Monday, August 1, 2016

Apocalyptica: Book One of Ran

That's the cover for Apocalyptica, the first volume of what I intend to be my main series once I finish The Fall with book six. It's exclusive to Kindle and Kindle Unlimited, and it's the most fun I've ever had writing a book.

I don't want to spoil anything, but I do want to say a little something about it, the genesis of the book, and why I love it so much.

Before I wrote Victim Zero back in 2013, I had this idea for an end-of-the-world scenario where the lines between living and undead were much more blurry. In the middle of this situation was a woman. She came to my mind not fully formed, but I knew the broad outlines of her. I didn't have to construct her the way I have many of my other characters. I knew how she'd react and the sort of things she'd say, even if I didn't yet know the specifics.

Turns out her name was Ran Lawson, because she thinks her legal name, Randie, should be reserved for strippers.

Ran is the sort of leading lady I've always wanted to see in a post-apocalyptic novel but never run across. She has a Mysterious Past™ that gets explained throughout the course of the book. She's part pastiche and part homage to the many women in my life who have inspired me, from my friend Sarah's indomitably stubborn will, to my mom's brilliant ability to absorb and connect facts, to my wife Jessica's almost suicidal work ethic.

Ran is smart and flawed and funny and honestly a little weird. It even came as a surprise to me as I was writing her that she could be simultaneously outspoken and deeply insecure.

And with this series, named for her, I'm leaving behind the constraints of the genre. I'm exploring at least half a dozen ways the virus affects people, from creating your standard zombies to leaving people alive but fundamentally altered into something less (or more) than human. I've written a lot of survival stuff, and there will be elements of that. I've written a lot of fights and battles, and there will certainly be more of those.

But Ran will touch a lot of new territory for me. One book in the series will be a heist book, just one set with the zombie apocalypse as its background. Another will be a kidnap thriller. I'm leaving it as an open-ended series because the overall story, the larger arc, is Ran herself. I look forward to the freedom to expand on the many small things I've included in this first book as potential stories of their own. I've laced a lot them into the narrative to give them space to grow.

I hope you pick it up here, if you haven't already, and I hope you like it. If you do, leave a review and totally feel free to rave about it to your friends. Without your support, I don't have the privilege of doing this job.

I think you'll like it. In fact, I think if you've enjoyed Living With the Dead or The Fall, you'll love it to pieces.

Only one way to find out.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Why Space Matters, Part 2

Depending on who you ask, the Earth is either fine, potentially in trouble, probably in trouble, or definitely fucked.

This is why space really matters to us as a species. Let's pretend for a moment that climate change isn't a problem, though it absolutely is. There's a titanic volume of rigorously checked and repeatably provable evidence supporting it, but even if there weren't space would still be our best means of survival.

I don't mean in the next ten, fifty, or even a hundred years. I mean long-term. Centuries. Millennia.

Let's please remember that the Solar system, our happy little home, plays host to many asteroids. The Oort cloud, a collection of debris orbiting the Solar system itself, is the leftover material from its formation. Estimates indicate the matter there is at a minimum three times the mass of Earth, spread out over at least a trillion objects each more than a kilometer in diameter.

That's a lot of potential death. One interstellar object smashing into one orbiting piece of flotsam at just the right angle, and we could be facing an extinction-level event. Or a star goes supernova within the galactic neighborhood: the resulting gamma ray burst, if pointed at our planet, would scour all life from it in a blast of radiation.

These are but two ways our species could die. They're big, unlikely examples. But think of how obsessed we are with global pandemics, war, the slow erosion of the ecosystem. Earth is, for the moment, all we have. It's our only home.

Space can and should change that.

Colonizing beyond the borders of our atmosphere shouldn't be considered an extravagance, but a necessity. We have to bend ourselves into thinking in new ways. One interesting branch of technology Nasa and other space agencies and companies have long considered vital to this effort is in-situ resource utilization, or ISRU.

The idea is to design technologies that can take advantage of the raw materials encountered off of Earth for use in everything from solar cells to rocket fuel. SpaceX revolutionizing rocketry means serious efforts in this direction, and that's good. Because ISRU is how we'll build long-term colonies.

I know, I know, all of this sounds crazy and so far out of what we can manage now that it might as well be magic. But it really, really isn't. Along with being able to manufacture technology from junk we mine from asteroids or the surface of a planetary body, people have also been working on emerging technologies like vat-grown food, which would be a powerful solution to one of the larger problems for colonies.

Cost is always the concern, but the great irony in all of this is that with even a marginal increase in the investment we as a country (and we as a species) already put in, we could easily see huge advancements in very short periods of time. I should also clarify that these budding technologies, should they be given the nutrients they need to grow, wouldn't just be for space exploration. Imagine a world where a small indoor factory can produce several tons of edible, nutritious food without the need for months of growth and huge tracts of land. That's not even the tip of the iceberg, really, as much as just the top few molecules of its potential.

Science fiction has long predicted these things, and that's because science fiction has historically been pushed forward by men and women who were actual scientists and engineers. This stuff has been in the works for a long time, unfunded ideas tinkered with by people as educated as they are passionate.

We need to spread out. There's no way around it. Colonizing Mars, or the moon, or the moons of other planets--even floating cities in the Venusian atmosphere!--isn't something we could do, it's something we must do. In the long run, we have to leave this lovely rock to ensure the human race continues. To do that, we need to make investments right now.

If we don't, we're playing a long game of Russian roulette, and no one wins.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Why Space Matters, Part 1

I thought about titling this post Why Science Matters but that way is fraught with political landmines. It's not that I'm at all silent about my political philosophy or how I arrived at my core beliefs. I'm not, nor am I ashamed. The calculation involved in the way I view politics and policy is a simple one:

Does this belief or policy do good for the largest number of people?

Do research.

Make conclusion.

Yeah, we might differ on what qualifies as good, but at that basic a level of disagreement there's really no way to change a person's mind.

So instead of talking about why science matters--and it does, clearly, as human civilization to this point wouldn't exist without it--I'm going to move forward under the assumption you agree with that premise. If you don't, that's fine. You can stop reading. Avoiding politics here means I'm not interested in being convinced that the scientific method is invalid. Chances are pretty good that if you believe, say, that the world is 6,000 years old, you're probably not reading any more.

So. Onward.

Space matters. In ways as vast as space itself and as small and mundane as everyday concerns like wanting a comfortable mattress, it matters. My goal with this series of posts is to explain in my wandering, often tangential way exactly why this is true and why we as a society should value the technologies and investments needed to make space exploration of all kinds an integral part of our cultural psyche.


One thing that never ceases to confound me is how, in one breath, people will praise the technological breakthroughs made by space programs while damning the idea of space exploration as a priority.

You can see some Nasa spinoff technologies on Wikipedia or Nasa's own website at these links, but the benefits span everything from the enrichment of baby food to chemical detection. The simple truth is that you don't work for Nasa or any space agency to get rich. You don't spend years learning mechanical engineering or astrophysics because it's going to make you a rock star. 

I mean, Neil deGrasse Tyson aside. 

People get into space--even private space companies--because they love space. Or rockets. Maybe they have a lifelong jones for making some obscure mechanical process more efficient. I'm not judging. The point is that there is also a simple formula for near-certain breakthroughs across the entire spectrum of the scientific field.

Take a large group of passionate, educated nerds. 

Give them resources. 

Give them a problem. 


In fairness, this is less true in any of the biological sciences, since biology and medicine deal with much less predictable systems of much greater complexity. They take longer to have breakthroughs, but when they do, as Albus Dumbledore would say, they're correspondingly huger. 

If you need a good example of what I'm talking about, let's look at SpaceX, the private space exploration company founded by real-life Tony Stark/potential Bond villain Elon Musk. 

There are plenty of excellent resources out there where you can (and should) find everything you need to know about Musk and SpaceX, so I'll skip the details. 

Musk started his company after posing himself a question: why is space exploration so expensive? After doing some research and figuring out the math, Musk realized that the actual cost of the materials that make up a rocket capable of reaching orbit are about 2% of the total. That leaves a lot of room for making rockets more cost effective. Which is exactly what he did. 

Musk and company looked at rocket technology and, funded by Musk himself and some investors, decided to do something no one had really done since the 1960's: build their own damn rocket from the ground up. By doing this, they were able to utilize half a century of experience and practical data to create the most efficient booster in the world for a fraction of the cost ULA (United Launch Alliance, a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed-Martin that has been mercilessly bilking Nasa for years) could manage. 

It should be noted here that ULA has been using Russian rocket engines made in the 1960's for their Nasa contracts. Not designed in the decade Kennedy was still alive, actually fucking manufactured in it

As a result of SpaceX being provided resources, they were given contracts that provided even more resources, which allowed SpaceX to do something that changed the world. 

They created a rocket that can land. 

Yeah, I know. Doesn't sound like too big a deal. But consider the cost of a Falcon 9 rocket, which is the workhorse of the SpaceX fleet: about 90 million dollars. That's about the cost of a jumbo jet. Imagine if jets could only go one flight, and were then scrapped. That's how space exploration has worked until now. 

With the advent of a booster that can land and be reused, the face of space exploration and as a consequence humanity's place in the solar system has changed forever. The cost of sending rockets into space will drop by staggering margins, allowing cheaper and cheaper flights. 

This means we'll have the ability to create large orbital structures in a cost-effective way for the first time. Space stations are within our grasp, as are larger spacecraft capable of exploring and exploiting the resources of the solar system. This is not an exaggeration or science fiction, but rather the critical point much science fiction has hinged on before possibly becoming science fact. 

Had Nasa been given the sort of funding they enjoyed during the space race in the 60's and 70's (wherein the exploration of space was a national contest with the Soviet Union, a sort of proxy war using scientific achievement as its ammunition), we'd have seen these advances long ago. 

Yes, if we had kept giving Nasa the budget it once had, commercial space travel would be so normal by now we'd all be bored of it. But the budget cuts over the years meant Nasa couldn't build its own rockets, which meant whatever advances were made at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (or anywhere inside the organization) were at best passed on to private third-party vendors like ULA, who were operating on contracts and looking to squeeze every penny or profit they could. 

Nasa could have been SpaceX. Would have been, if the money had been there. 

Even so, things are working out. We're on the edge of a boom in space travel. Successful demonstration of what we can accomplish with the increase in space travel brought on by the decrease in its cost will be vital to perpetuating the use of space as a resource for humankind. On the large scale, this will mean mining asteroids, dwarf planets, comets, even the gas giants. The things we could do with enough raw materials in orbit and the fuel (water, basically) we could collect from the solar system are almost endless. 

But that's not what this section is about. Just think of what sorts of technology we'll see as a consequence!

Right now we have dozens of spinoff technologies working for us every day. That's just from a space program that's public, severely underfunded, and only able to focus in very narrow directions. Think for a second about the possibilities we'll see once we as a society are looking down the barrel of mining asteroids or building a base on the moon. Those are both immensely difficult prospects, with countless problems that will need to be solved. 

The solving of them will produce technologies, both intentional and accidental, in numbers and variety we can scarcely imagine. That's totally ignoring what sorts of fantastic things we might learn to manufacture in microgravity. 

People complain about the expense of Nasa, and they say it's money down the drain. No return. 

Well, first of all: horseshit. Beyond the very real and very material return that is the growth of our understanding of the universe, physics, and a hundred other things, the technologies resulting from our investment in Nasa (and thus space) have a subtle but large economic benefit. Hell, the space program gave us memory foam, and you can't swing a dead cat in this country without it having its weight evenly distributed across some damn thing or another made of the stuff. 

Second of all: so what? Even if space exploration costs this country $18 billion dollars a year, which is less than Americans spend on pizza, and made zero money back, so what? The non-economic benefits are still hugely important. Space exploration and the attendant discoveries which come with it have vastly increased our understanding of physics to the point where we have things like GPS and tons of other non-commercial benefits. 

Now we've covered the basics on why space exploration isn't an economic waste of time, which has hopefully created some nice squishy feelings toward the idea of paying for rockets, or increased them if you already had them. 

Which is good, because next time I'm going to explain why having a positive attitude toward space is the only way humanity can survive in the long term. 

See you then. 

Sunday, January 3, 2016


I generally don't make resolutions for the new year, and this year isn't any different. Rather than set myself a goal that creates some arbitrary condition I have to meet in order to feel like I've achieved something, I'm just going to work on, you know, achieving things.

I haven't put out a post on this blog in almost two years. I'm resolving to change that. It's something I need to do, both because it gives me another connection to my readers and because it serves as an outlet that isn't facebook. Not that I have a problem with facebook at all--it has been instrumental in giving me a career I love--but it doesn't lend itself to longer posts. Also, people kind of make a choice to come here, and judging by my hit counter they've been doing it a surprising amount considering I've been ignoring this place for so long.

So this year I find myself resolute. I'm already more productive than I have been, and I feel like I can keep that up. This year is going to be make or break for me. I need to make more money than last year. I need to build up another nest egg in case I ever need another surgery and find myself unable to get much writing done like I did at the end of 2014. To do that I need to get back in the swing of things and put out work more regularly.

Yeah, yeah, I know. Most authors I read only put out a book a year. Maybe two. I always put out two at the least, and this year I'm planning on at least three, maybe as many as five.

Earthfall, my first foray into straight-up science fiction, is well on its way to being done. I'm quite far along. Then I'll take a crack at Book Five of The Fall. After that it's a toss-up between Dark Flow, which is book 3 of The Next Chronicle, or Devil's Due, the first book in a new series called The Hellbreakers.

That list is subject to change based on my financial needs, reader demands, or my whims. Writing is a thing that requires some inspiration and desire to do well, and it's not always there when I reach for it.

I'm probably going to be posting here more often, so make yourself a bookmark or a speed dial link on your browser if you want to check back more than once in a blue moon. I can't promise it'll be as often as you want, but I'll do my best to be entertaining.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Fell In Love With A Girl

...fell in love once and almost completely.

I love that song. More important, I love my wife.

Storybook love is one of those things other people have. People in stories. It's not an experience most--if any--of us get to have. More than eight years with Jess, and as of today five of them as a married couple, have taught me the value of a real relationship.

We argue. We disagree all the time. I get on her nerves and she gets on mine. We have very different tastes in food and a dozen other things. I like comedies, she likes foreign films including weird Korean indie stuff she finds God-knows-where. I'm outspoken and loud, she's quiet and shy. I have a deep connection to family, she's mostly indifferent to her own.

And yet, we work. We work better than any couple I know. The things we argue about are silly, small things. Most of the time they're fun, like who would win in a fight between Nikola Tesla and Cthulhu. Sometimes we go days only seeing each other a few minutes at a time, mostly when she's leaving for work, and it's okay.

We're perfect for each other. We have the same dark, twisted sense of humor. We make each other laugh more than anyone else could manage. Our priorities mesh, and a billion other things that don't matter to you because they're specific to us.

We fit, do you see? Of course you don't. You aren't here. You don't watch us get along.

But all that isn't why I'm writing this. I don't want to rhapsodize about how well we work. I want to praise Jessica Guess, my wonderful Jess, because she's amazing in ways she doesn't understand.

I had a habit of falling in love, but with her it wasn't that way. I'm four years her senior, and we met when I was 19. You do the math. I was floored by her appearance right away, because she's looked like a horny-teenage boy's drawing of a female comic book character since she was twelve. Jess developed early, which was a problem for her because she looked much older. That's part of why she grew to be so shy.

So when we met, she was too young for me. A few years went by where I saw her only occasionally. We didn't talk much. I didn't really see many people during that time. I was in a relationship that screwed me up badly, made me terribly afraid of being with anyone. A few months after that relationship ended, I was cleaning out my car and found a card from Jess. She had mailed it to me a while before and I'd carelessly put it in the glove box without even opening it.

I found that note while cleaning my office. It reads, in part:

"...I just felt like telling you that even though our relationship is pretty much nonexistent now, I'll never forget you. You are someone truly special, and I wish you the best in the future..."

There I was, two months out of my longest and most painful relationship, and I was a broken man. That's not hyperbole; I really was shattered in ways I had never experienced before. I read that letter and felt, for the first time in months, a faint ray of hope. A little bit of joy. Someone out there thought I was worth something. Someone cared.

So I called her that night. We've been together ever since.

I was reluctant to love her. I had a history of falling in love easily and hard, but my heart had hardened. I was wary as any kicked dog is wary, fearful and nervous. She was patient with me, loving me without holding back while understanding why I couldn't do the same.

Eventually I grew to love Jess so thoroughly and completely that I can't imagine living any other way. Who else could make me laugh the way she does? Who is as funny, or smart, or dedicated? Who knows me so well that she can predict my mood and words as if reading my mind? No one. There's simply no other way to live than with her.

She is the most understanding person I know. Jess puts up with my faults but never lets me get away with lying to myself. She was the first person to encourage me to try writing for a living, way back when I was thinking about starting Living With the Dead. She was worried about our finances when I told her I was quitting my job, and that was a promise to her I had broken. I always said I'd wait to go full-time *after* I had made enough money writing to be off for a year. Still, she agreed, and now she's thrilled at how well it has worked out for both of us.

As always, she's my biggest fan and supporter.

The most frustrating thing in the world for a writer is the inability to convey the emotion you're feeling to the reader. That's impossible here, both because Jess is awesome (in the truest sense of the word) in a thousand ways too subtle and grounded in context to explain here, and because how I feel is very much a thing specific to me.

She's hardworking, smart, teaches herself skills and disciplines on a whim. She's hilarious and without filter at all times. She'll say things that would make the bluest comedians blush. She'll wrestle the shit out of you with zero warning. One second you're standing there talking to her, the next she's taking you to the ground and going for the pin. She knew nothing about computers, then spent a weekend learning them. I've been screwing with PCs for a decade and a half, and in those two days she surpassed me.

Jess is adorable. Her scowl is cute enough to make Japanese schoolgirls fall over in diabetic shock from the sweetness.

She is so many things, but the best one of them all is this: she's mine. For whatever reason (possible brain damage?) she chose me. I get to see her every day, and that's as close to heaven as I can imagine.

Today we've been married five years. They have been the best five years of my life.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Joshua Guess: Year One

I posted on my Facebook page a little while ago that the anniversary of my first year as a full-time writer happened. To be honest, I'm not sure when it came and went. Sometime in early March up to possibly today. I could probably go back and look at a pay stub or something, but it's really not important to me what the actual day was as much as what that year signifies.

When I quit my job, I had no illusions at all about living the dream. I had enough money to get me through a couple months. Jess was worried about me getting another job in enough time to prevent the money squeeze both of us expected. I stressed over it a lot, and that stress took its toll on me creatively. There were whole weeks when I could barely tap out a few hundred words.

Imagine my surprise that the success of Victim Zero and Dead Will Rise, as well as The Passenger, was enough to keep me going. More than enough, actually, which is good because I like keeping my taxes paid up.

In general, I would not have made it this far without you. Yes, you. All of you. You're the ones who have supported my work, bought my books, and kept me from going insane. Without you, the readers, I would be working a regular job right now instead of making up things and killing fake people for your entertainment.

Very specifically, I wouldn't be here without James Cook. Jim and I co-authored The Passenger, but the story doesn't begin or end there.

You see, back when I was still writing Living With the Dead, Jim was not an author. He was, like me, a voracious reader. Stumbling across my books, he found out I was self-publishing and decided that if a schmuck like me could do it, so could he. He put it in much more flattering terms than that, but I'm allergic to self-aggrandizement.

Jim wrote a book, the first in a series, and it was successful right off the bat. His own success makes mine look like small potatoes, and that's okay. Writing isn't a contest, nor is it a zero sum game. The sale of one of his books does not prevent me from selling.

More than that, we're friends. We got to know each other well over the course of our collaboration. Without his support, Victim Zero would not have done nearly as well. Without a timely payment from him relating to The Passenger, I would have run out of money completely and had to go back to work. In very real terms, Jim gave me the help I needed right when I needed it, without which I wouldn't have published Dead Will Rise when I did and would be back at a regular job.

I will give myself some credit. To do otherwise would be disingenuous. After all, I did write these books, and they aren't bad stuff, at least according to most of you. So I'll pat myself on the back, but with the crystal clear understanding that without you as an audience and James Cook as a lifesaver, I would not be here in my office right now.

And man, it's awesome. It's only after 365 days (or so) of not punching a clock that I realize how stifling and stressful my job was. Physically, mentally, spiritually, pick pretty much any aspect of your life and it was rough on me in that way. I hate to sound like I'm bragging, because I feel for every person who has to put up with the same to make ends meet. I don't want anyone to think I'm trying to make myself sound awesome for living my dream.

You did this just as much as I did. You who have been there to support me to the hilt, you who have put up with my delays and problems, never wavering in your support. You're generous and excellent, and you're beautiful/handsome/whatever the appropriate compliment is.

But the truth is, it is awesome. Setting my own schedule, working at my own pace, not having to put on a brave face at some job because my miswired brain is telling me the world is going to end. Being my own boss is the best, because that guy fucking loves me.

I like being at home. I didn't know if I would, but I really do. I get to see my wife more, spend quality time with our bevvy of furry creatures, and cook real food.

A year in and I haven't lost the appreciation for what I have. While I feel it's a less tenuous situation than it once was, it's still not a guarantee. I'm not rolling in money or anything. I have enough of a reserve to see me through a slow month or two, maybe one month of no other income whatsoever. If I get to the point where I have that huge wad of extra cash, I'll feel more able to pursue projects with greater ambition and risk. I'm not there yet, but I can at least imagine it as a possibility now, rather than as the punchline to a joke.

It has been an exciting, amazing year for me, and I'm looking at year two with greater hope and confidence.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Let's Talk About Depression

Before I dive in, I want to dedicate this post to Jenny Lawson, also known as The Bloggess. I've been reading her blog for a few years. People have called her one of the funniest women in the world, but for me the qualifier isn't necessary. Jenny Lawson is one of the funniest human beings alive, period.

But it isn't her humor, or rather, not just her humor, that I've grown to appreciate and almost depend on. Jenny is also bitingly honest about her anxiety and depression, and always manages to convey her experience in ways that make me truly feel like someone else is as weird as I am. And that it's completely okay.

A lot of my regular readers are also my friends on social media. You know to one degree or another about my struggle with anxiety and depression. My mom, who like all mothers worries that writing something like this will affect my ability to get a job should this whole novelist thing stop working, probably won't like me writing about this. But I feel at this point that I'm doing a disservice to other people out there who suffer from the same problems.

In short, Jenny Lawson helped me through some of my worst times, and it's time to pay that forward.

I'm not sure how depression is for most people. I say that because the only actual experience I have to go on is my own and seeing it in one or two people close to me. My own variety is, thankfully, not as severe as what many people have to live through. People who don't suffer from it have a hard time understanding, and the people who are suffering from it get frustrated and down trying to explain.

So, here's my depression, which I've thankfully avoided for the last two months or so:

Think about a time when you were sadder than you've ever been in your life. You had a reason, right? It may have been a funeral or some larger and more distant tragedy. Think for just a moment about that feeling. Got it?

Multiply it. Imagine that feeling wrapping around you, trying to crush you, and smothering the light from the world. Now imagine it hitting you for no reason whatsoever, at a time that makes no sense. It has happened to me in the middle of a trip to the grocery store.

Keep that vague sense of helplessness and frustration in mind the next time someone you know says they're sad or depressed. The most common thing depressives hear is that they should cheer up, or fight through it, and there isn't any reason to feel this way.

That's the rub. We know there isn't any reason most of the time. We know it's a bunch of chemicals in our brain clamoring for attention. Being told this fact by someone who expects you to just throw it off is maddening.

The same can be said about anxiety, which is honestly a bigger problem for me than being depressed. I'm very lucky in that when I'm down, it's rarely as deep as many go, and that I've been able to work through most of my problems over time. At this point in my life, I think the depression aspect of my issues is smaller than it has ever been.

Keep in mind, I'm one of the very lucky few. Don't use these words on someone who is still struggling by using me as an example.

Anxiety is a weird thing. I talked about it while I was getting tattooed the other day. I described it in much the same way I did above about being sad, but used the example of nervousness instead. Ever had your heart race and your muscles burn in anticipation for something? Felt like your chest was going to explode? That's anxiety, and for us, it can be a nightmare.

It's not about crisis. I can handle crisis. My degree is in Fire/Rescue, which involved a lot of crisis management training. I've practiced martial arts, which rules out fear of violence as a cause. I worked in a nursing home for several years, and never lost my head when some emergency or another came up. Anxiety isn't about the big stuff. It's about many small things adding up.

Jenny Lawson started out as a blogger and became a novelist, not dissimilar to my own trajectory. I own three different versions of her book, which I've read or listened to no less than six times. The whole memoir is a sort of ode to being strange (though I think she's perfectly normal, but then I also have random conversations with strangers about the best way to survive the apocalypse) and threaded through the book are many references and examples of her own struggle with anxiety. Jenny is less fortunate because her triggers are things like social gatherings or meeting new people.

Mine are different. I can go to an amusement park with no problem. Put me in a crowded bar with no one to talk to, and my heart starts beating against my sternum like a cracked-out heavy metal drummer. I don't stress much over having to make my living through writing, or at least no more than the average person would. Yet knowing I have to go to an appointment with a doctor or insurance agent sends my nerves jangling.

Which in terms of the whole anxiety spectrum isn't that bad. My point isn't to make you feel pity for me. You absolutely shouldn't. I'm a full-time writer, for the moment at least, and I'm living my dream. My problems are manageable and I'm making decent progress against them.

I'm only talking about my own issues because they're what I can write about with honesty. What I hope to accomplish here is to open a dialog. I used to be one of those people who couldn't understand depression or anxiety at all. I had never been there, and my honest outlook was that it seemed like people were being overly dramatic, maybe even using them as an excuse.

If you know someone who suffers from either problem, consider this disjointed and rambling post in the future. Every person is different. No one handles their problems the same way. Lots of people who have never been depressed or on the edge of a panic attack lose their shit when confronted with even the regular stuff people deal with every day. That being the case, it makes sense to take a moment and try to understand when someone you know or love is hit with a metric ton of surprise depression for no reason at all.

I'm not accusing people of having cold hearts or a lack of empathy. I don't make friends easily, but every one of mine are very understanding about this stuff even if they've never experienced it firsthand. I'm talking to people like me, first and foremost, in the hope that these words will help. It's okay to talk about it. It's okay to look for help. It doesn't make you weak or a bad person--both thoughts I've directed at myself time and again--to admit these feelings. The way to begin shifting that burden is by breaking down the walls containing it. As trite as it sounds, talking about it is the first step to getting healthier.

Healthier, not healed, because false hope is rarely a good thing. Chances are, if you're like me, this will be something you'll live with to some degree for your entire life. But it does get better, if you want it to. Living with it isn't nearly as bad if you don't have to do it alone. There are medications and other treatments able to change lives, but it all begins with opening up and telling someone. I promise you, you'll be amazed at how much just talking can help. On this subject, my door is always open.

To the other group, the small number of people who may not be (or have been) as understanding as they could have been: I hope you take my ramble here seriously. I don't think badly of you. I was one of you. I grasp perfectly how hard it can be to put yourself in those shoes. All I hope is that you listen if someone wants to talk, and keep in mind that while you may not be able to feel the way they do, they certainly feel it. And they've trusted in you enough to share it.

This post didn't come out the way it sounded in my head. That's one of the advantages in writing fiction. It's much easier to seed kernels of truth in all the constructed lies. Writing about zombies and superhumans is cake compared to honest discussion of serious topics. I'm not sure if I did what I set out to do, but as I reread this post I find myself oddly satisfied. Maybe there isn't a crescendo of enlightenment to be found here, but I believe I've said the things I needed to say. It's not a pretty subject, mainly for its lack of easy answers, but if even one person starts addressing those powerful feelings because of this post, and one person listens who wouldn't have before, then it's a win.