An Encounter with My Family; Trump Supporters

The day before the eclipse, my younger sister came out to our house with her husband and three of their children. My mother and stepfather were also there, as were another niece and nephew of mine. Amid the chaos of kids running around, we adults got to talking, and eventually talk came around to Trump. I think the subject of Trump is like a black hole – you get too close and it starts to suck you in.

My sister is a Trump supporter, as is her husband – we’ll call him Ray. And my mother and stepfather both voted for Trump. My wife and I voted for Clinton.

We must’ve started by talking about Charlottesville, but I can’t remember who initiated it. Then the talk came around to Nazi Germany, and I brought up Milgram’s famed behavioral experiment illustrating the power of obedience, and my sister said that the people following Hitler weren’t necessarily all sociopaths, but they were falling in line, drawn by a charismatic leader promising solutions to their problems.

I detected not a hint of awareness that there were similarities between Germans in the 30s and 40s and those following Trump today. Not when we talked about an authoritarian dictator like Hitler, promising that he alone could fix everything, not when we talked about the propaganda campaigns – such as documentaries Hitler would have made showing the adulation of a crowd, children on their tiptoes, eager to get a glimpse of the Fuhrer as he went by – at no point did I get the impression that they were making the comparison to Trump, though I kept thinking and feeling that we were right up against it. They had to be.

Then, at one point, Ray said something about how Trump allowed people to finally be who they are. That they didn’t have to hide it anymore.

My wife, who is always keener than I, and uses a much lighter touch, leaned in a little and said, “What do you mean – what are they hiding?”

And Ray sort of sputtered and didn’t exactly say what, just the vague idea that being politically correct and afraid to voice your opinions is over now that Trump is president. And Ray went on to say that when he was a kid, and people said you could be anything that you wanted when you grew up – he really sees this in Trump. That anyone can become president – for real. And I agreed, saying that the criteria had changed: it used to be a position requiring some experience, but over time, being a celebrity has had more and more to do with it. I quoted something I’d written down on my phone – “In the war between common sense and marketing, marketing is winning.” And Ray grinned, because he likes that.

A bit of background on Ray: Ray loves Trump, admires him a great deal. Ray has a cleaning business that he built on his own, and is very studious about business and investing. His response to Charlottesville was, “who cares?” As in, it doesn’t affect me, what’s happening way over somewhere else. “Are your neighbors threatening you?” he asked, spreading his hands, looking around.

I tried the line that just because I’m not hungry doesn’t mean world hunger doesn’t exist, but it probably fell on deaf ears. As would fall on deaf ears that the fact of my neighbors not threatening me exactly highlights my privilege.

Ray then reverted to a kind of Regan-era triumphalism – he said that we have no abject poverty in the United States. None. This was an implicit nod to the virtues of capitalism and people like Trump.

The thing is, to his point about something happening “way over there” not mattering, I agree with that somewhat. I agree with it in the Neil Postman sense, that first TV and now the internet and social media have brought global issues into our lives and heads – we all know how quickly news comes at us, how wide the territory is that’s covered in our Facebook feeds, and there are gobs of  decontextualized tidbits which often just contribute to one “side” or another, and otherwise are things that, perhaps pragmatically, we can’t do a whole lot about.

I also agree, to some extent, that capitalism has its good points.

So why, over the course of our hour-or-so long conversation, did it flash through my mind that I wanted to leap across the table and hit Ray in the face? Am I just an intolerant liberal? As Ray sat there extolling the virtues of Trump, eventually I asked him to stop. I said that hearing anymore about how great Trump was would “sicken me.”  And that’s where things got heated, and Ray said that my denunciation of Trump was what “sickened” him.

“Fair enough,” I said, and we cooled our jets for a minute.

Then, perhaps because I am an author, and Ray does admire that, he said that Trump is an author, too.

I asked him if he knew who Tony Schwartz was, and Ray said no, he didn’t.

I said, you should look him up.

But the expression on Ray’s face told me he probably wasn’t going to.

I’ve known Ray for ten years or so now. And what I’ve come to understand is that he has two debate tactics, really, and he uses them over and over again. The first is to minimize and gaslight. Your concerns are blown out of proportion, or don’t matter to him (“Who cares what’s happened in Charlottesville…”) and are really of no importance. Right now, as I write this, in fact, I can imagine him looking on, grinning, shaking his head in that dismissive way, giggling a bit and saying, “Why are you writing all of this? What’s the point?”

The second tactic is pretty standard for someone of his political ilk, and that is to be reductionist, usually to bring something down to a fiscal or legal point of view, or try to capture you in a gotcha moment, such as the tu quoque logical fallacy. When I mentioned that retraining people might be a better solution than being outraged over the loss of manufacturing jobs, for instance, Ray’s response was, “Who’s gonna pay for that?” And when I admit, “Taxpayers,” he says, “But why do I have to pay for something I don’t want to?” This is the pretty typical libertarian argument. When I tell him I don’t share his admiration for Trump, because being a casino developer, reality TV star, is not something I aspire to, and I find it particularly distasteful how Trump got to where he is, with discrimination lawsuits and bankruptcies and tax avoidance along the way, Ray says, “Yeah, but did he do anything illegal?”

I’m no tax law expert, I tell him, but not to my knowledge.

“Then what’s the issue?” Ray says that if Trump took advantage of tax loopholes, claimed major losses one year to avoid paying taxes for many years after, so what. If it wasn’t illegal, there’s no problem.

And I said, morally, to me, it’s a problem.

Which is just kind of an eye-roller to Ray. Because for him, what’s behind that grin is this tacit sentiment that anything I say I don’t like about Trump just comes from jealousy, or hypocrisy, because I do it too.

Ray points out my clothing – I’m wearing a zip-up Merrill jacket, one of the few nice articles of clothing I own, and says, “You’re dressed pretty spiffy.” He says that I benefit from real estate developers like Trump, entrepreneurs like Trump, and people who, let’s say, own companies that make the clothes I’m wearing.

Yes, and I also drive a car that uses gasoline, and live in a house heated by fuel oil, floored with hardwood probably from the Amazon rain forest, and have an iPhone assembled in an Asian sweatshop – I know – and it’s all true. But this notion that we can’t talk about ideals, we can’t try to improve things while simultaneously being a part of the sprawling, pervasive system in place is absurd and not an excuse to do nothing, and this is the funnel to where all this really goes with Ray –

There is a celebration of narcissism in Ray’s love of Trump. Not only of Trump, but of the other “great men” he admires. He brings up Elon Musk, and what an asshole Elon Musk is despite his being such a titan of industry, and he cites this with unabashed glee. And of course there’s Steve Jobs, and others who are prickly people – and Ray’s right – from things I’ve seen and heard, some of these guys are assholes; they’re not all Bill Gates (who, though I can’t know for sure, seems like a pretty nice guy).

So it’s a real challenge to talk specifics to someone about things like Trump and the economy and the environment when there’s this underlayment of ideology, of cultural identity, of a personal philosophy that’s a bit nihilistic, self-serving, that says, “Who cares. I’m going to get mine. Anything else is a waste of my time. And men who act in this way are my heroes.”

My stepfather piles on. As I’m talking about how I believe rapid globalization – with its shifting demographics, immigration, and the closeness social media brings to other people’s opinions and attitudes – along with intelligent automation, which has been replacing lots of low-skilled or dangerous or dirty jobs for years – is partly the cause of a lot of paranoia and unrest, I cite two possible ways to help with this, and those are retraining and even subsidized relocation, i.e. take people out of the towns where the factory has left and there’s no gainful employment and set them up where there’s work. It’s not a perfect solution, by any means, but at this point I’m just trying to offer some alternatives to rallying and protesting and hating each other. And my stepfather, glibly as one can, says, “The solution is never more government; it’s less.”

My sister, somewhere in there, says she’s watched this documentary that suggests some 80% of democrats are actually closet communists.

At this point, my head is starting to explode.

I boggle at my sister’s comment – admittedly much in the way Ray minimizes and gaslights me, I can only shake my head at her, incredulous that A. such a suggestion in a documentary exists and B. that she would lend it any credence. But this is the slippery slope of debating. Debating is so hard – especially for me, as I am an emotional person and can be reactive. I can feel myself coming unglued a bit, when up to this point I was careful to keep measured, to stay rational and unemotional.

I have to ask my stepfather to walk back his comment about government. It’s a broad platitude, and has no place in the conversation, especially when he’s the one requesting I get more specific with my own ideas about how to make things better.

But there it is again, this sense of a fundamental underlayment to the debate – in this case, “government is bad.” And I can’t articulate it, not succinctly, not in the moment when I’m reeling, but later I think about how preposterous this is, that any scenario in which a small group of people work toward the needs of a larger group of people is “government.” There is government in a household, for example, by the parents. And what if – for some crazy reason – the government as we know it were to suddenly abandon the area in which we lived? Let’s say all the public services – police, fire, highway department – it all went away one day, and the people were left to fend for themselves – wouldn’t a group, perhaps the strongest, or the eldest, or the smartest, or some combination thereof, get together and try to keep things from falling into chaos? If everyone were truly atomized and not accountable to anyone else, what would that look like? The inequities would be severe, the casualties catastrophic. We’d be reduced to a type of animal that doesn’t really reflect the truth of who we are – that we actually function better when we cooperate, not exclusively compete. That, at the very least, we’d need to ensure some kind of egalitarianism in a government-less situation, or it would be mayhem.

Anyway. I don’t say any of this in the moment.

What I do, is a little later after things have shifted and the needs of the many kids running around have distracted the conversation, I take Ray aside. I apologize to him for saying I’m sickened by his reasons for loving Trump. I have to talk fast, because already he’s grinning and shaking his head, trying to tell me he doesn’t care what I think, or why does it matter. I tell him I can be reactive, and I’m working on that, and it’s more important to me that I conduct myself well than whether or not I’m right, or seen as right.

Ray says that he’s not like me, he’s not trying to change anything, he doesn’t do what I do – debate to prove a point, or learn about the other’s point of view. He says I want everyone to be thinking about these things, and that’s just not something that really interests him. He says, “I don’t even watch the news.”

I tell Ray that, the way I am, I’m not so good extemporaneously – shooting from the hip. I try to be, and I guess I do alright sometimes, but almost always – especially when confronted by superior numbers – in this case (because my wife left the table to see to the kids and other things for much of the conversation), I was up against three Trump-voter / libertarian-ish republicans, and when my stepfather made the comment about less government is always the solution, I lost it. I tell Ray that this was why I like to write, because later I’ll be apt to sit down and process everything and synthesize it into some writing. And he grins and shakes his head; what a waste of time.

Maybe he’s right. Who knows. But here I am, and here it is.

When they finally were leaving, I walked over to Ray and shook his hand. This man in his late forties who is never going to change. Who thinks Trump is doing a great job. Who admires Trump, and says Trump lets people be who they are. Who, for some reason I didn’t quite catch because I was off to the side, doing something else, he’s talking about Yoko Ono’s influence over John Lennon and how she apparently wrote the line “A woman is just a n***er for a man,” and my mother asked him to please watch what he said around the children.

Final words: I was watching Penn Jillete on Bill Maher the other night. Penn summed up libertarianism this way: that one should always ask the question, how can we do this with the maximum amount of freedom?

Freedom. That’s a word we probably use more than just about any other when discussing politics and the economy and the environment and just about anything else. And I think it’s been misappropriated.

Yes, I want to do what I want to do; I want to be free. And part of this is having police and fire and highway and water departments so I don’t have to do everything myself. Take care of it for me, please, so I can go write fiction. I’ll gladly pay you to do so with my taxes.

Taxes I don’t mind either. When I was broke and raising my son alone, I got tax returns. Then later I started to earn more money and had to pay quite a bit in taxes. Good. Now someone else who’s broke and needs a return can have one. This doesn’t mean I’m a closet communist.

Solutions: I would love to talk about things like anaerobic digesters and permaculture and alternative fuels, and I tried to get in some points about new jobs in green energy during our debate, but mostly it was a conversation laden with assumptions and heavy with ideology. Debates like this are fascinating to me, highly complex. I don’t want to fall into ad hominem attacks – I want to discuss ideas – but you can’t discuss them if someone doesn’t even consider X a problem in the first place. How can you discuss sustainable practices with someone who doesn’t think we’re affecting climate or at least industrial pollution is a problem? Or, if they do, that the only way to solve the problems are through entrepreneurs and private enterprise? I don’t discount the role of entrepreneurs. But we’ve also managed to do a lot of things collectively one person couldn’t accomplish alone, and there’s a bit of a myth to the lone hero; it’s easy to forget that “great men” typically tend to follow a chain of other men (and women), or that outliers usually have some early advantages leading to later opportunity. It’s hard to talk about circumstance, about white privilege – really it’s impossible to talk about it to someone like Ray who just dismisses or denies it. For Ray, there’s always an example of someone who “rose from the gutter” and so giant, systemic problems like institutional racism are just liberal mumbo jumbo.

We didn’t really get a chance, either, to talk about government subsidies in the oil industry. “How are you going to pay for it?” (Meaning retraining and relocating) – I dunno… the same way we pay for endless wars, the same way we underwrite the fossil fuel industry, big agribusiness, big pharma?

Ray doesn’t care about antitrust, and he’ll deny the oligopolist tendencies of capitalism, or dredge something up to support why oligopolies and oligarchies are actually a good thing.

And you know, in so many cases, there are facts and studies to support this view, or that view. We can pull just about anything out of our ass and say, See, this is why I’m right.

So we’re left just being people. And not living in the same world as one another, as is often the case. Ray actually agrees with me here. At one point before he left he said, “I see what I see, and you see what you see.”

I think the world is getting more like this every day. It is the information age, okay, but information has no moral directive; it’s just information. Neil Postman is rolling in his grave right now, seeing how we’ve come into this a la carte reality, where we take what we want and use that to support our ideology.

Because I think ideology comes first for most humans. There’s something within us – how we were raised, perhaps, is a part of it, but maybe more so what we encountered when we first stepped out into the larger world. My wife, for example, coming from the suburbs, raised with religion, traveled the globe, encountering every kind of other belief system, seeing abject poverty, experiencing the sheer magnitude of the earth’s population, developing her deep sense of compassion. That’s her ideology.

And my wife has changed me, too. I’ve continued to grow – somewhat shedding the fiscal conservativeness of my twenties and early thirties (I was always social liberal, I think) – and have become something else. I really don’t have a label for it, and I don’t think it matters. What matters is how entwined personal psychology is with a belief system, with an outlook on what’s going to work, what’s not going to work for the future of humanity.

The encounter with my family over the weekend left me with this: a sense of futility. Not that I wasn’t able to convince anyone of some great idea or outlook I had, but that, as a society, we’re always going to succumb to this binary equation. It’s a complex world, and debating about the issues involves cultural identity, personal psychology, religious beliefs (or non-beliefs), and circumstance. And so to cope, we lump people into this group or that group.

I’ve done it, for sure. In my mind right now, Ray is “one of them,” and I’ve just about had it. Honestly, if I never see the guy again, that will suit me just fine. And surely he feels the same way about me.

It’s just sad, isn’t it? Isn’t there something sad about that?

I doubt Ray would feel like there was. He would just grin, and shake his head, and say it doesn’t matter.



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Big Ideas, Dead Pets

A “reloaded” double-barreled interview, featuring Amazon bestselling authors TJ Brearton (The Titan Trilogy, Dark Web) and Taylor Adams (Eyeshot) as they share perspectives on writing and selling books. Two writers, one dialogue.

Taylor Adams (TA): First question: Which part of the writing/rewriting process do you find to be the most enjoyable? Why?

TJ Brearton (TJB): I saw a meme encapsulating the creative process, about the stages you go through with a project, and it went something like:processmeme

I guess I like the whole process…almost. I like the rough draft, and I like the polishing once the story is all there. And there are moments, nice breakthroughs when working on the story in-between that feel good. But that middle part, that valley of darkness, though – who likes that? That period you feel like you are gonna go insane, because nothing’s working, and all the doubts are crowding you. I would never really make a comparison to pregnancy…but okay I’m going to make a comparison to pregnancy. I think the whole thing is like a pregnancy, and there’s that moment where you’re between a rock and a hard place. You don’t want to go on but you can’t stop. That’s not the most enjoyable part.

TA: I know that meme! I remember seeing it and thinking, “Huh, that’s really accurate.” The story is intoxicating and full of promise when you start to write it, and it’s satisfying to finally have a workable, finished MS to send the publisher, but the months in between? Dark, dark times, full of self-doubt and f***ing plot holes.

TJB: Hahaha – dark times and f***ing plot holes. Well said. It’s that terror of showing up to school naked.

I wish it was always intoxicating. I think maybe there’s a tendency after doing this a while to look ahead, try and preempt those plot holes, and that can lead to second-guessing. And as you’ve said before, that crappy rough draft is totally necessary. Maybe it kind of has to be free to be a bit crappy.

Next question: Do you keep a notebook beside your bed / in the car / in your back pocket to snag ideas as you’re working through a story, or some other form of note-taking, or do you keep it in your head? Reasons for one or the other?

TA: Yes, I definitely have to jot down my thoughts as I go, on scratch paper, notepads, or even Word docs. I have dozens of Gmail “saved drafts” of ideas that have occurred to me while at work. I like to write these down because (A) I’ll forget them if I don’t, and (B) it can be refreshing to review old notes for inspiration. Sometimes the pieces click together in unexpected ways.

Next question: What attracts you to crime/mystery/horror fiction? Any other genres you’d like to someday try writing on a lark?

TJB: I think even when I was writing some of my earliest stuff, which ranged from horror to experimental and sci-fi, there was a detective / crime element. I had this one storyline that was maybe going to be a serial, and there was this guy in the future who was a cowboy slash detective and his sidekick was a cyborg. I was fifteen or so, I guess. That’s maybe when all that good shit was getting into my brain, books like The Gunslinger and movies like Robocop.

So I guess what attracts me, still, is what got in there when I was younger. I think there’s some good utility to the detective / crime story, too. You’re investigating as a writer, the detective is investigating a crime, so there’s a nice parallel there.

I’d like to try literary fiction. Have a story that just goes where it does, that’s about people, life. But I’ve also got some more sci-fi ideas. Though I don’t really think of them as sci-fi, but just “likely future.”

Next question: You’ve been writing something in the horror genre, is that correct? You mentioned something in our last discussion I thought was very cool, how you have to establish normalcy first and then let the wrecking ball whistle through. Could you elaborate on that?

TA: Definitely! Although this new book turned out to be less horror-ish than I’d originally envisioned. It’s still got the expected paranormal elements, and a few nastier scenes push for “scary,” but overall, it’s more of a supernatural thriller/romance.

But returning to your question – I think horror takes a lot of narrative time to grow. There needs to be a sense of normalcy – of what everyday life is in this universe – for the Very Bad Things to contrast with. The audience has to spend some time on the Nostromo before Ridley Scott’s Alien starts stomping around and eating faces. At least that’s how I’d define “horror” – a slow burn; a gradually escalating sense of dread, punctuated by occasional bursts of terror. You have to delay the payoff, which runs a bit contrary to my instincts as an action/thriller writer.

And that’s the thing – as I wrote and rewrote this new book, Our Last Night, I realized that it wasn’t really fitting my (admittedly arbitrary) definition of “horror.” Despite all the ghosts and gore, it’s really just a fractured little love story about two people learning to cope with death. If readers find it to be scary – well, that’s a nice bonus. So one of the big lessons I learned here is how much you really discover the story as you write it. Hell, I didn’t even have the right genre.

Next question: Do you start out with an idea of how each story will end? Do you let it surprise you? Do you experiment with alternate endings?

TJB: That’s great. I love all that. First, Alien – totally agree with you. What’s interesting there is that the movie was rejected at first, Scott really had to struggle to get it made. People looked at the script and said, “Uhm, nothing happens for 45 minutes.” But it’s so good. You have to be willing to grant your audience that intelligence. Now, I say that, but you know as well as I do that when you get the feedback on your books, and you read things like “Had me hooked from the beginning!” – that means something, too.

And I just wanted to speak to your new novel, you know, I’ve heard Stephen King say he “flounders” at the beginning of a story. Not that you floundered, necessarily, I don’t mean that. I just think it’s great to acknowledge that at first, you’re telling yourself the story. And it’s not always what you think it’s going to be, and we need to allow for that, as well as the possibility of floundering at the beginning – which I’m doing, right now, getting a new one off the ground. So maybe I’m just projecting on you. Yes, probably.

So I guess that rolls into your question? Do I start with an idea of how each story will end? Yes and no. When I wrote Habit I knew the climax. I opened the book with it, then jumped back in time, and took the reader from two weeks before up to that moment. But I didn’t know how the detective was going to make it all work, and I didn’t know the real story behind it all, machinating it all. That was discovered.

If by “experiment” with alternate endings you mean: write an ending, realize it totally sucks, and chuck it, then yes. I do that a lot. I keep massaging through the story, and that bears out different outcomes, and then I know. Well, I don’t know until the very language rings true – or as close to truth as possible.

Now I’m going to hop tracks: I’m curious about how other writers deal with their book being out there, and anticipation of sales, and ranking, and ratings – how often do you check Amazon stats? How much time do you say you spend thinking about selling the book, and how has that, if at all, affected the way you approach new writing – meaning, if you got a taste of success with Eyeshot, what are your expectations for your next novel?

TA: I tell myself not to check Amazon and Goodreads – but then I do. It’s cool to see the numbers rise and fall, and the hundreds of reviews cover the spectrum from “best book ever” to “worst book ever.” But I’ve also caught myself becoming addicted to it, which can be distracting. The feedback is valuable, but it’s not my job to second-guess myself – it’s my job to write.

And it’s strange how success changes your personal metrics. A year or two ago, my sole aim was to get published. I gave zero thought to what I would do afterward. Now I’m published with a successful small press, still enjoying strong sales, and it’s kind of a “now what?” moment. I literally did not have a plan for this. But I’ll just keep writing, and hopefully I can continue to please readers (and my bank account). Working on this new book was a little nerve-wracking for that reason. It’s a very different story from Eyeshot – riskier, weirder, more ambiguous – so I hope I don’t disappoint readers expecting another clear-cut action/thriller.

Next question: Over your books, do you find yourself repeating themes and ideas? Have you noticed returning favorite phrases or stylistic choices? I ask because apparently, it’s physically impossible for me to write a book that doesn’t somehow reference dinosaurs.

TJB: Hahaha. Oh definitely. There are definitely recurring themes and ideas. I mean, addiction is probably a big one. But there are more…I guess I don’t want to talk about them as they probably bring enough attention to themselves as it is (assuming there are unique readers who have read more than one of my books).

I totally hear you about telling yourself not to check stats and then checking them anyway. It’s a mental battle. So much of this is like golf – not that I play – but that you really are playing against yourself. Familiar ground for an addict, for sure. But challenging for anybody. Seeing those five star reviews definitely rings some neural bells, and begs for a repeat experience.

I think, maybe, sometimes, you have to just step away. That’s a battle, too, if you’re determined to making writing a primary livelihood. I’ve done it – and this is the scariest part – I know there’s no guarantee it will last. And it’s a lot of pressure to put on something so sensitive, so stubborn, as the muse is, as writing is.

I had a question set aside for you, and it may be apropos, or maybe we each already answered it. I’ll leave it to you: Do you think your personality is suited to the life of a writer? Why or why not?

TA: I’m not sure I really have a choice, as I’ve been writing ever since I could hold a crayon. But I think my personality is fairly well-suited to the bizarre life of a writer. I like to spend time alone, I don’t really like to travel any further than I can drive, and I’m an obsessive perfectionist. I’m fascinated by good storytelling (in any format, from web articles to video games) and love to pick it apart and see what makes it work.

I’ve also got a short attention span, which I used to fear would hold me back as an author. Now that I’m published, I think it’s both a strength and a weakness. Both Eyeshot and my not-yet-titled upcoming novel are relatively short works, with brisk prose, small casts, and stories contained within a few hours. Part of it is my own narrative style (I believe simplicity is power), but throughout the process I’m quick to discard details or entire backstories if I believe there’s the slightest chance that someone, somewhere will yawn. So far, this impulse has served me well, but I’m sure all of that thrown-out bathwater has contained at least a few babies.

The life of a writer – itself – is kind of strange to me, though, and maybe that’s because of my personality. As I’m a fairly private person, it’s still a little surreal to see my name and photo floating around in the public domain. But the upside? Being contacted by enthusiastic fans is rewarding, and reminds me how lucky I am. Comfort zones can smother us, so I’m glad to be a little outside of mine.

Moving forward – this is such a good question, in fact, that I’d like to throw it back to you. How does your personality compliment or conflict with your life as a writer?

TJB: Man, babies flying out windows in sprays of bathwater, darlings being killed left and right, backstories hacked to smithereens – writing is a cruel and brutal business, I don’t know if people realize.

Yeah, it’s a big question.

I always wrote, but I did quite a few other things, too. Not to get into the boring backstory stuff, so we’ll just say I’ve been a factotum. And then when the writing thing started to pan out, I thought, “all that other shit I was doing, it was just because I was a writer, and I was having experiences,” and yadda yadda.

I often get lost in a complex idea, throwing everything at the stories, with timeframes often spanning weeks or more, sometimes years, multiple POVs, and I seem to aim for the biggest plot possible. When I was younger I was working on screenplays and my buddy said to me: “Dude, your stories don’t always have to be about everything.” I think I even wrote “God” as a character in a script once. It makes me laugh now, but part of my brain is still like, “Well, duh, yeah, of course.” Like, what’s the point otherwise? But I totally see the wisdom in the stories that are stripped down – you said simplicity is power, which I think is smart. And I’m learning that you just have to whisper, you don’t have to shout. But I still play with pretty big ideas, and I think I always will. I just carve and carve and carve.

I think the differences in personality shows up not just in the content, but are revealed in how the work is approached. They say, “Writing is rewriting,” or, maybe even “Rewriting is writing.” I know there are writers who can easily tally their discrete drafts. I’m sort of in this camp. But there are others who really are revising as they go along. I read about one writer – and I can’t recall her name right now – who says she really has no idea how many “drafts” she writes, because she’s really just revising the whole time, and it’s one big fluid thing.

And just to add one last thing about recurring themes or motifs, about personality: The works of Richard Price are permeated with social issues. And the story I heard about Price is that, at one point, he was challenged – either by someone else or maybe by himself – to stray from the sort of stuff he was doing, crimes that evoked larger social justice issues – and just write something stripped down, real “genre,” and see if he could pull it off. He even adopted a pseudonym – Harry Brant. He told his editor or his agent it was only going to take him four to six months to bang it out, and then he wrote this thing… and it took four years – par for him – and ended up being another book where he found he just wrote like he always wrote, the only way he could, imbued with this greater socioeconomic sensibility. So, I guess we’re sort of pathological this way. I think personality informs the work, but there is no personality that’s better than another. You might be predisposed to brevity, and find your writing takes similar shape. Or you may be loquacious, and/or you may be attracted to larger social issues (another Richard, Richard Wright, said “all literature is protest”), and that is how you work. I think the universal thing, is that it is, after all “story.” And I believe people find, the older we get, the less we can say is true, and the more we realize there are just stories. Still, that hunt for truth is human. I think all writers, to some extent or another, have it, and it shows in their work.

TA: Yes! That’s a really interesting point, and ties nicely with our discussion. I think we’re all at the mercy of our own unique voices, and trying to change ourselves, like your example with Richard Price, can be futile (or worse, result in crap).

Genre aside, I think we follow our favorite artists because something about their voice – Stephen King’s mastery of the bizarre, for example – makes their writing fascinating, whatever the plot or characters may be. Often I pick a book based on who wrote it, not what the blurb says. And after all, as authors, we should write the kind of material that we’d personally enjoy reading, or the whole creation process feels… well, kind of dishonest. Readers recognize passion when they see it, and like I said earlier, it’s not our job to second-guess ourselves. I know that if I tried to write a sweet, cheerful romantic-comedy, it would still have at least one dead pet. Why fight it? It’s what makes us who we are.

Unique voices make us who we are, I mean. Not dead pets.


Taylor Adams is the author of Eyeshot and Our Last Night, available now on Amazon

TJ Brearton is the author of Habit, Survivors, Daybreak, Dark Web, Dark Kills, Highwater, available now on Amazon





farmhouse cover new 3HABIT (Book One of the Titan Trilogy)

Available for Kindle, all tablets and phones with Kindle App and in Print

Who killed Rebecca Heilshorn? Rookie detective Brendan Healy is on his first murder case. A young woman in a remote farmhouse has called 911 on an intruder and is killed. The clue path leads Healy to several suspects, but when the victim’s brother opens fire on the cops, the department is ready to close the case. Healy persists with his own investigation, leading him into the world of human trafficking where an escort service is used by government officials. Healy tracks a potential killer, who is holding a child hostage. But the case is not yet closed, and another killer must be brought to justice.

This book hooked me from the very beginning. Right up there with Patterson. The story was well written and built to a shattering climax.” – Amazon review


SURVIVORS (Book Two of the Titan Trilogy)

Available for Kindle, all tablets and phones with Kindle App

A gripping mystery novel that will have you reading all night  The Rebecca Heilshorn case has drawn the attention of the Justice Department. Agent Jennifer Aiken is going after XList, the escort service implicated in Rebecca’s murder. Meanwhile, Healy learns about the death of an old friend and comes out of hiding to privately investigate. His friend’s death was not accidental, but connected to the same black market – XList. Jennifer Aiken is close to identifying the main force behind XList when she is kidnapped. Tortured and interrogated by ruthless operatives, Jennifer’s only hope is that Brendan will get to her in time.

Fast-paced and well written, with good characters…A reflection of what is happening in the US today.”
– Amazon review


cover DAYBREAK NEWDAYBREAK (Book Three of the Titan Trilogy)

Available for Kindle, all tablets and phones with Kindle App

The stunning conclusion to the Titan trilogy       Months after her vicious abduction, Special Prosecutor Jennifer Aiken is enlisted to serve in an FBI sting; to go after a hacker group called Nonsystem. Helping her is Brendan Healy, who fights for his life in Rikers Island while awaiting trial for the murder of Alexander Heilshorn, the powerful leader in a multinational organization known as Titan.

Once Brendan has extricated himself from Rikers through a dramatic turning of the tables, he hunts for Leah Heilshorn, the daughter of Rebecca, the murdered escort from HABIT. Meanwhile, Jennifer must navigate a complex underworld to meet Nonsystem and find the truth behind Titan and its real relationship to the country.

An edge-of-your-seat end to a terrific trilogy. The journey is so convincing, exciting, and gripping that it may just change the way you see the world.”                 – Ann Abrams, author of Mobius


house in snow 2 coverDARK WEB (Stand-alone crime thriller)

Available for Kindle, all tablets and phones with Kindle App and in Print

Who killed a teenager and left the body in the snow?
Mike and Callie Simpkins moved north to restart their lives and get their finances back on track. But their son Braxton withdraws into a dark online world. When he decides to meet some of the players in the real world, tragedy strikes, and the family is torn apart.

Detective John Swift must untangle a web of virtual and real crimes in order to solve this complex mystery. And as the family copes with unimaginable grief, even Braxton’s stepfather Mike comes under suspicion.

I was grabbed from the start and read it in 2 days. An absolute masterpiece.”         – Amazon review



High Water Deluxe Edition CoverHIGHWATER (Stand-alone supernatural thriller)

Available for Kindle, all tablets and phones with Kindle App

A supernatural mystery that you won’t be able to put down
Detective Tom Milliner is racing against time to save the life of a unique little boy. He needs a blood transfusion and only one person matches. But first Milliner must solve the mystery at the Kingston house, where Liz Goldfine may have committed a heinous crime, and the dark depths of the lake harbor teenage secrets and perhaps something even stranger.

Groups of unearthly young men are gathering on the roads, the old house holds many mysteries, and the waters are rising fast. What force lurks deep in the lake and can anyone stop it?

It’s like moving through a dream. Brilliant.” – Amazon review


More novels, short stories, articles                                    BREARTON BOOKS

Poetry, experimental, essays                                         DOCKER’S CLUTCH


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“This is an edge-of-your-seat end to a terrific trilogy. The journey is so convincing, exciting, and gripping that it may just change the way you see the world.”

– Ann Abrams, author of Mobius



The stunning conclusion to the Titan trilogy Months after her vicious abduction, Special Prosecutor Jennifer Aiken is enlisted to serve in an FBI sting; to go after a hacker group called Nonsystem. Helping her is Brendan Healy, who fights for his life in Rikers Island while awaiting trial for the murder of Alexander Heilshorn, the powerful leader in a multinational organization known as Titan.

Brendan has other ideas about Nonsystem. He doesn’t believe they are who the FBI claims, but rather a scapegoat for a planned false-flag event to confer the government with control of all cryptocurrency in circulation. Once Brendan has extricated himself from Rikers through a dramatic turning of the tables, he hunts for Leah Heilshorn, the daughter of Rebecca, the murdered escort from HABIT. Meanwhile, Jennifer must navigate a complex underworld to meet Nonsystem and find the truth behind Titan and its real relationship to the country.

DAYBREAK Coming Summer 2015 – Book Teaser from t j brearton on Vimeo.


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