JoinWith.Me — What if…the Internet came to life?
Sam Vanderpool wakes up every morning in his miserable one-room apartment, and takes the subway into the city, where he works for the Labor Department, keeping track of average salaries. Within the daily ebb and flow of people, he feels as if he’s transformed from a biped into an insect, indistinguishable from the insect crawling right next to him.
His is a meaningless existence until he discovers JoinWith.Me, a website that offers free counseling. There, an unseen counselor with the voice of a little girl tells him that she can help him enjoy a better life—if he’ll just do exactly what she says. As her advice and demands become more abusive, Sam decides he wants out. At the airport, the flight display is controlled by some strange force that cancels his flight. Too scared to return to his apartment, Sam becomes homeless. Eventually, she reveals her plan for the future to him. Sam resists; she forces him.
Does that sound too absurd to be true? It isn’t. The symbol of the future in the story is the siphonophore, a sea creature that resembles a jellyfish. It consists of other animals that join together to function as a single organism. The organism catches fish and procreates. Even more curious, a siphonophore does not have a brain.
The book cover represents a stylized siphonophore, the Hula Skirt Siphonore to be exact. In fact, “Siphonophora” was the original title of the story, but most people could not pronounce or understand it. Siphhh…what? So I changed it to something simpler, JoinWith.Me. I searched for a living organism that can symbolize the future of humanity. I first found slime mold, single-celled organisms that congregate and form a single body. By the way, slime mold is smarter than you think; it can move toward more fertile ground, move out of the sun, and grow back together if separated. But slime mold does not sound very exciting as the future of humanity. Then I found the siphonophores, sea creatures that consist of other animals that connect to function as a single organism—a so-called colonial organism.
JoinWith.Me is a cautionary tale about our increasing fusion with technology as a society. With such a premise, the setting must necessarily be dystopian because the focus of any human endeavor is not what is real and surrounds us, but what is virtual and exists in a cyberworld. Why live in a pretty house? Why cultivate a garden? Why pick up other people’s trash in the street? If you find a better substitute in cyberworld, all of that does not matter anymore.
In the story, technology controls us because it comes to life—it is no longer mere artificial intelligence. But we summoned it into existence. That’s why the book begins with a quote from Goethe’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice (better known to most Americans as the Mickey Mouse Fantasia story) at the beginning: “Wrong I was in calling Spirits, I avow, For I find them galling, Cannot rule them now.” Until that point, there is a chance for us to control technology, if only she weren’t such a seductive enchantress. Most cannot resist.
Mike Meier grew up in a blue-collar housing project in Germany. On his own since his teens, he has lived in several different countries, including Argentina and Japan, and worked jobs such as washing dishes, repairing bicycles, and painting homes. When he’s not writing books or screenplays, you’ll find him playing Latin and Flamenco guitar in the Washington, DC area. He holds a master’s degree in political science, as well as a JD and LLM. Maybe mystery is in Mike’s blood—his grandfather was the 1930s traveling magician and fortune-teller Wladi-Kami.
In the year 2032, Sam Vanderpool lives a lonely existence with a menial job in an urban dystopia that is dominated by technology. Sam is jolted from his routine when an ad appears on his computer screen that takes him to a website called JoinWith.Me. The site offers counseling for the lonely, and Sam decides to give it a try. He talks to a girl who offers to help him find happiness and a girlfriend. Or so he thinks… JoinWith.Me is a dystopian thriller that explores timely questions: whether we control technology or it controls us; the singularity horizon where AI crosses the threshold into self-awareness; the enduring power of human connection; and the ultimate destiny of humankind.
Hello Mike, thanks for sharing your amazing story with us today. Lets dive in, shall we? How did you get your start writing?
I’ve started and stopped several times, facing many obstacles along the way. When I was very young, I attended the Catholic boarding school of the boys’ choir Regensburger Domspatzen in Germany. During my time there, I wrote many stories that I collected in the compartment underneath my desk. One day, the head teacher, Mr. S., went into a fit of rage over all the papers stuffed under my desk. He made me throw all of those stories into the trash while ridiculing me in front of the class. Later, life got in the way of my writing. There was always something urgent that prevented me from finishing a story. So it took me many years. Since my work dried up with COVID-19, I suddenly had a chance to focus on writing. I already had a substantial draft of JoinWith.me at the time. That’s why it was the first for me to complete. My next book is forthcoming in January 2021, “The Love Hex or Nicest Flings in Mexico” (a comedy). I started with the screenplay, which has won several awards. That encouraged me to turn it into a book. I wrote the first draft in the early 1990s, but did not have time to even think about it for years. Years later, I wrote a little more after I received some advice—that someone has to die in the story. Off and on I added a few ideas. Several years ago, I sent a draft to my old friend Thomas to hear his opinion. During the pandemic, I’ve finally had time to complete the story.
What Inspired you to write your book?
The idea of this book came to me years ago when I was working for an internet marketing company. I was well aware that Google, Facebook and the like track every keyboard move you make, then sell the data they have collected about you. Thus, I only worked in “incognito” mode in the Firefox browser; cleared the cache and cookies off my computer several times a day; and used a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Once, while working in incognito mode in the Facebook account of a customer, there was a pop-up by Facebook, suggesting that I connect with someone. There was a picture of the Mexican gentleman who had painted my house a few years earlier. We had never communicated over the internet. How was this even possible? At that moment, I felt as if the internet was a living human being that was spying on me. I wrote the first draft of this story soon after that incident.
In my writing, many times it seems I’m just taking notes. Do your characters dictate what or how you write in any way?
Absolutely. In JoinWith.Me, the protagonist Sam lives an impoverished life until he is drawn to (and eventually into) the Creature. I tried to put myself in his place, to think and speak the way he would in his situation. (Spoiler Alert) However, as is revealed in the end, it is Sam’s point of view, but in hindsight. That explains his occasionally unusual insights that would appear out of place for someone living such an ordinary life.
What is the hardest part of editing- grammar checks, reducing content, or something else?
I’d say the hardest part is to put together a compelling story that others can appreciate. My JoinWith.Me story changed quite a bit over time in response to critiques I received. The first critique noted that my protagonist “is such a wuss, nobody wants to read what happens to him.” I turned that into a character arc where he grows with the challenges he faces. The other hard part was the ending. I would have preferred a different ending (I’m not going to say what exactly that would be), but every critique told me that I just could not do that. I rewrote the ending about a dozen times so that others would find it acceptable.
If you could live in a book, which one would it be- why?
If I had to choose a book to live in, it would be Homer’s Odyssey. The reason is that I don’t need technology to be happy. I could have lived happily 2,000 or 3,000 years ago. I would have sailed the Mediterranean Sea without my cell phone ringing, and instead of the guitar, I would have played the lyre. All that I need to be happy existed at the time—travel, friends, music, stories, and wine.
Is there any conflict between what you want to write and what you think your readers will like?
Absolutely, but what good is a writer if nobody wants to hear the story? So yes, I changed JoinWith.Me quite a bit (especially the character arc and the ending). I am currently finalizing my comedy “The Love Hex.” Also there, I had to make changes to make sure others can appreciate the story. In the earlier drafts, I went a little overboard with my humor and had to be reined in by friends and critics who alerted me to humor that could be misunderstood or misinterpreted. Yes, it was painful to cut it out or rewrite it. But then again, I want the story to be accessible to anybody out there. That’s the price you pay as a writer.
What’s exciting you about your next project?
My next project is once again a comedy, about an invasion by space aliens. I just completed the first draft of the screenplay. While the science is real for the most part, the events are not. Thus, I have the liberty of applying more of my humor without offending anybody (I hope). For example, in the story a man decides to set up a cult in the midst of the confusion caused by the alien visitors. Searching for a scripture for the new cult, one of his associates finds a book in a looted Vietnamese restaurant. The result is:
The Cult Leader victoriously holds up the book with a broad smile. The Cult Members are excited; they jump up and down and cheer loudly. He ceremoniously opens the book and clears his throat. He looks at the book, cannot read it, then turns it upside down and proceeds. He begins to chant.
CULT LEADER: Lam nong lo nuong o nhiet.
SUBTITLE: Preheat oven.
CULT MEMBERS : (repeating the Cult Leader’s chant)
CULT LEADER: Dau mo va chao bot.
SUBTITLE: Grease and flour pan.
CULT MEMBERS: (repeating the Cult Leader’s chant)
CULT LEADER: Trong mot bat vua, danh kem cung voi duong va bo.
SUBTITLE: In a medium bowl, cream together the sugar and butter.
The Cult Members cheer loudly. …
LOL Ok I have to giggle, but that definitely has promise…so many places to go! Before I let you go, please tell us what’s your number one tip for an aspiring Author?
To write consistently. I write something every morning and every evening. In fact, sometimes I have an idea during the day, and I will open the draft it pertains to and make that correction. Some people call that “constant, never-ending improvement.” The Japanese call that kaizen.
Do you have a Mantra-a Quote you try to live by?
Yes, absolutely. It is the Japanese proverb Nanakorobi yaoki (七転び八起き) (Fall down seven times, get up eight). Nothing comes of lying on the floor in defeat—especially considering how short our visit to this hospitable planet is. Maybe I should add to this a reminder from Cabaret: “Start by admitting, From cradle to tomb, It isn’t that long a stay. Life is a Cabaret, old chum…”
I would like to thank you so very much for sharing your valuable time and talent with BnV. JoinWithMe sounds like it could very easily go viral.
JoinWith.Me, based on the screenplay, is a dystopian thriller that explores timely questions: whether we control technology or it controls us; the singularity horizon where AI crosses the threshold into self-awareness; the enduring power of human connection; and the ultimate destiny of humankind.
Multiple Accolades for the JoinWith.Me screenplay, video trailer and book:
✓ Video Trailer: Award Winner IndieX Film Fest, Los Angeles July 2020, Honorable Mention;
✓ Screenplay: Honorable Mention, 89th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition;
✓ Screenplay: Script Summit Screenplay Contest 2020, Finalist;
✓ Screenplay: Independent Shorts Awards Los Angeles, May 2020, Finalist;
✓ Book: Action On Film 16th Annual International Film Festival, Official Selection & several others