Written by Danica Cornell
I was unusually young when I figured out that deception is a banker. From what I’d observed, at some point each of us would pay a penalty for buying into life’s Ponzi schemes —the only real question was how much would it cost any one person? You see, unlike many of my elementary school-aged peers, my father’s love affair with the bottle kept me from immersing myself in frivolous fairy tales. That’s because as the DWI’s mounted, so did the violent outbursts. Clear-headed thinking was the order of the day—along with heaping doses of vigilance, diplomacy, and pragmatism.
It was also during those darkest of days that I decided to live in a manner opposite to that of my parents. I reasoned that by choosing a different path, there would be fewer opportunities for falling victim to the deception and self-delusion that plagues so many of us. I wanted to live authentically. I wanted to live healthfully. I wanted to bathe myself in the light of truth and tolerance. By charting a course that included steering clear of all impulse-control issues, I was certain my future would be brighter than my present. I was certain I would find peace.
Looking back, it’s not an exaggeration to say my very survival depended on being able to understand the adults in my world. And by understand, I mean read. As a result, I learned two valuable life skills earlier than any of my friends: the science of detecting behavioral patterns and the art of creative problem-solving. After all, one miscalculation, misinterpretation, or misstep could turn out badly for my mom and me. And by badly, I mean deadly.
Another lesson was that drama is best left to the make-believe worlds scripted by novelists and screen writers. While it’s true my foray into early childhood fairy tales had been cut short, once I grew a little older, books, television, and movies became my escape from a hellish existence. It was the Nancy Drew Mystery Series, which first captured my imagination, morphing me from a non-reader to a voracious one. Shortly thereafter, Mark Twain’s characters, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, showed me that everyday life in the Midwest could be anything but mundane. Twain also hinted that talented writers can come from anywhere—even tornado-laden Missouri, where I happened to reside.
The out-of-this-world brand of science fiction unique to Gene Roddenberry’s, Star Trek, returned me to the kind of place I had once seen in my dreams. And where Captain Kirk and his sidekick Spock left off, the characters from the motion picture Star Wars seemed to seamlessly pick up. Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, and Yoda were characters I could sink my teeth into—all while being transported back to a place from long ago and far away.
Soon afterward, the poetry of Thoreau and Whitman seeped into my soul, touching me in a way that bordered on the spiritual while exposing deep-seated beliefs I’d kept hidden from view. On the other hand, when it came to analyzing short stories, it was the drum beat of Edgar Allan Poe’s, The Tell-Tale Heart, which lit up my darker side. By penning the horror of severe mental illness in a way that only he could, Poe had invited me to tip-toe inside the mind of a mad man. This opportunity to experience firsthand how the psychotic are jailed and tortured within their own distorted realities, only fueled my interest in writing and psychology.
By the time I was 12, I was vaguely aware the field of psychology would somehow tie into my life’s work. I also knew I would eventually become a writer. Still, despite my eagerness to begin penning stories, I knew I hadn’t been alive long enough to make any kind of meaningful contribution to the world of fiction. I also knew I lacked the necessary understanding of the human brain to construct the kind of tales I wanted to create. I had to face the fact that even though I had been through a lot, I was still a child. I knew I had a lot left to learn.
Without a doubt, all of the gifted storytellers I encountered early on influenced me in a myriad of ways. I am truly grateful to each of them. But it wasn’t until I was exposed to the writings of George Orwell and Anthony Burgess, that I had my true awakening— both as a reader and a writer. Now 15, peering into the speculative social and political structures of tomorrow made sense in a way it hadn’t when I was younger. It was only through the dissection of Orwell’s 1984 and Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, that the themes of the space operas I’d embraced when I was younger finally became clear. Suddenly, Star Trek and Star Wars held much more meaning for me. Even so, my journey to becoming a science fiction/fantasy writer was barely underway.
The next lightening strike occurred about 15 years later when as a business development consultant, I penned a forward-looking section of a government proposal. By describing how a futuristic nanotechnology-enabled sensing system might aid in space and planetary exploration, I got my first real taste of science fiction writing. The dystopian piece of this was presented in the form of a coming neoluddite backlash and global religious upheaval and social unrest. Most of my team members were left scratching their heads, but I knew this was precisely the kind of thing the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts was looking for. I knew this time I’d hit a home run—both personally and professionally. That’s because not only were my teammates and I awarded with a sizable contract, but it also became clear I would write dystopian-themed science fiction. It seemed the genre had been magically encoded in my DNA. By some miracle I had been gifted with the ability to extrapolate current trends and see into the future! Even so, one last piece of the puzzle was still missing, and so another 15 long years would slip away…
Everything finally fell into place once I returned to college to complete a Bachelor’s degree in psychology. Wanting to glean as much information as possible about why people behave the way they do, I made a point to write my research papers at a graduate level. I didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand exerting this extra effort would provide the additional benefits of honing my research and writing skills—things I knew I would need in spades as a novelist. But here’s the thing. Earning that degree also gave me an edge when it came to developing—I mean really developing—flawed and interesting characters. There was no doubt that for me, this was the crowning jewel on a science fiction/fantasy series I had been quietly mapping out for a few years. You see, from the time I was 12, I understood that without compelling and complex characters, any story would fall utterly flat. And flat just ain’t where it’s at—especially when it comes to penning an entire series.
Not surprisingly, this degree also opened my eyes to my own delusions—most notably about myself. I came to understand that I had deceived myself into believing the only way to survive in this world is by making safe choices. Unfortunately, by charting and remaining on this course, I ended up denying myself the opportunity to continue growing and developing as a writer. In the end, I realized I had deceived myself with all the cunning of a brilliantly constructed fictional antagonist! And as for the cost? It had been incalculably high. To put it bluntly, I was left nothing short of emotionally bankrupt.
The good news is that once I understood the inner workings of my own mind, I set a new course for myself that included taking some chances. I needed to put myself out there—not only as an innovative entrepreneur with a high tech start-up, but also (and most especially) as a writer. And so today, I’m betting the farm on my upcoming DARK STAR Series. I’m betting that readers of science fiction/fantasy—those who truly appreciate dystopian themes and parallel scenes and journeys, complete with deep character development, will enjoy reading my works as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them.
In the end, there’s no doubt that my darkest days ultimately gave rise to the DARK STAR Series…now all that’s left to do is strap myself in and get ready for a wild ride!
Until we meet again…
About the Author:
Danica Cornell is the author of the forthcoming DARK STAR Sci-fi/Fantasy Series, soon to be published by Cool Geek Books. To learn more about Danica’s work, her love of dogs, and her support of UNICEF, please visit her website at www.danicacornell.com.
Danica Cornell is a proud member of RAVE REVIEWS BOOK CLUB.