Embracing Stigmas

As more and more people become aware of my research into Molly Fyde, I’m finding myself combating one inquiry more than most. Surprisingly, it isn’t whether or not I’ve lost my mind, why I’ve stopped bathing and shaving, or if going back in time and killing someones grandfather will cause the universe to implode…

Nope. What people really want to know is how I can be so audacious as to attempt the proper telling of a young woman’s story. How, as a male, could I ever relate to Molly’s way of thinking?

There’s a simple answer I like to give (for comedic effect and to avoid the truth): “Because I spent four years of directed study on the subject in high school, neglecting all other areas of research.”

The reality is, my education on stigmas has proceeded parallel to my studying Molly’s adventures. In many ways, this has made the experience even more powerful. I didn’t arrive, all covered in scars; I’ve been suffering new wounds alongside her. My naive hurts have mirrored her own.

“What hurts?” you ask. Well, try publishing a work of science fiction in today’s market. Imagine 90% of publishers and agents telling you, “We don’t serve your kind here.” The pain of segregation in the bookstores would be damaging enough, but then there’s the added humility of being lumped together with “fantasy,” ignoring the prophetic nature of one genre and the purely fanciful tone of the other (yes, I’m aware of my simultaneous call for integration and segregation in the same sentence. My hypocritical stance is a call for the end of the hypocrisy).

Going by the movies and TV shows people prefer, it’s clear to me that an honest look to the future is one of the most popular forms of entertainment. Even CSI and its ilk are science-fiction. Just ask the forensic specialists and medical examiners. It’s a fact: we love the almost-possible more than the mundane. We pine for what’s about to be and then we quickly grow bored of it once it has “become.”

Despite this positive bias in the consumers of entertainment, my work (while not entirely a work of fiction) is shunned by the purveyors of it. Not personally, mind you; I’ve only begun searching for an avenue toward publication. No, this is a systematic ostracizing. An institutional one. And book-specific, really. Even those that rave about the Star Wars franchise frown on reading from the same genre. It’s in their sneers when you answer their “Whatcha reading?” with “Some science fiction.”

“Oh,” they’ll say, as if there’s nothing to be absorbed by it. Nothing to be gleaned. As if the diversity of human experience can be shelved in one tidy section of Barnes and Noble. As if Oprah’s book club can be considered “inclusive” without the greens and grays.

If the sci-fi stigma weren’t enough, imagine the horror if I print the book myself! This is death to authors. Sure, some terminally-ill patients such as Daniel Suarez defy the doctors and arise from their coma, but does this inspire me to insert a catheter and don a patient’s robe for the next five years?

Mmmm… not quite.

Printing on demand is rightly seen as vanity publishing. The author knows, deep down, that their work isn’t good enough (or they’ve given up on trying to convince the world otherwise). The allure of seeing their name stamped on a spine (shoddily-glued, no doubt) is too much. They fall for the dream of publishing the next Harry Potter–of showing up all the know-nothings that rejected what is surely Pulitzer material.

And then they sell 40 copies. 20 to themselves, a dozen to their mother, and the rest to friends who pretend to read the book and get busted for not remembering every single plot point. Vanity, indeed.

The confusion for many POD authors is that they believe their wife or husband when they praise the work. They forget that these people didn’t pay $20 for the disappointment, and are probably just tickled to discover that their spouse can compose a sentence or two. Or maybe they’re urging along this lifestyle that provides minimal daily interactions? Who knows. Just don’t trust ’em.

What’s Molly feeling as a young woman lost in a sea of cadets? I don’t have to guess. And not because I have reams of her poetry and journal entries. It has more to do with my attempt to publish her saga, a work of science fiction, in a declining market and as a first-time author. Oh… and I’m a 33-year-old white male writing YA feminist books about not fitting in and how the galaxy is unfair.

Yeah. The audacity is what makes me different. As soon as you point out how ridiculous I am, you’ve made me not-ridiculous. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. As easy to understand as a time-travel paradox.

COMMENTS (1)

Ben Bova, one of the SF greats, suggests that these stigmas should be replaced with mandatory reading… by our world leaders!

http://www.naplesnews.com/news/2009/jun/06/ben-bova/