Today, I received one of those emails that makes all of the struggles of being an author—didn’t end up getting nominated for Wallflower, worried about taxes, can’t come up with a kid-friendly synonym for Apocatastasis—worth it.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I wrote CURE FOR THE COMMON UNIVERSE, I was casting a spell on myself. By imagining the trials and tribulations of a kid committed to video game rehab, I was exorcising my own demons. I was always a selfish, lazy kid, who thought I deserved way more than what life handed over. I was controlling in my relationships and only helped other people when I thought it would benefit me. I think there are still traces of this in my character, but I feel much more in control of it now.
I believe this transformation came from reasoning through my issues with fiction—using stories in order to be completely honest about my intentions and the suffering it caused myself and others. I also explored how difficult it is to change those behaviors. Just because I’d been through trials, walked the hero’s path, and made it to the other side, didn’t mean I was now perfect and would receive everything I’d ever hoped for. We all know that life stubbornly refuses to imitate books or movies, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t disappointed when our fairy tale endings remain always just out of reach. I wanted to write a book that refused to tell teens that life was something different than what it is.
It was scary to put CURE out into the world because readers (rightly) could conflate my main character with me. (Okay, Jaxon’s a little worse than I ever was. But only a little.) When reviewers couldn’t get over how much they hated the main character, I became defensive:
It was my first book!
He’s supposed to be that mean! That makes the (albeit slight) change in the end more meaningful!
Um, aren’t a lot of teens are like that?
So to receive an email from a high schooler, who not only recognized what I was trying to do with the book (even more so than the most flattering reviews from professionals) but was transformed by it . . . well, it’s an honor beyond words.
Here’s the email exactly as it was sent to me:
“Let me get started by saying Hi! and I love this book. It was really compelling and cannot believe it did not get an Oscar because it really deserves it. I loved how Jaxon was a person who played video games a little bit too much and was a mean person (keeping it PC) to everyone and learned his lesson in the end to change the way he acts because of a girl. This actually changed me and it started in 7th grade. I had to do a book report for my teacher and I had to buy a book and do some stuff for it, such as make a summary, make pictures, etc. and I went to Barnes and Noble to buy one. The cover was very eye catching, because for one it reminded me of video games and I played video games, and I thought your last name funny. I enjoyed the gamer humor and jokes and it really made me reflect it on my life. I was very similar to Jaxon myself, very out of shape, was such a smart-ass, and really didn't want to do anything out of the ordinary besides playing video games non stop. It made me think of what I was doing with my life and that I should change myself. So I started to play sports, lifting, and working out. I even started making real life friends and started hanging out with them. Then we fast forward to 8th grade, and surprise I have to do another book report, and guess what I do your book again. The teacher was very fond of the book, and was interested and asked if she could borrow the book and she did, she said she loved it because her son was the same way. Then we roll into this year, my freshman year, and I am slowly reverting back to my old self, by playing more video games because I got rejected by a girl. It is really weird how a couple of words can change your whole life, so I went back to the same book again and it helped bring life back to me again. Now I am doing very well, I am fit, doing good in school, and I can see girls eyeing me up. I think I just need to find a way to make myself a better flirter, if that is even a word. I was hoping you can see this and I wanted to ask if you are going to make a sequel to the book, and if not you should, because there are still so many things left that are unanswered. For example, like Aurora's boyfriend, did Jaxon confront him, did Meeki and Jaxon ever become friends, and how did Jaxon's mom react, and will Jaxon ever change physically. I hope you read this and enjoyed it!
I did enjoy it. More than you’ll ever know.
(Also, I guess I’m upset I didn’t win an Oscar now too. I didn’t even realize that was an option.)
(And yeah, my last name is funny, now that I think about it.)
In honor of this wonderful email, I’m giving away fifty free digital copies of Cure for the Common Universe to whoever needs one. I want these to go to kids who would enjoy it as much as this kid did. So if you have someone in mind (think gamers), email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll send them a copy.
Meanwhile, if anyone needs me, I’ll be casting more spells on myself . . . and hoping they help others too.