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Monthly Archives: January 2014

Understanding the underwear bomber

As a human, I wish fervently for a world filled with empathy and mutual respect amongst the many nations, religions, races and preferences that fill this globe. As a writer, I understand that a story filled with nothing but such enlightened people probably isn’t going to be much of story. Instead, I must create, understand, and bring to life those who would do others harm.

hippiepeace5The worst villain I have created may be the crime lord in my new novel c3, a ruthless man who harbors a taste for unwilling virgins. Or it may be my Nigerian fanatic in x0, who works to blow up an airplane leaving Lagos right before Christmas 2009. Of all the characters I have ever written, I struggled the hardest to understand both of these men, and to describe how they justified their actions to themselves.

How realistic is such horrible behavior? Clearly most of the folks in line with you at the grocery store are not capable of these kinds of atrocities, and we are all thankful for that. But even my worst characters are based on information I have come across in real life. Some of x0 was born out of my interest in Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, known as the “Underwear Bomber”. A 23 year old Nigerian, he hid plastic explosives in his undies and attempted to detonate them while on board a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day, 2009.

I think his story tugged at me because a week later I began work as a consultant with an oil company exploring in offshore Nigeria. I immediately got to know several young Nigerian men who were about his age. As I became friends with my new co-workers, I puzzled over the story of of this youngest child of sixteen, son of a wealthy Nigerian banker and his second wife. I learned that such huge families, encompassing multiple wives, were not uncommon in Nigeria and I could now personally attest to the fact that they produced people as loving and talented as families structured the way I was used to.

So what makes anyone decide to kill a bunch of complete strangers who have done him no harm? As I began to write x0, I knew that the villain in my book would be older, far more manipulative, and not tied to Muslim terrorist organizations or their goals. Nonetheless, I felt that I had to better understand this underwear bomber in order to create the character that would drive the plot of x0.

I read. A fellow student said that Abdulmutallab started every day by going to the mosque for dawn prayers, and then spent hours in his room reading the Quran. Unusual, especially for a young person, but hardly evil and even what some would call praiseworthy. “He told me his greatest wish was for sharia and Islam to be the rule of law across the world,” said one of his classmates.Okay, now I was getting somewhere. It’s one thing to immerse oneself in a religion, quite another to decide that every other human on earth should believe and do the same. Clearly those of many different faiths share this zeal to convert or even coerce, but in my heart, once you think that you know what everyone else should believe, you’ve entered rocky moral ground.

taboojive1Luckily the bomb went off with no injuries except to Abdulmutallab who was apprehended as he left the plane. When he was sentenced to life without parole in 2012, he declared that Muslims were “proud to kill in the name of God, and that is what God told us to do in the Quran.” I don’t know a single Muslim who agrees with that, although my knowledge base is limited to co-workers who share my hope for a peaceful world.

The underwear bomber did not hope for peace. He preferred destruction to a world that wasn’t the way he thought it should be. Once I understood that fact, I understood him. Understanding is not agreeing. I abhor what he did, I abhor death caused by anyone of any faith who thinks that the people of the world are better off bleeding than being free to make their own choices. Those who would kill to convert are about control. They are not about God, or love or peace.

(Please like the HippiePeaceFreaks and TabooJive pages on Facebook for these two clever images. Please see my y1 blog for a post about why I made pharmaceutical companies my villain, and see my z2 blog for an upcoming post about my tale of researching racist groups in America.)

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2014 in Nigeria, writing

 

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Writing about Superpowers

hippiepeace2I write speculative fiction, in a genre known as magical realism. In my worlds, fantasy-type things happen as part of normal reality and you, the reader, are hopefully convinced that neither magic nor yet-to-be-invented science are involved.

Each of my books concerns a character with a different superpower, and each time I have struggled to invent ways in which the power doesn’t work. It turns out that the abnormal abilities are fun, but it’s those limitations that make for a good story. In x0, my first protagonist discovers that she is a telepath. I could tell early on that if I let her powers go wild, by halfway through the book she’d pretty much run the world. That’s not much of a story.

One solution was to create villains with equal or greater powers, but this yielded a sort of comic book cosmos that wasn’t what I was after. I wanted a believable lady in a universe that looked like my own, in which she dealt with dangerous but real people. So, she could read minds, but obviously not easily or at a distance or all of the time.

In my second book, y1, my main character is a real life shape shifter. Once again, if he could turn himself into anything and he had even a little imagination, he ought to be in charge of everything before the plot really gets going. Luckily, I developed his powers as being rooted in his amazing fine muscle control and certain chameleon-like color alteration abilities. That left him limited by his hair, his clothes and his approximate size. No turning into wolves or refrigerators or flies on the wall for him. His limitations helped me craft a plot that involved the fanciful but didn’t spin out of control before it even got started.

My hero in z2 can slow down the passage of time to the point where it almost stands still. Once again I was challenged to limit his capabilities. He begins the book thinking that his unique talent only shows itself when he is playing sports. As he finds himself in a variety of physical emergencies, he figures out that he is more versatile than he realized. Fortunately it takes him to the end of the novel before he learns to dependably control and use this power. This lack of knowledge about how and when his superpower can be called upon allowed him to occasionally save the day without becoming too powerful.

I am now finishing up final edits on c3, and beginning my fifth book d4 and both introduce new superpowers developed in the other family members. I’m enjoying playing with these new plot lines, and working my hardest to keep my remaining super people from becoming entirely too invincible. I want them to ultimately save the day, but not until they  have had adventures that my readers will enjoy.

Thanks to Hippie Peace Freaks for the wise saying.  Please like their Facebook page.

(Note: I originally wrote this as part of a blog tour with Orangberry Book Tours and this content has appeared at Bunny’s Review, Me, You & Books, High Class Books, Reading the Dream Life and at Imagination in Books. )

 
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Posted by on January 17, 2014 in telepathy, writing

 

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No resolutions needed, just be better

growing bolder 1 I love beginnings. New books, new towns, new classes, new years. Heck, I even like starting a new game of scrabble. As you might expect, January is one of my favorite months because I love the possibilities that a whole new year brings. In 2014, I can be anything. I can take up bird watching or mud wrestling. I can dye my hair blue. I can learn Portuguese. Obviously the list is infinite. It’s not what I pick that matters, but rather the very idea that this year is a fresh piece of paper. I will write something on it, and whatever it is, years later I will be telling people how I started that way back in 2014. So I might as well make that something good.

the light within 1Maybe this is why I don’t get the whole the resolution thing.  Why confine yourself to a few obvious improvements that you know you ought to be making anyway? Yeah, yeah, we’re all going to get more exercise and eat healthier. Seriously, I hope we all do. But 2014 is going to be so much more exciting than that. So why not resolve to just be better. You know. Do more things. Act more like you should. Take better care of yourself and others and let the specific hows and whens work themselves out as the year unfolds.

Meanwhile, it can’t hurt to be open to the exciting choices that are going to come marching by like a parade of pink elephants dancing outside your window. There are some animals you should definitely pass on. You’ll know which ones they are when you see them. Others will be like cayenne pepper. Try just a pinch, but not too much. Luckily, a good bit of the menagerie will be well worth sampling. From bubble gum bubbles to bongo drum banging, you and I both will get opportunities to try new things in 2014 and say “Wow. I liked that.”

bye normal 1January first is, of course a perfectly arbitrary time to start a year. Plenty of other traditions celebrate other calendars, leaving the truly unfettered with the possibility of starting a New Year again on January 31 (Chinese New Year) May 15 (Buddhist New Year) September 25 (Jewish New Year) October 25 (Islamic New Year) to name just a few. I know that it’s radical, but one can even go so far as to consider every day a fresh start!

(Please like the Facebook pages of Growing Bolder, of The Light Within, and of Bye Bye Normal. Thanks to them for sharing the witty and wise displays shown here.)

For my genuine new year’s wish, please visit my y1 blog here. For thoughts on why January is such a great month, visit my z2 blog here.

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2014 in being better

 

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