Posey's Psychically Resonant Super-Plants
The story that convinced me that I wanted to be a writer for real
I like to say I've always been writing, and in a way that's true, but in a way it's not quite. There was a specific moment when I decided I was going to write for publication, and it was different from the writing that had come before.
In high school and my first couple of years of university, I was writing a lot of what I would now call fanfiction. I got attached to characters from roleplaying games and I tried to keep writing about them long after the game ended. (This, as you know if you've read about the origins of THE OUTSIDE, is a habit that's stayed with me.) But it was something I did fairly privately - even when I was writing novella- or novel-length stories about my D&D characters' backstory and their teenage relationship drama, I knew that D&D character backstory wasn't a thing you could publish. I showed it to a few trusted people and that was enough. I occasionally tried my hand at original fiction too, but not much.
One day I had a dream about me and a boy I'd dated a few years earlier, piling odd objects like plastic dinosaurs and kitchen scraps into the backyard, only to watch those items transform before our eyes into a beautiful, otherworldly garden. I knew as soon as I woke up that I wanted to somehow put this image into a story.
The story I wrote was called "Posey's Psychically Resonant Super-Plants," and it sucked. It was about a high school girl with a tense home life and her not-quite-boyfriend, who order some mysterious seeds from a catalog and get more than they bargained for. The garden appears to be a portal to another world, but one from which the protagonist might never return. There were some clever moments, but structurally the story was a mess. I was never able to fit the image of the garden and the feelings I had around it into a plot that held together satisfyingly. (A year or two later, I tried to rewrite it by adding a subplot about the protagonist's brother joining a doomsday cult; this didn't actually fix anything.)
But the other thing about "Posey's Psychically Resonant Super-Plants" is that I was very transparently writing about myself. The protagonist was a self-insert and her not-quite-boyfriend was very blatantly the same boy I’d dreamed about. And the story contained sharp commentary on all sorts of things that had been weighing on me: my alienation from "normal" people and school, my cynicism about the world, my desire to escape, my spiritual curiosity, the problems I was having with my family at the time. They were all right there in big, snarky, magical-garden-shaped letters.
Looking back, this is nothing unusual. I've come to realize, and was beginning to dimly understand at the time, that every work of fiction I've ever written has been a way of expressing a feeling. Sometimes I know exactly what feeling it is at the time; sometimes I don't work it out until years later; but expressing my feelings is always what I'm doing when I write, from the most abstract little poem to the most intricate fantasy worldbuilding.
"Posey's Psychically Resonant Super-Planets" put those feelings out on the page in a different way than what had come before it, rawer and closer to home. These were things I might not have known how to talk about if someone had asked directly, or how to find someone who would listen if I wanted to say them, but there they all were in unmistakable black and white.
And I remember thinking: I need to keep doing this if I want to live.
So that's what I did.