What happens in this novel bears little resemblance to what happened in my own. This is not a memoir. But the emotions the main character is struggling with that cause her to believe she might actually be going crazy — that’s where this story comes from. Because when things are in limbo like that, when your life seems stuck on pause, every question appears to have sixteen thousand equally plausible answers. When I was struggling with my own answers, I never seemed to have the ones people were looking for. I think it’s because human beings have a natural, very healthy, instinct to avoid pain. Going through a divorce or signing up for roller derby says to the world, “I am about to get hurt. A lot. Seemingly willingly.” Who could understand that?

I’m always proud to be a part of anything John Scalzi‘s doing, and I’m flattered to be the featured writer in today’s The Big Idea.

I’ll tell a Scalzi story, for those of you who have wandered over here from Whatever.

I’m pretty good at chatting with strangers. I would say about 98% of any job I could ever land in this business boils down to whether or not I’m tolerable and/or entertaining when you sit down with me for an hour. Nobody ever worries about leaving me alone at a party with a friend, the single girl, the mom, the awkward cousin, the ex-girlfriend who hates everyone. Even that last girl will begrudgingly come around. This talent comes from years of abuse as the new kid — (thirteen schools in twelve grades, y’all!) — so don’t think I’m bragging. This is a finely honed defense mechanism.

One night a couple of years ago I was seated with two complete strangers at a nighttime-loungy-thing, and the three of us were having a very hard time finding something to talk about. We didn’t live in the same area, so we couldn’t small-talk traffic and/or routes. They “weren’t really that into music.”

I was flailing. This causes anxiety. What if I can’t crack these people and they walk away thinking I’m… I don’t know… boring? This cannot happen!

I dive in again. I’m from LA. LA is interesting! They live in San Diego. People in San Diego hate Los Angeles. I write in television. They don’t own a television. I write books.

They love books!

Finally, something to talk about. I write books with comedy and relationships and awkward mother-issues. They like science fiction.

Crap. Wait.

pause pause pause

“I know John Scalzi.”

“What?! YOU ARE THE MOST INTERESTING PERSON WE’VE EVER MET!”

Success!

I am not proud, but I have had to drop the Scalzi card more than once in my life. And he has saved my butt every single time.