The dystopia of today's popularity cult: The Kyrennei premise part 1

There's the high school cafeteria with its ironclad rules about who sits where--tables for the gamers, the emos, the jocks or the geeks among the boys and for the girls the clusters around this or that social magnet. Just about everyone has been there. If you're lucky you might fit in with one group or another or at least squeeze through relatively unnoticed. A few actually thrive in this acrid environment. And some are torn to bits.

Creative Commons  image by Autoskabar of Flickr

Creative Commons image by Autoskabar of Flickr

On one particular gray Tuesday, there's a girl sitting on the steps leading to an upper level. She's alone - as always. She has a pad of paper and colored pencils and she's practicing drawing lines of perspective, capturing the crazy, obtuse angles of the modern cafeteria.

Does she bother the groups at the tables?

She sits there every day in the same spot. She is weird. At first she tried to talk to people, but she looks a bit different and she won't play along. She won't dress the way you are supposed to. She won't wear makeup or not in the right ways. She never pays attention to what was in style. She doesn't make small talk. She talks about why things are the way they are in the Arctic and what happened in a book more than about the other girls.

Yes, she bothers people. 

A couple of the guys catch a nerdy kid with glasses at the top of the stairs. He should have been paying attention. Never should have walked by them. He knew he should take the other stairs to avoid them, but he was in a hurry. He bothers them too. He doesn't give them their due.

So, they grab him and hurl him down the stairs. He crashes into the girl's back, scattering her colored pencils, shattering them into pieces, pulverizing the delicate cores within. They'll be useless now.

She saved for those pencils. There's no way she can afford a new set. But that isn't even the important part. They were her lifeline, the way she survived the hell of this place, the disdain and the shame. Now her lifeline is broken.

She believes the boy jumped on her from the stairs to taunt her, and in a split second brain chemistry flips and years of isolation coalesce into rage. 

She grabs the boy's hair at the tender nape of his neck in her left fist and pounds him with her right fist. Again and again. She sees white, not red. She hears only her own ragged breath. She doesn't scream but her face holds such intensity that they leave her alone for a while after that.

She knows that she has failed again. She played right into their hands. The crying, beaten boy wasn't the attacker. They should have been allies.

We left such things behind in high school. Didn't we? 

I hoped so. Once. But then I discovered Mommy cliques. When you're a mother with small children, you need other mothers. You need companionship with those who understand and the occasional conversation of multi-syllabic words. And you need playdates so your toddlers don't drive you crazy. But if you thought high school had cliques... watch out! 

Mommy cliques are a tad more sophisticated, but the rules are still pretty much the same. The ammunition is still fashion, makeup and small talk, but you have to add in home decor, flashy birthday parties, magazine-quality Pinterest photos of crafts and cooking, kids fashions, kids behavior, parenting styles, how early you potty-trained and how well you can talk about it all without seeming to brag too blatantly. 

The stakes are the same - inclusion or exclusion, street cred or isolation.

Does this mean that men get it easier? Maybe. But both men and women have to run the race for "success" in academia and then in career. Men have to dress the part too. If you don't, it's your loss. You can't blame anyone but yourself. Sure, the fashions are arbitrary, but only geeks can differ and they can only differ in certain ways. 

Creative Commons  image by Martinak15 of Flickr

Creative Commons image by Martinak15 of Flickr

A random perusal of my Facebook feed shows that it isn't just mommies who didn't leave the social rat race behind in high school. Everything is measured in "likes" these days. I've been studying a lot about effective online business, but I still can't figure out how "likes" help exactly - except that they give that street cred. It's essentially the same thing as having the popular kids give you a considering look and an oh-so-minuscule nod to show that you are allowed to sit in their vicinity.

Except "likes" have the illusion of democracy. They make it appear that the more you have the more people must really support you.

I inadvertently ran a small experiment on "likes" recently. I was trying to choose between two possibilities for the new logo of my dystopian fantasy series and I posted it to various groups asking for gut reactions. In every group there would be one enthusiast who would pipe up quickly and give their answer, either  "right" or "left." The first time this happened I was thrilled. The first person chose "right" and that was the option I secretly favored. There followed a stream of agreement, "right," "right," "yes, right's the best," a dozen or more responses. I was vindicated! 

But then I looked at another group. There the first person to answer had said "left" and the whole string of replies had agreed that the left-hand choice was the better one. Out of six different groups, the responses were about even, but they always followed the leader, like little ducks... or lemmings. 

What I learned from this is that "likes" are far from democratic. What is popular is popular because of how people follow the leaders, not because of popular appeal or true support. I call it "the cult of popularity," but I might as well call it a "cult of power."

Political organization, social structures and economic entities all use it and the underlying psychology isn't that different from high school cliques.

I just read an article about a blind citizen detained by US border patrol between Montreal and New York because the way his pupils were dilated looked suspicious. He and his friends laughed and the border patrol was incensed. "You think US Customs and Immigration is a joke?" they bellowed. Then he was subjected to hours of intimidation and interrogation. The guy's eyes "bothered" those with power. His failure to "play the game" of mild intimidation bothered them even more. 

Does nothing ever change? Are humans just wired to ostracize - to pick sides, pick out and pick on? When will those who are bullied stand up together instead of fighting one another? Will bystanders ever wake up and say enough is enough? 

For as long as there have been poets and bards and storytellers by the fire, some of us have tackled these questions with stories. That's why I wrote The Kyrennei Series. It started there in the lunchroom in high school. I watched the florescent lights and escaped from purgatory by making up characters, names, places and fantasies.  

The story is dark because it comes from that darkness. But it's also essentially the anatomy of hope. First, how can you survive? How do you struggle and hang on to those who stand by you? Then how do you choose your own path no matter how hard you're pushed down? How do you use the power you have - great or small - to make something meaningful? 

I'm going to write a few posts about the premise of the Kyrennei series. This is the first. The Soul and the Seed is a story that faces the human desires to to build cults of popularity and reject difference head on. 

I love your comments on these posts! Do you thrive in the social rat race? What do you think would happen if the cult of popularity literally ruled the world? 

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Code of the Outcast (Book 4 of the Kyrennei Series) is out!

Code of the Outcast, the long-awaited next installment in the series, is now live on Amazon. This book departs a bit from the first three, focusing on new characters, but it is more of the desperate adventure in the world ruled by the Addin. The series is best if read in order. If you're new to it and looking for a gripping read, try The Soul and the Seed.

Please don't be shy and drop a review of Code of the Outcast on Amazon. Reviews matter. They don't need to be long or convoluted, but they're a big part of what keeps your favorite authors writing. 

Here's the story

When a masked gunman barges into a university acoustic-dynamics class and abducts Maya Gardener, she knows she has to fight for her life. But her supposed rescuers may want her dead, and the kidnapper insists that the world as Maya knows it is a lie.

It’s present-day America and society is as dysfunctional as always. Democracy and even the “freedom to shop” is a sham. A powerful elite wields clandestine control over human will to maintain hegemony in every aspect of modern life. 

It’s been that way for a thousand years, but today there are finally a handful of people who might possess the power to resist and to shield others… if they only knew how. Maya isn’t a fighter by nature, but the random chance of genetics chose her and now she’ll have to learn to help herself and others. 

She was always an outsider—trapped in the borderlands between races, cultures and families. Now she’s hunted through the biting cold of a Wisconsin winter, and the only thing that holds her body and soul together is her love for Kai Linden, the fierce-eyed musician and comp-sci major who claims there is one place she truly belongs.  Read more.

What's in a word? "Outcast"

"You must think the whole world is against you. Why else would you write about an outcast?" 

That was one interesting reaction to the upcoming publication of the fourth book in The Kyrennei Series, entitled Code of the Outcast.  (I'm beginning to like criticism. It provides good blog fodder.)

Obviously the word "outcast" stirs up some intense emotions. I'm well aware of it. For some, that word has more gut-punch power than the worst curse words. It isn't a word we say or hear very often, but it's between the lines a lot. 

I wrote about the issue of a community shunning a person, making him an outcast, because I believe that it's the duty of writers and artists to open up the dark corners of society and the mind.

Whatever is too painful to touch directly, we must touch and try to heal with stories. For centuries that has been our role. Where the healing of doctors cannot go, where the words of public figures dare not go, artists and writers should go. 

And no, the world isn't "against me." The world is very troubled and mostly doesn't know I exist. And that is quite difficult enough for anyone to cope with. 

Code of the Outcast is the fourth book in a series. Even though this book starts with new characters, you will probably still enjoy it more if you start from The Soul and the Seed (Book 1). For those who know the series, this book is a bit of an answer to a lot of reader questions, wondering about what happens to those who don't have the protection of the legendary fighters of J. Company.

The answer isn't always pretty. And yet there is something of great value here. 

Code of the Outcast begins with a person facing the realization that he and only he can make a difference, save a life... change the world. Yet in order to do it he must commit violence and take the consequences. 

We float through so much of our life in numbness because most of the time there is very little we can do to change the terrible things that happen in the world. We hear about them at a distance and we can only write letters to politicians and protest. We can't really change it. 

But there are moments when you can.

Such a moment will usually not come when you expect it or come at a convenient time. But there are moments when one person can make a great difference. Code of the Outcast is essentially the story of one of those moments and the two people it uprooted and turned into outcasts.

You don't get to change the world without sacrifice and in this case the sacrifice is just that - to be shunned and lose home and family forever. Could you make such a choice, if it would save the life of a person you cared about? 

Is this a worthy topic for a novel? Comment using the icon on the lower left. And please share this post with your friends using the icon on the lower right. :)

Time to order Book 4 of The Kyrennei Series

Code of the Outcast is now available for preorder as a Kindle ebook. Until July 1 it will be on sale for 99 cents. Then the price will gradually go up until it's $3.99 like the other books on publication day (JUly 7). It's both cheaper and a boost to the series if you preorder now and have the book delivered to your Kindle on July 7. 

If you haven't read The Soul and the Seed (Book 1 of The Kyrennei Series), it's recommended that you start there.

The paperback book and other ebook formats will be up soon. 

If you need a read-for-review or pre-release copy either in the Kindle format or another ebook format,  send me an email. 

Free books!

If you think you might like my books or have read one of them but not the rest, here's your chance to get a free book. Join my hearth-side email circle, where readers get an occasional email with links to my blog posts plus a sort of virtual cup of tea. And you get a free ebook. Here's how:

  1. Subscribe to my hearth-side email circle here
  2. Then look at The Soul and the Seed (or check the Books by the Fire tab to find the next book in the series if you've already read that one.) 
  3.  Next go to my contact page and send me a message. Include your email address, your preferred ebook format (Mobi, Epub or PDF) and which book you would like. Presto! You'll have it in your inbox soon.