Rest in Peace, Patient Zero
This is going to be a tough post, so please bear with me.
After struggling with an important decision, I made a tough call and pulled the plug on ‘I Am Patient Zero.’ This is a really painful choice, but I think it was the right one and I want to explain it to you now. Here’s what’s going on: Ever since I wrote the short story, even as I was drafting it, something didn’t sit right with me about this tale. Chuckie is the guy who made all the bad choices. Chuckie’s the guy who sees the world on fire and says “Burn baby, burn!”
Here I am, trying to be the Best Version of Me, and I’m writing about a man that completely self-destructs as the world crumbles. That bothered me. As the short went to press and I asked for feedback, I had friends telling me “Great horror story!” and that bothered me. Then I read an article about how Stephen King unpublished one of his early novels because it was found to be an influence on a number of school shooters. That got me to thinking.
If I really believe that I’m going to be successful as a storyteller, I need to think carefully about the kind of creativity I pursue. Will it inspire people to be the Best Version of Themselves? Will it encourage them to justify self-destructive behavior? It’s been something I’ve been aware of since the very beginning: Once I publish a story, it doesn’t belong to me anymore. It belongs to the readers. It belongs to the universe. We already know that stories change the world. Therefore, storytellers have a responsibility to think about their words in those terms. Words have power; we have to use that power with responsibility, integrity and accountability.
This isn’t conjecture, by the way. I was just skimming the Internet and came across this news story about a teen who murdered his girlfriend because he wanted to imitate Dexter, that show about a serial killer. I can’t imagine how awful the writers of that show must feel, knowing that something they did creatively inspired one person to murder another. That wasn’t the purpose of their creativity, but it was a result. I would never want to put myself or my readers in that position.
Where some might feel that this is an example of censorship, the reality is quite different. Exercising self-control is not censorship. Where our actions can have unintended negative outcomes, sometimes we must forgo our personal preferences.
Your thoughts and feedback are welcome. I’m going to move forward with other stories that need to be told. I’ll keep you posted when they are ready for your eyes.