Steven Harper

Guest Post: Steven Harper on Forming Families

Steven Harper (Blog, Twitter, Facebook) is another Michigan author, with a bunch of books to his name. Names, actually. His latest novel is The Havoc Machine [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], the fourth book in his Clockwork Empire series. You can read a sample chapter here.

He stopped by to talk about the creation of family…

#

Ah, Friends.  Remember them?  The quintessential show of the 90s.  When Friends first aired, I was immediately drawn in.  We had six (mostly) unrelated people who had formed a family.  They laughed and played pranks and squabbled and dated other people, but in the end, they remained woven together like yarn into socks.  They were so close that they spent Thanksgiving and other holidays together instead of going home to their birth families.

I was a faithful viewer for ten years, and I sniffled hard when the show went off the air.

This image of unrelated people coming together to form a family stayed with me.  My own birth family had undergone a number of upheavals, and however necessary those upheavals were, it still left my family fractured and pulled apart.  What would it be like . . . ?

Eventually I found out what it would be like.  I married, we had a son, and we realized more birth children wouldn’t be an option.  My then-wife and I adopted two boys from Ukraine, and our family grew.  Sasha and Maksim weren’t ours by blood, but they were ours by everything that counted.  Sasha defended his new brother Aran from bullies at school.  Maksim clung to me whenever he felt shy or afraid.  We laughed and played pranks and squabbled and ate Thanksgiving dinner together.  We were a family, pulled together from bits and pieces from all over the world.

When I wrote The Havoc Machine, I set out to explore what it meant to form a family out of nothing.  Thad, the main character, has lost his family, and he limps through life like a dented automaton as a result.  His clockwork parrot Dante is all he has left of this former life, and their relationship is far from healthy.  It’s easier for him to be alone, when he has nothing to lose.  Then he meets Sofiya Ekk and they rescue a boy named Nikolai from the lair of a mad scientist, and Nikolai attaches himself to Thad with ferocious tenacity, and Sofiya comes along for reasons of her own.  Thad doesn’t want attachments, but he finds himself thrust into the role of father nonetheless, and through him, I got to explore what it means to learn fatherhood all over again.

Steven Harper Piziks on Homelessness

Steven Harper Piziks (Twitter, LJ, Facebook)  is one of the first Michigan authors I remember meeting back when I started to take this writing thing more seriously. His most recent books are The Doomsday Vault [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] and The Impossible Cube [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy]. Steven’s oldest son recently became homeless. I can’t imagine what he and his family are going through right now. He talks here about his experiences, about how his son Sasha opened his eyes to the problem of homelessness, and the things Steven is doing to try to raise money and awareness for people like his son.

#

I’ve mentioned elsewhere (http://spiziks.livejournal.com/370953.html) that my son Sasha is homeless. The reasons are difficult and terrible, and the short version is that it’s the least worst of all choices.

Last winter he spent his days on the street and his nights in a series of church basements. I worried about him constantly. He got robbed at knife point once. Another time he got caught outside when the church closed its doors for the night and he had to spend a winter night outdoors. It isn’t something I ever envisioned for the little boy I adopted seven years ago from Ukraine.

After several months, Sasha managed to get a bed at the Delonis Shelter in downtown Ann Arbor. He’s working on his GED and trying to find a job. It isn’t easy, however, for a 19-year-old to find work without a high school diploma.

I do see him from time to time. It’s a surreal version of a dad visiting his son at college. I drive down to Ann Arbor, pick him up at a warped version of a dormitory, and take him to lunch somewhere. We talk, I ask him if he needs anything like shoes or a trip to the laundromat, I slip him $20, give him a hug, and drop him off at the dorm again. Except it isn’t a dorm, and he isn’t heading back inside to finish a paper for Monday class.

Sasha once gave me a tour of Ann Arbor from the homeless point of view. We were strolling around downtown, and this is how it went:

“He’s homeless,” Sasha said, pointing at a man in a polo shirt and baseball cap as we strolled past the bus station. “And so is he, and him.” This at two more men, both clean-shaven, in jeans and work shirts. They looked like two guys heading home after their morning shift.

“Later I have to go down to the dorms,” Sasha said in his accented English. “This is the good time of year for finding stuff. The University [of Michigan] students are all moving out, and they throw things away. A friend of mine found a laptop in the trash piles. Worked fine. You can get good furniture–desks, chairs. But we have nowhere to put them, so we leave them. And food! The students throw out all kinds of food everywhere. Cans and bottles and milk and peanut butter and Ramen noodles. All good, all to eat. Walk behind the dorms and you find anything you want. They waste everything, and we have nothing here. I don’t understand it.”

“She’s homeless,” he continued, and pointed at a teenaged girl in a hoodie with a purse. “She’s seventeen and she ran away from home. I don’t know why.” He nodded at a woman with stringy gray hair. She wore a brown sweater despite the warm spring day. Smoke trailed from her cigarette. “She’s forty and homeless and pregnant. Her boyfriend lived in a hotel until they kicked him out because he had no money for the rent.”

“I don’t take the food,” he said. “Not if it’s open. I don’t think it’s good. And I don’t climb into dumpsters. Not yet. I am embarrassed to be seen doing that.”

A man with silver-streaked curly brown hair half strutted, half strolled across the street. He wore a suit jacket and slacks.

“I call him Peter Pan,” Sasha said. “He acts like he can fly. I worry he will get hit by car.”

We passed a row of restaurants and cafes.

“Some places will give you food at the end of the day,” Sasha said. “But you have to be there right when they close. Pizza places throw everything out, but I do not want to get it from the garbage, so sometimes I ask the girls at closing time, and they give some to me.”

“If you have a Bridge Card [food stamps], you can buy sandwiches or hot coffee from the grocery store, but there is no place to keep extra food at the shelter. So you can’t buy groceries, only expensive sandwiches.”

We passed an older man and a woman with backpacks and grocery bags. Sasha waved at them, and they waved back.

“I know them. They are going to Camp Take Notice,” he said.

Camp Take Notice, Sasha explained, is a strip of state-owned woodland on the outskirts of Ann Arbor. In the last few months, it’s become a shanty town of tents and ramshackle shelters for people with nowhere else to go. Its name is unofficial. The government, however, is now forcing the people off the land and building a fence around the land to keep them out. I blogged about that at the link above.

“Everyone looks at you funny if you have nowhere to live,” Sasha finished. “Like you aren’t a real person. It is hard.”

Every town has a homeless scene. I’ve become adept at spotting it now. Like a magician, Sasha has made the unseen fully visible to me. The restaurant where people come for food. The dumpster where people go to scavenge. The building where they go to sleep. The teenager/woman/man heading down the sidewalk, trying to look like they have somewhere to go.

We can help. For the next year, I’m donating the royalties from my ebooks at Book View Café and Amazon to the Delonis Shelter. Every time you buy one, you’re making a donation. You can also donate to the shelter directly at their website. Equally good is to donate to your local organization or shelter for the homeless. Every dollar counts.

Together we can make the least worst a little better.

Updates from Around the Writersphere

A while back I reviewed Steven Harper’s book Nightmare, the second of his Silent Empire series.  The books have been out of print for a while, so Harper is making the first book available for the Kindle as an experiment.  You can pick up Dreamers for the low price of $1.79 $1.43! (significantly cheaper than any of mine 😛 ).

Greg Wilson, a friend of mine, just had his first book come out from Five Star.  The Third Sign [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] is fairly classic epic fantasy.  As some of you know, Goblin Quest started out as a Five Star release, so I’ve got a soft spot for them.  You can read the first three chapters of Wilson’s book at his web site.

In my own ever-thrilling life, I figured out how to rotate quotes on my web site, so I’m putting up quotes from my various books and stories.  Will the excitement never end? If you’ve got a favorite line from one of my characters, please let me know and I’ll try to get it added to the rotation.

Finally, just to dispel the myth that we famous authors (ha!) get it right the first time through, here’s a glimpse of page one of Red Hood’s Revenge.  Please remember this is the second draft, marked up in preparation for the third.

Nightmare, by Steven Harper

A while back I finished reading Nightmare [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], by Steven Harper. This is the second book in Harper’s Silent Empire series, in which certain individuals known as Silent have the ability to enter The Dream, a kind of telepathic linking of sentient minds.  The Dream provides instant communication between the stars, and as a result the Silent are highly valued.

It’s been a while since I read Dreamer, the first book in the series.  So it threw me a little to realize this book jumped backward chronologically, exploring the backstory of Kendi Weaver.

It’s not a nice backstory. Kendi’s family is captured by slavers and separated. Kendi is discovered to be silent, which makes him far more valuable. Kendi is eventually freed, and finds himself drawn into a mystery surrounding a killer who murders people within the Dream.

There’s a lot going on in this book. The murder mystery is well done, though the ending has a strong element of coincidence to it regarding the whereabouts of our killer. (Is that vague enough?) The story of Kendi’s enslavement felt … hm. It didn’t feel like a slave narrative. I could empathize with Kendi’s pain, but at the same time, a part of me was thinking “This isn’t anywhere near as bad as it could be.” Whether or not that’s a good thing depends on how painful you want your slave stories, I guess. I thought it worked well for the story, since the book is about Kendi’s growth rather than any particular phase of his life.

I also liked the way Harper handled Kendi’s sexuality. It’s hard enough coming to terms with those adolescent drives and feelings. Try being a gay slave trying to sort it all out. Kendi’s crushes and his struggles to accept himself worked well. Not preachy, and not the core of the story, but a part of his life that most readers will be able to relate to.

As for the Dream, that’s just nifty. Communal telepathic reality. How cool is that? I loved watching Kendi and his friends learning to explore the Dream, as well as the history of the Children of Irfan (a Silent group), and all the different implications of Silent communication.

All in all, I’d definitely be interested in reading book three in the series to see where Harper goes with it.

So, anyone else read this book or the series? What did you think?

Jim C. Hines