Release Status: It’s Your Choice

I’ve never loved self-promotion, and I like it a heck of a lot less during a global pandemic. However, I also understand that people would like a distraction during this time, and books offer an escape that is welcome. Therefore, I still intend to release One in Ten on 4/21. Pre-ordering is still available now. I can change the release date, but I’m not sure if that’s best. Here’s why.

In order for the world to even recognize my book, I had a plan in place. Students in the area and beyond are currently reading or have read One in Ten. The intent was for them to write reviews on Amazon during release week, 4/21-4/24. Amazon sees those reviews and starts suggesting my book to others, and then digital word-of-mouth grows. Well, all of those students are home now. I don’t know how much interaction they will have with the English teachers and librarians who set up this process. Therefore, release week may come and go without much in the way of reviews. Which, obviously, is not ideal.

However, I have options. One, I can send the manuscript to anyone who wants it right now. Send me an email and it’s yours. Two, I can release early, make the ebook free for  a week and you will all have the same access, just via Amazon. So, here’s the contact link. Let me know which you would prefer, me to send you a PDF now, or for me to release early. Either way, you’ll get the novel for free. Then, if you review, many many more people will realize it exists. And during this time, I think you will absolutely enjoy the escape One in Ten provides. It does, ironically, demonstrate how a government deals with a healthcare crisis. Therefore, it may also be particularly relevant.

So, reach out. Let me know what you’d like. I’m here for you.

Be healthy. Stay well. Happy reading!

Life in the Time of Corona

I am not a scientist and so I will not provide any insight into our current medical crisis. However, I am an author and an educator. I create stories and I explore them with students. We are not living in a tale. This is not a story of a fictional monster. The threat is real, and as adults we need to accept that and move on, appropriately. Arguing over whether the steps taken are “too much” is not the point. Moving safely along the path is. Wait until the dust settles before saying, “I told you so.” Better, when this is all over, just let that statement go. In the meantime, we have work to do.

Today, on this forgotten Saint Patrick’s Day, I begin teaching remotely. I’m prepared, but I know some teachers are not. These are new and uncharted waters, so please have patience as my colleagues begin navigating. The same goes for all of the students out there. Some of you are good to go. Some aren’t even close. Reach out. Let someone know you need help if you do. Trust me, there is a desire among educators, desperate to help. You are not alone in this.

I would normally be touting some facet of One in Ten in order to get you to buy it on 4/21. However, I have no idea if that release date will change or stay the same. It’s currently not my top priority. Helping out is. Therefore, if you are a teacher, and you need something engaging for your students to read, let me know. I will gladly send you the PDF of One in Ten. Certainly you’ll want to read it first, but it’s a quick read, and I think you’ll find it more than suitable for your students (here’s Ch.1 and Ch. 2 if you need a sneak peek). It’s the least I can do. And if this stretches on and you’d like me to Zoom into a class, or record myself answering questions from your students, let me know. I am here and available.

Again, no science advice from me, just one suggestion. Be kind to each other in these ensuing weeks. Yes, it’s going to get worse, and yes, there will be a lot of blame going around. Avoid that and focus on what’s under your control. You cannot control what is going on around you, but you can control how you respond to it. How do you want to be remembered as we lived through Corona? Embrace the obstacle and come out as the hero.

One in Ten, Chapter 2

I hope you enjoyed the teaser video above. Now, if you’d like to read all of Chapter 2, please do so, below. However, if you need a refresher about where we left off with Kenny, click here for Chapter 1. Six weeks until One in Ten is available!

Chapter 2

The party ends with my relatives taking just enough leftovers so that we still have food for tomorrow. Dad walks Theo out. He squeezed my arm before he went, but fortunately didn’t offer any more advice. I don’t think I could have handled it. About all I can handle right now is the sensation of this bag in my pocket. I have to do something with it. This is not a choice. This is addiction in the real-world, not some stupid treatment center where there aren’t any drugs.

Mom’s in the kitchen, tidying up. The sound of the Tupperware lids snapping into place is comforting. I worked in the kitchen at my second treatment center. We packaged a lot of leftovers, and I scrubbed a lot of Tupperware, but I loved that place. It was the cleanest, with the best-looking staff. Strange details like that matter. I was willing to do anything for this one, smoking hot counselor, Hannah. I was fifteen and she was probably in her twenties, and holy hell, every time she smiled, I melted a little. It was like the tiniest bump of H, but it did the trick.

Only for so long, though. The memory of her faded not long after I got home and I needed real drugs, not smiles.

“Do you need any help?” I ask, while holding onto the wall leading into the kitchen. I want her to say no, but I’m trying not to live like the asshole I usually am. Or maybe I’m stalling, trying to stifle the baggie’s voice.

Mom looks around the room. “No, I’ve got it.” She looks at me. “Did you have fun?”

I wouldn’t call that gathering fun, but I say, “Absolutely. So much better than what I was doing this time last week.”

Instead of laughing at my joke her face loses its levity. She looks downright sad for a moment, before saying, “Right. But you’re here now.”

It sounds like she’s convincing herself of this fact.

“Yeah. Sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you.”

Her head snaps. “No, I’m not upset. Not at all.” She forces a wide, fake smile, and as much as I know what’s going on with her, I don’t really know. I’ve been away and they’ve been here, struggling, for sure. Financially, emotionally, and in ways I can’t comprehend. That’s what therapy gets you to consider, but then baggies and potential scores and old connections help you forget.

The front door opens and Dad comes in, laughing. “Man, Theo is in a great mood.”

Mom raises her eyebrows at me, and we both turn to greet him.

“Seriously, he was just cracking jokes and telling me about this project he’s working on.”

“You believe him?” I ask.

Dad grabs a carrot from the wings’ container. He bites down. “What do you mean?”

How does he not understand? “Do you think he’s really working on something? Not just blowing smoke?”

My parents look at one another. It’s one of those unspoken communication moments. Then Dad nods. He looks back at me. “Kenny, Theo is actually doing well. He’s writing for Netflix.”

“What?” I’m genuinely confused. Theo’s always been evasive about his work, so how can Dad know this?

“I’ll show you. His name’s on the credits for a few of the shows. It’s legit.”

“So why’s he still driving that crappy car of his?”

Another moment of silence, another silent communication between them. Then Mom answers. “He’s still paying off his rehab bill.”

That hurts. But it also makes sense. Theo didn’t go away until he was older. He was an adult, which means he got to foot the bill. It’s not as if Dad’s parents would have helped anyway. They have that mantra of You made your bed, now you’re going to lie in it. Always seemed harsh to me.

“Well,” I say, and don’t have anything more.

Dad clasps my shoulder. “Hey, the best thing is he’s left you with that gift, his journal. You won’t question the legitimacy of what’s there, trust me.”

“Don, don’t push,” Mom says.

Dad squeezes my shoulder a bit tighter. “I’m not, just offering some advice.”

His words echo through me, as do the memories of our meetings with therapists, pre-release. They have all these rules, which makes it feel like they’re trying to bring the facility into the real world. But we all follow them, like New Year’s resolutions, and just as quickly, we fall back into what we know. Dad’s on script, and so is Mom, and so I know my line.

“It’s all right. I actually want to chill for a bit. Maybe I’ll read some of the journal.”

Behind me, Mom says, “That’s your choice, honey.”

Dad nods. I’m in one hell of a supportive sandwich, and yet it feels stifling.

“Thanks,” I say, and take a step toward my room. “And don’t let me forget to call Henry later. I now he’s got meetings lined up.” He’s my sponsor and is probably itching to hear what’s what.

“You got it,” they say, in unison, and then they laugh, which makes me smile, because if they can still do that together, all is not lost. So maybe, neither am I.

I grab Theo’s journal and settle onto my bed. Once there, my leg burns. It’s like having a toothache. You literally can’t think of anything else besides the pain. Until you figure something out, like pinching yourself, or stabbing your arm with a pencil, repeatedly. It was the stupidest thing for me not to tell anyone about the stash. This is my fault. Yeah, I wasn’t one-hundred percent certain that there were drugs there, but it would have been so much better if my parents had found this bag, searching on a maybe, than me, practically willing it into existence.

It’s like I’ve forgotten everything I’ve been through, all that I’ve learned at the treatment centers I’ve been in. Somehow, I’ve seemed to misplace all my logic, because do I really want to lose it all to the government? Don’t I want to be clean?

I grab a pillow and jam it over my face and scream. I bite the pillow and scream some more and the anger outweighs the tears I know are coming next, followed by my self-hatred, which gives me all the excuse I need to use again.

Air. I inhale deeply, fill my belly and count to five. I repeat the process until I’m no longer panicking. At the edge of my dresser sits my uncle’s journal. Beyond it is my closet. This feels like a path, and I’d better start on it straight, because I’ve already started to detour.

I move as fast as I can, so I don’t have to think. My hand’s in my pocket as I reach the closet, but I’ve forgotten the screwdriver, and now the baggie sits in my hand, winking at me. I kneel down and dig my fingertips in and yank. The Velcro budges, but not much. The baggie feels like it’s crawling up my arm, guided by GPS, marking the way to the crook, to my veins, which are healthy again, bulging blue. I put my shoulder into it this time and don’t care that my knuckles are scraping. I push down as hard as I can and the board gives way. The hole from which the baggie came is open. This is like some paranormal movie and I have to return the demon to the other world, and so I do. I play the hero. I toss the baggie in, snap the board back in place, and then hear the scream from the other side, the pain of death.

Except there is no voice and there is no death, and I could be the antihero at any moment. For now, I’m safe, and a certain calmness washes over me. I’ve won the battle. But I’ve fought so many that this one feels hollow.

I stand, grab my uncle’s journal and take it back to my bed. I breathe, and then before I can think another thought about drugs, I open the damn thing and read.

On the inside cover, Theo’s written: The rules are at the end. A list. To understand them, though, you must start at the beginning.

“Okay, Yoda,” I say, and turn to the back. Sure enough, Theo’s five rules are scrawled.

  1. Honesty, at all times, with yourself and others.
  1. A mind works best when it’s open, so drop your judgment and your preconceptions.
  1. You are your surroundings, so be sure that who and what are around you reflect what you want to see in yourself.
  1. Avoid temptations of all varieties, because if there is no spark, you cannot have fire.
  1. Believe in something greater than yourself. This doesn’t have to be God, but it does have to possess the same power as one.

None of these are new ideas. I’ve heard some variation of these ever since I began using, or really since my parents tried to stop me from using. How is this supposed to save me? I don’t even know how to do half of this, and I’ll bet not even sober people do.

I set the journal down and look out my window. Night has fallen and the moon is shrouded in clouds. “Fuck you, Theo,” I say. “Like you have a clue.”

There’s a knock at the door and then Mom’s walking in. “Are you okay?” Her eyes are all over me, looking, searching, praying.

“Yeah, I just started Theo’s journal. It’s got me thinking.”

“Oh.” It’s obvious that she’s not sure how to proceed. Should she leave me with these thoughts or not? She holds out her phone. “Well, this may be perfect timing, then. Henry called.”

It’s like she’s pointing a gun at me. I’d rather her pull the trigger than make me talk to him. Not right now. He’ll hear in my voice that I’m desperate, that my mind’s not like a parachute, and that the only belief I have is that this will not end well.

“Uh, great. That is like perfect timing,” I say and reach for the phone.

Mom holds onto it for a second and cannot contain her smile. “Let me know when you’re done.” She closes the door and I put the phone up to my ear.

“Henry, hey, it’s Kenny.”

“It sure as hell better be you. I don’t want to know if you have anyone else in the room with you.” He laughs at his own joke and I chuckle along because it’s polite. There’s no one else in my life, male or female. Once I started using, drugs were all that mattered. I know I’ve hooked up with people, but I can barely remember what happened. And in rehab you can’t touch anyone but yourself. And even then, you feel so guilty all the time, it barely rises.

“On a scale of one to ten, how much do you want to use right now?” Henry, he cuts to the damn chase.

I know I’m at like an eight, but if I say that, he’ll have my parents sleeping in my room. “I won’t lie, like a five.”

“Bullshit. I talked to your mother. You’ve been pacing the house, you had a party, your uncle left you some words of wisdom. You’re crawling out of your damn skin.”

It sucks to be this transparent. Or obvious. Or a stupid stereotype. “All right, like an eight.”

“Now that sounds about right. There’s an NA meeting in a half hour at the Presbyterian church in town. You’re going.”

“But I’m so damn tired. Let me sleep the itch away.”

“Yeah, because that works. Get your ass outta bed. Your dad probably has his keys in his hand already.” There’s a pause and in it I close my eyes and am thankful. “Got it?”

“I do. Thanks, Henry.”

“Any time, Kenny. Work the steps.”

I hang up. “Screw the steps,” I mutter. I’m not sure if I mean this, but I’ve yet to find someone who has managed to get clean from following those twelve mantras. Yet, who am I to talk?

I take Henry’s advice and get out of bed. Dad is in the hallway when I open my door. “You ready?” he says and holds up his keys as if to punctuate his question.

I pat myself down, out of habit, but I have no wallet or money or phone or drugs—at least not on me. “Yeah.”

We walk out to the car and Dad pulls out of the driveway. I was in the backseat for the ride home, and that was a trip, because it had been so long since I’d been in a car, outside, and free. Now, in the passenger seat, I lower the window a crack and feel the air on my face.

“You feeling all right?” Dad asks.

“Better than I have in a while. It’s the little things, like car rides and open windows. You forget about them.”

He’s quiet, probably wondering what else I’ve forgotten. The list could go on and on. We pull up to the church and a few people stand outside, smoking cigarettes, a sure sign we’re in the right spot. “All right, so I’ll see you in like an hour or so?” I ask.

Dad reaches into the back and pulls a plastic bag onto his lap. “Actually, you can call when you’re done. That is if you still remember our numbers.”

He hands me a Trac phone, which is this shitty Android, but it’s a smartphone, so I can’t complain much. I tap the contacts. There are none. This is perfect, because, yes, I remember my parents’ numbers, but none of my friends/dealers’, whoever they were to me.

I dial and a moment later Dad’s phone rings. He smiles.

“Put me in your contacts in case you want to text,” I say.

“I will, Kenny,” he says, but makes no move toward his phone. He looks me over and I know what he’s going to say before he says it. “I’m proud of you. You did the work, inside, so let’s continue it, outside.”

Because it’s that easy. The problem with addiction is that it’s not compartmentalized. You can’t fix one area, you have to fix them all, and I’m not sure anyone has figured out how to treat the entire person and their surroundings, and their past, and their habits, and every little trigger that becomes an excuse. But I say, “Couldn’t agree more. Thanks, Dad.” I tuck my new phone away and get out of the car, cross the street, and join the group outside the church.

There are no signs, so I ask a guy in his twenties who’s smoked his cigarette down to the filter, “This NA?”

“Better be.” He smiles. “If not, we’re about to learn about Jesus or some shit.”

I laugh and it feels good. The guy laughs back and nods toward the stairs. We descend for the meeting or for Jesus or for something else altogether.

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STEM gone wrong: the science of One in Ten

A common tension in Science Fiction is the question of potential outcomes: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. This is the ground on which One in Ten stands when it comes to the science and technology within it. Yes, the government has a program that “works” but should they really use it?

Consider these MIT robots. Should this be? If you’ve seen Black Mirror’s Metalhead” you know the answer.

Yes, while the “Cheetah” robots look adorable and might get rated a 13/10 on We Rate Dogs with “would give all the pets”, in my stories I tend to look beneath the positives and expose the negative. The same is true in One in Ten, and the science it’s based on begs for such exploration.

Consider the fact that the opioid epidemic (pills and heroin and synthetics) have cost the US $2.5 trillion dollars over the past four years. Yes, that’s trillion with a “t”. The incentive to cure–or at minimum produce a better treatment–is not only a social issue, but a financial one. And when there’s money, there’s bound to be corruption.

Therefore, it wasn’t a great leap to consider how technology could be used to provide that cure/treatment, and with my background, having technology running part of the body was an easy and logical fit. 

The country may now be at odds with the Boomers, but thanks to their longevity, we are witnessing a rise in medical devices, especially implants. From new hips, to pacemakers and defibrillators, to stents, and even as you see above, implants to help restore memorySo, why not use technology to cure/treat heroin addiction?

VR and magnetic stimulation are already being used to treat addiction, so what about something implantable, with capabilities embedded into the code that are more powerful than human desire?

Back to the original consideration.

If we could do something like that, should we? What does it mean to interrupt the process of breaking addiction through artificial means? Who is the individual now, if part of the brain (or maybe all) is being run by a machine? Are they still themselves, or a cyborg self? Are they still addicted? And what happens if the technology glitches or just stops working?

The essential question being asked is how much of our humanity should we surrender to technology? You’ll have to read the novel to find out.

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