What I Write: A Dirt Spec Manifesto
When you tell someone you’re a writer, nine times out of ten the first question out of their mouth is “What do you write?” Doesn’t matter if they’re a friend, family member, fellow writer, editor, or rando in line at the bakery; the question is the same.
For me, I have two answers: the easy answer, and the truth. That’s kind of why I wanted to write out this post–to explain comprehensively, in at least one place, what I write.
The easy answer to “What do you write?” for me is Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Horror–whatever I’m into in a given moment.
The truth? I write Dirt Spec.
I grew up American poor. It’s not the poorest poor out there, but when you’re surrounded by other kids whose parents can hold down jobs and homes, who can afford a TV, and who have never had to decide between having electricity or water in a given month… Well, it can start to paint a picture on your psyche. You can start to think that what little you have is how little you deserve.
I’m a first generation college graduate and the benefit of an education has helped me pull out of poverty mindsets I didn’t know I was living under. Some of them still linger. I think, sometimes, that someone is going to evict me from my house. You know–the one with my name on the mortgage? When things go well, I tend to start looking for the other shoe, to anticipate it dropping. These anxieties come from my upbringing. I managed to get out materially, but not psychologically–and even this progress wasn’t easy.
But that’s not how people who come from poorer backgrounds are used in fiction. For the most part, they’re either underdogs, or they’re caricatures. White trash bigots or Cinderella-types living happily-ever-after with no chronic PTSD to follow them up the socioeconomic ladder. Either the poor person in a story is an example of someone who can pull themselves up by the bootstraps, or they’re a villain, victimizing others.
That doesn’t, and never did, reflect my experience.
Defining Dirt Spec
Dirt Spec is speculative fiction including Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Horror with a specific focus on telling the stories of the lower classes in as many dimensions as possible. The dirt comes from us unwashed masses–the people with dirt under our finger nails, feet firmly planted here at earth-level, going nowhere.
It’s about the waitress just fired again and evicted off-planet after missing a payment on her eco-abode, and the ex-con living in a radiation-bathed squat in the Kuiper belt she meets as a result.
It’s about the kid left untended, exposed to the scheming of a ditch wizard neighbor because the parents are out partying with their little bit of tax return money.
It’s about the recovering addict who will do whatever it takes to get her daughter back out of foster care–even if it means feeding a literal zombie.
It’s not about cow-towing to good ol’ tropes that wash out the difficulty of being poor, like when Wade Watts in Ready Player One makes a butt load of money in the first few chapters with no psychological side-effects of poverty–or when Harry Potter does the same.
It’s not poverty porn that goes so far in the other direction that it romanticizes–nay, fetishizes–what it means to be poor, making those without money out as having some kind of nobility and stoicism the rest of us can only aspire to as in The Hunger Games.
These stories are valuable–they are fantastic reads–they just aren’t Dirt Spec.
It turns out that being poor doesn’t make you any less of a three-dimensional person with flaws and virtues and desires that often contradict one another. A character can start poor, end poor, and still go through character growth!
Economic constraints can be hard–they make it more difficult to just go balls-to-the-wall crazy with the adventure when money is a consideration–but plenty of people write without those limits. I choose to write with them when I write Dirt Spec, because I lived with them as a kid.
I’m writing for the little girl I was–she deserves to see herself in fiction, too.
A short conclusion
Not many of us make it “out” to write fiction. So, whether you want it or not, I’ll be over here scribbling away at my Dirt Spec, trying to scratch out a little corner of fiction for those of us who will never quite escape gravity.