Interview with Book to the Future: Parts 1 and 2

Greetings, and I hope everyone had a safe, happy Thanksgiving!

I recently was lucky enough to be interviewed by book reviewer Steve Johnson, who published the interview in two parts on his website, Book to the Future. His in-depth questions covered the inspiration behind Knight in Paper Armor, my writing process, the book’s connection to the Holocaust, how the part titles are related to the ten sefirot, and more. If you’re interested, follow the links below — and make sure to follow Book to the Future, as well, because it’s a terrific site for literary fans of all genres.

Part One

Part Two

Interrogation of Nicholas Conley (Part One)

Knight in Paper Armor has been with you for a long time, how long has this story been formulating in your writerly mind and what were the specific inspirations?

The first inklings of the concept – and the title – came to me all the way back in 2010, actually, before my first book even saw print. It took me a long time to figure out how to write it, however. Every time I tried to draft it, it felt like I wasn’t ready. I couldn’t crack the code. Most of these drafts had very little in
common with the finished novel, but there was always one core element that remained—the idea that, basically, there’s something wrong with the world, and there’s this boy—Billy—who, through his strange powers, feels the pain of everyone out there, and wants to help.

Here’s the thing. What is this “pain of others,” exactly? As a writer, with a concept like that, you have to decide whether you’re going to be vague, for the sake of not polarizing readers, or if you’re going to be upfront, honest, and forthright about the brutality, inequalities, and unfairness of the real world. Explicit parallels felt necessary […] READ MORE.

Interrogation of Nicholas Conley by Book to the Future: Part I

Interrogation of Nicholas Conley (Part Two)

How has your Jewish heritage influenced this book in particular, and can you give a bit of an explanation of why you chose the titles of each part to correspond with Ancient Jewish mysticism?

Ah, thanks so much for asking this. So much about this book is rooted in my own Jewish background, on so many levels, but the most immediately apparent is in the character of Billy, and how his story is meant to reflect the nature of the Jewish diaspora, I.E., the exile and spread of Jewish communities, scattered across the globe, into distinct regional groups. For instance, you have the Jewish population who came to America as refugees in the 20th century, fleeing from antisemitic oppression, and for them there was often a concentrated effort to “blend in” and be “less Jewish,” or to emphasize one’s identity as an American, first and foremost, to the point of changing Jewish-sounding names to more American ones. This was my own family’s background. Growing up, I always knew I was Jewish, but because my connection to these roots was largely secular and deemphasized, I felt separated from my own “Jewishness,” by time and space, and had a deep longing to connect more deeply to my cultural heritage. Later, as an adult, this is what drove me to embrace the deeper, spiritual connection I now feel with Judaism, and as a parent, the power, love, and cultural elements of these traditions is something I deeply value and carry with me on a daily basis.

Anyway, with Billy: though he faces antisemitism from a young age, he’s a kid who is lucky enough to be surrounded by Jewish culture and traditions—at first. That changes quickly, when he’s violently ripped away from his family, and dropped into a gentile bubble. He never even gets a Bar Mitzvah. He still deeply connects to his inner Jewishness, and it’s something he values tremendously, but situations have caused him to feel unable to reach out and be fully connected to it. This represents the diaspora […] READ MORE.

Interrogation of Nicholas Conley by Book to the Future: Part II

Knight in Paper Armor: The Reviews Are In!

Knight in Paper Armor has now been out for over two months (!) and the response has truly blown me away. While I’ve written multiple books, this one has — by far — earned a response like no other.

Here are some of the reviews that have popped up online:

This book hits hard.

Jeanette Andromeda, Horror Made

As bleak as it seemed at times, there was an unyielding undercurrent of hope and light, selflessness and voices that would not be silenced. It brought not only a great balance to the story, but also a great reminder to me as a reader. It’s so easy to get bogged down in the seemingly endless onslaught of negativity, the pain and the suffering, sometimes you forget how much beauty and hope there is amidst it and how powerful those things can truly be.

Tricia, Bookworm Coalition

“Scary, inspiring, and ultimately life-affirming.”

– Dr. Olga Núñez Miret

Knight in Paper Armor is [Conley’s] latest novel and, in my opinion, is not only the most ambitious but also the maturest of his work to date.”

Steve Johnson, Book to the Future

“The story is part sci-fi, part dystopian, part fantasy, and it crackles with the ominous and intense undertone often found in dystopian literature like 1984 or Animal Farm or Brave New World.”

J.R. Alcyone, author of Five Fathoms Beneath

“Conley’s writing style is engaging, smart, and easy. His characters are multi-dimensional and you get a good sense of them having backstories even if you don’t get to delve into many. His compassionate cheering for the underdog is absolute and palpable throughout the story, and he portrays the banality of evil wonderfully. This book is a bit of an emotional roller coaster, and it’s a ride I’d read again.”

Jessica Settergren, No Pithy Phrase

“Like the great sci-fi writers of decades past, Conley uses a future setting to make insightful social and political commentary on contemporary society. At the same time, the story emerges, page by page, paragraph by paragraph, in such an engaging fashion, the underlying social message never supersedes or overpowers the characters or the plot. It is the perfect blend of social relevance with edge-of-your-seat, engaging storytelling.”

Michael S. Fedison, The Eye-Dancers

Knight in Paper Armor is a bright spot in a landscape of despair. I think we can agree that 2020 is not what we were hoping for. This book really gives me hope for the future if our youth grow up to fight even against seemingly impossible odds like Billy and Natalia.”

Liliyana Shadowlynn, The Faerie Review

“Moving, engaging and written with no-holds-barred, this tale is one that mimics reality, both past and present. Thought-provoking, dark, filled with emotional action, this dystopian tale should be a must read for those who appreciate a little mental meat to chew on.”

Dianne Bylo, Tome Tender

Knight in Paper Armor addresses some hard-hitting social issues that make you look at discrimination, differences, and the connection we all have.”

Betanda Shanam, Sascha Darlington’s Microcosm Explored

Thanks so much, everyone, for all your support. Stay safe, stay healthy, and have a happy Thanksgiving.

Knight in Paper Armor

Amazon

Google Play

Barnes & Noble

Billy Jakobek has always been different. Born with strange and powerful psychic abilities, he has grown up in the laboratories of Thorne Century, a ruthless megacorporation that economically, socially, and politically dominates American society. Every day, Billy absorbs the emotional energies, dreams, and traumas of everyone he meets—from his grandmother’s memories of the Holocaust, to the terror his sheer existence inflicts upon his captors—and he yearns to break free, so he can use his powers to help others.

Natalia Gonzalez, a rebellious artist and daughter of Guatemalan immigrants, lives in Heaven’s Hole, an industrial town built inside a meteor crater, where the poverty-stricken population struggles to survive the nightmarish working conditions of the local Thorne Century factory. Natalia takes care of her ailing mother, her grandmother, and her two younger brothers, and while she dreams of escape, she knows she cannot leave her family behind.

When Billy is transferred to Heaven’s Hole, his chance encounter with Natalia sends shockwaves rippling across the blighted landscape. The two outsiders are pitted against the all-powerful monopoly, while Billy experiences visions of an otherworldly figure known as the Shape, which prophesizes an apocalyptic future that could decimate the world they know.

Coffee Thoughts: November 2020

Wow, it’s been a crazy past month!

Sorry about my absence from blogging. I’ve been active on Twitter and other sites, but between parent life, promoting a new book, the ongoing pandemic — and, to top it off, the most stressful election week of all time, oy vey — I haven’t found the time to blog, until now.

But hey, as far as the election? Exhausting (and existentially horrifying) as it was to sit through the whole ordeal, the overpowering sense of relief that finally arrived, once Trump had lost, might’ve been the best moment of 2020. Seriously. Even now, just looking at headlines, like this one from November 7th, brings all that happy relief rolling back:

Yes, of course, there’s still a long road ahead. Undoing the damage done by Trump will take time, and there’s still a lot more damage that #45 can do (and is trying to do) on his way out, including his childish whining, lawsuits, and inane conspiracy theories. Yes, those gutless, authoritarian obstructionists like Mitch McConnell are still in power. Yes, Trumpism is the product of a greater systemic evil, not the cause of it, and the racism, hatred, and white supremacy that he riled up is still out there. Capitalist greed continues choking the most vulnerable people in society. And even with Trump gone, the road to increasingly important progressive reforms such as single-payer healthcare, ending systemic racism, and so on, will be long, tangled, and take sustained, concentrated effort — from both protests to the ballot box, and more.

But.

But.

Future challenges aside, it’s worth savoring that moment where this particular race was finally called. Remembering when finally, finally, the United States took down its abusive bully. The moment that felt, in so many ways, like finally taking a massive weight off the nation’s collective chest. Yes, there’s still a lot of work to do, but at least this part is done.

Anyway! With all this said, I’ll be back here tomorrow, to share some reviews of Knight in Paper Armor. Stay tuned!

Grunge Roundup, June 2020

Hi, folks! Been a while since I rounded up some of the articles I write for Grunge.com articles, so here are a few fairly recent ones:

Grunge: The problematic truth about the origins of the Electoral College

One of the weirdest parts of U.S. democracy is the remarkably undemocratic Electoral College. As angry voters will tell you, two of the last three American presidents were elected despite losing the popular vote. Today, Time Magazine reports that 53% of voters support ending this bizarre institution. How did this nonsense get started, though?

Well, the first thing to understand about the Electoral College is that it was designed to be anti-democratic …

Read More: https://www.grunge.com/182662/the-problematic-truth-about-the-origins-of-the-electoral-college/?utm_campaign=clip

Grunge: Here’s how many people died during the bombing of Hiroshima

If you grew up in the United States, you’re familiar with a certain elementary school narrative regarding World War II, about how the U.S. triumphantly “ended the war” by dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The truth? Well, it’s a bit more complex, as usual.

Read More: https://www.grunge.com/202205/heres-how-many-people-died-during-the-bombing-of-hiroshima/?utm_campaign=clip

Grunge: The truth about ranked-choice voting

There’s no arguing that the 2020 Iowa caucus was a mess. However, in the hubbub about how undemocratic the caucus process really is, it’s worth noting that an alternative voting method has been making huge strides in the past few years, which combines the benefits of caucuses and traditional voting in one bright, shiny package: it’s called ranked-choice voting (or instant run-off voting), and it’s a system that allows people to easily vote for their top choice in a crowded field, irrespective of that candidate’s popularity, while also lending their support to other, presumably more popular candidates at the same time.

Here’s how it works.

Read More: https://www.grunge.com/191319/the-truth-about-ranked-choice-voting/?utm_campaign=clip

Grunge: The 1906 San Francisco earthquake was worse than you thought

Human civilization rests on a precarious foundation. People strive to overcome the elements, to build societies, and to assert themselves over nature, but the truth is, people are just one tiny part of a bigger whole, and the Earth — at any moment — can erupt in a rather volatile fashion. That said, while natural disasters are inherently uncontrollably, the human response to such disasters has often caused the most damage of all.

Read More: https://www.grunge.com/210885/the-1906-san-francisco-earthquake-was-worse-than-you-thought/?utm_campaign=clip

Coffee Thoughts: January 2020

Happy 2020, everybody.

So, I’m going to try something different here.  I love connecting with you guys on here, and browsing through posts and comments as I enjoy a morning cup of coffee. Now, sometimes, I have bite-sized “coffee thoughts.” You know, those thoughts that aren’t quite big enough for a full blog, but longer than oh, say, a tweet? Right. Based on said coffee thoughts, meet the first edition of Coffee Thoughts, where I’ve pulled together little notes from the past month into one blog. Dig the format? Let me know!

Happy New Year

… and happy new decade, on top of it? Talk about a crazy ride. At the beginning of the 2010s, I was a kid traveling across the country by myself, dreaming of someday being a writer. In 2020, I’ve become a full-time writer, published multiple books, grown into a husband and then a father, and changed in more ways than I can count. This has been one hell of a decade, and I want to offer a huge thanks to all of you, particularly the ones who have been along for the ride since 2013 (!), when I first started this blog. You guys are awesome, and thank you for that.

This’ll be a big year, ahead. As I said before, I have a new novel waiting in the wings, and I can’t wait to spill the details. Soon.

The world of entertainment keeps on keepin’ on

This is really more a December note, but still. If you haven’t yet seen Watchmen on HBO, stream it. Yes, even if you haven’t read the graphic novel. Yes, even if superheroes aren’t your thing. It takes a few episodes to really get rolling, but once it does, Watchmen proves itself to be the best TV series of 2019, and arguably, one of the most important of the decade.

In other movie and TV news: okay, so The Mandalorian is actually a lot of fun. And yes, yes, Baby Yoda (ahem, “the Child”) is just as adorable as the memes. Haven’t seen the new Star Wars movie yet, so I can’t comment on it. Also, I’m enjoying those Sinister Six hints in that Morbius trailer, though hoping the movie itself has a more interesting story than the trailer implies.

The Marshall Islands

Ever hear about the Marshall Islands? This is an issue that needs to get more attention.

As I wrote about on Grunge, this chain of volcanic islands in the Pacific had 67 nuclear bombs dropped on them, via the United States, from 1946 to 1958, causing widespread cancer and birth defects. That’s horrifying enough, but now, a nuclear disaster is in the making: the so-called Runit Dome, which is the concrete structure that the U.S. dumped all of their radioactive waste into, is predicted to crack sometime in the next century. The cause? You guessed it: climate change. This whole situation is obviously the fault of the U.S. government, but evidently, the world’s richest country is currently ignoring the pleas of the Marshall Islands, and claiming that the Marshallese have to deal with it themselves.

Horrifying? Yes. Unacceptable? Absolutely. While the L.A. Times did write about this back in November, this whole situation needs more airtime.

The News Cycle is a Dumpster Fire

And thus, the Trump impeachment has begun. About time? For sure, but still, it’s strange to watch it finally play out. I mean, obviously, the Trumpster is corrupt to the point of seeming cartoonish: after all, this is a guy who quite literally had to pay $2 million in damages last month because he was stealing money from his own charity to do things like buy paintings of himself. Is this real life? Unfortunately, yes, and the fact that the above story barely stirred the news cycle shows just how ludicrous this whole thing has gotten. However, the current GOP establishment is still pledging loyalty to their emperor, so a disappointing conclusion to the impeachment seems like a foregone conclusion. That said, Trump is a criminal, so putting him on trial (at the very least) seems necessary, regardless of how this all ends.

Nonetheless, it’s important to remember that Trumpism is just one particularly vile symptom of the U.S.’s bleeding wounds, not the original cause of them. These issues go back decades. Trump just exploited them. And honestly, even if he were removed, you have that bigoted fanatic Mike Pence sitting behind him. You know who Pence is? Oh yeah, that’s right, just the living embodiment of Reverend William Stryker, that nutcase from X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills, with all the zealotry and self-righteous hypocrisy to match. Hey, seriously, I’m not the first one to notice this:

Image result for stryker mike pence"

 

Dog Stuff

Okay, enough news. Something happier. Here is Nova, my noble friend, showing off her favorite Nicholas Conley novel. Or maybe she’s just trying to figure out if there’s a doggy treat hidden inside?

Nova-Intraterrestrial

Family, fatherhood, and all that good stuff

On a final note: in my last post, I shared the news about our impending baby. Now that she’s here, though, I could’ve never predicted how much my life would instantly change. That’s a cliche statement, for sure, but it’s a true one. Being a parent is already the most beautiful experience I’ve ever had. Truly. Just watching her experience everything for the first time, to feel the love as I hold her, to look into those little dark eyes that are so full of curiosity and wonder … and on top of that, to have the opportunity to share this experience with my wife, the person who amazes me more than anyone else in the world, has already made 2020 my favorite year to date. And it’s only been a little over three weeks!

Until next time, folks. Enjoy the rest of your morning coffee, and I’ll do the same.

Coffee woodstove fire

George Orwell, on Freedom of Speech

occupy-orwell

The point is that the relative freedom which we enjoy depends of public opinion. The law is no protection. Governments make laws, but whether they are carried out, and how the police behave, depends on the general temper in the country. If large numbers of people are interested in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it; if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them. The decline in the desire for individual liberty has not been so sharp as I would have predicted six years ago, when the war was starting, but still there has been a decline.

– George Orwell, in 1945

The “Other” is Not the Enemy

The human race is not a jigsaw puzzle. We’re not perfectly shaped pieces that all fit into a greater whole, together forming a perfect image. Instead whether by grace, fate, or coincidence, depending on your beliefs we are jagged-edged oddities, each one misshapen and clunky, each one reaching out for a sense of belonging.

We all have our flaws. That’s common knowledge, sure, but something that can’t be repeated enough. And probably one of the human race’s worst tendencies  if not the worst tendency  is our terrible urge to tribalize. To fragment. To sort ourselves into categories. To differentiate between a supposedly good, just, and moral “us”… and to then contrast this so-called us against a diametrically opposed “them,” who is supposedly unkind, unjust, and immoral.

This line of thinking bottles entire groups of people according to a handful of exaggerated traits, ripping away each person’s individuality. Thankfully, human language has also given us a term to bottle such behavior into, and that term is prejudice.

It’s an ugly word, isn’t it? But a fittingly ugly word, for an equally ugly behavior.

other3

Every day, all across the world, we see entire groups of people boxed into the “Other” label. We see racism. Sexism. Homophobia. Class warfare. Religious groups pigeonhole other religious groups according to their most extreme members. Belief systems are mocked. The older and younger generations both blame each other for society’s woes. The sick, the disabled, and the mentally ill are written off as less than human. When you’re at work, even first shift and second shift always blame everything on each other, or perhaps both of them blame it all on third shift. In each case, it all comes down to one group blaming their problems on a monstrous Other.

Here’s the truth, though. The brutal truth.

bodyworlds_dance2

The Other is exactly like you. In both a cosmic sense and a physical one, every single member of the Other a carbon-based lifeform, a fleshy sack of muscles, bones, and tendons wrapped up in skin, combined with hopes, dreams, and perhaps a soul has more in common with you than you can possibly imagine.

The Other has reasons for the way they think. The Other can’t control the social, environmental, or genetic features that have determined their birth, beliefs, and appearance. To write off the Other is to believe that your narrow view of the world, so much of which has been determined by your surroundings and personal history, is the only view that matters. It’s hard to get more solipsistic than that.

There is no Other. The Other is you.

The Other - Shadow - Stranger

When you travel around the world, when you go from “developed” nations to “developing” countries, when you see the rich and the poor, one lesson that hammers itself home forever is the fact that no matter where you go, people are always the same. People are people. People laugh, cry, and dream. Children play games. Families eat together.

Despite this, certain cultures and groups of people not only have become marginalized, but the oppression they have faced has lasted for generations. Time goes on, but stereotypes persist.

Perhaps ending tribalization is impossible. It’s been a part of human civilization since the beginning, after all. But if we at least attempt to recognize it any time it rears its ugly head, to see it in our world instead of denying that it exists, we can start moving in the right direction. If we fight back against the voices that tell us to segment, to stereotype, to pigeonhole, then we can properly open up the floor for real discussions that need to be had.

If each of us makes the best effort we can to accept others, to have real conversations, then maybe there’s a chance of breaking down the boundaries.

other2