Reaching the Heart of Otters In Space 4

Years ago, after finishing Otters In Space 3, I began outlining Otters In Space 4.

I am not good at outlining.

My outlines tend to look like a bag of small toys, a pile of tarot cards, a playlist of songs, or a vague gesture at several seemingly incompatible movies.

I spent several years stuck in the middle of writing Otters In Space 3, a work I hadn’t outlined at all. I didn’t know how to outline back then, even in my own unconventional ways.

So, for Otters In Space 4, I wanted a simple story structure to work with…

Thinking of the first prime universe Star Trek movie and Ghostbusters ’16, I decided that Otters In Space 4 should follow their basic structure — assemble the team, accomplish a first mission.


Like I said, my “outlines” often look like a vague gesture at a few movies.

Before I actually started Otters In Space 4 (I think—it’s been years, and my sense of time is getting increasingly muddy from this endless pandemic), I had one of the worst days of my life.

I met one of my biggest heroes, for only a few seconds, but enough to scar horribly.

I’d probably heard the phrase “never meet your heroes” before I signed up for a “VIP Meet & Greet” with the musical artist who has provided the absolute greatest comfort, solace, stability, and joy in my life. But somehow it never sank in. I cringe at it now.

Nothing that mattered happened during the few seconds when I “met” Brian Wilson, but there was a confusion about the order of the line and which picture I was asking him to sign… and I felt like he was mad at me, even though he barely saw me.

I knew from all the books, documentaries, and music I’ve devoured involving Brian Wilson that he wouldn’t be at his best during a handshake line. It’s not my scene either. Nothing really happened…

But it felt like my hero hated me.

In a moment, it was like all the brightest music in the world went dark forever, and I cried for hours, all the way through the ensuing concert and hours-long drive home afterward.

It was such a big and small thing at the same time, and I couldn’t find a way to shoulder it.

It doesn’t make sense to give someone you’ve never met—someone who doesn’t know you—that kind of emotional power over you. But I discovered Brian Wilson’s music as a young teen, struggling to survive my first real heartbreak, caused by a friend ghosting me.

His music carried me.

Brian Wilson’s music sheltered me from the weight of living in a house with my emotionally abusive father. His music walked through the trials of college with me, losing friendships, barely graduating. The music was still there. It made the world sound right.

In retrospect, I don’t know what I was thinking, letting my spouse buy “VIP Meet & Greet” tickets to see Brian Wilson. There was absolutely no way for it to go well.

Regardless, I walked right into that trap. Then I had to find a way to keep walking with a steel trap on my foot.

As a writer, I’ve used my fiction many times to powerful effect as a way to take feelings I don’t want, express them safely, box them up, and leave them behind—somewhere safe where I can look at them again if needed, but don’t have to carry them.

The story carries them.

So, I needed a place to put these overwhelming feelings I have a hard time articulating even now, because, really, -nothing happened-. Some papers got shuffled around, there was a brief confusion about which he was supposed to sign, and it was over.

Nothing. And it still hurts.

This brings us back to Otters In Space 4.

See, the dogs in the Otters In Space series worship humans (who went missing ages ago) as gods. And I was planning to write a book where the tabby cat main character finds out what’s happened to them, and presumably actually meets some.

I realized this was the perfect place to explore my distressingly, ridiculously powerful feelings regarding a brief brush with a musical artist who is simply another person, who was busy, who didn’t mean me harm, but who I’d built up to ridiculous proportions in my heart.

So, for years now, I’ve been slowly chipping away at this novel, building up to the part where an uplifted, deeply religious dog comes face to face with one of the humans she worships for the first time.

And the human will just be a human. Like any of us.

And it’ll be awful.

I’m almost to writing that part, but what comes after will be what’s important.

The dog will have to rebuild her worldview, reckon with her feelings of foolishness & insignificance…

Anyway, that’s what I’m working on lately. Just a frivolous story about a dog on a spaceship.

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