The Ripple Effect: Cosmos

The Ripple Effect is written by Jené Conrad as an homage to all the mediums that have affected not just the nerd part of her life, but all aspects.  Join her musings monthly.

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If you want to be inspired, watch The Cosmos hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson on Netflix; it will take your breath away. Now I know that it aired on TV early year, and a lot of people watched it, but I am convinced not enough of you did.  Cosmos is the updated version of Carl Sagan’s original program of the same name. This show is a beautiful articulation of our position in the universe. The special effects and cinematic magnitude illustrates the breathtaking extent of our existence. The 1980’s show inspired a generation, and this version picks up without missing a beat. Cosmos aims to inspire us to take action and be a voice in our collective story by understanding our place in it.

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The fandom on Tumblr has gone bananas over Neil deGrasse Tyson, famed astrophysicist, and shows the extent to which fans have responded to the scope of the show. In one popular moment on the show, deGrasse Tyson takes out one of Carl Sagan’s journals and shows an appointment with his name etched in it. Neil deGrasse Tyson goes on to talk about how Sagan took the time to talk to a kid from Brooklyn about the cosmos on a cold and snowy day. Sagan took the time to encourage this young burgeoning scientist to follow his dreams. This small moment reflects the theme of the cosmos; how insignificant and small we are, but how, in our smallness, we are significant in the vastness of our universe.


In a time when scientists propose we are in the throes of the sixth mass extinction, exploiting our natural resources to the extent of global collapse and climate change, Cosmos aims to speak to our collective humanity, our history of adaptation and the potential we have to orchestrate the course of our future. We are not doomed to blink out of existence; instead, we will be changed, but we will continue on as part of the universe.  In the immensity of this reality, there is a haunting battle cry that worms its way in the pit of our stomachs as we extend our consciousness outward. We are forced to look at ourselves on the planet’s surface and look up at the stars that reflect the potential we have to change our realities.

This was Carl Sagan’s original intention – to connect poetry to knowledge and art to science. As a prominent astrophysicist and science-fiction writer, he was always looking to the stars for the answers of humanities many unanswered questions. He constantly wondered if we are alone in the universe.  What is so striking about The Cosmos is, like Sagan and deGrasse Tyson, our history is a tapestry of the many scientists who came before them. They are part of the great link of intellectual skepticism. Scientists who constantly question the reality around them asking “What if?”, Cosmos articulates our collective humanity and how science is something that is built upon, idea after idea. It is a show about how science was birthed out of the spirit of rebellion.  Rebellion to question authority and the control of power.  The more we unlock the mysteries of science, the more alike we become. It was the spirit of rebellion that these scientific men and women of different races and class refused to be held back by their rules of society. It was their undying spirit and love of science to defy authority which has lead us to yet more discoveries.


Neil deGrasse Tyson asks “who will pick up the torch and take use on new undiscovered roads?” For the people watching, who will be the next inspired scientist? The next one to take us further into the mysteries that surround us? The next writer to inspire never thought of scientific breakthroughs and fight for the safety of our existence?

What if?  What if? What if? What if?

All images belong to Cosmos Productions, Fuzzy Door Productions, National Geographic Channel, and FOX. Photos can be credited to Seth Reed.


The Ripple Effect: The New Voices of YA…An interview with Writer Brian W. Parker on his novel Crow in the Hollow

It sounds crazy, but I read like I’m a heroin addict. Given the opportunity of free time, I devour mountains of books like it’s nothing. Because of this though, it has gotten harder to come across works of fiction that are original and don’t use the same old trite, and cliché storylines. I feel there is a rather frustrating disconnect with mainstream publishing companies who really hold the keys to which stories get out there. Searching for novels that breathe new life into Fantasy and Sci-Fi can be daunting as you hunt in the small corners and obscure outlets where writing with a different perspective await.

I follow a Tumblr called Medieval POC (People of Color). If you’re on Tumblr, I highly recommend you do it NOW. It’s a fantastic blog with its aim to share art and stories of Medieval People of Color which dismantles the idea that people of color didn’t exist in medieval Europe. They also have a Patreon if you want to help out and donate money.

Recently, they posted a fiction week and listed several Fantasy and Sci-Fi novels written by and/or about people of color. It was nice to have quick and easy access to a list of stories that weren’t the cookie cutter white experience.  As an educator, this Tumblr became an extremely helpful resource. Because of the Tumblr, I was able to start buying books I wanted to read that I could also recommended to my students. One particular novel that caught my eye was Crow in the Hollow by Brian W. Parker. The artwork was intriguing and I ordered the book a couple days later.

After reading the novel, I honestly felt more optimistic about the genre and its potential, but I also felt frustrated because it shouldn’t be this hard to find such diversity in the written word. This book should be as easy to find at Barnes and Nobles as The Hunger Games is. Crow in the Hollow was a different story, a story that I’ve always wanted to read. It’s complex and intriguing. The landscape is breathtaking, and the art has a way of drawing you further into the story. I haven’t been this excitedly pulled in by novel in,well, I don’t know how long. The internet being the awesome thing that it is, I was able to send an email to the writer and asked him if I could interview him.  I hope once you’ve read our interview, you go out and buy his work!


Could you give me a quick summary of Crow in the Hollow?

      Crow in the Hollow is about Suqata, the last of the Chinequewa people and he is gifted with the voice of magic. He was found wandering in the wilderness with no memory of his home and family.  Suqata is forced into slavery in the Kaelish Colonies. All the while, his power to “sing change into the world” grows inside him. When he’s taken to Orin’s Hollow to serve as the personal servant of Captain Graye, Suquata is forced to abandon his power in order to earn a place in the world of the outlanders. This soon changes with the arrival of the new governor and his mysterious daughter from across the sea. This sets actions into motion that will change the colonies. Ancient powers, otherworldly wolf packs, and forgotten gods all play at the strings of destiny. Suqata must find the power in his own voice to do the impossible.

On Kickstarter you said Crow in the Hollow was an idea that has been with you for 8 years in which you’ve continually worked and crafted this story. Can you tell me a little more about your creative process and your journey with getting this story from your mind to the public?

While I was working on my undergraduate degree in graphic design, I made an illustration for a class of a young man standing in the shadow of a massive crow. I don’t know exactly where the image was inspired from, but it stayed with me slowly taking form over time. Soon it became a story, with characters becoming more and more fleshed out as it revealed itself. I got to a point where I realized that I was going to have to make the story come to life in some form – a book, graphic novel, or maybe even a film. Somehow, Crow in the Hollow would have to be shared with others. For years I wrote and re-wrote it, illustrating scenes and constantly sketching the characters, but I was always unsure of my ability to do justice to what was in my mind. It wasn’t until I gave up the fear of getting things wrong that I was able to really sit down and create the final book.

What has it been like working with Inkwater Publishing? Looking at their website, they seem like a good company to work with if people want to get their work published.

They’re great! Inkwater Publishing has been very supportive of my work. They have a great backlist of titles, and work with very talented authors and illustrators, and employ a top notch group of publishing professionals. If you get a chance to see the final design of my physical book, you’ll see it was beautifully handled, and I love that attention to detail. I’m really hoping to work with them on my next project, The Wondrous Science.

Your art is breathtaking and I was wondering if you could speak about yourself as a visual artist and how this informs your narrative? I feel it adds a depth to your story.

When I was a kid, I really wanted to tell stories but found that I had a hard time finishing the ones that I would write. It was also really hard to get my busy parents to sit down long enough to read anything that I wrote. Luckily, both of my older brothers were pretty good at drawing and they taught me everything they knew. With art I was able to tell a story with imagery and get across my ideas much easier. By time I was in junior high, I was hooked. There is something very satisfying about envisioning a scene and to bring it to life in my sketch pad with pencil or pen & ink. Eventually I decided to go into a career as a graphic artist, but deep in my heart I have always been a storyteller.

Why do you write? And what keeps you writing?

Stories have always been a big part of who I am. My mother is a self-taught reader, and has always instilled in me a love of the written word. I admit it’s kind of geeky, but even as a small child, I loved to go to old bookstores. There was something about the smell, and that comforting feeling of the heavy laden shelving surrounding me that made me feel at home. Holding a book in your hand is the same as holding an idea made tangible. That is incredible to me, and authors always seemed more like magicians. No matter what turn I’ve made in my life and career, that love of stories and books has always driven me, and I feel that becoming a writer was just inevitable. As long as the stories keep coming to me, I know they will have to find their way out.

How much research was involved when you wrote Crow in the Hollow?

I think I did a lot of research as I was writing the book, but probably not as efficiently as I could have. When you’re writing fantasy there is a great deal of wiggle room when it comes to details, but since the world I created is very closely related to colonial America, I knew I needed the grounding of history to make the story believable. I read a lot about the French-Indian War and the politics of the early colonies. My favorite part of the research process, however, was studying the different native tribes of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. Although the tribes in the Crow in the Hollow are kind of an amalgamation of many different native cultures from America, Africa, and Australia, their ground work is found in the Tlingit and Haida tribes of Northern Washington.

What draws you to Young Adult? And what is your hope with writing Crow in the Hollow?

Some of the most influential books I’ve ever read are considered YA, so I can’t think of a better playground for my characters. There is something about reading a story about a young protagonist that touches on something core to the human experience. There is the turmoil of facing a world that feels too big to handle, and all of the self-doubt and questioning that comes with it. Against incredible odds, heroes must grow and face their fears, and by doing so teach the reader that they can do so as well. That is the beauty of fiction – it teaches through story. The adventures Bilbo Baggins, Sparrowhawk the Wizard, and Sabriel taught me what it meant to be hero in my own life, just as much as reading about real life heroes.

Which writers inspire and inform your work?

Of course I have to give a nod to Tolkien. He was my favorite author growing up, but since then he has been joined by the likes of Ursula K. LeGuin, Garth Nix, and Neil Gaiman. I love imaginative fiction – the kind of stories that truly transport you another place and time where the rules of reality and magic are never what you expect. However, you have to read a diverse selection of authors, so I’ll include Agatha Christie, Dan Brown, and the incredible Rainbow Rowell (I loved Eleanor & Park.)

As for Crow in the Hollow, what sparked your inspiration to have your magic based in word weaving and singing. There is a strong connection to music/words and the power it has with your characters. I am also curious with the language you used. Does it belong to a particular tribe of people?

The idea of magic and change coming from the power of words is really just a nod to true and lasting power of words in our everyday life. I think that we take this for granted in our modern age, but some of the biggest changes in our shared human history have come through new ways of capturing the spoken word. From the invention of writing, to Gutenberg’s printing press, all the way to the creation of the first computers – these innovations are just ways of cataloging and capturing our thoughts, dreams and aspirations. That is kind of amazing if you think about it!

I was raised in a very spiritual home, and read Bible stories from a very young age. Genesis was always my favorite book in the Bible, especially how it begins. There is something about the idea that in the beginning there was nothing, until a still, solitary voice rung out through the void and said, “Let there be light!” Words are ideas made manifest, and with them you can change the world.

As for the language I use in the book, it’s actually a combination of syllabic sounds from the Tlingit and Haida languages. I wish I knew someone who could make full languages! I would definitely love to further explore the language of the Chinequewa.

The parallel to U.S History is pretty clear. As a reader I appreciated the other side of history and this reclaiming of a voice. What is your inspiration from history and what is your hope bringing this past voices to the present?

I guess my inspiration would have to be my own ancestry. My family comes from Mississippi, and were slaves there for centuries, but I also have Choctaw in my family tree. Both Africans and Native-Americans suffered great injustices in American history, and both are tribal cultures. However, through circumstances and events, the Native American cultures were able to hold onto some sense of who they were and where they came from. Over time, slaves began to disconnect themselves from their tribal roots, and in a way, African Americans are still trying to reconnect with their sense of history and identity.

While writing Crow in the Hollow, I wanted to paint a picture of a world similar to our own that was facing some of the same turmoil that our country faced in its infancy. By making that parallel, I was able to talk about the effects of slavery on tribal people, and in a small way express some of my own personal feelings about reconnecting with my heritage. Suqata tries so hard to be accepted in the world that he is raised in, almost to the point that he abandons his own history. The story is about not only his hero’s quest, but also about reclaiming his sense of self.

I thought it was interesting that The Umbar and the Chinequewa are of the same people but separated by water. It seems like  it opens a lot for sequels to follow. Will we get to know more about them in books to follow and will we get to see more of Suqata and the Crow?

Oh most definitely! I’ve always imagined the story unfolding over the course of years, exploring the changes that will happen in the Kaelish Colonies, and eventually the war that erupts. Without giving too much away, the connection between the Umbar and Chinequewa will be further explored, as well as the connection with Knights of Ascalion.

Also, I am curious about your draw to the symbol of the crow. I’ve also had a liking to the crow and it is not often used in literature. Is he your favorite trickster archetype?

The crow is most certainly my favorite Trickster archetype. I love that fact that tricksters in Native American stories, though trouble-makers, are usually benevolent and work to help humanity. I wanted to keep that tradition alive with Cora-Vaco.

How can readers discover more about you and your work?






The Ripple Effect: The Giver

By now, I’m sure everyone knows that the young-adult dystopian novel, The Giver by Lois Lowry, is on the big screen this weekend. Based on the preview, I already have grouchy preconceived notions about the beloved novel turned film. Regardless, it still prompted a trip down memory lane for me. With the slue of dystopian novels becoming movies, I’m not surprised The Giver is being adapted into a film. The interesting thing, however, is that it was The Giver that allowed the young adult dystopian genre to flourish today. The novel was originally published in 1993 and soon took root in Young Adult readers.The Giver has been a staple in middle school language arts classrooms for years. Many critics at the time of its publishing argued it wouldn’t hold up to the passage of time. Yet, 21 years later, The Giver still has the impact and literary weight it did when it first came out.

The Giver was a maverick of its time, and was published at the beginning of what I think has now become the golden age of Young Adult literature. This novel portrayed the futuristic lives of teenagers in a dystopian world and asked kids to question the present world around them. It’s a book of questions. What happens to a people who are cut away from their emotions and their bodies? What happens when you disconnect an entire people from their history? What happens when you have access to knowledge? Who does it belong to? Who has power? These are all questions that teenagers explore when reading the novel. For many, it was the first time they started to empathize with the realities outside of themselves, and explore how their inner worlds worked into the larger context of society.

One aspect of the novel that struck me when I was a young adult was use of emotions, in particular, pain. Who are we without our pain?  For a teenager, this is a novel concept.  Adolescents are in the throes of trying to figure out their autonomy as they question the authority around them. They have a keen sense of pain and passion and, because of this, The Giver validates the teenage experience.

As an adult, I have had the pleasure of teaching The Giver in the classroom. I’ve watched as students worked their way through The Giver, and come to conclusions, outrage and debate as they journeyed through the book. I watched as they connected to Jonas. I could feel their turmoil as they connected their history class, current events, and their own narratives together and find new connections they hadn’t thought of before. It is inspiring for me because I could see the direct relationship a book had on the expansion of someone’s world. Many students were hungry for more books after they had finished. They wanted to read books like 1984, Brave New World, and Parable of the Sower. Some students of mine who are now in college write science fiction. Granted, I can’t speak to whether or not this inspired them to do change the world, but I can see the hint of a spark still lingering in their eyes. What sort of stories are they now creating?

Without The Giver, there would be no Hunger Games, no Divergent, and no Feed. That’s the lovely thing about stories – they don’t exist in temporal vacuums. They are a tapestry, a community, a communication of our hopes, dreams, and possibilities. Sometimes these novels are like a call and response. Lowry sent out a call with The Giver and the narratives that came after were a response, which then sent more calls out to be answered. We can never stop examining our lives and the world around us, and books like The GIver  keeps the conversation going.

I am curious, readers of Hush; what is your relationship to dystopian literature? Did The Giver impact you in any way? Are you excited about the movie? What other novels have impacted your lives?  Leave your thoughts below.

The Ripple Effect: How Science Fiction and Fantasy Changes Us

It is no lie that I’m a die-hard Trekkie, and after years of watching Trek over and over, I am still surprised to see how deeply the show impacted my life. Star Trek is what allowed me to empathize with the world around me. I was able to see future possibilities – a world where humanity could coexist in a space where our differences were honored. Star Trek became the mechanism through which I found my analogies to relate to my reality. But Star Trek isn’t the only show that has informed my values, ethics and questioning of everything around me; it is the realm of Science-Fiction and Fantasy which has informed my life in general. It has created a computer-like simulation in which I can see the possibilities of what can be and how to change what is.

This is what interests me as a writer of Science-Fiction and Fantasy. These mediums explore the potential for new realities. They also examine and aim to help us understand how we interact and exist in the now. As someone who not only consumes this genre, but writes it, it has forced me to imagine what futures I want to create. It helps me examine myself. It’s like writing a poem. Out of confusion and frustration and anger and hope, I write.  I write to figure out the world around me. At times it brings a deeper understanding of myself and others, yet it can bring up more questions. Without the Sci-Fi and Fantasy creators before me, I wouldn’t be the writer I am now. I stand on the backs of the visionaries of the past and as I look forward I see a whole new generation of visionaries paving new avenues I never thought possible. It excites me to the core. It is this excitement that many in the nerd world are feeling as they continue to push the envelope on “What if?”

I think Science-Fiction and Fantasy is entering a Golden Age.  It’s full of a potential I haven’t experienced since the first time I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation. I am discovering writers, movies, and comic books I never knew existed. And instead of filling me with a sense of dread for humanity, it leaves me optimistic that humanity won’t crumble into an oblivion. Unrepresented narratives are finally coming out of the woodwork, demanding to be heard and seen. I’m in a constant state of awe at what is being generated. It’s given me a new language, new ways to communicate, empathize and understand our Earth. It leaves me with too many words forcing their way out of my fingertips. What new realities are being created that are informing a new generation of beings, beings that inspire me to create and continue to examine humanity?

Therein lies the thought behind this weekly article, “Ripple Effect.”  In this article, I want to explore what Science-Fiction and Fantasy is teaching us and how it explores our humanity today. But, moreover, how is Sci-Fi and Fantasy inspiring us to consider new realities? How is it really impacting people who participate in these realms?   We have so many questions, and so little time to explore the words that fill up our universes, words that send ripples out into the cosmos of our endless human potential.


Join me every other week to read a new “Ripple Effect!”