Writing and Other Afflictions

"If it was easy, everyone would do it." –Jimmy Dugan, "A League of Their Own"

FOGCon, Belatedly

Hey, if by chance you’re at FOGCon this weekend, then you might see me there. I’m heading up for Saturday and Sunday and will be checking out panels, the con suite, the bar, the dealer room, you know, all the usual con things. Drop me a note in the way we usually communicate if you want to get together, or look for the guy with my name on his badge. It’s almost certain to be me.

And if you live in the Bay Area, you should go to FOGCon. It’s a great little convention where you have a chance to chat with some of the area’s coolest F/SF writers and fans.

Thoughts on American Sniper

My reaction when I heard the slate of Best Picture nominees was “UGH FINE I will go see American Sniper.” Mark and I try to see all the Best Picture nominees every year, and while some of them are a challenge, we had no excuse for missing this one. It’s going to be in theaters well into February. So last night I bit the bullet (ha ha) and went to see it with a couple friends (Mark, who was working, promised to see it later).

There is probably a very good movie to be made about the life of Chris Kyle, the titular sniper, and it would cover the space between two scenes about 125 minutes into this 134-minute movie. The story of overcoming the impact of spending the better part of a decade in Iraq killing people to come home and adjust to normal life is a fascinating one, and maybe even more so when you’ve become exalted as a hero as Kyle was. To put it another way: most of “American Sniper” should have been the five-minute prologue to the movie about Chris Kyle.

The faults of the movie have been well documented: it’s very loosely based on an autobiography that was factually questionable to begin with (though perhaps not so much about his actual tours in Iraq). It ventures into the comic-bookish realm with an invented villain who might as well be named “Drill-Man” and an enemy sniper who was barely mentioned in Kyle’s account of his own life but who becomes his main foil. It shows a lot of violence–yes, in a movie about the guy credited with more kills than any other sniper in U.S. military history, you expect to see gunshots and violence, but the violence here is fetishized to a disturbing extent. The U.S. involvement in Iraq is painted in broad black and white strokes: Kyle is there to protect “our boys” from the “savages,” and while there are occasionally Iraqis who (reluctantly) help Kyle, the motivation of the people he’s fighting is never explored. Kyle’s wife is introduced as a strong woman who shoots down (sorry) a guy trying to pick her up, only to fall for Kyle’s charms; she spends the rest of the movie begging him to come back to his family.

It is the worst Best Picture nominee I can remember seeing. I’ll give Bradley Cooper credit for his performance; other people have criticized it because his natural charm and exuberance are leashed, but I admire him for being able to slip into another character that way. Technical awards, sure. It’s a beautiful movie in many places and I give them a lot of credit for never losing Cooper among all the similarly uniformed soldiers. The action scenes are filmed tautly and are easy to follow, and the sound is terrific. No, the nomination that bothers me the most is for its dull, mediocre screenplay. Stealing from Mark Harris of Grantland in his review of the Oscar nominations, it is stunning to me that this was nominated over Gillian Flynn’s screenplay for “Gone Girl.” That was a well-written, gripping film (and written by the author of the source material; maybe part of the reason for the snub is that she’s not a career screenwriter, while Jason Hall is at least an actor and has two other screenplays to his name); this was basically a war piece that verged on propaganda, and not even clever propaganda.

So anyway. If you’re an Oscar completist, go ahead and see the movie. Otherwise I don’t think most people reading this blog will care much for it.

Five: We Have All The Time In The World

  1. We Have All The Time In The World, Louis Armstrong (from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). If you haven’t watched the movie, you probably can’t understand why this song is here. Go watch it.

It was Louis Armstrong’s last recorded song, and at the time did not chart well. Cover versions of it have boosted its popularity, especially a cover by My Bloody Valentine used in a Guinness ad, and it is now considered “among the finest of Barry’s songs for the franchise.” By this poll as well.

(In addition to My Bloody Valentine, “We Have All the Time in the World” has been covered by Iggy Pop with soon-to-be Bond composer David Arnold, Fun Lovin’ Criminals, Vic Damone, Michael Ball, Amalia Grè, The Puppini Sisters, The Fairly Handsome Band, and Tindersticks.)

Fiction: We Have All The Time In The World

 

Tianora had perfected the art of distilling time into vials and her workshop overflowed with them. Minutes as thin and delicate as pencils, stout hours in test tubes and Christmas ornaments, days bottled and sealed with wax and foil and spellcraft. Colored glass sparkled in the sun’s beams through the skylight, and any visitor to Tianora’s shop had the impression of walking into an ancient temple, with the witch behind her counter at the center and candles lit on either side of her, her robes almost liturgical.

Tianora herself was no priestess. Olive-skinned and raven-haired, she wore dresses and shirts and skirts as bright as her bottles, festooned her hair with jeweled barrettes and her ears with silver spangles, wore antique pendants and old ivory-carved brooches, and if ever she came out from behind the counter, her feet were always seen in tanned, dyed leather. She laughed often, joked with the people who came in often and warmly greeted those who didn’t. To the people who decried her trade, she made a free gift of a minute and received in return a customer.

There was no money exchanged at her counter, no gold nor silver nor promissory note. The price of a stolen vial of time from Tianora was double that time from the end of your own life. An easy price to pay, because who values an hour in their dotage more than an hour with their sweetheart with the flush of youth still strong in their cheeks? A drink of Tianora’s potion and you would find the world stopped around you, the sun and moon’s dance arrested for your pleasure. If another had drunk at the same time, then you would both experience the stopped time (more than one vigilant parent kept a stock of Tianora’s potions for nights when their teenaged children went on dates), but otherwise the world would be frozen.

(On occasion, unscrupulous people used this power for robbery or worse, but Tianora always knew when someone had taken one of her potions and pointed the constables unerringly in the direction of the perpetrator, whereupon they made restitution, with the help of a resurrectionist if necessary. Many people used the power of stopped time to play pranks, and Tianora not only seemed to enjoy this, but actively encouraged retaliation.)

When she’d first discovered this magic, she’d traded out of her cottage. Word spread quickly, and soon she moved into an abandoned alehouse, using its wine cellar for storage, its upstairs bedrooms for their original purpose when couples who had nowhere else to enjoy their stolen time sought her out. In time, a quiet young woman was seen in the shop, fetching bottles and dusting. Her name became known as Jewel, and as Tianora left her shop less and less, Jewel scoured the town for new gems and finery to wear, though she herself wore only grey and beige and flat sandals. Rumors spread, of course, but if Tianora and Jewel shared a bed at night, only the two of them knew it.

“What will you do with all of this time?” Kor the baker asked her on one occasion.

“Don’t you think time is worth saving?” she replied.

“You’ve sure got a lot of time here,” Alasia the seamstress said cannily on another.

“A stitch in time saves nine,” Tianora said with a bright smile. “And how is Ferdinand doing?”

“If you ladies would like to attend the social…” Mayor Brandon took great delight in planning town dances. “I could use another day to set it up.”

He was hoping for confirmation that the ladies were a couple, but Tianora just smiled and passed him a day bottle. “Thank you for the invitation,” she said, “but I believe we’ll stay home that night.”

And then came a day when Davrim had the bright idea that he would take one of Tianora’s potions at night and under cover of stopped time, steal many of her bottles. Not many people would even conceive of stealing from a witch, and fewer still would put a plan into action, but it should be said that Davrim had indulged from many non-magical bottles over the previous weeks, and it was his idea that it would save him a great deal of money if he could but stop time while drunk, postponing indefinitely the arrival of the price of intoxication. What was more, he had an intimate knowledge of the old alehouse from its former life.

So Davrim traded two hours of his likely cirrhosis-plagued old age for an hour of crime, and returned when the crescent moon was high. The wine cellar (he happened to know) could be accessed through a back door which itself could be jimmied off the latch inside. His fingers were not as sure as they’d once been, but memory served where dexterity had failed, and soon he was inside.

His first surprise came when he stumbled down to the wine cellar. His memory filled it with bottles, and he had expected to see a similar sight, only in many different shapes and colors. But the cellar stood empty, the wooden racks stretching bare to the back wall.

Davrim’s torch shook in his hands and flickered too, and so with the dancing shadows it took him a good several minutes to determine that indeed, the bounty of bottles he had anticipated was nowhere to be found. Well, he thought, there had been plenty in the shop upstairs when he’d been in that day. They’d be missed sooner, but he couldn’t come all this way for nothing.

Upstairs, he hummed to himself as he walked along the corridor to the main room, and stopped with one hand on the door when he realized that he was humming along to music he could hear. The rest of the night had been so still—no animal sounds, no wind, no creaks of settling wood—that he hadn’t even registered the music at first. But it was there, a bright, happy tune reaching through the door to draw him out.

He pushed slowly on the door and was greeted with his second surprise. A player piano tinkled the music he’d heard, and in the center of the floor, Tianora and Jewel danced.

They spun around, laughing gaily together, and they wore similar simple white robes which flowed and waved above their flying feet. Their hands rested on hips, on shoulders, and their eyes never left one another.

Except to settle on Davrim, both pairs of eyes, when their feet stilled and their smiles faded. Neither of them spoke, so Davrim supposed he’d best say something.

“Fine evening, ladies,” he said. “Sorry to intrude. I—heard the music. I’ll be on my way.”

“Oh, Davrim, you old drunk,” Tianora said. “Why don’t you come on in?”

Her voice, still light, held steel below it. Davrim did not want to come in, but his feet shuffled forward and his hand let go of the door. It swung behind him and shut with a click. “I didn’t mean no harm,” he said.

“And yet you’ve caused it.” Tianora glided toward him. “You’ve disturbed our privacy.”

“I won’t tell nobody.” He looked earnestly between them. “Nobody’d care nohow. There’s Fannie and Jellinda and they walk together hand in hand.”

“We don’t care that people know.” Jewel spoke in a low voice. “We like our privacy. We can be together, alone, with all the time we need.”

Davrim’s hand shook so badly he dropped his torch. “I’ll leave,” he said. “I’ll never come back.”

Tianora’s fingers touched his brow. “Yes,” she said.

He was old and had indulged often, so there was no particular surprise when Davrim’s body was found that morning. “He looks so old,” Timony, the stable boy who found him, said.

Mayor Brandon shook his head sadly. “Let this be a lesson to you on the perils of drink, Timony,” he said.

In the course of his duties, he returned to Tianora’s shop. She greeted him in a sober black dress. “You must have heard the news,” he said. “Well, as it happens, I will have to have his funeral…time is so short…perhaps a day for me and one for each assistant?”

“Such a tragedy,” Tianora murmured. “Jewel, please fetch three days for the Mayor from the wine cellar.”

Cultural Differences

I’m used to sitting in coffee shops and restaurants in Silicon Valley overhearing conversations about technology. Today I was eating lunch in New York and the guys next to me were talking about technology, and something was a little different about it, so I spent my lunch (which they talked the whole way through) thinking about it. I came up with this: the guys in New York were talking as pure end users. I don’t think there are a lot of those in Silicon Valley, or even in the greater SF Bay Area. What theater is to New York and movies are to L.A., technology is to the Bay. A conversation about OneNote in the Bay Area would’ve started with a discussion of the more esoteric features, followed either by a talk about the finances of the company or by some small startup that was going to eat their lunch because it does one feature better. Or possibly they would compare OneNote to some previous software or competitor, longing wistfully for the days when said software did everything so easily. The point is, in the Bay, technology is a culture.

In New York, not to overgeneralize based on one conversation (certainly there are a lot of technology offices in NYC), technology is a tool. They talked about OneNote versus Dropbox versus iCloud versus Google Drive (SugarSync was not mentioned) the way you might talk about different cars. One guy asked, “Why do you use OneNote instead of MS Word?” and the other had to explain that it wasn’t a way to create documents but to store stuff. They talked about how each of those things kind of lives with its own application–the one guy had trouble saving stuff from Gmail to OneNote, for instance. *

(*Also: the one guy said “Microsoft 365 is pretty good” and the other guy totally listened to him, which would be enough on its own to place the conversation outside the Bay Area.)

I don’t want this to come off as “New Yorkers are stupid about technology,” because that’s absolutely not true. The two guys knew what all the technology did. They were struggling to find ways to make it all work for them. The reason this is interesting is because I think a lot of the time, Bay Area people forget that not everyone knows what their software does, or can understand it from a single ad. They come at it from the perspective of their immersion in technology–what do you mean, you don’t know the difference between Google Chat and Google Hangout??–and often in trying to make their software easier, they omit to make it intelligible.

None of this is new. It’s been documented before by people much more savvy and well-traveled than me. But from a writing perspective, it was an interesting reminder to think about cultural perspectives when you’re creating cities and civilizations. Not everyone even in the same country has the same backgrounds. 

 

Writer Blog Hop, One Hop Along

Take a look at Rebecca Adams Wright’s answers to the Writers Blog Hop questions! She does a great job of explaining what she writes and why.

LonCon 3 Schedule

I’m leaving for LonCon in, uh, three days. If you’re going to be there, here’s where you can find me:

Kaleidoscope Book Launch, Friday 13:30-14:30, Book Launch section of the Library in the Fan Village. Come help me and the authors and editors of “Kaleidoscope” celebrate the release of our diverse YA anthology. I’m really excited to be part of this and there’ll be a bunch of cool people there!

Panel: The Problem With Making a Living Writing F&SF, Friday 19:00-20:00, Capital Suite 4. Me and three other authors talk about whether F&SF is too much of a niche for most people to make a living in.

Panel: Furry Fandom: It’s Not What You Think, Saturday 18:00-19:00, Capital Suite 15. MikePaws, me, Huskyteer, foozzzball, and other furries talk about the fandom. There may be some costumes there!

Panel: Queer Desires In Fandom, Sunday 16:30-18:00, Capital Suite 13. I join some other authors to talk about why different fandoms create slash fic, video, and other transformative creations featuring alternative sexualities, different genders, different relationships, and so on.

Otherwise I’ll be around, and hopefully I’ll have a data plan so I can tweet where I’m hanging out. We’re getting in Thursday and will be taking off Monday morning for our trip to France and thence on to Berlin. I’m looking forward to it!

Writers’ Blog Hop!

I was asked by Dominick D’Aunno, a colleague of mine from the novel workshop earlier this year, to participate in a Writer’s Blog Hop, wherein I answer four questions and then tag two other writers to answer the same questions. Dominick has answered those questions and now it’s my turn.

What am I working on?

A bunch of things. My most immediately current project is a novel called “Black Angel,” the third in a series I’m writing under an alias (I use this alias for more mature work usually; the reason for using it for this series, which is YA, is complicated). The story takes place in a furry world (shorthand: think Disney’s “Robin Hood” where all the people are animal-people) and the protagonist is Meg, a nineteen-year-old otter girl whose friends have had supernatural experiences (in the previous two books of which they were the main characters) which she insists were not supernatural. In “Black Angel” we see her struggle with her own supernatural experience as well as her sexuality and we find out the reason she insists on remaining so grounded in the real world.

I’m also working on a fantasy novel that has been sticking with me for about four years at this point? Five? I think in the novel workshop I attended this summer I figured out what was wrong with the latest draft, if not how to fix it, but knowing how to find out how to fix it is an important step. This one is an alternate history set in 1815. The world is much as we know it, except that there’s magic, and among the effects it’s had are: the American Revolution has not happened, Spain has remained a world power, China is considered a world power, and a mage named Calatus created animal-people (now called Calatians) four hundred years ago without telling anyone how or why. Our hero, a fox-person named Kip, is the first Calatian to attend a sorcerer’s college, and book 1 details his challenges in gaining acceptance and solving the mysteries of the college.

Then I’ve got a novelette going for submission to an anthology and a novella due to be released later this year. On top of that, I have a novel to edit for release early in 2016 and I want to get some short stories out. I may have forgotten a few other things…

How does my work differ from others in the genre?

Depends which genre you’re talking about! I write about furries a lot, so that’s a big difference from the mainstream F/SF crowd (and just about any crowd outside the furry fandom). I just really like the concept of exploring what you are when it’s different from human, and I like the animal aesthetic, so it’s a natural fit. It also works well with the other major element of my work, which is gay relationships. Using characters with non-human backgrounds but human personalities in a human world lets me focus on the interactions between those characters rather than the cultures of where they come from. I know that culture is an important part of people’s lives, but I like being able to make that up, because then I don’t offend anyone and I can worry about “what happens when you love someone you’re not supposed to,” which comes up a lot.

I guess another way my fiction differs from F/SF is that I’m not after the “big world-changing thing” that SF loves, and I’m not sold on secondary fantasy worlds (though I have dabbled in them). I like writing about real people with real problems and I put a lot of my creative energy into my characters. One of the best compliments I get is when people tell me they feel like my characters are real, that they want to yell at them and slap them and hug them. Then I feel like I’ve created a real story.

Why do I write what I do?

I write animal-people cause I like the aesthetic, and for the reasons I sort of explained above. I write about gay relationships because I’m in one and many of my friends are in or have been in one, and because there aren’t nearly enough stories about them, and because the progression of how gay people are viewed in this country and in the world over my lifetime is a really fascinating story.

How does my writing process work?

I write full time, supported largely by my alias, but unlike many full-time writers, I keep a largely office-hours schedule. I get up with my husband and try to be at the computer at 9 or 9:30. I write for most of the morning and take a break for lunch. In the afternoon, I work on secondary projects (this week my secondary project is researching and outlining a comic script I’m working on with a friend) and tackle e-mails and other business matters associated with being a full time writer.

When I write a novel, I write the first draft and then let it sit for a month or more–sometimes as long as a year. Then I pull it out and do my own edit on it to fix big structural and character problems. The next step is to pass it out to my writing group and give them a couple months to read it and give feedback. I do another pass with their feedback and then usually have a second round of readers to go through it. After another edit, it goes off to the publisher for edits and then I do a final pass where I read the WHOLE THING aloud to catch mistakes, and then it goes off to be printed. Then I wait for the first person to e-mail me and tell me what typo they’ve found.

Next Hop!

You will see answers to these questions on the blogs of two very talented writers. First, Rebecca Adams Wright, a Clarion classmate of mine with a lot of talent and a penchant for writing about sharks and bees and alien parasites, among other things. I particularly like her story “Yuri, in a Blue Dress,” if you are unfamiliar with her work and would like a place to start. She will post her answers at http://www.radamswright.com .

Rebecca Adams Wright is a 2011 graduate of the Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop and a former University of Michigan Zell Writing Fellow. She has an MFA in fiction from the University of Michigan and has won the Leonard and Eileen Newman Writing Prize, So to Speak magazine’s 2009 fiction contest, and a late-night Emily Dickinson poetry challenge. She is a former slush reader for Clarkesworld magazine.

Rebecca’s stories have appeared in Day One, The Account, and Daily Science Fiction and her nonfiction has appeared in Children’s Literature in Education. Her short story collection, The Thing About Great White Sharks and Other Stories, will be released by Little A in February, 2015. Rebecca lives in Ypsilanti, Michigan with her husband and daughter.

Second, you’ll see the answers from Ryan Campbell. Ryan has been in a writing group with me for over half a decade and is the author of the wonderful novel “God of Clay“. He has just returned from the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Workshop and will post his answers at lunchmuse.blogspot.com.

Clarion Write-A-Thon Wrapping Up

I’m pleased to announce that I’ve reached my goal of 50,000 words for the Write-A-Thon (even if I haven’t quite updated my page yet). You still have two days to offer some support by way of congratulations, I guess–I doubt I will be adding much as I have just finished a conbook story that was due this morning and I have to spend the rest of the day writing a wedding I’m going to be performing tomorrow (it is a very small legal ceremony so not complicated). But the book will continue and it would be great to help out the Clarion Foundation a little more.

And more Bond posts are coming up. Only five to go! Also I will be posting next week about my WorldCon schedule, which includes a launch event for “Kaleidoscope,” the Diversity in YA anthology I’m published in. Busy summer! Hope to see some of you guys in London. :)

Clarion Write-A-Thon Week 4

I’m still working on my Clarion Write-A-Thon, with a goal of 50,000 words. We’ve just passed the halfway point and I’m 3/4 done with my goal, so I think I’m in good shape even with the coming ten days away from home for Comic-Con.

(By the way: I’ll be at Comic-con! If you’re going, stop by the Sofawolf Press booth at #1236 in the Webcomics section and say hi!)

So far I have not done a great job getting donations or pledges. I have $100, which isn’t bad, but I’d like to get more. So here’s the deal. I’ll post an excerpt of what I’ve been working on today. Every additional $50 in pledges, I’ll post another one.

Head on over and check out the excerpt, and if you like it, please pledge a bit!

Six: Nobody Does It Better

6. Nobody Does It Better, Carly Simon (from The Spy Who Loved Me). The first and best of the “Bond is an amazing lover” themes. Not is it a great ballad that absolutely works with the movie, lyricist Carole Bayer Sager also included the awkward title of the movie in the song lyrics: “That was one of the things they said, ‘where’s the title [of the film]?’ So I kinda just poked it in part of the verse: like heaven above me, the spy who loved me, is keeping all my secrets safe tonight. When I was writing the song, I was thinking I was writing a love song to James Bond.” She was, and nobody has done it better.

Fiction: Nobody Does It Better

(Note: I am borrowing here from Kyell Gold’s furry superhero universe chronicled in “In the Doghouse of Justice,” which features mature stories about a league of canid superheroes. Kyell is cool with this.)

So you’re an African Wild Dog who at the age of fifteen discovered that when he wanted someone to do something really badly, that person would do what he wanted.
You were an unremarkable pup up to that point: smart enough to keep advancing in school, athletic enough to play football. Your mom might have been a tour guide through the nearby jungle for rich first-worlders on safari, or she might have been a clerk for one of your town’s legal companies; you never really told anyone because it wasn’t important. Your father had been a big game hunter or maybe a soldier, but had given it up the day he’d sighted down his rifle and realized he was no longer willing to end a life. They raised you and your brothers and sister to be kind, to be generous, to stand up for yourselves without knocking down anyone else, as your mother said often.
As you explored this new ability, you found that there were limits. You couldn’t make someone a different person. You couldn’t, for example, tell the bully who beat up your younger brother to befriend him. That maneless lion did put his arm around your brother, true, but five minutes after you walked away your brother wailed for you and the lion was punching him again.
You couldn’t sustain this coercion longer than you could concentrate on it.
You could affect what people thought they saw and heard. This came in handy when your best friend Ogano saw you make your classmate put back the Fanta he’d stolen and forget he’d taken it; Ogano shook all over and said, “Demon!” and you had to tell him that he’d only seen the buffalo kid reach for the Fanta and then think better of it and then you’d both gone outside.
It became complicated and so you used your power almost not at all by the time you were eighteen, but you always wondered what good you might do with it. So you applied to the superhero league you read about in the paper. They sent an escort to bring you to their headquarters, which looked nothing like the comic books (much more starkly steel and brick), and they gave you a series of tests, some on paper, some using your ability.
In the end, you were accepted, and though you were nervous the first time you went on a mission, you told the criminal to drop her weapon, and she did, and WonderWolf said afterwards that he’d never seen a mission go so smoothly, and you were hanging out with WonderWolf and Psycho Coyote and you even met Crypto and it all seemed like a dream.
The first profiles of you began appearing in the newsfeeds. You were interviewed, every reporter bringing along a portable camera, every reporter making the joke, “You can’t make the camera write something nice about you.” You smiled and chuckled politely every time even though the joke hurt. You wouldn’t ever make someone write anything about you. They could write what they wanted.
And all of them said similar things. “Nicest superhero we’ve ever met.” “If you were going to pick anyone you know to be entrusted with this power, it would be Coercion Dog.”
(You don’t like that name, but the League’s PR person came up with it. You wanted to be called Hilali because that’s your name.)
Not all the missions went well; when you couldn’t get close to the target, your power didn’t work. But Crypto was good at assigning you to the right spot, and your first evaluation came back glowing. You bought your parents a new house, your eldest brother a car.
In your second year, new articles started appearing. “What Drives Coercion Dog?” one journal wrote. WonderWolf was motivated to save this planet as he couldn’t save his home world. Glace’s mother had served twenty years on the police and had instilled in her daughter a devotion to law and order. Sim felt the suffering of others and had to remedy it; Scope would be driven crazy by her overloaded senses without the League’s gadgetry. And so on, and so on. But Coercion Dog was just a nice guy from the third world. The journal wondered openly what secrets you were hiding.
Your League’s PR person told you not to worry, that it would all go away. But then one of the religious groups you hadn’t paid attention to, one that had lauded your inclusion into the league, found that your religion didn’t match theirs. Overnight, your “enactment of God’s will” became “a dangerous power.” They asked people whether they wanted a hero who could reach into their mind and make them do anything—anything at all.
Your record, you hoped, would speak for itself. But you were the subject of a parody website article jokingly Photoshopping you into the background of the President’s office during a foreign policy fiasco. More than one site picked up the photo—but not the “parody” designation. The articles grew angrier, the shouts louder.
“A lie can travel round the world before the truth gets out the door,” the league PR person said, as though that was meant to comfort you.
Your ordinary background became a target, as though no superhero could be so unrelentingly nice without a trauma behind him. None of the league’s application forms had a spot for “terrible childhood event that shaped you into a hero,” but that was the narrative, and because you didn’t fit, you were assumed to be hiding something. Your teammates told you not to read the articles, but they bombarded your life: in e-mail, in social media, anywhere you tried to read the Internet, and you couldn’t stop looking at what people said. You wanted them to like you, and every time someone didn’t, it seized your heart with a grip like a crocodile’s teeth.
It wasn’t the wild accusations that bothered you. It was that people wanted to believe that you weren’t as good as you claimed.
And then you slipped. You were doing an interview after a successful mission. The reporter was hostile, asking whether you controlled your teammates, asking whether you humiliated the criminal when you controlled him, asking another question about your background and your parents and the town where you grew up and you couldn’t help it, you wanted so badly for him to believe you that you felt the snap of your power. The reporter stopped asking questions and said, “Of course I believe you. You’re just a good guy, that’s all.”
It looked terrible on camera. The PR person bared her teeth and said she could spin it, but you knew in your heart it was too late. “Let me resign,” you told her, and she couldn’t stop you from signing the contracts and leaving.
People leave you alone now, because you tell them to. You don’t read anything on the Internet anymore. You live on the upper floor of your parents’ new house and you look out over the town.
Sometimes, when you can, you set things in the town right. You don’t know why you still want to do it, but you can’t make yourself stop.

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