Friday Five: Jes Sanders

friday fiveToday’s Friday Five focus is Jes Sanders, author of sci-fi short stories, novellas, and novels,

Jes had an amazing teacher in 6th Grade: Mr. Giglio (pronounced ‘Jillio’), Mt. Helix Elementary, San Diego. He introduced him to War of the Worlds, The White Mountains, and Taran Wanderer, and inspired him to write. Then life happened. Some decades and a family later, he finds himself in a completely unrelated career. But, as his favorite author, Colum McCann says, “Come song, anyway.” He has stories in him that want to get out, and he is enjoying discovering all this endeavor has to offer.

His latest work, The Last Jubali, is an epic sci-fi tale. World War II has just ended, but it was merely a means to a greater attack.

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Jes Sanders1. If you could pick just one book to read for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

If left on an island, I would probably take Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle with me. This book has it all: Great writing, social commentary, science fiction, cynicism, hope, family tension, weird religion. It’s just great!

2. Where do your inspiration and ideas for your stories come from?

For The Last Jubali, the inspiration came from two places. The first seed of the idea was a simple question: What if folklore and folk magic, that every culture has grown up with, was held to be absolutely real – and science was held in great suspicion? What if folk magic was regulated? What if science was either laughed at or persecuted?

The second seed of The Last Jubali came from a mental connection that I made between Dark Matter and Einstein’s Unified Field Theory. What if the link between electromagnetism and gravity could never be solved because there was a fifth force missing form the equation? What if this fifth force resided in a universe next to ours, and dark matter is simple the shadow of this force on our universe? And if somebody, a “psyentist,” were to master this force, they could control gravity as well as electromagnetism.

3. What do you want your tombstone to say?

My tombstone should read, “Well, that was embarrassing.”

4. Is there a certain type of scene that’s harder for you to write than others? How do you deal with this?

I really struggle with romantic dialogue. I only have a few characters who are in love. One friend told me that my dialogue read like a romance novel. Ouch! But I am learning how to have my characters speak more naturally.

5. What is the most important thing that people DON’T know about your subject/genre, that you think they need to know?

Every now and then, science fiction can rise above genre writing. Genre is a wonderful, beautiful thing. But, yes, even sci-fi can sometimes expand our understanding of the human condition, or contribute to the artistic landscape. I think of A Canticle for Liebowitz, for example. I don’t claim at all to be at this level, but it’s what I aspire to.

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The Last Jubali is currently available through Amazon.

Become a Friday Five author or read previous author interviews.

Thursday Things: teaching ain’t always butterflies and rainbows

thursday thingsI taught high school English for two years and a high school job and life skills class for another year. I also did a year long school social work internship in an elementary school and an alternative junior high/high school. And in the next few weeks, I’ll be (hopefully!) starting a job as a counselor at a residential facility for adjudicated teens (ie, court-ordered). So, I know a thing or two about being in the classroom.

There’s all kinds of stuff out there, from books to movies, about feel good, inspirational stories in the classroom. Michelle Pfeiffer inspired poor gangsta kids to care! Jaime Escalante (who actually is one of my heroes) taught poor gangsta kids calculus! Sister Whoopie Goldberg inspired poor gangsta kids to love life through singing!

Yeah, teachers and faculty do teach and inspire kids every day. Lots of our kids are success stories, like a student in my remedial reading class who went on to college. But for every kid that succeeds, there’s a line behind him of kids who either don’t succeed (but don’t fail), or who do fail. And a lot of times, teachers don’t even know it because that kid we’ve been trying to help leaves our lives, leaving us to worry and wonder what happened.

And that’s what inspired my short story “Slipping Through the Cracks,” which is in my short story collection Us, Together and also over on Medium.

It’s about a boy I had in my high school class, R, who told me one day that he didn’t know the alphabet. So I worked with him and he made great progress – and then he left. That was twelve years ago, and I sometimes wonder what happened to him. Did he find another teacher to help him continue to learn to read? Did he drop out of school to work in the fields with his family? Did he get deported back to Mexico?

I’ll never know, and as much as I might have wanted to give Alejandro in the story a happy ending, it wouldn’t be fair to R.

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cover

About Us, Together:

Six stories about the problems teenagers face, from relationships and unplanned pregnancy, to absent parents and poverty, loosely based on stories and students E.D. Martin encountered while teaching at-risk kids.

“The stories are easy to read, well-crafted, and deal with human issues in a sensitive way.”

Available for $.99 at Amazon or free through Kindle Unlimited

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Thursday Things is a weekly-ish feature highlighting little known facts, ideas, and stories behind my stories. Is there something you want to know more about? Let me know!

A high mileage odometer is a badge of honor

I like to travel. A lot. And seeing as how I’m kinda poor, being a grad student and all, most of my domestic travel is by car.

That’s why I’m happy to report this milestone I hit this week:

250k miles!

Yep, that’s right – I hit 250,000 miles on my car!

It had about 130,000 when I got it in the spring of 2012, so that’s 120,000 miles in 5 years – an average of 24,000 miles per year.

A lot of it, of course, is due to commuting to my university, driving 125 miles roundtrip 2-4 times a week for the past couple years. But it’s also a couple trips to Canada every year, and California, and the East Coast, and everywhere in between. So far in 2017, for example, I’ve gone to India, San Diego (flying, not driving though), Georgia and the Carolinas, and Michigan – twice. That’s a lot of miles. 🙂

timeline map

Google has a cool feature that plots your adventures on a timeline, and here’s what my US/Canada trips look like, starting in August 2013 (so excluding a roadtrip to New Orleans I took in March 2012). This summer, depending on my work schedule, I’m also heading to the Pacific Northwest and taking several small trips around the Midwest. And I’d love to get down to Mississippi to research the sequel to my novel Yours to Keep or Throw Aside (spoilers: it involves Aida in Andrew’s hometown). No matter where I end up going, though, I’m looking forward to adding more dots!

How’s your odometer looking? Any memorable trips you’ve taken or cool dots you’ve earned?

Thursday Things: Keep on rocking in the free world

thursday thingsI’m not sure if it’s genetic, but I definitely inherited my dad’s wanderlust (he’s currently on a roadtrip to L.A. with an old friend, and I just got back from a random trip to Detroit solely taken to eat hummus and buy used books) and love of music.

As a kid, I remember him cranking his stereo whenever he was home, as well as dragging me and my younger brother to music festivals, like my hometown’s annual Blues Fest. And now I’ve become his concert buddy, accompanying him to a local music venue every couple months to see blues-rock artists that come through.

Sometimes we get people I’ve actually heard of, like Samantha Fish, Will Hoge, and Leon Russell. And most of the time it’s artists I’ve never heard of, but still enjoy.

I’m not musically inclined, nor do I ever want to be on stage performing, so I find it interesting to imagine what it’s like being one of these acts, especially the opening bands, especially when no one’s ever heard of you. And that’s what gave me the inspiration for not only my short story “Not My Thing,” but several other stories about bands and concert goers that I’m about halfway through writing and plan to someday release as a collection.

One of the best compliments I got on “Not My Thing” was from a beta reader who said I nailed the details, from the two free drinks that are included in the contract, to the weird guy who’s a little too close to the stage and a little too involved with the song.

Upcoming stories in this collection include “The Best Night of Herb’s Life,” about an unassuming accountant who stumbles into some action, and “Hunting Johnny Cervantes,” about a washed-up guitar player who’s actually the devil. Stay tuned!

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Not My Thing coverAbout “Not My Thing:”

When The Dancing Freemasons embark on their first major tour, Jeff’s dreams of being a rock star have come true – until he can no longer connect with the music. One night after a show, he meets a woman who might be the one to get the music flowing again, but is the cost worth it?

Available at Amazon

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Thursday Things is a weekly-ish feature highlighting little known facts, ideas, and stories behind my stories. Is there something you want to know more about? Let me know!

Media Monday: Coming of age, a la Gogol

Media MondayHarder than rocks coverThe book: Harder Than Rocks by Victor Poole

The music: The Wall by Pink Floyd

I love classic Russian literature, especially the books where you think the author’s just being silly and then BAM he hits you with some profoundness that leaves you thinking about the book for weeks.

This week’s book is one of those books.

It follows this kid Samuel, whose life kinda sucks. He decides hey, screw it, and runs away from his crappy job, crappy motel room, and crappy life. He’s hungry, of course, so when he gets invited to a party by two random guys he of course eats all the food he’s offered – and falls in love with the hostess, of course. But she turns out to be kinda crazy, so he skips out on her. And then she turns out to be really crazy and sends a hitman after him, who ends up dying in a bathroom. The sheer absurdity of the story up until this point is very Gogolesque.

But then life comes back to Samuel, and shit gets real when you find out exactly what he’s trying to run from. And this is where the real genius of the writing comes in, because Poole presents a situation so tragic yet mundane that you can’t help but think that things won’t get better for Samuel, but you’re rooting for him just the same.

No spoilers here – just a recommendation to read one of the best books I’ve read in awhile.

This book pairs well with Pink Floyd’s The Wall. I’m sure you’ve heard “Another Brick in the Wall” on the radio ad nauseum, but have you ever listened to the whole album all the way through? It’s the struggle of a kid trying to overcome life – much like Samuel in Harder Than Rocks.

Thursday Things: The best book store in North Carolina closed!

thursday thingsOne of the settings in my novel Yours to Keep or Throw Aside is a bookstore, McKay’s, in downtown Asheville, North Carolina. It’s where Andrew and Kasey, the two main characters, meet, and several scenes take place in its attached coffee shop.

While Asheville does have a downtown bookstore, I actually modeled McKay’s after the Books-A-Million I worked at while I was in college – not that the specific details of the store actually matter to the story, other than it has coffee, books, tables, and couches. I don’t think its baristas or employees even have names.

I stole the name from my favorite used bookstore, Edward McKay’s in Raleigh, NC. I probably spent way too much money there (is that even possible at a used bookstore?), but they had a wonderful selection of everything – lots of obscure titles that look great sitting on my shelf, waiting to be read. When I was back in the Triangle in March, I may have spent an hour or two there, browsing the shelves and buying a couple bags of books.

AND NOW THEY’RE CLOSED FOREVER!!!!!

About a week or two ago, without any warning, they announced they’d permanently closed that store (although they still have a couple locations around the state).

Good news, however, in that MY McKay’s – my fictional one in Asheville – is still open, and it’ll even have a brief cameo in the sequel to Yours to Keep or Throw Aside that I’m currently plotting out.

RIP, Edward McKay’s. 🙁

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YTKTA coverAbout Yours to Keep or Throw Aside:

After her husband’s infidelities are revealed, Kasey Sanford just wants to rediscover who she is. After an abusive childhood and years as a career soldier, Andrew Adams just wants someone to tell him that he’s doing the right thing with his life. When their paths cross, Kasey and Andrew embark on a tumultuous journey that demonstrates just what they’re willing to do to save the ones they love.

ebook and paperback: Amazon

audiobook: Amazon * Audible

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Thursday Things is a weekly-ish feature highlighting little known facts, ideas, and stories behind my stories. Is there something you want to know more about? Let me know!

 

Types of trauma – which does your character have?

facesI’m currently in that fun part of the doctoral student process where I’m writing my comprehensive exam – a big 75-page paper that demonstrates I’m an expert in my field and deserve to stay in the program. My focus is on trauma-informed care and education.

Trauma-informed care basically boils down to 2 things: realizing people have experienced crappy things in life, and then giving them the benefit of the doubt. It is NOT about making excuses for behavior, but rather finding an alternative way to get the same results you expect for everyone else.

There are quite a few types of trauma. Each one has a different cause, although they can all have similar results.

BIG CAVEAT: Not everyone who experiences trauma will react to it the same way. Some people are affected and some aren’t. It basically comes down to resiliency (although my argument is that if so many students have experienced – or are experiencing – trauma, why don’t we just change how the education system reacts to it, rather than telling kids to suck it up or get over it – which is kinda what teaching resiliency comes down to).

Anyway….

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration focuses on “three E’s” of trauma: event, experience of the event, and effect. Specifically, “Individual trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.”

Within that definition, there’s a lot of room for variability.

  • Acute trauma – one single event. A house burning down, getting mugged or raped, witnessing your parents’ murder in an alley when you’re supposed to be enjoying the theater.
  • Chromic trauma – exposure to multiple events. Interesting fact: chronic poverty has the same neurological effect on kids as combat does on military personnel.
  • Complex trauma – exposure to multiple events over time, but of an interpersonal nature. Domestic violence and child abuse falls into this category.
  • Identity trauma – trauma that effects an entire group, because of how they identify (also known as historical or collective trauma). The Holocaust falls into this group, as does genocide against the Native Americans. It often manifests in cultural stories, practices, and beliefs.
  • Continuous or ongoing traumatic stress – chronic or complex or identity trauma, but it’s still happening and there’s no way to escape it. For example, people trapped in a war zone with no way to escape it.
  • Secondary trauma – the response to witnessing or hearing about someone else’s trauma. A huge issue for caregivers and teachers, especially if they’re not prepared for it.

Writers love to throw trauma at their characters, and readers seem to love it too. What types of trauma do your characters face? What types do you prefer to read about?

Thursday Things: random facts about the history of mental hospitals

ThursdayThingsMy short story “Tim and Sara” takes place at Kirkbride, a state hospital. Although the story is fictional, the hospital isn’t.

My Kirkbride is based on the state hospital in Fergus Falls, Minnesota (which is also the building on the story’s cover). What makes this building different than other state hospitals is its design and purpose.

Pre-Civil War, people suffering from mental health issues in the US were treated like criminals: locked up in tiny cells, often shackled and abused.

In the 1840s, Dr. Thomas Kirkbride came to the now obvious conclusion that people suffering mental health issues would do better in airy, light-filled buildings with private rooms, so he designed a bunch of state hospitals that tried to respect patient dignity. The Fergus Falls building was one of these.

As the US has moved to community-based, out-patient treatment for people with mental health issues, many Kirkbride buildings have been torn down or sit empty, like the one in Minnesota.

Fergus Falls state hospital

Fergus Falls state hospital in 2013

I used to drive past it on the interstate, and although no one’s there now, it still makes for a cool story.

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Tim and SaraAbout “Tim and Sara:”

The victim of debilitating flashbacks, Tim is content to spend the rest of his life at Kirkbride, a state mental hospital. But his friend and fellow resident Sara is concerned that she has to save her soul before it’s too late, and so she devises a plan to break them out of the hospital. Can Tim help his friend while holding onto what’s left of his sanity?

Available for $.99 at Amazon or free through Kindle Unlimited

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Thursday Things is a weekly-ish feature highlighting little known facts, ideas, and stories behind my stories. Is there something you want to know more about? Let me know!

Spring 2017 goal review

sand castle

Much needed self-care at Coronado Beach, CA

Every 3 months or so, I take a look at the goals I’ve set for the year and then write about how little progress I’m making on them. Here’s the update for this spring.

1. Finish something every month – short story, novella, novel, anything.

If you count chapters, I’ve almost done this! I finished the first two chapters of a novel I’ll really excited about, tentatively titled Waylaid on the Road to Nowhere.

2. Publish at least 4 things – again, short story, novella, novel, anything. Either with my publisher or self-published or in a magazine, doesn’t matter where.

I’m not there yet, but I have several longer short stories that are in the pipeline, and I hope to have at least one done by May for an event I’m doing.

3. Finish the draft of a nonfiction book that’s good for my career.

I have to take a dissertation class next fall but since my dissertation proposal will (fingers crossed!) be done by then, I plan to work on a draft of a research how-to book for the course instead. Don’t expect updates on this for awhile.

4. Do more live events – readings, book fairs, etc. Again, it’s about getting my name out there.

I’m on fire here! Kind of. I’m signed up for the Rock Town Lit Fest in early May, the I.O.W.A. book fair in August, and a Read Local event in October. I’ll try to add more events as I hear about them.

5. Travel more internationally – and Canada doesn’t count.

Due to some stupid international relations stuff, I’m not sure how feasible this’ll be. I’m in the planning stages for a trip back to India around Christmas. I was in San Diego a couple weeks ago and wanted to hop the border to Tijuana, but we didn’t have enough time – although if Canada doesn’t count (I’m planning a trip to Banff over the summer), then maybe Mexico doesn’t count either?

At the very least, I’ve been able to travel a lot recently. Three weeks in India at the beginning of the year, a road trip to Savannah and Raleigh-Durham over spring break, and a week-long conference in San Diego. That comes out to a trip a month, so I’m doing pretty good.

6. Read 100 books.

So far, I’ve read 21 books this year, which leaves me only 4 behind schedule. I had a lot of time to read in India (I’m not looking forward to the ereader ban on flights through Abu Dhabi or Doha, the two airports I’ve flown through in the past – what else do you do on a 28-hour trip??), plus I’ve been sneaking in books as a break from my overwhelming schedule this semester.

Overall

I’m actually in a good place regarding my year’s goals. Part of it, I think, is because I’m so busy, not in spite of it. When I don’t have projects and deadlines, I tend to procrastinate, but when I have to be careful about my time management, I get more done.

If you’ve set goals for yourself, how’re they going so far this year?

Media Monday: Strong women on a mission

Media MondayThe books: Where Carpets Fly by Elise Edmonds and Blood and Circuses by Aliya Smith

The music: “Sit Still, Look Pretty” by Daya

Lots of stories feature damsels in distress, even when it’s the main character. They wait for someone to save them, rather than saving themselves (and yes, my women’s fiction novel, Yours to Keep or Throw Aside, kinda fits into this). There’s nothing wrong with that. Sometimes characters get swept along and the story is about them dealing with their life changes.

But other times, the female heroines want something and aren’t afraid to go after it, like in today’s two books.

In Where Carpets Fly, teenage Elina is super excited to go to the big city to learn magic. Granted, it’s so that she can someday return to her provincial village to make enchanted carpets with her father, but she’s determined to learn everything she can before being forced to return. Her plans are interrupted, however, when she and her best friend Kara accidentally stow away on a boat bound for a less-than-friendly country. Rather than bemoan their situation, the two friends are determined to make the best of it – until Kara gets arrested. Elina will stop at nothing to rescue her friend.

Blood and Circuses is set in ancient Rome. After her father is murdered, 10-year-old Lucilla and her sister are attacked while trying to flee the city. Lucilla manages to kill one attacker and fight off the other, but it’s not enough. She vows vengeance for her father, her nurse, her family, and her family’s honor. But being a warrior isn’t easy when society expects you to devote your life to your future husband and children. Lucilla defies expectations, fighting family pressures, volcanoes, jealous rivals, and even vampires (yes, vampires – I didn’t expect them in this story but they’re nicely done) until she’s able to get her revenge.

Although both books have very different settings and protagonists, they have one thing in common – you don’t want to mess with their female main characters because they kick ass.

Today’s song fits this theme. We’re not going to sit around, waiting for a guy to need us or help us out. We’re gonna rule the world, and Elina and Lucilla are off to a good start.

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