Join Prism Book Alliance® as Atom Yang goes Outside the Margins today.
I recently wrote a book called Herc & Pyotr, and it’s a contemporary romance set during a natural disaster: devastating meteor strikes across the world. Although the publisher’s intent, under their award-winning Storming Love banner of disaster romances, was to venture into the genre of science fiction with this set of stories, I didn’t treat “killer asteroids” any differently than I would have treated earthquakes, volcanoes, or wild fires (all past series under Storming Love) that happened on old Terra Firma. I also didn’t want this story to be about Hollywood heroes and heroics—as fun as that can be. I wanted my story to be about ordinary people like you and me, and what we would do if there were a potentially cataclysmic event that could end civilization as we know it.
I love stories that invert or deconstruct tropes, because it makes it more interesting to me, although sometimes this can flop. An inversion flips a story around—like in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, creator Joss Whedon turned on its head the usual story of a blonde girl getting whacked in horror movies for being pretty, stupid, and weak, and changed her into the most powerful hero in the story–and an iconic, genre-defying character. A deconstruction takes an idea and often brings it back to reality, which isn’t always grim, but can be—for example, in Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman, we don’t have superheroes who inspire wonder and comfort, we have an alien that governments feel threatened by and an obsessed, humorless vigilante who doesn’t pun (this concept is flopping big time, because it’s out of context—in comics history, you don’t get dark Superman or gritty Batman until you’ve had decades of fun, thrilling, and sometimes silly adventures first; the recent Superman and Batman movies deconstruct, but most mainstream audiences don’t know what they’re deconstructing, just that the shine is off their heroes’ armor).
In my own stories, I like to challenge assumptions to understand myself, others, and the world better. And sometimes, we don’t know what our assumptions are, because they’re assumptions! We don’t notice the air until we can’t breathe (or we can see it in Los Angeles). So when I went about writing Herc & Pyotr, and wanted to write about the people at ground level instead of in spaceships, government buildings, and television stations, I came to realize I needed to write this so I could be free—of shame.
Deep Impact, which came out in 1998 at the same time as Armageddon, were two movies which took the disaster film Meteor (1979) through a different set of flaming hoops, with Deep Impact focusing on characters and relationships while Armageddon centered on action and special effects.
Of the two, Deep Impact left a huge crater in me because it touched a raw nerve in its plot: the United States, in readying itself for a near extinction-level event, had prepared underground living arrangements—first for the chosen few (politicians, of course, but I think they used the word “leaders;” doctors; some artists and cultural luminaries; etc.). The rest of the country would have a chance at getting in through a lottery. And for those remaining after the lottery? Good luck.
When I saw this, it started me thinking: Would I ever get chosen? Am I important enough? What do I have to do that would make me worth saving?
What I didn’t know was that this process of being chosen, and me feeling like the last kid on the playground to be picked for a game (if I got picked at all), touched on a longstanding feeling of shame. I didn’t feel like I was worth saving. I didn’t feel like I belonged. I didn’t feel lovable or important enough; or that I would—at the very least—get to stand next to someone who loved me back when the end came, if I didn’t get to be inside those underground tunnels. I didn’t feel like I had a place in my own story.
I went through several careers after that movie, trying to find the one that would make me feel valuable to someone. I did those jobs well, people said they needed me and paid me a decent amount, but I never got that magic tingle of meaningfulness and that’s when it dawned on me that I wasn’t seeking importance, I was searching for meaning, and that I didn’t need to disprove my worthlessness, I needed to embrace being alive—and all the vulnerability that implies.
After all these years of wandering, I’ve come back to writing, not because it would get me a golden ticket into the Cool Kids’ Club. I’ve come back because I wanted to tell stories that aren’t about the “important people”—they’re about why people are important, and why we are important to each other, and how it’s okay just to be you. Really, it’s enough. (No, seriously, I’m not kidding.) You could write, you could read, you could lead a nation, or you could do nothing, but underneath it all, it is my value that people matter merely for being here in this awfully big adventure, and true to the message in the social worker’s note Mr. Rogers kept in his wallet, “Frankly, there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.”
And that includes hearing my own.
Title: Herc & Pyotr
Author: Atom Yang
Publisher: MLR Press
Publication Date: 03/25/2016
Cover Artist: Kris Jacen
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Drama, Fiction, Gay, Gay Fiction, Gay Romance, Humor/Comedy, Romance, Science Fiction
Herc thought he had the perfect life: a great partner and a meaningful career as a psychotherapist—until his partner left him a week ago and Herc became too depressed to see his clients. When a random meteorite punched a tidy hole in his car’s engine, it seemed like the world had it in for him, but bumping into Pyotr, the handsome older man who’s moved in a couple of doors down and happens to study things like falling stars, things might be looking up for Herc—and more may be falling than the skies in this light-hearted, apocalyptic romance.
I took care of my car.
Regular maintenance, oil changes, carwashes–the works. I figured I’d sell it one day, and I didn’t want it to have a scratch or a sticker to drop its value, let alone anything wrong mechanically. Everything worked on it–the power windows, radio, CD player…until today.
“Great,” I said, staring at the fist-sized hole in the hood. I clicked my key fob and turned off the alarm. A few of the neighbors came out and turned off their car alarms, too, that had been set off by the very loud boom that shook all of our windows early this spring morning.
“Jeez, Herc, what happened?” Nestori, my friend and neighbor down the way, stood there with his blond bed head, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He wore a rumpled white tee, sweatpants, and socks–we were dressed alike except I had slippers. Maybe I appeared as lost as he did. Or worse, since I hadn’t changed my clothes since the beginning of the week.
“I don’t know.” I gawked at the smoking hole. “Lightning?” I pieced together the evidence I had, and only came up with a timeline that started with a crash, followed by my car alarm, then a couple of minutes later the aforementioned boom, and finally the other cars being triggered. “A frozen turd from an airplane?”
“Are you serious? Holy shit.”
“What?” His golden eyebrows crinkled together, and then he grinned. “Oh.”
“To be fair, it did fall from the sky.” Everybody huddled closer to peer into the puncture. “I don’t know. I don’t even know who I should call about this.”
“What about Jason?”
Nestori’s innocent question should’ve felt like a sucker punch, but the numbness from seeing my killed car protected me. “He left last week. We’re not together anymore.”
“Bro. Why didn’t you say anything?”
Because you would’ve wanted to get me drunk and laid.
“I would’ve totally come over with a bottle of Jack and helped you get some D, man.”
“So that’s why I haven’t seen him jogging for a while.” Pihla, the widow who lived across the street, had the perkiest personality–and breasts–in our neighborhood. “I thought he left on a business trip.” She wore a pink satin robe over a pink nightie with matching pink slippers. A small, thin, gold cross on a gold chain stuck out sideways from her cleavage and wobbled back and forth, unable to rest flat. Her son, Sami, clung to her leg, his head just above her knee, avoiding eye contact like some toddlers do. This suburban Madonna in pink held a mug of expensive coffee I could smell and envy from where I stood, and rested her French manicured hand on her shy boy’s head. By the way she had batted her eyes at Jason during block parties, or how she happened to pick up the morning paper from her driveway when he’d jog past, I always thought she had a crush on my partner.
Ex. I meant ex-partner.
“Yeah, he didn’t leave on a business trip. He just left me.” I wondered if I died inside my home from choking on a chicken bone while eating, single and alone, how long it would take for my neighbors to notice my dead, bachelor body. I thought I smelled something funny, one would say a week later. Jeez, what happened? another would ask. Who the hell cares? my ghost would spell out on a Ouija board, life sucks.
“Meteorite,” said a faintly accented voice from the crowd. Slavic, I would guess.
“Whoa! You think a meteor hit Herc’s car?” Nestori asked. “How do you know?”
“Meteorite,” the voice gently corrected. “It’s a meteorite when it lands. I saw everything as I was jogging this morning.”
“Meteorite,” I mumbled. My geek brain fetched a personal wiki page from when I wrote a report in sixth grade about asteroids crashing into Earth and destroying all life, because I’ve always been a cheery person. The word “disaster” comes from the Italian disastro, meaning “ill-starred event.”
Why couldn’t it have been a pretty shooting star that vaporized all sparkly in the atmosphere, so I could make a wish? Instead, it’d dropped a deuce on my perfectly maintained car.
The hole in the hood gaped back at me, and I thought about the day Jason left. He had requested I park on the street instead of in the garage, so he’d be able to get his things out of the house without too much trouble.
I should make a wish anyway.
Something realistic, not like true love and a happy-ever-after ending with a handsome, emotionally intelligent man, because that obviously doesn’t happen. How about a nice pair of shoes? Good shoes are more reliable than men.
“I’m sorry this happened,” the voice said, this time to my left. “There have been worldwide reports of meteor strikes over the past few weeks.”
I turned and came eye to eye with the concerned face of a middle-aged man only slightly taller than me. He wore a red baseball cap and his black hair, lined with a few strands of gray, escaped his hat around his ears and a little over his forehead. His color-coordinated stubble, speckled with silver, defined a square jaw and framed full lips. Perspiration darkened his loose, gray shirt, forming something like a Rorschach inkblot in the center of his defined chest. Despite the smell of engine oil and gasoline coming from my mortally wounded car, the scent of his clean sweat cut through and woke me from my daze.
“Hi, I’m Pyotr. I moved here last week.” He offered me a firm handshake and a smile, and returned to surveying the damage to my car, his hands on his hips. “You should probably call your insurance and not your ex. I work from home a few days a week, so if you need a ride, let me know? I live down the street.” He started running lightly in place. His feet were bare, which I hadn’t noticed.
“Thanks for the offer…Pee-yo-ter. I may take you up on it.”
“Please do.” Pyotr smiled again, nodded a succinct farewell, and trotted off.
“Yeah, if you need a ride…” Nestori and a few neighbors offered, but I didn’t pay attention.
I was busy making an unrealistic wish. And it wasn’t for shoes.
About Atom Yang
Atom was born to Chinese immigrant parents who thought it’d be a hoot to raise him as an immigrant, too–so he grew up estranged in a familiar land, which gives him an interesting perspective. He’s named after a Japanese manga (comic book) character, in case you were wondering.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
|This post may contain affiliate links.
|Prism Book Alliance® assumes no liability for the ownership of photos or content used in guest posts and interviews. The post author assumes all responsibility and liability for this content.|