My MacBook Pros old (back) and new (front)

Lessons from 2023: Level up

Brian Fitzpatrick, one of my writer friends, asked what word or phrase we wanted to bring into 2024. I answered, “Level up.” After the past four years, when I’ve had two novels published by Black Rose Writing, brought my weight down to a healthy level, lived through a pandemic, and adapted to working from home, I was now ready to move to the next step.

In some ways, 2023 felt like a year of advancement. Life seems to be getting back to normal. COVID is still here, and we still need booster shots and occasionally wear masks, but we’re learning to live with it. People are returning to movie theaters, concert venues, and sports arenas. They’re getting on airplanes (when they’re not acting like entitled jerks) and going on trips.

For me, it meant a return to in-person author events. I went to four this year, and I have one confirmed for next year and another on the way. I finished a story I’ve been struggling to write since high school. It was also a year of retooling. Our family got an electric vehicle, and I recently upgraded my MacBook Pro to the latest M3 Pro model.

This year also showed what was possible for me as an author. At Loscon, I was on a panel about connecting with the audience. That panel included Steven L. Sears who has a long history in Hollywood that includes being a co-executive producer of Xena, Nicholas Tana who is an Amazon-award-winning director along with other accomplishments in music and writing, and M. Todd Gallowglass who has two Master of Fine Arts degrees and has written over 20 books. But I was there as a panelist, not a moderator. I—the author of just four published novels and a non-fiction book—was expected to share my expertise with these luminaries. Imposter syndrome definitely kicked into high gear, but I realized that I had something of value to say. Not only did I get through the panel, I realized that I have a place with these other successful authors.

For anyone who still thinks writing is a competition where the only way we can win is if someone else loses, the writers I met at Loscon were the most welcoming people I ever met. They’ve been through the struggle themselves, and they uplift those who are going through it. They made me feel welcomed.

When I talk about this good stuff, don’t think I’m ignoring all the horrible things that are happening right now and the even more devastating things that can happen next year. I’m leveling up to address these things.

In difficult times, we creatives have always been called upon to envision a better world. Protest is necessary, but it’s not enough to just complain about injustice. We must offer a better alternative to the world as it is. We must show the humanity of others. We must offer hope when social media and cable news shovel endless doom at us to the point we acquiesce to it.

I think back to 1968, which was a year of a horrible war in Southeast Asia, upheaval and protests around the world, and political violence at home. It was also the year of innovative science fiction, including Star Trek and 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was also the year Apollo 8 orbited the moon. For the first time, we humans saw our earthly home as a beautiful blue marble suspended in space. When there is strife on earth, we look to the stars. Science fiction/fantasy may provide us with the hope and will to fight for a better world that we desperately need. We can affirm the values we believe are right and good, and we can show a vision of what life can be like when we live up to those values.

I’m leveling up because I can, and there is a need. We have a lot of work to do in 2024. Let’s get to it.