It’s Tough Being an Outlier

It's Tough Being an OutlierI was reading an article about social media and disinformation on the Atlantic. It made me realize that one of my challenges is that being an outlier is tough. Much harder than it used to be. Thanks to the weaponization of information in our post-truth civilization, telling my story is going to be a lot harder than it would be even ten years ago.

It gets worse the more you dig into it. I want to remain a private person, period. I’m not the only person who feels this way, check out this article about Jesse Eisenberg. He makes no bones about his desire for privacy and the emotional minefield of public interviews.

I also think this why Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin and Hobbes, has no interest in publicity. Some creative people are simply happier when they’re left alone. I think I am one of them.

The question simply is, what is going to happen to me if Mesh goes big? That’s something I think a lot about. I’ve been cultivating my social media over the past several years in preparation for that moment. What scares me is how fast it could get away from me, despite my best intentions. Or worse yet, doesn’t because no one wants to read what I’ve written.

What I don’t want is to become the target of an online fight. I’m afraid of things like cancel culture. But how do I navigate those fears without giving up on my dreams? I’m studying others, figuring out what works for them, as I ponder all of these questions. Right now, I need to get back to Mesh, but wanted to jot these notes down while i was thinking of them.

 

Rejection Teaches You More Than Acceptance

I was informed today that Mesh was removed from one of the competitions I entered the manuscript into. It’s disappointing, of course, but the silver lining is that I got some insightful feedback from the readers. It’s certainly true that rejection can teach you more than acceptance ever could. Those notes give me fresh motivation to complete this version of the draft and re-double my efforts to get Mesh into the hands of readers.

So what did they think? Here’s the highlights from their feedback:

“Mesh benefits first and foremost from a very marketable setup that feels as if it could cater to a large and very devoted fan base for young adult fiction … That being said, the story does a nice job with plot, particularly when it comes to the activeness of Roman as a protagonist in his efforts to escape from his home. … Additionally, the pages find plenty of fun and original details to implement throughout the narrative, especially with aspects such as the Mesh that links the various students and the exoskeleton that allows Roman to walk.”

I always have a moment when someone professional gives me frank, objective feedback. There’s that dreaded moment, the one where you’re waiting for them to say “Sorry, this has to start all over again.” I’m happy to say that Coverfly didn’t say that to me. In the world of writing, that’s a huge hurdle to cross and I want to make sure I celebrate that victory with you.

Now of course, they had some suggestions on how to improve the story, and I’ll be including them in this upcoming draft. The main thing that I take from this is that Mesh is still moving forward, and people see big things ahead. I’ll take five minutes for a happy dance, and then it’s back to work.

AuthorFit

Picture of what an elliptical machine may look like

So one thing I haven’t talked about up until now is how I stay healthy. I know that asking an author for fitness tips is like asking a squirrel to do brain surgery, but it’s still important. We’re all mammals and being creative is no excuse to be fat. So that said, how does a socially-anxious introvert get fit? Let’s take a moment to talk about it.

To begin with, all my exercise tips are based on what I have found works for me. Got it? No ‘one simple trick,’ no ‘lose 30 lbs in 30 days’ programs. I’ve tried them all, and they all suck. Want to know what does work for me? It’s easy:

I stop looking at fitness as a problem to be solved, and instead look at it as something to be curious about. Look at it look a system to be hacked. Take all the judgement out of the equation, and just look at physical fitness and health by themselves. What do I want? What have I tried? What have I learned? What works? What doesn’t? Continue reading

Murder Your Darlings

Quick update – I’m pleased to say that she’s okay. The mild fever passed. No major symptoms. Thank you to everyone who checked in. I don’t want to talk about this more, it’s too painful. Let’s move on to the business of storytelling.

This week, Mesh received frank, direct feedback that targeted the entire structure of the story: Should Roman be a victim of a spinal cord injury (SCI)? The ensuing discussion and resolution to the problem highlights one of the most important and yet painful rules of storytelling: Murder your darlings.

It’s an important issue. When I first considered the idea of making Roman disabled, it received some resistance. Why does he have to be in a wheelchair? I thought a lot about this question – essentially Roman’s story is the story of anyone who got screwed over by life before they got started. I was that kid, in my own way, but I wanted to discuss it from a different view point. I’m also inspired by a teen with spinal bifida but I didn’t want to appropriate his story.

As a means to resolve all potential problems, I settled on a spinal cord injury as the reason why the protagonist of Mesh would eventually find himself with a set of cybernetic legs. It didn’t occur to me that the solution to this problem was a problem unto itself.

And thus, Jackson embarked on a voyage of self-discovery and awareness, as well I should. I’m not a member of that community, and I don’t live their lives or feel their feelings. The idea of a person with SCI being ‘fixed’ is boring to them. It doesn’t represent their experience. To oversimplify the issues of SCI would come across as disrespectful, and aggravating.

So in the end, the choice was painful but clear. I’m embarrassed to admit, being a person with disability, that I was so ignorant of this important issue. However, now that I knew the truth there was no question. I needed to change this central aspect of the story out of respect for those who live with SCI every day. I needed to abandon the idea that Roman was a victim of a spinal cord injury. So that’s what I mean when I say ‘murder your darling.’ I thought I knew what I was doing, using that story element. It turns out that I didn’t. Learning that about yourself is always painful.

The idea behind this rule is simple: sometimes you have to get out of your own way. As a story evolves into its final form, you’ll always find things that need to come out. It might be something simple like a name, or something big like an entire subplot. No matter what it is, when you find that an initial element no longer works, it has to be changed or retired.

That’s when a writer’s ego leaps into the fight. How dare you, it screams. This has to be a part of the story. You can’t take this out! The rule is really about being prepared to kill those darlings, those story elements you held so dear, in pursuit of the final goal: the real story you were meant to tell. Or maybe it’s about killing your darling ego, when its clear it doesn’t know what is best for the story.

 

When COVID Comes Home

This is a brief post about someone who might have COVID tonight. The SHE in my ME story. The one who made a house into a home, the one who got away. The one we don’t talk about. The one I left behind when I started all over again. Her.

Tonight she texted me heartbreaking news: The doctor’s office where she worked/works at, the owner tested positive for COVID. She doesn’t have any major symptoms, but she’s running a half-degree warm. She’s quarantining herself, and my anxiety left shoots through the roof. For the next 24 hours, I’ll be terrified of every text, and I’ll be terrified of every silence. We’re both freaking out about what the next 24 hours might mean.

Neither of us are dumb enough to think that a virus will bring us back together. We’re better off as friends, and we both know that. But she doesn’t have anyone else to call, and there’s no one else I’d rather hear from. And now maybe she’s sick. Maybe she’s in trouble. That’s one more lifeline that might fray in the fire of a global pandemic.

I didn’t want to talk about COVID before. It wasn’t personal, it wasn’t right for me to talk about it. But now Coronavirus has come home, and I can’t think about anything else.

Writing is the key. Just have to find the lock.

Sci-Fi in the Apocalypse

Oregon doesn’t have a shelter-in-place order, but I’m planning ahead. The Governor keeps saying there’s no order but we all know different. We’re going to be stuck inside like the rest of you in a matter of days. As I said before, scifi needs to graduate from dystopian stories, and if it wasn’t clear before we should all know it now.

So what kind of scifi should we be reading/writing in the apocalypse? My feeling is pretty simple – we can do what we always did. For example, in times of leisure we focused on what the world would turn into if certain factors did not improve. Now that they are upon us, we can continue.

For example, we can use our imaginations to focus on what happens when the world is a better place. There are genres like this already – solarpunk for example. There’s no reason we can’t turn our attention to what the world will look like when it is free of disease, crime, and violence.

Just like Gene Roddenberry, we can imagine a happy future for ourselves and march toward it. There’s no reason we can’t start doing this right now!

Warm wishes, and happy dreams. And wash your dang hands.