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 Kameron Hurley to talk about how the power of preternatural calm relates to The Mirror Empire.
My mom and I share a similar superpower – the ability to stay preternaturally calm during times of great stress and turmoil. Grievous injury, car accidents, difficult births… if something horrible happens, we’ll calmly bind wounds, give the injured a soothing pep talk, call 911 and do the shit that needs to get done, with no shaking or screaming or crying or fuss. This response to times of great stress has made nearly every movie where folks scream and seize up and flail in the face of terror difficult for me to watch; I never find it terribly believable. Yes, of course, you startle for a minute, but then you center yourself, you go cold, right? You move through it. Breakdown later, when you have the time.
In truth, this calm in the face of extreme stress has gotten me called all sorts of names over the years: unfeeling, inhuman, monstrous. What many folks don’t understand about this stress response is that it’s not that I don’t feel things – it’s that I simply delay feeling them. When the stressor has passed and everyone is cared for and there is nothing more to do, I crash. I’ve used this response to trauma a few times in building characters in my novels, too, most notably in the character of Lilia, the protagonist of my novel The Mirror Empire, whose ability to push through horror makes her one of the few people in her country who can adjust to the coming war of attrition thrust upon her pacifist people.
This stress response – though fabulous for the brief moments of panic and terror we may experience irregularly throughout our lives – has turned out to be a hindrance for me when it comes to dealing with long term stress. Long term stress offers a different set of challenges, because as various stressors pile up – day job layoffs, late book payments, publisher meltdowns, health issues, financial woes, etc. – I have a more difficult time managing a healthy work/life balance. That buckle-down-and-bear-it attitude works great short term, but long term leads to pent-up frustrations and ill health. When your stress is constant, there’s never any down time to sit things out and emote over what you’ve been through. You’re just in a constant state of endurance. You never have time to feel any of it.
I’ve talked about persistence and its importance in the writing life before, but as I’ve powered through my first book series and started my second, I’ve found that learning how to deal with the ongoing stress of the industry is a real skill one should cultivate, too. There are many things writers have no control over in this industry, and oftentimes a perfect storm of terrible things we can’t control will sink a book, or seemingly sink our careers. There is nothing to do then but write another book, but it’s easy to find oneself associating the bad, stressed feelings one has toward the industry with the writing itself. And that association very often leads to resenting the writing, instead of just the broken parts of the industry.
My first novel was published in 2011, and my career has been a tumultuous rollercoaster ride of ups and downs since then. The world didn’t just magically get better once I published a book. Things got harder. I admit that there are times I wish there had been something horrible that happened in that time that was truly bad but over quickly: like my house burning down, a tornado, some tragedy I could face and overcome. A single horrible event: I’d rather rip off a scab than endure being slowly skinned alive over three years, the way much of my publishing experience felt before signing with my new publisher.
I wish, sometimes, I’d been given a better power. Like the ability to endure the ongoing stress of a day job with rolling layoffs and a publishing industry that places bets the way one does at horse races. I’m sure I’ll appreciate my superpower should I come to need it more, but let’s be real: the fact that I must use it so rarely is a blessing, and the less I’m thrown situations of short, sharp, life-threatening or maiming danger, the better.
In the meantime, I’m doing what everyone else does who doesn’t have a superpower for dealing with one thing or another – I’m hacking my way through it; I’m teaching myself to be better. I’m trying to learn to control the things I can control, and let go of what I can’t. In the last six months, I’ve worked hard at moving forward, at never looking back, because to look back only invites ruminations on those things I was unable to control.
You fail. You go forward. You fail better. You get up. You persist. You endure.
The trick, I’ve found, is to take more naps. Read more books. And, most importantly, forgive myself when I fail, and forgive those who’ve failed me when I must.
About the author (from her website):
Kameron Hurley is an award-winning author, advertising copywriter, and online scribe. Hurley grew up in Washington State, and has lived in Fairbanks, Alaska; Durban, South Africa; and Chicago. She has degrees in historical studies from the University of Alaska and the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, specializing in the history of South African resistance movements. Her essay on the history of women in conflict “We Have Always Fought” was the first blog post to win a Hugo Award. You can find out more about her on her website.
About the book:
On the eve of a recurring catastrophic event known to extinguish nations and reshape continents, a troubled orphan evades death and slavery to uncover her own bloody past… while a world goes to war with itself.
In the frozen kingdom of Saiduan, invaders from another realm are decimating whole cities, leaving behind nothing but ash and ruin. As the dark star of the cataclysm rises, an illegitimate ruler is tasked with holding together a country fractured by civil war, a precocious young fighter is asked to betray his family and a half-Dhai general must choose between the eradication of her father’s people or loyalty to her alien Empress.
Through tense alliances and devastating betrayal, the Dhai and their allies attempt to hold against a seemingly unstoppable force as enemy nations prepare for a coming together of worlds as old as the universe itself.
In the end, one world will rise – and many will perish.