I’m a sponge for stories. I marvel at their power to evoke emotion and ability to instigate reflection. As a queer kid battling his inner demons, they were my escape from a world I felt hated me. Some were just a collection of fluff and circumstances, offering a few hours of mindless entertainment or fanciful daydreams. Others were dark and grim reflections, where searching for the truth comes with a body count. In coming up with my influences out of the many writers whose words echo in my head, there are three that resonate the loudest.
“The ships hung in the sky in much the same way bricks don’t.” -Douglas Adams
That’s the line, the first time I ever laughed out loud while reading. I repeated it six times, giggling into fits of hysterics. Douglas Adams was my first exposure to absurdist humor and satire in literary form. It was laughter I desperately needed in my life, the sort of laughter that comes from deep inside that acts as a catharsis for your subconscious. No fifth grader should ever go through life as a cynic, but I was a miserable wreck of a kid, jaded, sad, and alone. Adams’ wit rekindled a forgotten spark of joy, and it was a joy that reminded me what I wanted to do with my life.
I was here to make people laugh, whether they wanted to or not. I wanted to be Zaphod Beeblebrox, which actually did make me kind of an asshole. Now that I’m older, that early exposure to a lust for living has stuck with me, even at the times where my depression says otherwise. The universe can be an exciting, thrilling, and somewhat terrifying place, and I try to represent that in all of my world building. The environment in which my characters exist is a source of countless jokes, even if those jokes are at their own expense. And sometimes it is their lack of reacting that is the greatest joke of all.
“So it goes.” -Kurt Vonnegut
Being a nihilist as a teenager comes easy in high school. Sure, I was funny, but there was a darkness to every joke I told. A sly, subtle reference to my own mortality, and the growing belief I’d never make it past my 20’s. It’s why Vonnegut initially resonated so much with me. There was a cavalier morbidity to his writing, that everything was crazy and we all ended up dead in the end. But there was more to it than that, as the thing that was the source of my conviction became my great undoing. Without realizing it, Vonnegut unraveled the perceptions I held about my identity, and my capacity for change.
Vonnegut writes about unintended consequences, most of which are completely outside of his characters control. The more they try to make sense of the world, the more they realize nothing actually does, and they can only watch or respond to life’s absurdity. It’s how I plot my books, creating a series of minor occurrences that my characters serve as witness to, or indirectly are affected by. No one ever plans for heroics, we just fall into them by accident, or even worse, we’re forced into it. Our eventual demise is a certainty, and it’s those moments that test our character and our convictions that actually matter. I write stories about the everyman, because even though they know the outcome, they still stand up whether they want to or not.
“The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.” – Terry Pratchett
This one is hard for me to write, in large part because I’m still grieving. Adams opened me up to the power of laughter. Vonnegut showed me the unpredictability of life. Pratchett, Pratchett taught me it’s ok to be angry. That I should be angry, and use that anger to rage about the injustices of the world and call out bullshit whenever I see it. Pratchett did it better than anyone, and he did it using humor and guile. Satire is at its best when you forget it’s satire, and only upon reflection do you see the broader message. Sure, not everyone will get it, or understand the nuances, but for those that do, their world will never be the same.
We, like every great character, can be instruments of change. Through our lives, all things are possible. We are unique in our ability to change ourselves, and through both direct and indirect action, change our surroundings. Through a series of forty-one books, Pratchett reflected this capacity for change. It came in small doses over time, with consequences only coming to fruition deep within the margins of seemingly unrelated stories. But all stories are connected, whether we perceive them to be or not. Every single Discworld story Pratchett wrote was self contained, but they were still all Discworld. Main characters from one story showed up in the background of another constantly. The smallest breaking of a rule or the tiniest moment of progress, can ripple through the years until the entire world is turned upon its head. Everything’s connected. We’re all connected.
And yes, we can do better.