29th September 2018
Interview with D.C. Wright-Hammer
Could you tell us a little about your Between Two Minds series?
Imagine a future where you could transfer your mind - your memories, thoughts, and personality traits (everything that makes you you) - into a new body that you get to choose (depending on how much you pay). That’s the whole idea behind “mind migration”, the procedure that made the Between Two Minds series possible.
“Do you have a serious ailment? Are your biological sex and gender at odds? Have you always wanted to be an Olympian, but you’re being held back by your physical traits? Well, Atlas Digenetics may have a solution for you. The body of your dreams could be right around the corner.” - ADG, the corporation behind mind migration
Mind migration seems like the perfect solution for the main character, Ryan Carter. He’s been paralyzed from the waist down his whole life. The series picks up with Ryan in the waiting room just before his procedure. He’s nervous and excited and for good reason. Soon, he’ll be able to walk. But from the onset of his procedure, it’s clear to Ryan that something isn’t quite right. Walking becomes an afterthought when he begins experiencing strange and frightening side effects. His main objective instantly switches from walking to finding out what the hell is happening in his head.
It sounds like a really interesting premise to explore in a book. Is human consciousness an idea that you’re interested in?
It is. Ryan D. Carter’s name is a play on Rene Descartes, the French philosopher who said, “I doubt; therefore, I think; therefore, I am.” People often drop the “doubt” portion of the phrase, but it’s very important. So long as you can question your existence, you are conscious, and you are alive. The famous quote is found in the book when Ryan is trying to figure out what’s going on within his mind.
This follows the Brain in the Vat thought experiment which is an updated version of the Cartesian evil demon concept. Basically, if your brain was removed and placed it a vat, then hooked to a supercomputer to simulate all the same inputs and outputs as a body (the five senses), you would technically exist even if it isn’t much of an existence.
Do you have a wider interest in philosophy then?
I’m interested in anything that humans have been doing for thousands of years. It’s incredible to read a quote from Plato, and it applies perfectly to something in 2018. It’s also fascinating to see the intersection between philosophy and harder sciences like mathematics. But it also puts things into perspective. Humans have thought some topics into the ground - like the meaning and purpose of life - and we still don’t have some answers.
In that sense, it would be pretentious to include philosophy in your work and attempt to pass it off as you own. When I incorporate timeless concepts into my writing, I’m trying to do so in an innovative way while paying the proper homage.
You included trigger warnings in your first book Between Two Minds: Awakening. Do you feel that’s something that more books should contain?
At the risk of ironically triggering the anti-PC crowd, I do think trigger warnings are a good way to build trust with readers up front. I didn’t use one in Book Two because I didn’t feel like any chapters focused too heavily on triggering topics. Obviously, you can’t warn about everything, but some serious topics like suicide are important to call out ahead of time.
On a related note, there’s a fairly gruesome scene in the prologue of Book One that I left in without warning. Some readers have told me that it almost stopped them from continuing the book, but they pushed on and were glad to find that those types of scenes are used sparingly for effect.
In my experience, I’ve found the loudest critics of trigger warnings to be the people with the least trauma in their lives. What prompted you to include a scene like at the start of the narrative?
My anecdotes for those who are vocally against trigger warnings are people trying to compensate for something, often the fact that they get triggered very easily. Whether that’s the result of trauma or not, I can’t say. This is a disagreement I’d have with Ray Bradbury who was apparently triggered by those who fought for minority and women’s rights within literature - the right not to be reduced to tokens or tropes. Bradbury vilified this as the main driver of censorship in Fahrenheit 451 which was a hell of a novel that has aged marvellously, but it turned out that those were some of Bradbury’s personal beliefs. I couldn’t disagree more.
Oh no. I didn’t know that about him at all. I’ve had a quick read of some of his interviews. That’s really, really disappointing. Oh dear.
Sorry - you were talking about the prologue.
Originally, the prologue was going to be chapter five or seven, but chapters one and two were relatively slow. I felt like I really needed to get out the gate running for the very first chapter in my debut novel.
Another important point: the Between Two Minds series is supposed to be a meta experience as much as it is reading a standard novel. I wanted to set the tone of the reader being a little uncomfortable from the prologue just as Ryan is about the side effects of his mind migration.
You’ve decided to write a sequel - Revelation - to your first book. What else did you want to explore in the same world?
It’s funny because I always accidentally refer to Revelation as a sequel, but it really has to be called Book Two. So much is revealed from the past, it’s nearly as much a prequel as it is a sequel. Book One was really Ryan’s story. Book Two gives readers clues to how Ryan’s story set into motion events that impact the entire world.
The Between Two Minds world has really come alive in my head. Originally, I thought it would be maybe two books. After the release of Book Two, I have at least three more stories to round out the series - one straight prequel (probably on the shorter side) and two more prequel-sequel hybrids (full length novels).
In Book Two, the past, present, and future are on an unstoppable collision course, and the fate of mankind hangs in the balance. Big events at the end foreshadow the title and a major plot driver for the next major entry in the series.
That sounds really exciting. Did you plan it all out from the start of Book One or are you letting the events unfold as you write it?
Book Two had a quick turnaround because I used a lot of the editing scraps that didn’t quite fit into Book One. That said, Book Two turned out a lot differently and better than I had originally imagined, with those editing scraps having much more synergy when put together. That was what necessitated the need for the other books. While I don’t have scraps to start those books, I feel like I’ve really set myself up with a lot to explore and resolve in the Between Two Minds world.
What draws you to write science fiction?
There’s a couple reasons why I’m drawn. Everyone’s always wondering what the future holds. It may be trite to some, but the quote from Jurassic Park the movie always comes to mind for me: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn't stop to think if they should.” My fear is that the intersection of science, profits, and politics will spell doom for all of us, and I try to articulate that in the Between Two Minds series.
Additionally, I’ve always led a fairly scientific life. I grew up around computers with the Commodore 64 being my first. I did a little computer programming in the mid-2000’s. Then, I taught engineering and technology to secondary students for five years before returning to software. I did a stint as a data migration specialist, and I experienced some health issues during that time. That’s when my imagination took over, and I started to wonder what would happen if we could digitize the human mind and move it to a new, healthy body.
Do you have a particular favourite science fiction book or film?
Nineteen Eighty-four will always have a place in my heart for its use of science fiction on top of sociology and politics. It may have been an indictment on Stalin, but I think it applies to capitalist governments using authoritarian tactics to ensure a coerced citizenry. If Orwell’s “doublespeak” was ever historically important to truly comprehend, it’s at a time when fake news comes from demagogues complaining about fake news.
I used to wonder if we’d ever end up in a Brave New World dystopia - everyone is enslaved, but happy - or a Nineteen Eighty-Four dystopia, with the truth confused, people passionating subscribing to their own oppression and their experience miserable. I guess the answers becoming clear! Do you think writing has a role to play in helping us navigate these turbulent times?
I think there are people in the world today who have lived in Nineteen Eighty-Four their entire lives, and there’s a good chance they’ll die there as well, never knowing that 2 + 2 is actually 4. For those who have lived better, I think the worst is yet to come.
Writing helps me sort out my ideas in a fantastic world where the possibilities are endless. I don’t have it entirely worked out in my head, and I may never, but today, I’d say writing for me is equal parts a positive release and mental anesthesia, sometimes being one more than the other. In both cases, the best part is connecting with another person on a deep level, not unlike this interview.
What do you feel is the essence of a good science fiction story?
Honestly, relatable characters and a good story are much more important to me than the genre. In the Between Two Minds series, science fiction is the glue that holds the characters and story together. Adventure, suspense, and thriller aspects also make for good science fiction, and I incorporate those along with some memorable plot twists.
Further, good science fiction captivates the reader. For my brand of speculative science fiction, it needs to be believable. A coworker of mine who read my book asked me, “So, did you study the brain in school to write your book?” Yes, the school of Google (with a little help from Google scholar). While it was a fair amount of work, I’m no expert.
In the end, good science fiction places the reader in a world where possibilities are endless. That’s why I think science fiction should drive science reality. By that I mean, we should strive to make magical inventions and innovations to improve lives, but we should also heed the warnings of science fiction. Real-life science in the wrong hands can be even more destructive than it is creative, and that’s scarier than the scariest horror novel, let alone science fiction.
Are there any particular examples that you’re thinking of?
Obvious examples include the eugenics movement and the Tuskegee syphilis experiments. But even scientists forced to cut corners as a result of budget constraints can lead to dangerous consequences - think about the agriculture, transportation, and other vital industries. Good and sound science should be driving them. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case when money and politics get involved.
Oh my god. I didn’t know about the Tuskegee experiments. This chat has been very educational for me so far, occasionally in very unpleasant ways! Do you think that these people know that they’re doing something wrong or do you think they don’t even realise?
I’m guessing each scientist had different levels of awareness and different motivations. Some were aware and just wanted to move science forward (aka evil), some were aware and opposed but they were forced. The permutations go on. In the end with cases like these, they were instruments of racist, murderous experiments, and that’s unquestionably unacceptable.
I take your point about science fiction providing warnings for real life! Outside of writing, you’re a keen musician. Do you find these two pursuits complement each other?
Let me start off by saying thank you. When I have writer’s block, it does help to switch mediums to try to get the creative juices flowing. Music has been a passion of mine for a couple of decades. I can play the drums fairly well, but with limited time and space, I haven’t pulled out the kit in many years. To satisfy my love for music, I’ve picked up some production software and mix tracks as another creative outlet.
Truth be told, I’m musically illiterate. The lack of knowledge doesn’t stop me from mixing catchy tracks. In that sense, it is a lot like writing. A year and a half ago, I didn’t feel like a writer, but I had the finished final draft for Book One. Once I got the draft into the hands of a solid editor, I realized I had produced something worthwhile.
I’ve heard a lot of debate about whether writer’s block is a real thing, but I certainly feel like I’ve had it before. What do you think causes it?
I tend to agree that it isn’t a real thing. With the unbelievably vast amount of content in the world today, it’s a tired trope of the writer who just can’t get over his or her writer’s block until they get over some real life blocker, and their deadline looms over the entire time. If anything, there’s too much similar content out there, with writers afraid to take chances that may result in a small audience, if any. This is why it’s nice to be an indie author. You get to take chances and organically build your audience from the ground up. It’s also why it’s seemingly impossible, but I persevere.
Regardless, sometimes I look at my WIP, and I cringe. Not because it’s bad, but because I realize the number of mental cycles that are needed to not only move the story along, but do so in a compelling way. With the thriller aspect to my books, I often find that I get the thing I call writer’s block when I’m being too nice to my MCs. Once I throw a little drama at them, it gets me excited, and I can usually pump out more words. When that doesn’t work, I dig into my latest musical WIP.
I wonder if writer’s block means different things to different people. To me, it means that the words come very slowly and that they’re garbage when they arrive; to other people, I know it means that they can’t write at all. What’s your writing process like? Are you someone who needs particular conditions to work well?
Typically, I write in a quiet environment with few distractions is best, and some symphonic music in the background. However, I’ve found that when the writing bug bites, I can write in fairly extreme conditions - coffee shops, airports, a house with screaming (but safe) children, etc.
If people would like to interact with you online, what’s the best way to do that?
I love connecting with more and different people on Twitter and Facebook, and I update those daily with interesting articles, personal posts, and updates on my latest content. If someone wants to speak more privately, they can always email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For those who are interested, I’d happily take part in a book club that involves Book One and the coming Book Two. Many chapters have multiple layers that I’m happy to discuss. We can use skype or another digital method to make it seem like a typical book club discussion. Email me with the timing and information.
Thanks very much for your time.
'Between Two Minds: Awakening' is available for purchase on Amazon.