Shunt follows a woman who receives an implant to remove her grief, but when things get unreal she tries to track down her Pain Surrogate and unlocks a conspiracy. What was the inspiration for the setup to your story?
The first criteria I usually have for starting a novel is that I’ve never read anything like this before. The idea that two people, cut from different social cloths, could become each other’s mental-health support, in the physical sense, was interesting and satirical to me. It also made for very entertaining reading (and writing) as emotional context would “bleed” into different character perspectives. I also wanted to write a near-future cyberpunk with loads of action and intrigue, so I wove those concepts together and let that evolve into what we have here.
Jade is an intriguing and well developed character. What were some driving ideals behind your character’s development?
Thanks, I’ve soul searched a great deal to bring her out right (despite the emotional handicap implied by the brain implant and my own biases). In the case of Jade, I needed a character that felt the loss of something entirely unendurable and, to me, one of the most horrible things I could think of would be to lose someone of close kin that I love deeply. Like many among us through her efforts she simply wishes to return to a normal life.
What were some themes that were important for you to explore in this book?
Perhaps “personal responsibility” or that I see that we are losing the precious adversity that hones us to become better people. In the medical sense, it is much easier for a doctor to prescribe, e.g. benzodiazepines, than to arduously tease out the factors (both environment and neurological) that contribute to that person’s malaise. If your boss is the cause of your despair, find a new boss, same for a partner that puts you down, et cetera. There are people who do indeed require medical intervention, and as a published biomedical scientist I can attest to that. But our society is overmedicated, overstimulated, (for some overprivileged), and overpampered; it is overrun by spoilt brats. Wouldn’t it preferable for us to eat healthy and exercise than to try to fight the consequences of our vices when we are 65 (if we even get there). Our brains work the same way, we each have to tend to our gardens. This story is about getting what we want too easily and the consequences that that entails to ourselves and the world around us.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
As I wish to go through traditional publishers, I would say about when Saturn, Mercury, and Jupiter align during a solar eclipse, in both hemispheres. Perhaps sometime before the next millennia, if I am lucky. I have three other novels that are ready for submission, but I suffer from a full-time career that occludes most of my post-writing efforts such as contacting agents and randomly firing novels to the wrong publishers. All faults to that effect are entirely my own. I won’t stop writing though, that is a guarantee. So my work eventually will become, I hope, just too darn good to ignore.
But that said, I’ve recently finished a large piece about an alien structure hiding in our solar system and the human shenanigan that ensue because of it. I was quite pleased with it after the second rewrite and it is in the hands of a few test readers at the moment. It’s almost ready to start collecting rejection letters.
Deadly Invisible Enemies (Hunt for Evil) by Harold Lea Brown is the second book in the series. We continue to follow Kevin Albright who continues to fight a war against cybercrimes which led to the murder of his wife and son on their tenth wedding anniversary. He is now more than ever determined to catch his wife’s killers and while at it take down Big D who is hell-bent on killing him. His anger, guilt, and determination together with his intelligence are what give him an advantage over his enemies. The comparison he constantly makes between his late wife and co-worker is what helps him numb some of the pain of his loss and a bond between them grows.
Harold Lea Brown continues to show his unbeatable storytelling prowess as he smoothly connects the cliffhanger of book one with book two, clearing the suspense of Kevin’s death which had been faked by Kevin himself. Hunt for Evil has a fast pace compared to the first book with a quick succession of events within the plot. The mystery in this book is not any less than it is in the first book. Grief has been widely portrayed in the book as Kevin still hasn’t forgiven himself for what happened to his young family. He is filled with pain and rage and the same time. I love how Harold gets into Kevin’s mind making the reader feel connected to the character’s emotions and dilemma. Widely used dialogue within the book helps readers feel connected and involved in the story. The whole book is filled with mystery and sudden turn of events that keep the reader wanting more.
Hunt for Evil is a fast-paced turn cyberpunk thriller that possesses good character development and takes the reader through a rollercoaster of emotions. This is a suspenseful continuation of Harold Lea Brown’s Deadly Invisible Enemies technothriller series.
Pages: 212 | ASIN: B00P9RVEIG
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grydscaen: dark follows a hacker who’s caught up in a stock market hack that causes mayhem throughout the city. What was the inspiration for the setup to your story?
The inspiration for the grydscaen: dark story was what I was seeing in the present day, actions like the rise and fall of bitcoin, the increase in attacks from Russian troll farms, the China Russia and Iran state actors, vulnerabilities in the arcane Internet laws, the privacy debate and Net Neutrality and the threat of ISPs (Internet Service Providers) throttling or charging for access to online content and “controlling access” to streaming data and information that should be free and the possible discrimination that could cause on marginalized communities.
Hacker activities like the rise in ransomware and malware attacks, as well as phishing and social engineering attacking vulnerable seniors and every day people were front of mind while writing. Also safe schools, and safe spaces online and the monumental rise in cyber bullying online and even teen suicide related to online behaviors.
My passion for writing is to expose the influence and affects of ever changing innovations in technology on its impact on society that drove me to write grydscaen: dark and all the the grydscaen books. As a cybersecurity analyst, software engineer, I found that most people don’t understand the vulnerabilities and risks of putting too much information online and on social media – and those actions can actually be dangerous. Like all the grydscaen books, I wanted to educate readers by providing a compelling fictional world with living characters they could emphasize with exploring these technological truths, promoting the importance of science but also giving insight into the world of hackers and both the power, the good and the harm that hackers and technology can have on society.
Rom is an intriguing character that was very detailed. What were some driving ideals behind your character’s development?
Thanks for the question. Rom was the very first grydscaen character created in the ninth grade, if I have it right, I was doodling in my notebook in Creative Writing class and flushed out his original design instead of paying attention in class.
My parents were programmers developing sophisticated weather and radar systems for the military and the government. Growing up, they were always telling me stories about the software they were developing at the dinner table which was always fascinating. The first comic book pages I drew of Rom in high school were of him in his signature yellow trench coat (he is on the cover of grydscaen: dark) and a homeless teenager who had his memory wiped living on the streets. In the very first comic book page he is seen actually holding a mainframe data punch card to his lips which allows him to read the data on the card. That was my young brain putting into the original comic book pages which became the backstory for grydscaen, the Echelons, the Packrat hacker clan, and Rom himself all my imagination running wild from one of my parent’s dinnertime programmer stories.
The driving ideals behind Rom was to explore the plight of homeless teens with Rom as an oppressed youth shunned by society with no name and no identity after the government captured him and wiped his memory exploring government overreach and how their actions found him throw out on the streets after experimenting on him with no idea who he was or where he came from, therefore exploring, identity, freedom, influence and human fragility.
What were some themes that were important for you to explore in this book?
I wanted to explore intersectionality, identity, class. Of Rom coming from privilege and then losing everything ending up living on the streets in the Echelons slums. I wanted to show how drastic his life could change in an instant, and how that stripping him of one life gave him another that ended up, with all its discrimination, andto be a new life with more meaning. In addition I wanted to show the affects of technology and the supremacy of data and science, the way hackers view society versus how society views them. How data and technology can be used for good or can be turned into a hostile weapon; all ubiquitous shades of grey. I felt readders could empathize and sympathize with Rom as a characterand also at the same time explore the dark and gritty techno-universe of hackers, while seeing Rom grow coming to terms with his circumstances. I wanted to provide an immersive world that hopefully readers could use to look at their own lives, take inventory on how technology affects them, and possiblt re-evaluate their online footprint.
I also wanted to show the vulnerability of today’s systems and the Internet, and mobile apps. People don’t know what putting information out on social media can potentially expose them to harm. I hoped through grydscaen: dark and a fictional story to entertain while at the same time educate. To open a dialogue where people could review and think about their online safety and maybe influence and help support readers to form a more robust online posture to protect themselves and their kids from cyberbullying, identity theft, malware/ransomware and social engineering attacks on the rise from hackers.
In addition I wanted the readers to decide. Are hackers good, bad, neutral? is the world black and white? Or it is really all just multiple shades of grey? Whose side are you on? I wanted to show the power of technology, and even the “religion of data.” To give readers who may not be aware what is going on all around them, a quick glimpse of how hackers see and move in the world. To open a doorway into an “unknown quantity,” and let readers or the lay person, as hackers are often misunderstood or misrepresented, see that the world indeed looks different from the other side.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
I have a few books in the works in the cyberpunk grydscaen series. Below are a few of the upcoming grydscaen releases and plans, with additional not listed here.
- grydscaen: idol – release planned Spring 2021 (YA Coming of Age, SF)
- grydscaen: revolution – planned Summer 2021 (YA SF, Technothriller)
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Grydscaen: Dark by Natasuya Uesugi reads almost like a confession of part of the author’s life. Especially the detailed bits of being a hacker. Not only does this reinforce the strength in the storytelling, but it also allows readers to feel more connected with the believability of certain events. The main character, Rom, has been bouncing around Natasuya’s head since ninth grade. This is evident in the detailed character development in this story as the authors passion for these characters gives readers a character that is fully realized.
There is a lot of information to take in at the beginning of the book that might turn readers off, but the information is necessary to understand the intricate world we are placed into. A world that reminded me of William Gibson’s Neuromancer. Foremost is the rise of the coding underworld and how coding somehow became a new religion.
The writing is smooth and filled with plenty of action and conversation to keep it moving at a good pace. The main characters are fleshed out enough to make the reader empathize with them as they go through various unique and riveting situations throughout this technothriller. Rom’s backstory is especially interesting as he struggles with who he is now and who he used to be before having his memory wiped clean.
Grydscaen: Dark is a compelling cyberpunk fantasy reminiscent of the old film noir movies, but with a heavy tech and dark future elements of Total Recall or Blade Runner. The novel is relatively short, and with a world this deep and quick storytelling I really wanted there to be more room for the story. I guess that means that there are plenty more Rom adventures to come. Science fiction fans looking for an gritty hacker story with a unique and authentic protagonist will find plenty to enjoy in Natsuya Uesugi’s book.
Pages: 233 | ASIN: B08TPSVRR3
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Zero-Day Rising follows a team of hackers as they try to stop an evil corporation’s mind control plans while evading authorities. What were some sources that informed this novels development?
I wrote the trilogy mostly because I’m a big cyberpunk fan and wanted to write a near-future cyberpunk story. It also explores what happens when media become 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.
For example, the overturning of net neutrality in the U.S., headed by a former Verizon lawyer, opens the door to big Internet service providers intentionally favoring websites and content that they own, or pay them a premium, over others. This would essentially end free speech and competition on the Internet. Then there’s the consolidation of news, books, and other media under fewer and fewer mega-companies, which leads to the layoff of journalists and the closing of newspapers. Where I live, the Tribune Company in Chicago bought the Baltimore Sun, the Capital-Gazette, and several other Maryland papers, and laid off staff to cut costs. In the case of the Capital (founded in 1884), the Tribune is closing it entirely, leaving Annapolis without a local paper. Even music is falling under monopoly control. Live Nation, iHeartRadio, SIRIUSXM, Ticketmaster, and Pandora are now all under the control of one man, a right-wing billionaire named John Malone.
Sleep State Interrupt, The Wrath of Leviathan, and Zero-Day Rising examine a plausible outcome of these trends—a single company controlling nearly all information, and using that to control society. In the books, semi-ordinary people take to the Net and take to the streets to fight this ultimate peril to democracy.
I always do a lot of research for my books, to make them as realistic as possible. For the brain-control interfaces, I read papers about the state of the science, and extrapolated to the near future, assuming development by people lacking any ethics. (And since I wrote the book, Elon Musk started experimenting on pig brains—humans will be next!) I received technical feedback from cybersecurity and Internet experts to ensure that the hacking scenes were realistic. I received feedback on criminal and corporate law from practicing attorneys and friends in the business world, and by reading legal code, case transcripts, bylaws, and other not-terribly-exciting documents. Many other details in the book came from my own experiences in the Washington DC area.
Kiyoko and Waylee were strong protagonists that felt authentic. What were some obstacles you felt were important to their character development?
The trilogy has two main characters, Waylee and Kiyoko, who are half-sisters. Waylee is an intense woman in her late 20’s who works as a journalist until her nemesis, MediaCorp, buys the paper’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. Her depressive state can be extremely debilitating, though.
The other main character is Waylee’s much younger and hypersensitive half-sister, Kiyoko. At first, she rejects reality and her traumatic childhood by living in a fantasy world both inside and outside virtual reality. But confronting crises in the real world, she gradually transforms into a strong leader, and will not accept defeat as an option.
There are also a number of other major characters and a slew of minor characters. All the characters change significantly between the start and end of the trilogy, and have both positive and negative arcs depending on the book. The overall arcs for the protagonists are positive, though. The trials and self-reflection they go through change them and empower them to confront their enemies.
I’m a big fan of the hero’s journey, and even more so, 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 the person next door thrust into a situation way above their head, and seeing how they cope. The main characters change throughout the trilogy, and have to overcome their flaws and increase their skills in order to defeat their enemies.
Most people are too afraid, self-centered, or apathetic 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.
What were some challenges you set for yourself as a writer with this novel?
Above all, a good story shouldn’t bore the reader. The story should make sense, have high stakes, and have main characters that jump off the page–either sympathetic, unpredictable, passionate, gutsy, resourceful, complex, noble, or all of the above. Finally, a story should be immersive. The reader should feel like they’re in the setting and one with the character.
The biggest challenge of a series is that each book has to top the one before it. And a limited series like a trilogy needs intertwined plot and character arcs not only within each book, but spanning the whole series. This takes a lot of planning and thought! Further, Zero-Day Rising is the series finale, so the ending had to be better than a “good” ending. It had to resolve the conflicts of the entire series, in a way that personally pitched the protagonists against the antagonists. I always agonize over the ending of any book, so I especially agonized over this one.
You’ve completed the BetterWorld Trilogy. What’s next?
I’ve completed an alternate history novel called Born in Salt, and hope to have it published sometime this year. The premise is, fifty years after a coup replaced President 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 brother is killed in combat—a story more suspicious than factual—he 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 ruthless Internal Security Service. Ben is given a choice: betray the rebels, including his best friend from childhood, or Rachel will be lobotomized. Unwilling to doom anyone he cares about, and seeking justice for his brother, Ben decides on a third option: to frame corrupt officials to trade for Rachel, and in the process, turn the dictatorship’s factions against each other. But he must dodge the suspicions of police and rebels alike. And when Internal Security sends agents to verify his stories, all may be lost.
I’ve also completed the first draft of The Council, a satire of local government. A newly elected councilman tries to save the last stand of forest in the county against greedy developers and a dysfunctional government. I’m still in editing mode, so it probably won’t be out until 2022.
And I’m working on a post-apocalyptic horror novella and several other projects. I expect the novella will also come out in 2022, although finding publishers for novellas is difficult.
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Zero Day Rising is the third book in author T.C. Weber’s BetterWorld series. It is a futuristic cyber thriller that tackles the issues of data privacy, an increasingly controlling government, and the role of digital giants in our daily lives; all issues that are relevant today. It tells the story of sisters Kiyoko and Waylee who are caught up in a fight against an insidious and ever-growing media conglomerate and a corrupt government.
Kiyoko and her team are an intriguing and likable bunch. It’s set up such that it’s basically them versus a pretty depressing world, but somehow it’s easy to have faith in their ability to pull through. I have recently become interested in cybersecurity and the role it plays in today’s world, so the hacking scenes were my favorite parts. I thought that the technology and jargon used in the book felt authentic, and I enjoyed reading about the psychological element that goes on behind the scenes.
Some of the explanations of the devices, like the ‘polyflex neal interface’ or the multiple mentions of the ‘peer-to-peer network’, were a bit on the technical side but were so interesting, and placed in context, that they’re easy to roll with. Overall, there’s a great balance the author achieves by making the action convincing yet immensely readable.
I particularly enjoyed the relevance of the plot in today’s world. The idea of the media in cahoots with the government, working to control people via information, no longer seems like a science fiction story. I can easily think of many global political scandals that involved the unfair use of data by social media giants and other media networks. It is interesting that this has started reflecting in fiction novels as well, as it makes reading T.C. Weber’s novel an engaging yet scary experience. Either way, I appreciated the way the author managed to create what could easily be an “alternate-universe” version of our planet. Even more, I loved the fact that the protagonist was a girl who was equipped with technical skills that rivaled most hackers’.
Overall, Zero Day Rising is a gritty technothriller that i would recommend to anyone who is interested in examining the dangerous ways information can be used against humanity. Or even for anyone just looking for a thrilling cyber-adventure.
Pages: 353 | ASIN: B08PZBCZMT
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Dead Earth Dreaming details a dystopian future rife with classism that tests the human spirit. What was the inspiration for the setup to this thrilling story?
As a teenager involved in the punk scene in the 80s, watching the public assets of Australia being privatised and sold off by the government to create a surplus despite the long term ramifications was outrageous, and we as citizens were powerless to do anything about it. By the 90s international globalism was on the rise along with entertainment technology to distract the masses, and before you knew it the general public was missing the bigger picture of the corruption that was going on around them. Ignorance is bliss, but standing outside of the box at that time made it obvious what was happening to the world.
I started writing Dead Earth Dreaming from page 1 without a plan, no step-sheet, and no idea where it would head. I still write like that because to me it flows and goes where it wants, making it exciting to sit down and write instead of a chore. I couldn’t get DED traditionally published at the time, but with some of the recent events happening now like Covid, the prospect of Moon mining, and the satellite technology dependence that is now used every day, I felt I had to get it out there even if just a few people read it.
Kelly is an intriguing and well developed character. What were some driving ideals behind the characters development?
Kelly is an innocent, like a child still who has never had a chance to develop within himself. Everything in the outside world is new to him and yet he understands values and morals even though from an almost naive point of view.
His perspective is from an ancestral memory of his indigenous heritage that was introduced into his cloning by whatever means, and I guess it’s a reflection on the plight of the “Stolen Generation” of Australian Aboriginal people who were removed from their families for being “half-caste” never to see them again, as recently as the 1970s in this country. It’s a blight on this nation and an embarrassment for the Government still to this day. Some of those people are only now finding long lost family members.
But as well as the First Nation angle, Kelly earned his name from the great Australian Bushranger Ned Kelly who has a legendary status amongst Aussie battlers for being a Colonial anti-authoritarian figure. He fought his shootouts with the police wearing a steel armour suit fabricated by himself and his brothers, but ultimately died in a gunfight whence his last words were “Such is life”, now a common phrase used in Australia.
The other main character not so far mentioned is Junger, the Upside detective sent for his retrieval. Kelly and Junger are two sides of the same coin. Whereas Kelly has been incarcerated his whole life for thinking freely, Junger walked the line and lived as he should do, but felt discontent and resentment so he was never really free either. He did what he was told even if he felt it was wrong but was conditioned to never question authority, and so was constantly living with internal conflict.
The story explores many societal issues common today and taken to future extremes. What were some themes you wanted to focus on in this book?
I think the theme of Anarchism used in the story is in retrospect probably a bit naive considering human nature can be such a savage beast, but I wanted to stay centrist and criticise all of the above, not just one side of partisan politics. You could say every social movement evolves and mutates, but unfortunately the eyes of business and profit are always watching too. Without getting involved in specifics, when a social movement becomes too political you have to question why and who is actually funding the agenda, and if it involves violence of any sort then it has crossed the line into urban terrorism.
In Dead Earth Dreaming I imagined people actually caring about each other’s welfare at a personal level rather than a political level, and striving together to beat the odds stacked against them as a community.
But in the end, I really just had a hell of a lot of fun writing it and I hope it’s fun to read, because that’s what it’s about, entertainment and a chance to escape for a few hours into another world.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
I’ve completed a few stories over the years since this my first novel, but they were unfinished as novels and written into screenplay format as an effort to break into film. Although seemingly to my detriment, it did give me an improved perception on description by objective viewing rather than telling, but now I have the epic task of conversion into novel form.
Next book to work on is Alien~Gothic, in 2005 as a screenplay it was well received by several major LA agents but I was told it would be way too expensive to produce, especially for an unknown writer. It is a story that explores the origins of man, and the mythologies of early civilisations that seem to be linked by certain key factors of the Creators that came from the sky. It follows the story of an average man who finds a crystal skull grown in a single formation into the shape of an alien grey skull, and the Greys and Daemons that are trying to retrieve it from his possession.
Also in the back catalogue is Switch, a DID thriller; Cerise, a ghost horror; and The Runic Guide, a short guide to the use of the Futhark Runes which won the 2006 Writesafe Book of the Year with The Cloud Creek Institute For the Arts.
Finding the time to write while working a full time job heavy lifting at 53 is a challenge, as most of my time off is spent tinkering in the garage, drinking beer and napping.
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Dead Earth Dreaming by Rik Valuks is the story of our future if change does not occur soon! The story follows Kelly, aka C-22108/3, and the detective who’s hunting him down. Kelly is on the run after escaping a corrupt government’s rehabilitation center. Along the way, Kelly meets up with a couple of misfits and befriends an anarchist named Lug. Car obsessed Lug wants to fight government corruption and takes Kelly along for the ride with him. Can Kelly and Lug beat the odds stacked against them? Floating cities, classism, biohazardous-waste, gangs, and anarchy make for an enthralling dystopian tale!
Valuks wrote Dead Earth Dreaming back in 1999, but many of the plot points/devices throughout this novel are eerily similar to current affairs. What may have been surreal in the 90s, like a raging pandemic and climate change, has become real. Valkus is not afraid to tackle these topics and the conspiracies behind them. He does not sugar-coat his prose to comfort the reader; his writing makes you feel the urgency of these real-life issues.
My favorite part about this book was its discussion of classism. Valuks depicts this accurately with the use of segregation, law enforcement brutality, and lack of regard for the less fortunate by the elites. He is able to paint vivid and realistic portrayals of these issues with his descriptive writing.
The character development in this novel is fast paced but never-ending! Valuks covers a majority of Kelly’s backstory within the first chapter! Although, Valuks doesn’t stop there, he continues to flesh out his characters up until the very end of this book. His characters feel like real people, unlike most novels that have characters who resemble mere shells of a human. I must say that at times I felt that this book would benefit from a glossary. With such a complex plot, a glossary of character, city, and event names would have helped the story flow a bit more smoothly.
Valuks has a gift for detailed world-building. In every scene, he describes what the character is seeing down to the smallest of details. He also created a complex but realistic society with its own form of electricity and agriculture. These were nice and appreciated touches. Dead Earth Dreaming is a thrilling dystopian novel that is elevated by the cyberpunk themes it expertly uses to tell a riveting science fiction story.
Pages: 300 | ASIN: B08D3G9LP7
Tags: action, adventure, author, book, book review, bookblogger, cyberpunk, Dead Earth Dreaming, dystopia, dystopian, ebook, fantasy, fiction, goodreads, kindle, kobo, literature, nook, novel, read, reader, reading, Rik Valuks, science fiction, scifi, story, suspense, thriller, writer, writing