Victim Excerpt

[Victim]

Day 1

Prologue

Bwam! Bwam!

Someone was pounding on her door. The razorblade was in her hands. It reflected the light so oddly, almost surreally, in little waves on the surface. There really wasn’t that much blood. But this blade was an ally of the demon voice, its edges like a monster’s fangs.

Bwam! Bwam!

Do it. The demon voice. That’s what she called it, the voice that sometimes hijacked her thoughts. Her fingers pinched the blade, her other hand falling onto the floor. That drop made a sound, a very distinct thump. Surely they had heard it. Her ears were desensitized to it, but not the–

Bwam! Bwam!

Instinctively, she threw the blade under her bed, knowing it’d plant itself in the wall. Her nose sniffled, her body trying to pull in the monotonous snot and leaky tears. They would be in here any second now. But no one would care if her eyes were red.

The demon voice was screaming at her. Her mind used to be the gateway to eternity, the mirror into others’ worlds, the guiding thread to the edge of the maze, the shield, wand, and sword. But now it held too much pain. And she felt helpless against it.

If only it could all just go away.

Ominously, they barged into the room. The parents. The father threw aside the fallen chair, catapulting himself into her space. The mother nearly followed, failing to hide the hollowness and tears in her eyes. That was her daughter was on the floor, suffering.

The mother clung to the doorway as if her life depended on it. But the father was already to the teenage girl, putting pressure on her arms and trying to bandage them. The girl’s eyes were locked on the mother, daring her to enter the room. They both knew she wouldn’t do it. Instead, this power play was all about the daughter’s challenge: care. Care enough about things to face them, to let the daughter see something else in those eyes: no fear, no hollowness, no helplessness. What about love?

Slowly, the mother lifted her phone from her pocket, tapping it then holding it to her ear. Her eyes dodged the hardened gaze of her own child, opting instead to stare into the air. Her voice was pleading:

“Mica, you’ve got to get here quick. She’s done it again. . .”

 

1

Why is it always so grey?

I stared up at the sky, alone with my thoughts. It was just me on the roof’s far edge, no one else to be seen. They had taught us in school that the sky was blue. In fact, that was part of how we had memorized colors: the sky is blue, the blood is red, the grass is green. At least, I think that’s how I remember it. Everything gets a bit fuzzy after a while.

Maybe that’s because of the food.

That was probably deserved. After all, nachos for breakfast was probably not recommended. And I might have had a bit too much melted cheese with them. It tasted good, so was it really that bad of an idea? I mean, I at least enjoyed eating it, even if my stomach was not so happy about it later. Maybe I should do that again tomorrow, just to see what happens.

Here’s a thought: is all of this even real?

Is it? I had no idea, and it was my mind that was making me question things. I was staring at a sky: one that I knew was grey that everyone else said was blue. In these moments, it was just me and my thoughts, a retreat in a world of so much connection. I was free to ponder these things: is the sky really grey? Is it blue? Is this real? Is my mind playing the trickster? Is my brother even in the country?

So, what is life?

Happiness? There’s one theory. The journey unto death? There’s another. Life, the thing that we all go through and never quite understand? That’s a third theory, and a much more likely one. Besides, if I learned anything about philosophy in school, then it was this: people have been debating the meaning of everything, life included, for centuries. We have many theories, but there is no right one, no right answer. There can not be any right answer; it’s just not possible.

Right?

“La. La. La. LAAAAAAAA-” I picked up the phone as quickly as I could, mildly cursing out my brother. If only I could change that thing. I fumbled with it for a moment, to a bright, frighteningly-taunting scream. It was blaring at me to give some attention to it, as my clumsy hands fumbled around for the answer key. Finally, there was peace, once my finger had found the magic spot. I held the annoying device to my ear.

“Hello?” I asked into it, silently hoping it was not upside down. I did hold it up properly, right? Would it even be any different if I did not? Would this thing fix itself if I did hold it upside down? Would it?

“Mica, you’ve got to get here quick. She’s done it again. . . She’s. . . .” Ms. Henson. My breath caught in my throat, as I realized the seriousness of her words. I had to find the courage to speak. I had to ask:

“Again? Is she . . . alive?” I jumped to my feet instantly, thankfully finding them there below me. I stood fully, staring ahead in disbelief. My still-open mouth had found the words, even as my own thoughts simply suddenly could not. A monstrously huge jet flew past right before my eyes, disrupting the grey. Tearing it apart.

“Yes, just get here now. Quickly. She only listens to you.” Click. The line disconnected, cutting her off abruptly. I pulled the device down, staring at it in my hands. The ‘smart’ phone, the basis of all our other technology. A supposedly miraculous invention of the last century, meant to connect all of humanity into one glorious new age. And this horrid thing was how I always found out when she was hurt?

My hands were already working. My phone was put away, adding that distinct weight. From my pockets, I pulled out my leather gloves. My hands were pulling them on now, my one minor protection against injury. Sometimes, I wondered why I even bothered with them, but I also knew their usefulness. Leather was annoyingly hard to find these days.

I stared from the edge of the roof, slowly looking down. I had never wanted to be alive in the first place, and I knew it. Ever since I took my first breath, I had had this nagging feeling that I had never been meant to be born. One of these days, I was not going to survive this jump. Maybe that could be today? If only my mind would let me.

 

2

“She’s in her room.” Ms. Henson, staring at the wall, counting out the spots of the peeling paint. She was so focused, so determined to just stare there at that wall. The door to their apartment had let me in, recognizing me as a welcome guest. I nodded to her, knowing that she did not see me. To my left, I saw Mr. Henson disappearing through a door towards the back entrance. He must have been going to go smoke.

“How bad is it?” I asked, barely knowing if I even wanted an answer.

Ms. Henson whimpered, bringing her arms in tighter around her. She was hugging herself, likely wondering where she had gone wrong. Her skinny, bony arms could barely pull themselves around her; she appeared to always have such little strength. At the paint she still stared.

That bad? I gave no response to her, knowing the pain that it would cause. Instead, I moved towards the door to a certain room. It was pink, of all choices: the color she most hated. The ‘princess’ sign on the door still held her blood, from that very first time. I forced myself to breathe.

My hand was already upon the handle. I was turning it, slowly, wearily. The dread, the fear. I could feel it in the air, just like every other time before. It was like this door was a portal into all of our nightmares, the kind that force us to wake up screaming. The tension was so strong that I had to force myself to take in another breath, even with my hand slowly turning. My stomach rose up, towards my throat, as my guts threatened to empty themselves. I could feel the bile.

A sharp intake of breath. I jumped, having startled myself with my own breath. The puke was in my mouth, as I silently swallowed it back down. My throat was in pain, as I forced the bile back down anyways. At the same time, it felt like I was gulping for air, just trying to breathe. The handle, it was no longer in my hands. Instead, my arms were propped up against the doorframe, keeping me upright.

Every intake of air sent knives into my throat. I gulped it anyways, just trying not to cough. Then came the dizziness, as the floor appeared to swerve towards me. My eyes were forced shut, as my mind tried to protect me. I opened them again, just to see the pink right before me. How could it really not get any easier?

I blinked.

I was standing again, shock still. The walls around me were lost into the black oblivion, mere shadows I felt more than I could see. Sometimes, if I looked hard enough, then maybe, just maybe, I could see a flash of deep purple. It was so sudden, so rare. In this place, right now, it was me alone. Even when he came, it would just be me alone.

[link to amazon page]

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Horror is in the air!

[Blog]

I love Halloween. The excuse to sing spooky music, the fun of having an opportunity to scare people, the abundance of horror and supernatural, the after-holiday candy sales. Yeah, I know there are some recurring problems (certain costumes are just downright insulting, not just insensitive). But, overall, I love Halloween. Tonight I will put on my sorcerer’s hat, sing spooky music, and hang out in the driveway to pass out candy. But, that’s not all this post is about.

Victim was just published! I may still have a lingering grin on my face; it finally feels real. Albeit, this launch was not without some setbacks – I’ll only have five copies for the local author event Saturday (that being said, it’s free for me to participate, so all I really lose is some possible sales). Here’s the other setback: navigating the BISAC category. Sci-fi horror, on its own, is not an official category. We have one for space opera, and another for steampunk sci-fi, but not sci-fi horror. I get to use two separate categories, right? I am going to stop that rant here. Right now, I get to go around updating way too many little details (I have to add the cover image to Victim’s page, for example). Also, I kind of forgot the social media posts (oops?), but I might just do those Saturday. Here’s why:

On Saturday (November 4, 2017), I will be at a local author event at the public library called Read Local. This is essentially a friendly book festival featuring local authors. Right now, at least, I do qualify as local. Since I helped out a friend at a book festival in late September, I feel reasonably prepared to participate. I just have to print business cards, receive the copies, get the KDP link (in a way I can distribute for potential ebook sales), print and sign the MOU, print the bookmarks (after I either find the earlier design or redesign them), ask if I can have a candy dish, check the distribution channels, update my site, locate tablecloth and master wordsmith plaque, find that clear display stand . . .

(Well, I’m off. I’ll post again soon.)

‘That’s such a niche market.’

[Blog]

The above is a paraphrase, not an exact quote. I was at a book festival this past Saturday where I assisted at a friend’s table, gained some experience (I know, this comment feels like it belongs in a video game), and got to attend my first book festival. Overall, it was an interesting experience. I certainly saw plenty of examples of what not to do, ranging from obviously photoshopped covers and hard-to-find tables to terrifyingly bad summaries and an author who talked openly about the faults of the books they were selling (this was beyond modestly self-conscious, arguably to the point of self-sabotage). But, I also saw some impressively good examples of what to do at a book festival. There were a variety of friendly, knowledgeable, and certainly personable writers present, signing away and making sales. Overall, I’d say it was an interesting and informative experience, and certainly a beneficial one. Aside from just supporting my friend, and visiting other friends in the area that I haven’t seen in a while, I learned a lot. Right now, I am definitely more prepared than I was before for when I have my own table at one of those someday.

There was a LBGT writer I chatted a bit with. Mary Ann Kirby, I think (on the off chance that you are reading this, I sincerely apologize for probably confusing your name). This writer referred to their gender as femme, so I will refer to them with she/her pronouns since I don’t recall otherwise (again, my sincere apologies). I actually saw this writer on a panel, where she excitedly referred to including LGBT characters who actually survive their books. Intrigued, since this happens all-too-rarely, I stopped by her table later to ask her about them.

The examples she gave me from her own books were all lesbian (or potentially bi, since I’ll admit that was a bit unclear). So, I asked her about transgender characters. Her response was along the lines of saying that it’s such a niche market, and that she just doesn’t have any. I’m not really sure if I interpreted it the way she intended (in fact, she probably didn’t think this much about it), but the phrasing stuck. We did talk some about trans characters (glittership and KM Szpara’s transcendence, for example). I’ll admit I did not buy her book, mainly because the summary made sure to list the main character’s age. Personally, that’s a major turn off for me. I can’t really pinpoint why that one is, maybe I’ve just read too many terrible YA books.

However, her use of the phrase ‘niche market’ has been haunting at the back of my brain the past few days. Yes, haunting. I’ve been working a lot on [Into the Unknown] (ItU) lately, which includes a genderfluid character (and an ungendered character, but that’s a different post. Essentially, I want the reader to determine what gender, if any, they perceive the narrator as.). As I was drafting a scene Sunday, the back of my brain kept drifting back to that conversation. As writers, we’re supposed to determine our niche and target audience, which is an exercise I personally find superfluous (especially after hearing a YA author Saturday claim that her audience is mostly adults). However, I can understand why people see the benefit of considering a target audience. But, why must the inclusion of transgender characters belong specifically to a niche market? We deserve greater representation.

Yes, it is still important to have books about genderfluid teens that focus on the experience of being transgender (I, by the way, have not read this book, but a gender non-conforming friend of mine did). Overall, it is still important to have books focusing specifically on the experience of being transgender, of whichever transgender identity. But, we need more than that. There are people in real life who just happen to be transgender. We deserve to see characters like us who go on magnificent opera-like space odysseys, or who fight off mutinous buccaneers. We deserve to see transgender adventurers who can handle their own against a dragon or who dance their way to victorious triumph over their enemies. You probably get the idea.

But, this is not just about more representation. Please bear with me on this one: cisgender people need to see stories with characters who just happen to be trans. Cis need to read stories about trans people that go beyond just the experience of being trans or undergoing physical transition (do not get me started ranting about cis-voyeurism). And they need to see stories that go beyond just the occasional maybe side character quantified by ‘but I don’t really care what’s in their pants or who they choose to kiss’ (sound familiar, anyone?). And then how about some casual representation? The transwoman who just happens to be on the phone when she stops by the pharmacy, the non-binary character who just happens to be the main character’s sibling, or the transman who slips off his binder at home, for example.

A while ago (and, no, I do not watch this show), there was a black bachelorette. Although I have no interest in the show, I still saw the articles going around the internet ([here], for example). Now that the season is over, I’ve seen people debate if it was done well ([here], for example), but a mostly white audience was still watching a show focused on the agency of a black female character. Basically, the show put white fans in the position to empathize with (and, therefore, connect with) a black female character. Although I doubt this challenged that many stereotypes, it was a step into mainstreaming an atypical lead for that audience since it took 15 years, according to the article, for them to have a non-white lead.

I’m not going to go into the debate over black female desirability (I’m white, so I do not want to speak over anyone; read the above linked article if you’re curious. I’ll put it again [here]), but I do see the benefit that this type of concept could have for transgender characters with a cis audience, assuming they are represented well. The more opportunities a cis reader has to empathize with a trans character (again, assuming it’s done well), the more opportunities we, as a community, will have to be humanized by the overall society. Essentially, good representation can help break down prejudices, and increasing the instances of good representation beyond just a ‘niche market’ can help increase overall acceptance and visibility. I did not learn about the existence of non-binary genders until I was in college; imagine the opportunities I could have had if I learned about us sooner! As transgender individuals, we are often at a disadvantage in how mainstream society treats us and our experiences (and, for that matter, education about transgender experience). I will admit that I have reservations on if the average cis writer can represent a trans character well. But, it is up to creators (writers, directors, artists and the like) to portray humanized transgender individuals. We need transgender characters to belong to more than just a niche market.

I would like to emphasize that this representation needs to be done well, but then this would turn into an even larger megapost. For now, I’m off to edit ItU. I’ll post again soon.

On Writing Diverse Characters

[blog]

[Whoa this post is wordy. And a bit academic-sounding. Bear with me?]

The human existence has such a large range of potential experiences that we would be missing out if we ignore the possibilities of character. The inclusion of diverse characters allows for a delightful range of possibilities. I could argue that, to some extent at least, it is necessary to include diverse characters (since we do live in a diverse world), but that’s not the direction this post is heading in.

A problem with diverse characters is when they devolve into tokens. Tokens, for example, are a common problem with the diversity checklist (when a list of diverse characters are included simply for the fact of having diverse characters). A token character (an extension of tokenism) is essentially a mostly-symbolic effort to make one or more minority group(s) appear represented in something. These tokens are often stereotypes, which should be avoided (really, please avoiding writing stereotypes. You can do better than that). For the best known example of tokens, pick almost any 1980s (American) kids movie and find the token black kid. Do they have any personality beyond being the token black kid? Probably not. In fact, you could probably take one from one movie and switch them with the token black kid in another. Would you notice? Probably not. This is because the personality and characteristics assigned to a token character are reduced to just them belonging to the minority group(s).

It is important to remember that a diverse characteristic is only a portion of a character’s identity. For example, you can have a trans girl who loves to play the guitar, has a stay-at-home dad, competes in swim, likes the color blue, and is an extrovert. The fact that she is a trans girl is only one portion of her identity. It certainly influences how she navigates the world, but just the fact that she is transgender should not encompass all that we see of her character. Do not allow a diverse characteristic to overshadow the complexities of a character. (In fact, you should already be writing complex characters, at least for your mains and secondaries.)

I prefer to think of including diverse characters as having a character who just happens to have a diverse trait. To continue the above example, that character is a girl who just happens to be transgender. She has other aspects (her love of playing the guitar, for example), that are still important to who she is, and the reader should see more than just her gender. I would argue that only showing the reader her trans-ness is, in actuality, a type of erasure since it reduces her to only that aspect of her identity (therefore erasing her perceived humanity).

It is also important to remember the intersections of identity. For example, if you write a black trans girl, you have an intersection between her identity of being a trans girl and her identity in being black. A tricky thing with writing transgender characters is that they are not always visibly transgender, but a black trans girl is always visibly black to the characters she interacts with (depending on how she is written, she might not be visibly black to the reader, but that is always a choice on the writer’s side). Although you can make a diverse character who is a plot device, I highly recommend that you tread carefully there. A diverse character who is used as a plot device can gain a negative reaction from that community, depending on the plot device. Also, do not overdo it (not every interaction with a transgender person is about them being transgender, for example).

That being said, one of the most important things to consider when writing a diverse character is if you can represent them well. Bad representation is, at the very least, misleading and often stereotypical. However, bad representation can be overtly dangerous for a community (for examples, see [here], [here], [here], and [here]). When researching how to write a character with a particular diverse trait, I read a lot of blogs (and I really do mean A LOT of blogs). I look specifically for blogs written by members of that specific community to make sure that my representation is as accurate as it can be (and to avoid issues like voyeurism).

Let me lay out an example. The narrator of [Into the Unknown] (ItU) is a character who happens to be deaf. They are also a character who just happens to be POC (non-white, this one is mixed race). I intentionally left this character unnamed and ungendered (i.e. I want the reader to determine how they see the character. If a reader reads them as NB, fine. If not, that’s also fine). There is a very long explanation as to why I did this with their name and gender. Eventually, I’ll write a blog post on it (the short version, as also stated above, is that I wanted the reader to be able to determine what gender, if any, they see the character as).

Since I am not deaf (I’m listening to rock music on the radio as I type this; the current song is [here] if anyone’s curious), I have been researching how to write this character through reading blogs. I can also reference resources that are specifically about writing deaf characters ([here], for example), and I can start with the basics if I need to as I get to know how this character navigates their world ([here], for example). I’ve also been trying to pick up on pieces of ASL (American sign language). I do not intend to become fluent in ASL, but it helps me to understand how this character interacts with other characters. I do not currently have the option of discussing their experiences (respectfully) with a deaf individual in person, otherwise I would. Since this character is POC, I’ve also read some POC blogs (however, I have written mixed race POC characters before, so I hope that I already have knowledge I can call on to help represent them well). I am having trouble finding any blogs where these traits intersect, so I have to intersect them in a way that I hope is accurate until I do find some. Also, because of the way ItU is set up (and how race functions in [The Balance of Souls]), race has different implications than in our world. So, I also take that into account.

Since I am non-binary (and since I have done this before with characters in unpublished work), I am reasonably sure that I can write a character well who is de-coupled from gender. As for this character, I have intentionally mixed the feminine and masculine. This includes action words and perceptions since (fun fact) authors tend to gender the action words of gendered characters.

And, finally, the method and style of storytelling will influence how a diverse character is portrayed. For example, there are no italicized thoughts in ItU. The plot involves a shift from an environment where the narrator is surrounded by friends fluent in ASL to an unfamiliar environment where almost no one knows it. The fact that this story is told in 1st person influences how the narrator is portrayed (and some of the types of research I end up doing since the reader perceives the narrator more through the narrator’s telling of their story and how other characters interact with them). The genre (sci-fi horror) also necessitates certain changes in style that can, in turn, influence how a character is portrayed.

How another character perceives that character can also influence how a reader sees them (possibly pertaining to their diverse trait). For example, Mica in [Victim] sees Rina just as his girlfriend. He never describes her in a negative way pertaining to her gender or appearance because of how he perceives her. Since Victim is told in 1st person from Mica’s perspective, this in turn influences how the reader perceives her. I initially wanted to make Rina transgender, but I decided against it. I gave her a skin condition instead, but the reader only sees her through Mica’s perspective. Therefore, the reader doesn’t see her skin condition. Even when Rina is the focus (the short extra [here], for example), it may not be clear to the reader how others perceive her.

The narrator in ItU extends beyond their diverse traits. For example, the narrator has a near-obsessive love of stars and astronomy. They have a boyfriend named Aiden and a backstory involving distant parents. Their favorite color is sunset orange, and they do not know the color of their own eyes (because dystopian sci-fi). They are fiercely loyal to their friends, but definitely not an extrovert. When I first started ItU, I did not sit down and plan out that I wanted this character to be deaf or POC. But, after I began writing, it felt natural to this character. This is a character who just happens to be deaf. They are not a token; they are a complete character. I just hope I can do them justice in how I write them.

(Someday, I know I’ll mess up. I know the limitations, histories, and traps of my genres (especially horror), so I know I’ll make a mistake someday. I’ll learn and move on.)

Wondering about that follow-up post? It never got posted. A condensed version can be found [here].