Welcome!

I'm James Maxey, the author of numerous novels of fantasy and science fiction. I use this site to discuss a wide range of topics, with a heavy emphasis on cranky, uninformed rants about politics and religion and other topics that polite people attempt to avoid. For anyone just wanting to read about my books, I maintain a second blog, The Prophet and the Dragon, where I keep the focus solely on my fiction. I also have a webpage where both blogs stream, with more information about all my books, at jamesmaxey.net.

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Sunday, April 16, 2017

5,000 miles!

Cheryl and I started tracking the distance we walked, hiked, biked, and kayaked back in December of 2012 using a program called Endomondo. This tracks our location via GPS whenever we exercise. It's not a step counter, so it doesn't capture incidental walking, like the steps we make while we're at work or out shopping. It only tracks when we turn it on while deliberately going outside and exercising. (You can also manually input distance walked on a treadmill or stationary bike, but, except for once or twice when we first started using the program, we never do that.)

This morning, I checked our stats. Cheryl has now logged 5022 miles. I've logged 5296. If we'd been traveling in a straight line west, we'd have paddled past Hawaii by now. Heading east, I'd have already walked passed Moscow.

Look, if we can do this, almost anyone can. Cheryl and I aren't exactly elite athletes. Cheryl especially has faced some extreme challenges that knock most people off their feet, spending most of last year being treated for cancer with chemotherapy and radiation. To top it off, Cheryl has osteoarthritis in her left, meaning she has to wear a knee brace to walk or hike.

We also don't have magical access to some vast pool of free time. I work two jobs, a full time job during the day, and my career as a writer in the evenings. I run a book club and am a board member with the Orange County Friends of the Library. Cheryl has a full time job and is an active member of her church. We have time to watch TV, an hour or two most nights. But in the evenings before sitting down to watch TV, we get in a walk or a ride. On Saturdays, rain or shine, we make sure we set aside at least a couple of hours for a hike or a bike ride or kayaking.

It all adds up. The more you do, the more you want to do. Once you get used to biking ten miles, you'll want to start biking fifteen. When you see how much of the hidden world is revealed with a two mile hike, you'll start wondering what you might see with a five mile hike.

Once you get outside and off road, you'll realize that most of the world is out of sight of your car windows. There are mountaintops you'll only reach on foot. There are beautiful rivers winding through flooded forests you'll only witness via kayak. Biking has taken us along old rail trails where we see relics of a lost past as we travel through tunnels and fly across gorges on iron bridges. Even if you could reach a lot of these places by car, you'd miss the full experience sitting in an air conditioned box. On our ride yesterday, we kept close watch of the sky, because the wind smelled of oncoming rain. Climbing a hill, we breathed air perfumed with wisteria long before we actually saw the vines draping from trees along the trail. The day was hot and humid, the air thick, which made it all the more glorious when we passed through an old railway tunnel and felt the cool air flowing from it. And you don't really understand just how great water tastes until you've biked ten miles under a hot sun.

We draw inspiration from the people we see on these trails with us. Yesterday on the greenway, we passed a young man in a wheel chair. On the American Tobacco trail, we've seen old women with walkers over a mile from the nearest trailhead. We get passed by people on bikes who have to be at least ten years older than us. We've even once seen a blind biker (he was accompanied by what I can only describe as a seeing eye rider peddling in front of him).

This is your planet. That's your body you're inside. Use them! You'll be surprised by what you'll discover.

Friday, December 23, 2016

A Hillsborough Walking Adventure

We ride our bikes on a lot of greenways. While in theory walkers, runners, and bikers should be able to share the greenways, the reality is that the interaction between bikers and walkers is a little stressful. Bikers move fast, and, if they don’t call out or ring a bell, they barely make any noise, catching walkers unaware. On the flipside, the number of walkers we encounter while biking who are oblivious of their surroundings is pretty high. Calling out to walkers doesn’t help if they are so focused on their phones they don’t hear you.

So, if you just want to walk without worrying about bikes, the path I’ll describe today is for you. Bikes are outright prohibited on half of the trail, and the rest of the trail isn’t very bike friendly with narrow bridges and tight turns. You’re free to walk without thinking twice about what might be zooming up behind you.

A few months ago, a bridge was built over the Eno River that links two great walking trails, the Hillsborough Riverwalk and the Occaneechee Speedway Trail. Both include segments of North Carolina's Mountain to Sea Trail. There are hiking trails around the speedway, but for our walk today we stuck to the flat walking paths, walking from the Speedway all the way to Gold Park, then back and once around the speedway trace. This makes for a pleasant 5.3 mile round trip that I would argue is one of the nicest long walking trails in North Carolina (as opposed to a hiking trail or bike trail). It's got great scenery, lots of historical markers, and easy access to water and bathrooms since a big chunk of the trail is so close to downtown.




The path we walked, tracked by GPS.
 The walk could easily be edited. Gold Park has several different walking paths looping together, and the easy trails around the speedway could be added to make this a six or seven mile walk.
Ordinarily not a sign we like to see, but it does make walking less stressful.

In winter, the trails possess a stark beauty.

Good for the brain as well as the body.
One nice feature of this walk is that you're passing along ground that's been continuously occupied since long before there was a place called Hillsborough. Lots of signs explain the history and prehistory of the area. This sign has an old map showing old roads that used to intersect the path of the Riverwalk.

Art!

Occoneechee Speedway


Fairy House
Blaze marking the Mountain to Sea Trail


A woodpecker working hard for its meal.
Since we did a morning walk, the only real wildlife we saw was a woodpecker. When we walk this path in the evening, more often than not we see deer. In the spring we often see young owls in the trees as well.

Looking forward to the day they build a bridge connecting the Speedway and Ayr Mount. I also look forward to this segment of the Mountain to Sea Trail finally connecting with the portion in the Eno. Then, if a person were so inclined, it would be possible to walk from Hillsborough to the far side of Raleigh without having to once walk along a road. That's an adventure I'm really hoping can happen within the next few years.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Few Upsides to Trump's Win

Let me get this out of the way: I didn't vote for Trump. I have serious, serious doubts about whether or not he'll be even minimally competent as president. I think he's erratic and thin-skinned, and there's not a whole lot of evidence that he has much of a grasp of numerous important issues. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, took a lot of heat for not knowing what Aleppo was. But Trump bungled a lot more of these questions and it didn't dent him. He managed to substitute swagger for wisdom and knowledge, a strategy that served him well campaigning, but a frightening way to actually lead a nation. Will he be the worst president ever? How about the worst in our lifetime? I don't feel like that's a safe prediction. George Bush set a pretty high standard for bad presidencies by invading a nation on a premise that later proved to be utterly mistaken. Then he got to close out his presidency with a housing meltdown, a stock market crash, and a big bank bailout that completely shattered any claims that Republicans championed small government and opposed interfering in markets. I'm holding onto a fragile hope that Trump might do nothing over the next four years except get into twitter wars with b-list celebrities and travel around the country holding rallies. I would count him as a semi-successful president if he gets to the end of his term and hasn't mistakenly invaded a sovereign nation and/or wiped out all the value of my 401k.

I told a friend right before the election that I'd be horrified if Hillary won and terrified if Trump won. But, now that he is officially president elect, I do think there are a few upsides to point out.

Upside #1: He's perfectly illustrating my central argument for being a libertarian. My libertarianism boils down to one principal: Don't grant your friends political powers that you wouldn't trust in the hands of your worst enemies. There are people who believe an a sort of soft authoritarianism, where the running of the country is taken out of the hands of elected officials and entrusted to specialized bureaucrats in a agencies like the EPA, the Department of Labor, HHS, HUD, etc. If you're a Democrat, and there's a Democrat at the helm of these departments, you probably feel pretty good when these departments issue rules and regulations that have the weight of law without ever being voted on by congress. Now, these same departments are going to be run by people with a mission of using these same powers to move the country in a direction that will horrify you. Will you be wise enough to see that it's not enough to simply win the next election? The politics in our country is a pendulum. There are no permanent majorities. If you don't want your enemies to have terrifying power, don't give terrifying power to your friends.

Upside #2: The pendulum. Republicans at the moment are in a pretty strong position, controlling both houses of congress and a firm majority of states. You know what it will take to get Democrats back into majorities? A few years of Republican rule. It may be structurally difficult to take back the senate in two years due to the raw numbers of Democrat seats versus Republican seats up for grabs, but it's easy to imagine the House flipping in two years. The divisions of states might also swing, just in time for districts to be redrawn following the next census. Republican's are doomed by a simple calculus: If they're timid in legislating, and fail to deliver on some of their core issues they've been unable to move on due to having a Democrat in the White House, their base won't turn out for them in the midterms. If they set a bold agenda and give the base everything they want, then the base will have no real reason to turn out, since their work will be done. As near as I can tell from observing politics all these years, the party base voters never vote out of gratitude. The next few elections will see Democrats hungry and willing to go on offense, and Republicans bogged down with actual responsibilities and playing defense.

Upside #3. A vivid demonstration that money isn't everything in politics. North Carolina was a swing state, which meant that during September and October, pretty much every ad I saw on television was a political ad. The vast, vast majority of these ads were for Hillary Clinton. I've been trying to find some final spending totals, but I'm getting sums all over the map for how much was actually spent. According to an ABC news story about planned spending (as opposed to the actual final spends) Clinton was slated to spend $14 million on television ads in North Carolina. Trump was only slated to spend $1.3 million. As someone afflicted by these ads, I find it plausible that there were ten times as many Hillary ads as Trump ads. But the final vote wasn't particularly close. Trump won in a year when Democrats were organized and had a good enough base operation to toss out an incumbent Republican governor. Looking at the figures for other battleground states, I see that Hillary outspent Trump in Florida 53 to 1. Nationally, Hillary and associated PACs outraised and outspent Trump and his allies by a 2 to 1 margin. And let's not forget the primaries, when Jeb Bush entered the campaign with an atomic blast of money designed to vaporize any potential rivals and wound up getting, what, six people voting for him, and most of those were family members?

Trump explicitly argued that he didn't need to spend a lot of money on television ads. And, if we must grant he was right about one thing, he proved to be absolutely right on this. One could argue that he was a celebrity, a household name before he ever began his run for president. But Hillary and Jeb Bush weren't exactly anonymous. In the end, I think that this election provided an interesting natural experiment. One candidate saturated the airwaves with ads defining her opponent as a reckless, scary madman, and the other candidate effectively ignored those ads rather than responding to them dollar for dollar. In North Carolina, at least, I feel like the result was that the sort of voter who decides who to vote for based on TV ads wound up sick of Hillary Clinton by election day, and pretty much dismissed every bad thing about Trump as negative politics not to be taken seriously. Negative political ads have all the impact of Chicken Little warning the sky is falling. I think the negative ads might actually have insulated Trump from some of his more outrageous statements, since we're so used to seeing politician's words twisted out of context in 30 ads that the average voter just assumes that everything said in a negative ad is probably false. Will future politicians learn from this and decide that saturation negative television advertising isn't the best way to get a candidate elected? And if the best funded candidate isn't guaranteed a win, will future big money donors question the value of throwing so much money at candidates? I imagine there are a few Wall Street banking firms second guessing the wisdom of paying Hillary Clinton six figure sums for speeches.

Even if you absolute hate Trump, at least you can take some satisfaction in the thought of so many people used to buying the favor of candidates losing so much money this year.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Climbing Above Cancer


Last year, I wrote a post called Training for Cancer. My wife Cheryl had been diagnosed with breast cancer only a few weeks before. Challenging times were ahead. She’d face months of chemotherapy, surgeries both major and minor, a full course of radiation that resulted in burn-like wounds, and daily, constant stress. The chemo left her unable to eat without growing ill. She faced fatigue that no amount of sleep could overcome, when she could sleep at all, since, due to the surgeries, she could no longer sleep in her favorite positions. She lost her hair and toe nails. Every day when she looked in the mirror she had the reminder that a small cluster of her own cells was actively attempting to kill her. Life became an hour by hour fight to get through the cancer days, to get through treatment, and return to whatever was left of normal.

Of course, she went into this fight with a few advantages. She had supportive family, friends, and coworkers. She had good health insurance, and was being treated at one of the top cancer facilities in the world. She had far more information and understanding of her disease than the typical patient, since she’d spent over two decades working on drug studies, including studies of the drugs that she would be treated with. Of course, her knowledge was a double-edged sword. She knew the drugs she’d be on had been proven effective, but she also knew that effective, when you’re talking about chemotherapy, doesn’t equal a guarantee.

She had one final advantage. A few years ago, we’d both committed to exercising more. For whatever weird reason, when we made this resolution, we somehow stuck with it. There’s a training program called Couch to 5k, where you build up from being a couch potato to running a 5k. We went from the couch to 5k and kept going. We walked, ran, hiked, kayaked, and, of course, biked. We did a psychologically important 50 mile ride on my fiftieth birthday, the first time we’d ridden that far, and after that we just kept pushing ourselves. Could we do 60? 75? A hundred? Yes, yes, yes.

When Cheryl was diagnosed with breast cancer, she was as fit as she’d ever been in her life. Just a few months earlier, she’d pedaled for twelve hours to cover 100 miles. When the cancer came, they do tests of your heart to make certain you can withstand the rigors of treatment. Her heart, of course, was in excellent condition. But if we hadn’t spent the last couple of years exercising? Maybe not. Before we started our exercise regimen, Cheryl had numerous health problems associated with poor diet and a lack of exercise. She was on medicine for her blood sugar, her cholesterol, and her blood pressure. By the time she received her diagnosis, she no longer needed these drugs.

Pre-exercise Cheryl would probably have been too sick to do much once her treatment started. But cancer didn’t face off with old Cheryl. It instead found itself up against bad-ass century ride Cheryl. This Cheryl just rode right over cancer, and kept on rolling.

No matter how sick Cheryl got, she was always thinking about when we could get in our next bike ride. She no longer had the stamina to ride a hundred miles in a day, or even fifty. But we did a lot of shorter rides, five, ten, twenty miles. By the fall, she was building back up to thirty and forty.

Cancer slowed Cheryl down, but it didn’t stop her, and we have the numbers to prove it. We use a program called Endomondo to track our exercise, using GPS to record every mile we bike, walk, and paddle. In 2015, the year when she was diagnosed with cancer in November, she’d travelled 1250 miles. In 2016, the year when she was struggling with chemo, radiation, and fatigue, she’s logged 1275 miles, and still has two weeks to go.

This week, she had her last infusion of drugs. Every possible test they’ve subjected her to finds no trace of the cancer. She’s had a model response, and a 90% chance that the cancer won’t return. Of course, with cancer, it’s a waiting game. You can never truly say you’re cured, only that, at this moment, there’s no sign of the disease.

What we can say is that Cheryl won’t be sitting around on the couch waiting for it to return. She’ll be outside, a dozen miles out on a greenway, or paddling across a lake, or climbing up a mountain. Today, she took a celebratory hike, climbing to the top of Hanging Rock in icy wind and dense banks of fog, to wave a victory flag.

Life offered Cheryl a reason to exercise less. She took it as a motivation to exercise more. Cancer couldn’t knock her off her feet.  She’ll keep moving, because movement is life.


Saturday, December 10, 2016

Best of Biking

Just after Thanksgiving, with a certain wistfulness, I took the bike rack off my car and put it into storage for winter. It's not the cold that has chased us away from biking for a little while; we've biked in temps as low as the 20s a couple of times. But, we do a lot of our riding after work, and for the next few months there's just not enough light to ride by. As for weekends, we've got so many commitments through December there didn't seem to be space for a Saturday ride. So, in the name of fuel economy, off came the rack, at least until January or February, depending on how the weather goes.

For our wedding anniversary, I gave Cheryl a necklace with a little silver bicycle pendant. Biking has stopped being an occasional leisure activity, or a form of exercise. It's become part of our lifestyle, part of our identity. We bought our first bikes, a pair of red Schwinn Cruisers, before we were married, and would occasionally ride them on the Tobacco Trail or at the beach. Back then, three and four mile rides were exhausting. The thought of ten or twenty mile rides seemed insane. But once Durham built the bridge over 1-40 to turn the Tobacco Trail into a complete 22 mile ride, the challenge of doing the whole trail in a single day started to intrigue us. We also learned about the Neuse River Trail in Raleigh, and all the trails leading off from it. And then there were all the rail trails in Virginia, the Creeper Trail, the New River Trail, the High Bridge Trail, and more. We had bike fever!

So, here's a glimpse at some of the best things we've captured on film these last few years. The best parts of our rides never make it onto film, however, but will be forever in our memories.

 Our first bikes


 From the C&O Canal Trail, Cheryl parked her bike to create a nearly perfect shadow. A lot of other pics we take lend themselves to art.





One of the best things about our rides is all the animals we encounter. Herons, turtles, and deer are all wonderfully photogenic.






Of course, the plants put on a show as well...



 If you bike in the summer for any length of time, occasionally you'll get rained on!

But it's worth the risk of rain for the wonderful scenery.



One challenge of biking: It's kind of hard to get pictures of each other while we're actually on our bikes. Still, we've managed a few decent pictures over the years.




















We celebrated my 50th birthday with our first ever 50 mile ride.

The very tip top of the Virginia Creeper Trail... end of the line, but the beginning of a great adventure.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Grateful for My Darkness: a #HoldOnToTheLight post


I was damned at the age of thirteen. I belonged to a fundamentalist church. I’d been to Sunday School and two church sermons twice a week my whole life. I spent chunks of my summer in Vacation Bible School and church camps, and was part of scout groups based in my church. I believed in God. I believed that the Bible was the literal word of God, and everything in it was true. I believed I was a sinner, and that God knew my every thought, my every urge, but that was okay. I believed, as well, in the redemptive power of the blood of Jesus, and took comfort in the notion he’d died for my sins, that all was forgiven.

Then, one Sunday School, it was explained that there was one unforgivable sin: blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. While contemplating this revelation, I imagined what one might say that would constitute such a sin. And then I’d done it: I’d thought of a blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. And God knew my every thought. Thinking a sin was the equivalent of doing it.

I was eternally damned. I was damned, in a church where nearly every sermon brought up the torments of hell, the fiery pits, the unquenchable thirsts, the boils and pestilence and wounds that would never heal.

For people who grew up in a different faith or with faith held at a different intensity, it’s perhaps unfathomable that I would have felt condemned to hell for a thought. I will ask you to trust me when I say that this single moment nearly destroyed me. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t pay attention at school. I lived, day in, day out, with the certainty that I was going to spend eternity in Hell. I couldn’t talk about this with anyone. I felt like a monster, the worst of all possible sinners, worse than a murderer or a thief in the Lord’s eyes.  Unforgiven. Unforgivable. Sometimes, I’d wake from sleep certain that Satan was in the room. Not metaphorically. I was convinced that if I opened my eyes the devil would be there, waiting to take me.

I became withdrawn. Even though I still went to church, I was unable to connect or socialize. My life was over before it ever truly started.

Fortunately, in my religious household and social circles, no one ever tempted me with booze or drugs. I can see pretty easily that I could have become an addict if these outlets had been close at hand. But I was lucky. The only drug available to ease my suffering was reading. I retreated from the real world into the world of books. I read a lot of comic books, which lead me to read a lot of science fiction novels, which got me started on reading books about actual science. The world explained by science had no need of a creator God, no need of a cosmic judge. Morality and ethics could be explained by evolutionary roots rather than requiring commandments carved into stone. By sixteen, I’d escaped damnation by shifting into atheism. Of course, it was a secret atheism. I couldn’t tell my family. I definitely couldn’t tell people at church. I couldn’t tell people at school, because my secret might spread.

I was still a monster in my own eyes. I didn’t know a single other person who was an atheist. I’d never seen an atheist portrayed on television. But at least I had a label to cling to. I knew what kind of monster I was. There was something sinister and subversive in my secret rejection of the Lord Almighty. It made me feel… weirdly empowered.

I captured a bit of this feeling in my novel Witchbreaker. Sorrow, my protagonist, is a witch at war with the Church of the Book. She’s tried to boost her magical prowess by stealing the power of the primal dragon Rott. Unfortunately for her, using the dragon’s power comes with a terrible price. She’s slowly turning into a dragon. In this scene, she awakens to discover that her legs are gone, replaced by a serpent’s tail:

Her legs were gone. From her hips down, she now possessed an enormous black serpent’s tail. She stared at her scales for only a moment before she had to turn her face away and stare at the walls of the pit. 
“You’re already in a grave,” she said out loud. “Why waste the effort of crawling out?”
She choked back tears. Never before had she contemplated suicide. She held nothing but contempt for those who threw their lives away. But did she even have a life as a human now? She was more snake than woman. If the changes continued, and she lost her arms… she shuddered at the thought.
Should the day come when she lost her arms, she’d curse herself for not ending her life when she had had the chance. She cast about the broken ground with her hands until she found a shard of glass from the dragon’s coffin.
She placed the sharp edge against her wrist. She studied the blue veins beneath her pale skin and set her jaw.
After a moment, she threw the glass away. She wasn’t afraid of death. But she couldn’t bear the thought of her long war against the church coming to an end due to a moment of weakness. If her life had lost so much value that she found death an acceptable option, wasn’t this a liberation? She had nothing left to lose. She could throw herself into her quest to destroy the church without fearing for her own survival. Perhaps she’d been too concerned for herself, too cautious. Now, this timidity no longer stood in her way.
“I’m a monster,” she whispered. She found that the words didn’t hurt. She said, in half a shout, “I’m a monster!”
The thought calmed her. She’d been a freak and an outcast since the day she’d shaved her head and driven in her first nail. Brand had perhaps been right after all. Her father was a moral monster. It had been only a matter of time before his blood pulsing through her veins drove her to the same inhuman extremes. Let the world see what she had become. If she was to be a monster, better it be in body than in soul.
“I hereby promise myself that I shall never surrender,” she said. “Let my enemies gaze upon me and know fear!” She raised her fists in defiance. She was certain she was more ready than ever to take the fight to her enemies, if not for the non-trivial problem that she had no idea how to climb out of this hole.
Sorrow’s transition from horror to defiance takes only a few paragraphs (in fairness, this scene unfolds roughly ten years after the initial trauma that set Sorrow on her path, so in the book itself this scene has a more context and backstory). My own journey took years.

I’ll confess: I became a real jerk for several decades. It wasn’t enough that I didn’t believe in God. I wanted no one to believe in God. Once I left my parents house and moved to college, I was quick to jump into arguments with anyone who dared to tell me about how important God was in their life. I was combative, but only because I was certain I was in possession of a grand truth that the world was blind to.

My bitterness festered in my gut like slivers of broken glass. I walked around angry every single day. This anger used to boil to the surface quite easily. I can’t count the number of times I lost my temper in public. The triggers seldom had anything to do with religion. It was just difficult for me to contain my outrage. Which meant a lot of people probably thought I was crazy. Which also wound up as a scene in Witchbreaker, again involving Sorrow, when she’s talking with Gale Romer, the captain of the ship she’s on, and Gale surprises Sorrow by telling her how much she admires her:

Sorrow smiled even more broadly. “I didn’t know you felt this way. I just… I never meet anyone who approves of my goals. I’m used to people telling me I should let go of my anger. I’m used to people looking at me as if I’m crazy!”
Gale shrugged. “Perhaps we’re both crazy. I sometime think that what the world accepts as sanity is merely the capacity to grow numb to outrage. I find sanity to be a depressingly common commodity. Your anger exists for a reason, Sorrow. I admire that you still have the capacity to feel it. I admire that you’re willing to risk everything in order to try to put the world right.”

I’m still angry. Every single day. Half the time I’m angry at the world. Half the time I’m angry with myself. How could I have been so gullible when I was thirteen? But why blame myself? What sort of evil minds decided that children should have the threat of damnation dangled over them in order to get them to behave? And how can the majority of people live in a world where we’ve unraveled so many of the secrets of space and time still believe in myths dating from the Stone Age? Of course, I also have to wonder why any of this matters. Why can’t I be happy believing what I believe without feeling stressed about what others believe? On the other hand, why haven’t I done more? Why hasn’t every book I’ve written had the absence of God as the main theme, front and center? And why, when I have approached the topic in writing, have I been so ineffective that I’ve not changed even a single person’s mind? I should chill out. I should fight harder. I need to let go of the anger before it destroys me. I need to hold tight to my anger, and let it spur me to fight harder than ever before.

Back and forth, to and fro, the anger washes out toward the world, then rolls back onto myself. Endlessly. It wears me down. Which is why, in Cinder, Sorrow has fully become a dragon and is swimming down into the deepest depths of the Sea of Wine, never to return to the world of light:

She swallowed hard, staring into the unfathomable depths below. Once before, she’d stared into this void. As before, she found that something stared back, something beyond thought, a force beyond emotion, a primal thing, the primal truth, in fact. Before her lay nothing at all, the ultimate fate of all men, of all animals, all plants, the final sum of stones and stars, the complete value of all love, all hate, all fear, all hope. Everything was nothing. The void devoured all.

I’ve been there. I go there often. I’ll be there again. Staring into the void, paralyzed by the futility of my every thought and action.

And what makes me turn away from the void? The words come from another book, and another character, Bitterwood.

People will tell you that hate eats you from the inside. They tell you to let go of old pains, not to carry a grudge. Don’t listen to them. Hate’s all a person needs to get out of bed in the morning. Hold onto it. Hate is the hammer that lets you knock down the walls of this world. 
Don’t get me wrong. It’s been forty years since I found myself damned. I’ve… adapted. After a series of divorces and completely doomed romances, I finally married a woman who is mentally healthy and who keeps me mentally healthy. We exercise. Like, a lot. Thousands and thousands of miles of biking, hiking, walking and kayaking. We get outside and fill ourselves with sunshine and fresh air and usually that’s enough. I’m a materialist. I don’t believe I have a soul. I don’t even truly believe I have a mind. What I think of as my consciousness is an illusion created by purely physical processes in my brain. Since my brain is part of my body, keeping my body healthy keeps me on keel mentally.

But there’s always the darkness, lurking over my shoulder. More than exercise, more than love, I have one sharp edged tool I use to stab at the darkness. I’m an artist. I’m an author. I grab my darkness with both hands and wrestle it onto the page. My books have a lot of wondrous, magnificent, and silly things filling their pages. Dragons, of course, and monkeys and caped men and bulletproof women and spaceships and time machines and magic rings. Fluff and shiny things. But always, at the heart of each book, there’s someone struggling with their demons. There’s some broken adult still trying to piece back together a world shattered by a trauma that unfolded in their childhood. Some succeed. Some fail. But their struggle is what gives my books some measure of life and meaning and truth. And because my characters scream, and fight, and rage for me, I manage most days to pass for a reasonably well-adjusted human being.

I don’t know what your tragedy is. I have no insight as to your darkest secret. But while the name of this series is “Hold on to the Light,” I want to tell you not to be afraid of your darkness. You’re angry? Bitter? Afraid? Sad? Excellent. You feel something. Feelings are fuel. Your own suffering may one day lead you to be more compassionate and kind. Your outrage might make you stand up against something or someone that really must be opposed. Your fear might paralyze you… or it might goad you into action, be it fight or flight. Either is action, and action is life.

I sometimes wonder about what kind of person I might have become if I hadn’t experienced such a fall at an early age. I know I lost valuable years of education because of my distraction. I know I lost friends, and alienated a lot of people. I carry a burden of loneliness that my fictional creations can never quite share. In exchange for all my pain, I got to step outside the cage of my own life. The moral and intellectual walls that contained my young mind crumbled. It opened up worlds I might never have seen. It gave me a million words, and counting. My novels are just shouts at the world, frozen and sharp on pristine white paper, the letters dark as the void. I hold onto my light. But I’m grateful for my darkness.

#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.

Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to http://www.HoldOnToTheLight.com and join us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/WeHoldOnToTheLight