Tonight on the Write Stuff — A Light Arises with C. S. Wachter

The Light Arises is epic fantasy. Themes of trust, hope, and redemption thread through Rayne’s story as he continues his journey to reclaim the seven hidden scrolls of the One and defeat the rising darkness that would enslave the worlds of Ochen.

In the fullness of time, the Light Bringer will arise. The lost will be found and he will bring to light my seven words hidden on the seven worlds, and I will guide his steps.

When Rayne dreams of a golden-haired girl and the voice of the One calling him to bring light to Veres, he knows the scroll he must seek next is the Words of the One to Veres. But only those involved with the brutal games staged by the powerful Sorial merchants, are allowed access to Veres. To infiltrate the games, and skip to the isolated world, Rayne must, once again, become the warrior-slave Wren.

Lady Alexianndra Erland’s world was shattered three years ago when a young assassin destroyed her home and disabled her father. Now she leads the rebel faction. When news reaches her that the royal Prince of all Ochen is at the Andersen House Gaming Complex, Lexi devises a plan to compel King Theodor to help her people. Her strategy? Kidnap the prince when he leaves the games, and use him to gain the king’s attention.

When morning light reveals the truth, will Lexi find her hoped for leverage with the king, or the assassin of her nightmares? And will Rayne be able to convince the girl of his dream to look past her desire for vengeance long enough for him to fulfill his calling?

Listen in to my conversation with C. S. Wachter about her series. You can listen in at 646-668-8485. Follow us on iTunes. Download Stitcher on your mobile device. Or, click on the link here: http://tobtr.com/11192273.

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Tonight on the Write Stuff — Condemned Courier with Cindy Koepp

condemnedNewly settled on the throne after the death of his father, the young king, Evryt, has only one task: save the throne from the one who wants it enough to start a war and secure it for the one who would rather remain anonymous. After the hard-won peace from years past, Evryt is not about to allow the kingdom to fall into the hands of those that would turn Aelstrian against Aelstrian. Nor will he entertain the notion that the humans should fall victim to slavery and be deprived of the land that the treaty set aside to end the last war.

To accomplish his goal, he needs information, and he needs it quickly. Reluctantly, he agrees to the suggestion of the rapier academy’s lead instructor, Royal Courier Addya Dace. With only a rapier tucked under her wing, her wits, and an unexpected ally, the king’s courier races cross-continent ahead of deadly pursuers to capture evidence of a conspiracy and to deliver it to her king. Along the way, she just might mend a few wounded hearts.

Listen in to my chat with author Cindy Koepp at 646-668-8485. Or, download Stitcher on your mobile device. Follow us on iTunes. Or, click on the link here: http://tobtr.com/s/11070863.


 

GUEST POST: Speculative Fiction Imago Hominis by Mark Carver

Mark carverI’ve said this more than once but I’m a HUGE fan of Mark Carver. I feel like I could start a fan club and I’d be the President.  His wordsmith skills are poetry in ink. I can’t say enough good things about his work.

He’s written some dark tales and thrillers I enjoy.  He took a hiatus to be someone else for a while and I know he’s coming back next year with more  gritty tales to tell.

I always appreciate his insight into a variety of things and I wanted to have him say his piece about man and artificial intelligence.

Thank you to Speculative Faith Lorehaven for hosting Mark Carver!


I recently posted a discussion on Facebook that received a bit of attention so I thought I would expand it into an article. The topic was about androids/synthetic humans. Several weeks ago, I watched two films dealing with the subject: Zoe on Amazon Prime and Extinctionon Netflix. I can’t talk about how artificial people factor into these films without spoiling the stories so you’ll just have to go check them out for yourself. But in both films, the line between man and machines is blurred almost to nonexistence and it is crossed in numerous ways.

 

For many people, the notion of self-aware artificial intelligence and synthetic human bodies is tantalizing and exciting. Of course, talking like a human and looking like a human are two separate technological pursuits. You can have a humorous, empathetic chatbot that is confined to CPUs and hard drives and has no physical presence, a brain without a body. Then there are engineers and scientists trying to create a realistic human body that can jump and spin and run and pick up things like humans do, but it would just be executing pre-programmed commands with no intelligence other than what is needed to maintain balance and identify obstacles. The Holy Grail would be to combine the two, a human-replicated personality inside a human-replicated body. Despite what Hollywood would have us believe, this electric dream is still a long way off, but as technological advances accelerate, so does the pace at which this goal can be achieved.

Tech CEO/celebrities like Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jeff Bezos make frequent public proclamations about the future and also devote a lot of resources to making their visions come to life. It almost feels inevitable that, barring a cataclysmic global disaster or societal collapse, that we will one day have robots walking among us, fulfilling a number of duties.

So what should we as Christians make of this? The Bible doesn’t speak directly about AI or androids, but it speaks volumes on the hearts and hands of the people who would make it a reality. It is clear from Scripture that God created us to do work. He didn’t put Adam and Eve in the garden and tell them to just enjoy the view; He told them  to work the land (Gen. 2:15). Several Bible passages warn against laziness and extol the virtues of work (Prov. 21:251 Thess. 4:112 Tim. 2:6, and many more). This doesn’t mean that we must all be manual laborers and any automation is bad, but I don’t think that living like the porcine blubbards in the movie Wall-E is what God had in mind for the human race. There is satisfaction in a job well done and that is how God intended for it to be.

 

What about morally dubious interactions with robots? Is it really cheating to have intercourse with an android? What about a lonely soul who falls in love with an artificial person? What about platonic friendship? Who wouldn’t like to have a bond like Captain Picard and Data?

God created us as sentient beings with physical and emotional capabilities and needs. We have no assurance that these needs will be fulfilled, but Psalms 37:4 tells us to delight in the Lord, and He will give us the desires of our heart. The key is “delighting in the Lord,” finding serenity and satisfaction in Him. Perhaps He will then reward you by fulfilling your desires, or perhaps you will find that the things you desire are not worth pursuing after all. Craving sexual satisfaction to the point of sleeping with an android is not a godly desire. Finding emotional and relational connection with artificial intelligence is a bit stickier, especially since some people have impairments or are too isolated to allow for normal human contact. But heaven forbid this should ever become commonplace. How sick would our society be when people actually prefer the company of soulless, factory-made machines to living, breathing people knit in the womb by God’s hands?

I know I probably sound like a stodgy old man grumbling about the technology steamroller, but as we have already seen in countless instances, technology can easily lead to greater isolation and emotional distance, despite physical proximity. Most of all, it can be an idol, and there is nothing we humans love more than worshiping ourselves.

GUEST POST: Speculative Fiction Writer’s Guide to War–part 1, Reasons by Travis Perry and Travis Chapman

I often showcase and host books on the blog. Yet, I have become a fan of a publisher by the name of Bear Publications whose owner is Travis Perry. I enjoy his insights into a variety of things. He’s also been on my show several times as well and continues to deliver helpful blogs about writing. He start a series with Speculative Faith called The Speculative Fiction’s Guide to War and of course, I thought, I think this is good information to share.  After all, human history is drenched in the blood of the battlefield. What aspects of the real do we take in our speculative worlds? This is currently a five part series but here is the first part of it. I hope you enjoy!


travisToday I’m launching a new series. (Or maybe I ought to say, “I’m harnessing my regular writing slot for Speculative Faith to motivate myself to write a book that’s been on my mind for years.” 🙂 ) My goal is to make a comprehensive guide to warfare, from beginning to end, from fantasy war based in the legendary past, to futuristic science fiction conflict. And we’ll start at the beginning–reasons. Why does anybody go to war in the first place? What causes conflict? And how do you use that knowledge to write a better story?

When discussing causes of human behavior in general, you’ll find that there’s much speculation and disagreement–and the subject of war is no exception to that. It’s not even universally agreed upon if war is natural to human beings. For almost all known societies over the entire world throughout all of known human history, at least on occasion wars are fought and at least a little formal training for warfare exists. Though it is also true that human beings in general show signs of having a natural aversion to killing one another–if we did not have such an aversion, training warriors to fight would not be necessary.

In terms of why wars begin, the Wikipedia article on war fairly represents the topic when it lists seven major categories of theories of reasons wars begin (Psychoanalytic, Evolutionary, Economic, Marxist, Demographic, Rationalist, and Political Science), many of which have sub-categories. In other words, there’s a lot of disagreement about this topic.

This Writer’s Guide for Speculative Fiction authors (which is focused on science fiction and fantasy) takes the view that warfare among human beings stems from aspects of human nature that are common to all human societies, but which require certain societal elements to exist before they can be expressed in warfare. In spite of occasional allegations of completely peaceful societies, there has never been a human society which has no concept of crime in general and murder in particular.  Murder–in which one human being kills another for reasons the society does not see as valid–is very rare in some societies, but exists everywhere human beings live. Likewise, even in societies that practice sharing of resources, it still happens that people disagree over who gets what at what time on occasion, leading to conflict. Even in tribal societies that are very egalitarian, at times there is disagreement or even conflict about who will be in charge of a particular action. And even in tribal societies without a formal law code, it’s true that sometimes fighting occurs within the group over perceived injustice–usually relating to issues of crime, yes, but fighting can also erupt when a group of human beings cannot agree about what is and is not just or fair or right.

Murder, fighting over resources, fighting over position in a society, and disagreement over the rules can each be phrased in terms of a human trait that is the primary cause of each of these actions. While hatred is not be the only cause of murder, it’s a major one. While it may be possible to fight over resources without greed or envy, feelings of at least envy usually accompany such a fight. Seeking prominence over others is usually (fairly) associated with pride, and disagreement over the rules appeals to the innate human sense of justice. Hatred, envy (or greed), pride, and justice–all human societies express these traits to some degree or other. Note that the first three of these traits are generally seen as vices–and justice itself can be a vice, if misapplied.

Though not all human societies go to war, even if all societies have the traits that cause war. But even societies that don’t go to war, if they were invaded by others, would be able to define what’s happening based on the principles they already know. That’s true even if they are shocked by the level of brutality involved. For example: “Those people are murdering us to take our water!”

War-Peace-Public-Domain-1In speculative fiction contexts, it may be that fantasy races or alien species literally would have no concept of war and wouldn’t have any conflict within their societies either. Such people probably would not even realize they should run away when attacked, not immediately anyway. But in discussing warfare, let’s start with the baseline reasons of what is known about human beings first and then afterwards adapt that to non-human societies.

So if the reasons behind human conflict are found in all human societies, why is it that not all societies actually go to war?

The societies that don’t go to war fall into two groups: 1) tribal societies that occupy a niche in which war is unlikely 2) deliberately pacifist societies that come out of warlike societies and which consciously reject war.

The number 2 societies probably require the least explanation. They usually are part of a religious order that teaches that all human being are valuable, so killing any of them is wrong (think Amish or Mennonites or groups like them, or various monastic orders, or Jainists)–or on occasion are non-religious organizations that have high intellectual ideals that include rejection of violence (like some Israeli Kibbutzim). People raised in these societies who are taught to believe war is wrong usually live up to their beliefs and refuse to go to war.

Number 1 societies include tribes that are so geographically isolated that it’s very hard for them to make contact with other groups, let alone fight them. It also includes groups that occupy an ecological niche that other groups are not interested in. Example for both: Imagine a tribe living in a small oasis in a desert which is surrounded by well-watered lands–it may be that other tribes prefer to fight one another over the well-watered lands rather than cross the desert, leaving the oasis tribe to live in peace.

Note the existence of isolated groups that do not engage in warfare at all is the reason some anthropologists argue war is not natural to human beings. They imagine that the original state of the human race consisted of this type of isolated tribes that did not ever fight each other–only later when, say, agriculture was developed, could a society have surplus food to pay people to train for warfare full-time.

While it is true that desperately poor societies cannot afford to pay for a warrior caste, some tribal groups have existed in which everyone (or in most cases, every male) in the tribe was a warrior. That has been especially true for groups that live in areas that make for easy travelling and which have resources which are easily stolen (think the animals that pastoral nomads keep). These groups are usually the among the most warlike of all human beings.

So it seems there’s an element of necessity in who is and who is not warlike. Those who are vulnerable to attack are more likely to be aggressive (in self-defense) but the issue of resources also raises its head here.

Fighting over resources, whether water or food or even gold for societies that use precious metals, seems to be the primary reason for people to go to war. To either take or defend what they perceive they need. Humans also seem show a preference for not fighting over resources if they don’t have to–that is, societies which are vulnerable to loss of resources organize themselves to defend those resources, but ones who can obtain what they want or need “for free,” are much more peaceful–which is where the natural aversion to killing others seems to come into play. It does seem to be true that while some individuals may chose to kill (in the criminal sense) in any society, only societies who perceive they need train themselves in warfare actually do so. And that perceived need is mainly based on access to resources–though again note that almost all humans, historically speaking, have perceived a need to organize to protect resources, so this isn’t anything unusual. A pacifistic society is much more exceptional than a warlike one.

Note that while hatred of others may cause one person to kill another within a tribe and relates to a reason for warfare, it’s actually not usually the main cause of a war–but it can be an important catalyst. Especially because human beings are very quick to define other humans in terms of those who are part of our “in-group” and those who are part of an “out-group” (quotations are there because these are standard terms, though not necessarily ones I prefer). Humans find it much easier to hate someone who is not part of the in-group. When humans start thinking of the out-group as being less than human, which may not be limited to but certainly involves hating them, it becomes easier to go to war against them. Hating another human being to the degree that they are thought of as less than human, or another group of human beings, helps overcome the natural aversion to killing them.

Some people would elevate the fact humans divide into groups easily as a major cause of warfare. This tribalism in modern form can bleed over into racism and extreme nationalism, which certainly have been involved in many wars.  While I agree that tribalism is important, that’s because we humans find it easier to hate those outside the tribe than those in it–tribalism itself is not the issue as much as hatred is. Without hatred and the willingness to kill empowered by hatred, tribalism or nationalism is mostly harmless–they amount to trivial things like which flag you wave at the Olympics.

Note that envy over resources in an environment in which conditions are harsh can easily become greed, in which one or both sides of a fight actually have enough to survive, but are striving for more anyway, hoarding gold like legendary dragons. Greed is a major cause of warfare–one nation or tribe seeking to take from another something it may not really need, but definitely wants. Think of Cortez’s conquest of the Aztecs, or even more so, Pizarro and the Inca, in which lust for gold, land, and women drove the Spanish conquest forward.

Pride (or prestige) as a motivation for warfare is a bit more complex. Societies that develop a warrior class usually laud praise on their warriors–and rightly so under many circumstances. They are, after all, protecting the in-group, and providing for resources people either need to survive or don’t need but want anyway.

There’s quite a bit to be gained in being a successful warrior in terms of how well others treat you. Certainly Cortez and Pizarro not only were greedy for gold, they knew in the warlike society of Spain, they would be admired as conquerors. They’d be given prestigious titles–they’d be seen as heroes (and they were then, though not anymore). Those who like to put things in evolutionary terms say the prestige successful warriors gain gives them the opportunity to produce more children, which they see as a basic drive. While it is certainly true that the prestige warriors have heaped upon them may help them marry and reproduce, the historic warriors who have reproduced the most did not have women flock to them because of their prestige as much as they took the women they wanted because of their desire to have them (greed/lust)–think Genghis Khan.

While it is sometimes true that a warrior caste will seek to go to war because of the prestige or honor involved (honor is how they’d put it), going to war simply because they can (like Klingon warriors) is actually not as common as fighting over resources. But having a warrior caste with intrinsic reasons to fight can certainly be a catalyst for a war.

Fighting for justice is not often listed as a reason for warfare by experts on the topic, but should be. When we think of wars of religion, weren’t people fighting because they think their religion is right (just) and the other religion (or lack of religion) is unjust? When revolutions happen, such as the French or American Revolutions, wasn’t part of the fighting taking place over perceived injustices and abuses? Like taxation without representation? Or anger at the abuses caused by the so-called divine right of a monarch?

Note that a sense of justice can be a catalyst for warfare in a different way that other traits listed here. People want to think of themselves as being in the right and it is much easier to defend violence that is perceived to be honorable than to do so for other reasons. Please recognize that’s true even if you assume there is such a thing as just war (and I believe there is). The existence of just war does not mean that every single appeal to justice is actually fair or true.

Often nations have a stated reason for war that’s different from their actual reason. The stated reason for the Crusades was that they were about justice–Muslims were heaping abuses on Christians in the Holy Land and furthermore had no right to be there as far as the Crusaders were concerned. Yet the actual reasons had a lot to do with overpopulated European territories, looking for lands (and resources) elsewhere, a warrior caste in Europe itching to go war (for the prestige involved), and the fact it was easy to see the Muslims as an “out-group,” not only because they were perceived as racially different, but more importantly because they did not share the Crusaders’ religion.

 

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This WWI poster is about “The Rape of Belgium”

The “real” causes of the Crusades has been debated widely and will continue to be debated. Even if we grant that the Crusades really were about perceived injustice (a.k.a. a war of religion), it’s ridiculous to think Cortes and Pizarro invaded the Aztec and Inca Empires in order to right the wrongs those empires perpetuated, including their perceived errors of religion. Yes, the consquistadores probably felt better about themselves bringing priests along to justify some of their actions in the rhetoric of spreading their faith (which they would see as undoing injustice)–but their greed for gold, land, and women is well-documented as their primary motivation.

To leap to a much more recent example, did the United States really enter World War I “to make the world safe for democracy” (as US President Wilson stated)? Well, partially–the motives were to protect American shipping and businesses, but also there was a sense of justice involved, especially over widely-reported German abuses in Belgium (called in the press at the time, “the Rape of Belgium“). And also important was a wave of anti-German hysteria that swept through America–hatred of the other, the Germans, our enemies, the “Huns” as seen in the classic poster. (Note the imagery of the “Hun” is of a savage, barbaric invader from the East.)

 

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“Hun” = German

You’d find if you dug into details that there were layers of motivations for the entire country, the basic causes interacting in a complex way. And also that the motives for going to war for a single soldier varied a great deal from soldier to soldier in that conflict–which would be likewise true for almost every war. Motives probably even varied for the same individual soldier at different moments.

And while the reasons for a nation going to war are more complicated than those of a single soldier in that nations often primarily seek to gain what they want by negotiation and only go to war when negotiations break down (as reflected in the war theorist Carl von Clauswitz saying, “war is the continuation of politics by other means”), the same basic reasons apply to all wars, even when political factors not named in this post are also involved (such as a nation overestimating its ability to win a war).

I’d say there are four basic causes of wars, listed in order of actual importance for most conflicts (though the order does in fact vary from war to war and person to person as mentioned above):

  1. Resources (or as a vice, greed/envy)
  2. Tribalism (as a vice, hatred of other groups)
  3. Prestige (pride)
  4. Justice (as a vice, false justice or religious extremism)

In order of stated importance, publicly declared importance, reasons for war are usually:

  1. Justice (nations usually proclaim themselves to be right–and only on occasion actually are)
  2. Prestige (calls to service and self-sacrifice are common, especially in modern wars)
  3. Tribalism–hating the other (though some wars have used so much propaganda against enemies that hateful tribalism or nationalism is openly more important than number three)
  4. Resources/greed (most societies talk least about their actual reasons, which are usually-but-not-always about possession of territory or other material things)

As you apply these principles to stories, think about how these motivations play out for the individual human beings involved, which may or may not be the same as collective national or tribal reasons to fight. Note that stated reasons for war are often different from actual reasons. Writing a complex mix of motivations for a war makes for a more realistic and more interesting story.

To briefly mention how to apply these principles to races or species who are not human, while it might be interesting to attempt to invent reasons for warfare that have no connection to how human beings behave, it’s probably best to simply change the order/priority of war reasons that also apply to humans. It will seem more realistic (to human readers anyway 😉) but can still provide some interesting twists.

What if, for example, other species always stated their actual reasons for war openly? Or if a fantasy race had a much stronger sense of justice than human beings have so they don’t ever care in the slightest about resources they could gain? Or if a race had no tendency to be tribal, but still fought for other reasons? Or if they had no actual aversion to warfare in the first place? Or on the other hand, what if a non-human society were naturally non-violent because of an inability to hate others (which is not necessarily the same thing as being good and pure in every way), yet learned over time it was necessary to defend themselves, taking much more time to process what war is than humans require?

Please excuse the length of this post, I’ll strive to keep future ones shorter, but I hope you’ve found it informative. With so many academic opinions on this subject, I don’t imagine for a moment that everyone will agree with what I’ve listed here. So what are your thoughts on the reasons why people go to war?

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Tonight on the Write Stuff — The Counterfeit by Nate Olsen

counterfeit

Andrew Jeffery Stephenson, a stupid man, by his own admission, is in critical condition from gunshot wounds. He’s entirely alone. His wife left him for someone more successful, someone better. When he’s honest with himself, he knows he’s just waiting to die…

And he does. With the sound of a fading flatline beep and the post-life urging of the woman he still loves, he finds himself in a paradise of his own making. He wakes up on a beautiful beach with her by his side. Oh, paradise indeed!

Shortly after, a man simply named D comes onto his property. A self proclaimed “realtor for your post-life needs” D quickly shows Andrew just what this paradise is. It’s not heaven; it’s a miraculous accident. Paradise doesn’t belong to the religious but to the creative, to men of logic and reason. And because of this, his beach is just one small piece to an endless collection of beautiful properties, or “timeshares” as D calls them.

D’s game is realty. And the piece of property Andrew brought with him is an excellent bargaining chip. Andrew’s interested in choices; D’s interested in getting him the best deal possible.

There’s only one problem. While searching out different timeshares, they come across a man on the side of the road who’s dressed like an angel. He’s holding a cardboard sign that reads:

3 Days…

And the countdown continues.

They say that the world will end when the countdown hits zero. Are they “crazy” as D claims? Or are they trying to warn Andrew that the end is near?

Join Nate Allen and me as we delve into his thriller novel. Call in at 646-668-8485 and press 1 to be live on air. Or, download Stitcher on your mobile device. Follow us on iTunes. Click on the link http://tobtr.com/10994577.

Tonight on the Write Stuff — Daniel and the Sun Sword with Nathan Lumbatis

danielsunThirteen-year-old Daniel is about to be adopted. But when he learns his new family wants him as a slave, he runs away with the help of his new neighbors, the naïve and cowardly Ben, and Raylin, a mysterious girl with a shady past.

He begins to second-guess his decision when the cave they hide in transports them to the ruins of Machu Picchu, where they find themselves embroiled in a battle between ancient gods of Life and Death. To top things off, the God of Life draws Daniel into the fray by adopting him as his son and setting him on a quest to complete a broken, mystical sword, a task that will pit him against the god of the underworld.

Now, Daniel and his friends have just one weekend to find the shards before a horde of supernatural enemies catch up. But that’s not all they face. A trap has been set that even Daniel wouldn’t expect, and he just took the bait.

Join me as I chat with author Nathan Lumbatis about book one of his series! You can call in at 646-668-8485, press 1 to be live on air. Or, download Stitcher on your mobile device. Follow us on iTunes. Or, click on the link here: http://tobtr.com/10906655.


nathanNathan is the author of Daniel and the Sun Sword: Sons and Daughters Book 1, and Daniel and the Triune Quest: Sons and Daughters Book 2.

He grew up in the woods of Alabama, where he spent his time exploring, hiking, and dreaming up stories. Now, as a child/adolescent therapist and author, he’s teaching kids and teens how to redeem their stories using Biblical principles. He still lives in Alabama, where you will find him with his wife and three kids every chance he gets.

Tonight on the Write Stuff — Scrooge and the Question of God’s Existence with Steve Luhring

scrooge“While Charles Dickens’ immortal story is a compelling tale of transformation, imagine what it would look like had Dickens been ambitious enough to have had Scrooge go on to tackle some of the greatest questions in life, such as: Does God exist? If so, why is there such evil and suffering in this world? Is there meaning and purpose in life? Is there an after-life? Is freedom worth fighting for, and what’s at stake if we lose it? These pages are bold enough to do exactly that, and do it brilliantly.”
—Dr. Paul Maier, author with over 5 million books in print including A Skeleton in God’s Closet

So a world-famous apologist like Dr. Paul Maier comments on this fascinating tale of Christmas carol with an apologetic bent. A Scrooge bent on getting rid of religion — “Bah! Humbug!” by enacting a law that targets religion as hate speech. But what happens in one night is truly a tale to be told. Welcome to Christmas in July, apologetics style as I talk with author Steven Luhring and his wonderful modern adapation of a classic. You can calli in at 646-668-8485 and press 1 to be live on air. Or, download Stitcher on your mobile device. Follow us on iTunes. Or, click on the link here: http://tobtr.com/10867335.