31 May 2016

Aliens, Hot Dogs, and the Case of the Missing Rat Island

by Melissa Yi

Once upon a time, experimenters took a bunch of rats and divided them into two groups. Both groups were dropped into a tankful of opaque water, but one group had an island, not visible under the surface, so those rats could eventually rest with their heads above water. The other group would…swim until they sank.

Luckily, the experimenters pulled all the rats out of the water before they could drown.

The next day, they set both both groups of rats in the island-less tank.

The rats who’d had islands swam twice as long as the rats who’d never had an island.

Bestselling author Jennifer Crusie pointed out that if you’re a writer with an island—basically, a writer with faith, a writer with resilience, a writer with grit, a writer who’ll keep swimming, writing, perfecting the craft, submitting, and persevering twice as long—that is the ticket to success.

For years, I’ve wrestled with this concept. It totally makes sense. But how can you force yourself to become a rat with an island? You can’t just hit yourself on the head and say, “Zowee, now I know everything will work out, if not this century, then the next!”

I got a clue last week, when I flew from Montreal to Los Angeles for Sci-Fest LA. I was a finalist for the Roswell Award for the best short science fiction, for the second year in a row. I was pretty sure a comical story like “Humans ’n’ Hot Dogs” wouldn’t win, so I considered staying home.

Then I thought, Nope. I’m going. I’m going to have fun and celebrate, whether or not I win $1000.

Award-winning Hollywood actor Rico E. Anderson read my story. Yes, that Rico E. Anderson. Boras in Star Trek: Renegades. The man in Criminal Minds, Modern Family, Young & Hungry, and Bones, and The Fosters in June. He got his first big break in the 2005 Academy Award Winning short film, Mighty Times: The Children's March.

Do you prefer theatre? Rico’s got you covered. His stage credits include Oedipus and Malcolm X.

Or, if you’re like my dental hygienist today, you’ll recognize him best from a recent episode of Grey’s Anatomy.
So no wonder I was surprised and delighted by Rico’s interpretation of “Humans ’n’ Hot Dogs.” He seized the audience’s attention from the first syllable. He adopted voices for different characters, including aliens, a homeless man, and a pack of skateboarders. He winked. He worked the spotlight. He was funny, dynamic, and likeable.

The audience laughed and cheered.

And yet I didn’t win the Roswell Award.

<Pause to grieve.>

So many people adored my story, though. “It was so funny!" “The judges were absolutely gleeful after reading your story.” “I try to keep an eye out for stories that are suitable for young adults, and yours was it.” “Promise me you’ll keep on writing.”

And I loved Rico’s interpretation.

I could slink back to Canada, quietly weeping over my defeat.

Melissa Yuan-Innes and Rico E. Anderson
Or I could try something else. Something a rat with an island might do.

We weren’t allowed to record Rico’s performance at the Roswell Awards. But what if he recorded it later, and we released it as an audio book?

This is a financial gamble. A short science fiction story by a relatively unknown author isn’t going to light up the bestseller lists any time soon. This would be a special project. One for people who love wee gems, who support the underdog and love art for art’s sake.

Rico and I are going to crowdfund it. I decided to avoid Kickstarter and just have donations go to PayPal through olobooks [at] gmail [dot] com, to try and make every penny count. Both of us are committed to making the best production possible.

And the rewards. The rewards!

Any donation: heartfelt thanks and a backstage picture of Rico shirtless (to show off the wounds for Grey’s Anatomy, not just to ogle). Goal: unlocked! I’m posting it to my website (http://melissayuaninnes.com/bringing-humans-n-hot-dogs-to-life/in case any SleuthSayers have sensitive eyes.
Wiener ($5): an advance e-book copy of Humans ’n’ Hot Dogs and enormous thanks from Rico and me.
Pepperoni ($10): an advance deluxe e-book copy of Humans ’n’ Hot Dogs, including cartoons, inside tips on how to how to network in Los Angeles, and behind-the-scenes stories from Sci-Fest LA, Caltech, and Buzzfeed
Bangers ($20): deluxe e-book and you’ll be the first to hear the audio book, before it’s uploaded to Audible, iTunes, and other retailers. Humans ’n’ Hot Dogs all the way!
Chorizo($25): now we’re cooking. Deluxe e-book, audio book, and line producer credit in the book.
Andouille ($30): now we’re sizzling. All the previous rewards, co-producer credit in the book, plus a copy of my audio book, The Most Unfeeling Doctor in the World and Other True Tales From the Emergency Room
Bratwurst ($50): smells absolutely delicious in here. Must be your generosity. Includes all of the above, with associate producer credit in the book
Mortadella ($100): every single previous reward, with executive producer credit in the book, an autographed photo of Rico (yes, he’ll even do the shirtless one if you ask nicely), and a copy of the print book, shipped anywhere in the world for free. Yes, a real, live, print book that you can pass on to future generations, along with Rico’s stunning rendition of my oeuvre.

In other words, Rico and I are going for broke.

He’s a full-time actor in Los Angeles. He’s used to taking this kind of risk.

Me? Not so much. I no longer feel like rejections are mental razor blades, but I’m embarrassed when people turn me down. Yet I can see how handling failure wisely is one of the keys to success.

Rico and I may fail.

We may fail spectacularly.

But we’re both going to keep on swimming, and we hope you do, too.



Sleuths: are you a rat with an island? If so, how did you get that way?

4 comments:

Leigh Lundin said...

I like your rat island analogy, very creative.

I’ve heard writing compared to sausage making, but I never imagined making money off the sausage part. At least it’s not baloney!

Melissa Yi said...

Hee hee. Well, full credit to Jennifer Crusie for the rat island analogy. Thank you for pointing out my broken URL.

And shh...I think baloney *is* a type of sausage, and I may well use a judicious amount in my sausage-making!

Robert Lopresti said...

The other side of the rat story: Ever read James Swain's novels about gambling consultant Tony Valentine? They are excellent. In one of them Tony says that the worst thing that can happen to a newcomer in a casino is to win big. Because then they have that, so to speak, island of hope that keeps them betting and betting...

Melissa Yi said...

No, I never read those, Rob! I'll have to check them out. I can definitely see how early success could warp you. Kind of like those child stars, you know?