My Superpower is a regular guest column on the Skiffy and Fanty blog where authors and creators tell us about one weird skill, neat trick, highly specialized cybernetic upgrade, or other superpower they have, and how it helped (or hindered!) their creative process as they built their project. Today we welcome Harry Connolly to talk about how the power of intense focus relates to The Way Into Chaos.
My superpower is a little different from most. It’s not something I can do, and it’s not a way I can bend the universe to to what I need it to do. In fact, my superpower is a sort of invulnerability.
It’s this: I’m not paying attention to you.
That’s it. That’s my power. I’m not paying attention. A boring teacher in a boring class? Their lessons bounce right off. Trying to bend my ear about your favorite programming language/why Tom Bombadil should have been in the LOTR movies/why this season of Doctor Who sucks—again—but you still have hope for the next one? None of that even registers. The words just ricochet off me. I’m not listening. I’m probably not looking at you, either.
Does this make me a super-fun guest at social events? Does it ever! A few years ago I went with a co-worker for a couple of beers, and afterwards we walked to the bus stop.
At one point, I suddenly realized he was talking to me and had been talking to me for two whole blocks and I hadn’t even noticed. I was so deep into my own thoughts, I couldn’t hear what he was saying.
My wife (my poor wife) has learned the signs; when my expression goes vague, and my head turns slightly to the left, and I start staring at a fixed point in space, she recognizes that I’ve lost focus and can’t hear what she’s saying any more. Usually she’ll call my name or lean into my line of sight to recapture my attention, but sometimes she decides that we’ve talked long enough on a subject and says “Okay. That can be enough,” and picks up a book.
Charming, ain’t I?
Thing is, readers sometimes praise my books because the stuff in them is original or unexpected. Sometimes it’s a monster they’ve never seen before, or an unusual way to deal with magic. Sometimes they’ll read the opening chapters of a novel, confidently predict everything that’s about to happen, and get it all wrong. They think my books are odd or different.
Creativity, they say, as though I’m an especially creative writer.
The truth is, I’m not. Like every other writer, I’m full of cliches and secondary ideas and stuff we’ve all seen in movies. That’s where my superpower comes in.
Because while I don’t think I’m especially creative, I do spend an incredible amount of time living inside my own head. I have certain systematic ways of looking at a trope or a cliche (or a cliched trope) that will pull it apart and figure out why it’s done a certain way, and what parts can still be changed without breaking things. It’s not flashes of brilliance. It’s simply long, plodding hours of pondering.
How can I create a monster that’s scary without using predator cues like teeth and claws?
What’s the best way to combine two genres defined by the emotions they evoke?
What’s an interesting way to limit this magic?
How should I design a murder mystery that takes place in a world with magic?
What kind of supporting cast would be unusual for a story like this?
What would be a fun and interesting take on vampires?
Obviously, some of these answers depend on being widely read. How many takes on vampires have there been over the last thirty years? Over the last hundred and thirty? How could any writer reasonably expect to come up with something no one else has done before? How would you even know if you succeeded?
Those are fine questions. I’ll have to think about them for a while.
Big surprise: this isn’t the flashiest superpower. It’s not convenient. It’s slow and plodding. It gives me a quiet place so I can do the inch-by-inch work of solving problems and improving choices. But it doesn’t allow for flashes of brilliance or creative highs. It’s just a long walk on a busy sidewalk, an hour staring out a cafe window, or a TV show I barely remember watching.
Still, it’s enough. It has to be.
Maybe if I write another one of these sometime, I can talk about what it’s like to live in a horrible monster’s body.
About the Author:
Harry Connolly’s debut novel, Child Of Fire, was named to Publishers Weekly’s Best 100 Novels of 2009. For his epic fantasy series The Great Way, he turned to Kickstarter; currently, it’s the ninth-most-funded Fiction campaign ever. Book one of The Great Way, The Way Into Chaos was published in December, 2014. Book two, The Way Into Magic, was published in January, 2015. The third and final book, The Way Into Darkness, was released today. Harry lives in Seattle with his beloved wife, beloved son, and beloved library system. Find him online at www.harryjconnolly.com
The Way Into Chaos was released December 18th, 2014. Buy from:
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