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 Jonathan Wood to talk about how the power of Multitasking and Toothpaste relates to No Hero.
When asked to write about my super power, I panicked. I am British and middle class. There’s my ability to consume staggering amounts of bland, flavorless food, but that doesn’t seem like exactly the right subject matter.
So I did what I usually do when I am at a loss. I turned to my wife. She shrugged (which, in retrospect, was not the most encouraging sign) and said, “You could write about your multi-tasking thing.”
At first I didn’t know what she was talking about. Then I realized that what she was describing as an ability was what I perceive as an inability. Because I am basically incapable of doing one thing at a time.
I am a chronic fidgeter. I think one of the reasons I like writing so much is it gives me something to do with my hands all day. But if my hands are occupied, then my mind gets easily bored, which basically means I try to consume stories whenever and however I can.
I am the sort of man who looks forward to the ten minutes of washing dishes after supper because while everyone else goes off to do something else, I have some spare time to get a few more pages in. I have listened to a forty-hour Stephen King audiobook purely in the 7 minute drives I make to and from the train station every day. Sure, it made it seem a little disjointed and took the best part of 6 months, but it really was one of the best parts of 6 months. At this point, I cannot even spend the two minutes brushing my teeth without flicking on an audiobook or trying to look something up on Wikipedia or desperately trying to hold a book open with one elbow while pistoning plaque from my teeth. Incidentally, this has lead to a lot of my books being spray-coated with toothpaste. In fact, if this is my superpower, toothpaste may be my kryptonite.
(Yes, I am British. No, my teeth aren’t that bad).
It’s a question of perspective, I suppose. Where I see a lack, my wife sees… something. A superpower may be pushing it, but once I started to look at this particular character quirk through my wife’s eyes, I did start to see the upside.
Whenever I get the chance, I like to re-quote the writing advice of thriller author James Rollins: “Write every day and read every night.” Reading is critically important to writers, because the way you really learn to write is through the absorption of other stories. That’s where you see that the beats, and characterization, and plot points all take life. That’s where all the craft starts to make sense.
Now, I have a full time job. Writing takes up almost enough time to count as a second one. I have a wife and children. My life is very full. And reading time can appear thin on the ground. Except I have books piled up next to my toothbrush. My Audible subscription is my copilot. By multi-tasking, when there isn’t time, I make it appear.
And once I saw it through my wife’s eyes, I saw that my inability to do one thing at once is actually a fairly big part of why I’m a published novelist, of why I’m even here being asked to write about my superpower. And when I saw it that way, it was actually pretty cool.
All that said, though, I’m still not convinced it’s a super power, which is not fulfilling the task set out for me. Still, looking back over the sequence of events, I think I may have discovered that in fact I do have one superpower at my disposal. It’s my wife. She can turn perspective on its head, inspire a panicked writer, and will display supernatural editing powers once I’m done writing this. In many ways, I think that’s much cooler.
Jonathan Wood is an Englishman in New York. There’s a story in there involving falling in love and flunking out of med school, but in the end it all worked out all right, and, quite frankly, the medical community is far better off without him, so we won’t go into it here. His debut novel, No Hero was described by Publisher’s Weekly as “a funny, dark, rip-roaring adventure with a lot of heart, highly recommended for urban fantasy and light science fiction readers alike.” Barnesandnoble.com listed it as one of the 20 best paranormal fantasies of the past decade, and Charlaine Harris, author of the Sookie Stackhouse novels described it as, “so funny I laughed out loud.” His short fiction has appeared in Weird Tales, Chizine, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, as well as anthologies such as The Book of Cthulhu 2 and The Best of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Year One. He can be found online at his website.