Guest Post by author Gareth Worthington
First off, let’s get the advertisement piece out of the way. My latest novel, co-written with Stu Jones, It Takes Death to Reach a Star, is currently kicking butt. At the time of writing, we have won the New York Book Festival 2018 sci fi category, been shortlisted for Chanticleer’s Cygnus award and are on the official finalist’s ballot for a Dragon Award (set up to be an alternative to the Hugo Award). It’s also in development for TV/film with Vesuvian Media and Boilermaker Entertainment – founded by the director/producers of the famous CSI TV series franchise.
Stu and I are as happy as clams.
That said, today, I am going to talk about something not so happy, very real and pertinent to the book and me: mental health.
For those of you who have not read the book, it is told from two points of view in first person present tense. Stu wrote Mila (named after my daughter) – a tough, badass character who survived the slums. She’s witty and cool and readers across the board have spouted their love for her. Understandably.
I wrote Demitri. He’s part of an elite race, a quiet scientist, a little afraid, and very tortured inside – mostly due to an evil voice in his head called Vedmak. Readers are often split on whether they like Demitri, some saying they wished he was brave or stronger, some wishing to give him a big hug; yet these same readers all love Vedmak, who for all intents and purposes is a complete [insert expletive here]. Vedmak is viscous and evil to the core.
Here’s the important bit that perhaps these same readers miss: Vedmak only works, because Demitri is meek.
Let me back up.
Demitri was born of two things. Firstly, he is the product of my own condition: Borderline Personality Disorder. While symptoms vary, those that manifest in me include: frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment; splitting (“black-and-white” thinking), self-damaging behavior (suicide), and distorted self-image. The cause of BPD can vary; however, mine can be traced back to an abused childhood. My father was very mentally and physically abusive and we lived in social housing in a very bad neighborhood for twenty years. This latter piece, is Vedmak.*
When writing a character like Demitri, I wanted him to be very real. Equally, I wanted readers to feel the evil that is Vedmak. For Vedmak – or any bully – to have power, the bullied have to be weak. And so, writing what I know, I endowed Demitri with all of the inner doubts and fears and struggles that have plagued me for a good chunk of my own life. And for Vedmak, I drew on the years of mental torture from my father (and surrounding environment). Like Vedmak, my father only had power, because I was weak then.
I’m not writing this to garner sympathy or tell a sob story. I have my BPD under control for the most part, and I have spent more than thirty years building myself a very nice life. I’m good! Instead, I hope people read Demitri and understand a little better what it is like to doubt yourself every day and suffer at the hands of a bully.
Everyone would like to believe that they would be strong in the face of adversity – but for some, that choice just isn’t as easy. For some, the ultimate goal of feeling good in our skin seems just so far away. For some, it may very well take death to reach a star.
*Disclaimer: Vedmak plays a HUGE role in the book, beyond his torturing Demitri. He is also not my father so you’re allowed to like him!
It Takes Death to Reach a Star
By Stu Jones & Gareth Worthington
Genre: Sci Fi, dystopian, apocalyptic
THE WORLD YOU KNOW IS DEAD. WE DID THIS TO OURSELVES.
The epidemic struck at the end of the Third World War. Fighting over oil, power, and religion, governments ignored the rise of an anti-bacterial-resistant plague. In just five years, the Earth was
annihilated. Only one city survived—Etyom—a frozen hell-hole in northern Siberia, still engulfed in conflict.
The year is 2251.
Two groups emerged from the ashes of the old world. Within the walled city of Lower Etyom, dwell the Robusts—descendants of the poor who were immune to The New Black Death. Above them, in a metropolis of pristine platforms called Lillipads, live the Graciles—the progeny of the super-rich; bio-engineered to resist the plague.
Mila Solokoff is a Robust who trades information in a world where knowing too much can get you killed. Caught in a deal-gone-bad, she’s forced to take a high-risk job for a clandestine organization hell-bent on revolution.
Demitri Stasevich is a Gracile with a dark secret—a sickness that, if discovered, will surely get him Ax’d. His only relief is an illegal narcotic produced by the Robusts, and his only means of obtaining it is a journey to the arctic hell far below New Etyom.
Thrust together in the midst of a sinister plot that threatens all life above and below the cloud line, Mila and Demitri must master their demons and make a choice—one that will either salvage what’s left of the human race, or doom it to extinction…
Praise for ITDTRAS
“… merging the best of apocalyptic fiction and science fiction… compelling.” ~ Library Journal
“Cinematic, thought provoking, and immersive, this is an option for fans of darker, grittier, and more science-focused dystopias in the manner of the novels of Philip K. Dick.” ~ Booklist
“… I cannot fathom how Stu Jones and Gareth Worthington created this masterpiece.” ~ Readers’ Favorite
“…this new series has the potential to render popular franchises like the Hunger Games, the Maze Runner, and Divergent as mere forerunners in the genre.” ~jathanandheather.com
About Gareth Worthington
Gareth Worthington BSc PhD is a trained marine biologist and also holds a doctorate in comparative endocrinology. Currently, Gareth works full time for the pharmaceutical industry helping to educate the world’s doctors on new cancer therapies. His debut novel, Children of the Fifth Sun, won in the Science Fiction category at the London Book Festival 2017. He has a number of passions, including: martial arts (he trained in Muay Thai at the prestigious EVOLVE MMA gym in Singapore), studying ancient history, and most of all writing fiction. Born in England, Gareth resides in Switzerland.
About Stu Jones
Stu Jones has served full time as a law enforcement officer for twelve years. Over the course of his career he has worked as an investigator, an instructor teaching SWAT close quarters and defensive tactics, and as a member and team leader of a multi-jurisdictional SWAT team. He is also trained and qualified as a law enforcement SWAT sniper, as well as in hostage rescue and high-risk entry tactics. He is an Eagle Scout, a lifelong martial artist, and an avid outdoorsman.
On Twitter: https://twitter.com/DrGWorthington
On Amazon: https://amzn.to/2uoafnV
On B&N: https://bit.ly/2KZbBjg
On Kobo: https://bit.ly/2NUczLy
No matter how badly I want it to be different this time, in the end I still die.
We all do.
I lie on the cot, cold sweat clinging to my skin, arms raised to my face, stuck like a marionette tangled in its own strings. The dream feels so real. Another breath—count it out. In, two, three, four. Out, two, three, four. My heart slows, my mind no longer caught in the grip of the terrifying dream: a battle in which I play a critical role, yet I’m no soldier. This nightmare stalks me night after night, and even though I know I’m dreaming, I’m powerless to prevent the inevitable—the coming of Death.
The alarm on my personal electronic device, or PED, chirrups three times: 05:00. Not much sleep during the dark hours, again. I squeeze my shoulders, rubbing away the dull, muscular ache, and try to remember the fading embrace of a brother who now feels far away. A deep breath in, a slow exhale out. Get up already, Mila.
The frigid floor stings my bare feet. I shrug into a few less-than-clean garments and pull on my boots. The stale smell of the attire fills my throat. A shiver crawls across my skin. Sard, it’s cold. Gotta find something warmer. After rummaging through a pile of soiled clothes that lie in the corner of my room, I pull out a short leather jacket, its collar lined with fur—though from what animal is unclear. Shaking it hard a few times, I stare at the fur lining. I know the lice are in there somewhere. No time to try and clean it now. The jacket slips over my shoulders, the ice-cold collar snugging up around my neck. It stinks like dead rat.
My PED and my precious collection of writings go into my satchel, carefully so as not to crush the worn old picture that lies at the bottom. I fish out the faded image of Zevry and me. I can be no more than eight-years old in this photo. He’s grinning, as usual, with one arm wrapped around my shoulder. It was taken more than twenty years ago—yet little seems to have changed. Still have roughly cut short hair, now with a streak of color in the front. Still have a lean, almost boyish frame—though I’ve added some piercings and tattoos over the years in an attempt to distinguish myself. And then of course there’s my scar—cutting its pink path across my forehead and left eye. Slashed deep into my face not long after this picture was taken, it’s a permanent reminder you don’t walk the streets alone in a place like Etyom.
No time for this. I stuff the picture back into my satchel and head out the door without locking it. Anything worth stealing is already on me—and it wouldn’t take much to force the door to my closet-sized room anyway.
My boots creak on the rickety stairs leading into the bar below. It’s quiet now, a far cry from the bedlam hours earlier. Smoke hangs lazily in the air, like the memory of an old ghost.
“Come on, Clief.” I cough. “How do you breathe this stuff night after night?”
The man at the bar raises his head but continues to wipe down the counter. “Oh, it’s not that bad. Sorta like burning plastic.” He offers a tired smile. “Off so early?”
“Every day.” Still pinching my nose and squinting, I make my way toward the door. “I’m serious. Get some fresh air in here. That botchi is going to scramble what’s left of your tiny brain.”
He huffs out a laugh. “And that out there? That’s where you get the fresh air?”
“You know what I mean.”
As I push open the door, the wind hits me like a frozen punch in the mouth. Going out in this icy hell never gets easier. The streets are dark and cold, shadows upon shadows concealing the horrors of Etyom. It’s hard to believe this place was once considered a haven. Long ago, it was a vast, sprawling gulag-turned-mining community called Norilsk. Between World War III and the New Black Death, nearly nine billion people around the world lost their lives. Those who were left fled their homes and cities in search of someplace safer. For many, this barren hell hole was it. The conflict hadn’t fully destroyed the city, and the New Black Death struggled to take hold in the brutal Siberian climate. Survival was possible here.
A mass migration followed; the Russian government was helpless to stop it. Outside Norilsk, organized social structure, atleast the way people understood it then, gasped its final dying breath. And then, silence. Communications with the outside world went dark. Zev said anyone who hadn’t died in the war succumbed to the New Black Death. It was then everyone here knew they were truly alone. They chose to isolate themselves, even renamed the city Etyom. My brother and I weren’t born for another few hundred years, the descendants of those who fought to survive. We’re fighters, Mil. Survivors. Nothing can keep us down. That’s why we’re called Robusts. But then why didn’t you come home to me, brother?
I pull the jacket closer around my neck. Bilgi’s place is only a block away, and it’s a good thing, too, because with average temps below zero, the wind is cutting through me like a razor. I half run, half walk, down the quiet street, torn between wanting to get there fast and not wanting to bust my tail on the ice.
Six raps with my knuckles in the practiced manner and the rickety door immediately opens. Bilgi waits inside. His simple place is lit by a single oil lamp. It’s barren and less than inviting, but I’m not here to be pampered.
“Love me so much, you just wait for me by the door now?”
“If you would rather stand on the stoop a little longer, then be my guest,” he answers in a clipped tone, ushering me in.
“Come on, let’s do it already. I need to get my blood pumping.”
The words are barely out of my mouth, my arms still stuck in the sleeves of my jacket, when he lunges forward. I see it coming, but the impact still throttles me as Bilgi’s heavy hands encircle my neck and drive me against the wall. My hair scatters across my face. Bring it, old man. The jacket comes free, and with a flurry of punches and a swift roundhouse kick to Bilgi’st high, I drive him back.