go-to choice when trouble comes. This is not to dismiss other points of tension in the show (exploration, parlay with bad guys, character arcs), but to highlight the uniquely weaponized nature of the American post-collapse world. In a nation where the right to own firearms is enshrined in law and whose birth occurred in a storm of violence, it is logical that its death-throes would subside to the howl of gunfire. By contrast, the “enemy” faced by the main characters of Morgan M. Page’s poignant “City Noise” (FRACTURED: TALES OF THE CANADIAN POST-APOCALYPSE) is of an entirely different order. In Morgan’s vision, Toronto smoulders in the aftermath of a nebulous event known only as “The Crash” (an end every bit as ambiguous as our nation’s founding). The protagonists, Sarah and Johnny, are both transsexuals caught in the mid-point of transition when The Crash occurs, leaving them to scavenge in a blighted city for the drugs their bodies need in order to continue their biological migration. Instead of hordes of zombies to be vaporized by gunfire, the enemies Johnny and Sarah face are the ticking time-bombs of their own medically-altered biology, caught mid-way through a complex and transformative procedure

INDIVIDUAL VS. GROUP The cult of individualism is strongly rooted in the American consciousness and, for this reason, plays a titular role in any American post-apocalyptic story. The tendency for people to coalesce in a crisis is a historical given. But in American PA tales like OBJECTS OF WRATH (Permuted Press, 2014) the need for individualism sometimes leads to tragic results. One of the most poignant scenes in the novel involves a group of military first-responders flying into a remote encampment to offer aid to some backwoods survivalists. The unit’s doctor is turned away from caring for the group’s terminally-ill children because he is black. Here, hyper-individualism – the determination to survive with or without assistance from others, despite all logic – plays out in the ideology of a group existing in opposition to mainstream values of racial equality. Contrast this with the plot of my own novel, KEZZIE OF BABYLON (Permuted Press, 2015) wherein the Canadian tendency to seek accord and accommodation within groups – however dysfunctional – leads to disaster. A commune of biker outlaws, sheltered in the sanctuary of a remote grow-op in the hinterlands of Vancouver Island has, within its ranks, a deranged psychopath determined to impose her religious vision upon the group. The reluctance of the collective’s leaders to confront and disempower this person leads to murder, imposition of a form of worship that involves zombie crucifixion and (ultimately) destruction of the commune itself. Like those whose appeasement of the Quebecois nationalists resulted in the Meech Lake debacle, the reluctance of Buzz and Deacon to act allows Kezzie to take over and slaughter any who oppose her.

RELATIONSHIP TO NATURE Although environmental devastation often triggers the apocalyptic moment in American PA stories, it is rarely an ongoing threat as the plot progresses (THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW and Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD being the only exceptions that spring to mind). By way of final example, I contrast two short stories with the same title, one American, one Canadian. In Eric Del Carlo’s fascinating and brilliantly-rendered tale “The Herd” (OG’s Speculative Fiction, Issue #11), the Earth’s collapsing environment unleashes a series of devastating storms, driving a mass migration of human refugees ahead of them. Because I have spoken with Eric about the story’s origins, I can reveal that “The Herd” is based on his own experiences during Hurricane Katrina. Former residents of New Orleans, Eric’s family joined the stream of refugees clogging the highways just like the characters of “The Herd”. But it is what the storms cause people to do to each other as opposed to the storms themselves that form the real basis of Eric’s story. This in contrast to its Canadian counterpart. “The Herd” written by Tyler Keevil is first up in Exile Edition’s 2013 DEAD NORTH: CANADIAN ZOMBIE FICTION. In this unique twist on the zombie trope, Tyler presents us with a zombie horde migrating across the tundra, shadowed by an Inuit hunter. At play in this crisp, visually-evocative tale are all the elements of the classic Canadian wilderness survival story. It is Man against the elements as much as it is Man against … whatever. “A heaviness is in the air, a change in temperature, the wind, the look of the clouds. I know it is going to snow, and it comes in the early morning, just after the herd has set out. It arrives first, as a brief sprinkle … Then a lull, the air charged with a static crackle … Some of the deadheads stop, confused, and look up at this white confetti raining down …” – “The Herd”, Tyler Keevil, DEAD NORTH (Exile Editions, 2013) 4. And so we can see: the post-apocalyptic visions of both Canadian and American writers are informed by the human experience and social dimensions of the writers’ host countries. But it is in our origins, I think, that we find the defining characteristics of each country’s post-apocalyptic vision. We must remember that America and Canada are both nations engaged in the ongoing process of democratic evolution. Societies in both countries adapt to prevailing circumstances, learning from their mistakes, making mid-course corrections and each working to preserve the ongoing experiment that is any free society. We are unique, yes. But we influence each other enormously and are mutually fascinated by visions of the apocalypse. Americans, robust and individualistic, fight each other over possession of the wasteland while Canadians, willing to pay almost any price to remain within a group – however dysfunctional – seek to survive its ambiguous wilderness. As both nations emerge from history and grow toward self-actualization, we both imagine our own demise only to discover that we die very much the way we were born.

My friend Jamie Mason is a Canadian writer of dark fiction whose stories have appeared in On Spec, Abyss & Apex, White Cat and the Canadian Science Fiction Review. His zombie novel KEZZIE OF BABYLON was published in March of this year by Permuted Press. He lives on Vancouver Island. Learn more at www.jamiescribbles.com

http://www.amazon.com/Objects-Wrath-Book-1-ebook/dp/B00IK7MH9M/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

A Life, Well Written…Heroes, Villians, Lies and Truth. One Draft.

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I used to scoff at regrets, probably because they hadn’t yet accumulated enough mass. I was confidant and convinced, in the way young men are, that regrets are for for fools. I believed I could fight my way through life without the deep wounds and scars born of mistakes, and I charged with unswerving abandon and careless faith and speed straight into middle age. The truth hurts when it comes crashing. I’m an author, but I haven’t written my own life the way I should have, the way I would if I were a character in one of my own books.

“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show,”
Charles Dickens opens David Copperfield with that poetry, my favorite first sentence in literature.  Not only would I like to write like that, I’d like to succeed in living that great commission. Heroes fall and fail and triumph in the end because they learn from their mistakes, because they are able to feel the sting of regret and overcome great obstacles and great odds. There is always adversity, the thing is to defeat it.

I write heroes in my books that would despise me if they knew me, because they’re better, these characters and constructs who are more brave and good than I am. I’m just a writer, not a hero.  I’ve been writing and dreaming and lost in words and acting as though I had an editor for my life. Someone to excise the mistakes, cut the fat, correct the regrets. I’ve got just one draft, though, here and now, which is my life here on this earth. No auto correct, no edits, no way to change the character arc or tweak the ending. One draft, all the way through, is what I’ve got, and if it sucks, then it does. It’s a lowsy story.

I think there’s a bit more to it, though, than that. I’m far from figuring it out, and I’ve got my scars and regrets. I’m writing this interactive video game, where the characters make choices that impact the ending, and I think the universe is like that. Sometimes there are no good endings, no matter what, not here in this mean world. Mostly, though there are endings which could be satisfying when we, the actors in the play, the characters in the story of our lives, listen to the wrong things. I know I do.

Paul says in Hebrews 12:2 “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.”   I’m an author, but I haven’t been the author of my fate, not in the way I’d like to believe I’ve been. I certainly haven’t kept my eyes where they were supposed to be looking. One draft, one chance to get it right, and my choices make a difference, and I’m still hoping that my life will be written well, both by me and THE author.

http://www.amazon.com/Objects-Wrath-Book-1-ebook/dp/B00IK7MH9M/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1425937096&sr=8-1&keywords=sean+t+smith

American Sniper: Reivew and Controversy

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I read Chris Kyle’s autobiography last year, and when I learned that the book was going to be turned into a movie, I was thrilled and a bit skeptical. Clint Eastwood has delivered a movie that exceeded my expectations, a war film that deserves a place beside Saving Private Ryan and Apocalypse, Now. I hope it wins a truck-load of awards.

The pacing is excellent, juxtaposing scenes stateside with the war in Iraq. Bradley Cooper is utterly convincing in this role as the most lethal sniper in U.S. history. His performance is nuanced and heart breaking. The battle scenes are riveting. As the credits rolled, the entire crowded theater remained in their seats. No matter his flaws, Chris Kyle is an American hero, and this film is a great tribute to him and the brave men and women who risk their lives everyday defending our freedom.

Chris Kyle’s heart comes across better in the film than it did in the book, the inner conflict between duty and family, and the most emotional scenes of the movie revolve around Kyle’s inner struggle, whether it’s making an agonizing call on the battle field or a phone call to his wife.

There has been a surprising amount of controversy surrounding this film. A few celebrities have condemned it, Michael Moore publicly slamming the film. People have called the movie racist. Kyle experienced war in a way most men never do. He experienced savagery and witnessed atrocities that shaped his outlook on his enemies, people who were actively trying to kill him. He lost close friends in combat. The movie does not depict all Iraqis in a bad light; one of the most intense scenes in the movie does quite the opposite. The fact is, insurgents did melt into the civilian population, using IEDs and snipers to kill American soldiers. The notion that the film rewrites history is ludicrous.

The film is not political; it’s about what happened to the soldiers who were there and how the war stayed with them even when they were home. Whether or not the war in Iraq was justified or not doesn’t matter to the men and women who served in that fight. They carry the scars either way. The film doesn’t go into the justification for the war, doesn’t condone or glorify it. The fact is, war is ugly and mean and bloody and it’s always been that way.

Kyle prioritized his life thus: God, Family, Country. His ability to kill without remorse is chilling to soft civilians like me. I write about heroes, but I’m far from actually being one. But he’ s the guy you want at the gates when the city is under siege, standing on the wall, fighting back.

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I plan on rereading the book, and I’m sure I’ll watch the movie again before it leaves theaters. If you plan on seeing only one movie this year, see this one!

http://www.amazon.com/Sean-T.-Smith/e/B00IKHPGEK

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Interstellar: Review

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I grew up reading science fiction, and it remains my favorite genre of film and books. Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, Robert Silverberg, Rober Zelazny, Heinlein, Azimov, and Greg Bear remain some of my favorite authors. I enjoy the hard-sci fi as well as more playful space opera. I love the first Star Wars movies, and I also really like Contact. I loved The Edge of Tomorrow. Heck, I even liked Riddick.

So it was with great anticipation I forked out the extra bucks to see Interstellar on a super-big screen. I’d been looking forward to this one since I’d seen the trailer for it last year.

Of course, I was doomed to disappointment. It’s a rare thing when lofty expectations are met. It’s a decent movie, but I was hoping for something, well, stellar.

I liked the premise, the idea that the Earth had turned against humanity, leaving mankind no choice but to reach for the stars. The scenes of cars and trucks laden with people migrating to anywhere else were reminiscent of the Dust Bowl and Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath.

The acting was good, with Michael Cane and Mathew McConaughey delivering solid performances. The special effects were excellent, and there were some breathtaking scenes in space.

But there were too many moments where I scratched my head and said “What???” I had to resist the urge to turn to my wife and criticize the movie, risking the wrath of fellow movie goers, and I didn’t want to be THAT guy. So I sipped my drink and simmered.

My issue with this movie is that it pretends to be smarter than it actually is. Had I gone into the movie with a different set of expectations, I think I would have enjoyed the film much more.

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SPOILER ALERT

When the crew is on the planet with the massive tidal surge and a character drags her feet instead of returning to the ship, I cringed.

When they decide to investigate planets orbiting a black hole, I thought, why the hell would they do that. Black holes are inherently unstable, dangerous things you stay away from.

When the survivors leave a planet and within ten seconds are drawn into the black hole’s gravitational pull, I rolled my eyes. When they arrive at this black hole minutes later, not crushed by the gravity, I squirmed in my seat.

In the library of time, where past and present are laid out in extra dimensional space, I wondered what the hell was going on.

And the ending, where our hero decides to return, somehow without any time distortion, drove me nuts.

So there it is. I found the movie to be visually stunning, and emotional, but the massive plot holes and shoddy science detracted from the overall experience. If I’d known going in that the movie was essentially silly, I could have rolled with the inexplicable twists and turns and made up physics.

It’s worth watching on the big screen, just be prepared.