Bryan is one of those people I’ve often seen swoop past in the ‘sphere and when I saw he had a blog tour spot free I immediately volunteered. I was spectacularly pleased to discover we are both inveterate world travellers, so of course I had to ask him to write about how his travels have affected him and, of course, his writing. It gives me great pleasure to welcome him here today.
Mhairi was kind enough to ask me here to share how my own experiences with our common love of world travel have shaped my worldview and my creative work. On Monday, I shared thoughts on a few of the places I’ve been which inspire me over at my blog . On Tuesday, I joined author Madison Woods to talk about my own core assumptions & my writing. Now here, I will examine how the places I’ve been, things I’ve seen, and lessons I’ve learned from stepping outside my box into the broader world have changed me.
First, a few quick examples of things I’ve learned through my travels.
One thing I’ve learned is how much we as the human race have more in common than different. Rich people from Wichita, Kansas who founded Pizza Hut shared the same concerns about their kids with me as African tribesmen in grass skirts inside their mud huts in Ghana did. The Mexican parents with a non-heated cinderblock home shared the same with me as did parents in Brazilian hillside favela slums. No matter what color your skin, what language you speak, what education you have or don’t have, what your job is, etc., your goals and desires for yourselves and your kids are pretty much the same as everyone else.
I have learned that we are often as much responsible for reinforcing the barriers that hold us back as anyone who might have imposed them on us. In Ghana, African tribesmen explained to me (to my shock) that “God loves white people more.” Why? White nations and cities are wealthy, powerful and blessed with many things Africans never have. I was dumbfounded. Of course being enslaved and treated as inferior by white colonists taught this, but when you study the history of Africa you find that, even before white men, many Africans enslaved each other and assessed the values of each other based on tribal affiliation, gender, and other factors. The Colonials reinforced it and kept it from changing but they didn’t necessarily start it. I am not saying the Colonials were right. I am merely pointing out that Africans have perpetuated this themselves in many ways throughout history. And I’ve seen the same in Mexico, Brazil, etc.
I’ve learned that your environment shapes you in many ways you don’t even realize. In Ghana, it was 80 degrees in July. I wore shorts like most days and rejoiced for the coolness. The Africans dressed in layers and wool sweaters and mumbled about how “chilly it is today.” My ex-wife told me before she moved from Brazil that she knew what real cold is “fifty degrees.” It was in the twenties her entire first week in the U.S. and she wore every piece of clothing she owned and came to see me at work looking like the Michelin man: “Why did you bring me here to freeze?”
A few unpleasant lessons include: learning that many French dislike Americans and are often deliberately rude to them; not carrying toilet paper in the developing world can lead to a desperation unlike any you’ve imagined or would want to; and American tourists are arrogant, rude jackwads who leave desolation and offense in their wake so I try to never be one.
We all make assumptions based on our own experiences, what we’ve been taught and how those lessons were framed by the assumptions of those teaching them, and these assumptions and lessons serve to shape our world into a box with invisible walls in which we live. Some have larger boxes than others. Mhairi and I do because we’ve expanded ours via travel. Most people aren’t aware of their boxes, even Mhairi and I take them for granted far too often. But our expectations for the way we expect others to treat us and how we treat them are very much shaped by all of this and it’s when those assumptions/expectations are violated (not met) or questioned (threatened) that we find ourselves disturbed and confused and searching for answers.
My parents pretty much taught me to value serving others and to treat others as equals. They dedicated their lives to it as medical professionals and community leaders and both sets of grandparents did the same. So I saw this modeled from an early age and it became part of how I choose to live and operate. I also have learned that some of the happiest people you meet can live in some of the worst circumstances you can imagine and that has forever shaped the way I regard possessions and spending money. I rarely spend money on Starbucks or expensive ice cream, etc. I know actually starving people in Africa. I can eat cheap and send money to help them, for example. So in my writing, I do place value on service oriented, selfless characters over those who live for themselves.
I also have seen such cruelty and depravity that I really blanch at it and tend to not admire people who behave with arrogance, selfishness and cruelty to others. That very much informs how I write heroes and bad guys, too. If you’re one of those “My world is about me and exists to serve me and screw everyone else, me first people,” I’ll be polite but we won’t be best friends. I try not to bring such negativity into the world and I try to avoid people who do when I can.
I’ve also learned that people are not very self-aware, so I tend to be very open about myself so I can be held accountable and I’m not afraid to call others onto the carpet when they need a wake-up call. Yes, it alienates people. Tough. Some of the best life advice I ever got was from actor Ted Danson who told me during film school: “Bryan, be sure and surround yourself with people who will tell you the truth all the time. Plenty of people will tell you what you want to hear but when you’re being an asshole, you need to know it.” I try to live by that, I really do.
In any case, my characters sometimes share my assumptions and sometimes make totally different ones based on the worlds in which they live and these experiences (and many others) allow me to step outside the familiar and write “other” worlds and “other” peoples far more effectively. They also encourage me to ask deeper questions and look more thoughtfully at what’s going on in the worlds I create. How have your life experiences informed you and which experiences have had the most impact? We’d welcome your thoughts in comments.
In Bryan’s second novel, The Returning, new challenges arise as Davi Rhii’s rival Bordox and his uncle, Xalivar, seek revenge for his actions in The Worker Prince, putting his life and those of his friends and family in constant danger. Meanwhile, politics as usual has the Borali Alliance split apart over questions of citizenship and freedom for the former slaves. Someone’s even killing them off. Davi’s involvement in the investigation turns his life upside down, including his relationship with his fiancée, Tela. The answers are not easy with his whole world at stake.
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured in anthologies and magazines. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.