[GUEST POST] K.M. Ruiz on Writing Beyond What You Know

The old adage for writers seems to be write what you know. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that advice. It’s a good place to start but that’s exactly what it is. A start. When you move beyond what you know into what you want to know is when things get interesting. It’s not like anyone has ever fought a dragon before (unless you’re Sharon Stone’s ex-husband, and by fight, I mean get one-upped by a lizard) but that’s never stopped people from writing about it.

For me, what I’m familiar with is the way disease can erode a person’s life. My mother was diagnosed with progressive-relapsing Multiple Sclerosis before I was born and I’ve shared her with that disease for decades. Since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated with the way the central nervous system works (and doesn’t work) in the human body; the way science is still learning about the human brain’s reach and how easily it can be damaged.

Growing up, I devoured comic books, scifi/fantasy novels, TV shows, and movies. I got teased at school for not liking typical girly things but my way of coping with things I couldn’t control was to stubbornly stick with what I liked. I found escape from an invisible, encroaching enemy in other people’s stories, which kick-started my own desire to write.

The idea for MIND STORM and TERMINAL POINT grew out of the research I did over the years in order to better understand and come to terms with my mother’s incurable disease. She might be the one diagnosed with MS, but the disease didn’t solely affect her, and that holds true for every disease out there. I took my experience growing up with her inevitable physical breakdown, the way society has a habit of hiding the ill and differently-abled, and funneled some of those observations into these two stories.

While comics tend to have people with crazy awesome powers, which are great for visual story-telling and fun to play around with, I know only too well about the limits of the human body. Which was why, when deciding on how psionic powers worked in my stories, I knew I wanted there to be repercussions for their use. I treat the powers in my stories as a disease, one that can’t be cured and which eventually leads to death. The existence of psions makes everyone else fearful or uncomfortable in the stories I wrote. That reaction isn’t all that different from how people treat those suffering from disease in our world. Society as a whole isn’t comfortable with people who are different, whether they choose to be that way or not.

In my books, the existing society is a direct result of the environment the people are forced to survive in. Segregation by way of clean genetics is a fact of life and psions, despite their powers, are at the very bottom of the ingrained social hierarchy because of their disease. I chose to write the world that way because of how I’ve seen people treat my mother simply because she didn’t fit into society’s expectations of ‘normal.’

The psions in my stories suffer from a disease which will inevitably kill them. They’re forced to fight for recognition in a world that doesn’t want to have to deal with them. Their bodies are, in a sense, their own worst enemies. Aside from the powers I gave my characters, those same details hold true in the real world, which can be just as strange and intimidating as the ones us writers dream up.

Writers have a tendency to take pieces of our lives and stick them into our stories. And maybe we all can’t be astronauts but that doesn’t stop every little kid from dreaming about going into space. I know I did (until I realized I hated math with a fiery passion that knows no bounds). It’s that experience of wanting something more I’m pretty sure we all use as a springboard to get beyond what we know, and experience is a sandbox we’re all still digging in.

K.M. RUIZ studied English and American Indian Studies at San Francisco State University. Her debut novel MIND STORM released in 2011. She lives in California.