My in-laws are trying to have me put away. I’m not paranoid, but I hear them whispering behind my back, spreading their lies, claiming I believe in the existence of Bigfoot, Mothmen, Unmarked Helicopters and Elvis Presley. They exaggerate, mind you--I’ve never believed in the existence of Elvis Presley.

This whole thing is because I’m a writer. Decades of sitting sequestered in front of a keyboard has led to atrophied social skills. During a lull in conversation at a recent family function, the awkward silence provoked me into expounding on some of the latest conspiracy theories to my brother-in-law--something about the previous president being a pawn of the American Beef Council, just as his father was a pawn of the pork producers and William Jefferson Clinton was a pawn of the poultry industry. Before I could insert my own personal disclaimer on the whole thing, my brother-in-law was looking at me the way a chicken looks at a raccoon. You know, sideways out of one big round frightened eye. Within a few hours, my wife had received psychiatric referrals from half of her family and several of their neighbors.

I don’t think they’re out to get me, exactly, but I fear that they have some quaint notions about sending me to a place where straight-jackets are the uniform of the day, electroshock treatments are the midmorning pick-me-up and Thorazine is served for brunch.

But I’m not paranoid--although I could be. For instance, I could attribute my current lack of representation to a conspiracy between the Literary Agents Guild and Stephen King. This would be ridiculous, of course, because Stephen King is much too busy memorizing baseball trivia and stealing my plot ideas. I write a type of novel which the publishers and science fiction writer Larry Niven have chosen to relegate to the poor-relation sub-genres of “speculative fiction” and “contemporary fantasy.” My latest project, which the “Big Three” booksellers are even now plotting to keep off their shelves, explores what happens when the skeptical protagonist discovers that even the most implausible conspiracy theories are true.

The truth is, I’m a born skeptic myself. I don’t believe in UFOs or ghosts, although I’ve seen plenty of both, and I especially don’t believe in conspiracies. I mean, come on, who in the world, besides the Masons and the Illuminati, can keep a secret that long? Do you really think a group of people could pull off anything as complicated as, say, hiding a one-and-a-half billion dollar loss from their investors with a bunch of shell companies and some fancy bookkeeping? I don’t think so.

Sure, there are probably things that the Men in Black don’t want us to know about, like the existence of the Chupacabra or that Opra Winphrey is behind the alien abductions, but those are hardly what I’d call conspiracies. A true conspiracy is the way all rejection slips contain that same standard phrase “doesn’t suit our present needs.” What’s up with that? Does the first publisher call the second publisher and so on down the line until they all know to watch out for my manuscript? Or do they just get together in a big meeting? And I’ve always wondered--is there a special paper that only the chosen writers know to write on? Or maybe a secret password?

But I’m not paranoid. My wife says that if I was hearing voices, they’d have to repeat themselves three times too. And then they still wouldn’t get a verbal response.

One of the problems with being a writer is that you get so caught up in the characters. Most people think the characters have the writer’s characteristics, but it’s really the other way around--after a while, the writer picks up the characters’ characteristics. Not the big things, mind you, like mass murder or world dominance--it’s the little things, like mustard instead of mayonnaise or tea instead of coffee.

My current protagonist isn’t paranoid and he’s no Oliver Stone. He doesn’t imagine conspiracies everywhere he turns--yet the conspiracies are real. I, on the other hand, don’t believe in any conspiracies, real or imagined. And I’m not paranoid.

But, if you don’t hear from me again--suspect my inlaws. Or maybe Stephen King.


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