Solve the World
by Dante Stack Genre: YA Dystopian Adventure
Young Jennifer Dash leaves her Louisiana home in search of the key to life. Her quest begins humbly enough amidst the swamps of the Pelican state, but forces beyond her control will propel her past many nations, oceans, cultures, and fairy tales... to the very limits of reason and myth itself. Written as an adventure saga, what begins in a whimper is destined to end with a bang.
In Part One, you'll be submerged into a maelstrom of underground mobs, charming love interests, mythical sea monsters, religious theme parks, and relentless adventure.
Prepare yourself. It's going to be a bumpy ride.
Beware the Pied Piper.
First was the smell. The reek of bourbon and filth wafted off of Dolores.
“Dolores Burdern at your...” Jenn outstretched her hand waiting for the driver to finish her sentence.
“You know they call me just Doll. Doll. Like a toy. Like a toy doll."
“Hi, Ms. Burdern. I'm Jenn.”
“Just Doll. Call me... Doll. What's...” Vacant eyes.
“Why am I out on the road? That's a tricky question. I'm uh...” Jenn paused realizing she cut-off
Doll, and that maybe she had guessed wrong as to what Doll wanted to ask.
“You remind me of my daughter.”
Jenn smiled, figuring that the comment should be flattering, though she didn't particularly feel
flattered to be thought of as having any resemblance to this woman. “Your daughter. Is she my age?”
“Do you believe in the Pied Piper?”
“The Pied Piper? Like the old fairy-tale?” Jenn wasn't sure where she had heard the old folk legend,
but it was rattling around in her memory banks nonetheless. “I've never thought about it.”
“He's real. Let me tell you.”
The weird topic would have intrigued Jenn had Doll been a less aloof conversationalist.
“Yup. He's real.”
“How do you know?”
“He took my daughter.”
At that, Jenn's stomach dropped. She barely choked out a response. “Really?”
“At Hamelin, in Germany. He took 130 children. It's true. The town... is real. It's all real.” Gut
twisting and rolling. Jenn's intuition told her not to question this, not to let the conversation remain. She
fell into silence. Doll picked up the space all on her own. “I forget where I was. Some back road like
this one. I had driven all night. I happened to have overslept during the day, so I was driving extra long
to make up... time... make up time. Sure, I was tired. But I tell you this! I tell you!... I was not boozing
or on acid or pills or maryjane or anything, nothing, I was clean then, really, I had to be, for Chloe,
that's my girl, Chloe, yeah... I bet she does look like you now...”
Johnny Paxwell was far, far preferable to this. Why did he have to kick her out like that? Jenn
imagined herself a hundred miles down the road, enjoying a silent glide through the dark evening. A
hundred miles closer to the sea. A hundred miles further away from this Burden. Instead here she was,
stuck with crazy-smellbad lady. Doll. She was certainly no Barbie. A picture of one of her old dolls
fizzled into Jenn's mind. It was nothing but a head, with almost all its hair ripped out and an eye
missing. That's the type of doll this Doll was. Missing significant parts of its being. Jenn's mean
thought produced an involuntary chuckle.
Doll took notice. “What are you laughing at? Yeah, it was funny. I'm sure it was. If you'd seen me
then. There. Dancing like there was no tomorrow. So like I said, I was driving deep into the night. Out
of nowhere... Out of nowhere arose this Eeeenormous campfire. It was marvelous. Beautiful. Exquisite.
I can see it now. It started like most fires, orange bands dancing in the breeze with blue roots leading to
the undergrowth... But... but it changed. Flickered. And it flickered not like regular fire flickers. It
flickered a flicker, flicker, flicker, flicker of color. Green. Yes. Green flickers in the center of the night
orange sky. Brilliant and vivid. I wanted to be a part of it. I couldn't resist it. It was calling me.”
Jenn imagined green fire. She visualized the flames like limbs on a tree, twisting and turning, this
way and that. She had to admit the image was seductive.
“I pulled over. Got outta the truck. I didn't say hi to no one. I just danced. I just danced. I just
danced. I just. Danced. It was so much fun. I hadn't had fun in so long. You don't get to have fun when
you've got a child at home and you're always behind the wheel. You never get time like that. Just time
to have fun. To dance.”
Doll turned the upper half of her body towards Jenn. They locked eyes. Jenn was too afraid to dart
her eyes elsewhere. She was trapped in the crazy lady's gaze.
“Now I gotcha..."
What did that mean! Jenn held her breath.
"Gotcha... that's what the fire said to me. To all of us. You ask me how many people were there with
the fire. Hell, I don't know. Maybe a hundred. Maybe a thousand. Maybe ten. Maybe five. I could have
even been alone, except that I saw others handcuffed and arrested too. I knew then I wasn't the only
one. And I wasn't the only one in the moment either. We were all one, and we were all many. One body
with many parts.”
Doll coughed a wheezing, guttural cough. But still, even whilst hacking her lungs out, Doll
somehow managed to keep her eyes fixed on the young girl trapped beside her. The young, attractive
girl. “Hand me my water bottle, would you?”
Happy to do anything that meant she could break from the moment, Jenn grabbed a bottle from a
cup holder beside her. It reeked of vodka. Doll grabbed it from her hand and took a big chug.
“Uh, you're welcome.”
“We danced and danced. I ripped off all my clothes. Yeah, I was naked. I wanted to show that night
flame everything I had.” Long pause. “I saw one guy writhing on the ground sometime after daybreak.
A bunch of others lay on the ground too. When they came and took us, I went to the hospital. I had an
IV drip for four days afterwards. I was just there, laying in the gurney all day with my hands cuffed to
the bed. Why did they have to handcuff me? What was I going to do?”
The story barely made sense. Jenn's curiosity got the best of her. “Wait, what exactly happened?
How did you end up in the hospital?”
"Oh, it was worse than all that! I did two weeks in prison before being sent to a, and I quote,
'Adjustment Center for the Mentally Unfit'. Have you ever heard of such a thing? I sure as hell hadn't!
Can you believe the things people make up? They fed me nothing but Butabarbital for six weeks. SIX
WEEKS! And then six months before I was finally out of there. But it was too late by then... too late,
too late, too late... My beautiful princess was already gone.”
“I told you already, the Piper took 'er. That's what happened. It's been a thousand years, so you better
believe he doesn't just play his little whistle or flute or kazoo or whatever anymore. He's evolved.”
“The fire. Are you saying he was the fire?”
“They call it Saint Vitus' Dance. You can look it up. It's historical too. Just like Hamelin.”
A road sign read 'Lake Charles 5 miles'. Jenn audibly sighed relief. She would politely get out there
and be free of this witchy woman. “So your daughter did disappear?”
“People have got to read their histories. It's all there. It's all in the cards, as they like to say.... You
would do good for your pretty little face if you read more history. You don't know about St. Vitus'
Dance, do you?”
“And I bet you didn't know Pied Piper was real, did you?”
“No ma'am. You could drop me off anywhere in Lake Charles.” Jenn felt Doll's eyes on her and felt
like she needed to explain herself. “I think I'll stay there tonight. I'm really tired.”
“Why don't you stay with me a little while longer? You can sleep here. People say they sleep great
when they're with me. You remind me of my daughter.”
“I wouldn't be comfortable doing that.”
“My daughter left. You can stay. It's like an exchange.”
“I'm not your daughter, Doll.”
“HE HAD NO RIGHT TO TAKE HER FROM ME!” Jenn tore off her buckle and squirmed to the
edge of the truck, her back pressed up against the door. Her fingers felt for the handle.
“I'll get out right here at this stop sign coming up, thank you.”
Doll said nothing for a moment before muttering, “Just because he's her father.”
“Please slow down. The stop sign is right there! Please slow down. STOP!”
“WELL, I'M HER MOTHER! I DON'T CARE IF SHE'S AFRAID OF ME!” At 65 miles an hour,
Doll sailed through the stop sign. In the midst of the intersection, she turned to Jenn and stated calmly,
“I don't care if you're afraid of me.”
Jenn was silent. And petrified. She counted in her head.
Four. Would she be okay if she jumped out? How hard would she hit the ground? Would Doll
follow? Would she run her over?
Jenn, pressing against the window, wedged her body weight against the door and suddenly, with
decisive terror, kicked Doll hard in the side.
Doll screamed and hit the brakes hard. Jenn splattered against the front window, and then collapsed
back towards her seat.
Eight. Jenn was frozen.
Eleven. Wait – the truck is stopped. The truck is stopped. Jenn squirmed around trying to get her
bearings. Her head lay down towards the bottom of the door. Somehow she managed to yank the door
open. She fell out like a Barbie doll, landing on her face at a forty-five degree angle.
Fourteen. Jenn got up. She peered at her kidnapper. Doll sat frozen in her seat. One hand holding her
bruised side in place. The other on the steering wheel. Her face remained resolute. Her eyes frozen
somewhere in front of her.
Delirious but alive, Jenn took a step. Away from the truck. Away from that dreadful woman. Was she
going to chase her? Was the worst not yet over? Was she not yet safe? Was the spirit of the Piper out to
snatch her up?
Seventeen. Ten paces away, and the truck still remained. Not moving. Nothing. Jenn couldn't see
Doll from her angle. She didn't have to. She knew she was still entranced. Staring at a glorious green
flame in her mind.
Wetness touched her lips. She brought her hand to her lips. Wet indeed. She tried to look at it, but
there wasn't enough light to see anything. She put her finger in her mouth and knew. Blood. Blood was
racing down her face.
Nineteen. Jenn saw a light maybe half a mile off. She stumbled towards it. So tired. So scared. A
drugstore. It's a drugstore. I'll go there.
Solve the World Part Two
Young Jennifer Dash left her home with ambition. She wanted to discover the purpose of life. Big stuff. But a crazy truck driver, an underground homeless society, and a Catholic theme park with a secret kept Jenn distracted. Now she's finally on the right path. She's joined the crew of the adventure schooner Orion, a ship of scientific geniuses bent on discovering the deepest truths of reality.
Will Jenn find what she's looking for? Or will the madness of a few turn her world upside down?
Long is the way and hard, that out of darkness, leads into light.
Jennifer Dash is hunting for a way to fix the world, and herself. From Fox-masks, to secret orphan bunkers, to a New Zealand skyscraper culling, to a ravenous Wendigo, this third part of Jenn's harrowing adventure takes her past the boundaries of science, and straight into the dragon's lair of mythological nightmares. Can Jenn solve the world before Leviathan awakes?
Dante has lived in multiple places. In each of those places, he has read to his dog. She doesn't seem to mind, but Dante is suspicious that she's not actually very interested in what he has to say. You have to understand, Dante's dog can't read. So he has to read aloud to her. He hopes that you can read for yourself, and that maybe you'll read the things that he's read aloud to his dog. Maybe you'll be more interested in the things Dante has written and read aloud than the dog is.
What inspired you to write “Solve the World”?
It began with my devastation over the ending of the tv show “Lost”. For years, I was that dude on the online forums acting like a weirdo Lost-apologist. I believed, right up until that last episode, that the creators of the show knew exactly what they were doing. All the mystery of that show, all the big, philosophical questions, it had to mean something! But then I watched that last episode, and WHAM! It stunk. It proved beyond a shadow of a doubt to me that the writers had no idea what they were doing. They didn't have a road map.
That was the beginning. I wanted to correct what had been wronged in the universe! I wanted to make an epic story, full of deep mysteries and giant, existential questions... and I wanted that story to pay off. I wanted the end to mean something. So, I told myself that if I ever began such a project, I would need an outline of the whole story, a clear vision of the ending, before I wrote a single word.
It took years, but in Solve the World, I've found my answer to “Lost”!
Can you tell us a little about your main character in “Solve the World”?
Our protagonist is a young adult named Jennifer Dash. She is crafted to be this lollipop-sucking innocent vision of youth that somehow is also crafty and clever. Usually, when we think of “innocence” or people that have the characteristic of innocence about them, we box them in by assuming they are also naively foolish. In Jennifer Dash, I wanted a protagonist who could have this essence of youthful innocence, of being unblemished by the world while at the same time walking through adventure landmines with determination and skill. Jenn turned out to be a blast to hang around with. I couldn't have asked for anything more from my main gal!
How did you come up with the title “Solve the World”?
The whole backbone of the story is that it is attempting to ask (and in a way, answer) the biggest questions in life. Solve the World just kinda naturally came out of that grandiose idea.
Who designed your book covers?
For three before I adapted Solve the World into a novel series, it existed as an audio-drama podcast that I wrote and produced. The cover art was created by a fan of the podcast, a one, Mr. Ian Quek. Mr. Quek sent in some dynamic pieces of fan art that I absolutely loved, so he naturally came to mind when I was searching for appropriate cover art for the books!
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I wrote a story about blowing a bubblegum bubble so big that it enveloped me and I got lost inside. I don't remember much about the story besides my final line -- the classic, "Goodbye, cruel world." Even as a little fella I liked my stories dark.
When did you first start writing?
I was in third grade when I first recall enjoying handwriting little stories.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
The first book I read cover to cover was "Dear Mr. Henshaw" by Beverly Cleary. The novel is entirely letters from a young boy. I was in third grade, and absolutely riveted by the style. I'm not sure if I even cared about the storyline -- this lady wrote a whole story just through letters! It was incredible. Mind blowing. How could this be? Reading that book was my first hint that there are no limits to what a book can be.
What's the story behind your non-fiction book, “Fun with the Apocrypha”?
I wanted to know more about the books that didn't make it into the Bible. Once I grappled with the menagerie that is the pseudepigrapha and gnostic and apocryphal writings, I quickly learned that I had to limit the scope of my endeavor. So for now, I'm focused on the Apocrypha. If all goes well, there will be various "sequels" exploring other forgotten ancient texts coming down the pipeline. Additionally, I wanted to flex my comical muscles. Generally, I write darker tomes devoid of humor. In that regard, this project was a stretch for me to try to elucidate as many jokes out of myself as possible.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
Some of us just have to tell stories. Whether as a hobby or a career, it just has to happen.
What is your writing process?
Same as everybody else, I'd guess. Write. Take a break to clear your head. Re-write. Rinse and repeat.
How do you approach cover design?
Back in my podcast days, I'd format and design a cover image for every podcast episode I did. This has honed my visual style a bit, and also made the whole process of cover design less intimidating for me. If I know what I want I can go make it myself (my program of choice is canva.com). If I'm clueless as to what the cover should be, I'll seek outside assistance.
What do you read for pleasure?
It all depends on the stress level of my day job at the time. If I feel like I'm accomplishing big things, and/or am overly stressed at work, then I like to read escapist fiction; Stephen King or Ray Bradbury, something like that. If however, spirits are high, I'll usually spend my leisurely time devouring theology or history books.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I'm still plugging away at the first generation kindle I bought way back when.
Describe your desk
Don't have one. Sometimes I sit my laptop on the floor, or on the couch, or the kitchen table, or I'm sitting up in bed.
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