The year is 2019. The Watchers maintain a state of constant surveillance: guns are outlawed, media is censored, and unmanned drones patrol the skies.Derrion Parsing is a high school senior and the son of an ex-Army Ranger. Unlike his classmates, he has access to information from the time before the Invisible War, when the government shut down the Internet, reformatting into a propaganda tool. When Derrion attempts to use this information as part of a school project, he awakens to his worst nightmare.
K. M. Douglas grew up in Northeast Ohio and studied creative writing at The Ohio State University. He lives in Rainier, Washington with his wife, cat and two dogs. In the Place Where There is No Darkness is his first novel.
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Conspiracy Theories and the Social Subconscious
by K. M. Douglas
I recently spoke to an AP Government class at Mentor High School in Mentor, Ohio, the setting for my novel, In the Place Where There is No Darkness. We discussed a wide range of issues that are found throughout the novel, including war and the lasting effects of war on its veterans and their families, one of the main themes of the book.
One of the questions that I asked the class towards the end of the discussion was what they thought of when they heard the words: 9/11. It was fascinating to listen to what they had to say. The most important thing that I took from their responses was not the social and political ideas that they were brought up with, but the fact that they did not have an emotional attachment to the events of 9/11. They were not old enough to remember that day, so they only knew what they were told in school and by their parents.
Later in this same discussion, I asked the students what they thought of ‘conspiracy theories.’ They laughed. Probably something they don’t hear in school too often. When I asked them to give some examples of conspiracy theories, immediately a number of students said: JFK. In that moment I realized something. The assassination of JFK was my first introduction to the concept of a conspiracy theory, a concept that has held my interest ever since. In that moment, though, in that classroom, was the first time that I realized how important time and emotion was in the evolution of a conspiracy theory.
I was able to look at the assassination of JFK with an open mind, reading various ideas that were considered conspiracy theories without judging them. I did not feel threatened by these ideas, because I did not have any pre-conceptions. I see now that this was easy for me because I did not have an emotional connection to the killing of JFK, just as these students did not have an emotional connection to 9/11.
When writing In the Place Where There is No Darkness, I decided that I wanted to tell the story of a struggling military family in a unique and challenging way. I thought it was important to take on some of the most taboo subjects in modern American culture: pharmaceutical use in children, veteran suicide, school shootings, government surveillance and mind control. I needed something else, though, to alienate my protagonist even more. I needed a conspiracy theory for him to explore. My first instinct was 9/11, because really, at this point in modern American history, 9/11 is the most significant event that the country as a whole has experienced. The idea was for this book to be full of challenging and controversial issues, to deepen the divide between the characters and the world around them. I wanted them to feel alone, and I wanted the reader to experience this loneliness with them.
Throughout the editing process I questioned the decision to use 9/11 over and over, considering using a fictional event instead that could represent an event such as 9/11. I was afraid that I might not only alienate my protagonist, but my readers as well. I did not want readers to reject the book because they were offended by some of the ideas that appeared within the story, especially one, like 9/11, that has ingrained itself so deeply in the social subconscious. In the end, I decided to keep 9/11 in the book.
The initial feedback that I have received from readers has shown me that they are willing and able to navigate these challenging ideas and take the journey that the novel has offered them, without being judgmental about the issues raised by the characters in the story. I will say that I tried as best I could to remain neutral in all the issues that I brought up in the book, to have them be the issues of the characters, not the author. I feel that I accomplished this goal. By using contentious issues in the book, I feel that I was able to raise the level of intensity that the characters experienced when confronting not only other characters, but life in general.
I think that if this book came out in 2003, the reaction would have been much different regarding the use of 9/11, but after a decade, the social-emotional trauma of 9/11 has had the opportunity to heal, though it is has not yet healed completely. This book is not an attempt to pick at the scab of the social-emotional trauma of 9/11, it is an attempt to play a part in another kind of healing―the healing of soldiers and their families who experienced the trauma of the wars that followed 9/11.
Author’s Note: A portion of the profits from each sale of the book, In the Place Where There is No Darkness, will be donated to the Fisher House Foundation, a non-profit organization that donates homes for family members of injured veterans to stay in so that they can be with their wounded soldier at their time of greatest need. It is important to me to let our members of the military know that they are supported even after they come home, especially after they come home, because for some of them, that is when the real war begins.
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