Long ago in prehistory (what my kids refer to the 1980s), I purchased on impulse a brand new role-playing game entitled Cyberpunk. I fell in love. A second edition updated the game to the year 2020 and entitled it Cyberpunk 2020 (how appropriate). The RPG presented a dystopic world with monolithic corporations that wielded power and armies larger than most countries, humans with cybernetic implants (“metal is better than meat”), and an Earth ravaged by pollution and greed.
At least that is what the game designers in the 1980s thought a dystopia would look like in the year 2020.
Welcome to the real 2020 and it feels like we’re living in a dystopia. Just not the one imagined by Cyberpunk game designers.
Whereas the fears of the 1980s that spawned the imaginings of William Gibson and company, have given away to the realities of a pandemic, authoritarian strongmen stripping away the hard-earned democratic veneer, and the super-rich getting even richer at the expense of everyone else. We even have race riots and protests in America rivalling those of the 1960s. Every day brings more bad news.
And that has made it hard to write, to be creative. Even with a well-spring of new ideas, getting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) has proven daunting. Instead, I have filled pages of a notebook with research into my latest work in progress. I’ve written down writing and productivity wisdom from books and YouTubers alike. All in an effort to ensure I keep my ideas fresh and my writing muscles strong. And sure, I’ve scratched out a bit, but nothing I would call substantive.
And from what I understand, I’m not alone in trying to come to terms with the pandemic and its lingering after-effects. I am privileged enough to still be working and to have a supportive family, but that sinking feeling that something horrible is around the corner is keeping me from my most creative.
How can I take flights of fancy into worlds of my imagination when the dystopia I only imagined in movies like Blade Runner, was about to pass? Or something worse? Was it even important that I continue?
This past weekend at the When Words Collide (“WWC”) Festival of Readers and Writers (COVID Online Edition) I got my answer: Yes. It is important. I had to continue.
It is an answer that had been on the tip of my tongue for a while, but I could never get out and actually say it. To anyone. Even as a promise to myself.
I always derive inspiration from the WWC. Every year panelists and writers and editors inspire me to do better. This year was no different. But this year, the energy was different. It wasn’t just the festival being held online on Zoom (don’t ask about the Zoom bombers). It was the energy about being creative and the importance of art in times of crisis. It is not a time to shy away and be the silent majority. Nor is it time to abandon art, abandon writing.
So yes, this is my dystopia. It is not the dystopia of my early adulthood. It is more real than that. Is the book on the verge of being finished? Not yet. But it is much, much closer now.
COVID-19 has done a weird thing: it has delayed all the short stories that were slated to be released this year. All but one.
My story, “Midnight in the Winding Bazaar”was released on May 8, 2020 and can be found in the anthology entitled For Hart & Queen published by Nisaba Press (an imprint of Green Ronin Publishing). You can find it on DriveThru RPG as well
Just a quick note about it. It was edited by Jaym Gates. She is a wonderful editor and a passionate human being. I had the privilege of working with her twice before. She was responsible for my first short story sale (you can find it in Rigor Amortis). She is now with Green Ronin Publishing, an RPG publisher in the US that publishes games like the wonderful Blue Rose. In the description of the anthology, she put a note in it that said: “I am really excited to bring you Calvin’s story: I published a story from Cal in one of my earliest magazine roles, and I’ve been wanting to work with him since!”
I was gobsmacked. I have never felt so honoured.
For me, the privilege was all mine. And I would gladly work with her again.
Thank you so much, Jaym. It is always a pleasure.