Friday, June 8, 2012

Self & The Other


Never underestimate the temptation of blaming someone else for your own problems, like "welfare queens" or "big government" or people of another color. It is an easy thing to vent your anger on the "other," the one who is not you or who you want to believe ruins your life and therefore deserves to be blamed for your life; it is a much harder thing to take responsibility for your own actions, and to learn to behave in a way that shows responsibility both toward your own life, and the very different lives of strangers.

I am not a Christian by belief, but there is a biblical parable I remember from my youth. To paraphrase: Jesus and a companion watched a poor woman and a rich man give charity to a church. The poor woman gave one coin, while the rich man gave many riches. The companion said, "The man has given more generously than the woman." Jesus replied, "No, for the poor woman has given all she has." 

Think of it not as a parable of money, but a parable of heart. How much of your heart are you willing to give to the "other"? It is easy to be an individual who gives richly of his heart to those he knows, those like himself, those who cost only a small percentage of his sense of security and superiority to like. Those who it is most comfortable, and even advantageous, to give to. It is hard to be an individual who, angered or frightened or selfish, reaches out past one's own feelings and beyond one's own kin to give your heart and your support to others, to come to understand those who you think of as your enemy, and to show support for those whom you would rather use as a scapegoat.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Word count, bah-humbug

I was going to cut this bit from my vampire novel for length, but . . . I just can’t bear to part with it.

---------------------

"Five minutes? Are you kidding? I’m going to need twenty minutes inside that building, at least," I insisted. “I have no idea how long it’s going to take me to deal with this jerkoff.”

"Ten minutes," he replied.

"Fine," I conceded. Then, after a moment's consideration, I added, "But don't feel like you have to sit in the car counting the seconds or anything. Main Street is full of stores. You could go shopping for whatever it is dangerous immortals like to shop for. Blood-stain-proof shirts...canes with daggers hidden in them..." I glanced at his perpetually scruffy chin. "A razor that actually works..."

"It grows back."

"I'm pretty sure it's supposed to do that."

"Ten seconds after I shave it."

"Oh."

"My body always returns to the state it was in the moment before I was transformed," he explained. "Haircuts and shaves are pointless."

"So this is exactly the state you were in when you became immortal?"

"Exactly."

"Except for the clothes."

"Well, no, I wasn't wearing these clothes two hundred years ago."

I sucked in a sharp breath—and almost gagged on my own spit. Two hundred? He was two hundred years too old for me? Damn. I'd been hoping for, I don't know, maybe a reasonably scandalous forty? I figured I could handle a forty-year-old brain in a twenty-year-old bod, but this.... I cleared my throat and tried to pretend the news was no big deal. "So what were you wearing when you got eternalized? A powdered wig and knickers?"

He looked out the window. "Weren't you in a hurry to punch someone's teeth out?"

Classic redirect, which meant he didn't want to answer the question, which meant the answer was probably embarrassing, which meant I really wanted to hear it, whether or not I was in a hurry. "Were you naked?"

He reached across the passenger seat and popped open the door next to me. "Your ten minutes start right now."

I got out of the car leisurely, giving him a wicked backwards glance before I swayed toward the shop’s front door, whistling as I went. So Mister “I Am So Badass” was bare-assed naked with a six o'clock shadow and long, wild hair when his body was permanently sealed into its petrified state. No wonder that ex-bitch of his had decided to preserve him for eternity.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Go Forth and Level Up, My Pen!

I’ve been working on the GOLDEN VAMPIRES manuscript for nearly two years and three drafts now.  As I near the end of revisions on the final draft, I feel like I’m fighting the boss level of the world’s hardest Zelda game, but instead of getting a princess as my reward when I finish, I’ll get the satisfaction of finally having bested my demons.  There are three of them – the demon of poor description; the demon of lazy characterization; and the demon of plot-less meandering.  They all came out dressed for battle in the course of this project, and for once, instead of sheathing my pen sword and fleeing to some shiny new project, I doggedly stood my ground and kept hacking away at every barrier that barred my way.

As a result, in the course of two years (and particularly in the last six months), I have gone from writing description like this:

I was standing behind the gate, looking down the road to town and watching for the headlights of Jess's older sister's car when I got the feeling I was being watched. I get it a lot, I think because my dad's paranoia rubs off on me. I tell myself to stop whenever it happens and sometimes I hold my breath and then it usually goes away. Sometimes I even make myself look around just to show myself that no one's looking at me. Which is what I did last night. I turned my head to look down the street in the other direction. The park starts just past our house and all the trees block out the stars so it's really dark that way. Usually you can't see anything.

But I swear I saw someone. He was on the other side of the road not too far away, standing so still he could've been a tree.  At first I thought he was a tree. Then I remembered that guy we keep seeing at the club, the one who hangs out in the dark just beyond the street lamps. I thought to myself, This could be that guy. Then I thought, That's ridiculous. I'm acting crazy as Dad. I tried to make myself look away, to get myself to calm down.

That's when he moved. I saw his body shift like he was stepping forward onto the road. Coming toward me. I took like three steps back even though I was safe behind the gate. He stopped. He stood there. I swear he was real. A stranger standing in the middle of the road staring right at me.

 

To writing description like this:

I ran. It called to me, the monster in the darkness, its laughter close on my heels. A gust of wind roared hard against my back, throwing me off my feet. I tumbled onto the pavement, scraping my hands as I protected my face from the fall. I felt dizzy, but instinct was screaming at me to get up and run. I struggled to my knees.

A figure stood in my way, taller than any man I'd ever seen. Its shape was obscured by a voluminous cloak and its face by the darkness, but long, fine hair shone against its shoulder like tendrils of moonlight.

I knew my own neighborhood. If I screamed, no one would come running. They would lock their doors and cover their ears and pray it wasn't their own daughter screaming. I wasn't even sure my own father would come, not now, not after what he'd done. I had only myself to depend on.

So I rose to my feet, balling my scraped, bleeding hands into fists to keep them from shaking, and stared defiantly at the stranger. "What the hell do you want?"

He chuckled, deep and low, like he was impressed.

So it was a man. That made my odds worse, but I'd beaten up boys twice my size before, so I wasn't giving up hope yet.

He moved sleek as a cobra toward me, his white hair fanning across his shoulders like a viperous hood. I jerked back—and slammed right into a cold, brick wall. I couldn't get away.

"What do I want?" His thick, heavy voice rolled over me like smoke. It made me drowsy. It made me weak. I hated it, but could not rouse myself to react. "You are what I want."

 

From writing characters like this:

Arriving at the concert in style put me in a great mood, which was immediately bludgeoned to death when we ran into the Gator Girl's queen bee...ch, Heather Wohlforth, as we were getting out of the car. In classic "gotta hava drama" style, she swayed up to Juliet's bodyguard and started flirting, ignoring us completely. So did the bodyguard, since Heather's cleavage was threatening to pop out of semi-sheer top it'd barely been squeezed into.

I'm not the kind who waits for an attack, so I struck first. "Hey, Heather. Where's the boyfriend? Didn't dump him already, did you?"

"What about yours, Sandra? Got dumped again?" Heather replied. "You back to pimping it at the tattoo store?" She had this habit of defining everyone by whether or not their boyfriend was Gator-worthy, so I ended up at the lowest end of her radar. It would've been nice if that meant I was invisible to her, but when you're on the floor, people tend to walk all over you.

 

To writing characters like this:

"Nice ride," he said dryly as the three of us clambered out of the sedan.

"You're lucky we got to come at all," I replied. "If Kurt hadn't—” 

"Ken," Kurt snipped.

I ignored him. "—fallen for the most blackmail-worthy trick I've ever pulled, Abrams would be locking me in some instrument of torture in his dungeon right now for trying to take off with his sacred prototype."

"It's not a dungeon, it's a wine cellar," Juliet protested.

"My point is, it's only thanks to Kurt's gullibility—” I waved at the scowling hunk of meat with the bright red bruise on his forehead. “—that you still have two gorgeous babes to hang off your arms tonight.”

Kay glanced at the bodyguard with a tiny smile. The bodyguard kept his distance, staring off in the direction of the beach to avoid staring at Kay, which he'd done for a full five minutes the first time they met.

The boy was, admittedly, the most gorgeous jail bait in town, and as the spoiled step-brat of one of the "400 Richest Men in America," he knew how to dress like a billion-dollar boy toy. Tonight, that meant a red crop top short enough to show off his slim, brown stomach, and thousand-dollar jeans that could only fit around hips as slender as his. His perfectly coiffed bed head had probably taken two hours to get so straight and stiff, what with his thick strands normally curling up tight as springs, and his nails, each one decorated with slender snakes coiling together in tiny drops of silver and green, put the uneven black lines I'd painted on my own skin to shame.

Bodyguard aside, Kay was probably the only guy attending this party without a costume, and he'd probably still be the one who got noticed the most.

 

And, finally, from jotting this invented-on-the-spot encounter down on paper:

He laughed, but it wasn't unkind. "I'm sorry. I meant, do you have any favorite bands? Your friend was saying you have different tastes than her."

I glanced at Sanny, not sure whether I was grateful or angry that she'd turned the conversation back to me. She gave me a slight wave with the back of her hand, as if to say, "Answer him, dummy!"

"Your band is pretty cool," I whispered. I couldn't even look at him to see how he'd respond.

"Thank you," he said softly. The sudden tenderness in his voice warmed my toes. “That means a lot, coming from a girl as—”

Someone called his name. The rest of the band had gathered on the opposite side of the stage, ready to make their grand entrance. They motioned at him to join them.

"Excuse me," he apologized. "I'm running late."

As he hurried to join his friends, I wanted to shout at him not to go, but I wasn't stupid enough to actually embarrass myself by doing it. And anyway, I didn't need anything more from the moment than I'd already gotten; just having met him was enough to make me happy.

 

To putting this key, plot-related sequence in the final draft:

"See," the familiar voice of Kaydrien teased from the darkness, "I promised you some hot girls would eventually show up at this party."

As my eyes adjusted to the near-darkness, I began to make out several dark forms seated around the room. One had to be Kay, but for all I knew, the others were total strangers. Strangers who, thanks to the hall light spilling across doorway we were standing in, could see the scar on my face as clearly as a lone cloud on a sunny day.

"The bathroom," I squeaked.

A figure motioned to a door at the opposite end of the room. "Over there." Kay's voice again. “But it's being—”

I bolted for it. Just as I reached out for the handle, the door swung open. The halogens on the other side wrapped their mellow glow like a halo around the body of the person just coming out—the same person I'd last seen in strips of tight leather, crooning to me from the safe distance of a stage several feet away while I whispered his name over and over again like it was a spell that could make me his.

Dain was standing right in front of me.

He took me in, all of me, by the same glow that was illuminating him like an adumbral angel. My coiled blond hair slipping out of its bun, the angora sweater brushing my chin, the reflexive hunch I'd gone into, even the tips of my baby blue Mary Janes peeking out from under the hem of my skirt, all of which must have seemed out of place at a party full of mini-skirts and strappy high heels. He took it all in in a glance, and then he took in my face. There was the slightest flicker of sympathy in his expression—bereft of embarrassment or, worse, pity—as he noticed my scar, and then he broke into a friendly smile. "Oh, sorry. Am I in your way?"

I nodded, the muscles in my throat too tight to speak.

He stepped sideways. I slid past his body, warm heat radiating from his skin, and slammed the door shut a lot harder than I meant to. I yanked at the bun pinned on my head until my hair fell down in waves over my face, then slid to the cold tile floor, my senses going numb. Dain was out there. Which meant the whole band was probably out there, laughing at the weird, ugly girl whose reaction to meeting rock stars was to lock herself in the nearest bathroom.

 

Soon I will have in my hands a completed manuscript I can be proud of, one that I can flog to agents without fear of being sent to the back of the class.  In spite of spending the last few years pitching in Hollywood, designing games, and working as an editor, there has only ever been one goal for me, and that goal remains the thing that drives me, day and night, year after year, and for the rest of my life:

To some day write not just a book, but a damned good book.

By the end of this year, I will be one level closer to snatching that goal out of the claws of the demons who hold it prisoner.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Life, Censored

What does censorship do to a girl? 

Takes her life away.

Picture, if you will, a girl who hides in a public library carrel, reading a book about sex, because her parents won’t tell her about it, because she’s been pulled out of sex ed, and because she doesn’t know what S.T.D. stands for.

Picture, if you will, a girl who sits on the floor of her middle school school library, flipping through a comic book that portrays the romance of a dark-skinned woman and a pale-skinned man, soaking in for the first time the idea that skin does not always separate people, like it does at her church and in her family.

Picture, if you will, a girl who pulls the bed covers over her head so that she can read by flashlight the forbidden, scandalous content of a book of science proposing that men evolved from monkeys, and dream of the day when she can write just such a book of her own.

Picture, if you will, a girl hastily flipping through a book on suicide in the bookstore while her protective mother isn’t looking, trying to figure out why her best friend has started talking about killing herself.

These aren’t visions of the past.  They’re visions of today.  There’s a girl in our world, today, right now, finding in books the answers to questions she had been forbidden to speak out loud.  The words bright and strong against the page are changing her, just as words changed you when you were young, and will change generations beyond our own.

Take those words away and you take away everything they might have made her, from a champion of equal rights to a therapist who helps women to leave abusive relationships, from a teacher capable of guiding the most difficult student through the learning process to the author of your favorite inspirational novel – the one that helped you survive your darkest period.

A girl has to find her own way through the world, and when you try to bar that way because you fear the things she will learn, you bar her from realizing her full potential as a complex creation of nature, or as a child of God.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Lazarus Girl Goes Serial

I’ve launched a serial story over at the figment.com website.  (It’s a story-sharing site aimed at teens and cell phone users, but it can also be accessed through a browser.)  Since not just anyone can access the beta, I’m re-posting the opening here.  For subsequent segments, however, you will have to join Figment (at least, until the beta is over, at which point I think anyone online will be able to view the story).
Enough with the explanations.  Here’s the opener, sweet ‘n short:

THE LAZARUS GIRL

I watched it pass by, my city, through the grimy window of the bus. Street lights glittered against gray glass like starlight piercing the darkness. I glimpsed shrouded figures clustered together against the cold of winter as they waited in line for a popular nightclub. This part of town used to be run down, full of boarded windows and destitute vagrants.  All of that was gone now, the poverty, the decay.

My city was being made new again, day by day becoming a bright beacon of perfection, a place where no one was without a place, or a purpose. The flawless diamond humanity sought for so long, and failed so miserably to forge.

I stared impassively out at the utopia that had transformed my city, knowing it was my fate to destroy it all, to send every last bastard out there who was breathing my air and walking on my pavement into oblivion. They all had to die, and I was the only person left who could kill them.

I pulled out the battered photograph, a pocket-sized image of Jazz taken for yearbook in our Sophomore year. He refused to smile at the camera. He didn't want anyone to see his wire braces, the only kind his parents could afford. His dark hair shadowed the bruise on one eye. There was a tiny red spot on his chin where a zit was just beginning to appear.

What would I do, when I saw him again? Could I do what I had to?

Could I, anointed to be Death of this world, bury a scythe into the heart of my best friend?

Friday, July 23, 2010

I Do Not Write

I do not write for the girl who lives safely ensconced behind a white picket fence, never once facing a difficult choice or terrifying experience.

I do not write for the girl who is kept from all darkness and ugliness and human truth.

I do not write for the girl who will never face a choice with consequences so serious that no matter what path she takes, she will carry the burden of her decision for the rest of her life.

I do not write for girls who do not exist.