Jun 16 2015

The Market For Brain Stories

I’ve been teasing this for a while, but the art is almost finished. The first story of Brain City Heroes is coming.

Screen shot 2015-06-16 at 4.41.16 PM

In the mean time, to quote David Byrne, “Well, how did I get here?

One of the first big writing projects I self-published was The Brain Ingredient, about the connection that remains between a genre-savvy woman and the man she befriended before he became a zombie.

I started that project in 2008, after World War Z was a bestselling book, but before zombies were in everything. At the time, some people only really knew me as “the zombie guy.” Other writers kept asking how my “vampire story” was going, unable to remember exactly which monster I was using to explore the human condition.

I thought at the time that the market was a zero sum game, that if there were other big zombie stories out there, those would take away from mine, so I waited for my moment. I kept writing, following every aspect of the zombie cultural explosion. I waited for the craze to blow over so my work could be unique again. I mean, how many things could zombies be in before pop culture moved on to something else? Turns out, all of them.

As they kept expanding into more media, I stopped being able to keep track of everything zombie. I still like The Walking Dead TV show, and I’m still obligated to write occasional pieces about zombie happenings in San Francisco, but that’s about it. Now that even “romance with a zombie” has become a sub-genre, the things which distinguish my book are more subtle and hard to explain.

Meanwhile, writing about zombies fanned my curiosity about the little balls of flesh that seem to define our senses of self. I sold a story last year about the identity crisis of uploading consciousness. Now I keep getting deeper into what we know about how our brains work. I pulled the idea that became Brain City Heroes off my list of potential projects in late 2013 and have been researching the subject ever since.

Pixar’s latest is imminent, a big movie exploring the world of the mind, but I don’t see this as a competition anymore. I hope it’s great. Maybe it’ll get people interested how the mind physically works. I’ve been through my Warm Bodies resentment.

Understanding of the brain is poised to change the way humans think about ourselves. The Obama administration gave a huge chunk of funding to the BRAIN initiative a couple years back, comparing its plan to map the brain to the impact of the human genome project. Europe’s version, the Human Brain Project is a huge international partnership to map and simulate brain structure. Neuroscience is a field with a lot of breakthroughs to make, and it seems like there isn’t a week that goes by without some grand claim by one research team or another.

I posted a page explaining how my project corresponds to the real underlying science. I hope that helps bridge the gap between entertaining and informing.

I can’t be the only one inspired by this tiny thing at the center of everything we think and experience. I started working on this project because I couldn’t find any simple, fun explorations of my questions about neuroscience. Maybe someday, we’ll be flooded with them. Great.