1. Tell us about your books.
The War for Reality (Sleep State Interrupt, The Wrath of Leviathan, and Zero-Day Rising)
In the BetterWorld near-future cyberpunk trilogy (available individually or in a compilation titled The War for Reality), a giant corporation (MediaCorp) has taken over the Internet, created an addictive virtual reality called BetterWorld, and controls nearly all information. Politicians do their bidding, and a brainwashed humanity serves a privileged few.
The first volume, Sleep State Interrupt, was a Compton Crook Award finalist for best first science fiction novel. It is largely set in Baltimore, the largest city in the U.S. state of Maryland. Waylee Freid, an unemployed journalist with ever-worsening bipolar disorder, and Charles, a teenage hacker from public housing, seek to wake up the world and bring about a brighter future. They must sneak into a closed presidential fundraiser, record incriminating admissions, and broadcast it during the Super Bowl. But to do so, they must avoid a huge manhunt and break into one of the most secure facilities ever built.
In the second volume, The Wrath of Leviathan, Waylee faces life in prison. Exiled in Brazil, her young sister Kiyoko and their hacker friends continue the fight. But MediaCorp and their government allies may quash the rebellion before it takes off. And unknown to Kiyoko and her friends, a team of ruthless mercenaries is after them, and closing in fast.
In the final volume, Zero-Day Rising, the group is reunited and set on bringing down President Rand and MediaCorp. However, MediaCorp unleashes their ultimate plan: direct mind control with cerebral implants. Can Kiyoko and Waylee’s team stop them? Can they penetrate MediaCorp’s networks and end the company’s grip over humanity? All while eluding the biggest manhunt in history, in a country where everyone and everything is under surveillance?
Born in Salt
Born in Salt is a character-oriented alternate history novel. Fifty years after a coup replaced President Franklin D. Roosevelt with a fascist dictatorship, America is a land of hopelessness. Ben Adamson, a 19-year-old farm boy in southern Illinois, wants only to spend his time fishing and hunting. But when his dead brother demands justice for his suspicious fate, Ben and Rachel, his brother’s fiancée, are drawn into an underground revolutionary movement.
After staging a rally against the war, Ben and Rachel are arrested by the Internal Security Service, who have perfected the science of breaking people. Ben is given a choice: betray the rebels, including his best friend from childhood, or Rachel will be lobotomized.
Although traumatized and addicted to a powerful drug, Ben refuses to doom anyone he cares about. Can he find a third option? Can he free Rachel and strike back at the dictatorship, while dodging the suspicions of police and rebels alike?
The Survivors is a post-apocalyptic cli-fi horror novella. In a calamitous future, runaway climate change has made the planet nearly uninhabitable. Civilization has collapsed, and every day is a struggle. Lucy, a young mother of two, dreams of a better life by bringing back vanished knowledge. But the rest of her group is focused only on day-to-day survival—at any price. When a deadly hurricane destroys their home, Lucy’s group is forced on the road, where they must cope with hunger, searing temperatures, and vicious rivals. And their nightmare is just beginning…
The Council is a political satire about local government. Luther Smith, a newly elected county councilman, is determined to make a difference for his constituents. Unfortunately, he’s ill-prepared for the corruption, incompetence, and lunacy of his fellow councilmembers. Lisa Hogan, a down-on-her-luck single mom and avid naturalist, discovers that developers plan to raze the last tract of forest in the county. Facing a dysfunctional bureaucracy, corrupt politicians, and lazy journalists, Luther and Lisa form a growing bond as they attempt to navigate the legislative labyrinth, mobilize the community, and attempt to save the forest.
For links and more information, see https://www.tcweber.com/ .
2. How long have you been writing, and was it a conscious decision?
I’ve always like to read and write, then learned filmmaking and screenwriting in college, although my actual undergraduate major was physics. I transformed those interests into novel writing while trapped at home during the “Snowmageddon” of 2010 (a series of snowstorms that shut down the region where I live). I’ve been writing nearly every day since then. It’s a way to share ideas with the rest of the world, and writing fiction is much more fun than non-fiction (which I do as part of my day job).
3. How does your background as an ecologist inform your novels?
I have degrees in systems ecology and wetland ecology, and am a Certified Ecologist by the Ecological Society of America. I currently work for Defenders of Wildlife (an NGO) on climate adaptation for wildlife and ecosystems, attempting to ensure that the U.S. government addresses climate change impacts for endangered and threatened species and their habitats. I have worked on both national and global climate assessments and policy. Before that, I was the chief conservation scientist at the Conservation Fund, mostly working on conservation projects and plans.
The premise of The Survivors is that humans fail to take the action needed to halt climate change before the planet reaches irreversible and catastrophic tipping points. This could indeed happen, although thankfully many (although not all) governments are finally listening to scientists and the public.
Climate change threatens the very survival of civilization. It’s happening now with extreme heat waves, massive fires, storms, mega-droughts, and zoonotic pandemics, and is projected to get much, much worse without immediate action. We need to stop burning coal and oil, and must protect and restore the world’s forests and other ecosystems. We also need to stop poaching wildlife and selling them in markets where they can spread zoonotic diseases like Covid-19.
Ecology also plays a central role in The Council, where greedy developers seek to destroy a large stand of forest so they can make a lot of money. In reality, such destruction may benefit a wealthy few, but the public pays the price of building roads and other infrastructure, supplying fire and police protection, and losing important ecosystem services like flood protection, clean water and air, carbon sequestration, recreation opportunities, wildlife habitat, spiritual connection, and much more.
4. What is the biggest threat to biodiversity today?
Humanity requires a healthy environment and plentiful natural resources to thrive. Biodiversity helps make the global economy more resilient, functions as an integral part of our culture and identity, and benefits our health. Unfortunately, we are rapidly losing our forests, other natural lands and waters, and wildlife. One-quarter of all plant and animal species are threatened with extinction.
The five main threats to biodiversity are habitat loss, pollution, overexploitation, invasive species, and climate change. The main reasons behind these are human greed, shortsightedness, and corruption. The global economy is based on an unsustainable extract-use-throwaway model, and capitalism demands ever-greater consumption and profits without considering the costs to our planet, the people, and the future. Wealthy coal barons like Joe Manchin and Gautam Adani prevent governments from fighting climate change and brush aside local people trying to protect their forests from strip mining.
If we want a healthy planet and livable future for our children and grandchildren, we must end the corrupting influence of corporate and billionaire money on politics and government policy. We must also transition from a linear to a circular economy, where goods are reused, refurbished, repaired, and recycled instead of thrown away and replaced. We must stop cutting down forests and massacring wildlife, and repair the damage we’ve done.
5. In your opinion, what responsibilities does a writer have in today‘s world?
Writing is an art form, and art should evoke introspection and contemplation. The fiction author should engage the readers by creating powerful and memorable emotional experiences, but artistic fiction should also leave the reader with ideas to ponder. The writer should beware the temptation to conform to prevailing norms. Rather, the writer should challenge, present alternatives, and raise a mirror with many facets, prompting the reader to question dogma and their place in the universe. The fiction writer should avoid being overly preachy in their prose. Instead, through the thoughts, speech, and actions of their characters, they should present alternatives and let the reader decide for themselves.
I wrote my cyberpunk trilogy and other books to entertain readers, but the stories also contain themes. For example, they show how the concentration of media leads to the decline of journalism, independent and critical thought, and democracy. Other themes in the trilogy include the dangers of monopoly capitalism, political corruption, and government surveillance.
6. In your first book, Sleep State Interrupt, journalist Waylee Freid is fired because she investigates the giant corporation that buys her newspaper. Do you think capitalism, instead of bringing diverse ideas, is leading to monopolies that threaten free speech?
Yes, there is an ever-increasing concentration of media in the U.S. and elsewhere. The consolidation of news, books, and other media are being consolidated under fewer and fewer mega-companies, which leads to the layoff of journalists and the closing of newspapers. In Maryland (the U.S. state I live in), nearly all the newspapers were bought by a hedge fund manager that then gutted the papers. Usually when a company is bought by another (often a predatory practice), a lot of employees are fired to “cut costs” (in reality, to increase the profits of the buyer). This is one of the ugly sides of capitalism, along with the drive to create monopolies. The capitalists’ destruction of journalism poses severe threats to independent, critical thought and democracy. In publishing, five large corporations control the majority of book sales, and also control who is reviewed in newspapers.
Other forms of communication are equally at risk. Imagine an Internet where you could only access sites affiliated with a big Internet provider like Verizon or Jio. Imagine that you could only watch Verizon or Jio-owned shows or movies, and this choice was limited to those deemed most profitable. Imagine if there was only one source of news, and that “news” was little more than propaganda. Imagine political opinions having to be approved by a corporate censor board.
This could happen in the U.S. now that the Federal Communications Commission, headed by a former Verizon lawyer, has overturned net neutrality. Instead of all data being transmitted equally, Internet service providers can act as gatekeepers, intentionally favoring some websites and content (like those they own or partner with) over others. This would essentially end free speech and competition on the Internet. Even music is falling under monopoly control. Live Nation, iHeartRadio, SIRIUSXM, Ticketmaster, and Pandora are all under the control of a single right-wing billionaire.
Sleep State Interrupt and its sequels explore a possible outcome of these trends. In the books, a huge corporation (MediaCorp) works with governments to upgrade the Internet with ultra-fast fiber optic lines, more efficient switching, and better security. In the process, MediaCorp spreads money to the right people, and gains control of the Internet backbone. They use that to prioritize their own data flows or those companies that pay them a premium. Their stock goes through the roof, they crush or buy out their competitors, and MediaCorp gains control of nearly all information. Politicians do their bidding if they want to win elections. Most people are kept in the dark or misled. Everything they do is recorded, analyzed, and exploited. MediaCorp also creates an addictive virtual reality called BetterWorld, which becomes so popular, it overtakes the physical economy.
This outcome is plausible—a single company controlling nearly all information, and using that to control society. In the books, people from the underclass take to the Net and take to the streets to fight them.
7. You have also written about how the large media industry is brainwashing humanity. According to you, what is brainwashed humanity, and how can we understand this phenomenon?
Dictatorships like North Korea and Russia use their control over media to control the information people receive. In Russia, it is illegal to criticize their army’s imperialist invasion of Ukraine, and Putin’s propaganda machine paints the invasion as absolutely necessary to protect Russia and Russian-speaking people. Because Putin forbids dissent, most Russians believe this absurd propaganda and support their leader.
The same phenomenon happens in so-called democracies. Viewers of Fox News or even more extremist outlets like Infowars or Breitbart believe all sorts of outlandish lies (like Trump’s claims that he won the 2020 election) and conspiracy theories (like the QAnon claims that the world is controlled by a secret cabal of Satan-worshipping child molesters whom Trump is secretly battling to stop). There are also biased “news” sources on the left, like MSNBC and Daily Kos. Social media has worsened this problem, placing people in information bubbles, where people only communicate with those with the same opinions. Skilled political operatives disguise lies as truth, and because most people are not taught how to think critically, they believe whatever fits their ideology (“confirmation bias”), supports their political party, or denigrates those who oppose their leaders.
In Sleep State Interrupt, the Special Advisor to the President for the Media tells a disguised Waylee Freid, “People are surprisingly easy to influence once you know how their minds work. For starters, people make most decisions using their guts, not logic. That’s just the way we operate… Back in the 1980s, psychologists studied how news anchors changed their facial expressions when mentioning presidential candidates, and how these subtle cues influenced voters. Peter Jennings, an anchor for ABC News, was downright enthusiastic about Ronald Reagan. You could see it in his face. And his viewers voted overwhelmingly for Reagan, much more so than viewers of other news programs. That was forty years ago. We’ve learned and refined since then, and know exactly how to push emotional buttons so people will do whatever we want without having the slightest clue about it.”
The CEO of MediaCorp speaks for the arrogant elite, claiming that they are akin to Plato’s “men of gold.” “People are generally stupid,” he says. “That’s why they need ones like us to tell them what to do. It’s been that way since the day humans first gathered together in villages.”
Waylee thinks differently. She believes that people should be allowed to think and speak for themselves, that rationalism keeps fascism at bay, and that emotion and logic have to work together in a positive framework.
8. The privileged are protected by surveillance, and others are targeted by it, as described in your novel Sleep State Interrupt. What do you think surveillance is—an outcome of technology or a historical fact?
Surveillance predates humans, going back to the first carnivores stalking prey. Technology has just made it easier. With the advent of big data, artificial intelligence, ever-present cameras, and drones (among other mechanisms), governments and corporations have the power to record and manipulate every facet of our lives.
According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), an NGO working to protect online privacy, “governments can listen in on cell phone calls, use voice recognition to scan mobile networks, read emails and text messages, censor web pages, track a citizen’s every movement using GPS, and can even change email contents… They can secretly turn on webcams built into personal laptops and microphones in cell phones not being used. And all of this information is filtered and organized on such a massive scale that it can be used to spy on every person in an entire country. This is a phenomenon that spans the globe and implicates dozens of corporations.”
EFF created a guide to defend yourself from online surveillance by using secure technology and developing careful practices: https://ssd.eff.org/ . Please share with your family and friends!
9. What were some other social themes explored in Sleep State Interrupt?
In the BetterWorld trilogy, I drew on real-world trends like the loss of net neutrality, ever-increasing corporate power, and a huge divide between rich and poor. The trilogy also explores what happens when media becomes so concentrated and news so biased, they threaten critical thought and democracy. Other themes in the trilogy include the dangers of monopoly capitalism, political corruption, and government and corporate surveillance. All of this is happening now.
The characters each have their own ideals, although there are overlaps. All believe in a free and open Internet, which was its creators’ original intent. Individualism is also a common hacker ethos. Pel, Charles, and Dingo are strong individualists (although their personalities differ quite a bit).
Waylee wants a free society that is governed democratically and collaboratively, and opposes narrow concentrations of power and wealth. “There’s plenty of money and resources to solve the world’s problems,” she says in the book. “But the handful of people who control most of the world’s wealth and power live in their own stratosphere and want to keep it that way… MediaCorp is their mouthpiece, manufacturing fake realities and keeping people distracted and divided.”
Shakti believes that everyone should have equal freedom from restraint (limited only by respect for the rights of others) and everyone should have as nearly as possible equal access to basic resources, thus ensuring equal (or near-equal) freedom to act. She also believes that humanity is a part of nature, and must re-learn this interconnection in order to survive.
M’patanishi (“M-pat”) is a proponent of Ujamaa (community-scale African socialism) and has brought this concept to Baltimore. Well-paying jobs are few, and government services have all but disappeared. But people can work collectively in their neighborhood to meet each other’s basic needs (food, medicine, security, etc.)
10. The final book of the BetterWorld cyberpunk trilogy, Zero-Day Rising, brings everything to an exciting conclusion. What is the significance behind the title?
There is a lot of computer hacking in the BetterWorld trilogy, especially in the finale. A “zero-day exploit” is a cyber-attack that exploits a previously unknown software weakness. Because it’s never been seen before, there may be no defenses against it. Both the protagonists and antagonists (who are just as skilled) create zero-day exploits throughout the book. The title Zero-Day Rising refers to popular rebellion using this concept, finding ways to challenge the authoritarian corporate-government alliance in ways that exploit their weaknesses and are difficult to counter.
11. Born in Salt is an alternate history novel. What appeals to you about that genre?
I’ve always been fascinated by history and “what if” questions that underpin alternate history. In one sense, societal changes tend to happen slowly, driven by social, economic, and environmental factors. But often these pressures accumulate until a trigger sets change in motion, like earthquakes from the convergence of opposing continental plates. Protests against murders by police, for example, ignited long-simmering movements against injustice in Iran and the U.S.
The ”what-if” triggers in alternate history, like time-travelers supplying automatic weapons to the Confederates in Guns of the South, or a better-planned coup in Born in Salt, set the world on a different course. Will this new course be corrected in the story? If so, how and why? Is history deterministic, or is it chaotic and unpredictable, like “butterfly effects”? In any case, such stories make great thought experiments and fun reading.
12. Born in Salt has, as its starting point, the business plot against U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt succeeding. The book is a ‘it could happen here’ tale. How vulnerable do you think democracy actually is?
In real life, there was a political conspiracy in 1933 in the United States to overthrow the government of President Roosevelt and install a dictator. According to retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler, wealthy businessmen were plotting to create a fascist veterans’ organization with Butler as its leader and use it in a coup d’état to overthrow Roosevelt. Fortunately for us, instead of going along, Butler turned them in. In 1934, Butler testified under oath before Congress on these revelations. In my novel Born in Salt, the coup plotters chose a different leader, Walter Waters, and the coup was successful.
I wrote the first draft of Born in Salt back in 2015. But readers have told me it brought to mind the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and real-life leaders with authoritarian tendencies and desires. The lesson of the 1930’s, 2020’s, and Born in Salt is that democracy is more fragile than it seems, and relies on the defense of courageous people like Gen. Butler, Ben Adamson, and the decisions of anyone who finds themselves at a pivotal point in history.
Democracy is not a spectator sport, limited to occasional voting and complaining to one’s friends. Civil rights, environmental protections, and economic access must be fought for. Frederick Douglass observed, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress… Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”
13. Can you explain the significance of the title Born in Salt, and how it relates to the story?
Born in Salt explores life under authoritarian rule, the abuse of psychology, the power of the dead, the realities and difficulties of drug addiction, and how everyday people can challenge impossible odds. It also explores the concept of morality in war and revolution; e.g., what means can be justified to achieve your side’s goals?
The story is experienced through the eyes of a poor outcast (Ben Adamson). He is a victim of forces he can’t control—until he learns that no one is truly helpless. The title Born in Salt symbolizes Ben’s birth into poverty and hardship, under a corrupt totalitarian government. But existentialists like Camus and Sartre argue, as conscious individuals, we can transcend our situation, and in fact have the responsibility to recognize this and act accordingly. We’re limited by our environment, but still have the freedom to act within those constraints. Ben has to recognize this, and if he does, he can achieve great victories over his oppressors.
14. There is a largely invisible form of psychological abuse performed by the dictatorship in Born in Salt. Why did you think of including this in the book?
In Born in Salt, the dictatorship classifies dissenters as mentally ill, and tries to “cure” them with regimented exercises, drugs, and shock treatment so they can become “more productive members of society.” Following his arrest at a protest rally, Ben Adamson, the protagonist, is diagnosed with “anti-social personality disorder,” and he is not allowed out of the prison system until he is “cured.” This is perhaps the most terrifying power of the State, to eradicate your personality and turn you into a compliant drone. Those who are particularly resistant are lobotomized and used for mindless labor.
The abuse of psychology and psychiatry has long been rampant in the U.S.; for example, performing lobotomies, developing new torture techniques, experimenting on people without their consent, and classifying homosexuality and other differences from the accepted norm as illnesses that need to be “cured.” But the Soviet Union was the most egregious offender, intentionally using psychology as a form of social control. Political opposition, dissent, and religious faith were considered not only criminal acts, but psychiatric problems. Such a diagnosis gave the State the ability to hold people indefinitely, with no right of appeal.
15. Social struggles become personal fights when it comes to our loved ones, which is clearly seen in Born in Salt following the death of the main character’s brother. Rather than military personnel or political leaders, you chose a rural farm boy as the hero. What was the reason behind this?
I’m fascinated by the question of what makes an ordinary person become a hero. While superheroes and elite soldiers are fun to read about, I think it’s much more interesting to read about average people thrust into a situation way above their head, and seeing how they cope. In Born in Salt, the BetterWorld trilogy, and my other books, the main characters are generally from the underclass. They change throughout the story and must overcome their flaws and increase their skills in order to defeat their enemies. If not, they may break (as in The Survivors).
Most people are too afraid, self-absorbed, apathetic, or detached to step up and put their lives on the line, whether literally or figuratively, for a greater cause. Only a small fraction of people become activists. Their concern could be local, or all the way up to global. Heroes generally have a strong moral code, a feeling of obligation to something bigger than themselves, have passion and commitment, are willing to sacrifice, have knowledge of the issues they care about, and may feel anger, hope, or desperation. And they may not start out that way; in the most interesting books, the protagonist has to change internally to succeed in the finale.
16. Gramsci said that “point of modernity is to live a life without illusions while not becoming disillusioned.” Do you agree or disagree with this understanding?
Waylee would certainly agree with this. She considers BetterWorld, MediaCorp’s shared virtual reality, to be a manufactured distraction. Controlling disillusionment and discouragement is harder. One must recharge their spirit when it runs low. As a musician, Waylee is recharged by music. Also, by her boyfriend and friends. Humans are social creatures and require the companionship of others to thrive.
Emma Goldberg, one of Waylee’s greatest inspirations, wrote, “I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from conventions and prejudice, should demand the denial of life and joy. I insisted that our Cause could not expect me to become a nun and that the movement should not be turned into a cloister.”
17. One of your strengths as a writer has been your vivid characters. What do you think is the secret to writing engaging characters?
In general, stories are about people. They could also be about anthropomorphic animals or aliens, but they’re about sentient beings that the reader can relate to. Great characters are the key to great fiction. The reader must care about the protagonist; it’s through the protagonist(s) that the reader connects to the story.
Characters should seem real, especially the main characters, like someone you might know intimately. And the characters should be memorable. A memorable character could be unpredictable, be passionate about something, carry a “ghost” or “wound” from their past that affects them in the present, have inner conflict, be resourceful, courageous, or fighting for a just cause. The more of these, the better.
Most important, a protagonist (and other major characters) should care about something. They should have a vision for the future and a high-stakes goal (in the mind of the character) within the story. Outside forces and internal flaws and conflict present obstacles to achieving this goal, which the character must overcome (unless it’s a tragedy and they fail). Thus, the character arc intertwines with the story plot: each influences the other.
Then there are the internal and external characteristics of the character. There isn’t space to go into all the details here, but you can find more at my website ( https://www.tcweber.com/ ).
18. The main character of Sleep State Interrupt is a journalist named Waylee Freid with bipolar disorder. Why did you choose a woman as your saviour character? Was it a conscious choice, or did it happen randomly?
The characters more or less created themselves (I didn’t make deliberate choices), but as a group, they reflect the diversity of activists in Baltimore, where the story takes place.
Waylee Freid is an intense woman in her late 20’s who works as a journalist until her nemesis, MediaCorp, buys her newspaper’s parent corporation and fires her for investigating them. Waylee is outgoing and charismatic, and has a large circle of friends and acquaintances. She is extremely creative, resourceful, and intelligent, and has a quick wit. She struggles with cyclothymia (a type of manic-depressive disorder), but embraces her hypomanic phase, which increases her creativity and energy. While it has drawbacks like overconfidence, it allows her to think fast and come up with ideas that no one else can. But when depressed, she feels her life is pointless and the world is hopeless, and is unable to function. Her condition worsens under the stress of trying to complete her mission while being relentlessly pursued by the authorities.
Waylee feels driven to challenge the threat posed by MediaCorp. She’s frustrated because she can’t reach an audience, nor can anyone else who challenges the status quo. She’s an idealist who believes in freedom of information and yearns for a world where everyone has a meaningful life and access to basic necessities. On a personal level, Waylee bears a grudge against MediaCorp for buying out her paper, firing her, and putting her in the hospital. She attempts to end MediaCorp’s monopoly by exposing their machinations to the world and bringing down their corrupt political supporters (especially President Rand).
19. The second book of the BetterWorld cyberpunk trilogy, Wrath of Leviathan, stars another strong female character, Kiyoko, who overcomes her fantasies through introspection. How did the nature of self-reflection help your character and plot?
Kiyoko is Waylee’s much younger and hypersensitive half-sister. At first, she rejects reality and her traumatic childhood by living in a fantasy world both inside and outside virtual reality. But confronting crises and tragedies in the real world, she gradually transforms into a strong leader, and will not accept defeat as an option.
Kiyoko disagrees with her sister that BetterWorld is a waste of time, and in a sense, she’s right. BetterWorld has over a billion subscribers and its economy is overtaking that of the real world. Kiyoko and her friends can affect the physical world via hacking and influence building in the virtual world.
20. Your latest book, The Council, balances humor and drama, and contains skepticism towards both dedicated activists and career politicians. How did you approach creating this balance in your storytelling?
The Council pits an idealistic county councilman and a local environmentalist against greedy developers and a dysfunctional government. The protagonist, Luther Smith, a high school science teacher, is newly elected to the Sylvan County Council. Idealistic, inexperienced, and eager to make a difference for his students and constituents, Luther is confronted with corruption, incompetence, and lunacy from his fellow councilmembers. At meetings, his colleagues brush aside public comments, doze, drink, and discuss what makes the ideal cheeseburger.
Lisa Hogan, a down-on-her-luck single mom and avid naturalist, discovers that developers plan to raze the last tract of forest in the county to build a massive housing and shopping project. Angry about the developers’ sway over the county government, Luther joins Lisa’s battle against the project. Facing a dysfunctional bureaucracy, corrupt politicians, and lazy journalists, Luther and Lisa form a growing bond as they attempt to navigate the legislative labyrinth, mobilize the community, and try to save the forest.
The story was inspired by experiences I’ve had in the City of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County, and readers have noted a number of similarities. For many years, I worked on environmental and other issues with local governments. I worked for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, chaired the Annapolis Environmental Commission, have worked on numerous political campaigns, and have testified at numerous legislative sessions.
In the U.S., local governments control the biggest threat to the environment—whether forests should be razed for commercial and housing development. This inspired the central drama of the story, which is loosely based on situations I’ve encountered. But sometimes, the people and situations involved were absurd to the point of laughing out loud. I included a lot of real-life funny stories in the book (changing the names and places), and invented others. The result is a funny, engaging story that also shows readers how local government and politics work.
21. How do you think local governments can better address environmental issues, and do you have any suggestions for readers who want to get involved in local politics and activism?
Depending on the country, local governments have a lot of power over land use and permitting, and therefore the level of ecological protection. Local and state governments can also lead the way on climate and other environmental issues when national governments fail to act. They may also be more innovative. On the flip side, many local governments are extremely reactionary or beholden to the local business elite. In this case, an electoral campaign may be required to change public policy.
It’s easier to make a difference at a local level than a national level. Local representatives are more closely connected to the people they represent. In a democracy, they often have to go door to door to ask for votes, and are easier for constituents to meet with. The candidates may even be your neighbors, friends, or acquaintances. You can also voice your opinion at public forums or local government meetings. You may know some of the local activists. Getting together in person (compared to just over the internet) creates stronger bonds and trust, which are important in movements.
You may even want to run for office yourself, or help someone who shares your views win an election. There’s a far greater chance of winning a local election than a national one, and usually winning national office requires prior experience at a more local level. Or you can join a local commission or NGO board. I’ve done all these things (except run for office); it’s easier than you might think.
22. Do you have other writers in the family?
No, just me.
23. Can you share any upcoming projects or works in progress that you’re excited about?
I just completed the first draft of a “seapunk” action-adventure set off the Florida Keys, where I used to dive and fish while growing up. What is seapunk? Keep in touch and find out! 🙂
24. What advice would you give to aspiring writers, especially those who are juggling multiple passions and interests like you are?
Here’s some suggestions:
Write something every day, preferably at a set time.
Make a list of ideas (I like to add to this first thing in the morning).
Join a critique group and get feedback on your writing.
Never be afraid that your work isn’t good enough.
Read books on the elements of storytelling, and recognize you’ll always have new things to learn.
Also remember writing is not a pathway to riches. Only a tiny fraction of authors can support a family on solely a writing income. Furthermore, it takes time and hard work to master the craft of writing. My advice is, write what you want to write, not what you think will sell. Write sincerely, and plumb the depths of human nature. Edit until you have a finely polished gem. Writing is art. It is a calling. Eventually someone will discover your genius—for we are all geniuses in our own way—and who knows what will happen next?
25. How do you stay motivated and focused on your creative projects, and what has helped you to develop your skills as a writer over time?
The hardest part of writing is sitting down every morning (my preferred time) and getting into the flow of writing. Perhaps it’s the hardest part of any journey: to begin. Persistence is a huge challenge. It takes a year or two to write and edit a novel, and even a novella or short story takes time. Then there’s publishing—it’s a challenge finding a publisher, especially without an agent.
It’s helpful to interact with other writers, to identify manuscript problems you might miss, to grow as a writer, and for the social aspect. I am in two critique groups. I also solicit feedback from beta readers, who are mostly other writers.
T. C. Weber has pursued writing since childhood, and learned filmmaking and screenwriting in college, along with physics and ecology. His first published novel was a near-future cyberpunk thriller titled Sleep State Interrupt (See Sharp Press). The first book of a trilogy, it was a finalist for the 2017 Compton Crook award for best first speculative fiction novel. The sequels, The Wrath of Leviathan and Zero-Day Rising, are also out. These were followed by Born in Salt, a character-oriented alternate history novel that pits an Illinois farm boy against a ruthless fascist government. Published in 2022, The Survivors (Solstice Publishing), is a post-apocalyptic cli-fi horror novella in which a young mother is forced on the road and struggles to survive a living nightmare. His latest book (also 2022), The Council, is a satire of local government. More works are on the way.
Mr. Weber is a member of Poets & Writers, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Association, the Horror Writers Association, and the Maryland Writers Association, and has run numerous writing workshops. By day, Mr. Weber works as an ecologist, and has had numerous scientific papers and book chapters published. He lives in Annapolis, Maryland with his wife Karen. He enjoys traveling and has visited all seven continents. For free book excerpts, short stories, writing tips, and more, visit https://www.tcweber.com/