In my YA (my first and an unexpected one, since I hadnít intended to write a YA), Static Shock, I wrote about a class of people who have a particular ability (or disability, depending on how you look at it). They have heightened electromagnetic fields, which means things of a mechanical nature shut down or explode or some such around them. They are the Amish of tomorrow, basically.
Does this sound ridiculous? It shouldnít, because you may know someone who has a similar (dis)ability. I have it, and thatís where I got the idea.
You see, Iíve always had a love-hate relationship with electronic and mechanical devices. As long as I could remember, they end up not working or doing something completely unexpected, which as often as not has someone stare at it, mystified as he or she has to try to fix it, trying to figure out what I could have done to have caused it. I always assumed I was just unlucky or chose poorly or invariably found something cheaply made; brand-new tape recorders failed on me (twice), hair dryers melted (once), three computers died on me (in a three-month period, one a month), the electrical system of cars simply failed (but that only happened once!), car alternators had to be replaced more frequently than normal (three in a decade), and watch batteries drain out in a flash, just to name a few examples. But then I found out that people with a heightened electromagnetic field (also known as emfield) can have something like this happen, and I felt so much better. And a fictional group of people was born!
Now, with STATIC SHOCK, I had to wonder: What if people with this (dis)ability were a recognized subspecies? Especially in a world more and more dependent on technology? Such people would be persona non grata in many, many places, especially in the world of tomorrow (and even today). And so STATIC SHOCK was born.
The problem with a concept like this is that there also has to be research that needs to be conducted, and that can be a bit of a challenge if youíre not quite certain what youíre looking for. I looked through a lot of electrical manuals to start with and tried to remember as much of the electronics I took in high school (first confession: I took two years of the course to avoid having to take biology and chemistry, because I really didnít want to cut up poor little frogs, but really, aside from learning how to avoid the otherwise-daily shocks and melting a transistor or two, I discovered I will always hire an electrician to deal with an electrical problem, since I am a klutz). Not much luck in either case.
Now, Internet research is a wonderful thing, but after a while of trying seemingly random keywords and phrases for electricity and whatnot, I wasnít having that much luck. That didnít stop me from trying, though. Once in a while Iíd find a reference to the human electromagnetic system, but nothing that was immediately accessible to a non-medical person (second confession: I was a linguistic anthropology major, so I was more interested in the language of the field). So you see, research could be gratifying (when you find something that actually is relevant to your story) and frustrating (when itís an interesting tidbit, but really, does not fit with the story at hand, but thanks for playing).
Finally, I managed to scrape together some bits and pieces that allowed me to cobble together a backstory. I used the memories of my old college courses in anthropology, the memories of my unfortunate experiences in destroying simple electrical devices, some articles on the human emfield and ghost towns (it works into the plot, honest), and some wild logical speculation, and STATIC SHOCK got a little more detail.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, imagining a society in which there are pockets of second-class citizens who are not welcome and are manipulated to bad ends came all too easily. Itís one of those things that, once you start to think about it, everytime you read an article, watch a show, or talk to someone, something new about the story gets shaped. And thus do layers of a story become formed. Sometimes in the most unexpected ways.
In STATIC SHOCK, those people with the heightened electromagnetic fields (nicknamed ďReadersĒ) wear distinctive gloves that not only help curb their emfields, but also make them stand out in a crowd. The graphic designer at the magazine where I work is a British national, and he had to renew his green card (not actually green, but more of a pinkish hue these days). He got it without a fuss but it came nestled in a small white envelope. But on the surface of the envelope was a notation that the carrier may want to keep the card in the envelope to prevent unwanted infrared communication. (Okay, maybe not infrared communication, but something like that.) Huh. Really? Turns out thereís tech inside that unassuming little card that allows for GPS. It was a bit of a surprise (although sort of disturbing and maybe more than a little suspicious), but that worked for me for the world of STATIC SHOCK. Iíll take research wherever I can get it. See, a British national whoís also a Reader in the world of STATIC SHOCK would have a bit of a hurdle. For that matter, Readers canít have credit cards. Can you imagine your wallet without a lot of plastic?
STATIC SHOCK takes place not long from now, not far from here. Technology is king, when technology controls the roads, the buildings in which we live, even our bodies (pacemakers, titanium hips and knees, just as a few examples). In this society, Readers are second-class citizens, and they are treated as such, not even allowed to gather in groups, just in case their emfields overwhelm the technology.
When Reader Jeanne Muir, whoís spent most of her lift as the ward of a university heavily involved in the study of Readers, gets a job offer out of the blue, she accepts it eagerly Ė and finds herself framed for murder. Because Readers are not held in high esteem, sheís an easy scapegoat, and it doesnít look good for her. She knows she canít let herself be taken into custody Ė and must risk accepting help from the mysterious Ran Owata, a fellow Reader who is no longer accepted among their kind. Can she trust him? Does she have a choice?
Think about that the next time you pick up your iPod, or even drive a car!
In Static Shock, people with heightened electromagnetic fields, nicknamed ďReaders,Ē are a twist in evolution, an anomaly in a society that has become technologically dependent. Readers, who are second-class citizens in that society, canít wear wristwatches, get too close to a TV, nor drive for fear they will shut down the electrical system of a car. As youíd expect, computers become worthless doorsteps quickly around Readers. Career prospects are limited.
Reader Jeanne Muir, whoís spent most of her life as the ward of a university heavily involved in the study of these people, gets a job offer out of the blue, but when she takes it, she finds herself framed for attempted murder. Because Readers are not held in high esteem, sheís an easy scapegoat, and it doesnít look good for her. Knowing she was set up and the odds are against her, Jeanne canít let herself be taken into custody ó and risks accepting help from mysterious Ran Owata, a fellow Reader who is no longer accepted among their kind. Can she trust him? Does she have a choice?
Eilis Flynn has spent a large share of her life working on Wall Street or in a Wall Street-related firm, so why should she write fiction thatís any more based in our world? She spends her days aware that there is a reality beyond what we can see Ö and tells stories about it. Published in a number of genres, she lives in verdant Washington state with her equally fantastical husband and the ghosts of spoiled rotten cats. She can be reached at eilisflynn.blogspot.com, at Facebook at eilis.flynn, and even Twitter (thatís @eilisflynn).