Tag Archives: Novel

“Me Before You”

I just read a review of the book Me Before You. I had never heard of it before, and the only reason I read the review was because a friend of mine posted it and the title of the article sounded interesting. Apparently there is a movie adaptation coming out in the near future, and based strictly on the plot presented in the article, this story sounds idiotic and evil. I don’t use the word “evil” lightly.

It’s supposed to be about a romance between a quadriplegic guy and his caretaker. He was paralyzed after being hit by a motorcycle and now hates his life. Apparently it is also over-emphasized  how people see and treat him differently. People are invariably awkward or uncomfortable around him. What’s even more problematic is that for one thing, he values himself so little that he is suicidal, and refuses to pursue what could be a loving, fulfilling relationship. It seems to me that he is largely portrayed as a burden or an object–at best, someone to be pitied and nothing else.

Normally I wouldn’t judge a story before I’ve seen the movie or read the book, but this really makes me angry for so many reasons. I was born with Muscular Dystrophy, and I developed epilepsy when I was eight, so my situation is different than that of Will’s (the character in the book), but the problems arising from this portrayal relate to disability in general.

I think it is true that the world sees people with disabilities differently. Sometimes people do pity us. Sometimes people are awkward around us. However, I noticed it a lot more when I was a kid. My peers were awkward. Sometimes I was shunned or excluded from things. However, I don’t think mature adults do this. Maybe it’s because I’m more comfortable with myself, but most of the time I don’t think people even see the wheelchair. They just see me. Often little kids look at me funny because they’re curious and they don’t understand, and I’m not offended. Their parents often try and get them away, so I make an effort to talk to them and act like a normal human being.

The fact of the matter is, disabilities are not something to be pitied. It’s just different. I can’t walk. So what? I am the first of my friends to graduate college. I’m the only one of my friends to have written and published music. I can write. They can’t. After reading the article this morning, I realized something else. If I was paralyzed, I’d have to be even more creative. This spring I took a few months of violin lessons. I don’t play violin the “normal” way because I can’t extend my arms enough. My dad made me a metal bar that fits into a hole in the side of my wheelchair and bends over my legs. I rest the violin upright on the bar, and play it kind of like a cello. My favorite thing is when people tell me I won’t be able to do X, Y, or Z, because I love to prove them wrong. I would love to hear about some of the creative things people with other disabilities have come up with.

I also love the question: “Do you mind if I ask…?” No one knows how to pose the question. They always trail off. I don’t know why, but I like telling people what Muscular Dystrophy is. Then I abruptly change the subject because my disability does not define me. This actually touches on a broader issue. I think, too often, people let small things define them. They sometimes put far too much emphasis on their own sexuality or the color of their skin or their gender or what have you. They do this because the world has done it to them for so long that it’s become second nature. It’s become their defining feature. I recently told my dad that when I was a little kid I hated the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I never had an answer. He said they asked because they were trying to put me in a box.

Our culture loves boxes, and they hate it when one box doesn’t comfortably fit in another. I am not primarily a disabled person. I am not primarily a woman. I am not primarily asexual. I am not primarily white. I am all these things, but I don’t really care about them. What matters to me is that I write well and that I love people, and that means all people, in a real, significant, tangible way. It matters to me that I’m an optimist in a largely pessimistic or even nihilistic culture.

The fact of the matter is, my disability makes certain things difficult. It makes some things impossible. That does occasionally bother me. Because of my MD I will never be able to live on my own. Because of my epilepsy I will most likely never be able to hold down a “regular” job. That’s fine by me. It’s all the more reason to write a seriously awesome novel, followed by many more. Most of my main characters have some kind of disability. I don’t focus on those. I focus on their strengths and their personalities. My story is about how a diverse group of people work together to dismantle a very problematic, illegal government program. The problems presented by Me Before You are all the more motivation to finish this thing and knock it out of the park.

Lastly, I want to focus on something that is of utmost significance. God made me who I am. God made a Katie with disabilities. To tell the truth, I think my faith is much stronger than it otherwise would be because of this. It makes me realize how much I need him, and it makes me realize how close he is to me. It makes me realize how much he loves me and how much he loves all of us. I know for a fact I’d be a very different person had I not had my personal complications. I would probably have different friends, and I might be interested in different things. I’d probably be more athletic. I can’t even imagine all that would be different, and if I could see that version of myself, there’s no guarantee that I would like it. I like who I am now, and if I were offered a do-over, I wouldn’t take it.

To anyone reading this who feels like disabled people should be pitied: Don’t! If you pity us, you obviously don’t know us.

To anyone reading this who feels bad for themselves because of their disability: Don’t! Seriously! It’s a giant waste of your time! Be creative! Be productive! Be happy! There is always something to be happy about! Always!

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

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The Intensity Of Head-Space

Today is Star Wars Day, so of course I have to write about it. There’s so much I could write about. Realistically, it’s an absolutely amazing story. It has so much longevity, and as far as I know, it’s the closest we’ve got to a parallel universe. What I mean by that is, for one thing, it exists in several genres. Regardless of the quality, one can read, watch, and play Star Wars. This has been true since the very beginning. The universe exploded with A New Hope, and it’s still expanding. What is also significant is that is the amount of contributions from fans. The people who love this story shape what happens in its future and in the parts of the galaxy we wouldn’t otherwise see.

The latest RPG I’ve been a part of is a Star Wars rendition of Dark Heresy. We decided to go this route because we understood and cared about that universe. The time period our game takes place in is the height of the Empire (between Revenge of the Sith, and A New Hope), far away from where the “main story” is taking place. Before this, I had been part of two Dungeons and Dragons campaigns. I hastily threw together my characters, not thinking too much about who they really were, what they cared about, or where they came from. This time I took time.

My character’s name is Sky Turin. Before becoming a Jedi padawan she lived with her father on the lowest level of a planet similar to Coruscant, though this was not where she was originally from. Her parents were from the Sky, which was the wealthiest part of the planet. Think of Cloud City. The Surface, where she lived for most of her early life was the poorest. Her parents were what would probably be the Star Wars version of missionaries, working to empower the poorest people on the planet. When Sky was nineteen she rescued a Jedi, not much older than herself, who crash-landed in her neighborhood while in pursuit of a Dark Jedi. Dark Jedi, if you don’t know, were force-users who were not directly allied with the Jedi or the Sith. They generally minded their own business, but the few Jedi who remained after the Empire took most of them out pursued them, either to bring them over to their side or detain them if they could.

While Sky was helping Val escape, Val discovered that Sky could use the Force, though she didn’t know what she was doing at the time. Sky went with Val to the remaining Jedi–none of them officially masters–and was permitted to learn the Force and become a Jedi herself, as the Jedi were desperate for recruits. After some preliminary training with a light saber, Sky and Val went to a planet similar to Earth to investigate a possible meeting of Dark Jedi in a mountainous area, similar to the Rocky Mountains. While they were there they were ambushed and captured. Their captivity didn’t last long, however, because Val was extremely powerful with the Force. They were able to escape, but had to leave in separate ships. When Sky returned to the Jedi council, she discovered that Val had not returned. The council would not permit her to look for Val, so she left and began searching against their will. This is where I entered our campaign. While I don’t know the specifics of where the story is going, I do know that Sky is assertive, hates the Dark Jedi, hates the Empire, and mistrusts the Jedi themselves. She has been taught that the Dark Side is evil, and will lead to her own destruction, but she’s so obsessed with finding Val that she will most likely not always stick to the Code entirely. She’s also impulsive and will probably make some stupid decisions.

I considered writing Sky’s story in full detail. In fact, I tried, but she’s too distant from me, for lack of a better way to say it. Ironically, I think I have trouble creating a story in an already existent universe. My novel takes place in a future version of the U.S., but almost everything about that world is my own. It feels awkward to me to write about a universe that someone else made, even if I’m inventing most of the details of a story that is otherwise original. It feels weird to talk about the Force and the Empire and the Jedi as if they were my own. It feels invasive in a way, like I’m invading someone else’s creative space. At the same time, the Star Wars universe has always seemed very inviting when it comes to original ideas. I think what this ultimately comes back to is that I’m much better at coming up with characters than I am at coming up with plot. I’m great at writing their past, but when it comes to writing their present, I often get stuck.

I’ve written two hundred pages of my novel thus far, and I’m about fifty pages into Part 2. Part 1 was a lot easier to write. So far I’ve had to write two battle scenes. I think they were both okay, but they both need work. I have trouble with timing and intensity. Right now I’m working on a captivity situation. I have to deal with the head-space of a character who has just been captured and is about to be interrogated by an evil government. This kind of scene is slower, but I think, just as intense, and I’m much better at writing this kind of thing. I think Star Wars is a very action-oriented story, and maybe this is why I have trouble writing in that universe.

One of the greatest stories I’ve ever read is Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Most of that story takes place in dialogue and internal thoughts, which one might assume would be boring, but it’s anything but. Solitude, in particular, can make for some seriously intense character and plot development. Head-space, while mostly metaphorical, is still space, and in that space, anything can happen. In that space, a character can go insane or overcome impossible odds. A person’s psychology makes them who they are, and plot can’t exist without characters. A world without people in it doesn’t matter.

I’ve seen some great and some terrible post-apocalyptic movies. I’ve noticed two things regarding these, and regarding my story. First, the movies that are good have more people in them. It’s hard for a story to maintain its momentum when no one is around to keep things going. Second, what I’ve noticed, and sometimes want to smack myself for, is that I keep creating more characters. My story takes place over a very large area–basically the entire United States. I’ve noticed that the space in which a story takes place tends to correspond with the number of characters that are needed to keep the story going. Sometimes great movies or great stories take place in one house, or even one room. Sometimes there are only two or three characters involved, and these stories can be great. Some of the most intense scenes in my story are conversations or even internal monologues.

Interestingly, in the case of Star Wars, we really don’t get to see too much of the characters’ head-space, at least not directly. Their personalities come out in how they react and adapt to various situations. This is clearly effective because we know and love characters like R2D2 and Chewbacca, who never even speak a word of English. However, I think to get to know characters in this way, there needs to be constant action. There isn’t a lot of time, or even good reason to slow down. Finding a happy medium is definitely difficult. I think the few exceptions are the exchanges between Luke and Vader in Return of the Jedi, but even these are short and almost invariably turn into light saber fights. The thing about dialogue is that it has to be executed well. There are far more longer exchanges in The Phantom Menace-Revenge of the Sith, but they’re often not well written. They’re either boring or cheesey. If there had been less talk and more action, I think they would have been better movies.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Follow Through

On Saturday I was having some issues with my epilepsy, which took a little while to fix, and then I went to a writer’s group, specifically for science fiction writer’s. They meet once per month in Newton MA, which is about half an hour from where I live. I was the youngest person there by 20 years, and the oldest person there could have been my grandfather. They seemed like a really cool group of people. The age difference didn’t bother me. I just found it kind of amusing. We met in a little cafe, and it was noisy, so next month we’re potentially going to meet at my house. It was nice to have a good, stimulating conversation about a genre that I enjoy and care so much about. I’ve really missed this because I haven’t been in school since this past spring. It was also kind of intimidating because, being so much older than me, these people have read so much more than me and their heads are full of so much awesome stuff. It was so nice, though, because they’re weren’t condescending at all. I think they’ll be great mentors.

I’ve been talking to a lot of people about my book lately. It just has seemed to come up a lot in conversation. Sometimes I feel awkward telling people that I just graduated and am now writing a science fiction novel because it doesn’t sound like a real job. It’s often difficult to treat it like a job. It’s not always fun, but it’s also very flexible in terms of when I work and for how long, and what I do while I’m working. Sometimes I research technology, sometimes I research politics, sometimes I spend an hour on Google maps just plotting out where specifically things are happening and how those things will affect my story, sometimes I just work on notes, sometimes I work on the timeline of events, sometimes I write a whole chapter in one go.

The more I talk about writing this story, the more interested people seem to be. Sometimes I find it difficult to just sit down and write, but lately I’ve felt more excited, partly because people want me to finish it so they can read it. I know it certainly won’t be for everyone. It’s a science fiction novel, which in the literary world is often disregarded as nothing more than entertainment. I’m trying very hard to make this story important and intellectually stimulating. I want it to matter. It takes place in a post post-apocalyptic society, which means the world has already fallen apart, but now people have started to figure things out, and they’re rebuilding. I’m using this environment to explore a few different ideas. One aspect of my story is essentially a thought experiment about what happens to war when the military becomes automated (i.e. what happens if we have robot, or in this case, super-clone soldiers). Another thing I’m trying to do is expose some stigmas and unfair ideas and policies surrounding people with disabilities. Thirdly, I’m taking a look at what the world might be like in the absence of any religion or sense of a spiritual existence. Obviously I’m a little or a lot bias, but I’m trying to let my characters take the lead, and they’re turning into some very interesting people.

I was telling my dad about all of this earlier today and he told me that I just need to follow through, and that I often seem to have trouble with that. I start a project and then when things get too complicated I chicken out. I don’t feel like that’s entirely fair. He was referring to my musical endeavors, which have, at least for the time being, been put on hold. I’ve thought it through and a successful musical career doesn’t seem manageable. It’s not like I haven’t tried, but for one thing, it’s a colossal investment, which is something I presently can’t afford. Secondly, I can’t get gigs. I’ve tried. I really have. I’m just tired of being ignored in that department, so for the time being, I give up. Thirdly, I don’t think I can reasonably do it, physically. Say, theoretically, I became successful enough to go on tour. Right now I get tired after playing for an hour, so if I were to play longer shows, I would have to physically prepare for that, but beyond that, I can’t be having epilepsy symptoms in the middle of a song. It has occasionally happened at open mics, and it sucks. That kind of stuff would be way more manageable at book signings or what have you, assuming my book does well enough. Fourth, I already have connections in the literary world that I don’t have in the musical world, and I know more about publishing, etc. Lastly, I don’t want music to be work. I love it too much, I know I’m good at it, and I just want to share it; I don’t care if I get paid. I don’t want to treat it like a business because I want it to stay pure, kind of like this blog.

I will follow through with my story. I have thought it through and in so many ways it seems like a much more reasonable option, and it seems like I have a much better chance at getting noticed. I have until the end of next summer to finish it, which should be plenty of time. I know, at least basically, how the rest of the story is going to play out, and the later parts are going to be a lot of fun to write. I even have ideas for possible sequels. Even if this doesn’t do great in terms of payoff, it cost me nothing to make, and I will still consider it a success because this will be the best thing I’ve ever written when I’m done with it. It will need a lot of revision because I’m a perfectionist, but that just means it’s going to be great.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!