Dansplaining the Novels, Defined
Dansplaining: /danˈ spleɪn ɪŋ/
The explanation of something by Dan, typically to an esteemed good reader of his novels, in a manner that is NEVER regarded as condescending or patronizing. (With apologies to Google Dictionary)
Welcome to my “Dansplaining page”. I will start by telling you what Dansplaining is NOT – it is not meant to give you a synopsis or overview of my novels. You can find a synopsis of each on the “The Novels” link. Dansplaining takes a whole different approach to Churachian novels… Dansplaining is where I can just sit and have a chat with you and tell you just why I'm writing what I’m writing.
So often, friends and colleagues ask me where I get ideas or what I was thinking about to come up with plots for my novels. The same friends tell me I can speak for hours giving such eloquent answers to these questions, though often times these same friends may describe my eloquent responses quite differently. That said, I thought it best to coin a new term, “Dansplaining”. I will attempt to Dansplain my novels here for you.
Dansplaining New Releases
Dansplaining EIGHT (Published 24 January 2020)
In my writing chronology, I wrote EIGHT before FEVER during the second half of 2018, but due to the marvellous twists and turns of multiple publishers, EIGHT waiting a full year until published in late January 2020. I am fairly certain that it will be released within the next few months. Hallelujah!
Oh boy… where do I start with EIGHT? For starters, EIGHT takes place in the mid-2040s and includes a cross-section of characters from America, Australia, China and Europe. Probably a third of the novel takes place in Perth and Sydney, Australia, a third in Shanghai, China, and a third in Washington, DC.
A part of EIGHT is a throwback to the first novel I ever wrote a few decades ago called Journey to Mars. The novel never made it to a publisher, but it did pique my interests in the Red Planet. It’s funny because, in those days, I really thought we’d have Mars colonies with thousands of people living there by now, but obviously, that didn’t happen. For that matter, I doubt that will ever happen, though I am convinced that a small group of people will wind up there eventually and probably sooner than we think. But I doubt it’ll be a government thing, rather a rich person or two wanting to have the ‘Mars Accomplishment’ as bragging rights. In EIGHT, I include a small group of a few dozen folks who were funded by just that sort of super-rich bloke to travel to Mars and set up a research base there similar to that of scientists in an Antarctic base today.
So, why did I write this story? Remember, I’m Dansplaining here, so check The Novels page for a synopsis. I think the two primary issues that inspired me to write EIGHT are the environmental challenges we face as a species and the impact of technology and social media on our socialisation processes. Both of these matters play into the tale of EIGHT.
I tried approaching the ecological aspect of the novel from the perspective of what a planet other than Earth is like. The obvious contrasts are both Mars and Venus since planetologists tell us all three may have had quite similar beginnings in planetary development. Fast forward several billion years. Mars is oxygen and water deficient with freezing temperatures most likely inhospitable to life. Venus is a planetary hell that underwent a disastrous runaway greenhouse effect so severe that its oceans boiled. The resulting Venusian environment today has extreme atmospheric pressures and temperatures to the point it is lethal to any life forms we can imagine. I don’t want to go much beyond this point for fear of giving away the plot, but I would think it should keep you guessing right up until the end of the book as long as you don’t look ahead and cheat!
I imagine that I am not the only one worried about the impact of technology, especially on kids. After a lifetime as a teacher and lecturer, watching developments from PCs and the Internet to smartphones and social media has had a big impact on my thinking here. Could kids become so distracted that they actually begin to lose touch with others because of, quite paradoxically, an overload of social media? I tried to extrapolate the current use of smartphones to the point where no one will want to actually ‘carry’ their connection to the internet. That said, I created the ‘SAM’ chip, that is, a Subdermal Angel Microchip implanted under the webbed skin between the thumb and forefinger, technically called the purlicue. Why angel?
If you have a pet dog or cat in most of the western world, chances are that you have had them micro-chipped under the skin so it can be read in the event of the pet being lost. These ID chips are a passive RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) encapsulated, rice-sized piece of electronics easily inserted painlessly under the skin. A more sophisticated version of this type of chip is being trialled at companies in America and Sweden where the RFID becomes an employee's pass card that you can never forget or have stolen. Implanted personnel can use them open doors, log onto computers and otherwise function in a high-tech workplace. Some companies have offered sweeteners such as pay bonuses to extra annual leave days to employees willing to trial the embeds microchips. A small fraction of the population has somehow found a 666 reference to RFID chips as being the “Mark of the Beast.” The tag was applied to the use of the RFID chips, and they have been referred to as 666 chips.
I took the RFID a step beyond, thinking that in the future, these embedded chips will not remain passive. When we consider the incredible acceleration of miniaturisation, I reckon a full-scale computer will be scaled down to the size of a grain of rice and then implanted in most humans. Of course, if many are fearful of a passive RFID implant, how would you ever sell a full-on computer chip.
I’m glad you asked… I reckon an astute company might want to brand their chip more pleasantly and that’s why I call them the “Angle Chip”. The marketing idea is selling the notion that your implanted computer device is your guardian angel. That leads to a global company not unlike our major mobile manufacturers today marketing these SAM chip, that is, a Subdermal Angel Microchip, to everyone from teens to the elderly. What could possibly go wrong? [RIGHT!]
In similar fashion to what I did in FEVER, I tried to follow a blend of scientists, law enforcement people and journos trying to dig to the bottom of some serious questions. Two Washington, DC, police, Agent Maggie Patton and Detective Harry Grimms, pursue a couple of teenagers who shoot up the apartment of two local journalists. One of them, Sunlyn Singh, teams up with GNN colleague Owen Yates and try to solve the problem on a broader scale, looking at a global outbreak of zombie-like kids, becoming increasingly withdrawn, regressive and suicidal. They journos meet two psychologists, Australian Professor Kylie Childs and Chinese Professor Fiona Wu who introduce them to the term solastalgia and chase the issue across the planet to China and Australia.
The term solastalgia has been around been around since early in this century, and the term was coined right here in Australia. It combines the idea of ‘solace’ or a feeling of peace and comfort along with ‘nostalgia’, that longing for something now gone forever. Professor Glenn Albrecht coined the term in the work he did in New South Wales at the University of Newcastle a couple decades back. He postulated a previously unrecognised form of psychological stress experienced by people in the Hunter Valley Region, whose home environment was changed dramatically by both natural and man-made impacts. Solastalgia applies to people in the Hunter Valley specifically because the coal mine expansions and bush fires there left so many residents with no home to go back to. I use Albrecht’s words when he says that solastalgia is the "feeling of homesickness while still being at home”. He also speaks of the distress an individual or an entire community experiences about their “loss of endemic sense of place”. As an aside here, I never met Glenn Albrecht, but we both finished our university careers contemporaneously at Murdoch University… small world, yes?
I very much enjoyed writing EIGHT. Firstly, there’s a lot of real, hardcore science in the tale, and I just really enjoy exploring scientific ideas in novel ways. Secondly, I also enjoyed tying in a global setting which approximately has a quarter the novel set in the USA (Washington and Hawaii), a quarter in Australia (Perth, Margaret River and Sydney), a quarter in Shanghai, China and a quarter on Mars. It’s great fun for me to take the reader on a journey that chases a story around our planet and – in this case – across our solar system.
I'm anxious to hear what you think of EIGHT after you read it.
Dansplaining DREAMS (Published September 2019)
Hey, it’s probably not fair for me to say this, but I think DREAMS might be my favourite novel so far. It results from my frustration with how to communicate the urgency of a scientific reality that may not be obvious for decades into the future. Frankly, it bothers me that though I will be dead and gone, our children and grandchildren will all face the consequences of my generation’s excesses. How can I possibly communicate that in a novel? Dreams?
It’s funny how I got the idea for this, but like all ideas, the best inspirations seem quite unexplainable. It started out with me sitting in my dentist’s waiting room reading David Wallace-Wells book The Uninhabitable Earth. [I highly recommend it as an excellent read.] In short order, I went into Sash’s office, and we had a bit of a pre-treatment chat, which for some reason turned into a conversation about dreams. Well, you all know what it’s like in a dentist’s chair, and you lie there with an open mouth and equipment being moved in and out of it. It tends to keep even me about as quiet as anyone ever can keep me! Somewhere in the middle of the anaesthetics, the rubber dam, a high-speed drill or two and some composite resin, it dawned on me that just maybe the best way to span a century within one novel and within one character would be to use dreams as a literary device. Well, I won’t go farther than that here, since I do want you to read the story, but that is the source of the inspiration – Wallace-Wells and my dentist, Shashika.
That said, my best mate and wife, Karn, spent her entire working life as a registered nurse and the last portion of her career was in the aged care sector. I learned from her that aged care can offer some of the best of memories and yet some of the saddest memories all at the same time. We are all heading in the same direction as long as we maintain our health long enough to wind up in aged care. Regrettably, we all expect old people to die, so when they do, we mostly don’t give it a second thought unless it’s one of our own rellies and those closest to us. But what happens if a series of deaths in aged care facilities become “in-your-face” blatant murders? How do you get to the bottom of that?
Again, I tried to span the globe in DREAMS, starting with a bombing of an aged care facility in Washington, DC, that kills over 20 seniors. Metro Police Detective-Sergeant Nick Corcoran and Investigator Jo Satterfield head a team looking into who set the explosion. Close on the same trail is journalist Samantha Holloway who quickly learns that similar suspected murders of older people were popping up in England, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, Australia…
As has been the case in all my novels to date, I have great fun painting differing settings from around the globe as a background to the search for answers. Several behavioural researchers in America and Australia play a big role in trying to decipher the common threat in all of these suspicious deaths. They eventually realise that every oldie involved in foul play reported a series of episodic or serial dreams before their untimely deaths.
Sam’s hunt for answers leads her to Western Australia where she meets Leah Ferguson, a young emergency department doctor who’s 78-year-old grandpa, Laurie, is experiencing a similar series of dreams. There is particular local interest here since both Leah and her best mate Akiko Nakamura both work at Fiona Stanley Hospital, not far from where Karn and I live. As is always the case with Dansplaining, I’m not going to spoil the story here, but it all does come together in the end.
I guess I had so much fun writing this novel because I could relate to it. No, no… I don’t remember having many dreams, so that isn’t that aspect with which I identify. To me, the interpersonal relationships I’ve had with so many young folks over the years is what pushed me into writing DREAMS. I just can’t tell you how strongly I feel about somehow trying to leave them with opportunities open to them that were open to my generation. There are days I don’t feel as optimistic about that as I would like. When I look at the website World Population History and put in my birthday, I’m amazed to see that there were less than 2.5 billion people on the planet the day I was born. Next I go to the World Population Meter and find that there are well over 7.7 billion folks around today. Damn… that works out to close to a 310% increase in global population in my lifetime... in ONE lifetime! Then I read that the most wealthy 8… eight… EIGHT… people have more wealth than the bottom 50% or humanity (that’s more than 3.8 billion humans!). I don’t know about you, but that startles me. Do you think there’s a refugee problem today? Just imagine what it’ll be like tomorrow, next year, next decade.
These are some of the things that were rattling around in my head when I wrote DREAMS. I am anxious for you to read it and have high hopes in with be published before the end of this year. As usual, let me know how you liked it.
Dansplaining FEVER (published June 2019)
For starters, I relish in telling you that my novel FEVER plays out on a truly global scale, though the bulk of the novel is set in 2024 Australia. The tale investigates a series of microorganism mutations that seem to be happening at an accelerated pace. Could Mother Nature be acting up in ways that could cause us problems?
The novel is set in Australia locations from Townsville in Queensland to Melbourne in Victoria to Fremantle in Western Australia. The theme running through FEVER has been chasing around in my brain for years and incorporates the Gaia Hypothesis into a creative story that might make it more understandable. This all comes from work done by an Englishman, chemist James Lovelock and his American colleague, microbiologist Lynn Margulis, back in the 1970s.
I first learned of James Lovelock while teaching high school chemistry and physics back in the late 80s when he published his book, Ages of Gaia. Though their notion of Gaia was around for a decade or more at the time, it was misunderstood by many science and non-science people. The trouble with the Gaia Hypothesis (Gaia was Mother Earth in ancient Greek) was that many people erroneously concluded that the theory somehow argued that the Earth to be a living organism. That was never Lovelock and Margulis’s point. Rather, they believed that Mother Earth was a system of physical laws that maintained a planet that was singularly hospitable to life.
Lynn Margulis is gone now, but James Lovelock is still with us at the ripe old age of 99! They were the amongst the first to warn of a heating Earth and considered just how our homo sapien species interacts with the planet and the impact that has on the observed changes. So, consider when microbes infect a human, one of the first natural defences that your body throws up is a fever. Could the Gaia theory also portend that when a planet has an ‘infection’ with one species threatening the existence of all others that Earth, too, might get a fever? I trust you like the cover, both because we see Australia from space for a change and that the Earth is on fire! Enter FEVER.
The story starts with a terrorist event over the Great Barrier Reef off Townsville and leapfrogs to a team of journalists chasing deadly zombie microbes crawling out of melting permafrost in Alaska and Siberia. Global News Network journo Asha Sharma, a Fremantle native, returns to Australia chasing the ‘biggest news story ever’. She quickly discovers the explosion of the research vessel over the Great Barrier Reef was not an accident and inadvertently stumbles across the first “murder-by-Ebola” case in Melbourne, the first active Ebola infection to ever impact Australia.
The pursuit of the bad guys follows local police, federal police and a keen ASIO agent. One of the elements that make FEVER different from other crime thrillers is that in addition to the police tracking the perpetrators, they are joined by a team of scientists and several journalists in the search for the facts.
I’ve always enjoyed reading a thriller, but I guess that coming from a scientific background, I like a tale that has some meat to it. For that matter, I enjoy a good, old murder mystery, but that same technical background makes me want more than just another ‘cops-and-robbers’ mystery. I reckon there are basically three professions that are based on the common premise of finding facts that are open to corroboration amongst peers. The three career paths I speak of here are in law enforcement, scientific research and journalism.
We certainly hope that our law enforcement officers all commit to getting to the bottom of a crime no matter how far they need dig and the check and balance over their work is the court system, at least in most of the western world that is the case.
The same is true for scientists. I realise there has been a concerted effort to point to researchers as somehow ‘bought off’ by grant money, but anyone who has spent weeks or months of work to win a few thousand dollars in funding knows that claim is laughable. Scientist work long hours chasing answers that may never be found, but they are held to the most rigorous accountability of all – peer review through the process of the replication of findings. Scientists thrive on pulling apart colleagues’ findings, and that is precisely what allows the scientific method to produce evidence-based facts.
I can argue that the final career path that seeks to dig out the ‘facts’ is legitimate, top-line journalism. I reckon if I hadn’t chosen the path of science in my career, I’d have been a journalist. I think that journos are the unsung heroes of the 21st century, what with cries of “fake news” and “enemy of the people”… I always appreciate the words on the masthead of THE WASHINGTON POST that read, “Democracy Dies in Darkness”. Oh, how true. As a science nerd, I often think many people miss the point that a true journo is every bit as exposed to peer review as a scientist. Consider for a moment that when one media outlet gets a story wrong, just how quickly the rest of the pack are eager to correct them!
I hope you enjoy FEVER and if you do, give it a good review.
Dansplaining Current Writing
Dansplaining RAINBOW To be released mid-2020
Surprise, surprise... I finished my third edit of a new novel in mid-November 2019, and a funny thing happened - it's name evolved from the working title of CIVITAS to the final title of RAINBOW. Quite a change, I know, but once you read the story, the name change will seem obvious to you. I am now in the process of collecting input from my core group of helpers without whom I could never get to the final manuscript. Well, it's nearly March as I type and things are progressing and we should should be all done by mid-2020. With any luck, RAINBOW will be published soon after. Let me give you a look into what it’s about and what made me want to write it.
I’m a close follower of historical and political happenings, and I assume that’s all a throwback to my early days when I was aiming to be a lawyer. My first undergraduate degree was in political science and history with the thought being that I would go to law school. Well, that never did happen, though I was never sorry that I chose a career in education instead. That said, we are witnessing a funny thing over the past several decades. The Western-style liberal democracy goes back two, three, four hundred years to European Age of Enlightenment, the French Revolution and the founding of the United States. This classical liberalism is based on individual rights and is characterised by free elections, the separation of powers and the preservation of human rights, civil liberties and the rule of law.
I'm a bit overly simplistic here, but in a sense, if you look at what statisticians call the “standard bell curve” shown here, Western democratic governments have tended rule citizens that might have fit that sort of curve. By that, I mean that the peak of the curve represents the millions and millions of citizens whose interests and desires are found somewhere there amongst the great so-called silent majority. That has more or less been a reflection of government across Europe, North America and Australia certainly through most of the 1800s and well into the twentieth century.
A funny thing has happened over the past few decades, though, and the trend seems to be enhanced by the explosion of social media we now have. That standard bell curve seems to have abruptly shifted to a “U curve” as seen in the second graph here. What this represents are two polarised sides that seem pretty much set at the extremes in nearly all social and political arguments nowadays. Consider the nearly even split within the United Kingdom over Brexit. For a once united people, the Brexit issue easily fits the U curve. The same is true in Greece, France, Hungary and Poland. The United States has increasingly polarised to a point at which many fear it is ready to split in two.
This problem of polarisation on a broad scale level got me to thinking of how human development could be used in a tale. Enter Hayden McNally, an IT guru born in Western Australia, but who spent the better part of his career lecturing at the University of California at Berkley and then founding his own tech company that propelled him to the richest man on Earth. Two sad events changed McNally’s life in peculiar ways: first of all, his only daughter succumbs to social media bullying and suicides, and second of all, his wife’s university lecture hall is terrorised by a gunman who kills a dozen students and her in a rain of bullets. McNally is crushed, but instead of using his billions to revenge their deaths, he chooses to build a model community to overcome the polarisation of cultures.
That is the basic premise of RAINBOW. McNally conjures up what he thinks is a solution to the emotional cry of populism and seeks to level the governmental playing field by turning a portion of the power over to the most advanced artificial intelligence imaginable. He purchases hundreds of square kilometres of land in the Western Australian outback and founds a new town he names Civitas after the Roman concept of the social body of citizens. The idea is to build everything new from the ground up, make Civitas the envy of Australia and the world, and moderate the government structure by having a Triumvirate of three supercomputers (AI Red, AI Blue and AI Yellow) overseen by a moderator supercomputer (AI White Light) act as a primary source of advice. McNally’s vision is for the system to summarise the collective findings of the Triumvirate into the members of the city council before they make decisions on all matters. In a sense, McNally plans to use the system of supercomputers to allow the U curve of polarised citizenship to somehow return to a more sustainable Bell curve-shaped population.
The novel is not at all political per se, and I have made sure that I haven’t headed down that rabbit hole. I have stuck to looking at the possibility of using a less emotional arbitrator in a system of government and of all that might entail. Since I love writing thrillers that can keep you guessing, I’m sure your imagination can conjure up directions I might take. I still aim to surprise you.
Why the name RAINBOW? I could tell you, but... well, you know where I was going with this statement! Now, I need to get back to finishing the final touches of RAINBOW.
Dansplaining Churachian Classics
Dansplaining Back to Paradise (Published 2017, Second Edition 2019)
Karn and I lived in the Hawaiian Islands for 18 fantastic years and absolutely loved the place, the culture and the people. We lived in Kaneohe on the windward side of Oahu for a couple of years and then in Honokaʻa and Hilo on the Big Island for 16 years. The Islands truly are a very special place and rightfully gets that tag of “paradise”.
It’s difficult to believe that I’m too young nowadays, but I can unequivocally say that I am too young to have known the Territorial Hawaii that is the setting for the first half of Back to Paradise. No matter what your age is, you might just find the whole idea of the 1950s as though it were another world, and to twenty-first-century folks, it really was another world.
Let’s do a little thought experiment. Visualise climbing onboard a modern-day aircraft in Chicago, flying through a bit of turbulence and then landing in Territorial Hawaii with absolutely no clue as to how it all happened. And since we are in a creative frame of mind here, suppose you not only left behind the present-day world and all the luxuries you are used to, but you also left behind your family, friends and all that you know. We’ll include one more feature in our thought experiment here and add one more ‘imagine’ to our little exercise by saying supposed you met a beautiful young Hawaii woman and quickly fell head-over-heels in love. Of course, it is perfectly logical to turn the table and approach the entire scenario from Leilani’s perspective and to meet and fall in love with a “man of the future”, an equally life-changing event from her side, too.
From whoever’s point-of-view, that is the scenario that lead character Ben Decker finds himself in when he meets Leilani Kealoha. The trouble is, Ben’s family, his failed marriage and his potential booming ‘tech company’ are decades in the future with no obvious way for him to ever return there. The two of them spend a romantic week together and form a bond that transcended time and space. Ah, but it seems that every paradise has the nasty snake rearing its ugly head, and in Ben’s case, a couple of FBI agents think he is tied up with some Cold War Russian spies. Before he knows it, he is high on the FBI’s wanted list.
Just as unexpectedly as he stumbled into Paradise of long ago, Decker stumbles back out again and finds himself on the present-day East Coast, realising at once that he much more wanted to be in Territorial Hawaii with Leilani than anywhere else. He now focuses his entire life on somehow getting ‘back to paradise’ and reuniting with Leilani. Ben flies back to modern-day Honolulu and tries everything imaginable to track down Leilani across Oahu and over to Hilo on the Big Island where he knew she had come from originally.
Back to Paradise is, above all else a love story. Yes, of course, that there have been many others who have played with this ‘back-in-time’ romance theme before I did. But Back to Paradise is different because of its Hawaiian setting allowing me to show off one of the most beautiful spots filled with the most beautiful people on Earth.
Dansplaning PROOF! (Second Edition published July 2019)
True confession… I have always been interested in the idea of alien life and the possibilities of UFOs being something other than the product wild imaginations. Of course, having academic credentials in the physical sciences and pursuing a career as a teacher and university lecturer, I know full well how unlikely it is that homo sapiens will even come face-to-face with intelligent alien life. Why?
Frankly, there are two ways of looking at this. First of all, what are the chances of life having evolved elsewhere in the universe? Let’s dissect that notion. Our solar system is 4.6 billion years old, and life has been on Earth for something like 3.5 billion of those years. That is the only sample of life we have, though. Considering there are billions and billions of other possibilities that life has evolved over the 13.7 billion years the universe has been around it is almost unimaginable to think there isn’t other life… other intelligent life, for that matter.
But that brings us to the second point, namely, the laws of physics. We are hemmed in between the speed limit of the universe, namely the speed of light, and the incredible distances between stars and galaxies. Considering we can observe galaxies from light that has travelled for 13.7 billion years to get here, those galaxies must have travelled even farther away during the time that it took for that light to reach us. The point – the distances are so great, and the speed of light limit is so absolute that it is difficult to think we have a great chance of simply bumping into other intelligent life anywhere soon.
All of that said, there are US Government reports in the news lately and it still causes quite a stir. Concerning PROOF!, I've had many conversations with mates and colleagues over the years as to just what one would do if you did see a UFO. Even more, what would you do if you had a close encounter… if you interacted with aliens? I always had a pretty quick answer to that by simply saying that I sure wouldn’t tell anyone since they would think I was crazy. But still, consider that it somehow did happen. I guess the only way I would feel able to share it with anyone would be if I had some proof, a physical object or some artifact that would make me seem less crazy.
All these thoughts were part of my rationale for writing PROOF!, my first published novel. That was thirty years ago. I recently have gone through and spruced up PROOF! and now publish it as a Second Edition, but I didn’t change the contents any. The story plays out in the northeastern part of the USA in 1990, and the setting certainly dates itself. But I thought it worth reprinting in a Second Edition simply because the ideas behind the story haven’t dated at all. Is there a God? What would any god have to do with aliens? Is doubt a part of being truly human? Can physical proof of anything ever alleviate doubt?
PROOF! is worth a read. Please feel free to drop a note and let me know what you would do if you came face-to-face with an alien. Would YOU tell anyone? Would you want PROOF!