Writing books is always thought provoking. The human condition does not easily lend itself to words.
I have been missing in action. MIA. Sidelined by research, writing, and editing.
Novel #2—the first in a trilogy—is done for now. A speculative suspense thriller, it required me to dance with future possibilities.
It’s a good time to pause and reflect.
Numerous questions kept popping into my head. Can the present state of affairs, the status quo, continue? Is our current growth trajectory sustainable?
Eleven years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My kids were young, but old enough to be aware of the stakes. For six weeks during the Christmas season, we lived with the potential diagnosis of Stage IV. Surgery was radical. Double mastectomy and biopsies of lymph nodes. Thankfully, the tumor was early and small. We could breathe. Then came the painfully long healing process.
Three years later, my dad was killed under horrible circumstances and I suffered a life-threatening infection.
But this is history.
The point is, those experiences put me on the path of writing suspense thrillers. And now, speculative fiction. And both experiences left me with a sense of my mortality and the stakes for coming generations.
What began as literary fiction titled Dancing Under a Midnight Moon transformed into Entangled Moon, my debut suspense thriller.
Often, my subject matter is difficult. Unfortunately, it is the stuff of life.
A subcontractor for IBM allegedly under IBM’s direction really did poison the wells in our area. My cancer began with a large tumor on my thyroid that had to be surgically removed. I now live with a barely functioning thyroid. Breast cancer followed one year later. Was it causal? IBM would have an army of lawyers to prove their innocence.
A doctor really did insert a needle into my dad’s thigh. He really did slip into a coma and he really did die.
I grew up believing people are inherently good. Experience taught me otherwise. My research has shown me that it is too complicated to be answered easily. It requires an understanding of neuropsychology and that’s still grey area.
But, yes, there are psychopaths and sociopaths in this world. Some of the reasons should give us pause when we consider our justice system. That’s for another post.
Suffice it to say, difficult issues like complicated systems require thorny questions and answers that must be flexible enough to evolve in time.
That leads me back to why I write suspense thrillers.
A couple months ago, a writer posted a provocative piece regarding the writing of violence. I had to think long and hard before I responded.
My first published novel dealt with the social aspects that are often at the heart of crime. And trust me, I struggled with my crime scenes. I despaired, in fact. But I have been affected by crime and I have struggled much of my life with the core issues around crime. When I was 12, a dear friend was kidnapped, raped, and murdered. Leaving her ballet lesson at UC Berkeley, a man waited for her in her car. The “talk” around her death and how she could have prevented it was my first glimpse into how we speak about women’s lack of power.
Growing up, I was always acutely aware of my native background and the post traumatic stress (alcohol, suicide, etc.) that permeated our family history and the repression of that background in order to survive and thrive within the prevailing society. That is a double whammy of violence.
And eight years ago a doctor put a needle into my beloved dad’s thigh who went into a coma and died 7 days later. The record of my dad being there magically disappeared.
There are so many kinds of violence. You are right, there is nothing cozy about it. As writers of the genre, we seek answers and we seek to convey empathy through our own truths. I have always hoped that my debut novel did not glorify violence in any way. It deals with resource allocation, power, and violence that are very real dynamics in our world today. At the core of my own quest, I have come to realize so many things that I did not at the beginning. One is the presence of psychopathy and sociopathy and how that affects all of us as a society and how that becomes a cycle across generations. That realization has given me some understanding that people are not always in charge of their own destiny and it is possible that our jails are filled with people who have very complex motivations that they don’t even understand. So here’s the thing, I think most writers of the genre are mindful of their task. It’s a big task. When they try to “cozy” up to the subject, it is because they recognize its heaviness. It is not because they are trying to romanticize violence. In fact, in one of my book talks, a fellow writer of a cozy mystery tried to distance herself from the difficulty of my suspense thriller. But violence is violence. It’s just part of the human condition and one we should seek to transcend.
Research for my second novel has really fleshed out many of my feelings about writing. A work of speculative fiction, I really had to delve into artificial intelligence (AI,) climate change, machine learning, deep learning, biotechnology, big data, quantum computing, quantum biology, risk management, cities of the future, 5G, pathogens and bioweaponry, brain-computer interface and human enhancement, neuromorphic chips, embedded intelligence, cloud and edge computing, nuclear energy, cryptocurrency, basic income, Semantic 3.0 web, cybersecurity, biometrics, DNA databanks, CRISPR, stem cells, algorithms, 3D printing, virtual and augmented reality, surveillance and commercial social ranking (credit ratings), the internet of all things (IoT), and digital assets, etc. It’s been fun, but also sobering. Catch my drift. This won’t be easy.
Cancer was my existential risk. My wakeup call. I write to ask questions and to understand. Of my second novel, I asked a lot of questions. Thorny questions.
Our world is complex and becoming more so by the moment. I hear a lot of sound bites, fast answers, and trivializing over party platforms that seem almost archaic in the face of real technology.
Technology is a peril/opportunity equation. It can’t be one and not the other. Silicon Valley is all in on the opportunity side with some voices on the perimeter raising the flag of warning. But it is not just their world. It is ours too. Even more, it is the world of the future. There is no short-term profit here that does not have consequences for our children.
Our unrelenting progress without questioning its pace is OUR existential risk. There are many who have profited beyond imagination from it. Yes. In the billions. And there are so many who have been left behind.
Sustainable has become a cliched word so I will use workable, viable, or supportable. Is our trajectory any of those? Can the present state of affairs, the status quo, continue? Can the Earth truly bear the weight of 10 billion human souls as has been stated? And can we continue to expand our energy requirements in order to feed the unrelenting need of all those converging technologies?
And that gets me back to my hopes. I am an optimist. I always seek that seed.
I believe in the power of collaboration with strong doses of radical hope.
Because a world without a future is not worth living for in the now.
Wow – what an insightful blog, Liz. An optimist facing some hard thorny truths. How does one manage that?
Congratulations on finishing your second novel. I enjoyed Entangled Moon and I look forward to this new thriller.
Thank you Jeanne-Marie. I think we’re all facing some thorny truths. Life keeps getting more complex and the questions do, too.