If All You Have is !@#$%!

… make lemonade.

Maybe the reason this story isn’t falling into place is that I think it’s a success story. You know, everybody from health insurers to home remodelers will link arms and sing happy songs about indoor air quality.

I’ve talked to a diverse group of sources who can solve part of the problem: indoor air scientists, HVAC engineers, asthma patients, urban planners, health insurers, and doctors. I confess I’ve thought of them as the heroes of my story. But none of them can heal indoor-air asthma alone, and precious few have reached past their own fences.

Crap. I want this idea to succeed. As a doctor I take care of people with asthma, and I wish we could do better for them.

But as a reporter I must face the evolving story, which seems to be that this possibly-brilliant idea will never take off. Because its obstacles are too great.

The obstacles to treating asthma this way are numerous, complex, and mutually reinforcing, like the obstacles to anything new. Fascinating villains, at least to me. And if I tell this story right, also troubling to any reader who might stand to benefit from this idea that she’ll never get a chance at.

Sometimes a fiction writer thinks her story is about the hero; but she writes the villain so charismatically that said villain takes over the story. The hero may win, but nobody cares.

It’s fascinating to watch the same thing happen in a reported story, where my heroes and villains are found objects with their own natural shapes, not my creations.