I like to think my fiction isn’t as self-confessional as other writers’ (I mean, I didn’t write Misery, for better or worse), but there’s way too much of me in what I write that my flaws and quirks are close to the surface. Oh, you’re a neo-pagan now, Erik? You should get on that post-apocalyptic fantasy with wiccan-inspired supernatural entities. Oh, you’re a big string theory nut? Wrap a story around that and no one will notice. (Except you, dear reader. Whoops!) Oh, you like koans? Sorry, your readers don’t.
Well, it’s all fuel for the fire.
One log that refuses to burn, however, is my prior involvement, and continuing fascination, with the Otherkin community. One step above Furries on the geek subculture hierarchy, Otherkin believe that they are non-human souls — such as elves, trolls, and vampires — animating human bodies.
I believed that I was Otherkin for about four years, from 2001 until around 2005. After stumbling onto neo-paganism right after high school, my research led me to this loose-knit web of forums and GeoCities pages. Do you feel alienated? Different? (What adolescent doesn’t?) Do you think you have magical powers? (Wish fulfillment, here.) Do you like Tolkien? (If you’re already neo-pagan, chances are good!) Then you’re in the right place! (It’s called the madhouse.)
The people I spoke to on these forums weren’t just disaffected teenagers, either. Drug-addled hippies, Odin-like giant men, whole families who were more new age than Llewellyn Press. But most were disaffected teenagers, like I was then. I made friends in different states (the kind with borders and capitals), IMing them until 2 AM. I still keep in touch with a few of them.
Otherkin is also a gateway to all sorts of other, benign weirdness, like reiki healing and astral projection. At one point, I remember attempting to make a candle burn brighter using my chi. (No, I didn’t succeed. Yes, I did need to clarify that point.)
Yet the Otherkin community is, at worst, harmless, and it connects people who wouldn’t find friends and companionship otherwise. It doesn’t cure cancer, but it does give meaning to people who need that kind of thing. It doesn’t really deserve the mockery and scorn it receives. Not most of it, anyway.
I left quietly in 2005, when my bullshit detection had finally started working. The idea that other magical creatures existed, and that their souls were transmigrating to human bodies, failed the Occam’s Razor test when compared to the alternative: that we were all just collectively delusional. It’s a comforting fantasy: you actually are different from everyone else, not just socially maladjusted with crippling self-doubt. But it is a fantasy.
One I thought I could write about.
I’ve attempted to put a genre spin on Otherkin for years. My first full-length novel, The Leaf and the Branch, was part of a planned series that would end with the elfin protagonists transmigrating to Earth and inhabiting human bodies. A more on-the-nose attempt, White Rose, saw the protagonist awaken to the knowledge that her soul actually came from a parallel Earth inhabited by elfin creatures. I actually (almost) finished the first, while the second went down in flames in a mess of story issues.
See, here’s the problem. I wanted to write about Otherkin as if their beliefs were true in a literal sense, which would make for some good fantasy. But Otherkin past lives are painfully boring. You are Galadriel’s daughter, or the Dark Lord Vladimir, or a nameless wood sprite. Otherkin past selves are so cliche, you’d have to invest so much effort into developing these past lives that the actual protagonists become pale in comparison. And at that point, you may as well ditch the Otherkin aspect entirely.
So that’s why I can’t write an Otherkin genre story.
But I could write it as realistic fiction.
It would be semi-autobiographical by design, and there would be no actual supernatural elements involved. The past lives that Otherkin create (or have experienced, depending on your interpretation) could remain as-is, keeping the focus on the people who are part of this community. Most importantly, I wouldn’t exploit the community; too many people have done that to other fringe cultures, and I don’t want to add myself to that list. Not a love letter, per se, but a greeting card to a group of people I haven’t seen in eight years.
I might make this my next story, after the first draft of The Coral Gate is finished. It’s well out of my comfort zone, and deeply personal to boot, but like those story ideas that itch to get on the page, it won’t stop until it’s out.