“New research is driving home the consequences.”

Vignette inspired by: How Gaps in Mental Health Care Play Out in Emergency Rooms, NPR, October 17th, 2016

 

“You know, this is something we really can’t fully treat in an emergency room. Look up for me, please.”

“I talked to my acupuncturist about it, she says it’s just a bit of blockage in my chakras because of the recent purge. Are the sparks still in my eyes?”

“They’re a little dim right now, but I wouldn’t doubt that they’ll surge up in a few hours. Your acupuncturist knows you willingly invoked a cimmerian devil?”

“Yeah.”

“…”

“And you’re wondering why.”

“Would likely help me figure out the best way to treat you.”

“I thought you said you couldn’t.”

“Didn’t say I wouldn’t at least try. Wouldn’t be a very good physician mystic if I didn’t.”

“I was trying to siphon influence from Drump.”

“You willingly invoked a high-level devil into you to steal the thunder of a presidential candidate who probably has equally high-level summoners making deals and sealing blood pacts with demons?”

“I’d planned on invoking Grah’he–”

“Please don’t say her name in here. They haven’t reinforced the wards and barriers around the building for the upcoming equinox yet.”

“Sorry. I didn’t think the demonic essence would continue to corrupt me this badly even after it was cast out. Do you think there’s anything you can do?”

“Well, your intentions for invoking the devil were rooted in a desire to take something away from someone else, which infects the power you used in the summoning, which has physical and spiritual ramifications.”

“What’s the–the prognosis or diagnosis or whatever?”

“We can treat the ebon flares you’re experiencing, which should keep you from passing your corruption on to anyone else, but that’s only temporary. You’ll have to see a conjurer and possibly an enchanter to get rid of the malignant effects entirely.”

“I heard that conjurer treatments are pretty expensive.”

“They can be, especially for someone in your case. But you managed to contain a cimmerian devil inside of you for, how long, two months?”

“Three.”

“Which means you’re a pretty powerful invoker. You might be able to pay through a mana transfer.”

“But that would take away some of my power.”

“And a lot of the debt you would otherwise owe.”

“…What happens to me if I do it again?”

“What happens if you–Are you sure that devil was purged out of you?”

“This is all me talking. What happens to me if I were to invoke another cimmerian devil, or an entire horde of devils?”

“…I think you might need to talk to someone about this.”

“I am, I’m talking to you.”

“I’m not–I’m not qualified to give you the answers that–”

“Are you afraid that I’ll kill myself?”

“Yes. Absolutely. It’s obvious you’re a quite a capable invoker, but that doesn’t mean you should risk rotting your aura and who knows what else just to make a point.”

“What if rotting my aura and who knows what else means the country doesn’t spend four years under the yoke of a desperately unhinged billionaire so out of touch with reality that his mailing address isn’t even in this galaxy?”

“There are other things that can be done to keep Drump out of office. And even if he doesn’t become the next U.R. president, there’s no telling who might step up and take his place for the next generation. I hate to admit that there’s a part of me that agrees with your train of thought, but you have to take off the blinders and see this for what it is, a cycle. It’s different, but it’s also still the same.”

“There’re mystical means that can take care of Drump and people like him.”

“…How deep did you let that devil go while it was inside of you?”

“Deep enough that it started to trust me.”

“You mean lie to you.”

“Have you heard of Noirzyantal’i?”

“I read scrolls about it in medical school; we had to learn about ancient curses and mystical infections.”

“So you know that it can pinpoint specific individuals or groups of people.”

“But not the way you’re thinking of. Noirzyantal’i can sense certain thought patterns, but who hasn’t had thoughts similar to Drump or people like him? Even if you manifest a strain of Noirzyantal’i and compel it to infect assholes, you have to specify what kinds of assholes, there’re endless permutations.”

“And invoking more cimmerian devils can help me learn how to not only properly manifest the infection, but how to control it.”

“There are other ways, safer ways, to do what you want to do.”

“Doctor, are you advocating murder?”

“I’m advocating reason, which I wish I could write a prescription for. As a doctor, I’ve had to learn how to compartmentalize when I’m on the job, keep my opinions to myself when it comes to treating charm addicts, unfit parents, and textbook dumbasses. When they come in, they’re a person in need first and whatever else second, and I have to treat them. While I might not like Drump or people like him, his fate’s not in my hands, it shouldn’t be in my hands. For all we know what he’s doing is acting as a catalyst for something more positive in the future.”

“But it could also be the catalyst for something even worse.”

“…”

“Which I’m sure you’re perfectly aware of, but probably don’t like to dwell on.”

“Sometimes I don’t have any choice but to believe in the most positive outcome, no matter how unlikely it might be.”

“And that’s exactly how I feel about invoking more cimmerian devils.”

“But you’re purposefully putting yourself in danger. Most of my patients don’t volunteer for their injuries, infections, or illnesses. You think if I told them the outcome of getting into a car, neglecting to exercise, or going out of the house in the next fifteen minutes they wouldn’t change their minds? I’m telling you that there’s a very good chance that you could not just kill yourself, but waste your life by going through with what you’re planning. And from what you’re telling me, it sounds like you know there’s a gargantuan chance you would kill yourself if you go through with this. You need to talk to someone.”

“Why? Because I’m willing to die for what I believe in? Do they tell soldier-mages they need to talk to someone if they’re willing to kill and die for their country? No, we thank them for their service and their sacrifice. How is what I want to do any different?”

“…I’m a doctor, not a psychologist or a philosopher.”

“Just because you don’t have the training doesn’t mean you don’t have the answers.”

“And just because you have the power to do something doesn’t mean you have the right to do it.”

“And there it is.”

“I have a feeling you’ve already made your mind up about all this. There’s nothing I can do or say to sway you.”

“Maybe you want me to go through with it, only you don’t want to say that because you’re supposed to save lives, not help end them. But would it really be that bad if someone like Drump died? If it was him sitting in front of you talking about something that would almost certainly kill him, would you dissuade him, knowing who he is and what he’s done.”

“Will you at least let me treat your ebon flares?”

“You’re afraid the demon’s leftover influence is making you think these thoughts. I thought physician mystics were inoculated against common mystical infections.”  

“No, I’m just…I’m just tired is all. I’ve been up for over 48 hours. Actually, it might be better of Dr. Payne treats you, he’s more skilled with demonic infections than I am.”

“I thought the emergency room wasn’t a place where I can get treatment.”

“Psycho-aurallogical treatment, no. And I really think that’s the best thing for you right now, don’t you?”

“You’re the doctor, you tell me.”

“I’m not saying you’re mentally damaged or crazy or anything for having these thoughts. It’s likely just your desperation…Or it could be something else entirely. I just want to make sure. And I think you do too.”

“You don’t think one person should sacrifice their sanity or well-being for the good of the many? Isn’t that similar to what you do?”

“I entered into this profession knowing what I was giving up, and what I was gaining from that loss.”

“You don’t think that’s the case with me?”

“I–You don’t think your life’s worth living out in its entirety?”

“Maybe I’m not meant to live a full life, at least not in the traditional sense.”

“I can’t just let you walk out knowing–”

“You’ve never let a patient go home knowing they wouldn’t do something stupid to wind up right back in the hospital. Or worse?”

“Will you at least wait to make a decision until after you’ve talked with a psycho-auralogist?”

“I feel like you’re passing your responsibility onto someone else.”

“I just want to make sure you get the quality of care you need, that you have all the information you need to make the right decision.”

“…I think I already do.”

“Wait. Wait! You can’t leave!”

“Where the hell did he go?”

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‘ “People are investing a lot of money in this, and they want that product to be out there a long time. ‘

Vignette inspired by: What’s the Secret to LeBron James’ Athletic Invincibility? CNN, October, 10, 2016

 

It still had the black hair that never seemed to stop growing, the gray eyes mired in indecisiveness that shifted from green to blue-green depending on the light, the lines around the mouth that deepened with the slightest lift of lips.

I watched as someone else walked around in my old body in the middle of a coffee shop.

It had sloughed off of me a few months ago, back when I felt as if nothing in my life fit quite right. It was like gorging yourself night and day and day and night and realizing you’ve been feeding someone else. Then gone was the hair, the eyes, and the mouth. And the thighs that made it fruitless for me to attempt to find pants that comfortably fit, forever loose around the waist and calves and tight as tension everywhere else.

It’s not that I had grown tired of my body, that body, just that I increasingly found myself yearning for…sustenance that satisfied me beyond my physical appetites. My unconsciously conscious desires had apparently caused my body to reject me, shove me out of me and onto the other side of the bed in the middle of the night. I awoke next to myself, hovering there as a disembodied soul of earthen brown striped and studded with green.

“I’m sorry.”

The new owner of my body turned at the words I’d thought I’d shut behind my new lips, ones that were a bit too full for my taste. “Beg pardon.” It’s an odd sensation, watching someone else control the body you’d had since birth and expected to keep until death.

I started to shake my head and walk away on legs with thighs that slipped comfortably into nearly any type of pants. But I stopped. “That’s my old body.”

You’d have thought that I’d told her I wanted her, except in a way, I’d already had her. Her jaw dipped open, snapped shut. It was like watching myself act. “I’m–I’m sorry.” Eyes slithered down in misplaced shamed.

“It’s fine.” But I didn’t think it was fine, not really. “I didn’t appreciate it when I had it, so it rejected me.” A pause. “How…How long have you had it?”

She swallowed, flicked my–her brown eyes up at me. “About two weeks now.”

“That’s when the Vessel Repurposing Agency first picked it up.” I remember how gently they’d lifted my still breathing shell onto a gurney, told me that I’d need to fill out some forms as soon as I’d become re-embodied. Souls can’t speak in a language living vessels can, so I’d flickered twice, indicating yes. “How do you like it?”

“It’s…” What’s the proper way to respond when someone asks you how they like your body? It’s the most intimately indelicate question you can ask a person. “It’s quite comfortable.” Apparently, my body was now a bed. “You took good care of it. Th–Thank you.”

What’s the proper way to respond when someone thanks you for your unintentionally cast off body? “I used to be vegetarian and somewhat lactose intolerant; I only drank rice and almond milk. Be careful if you indulge in meat.” I couldn’t think of anything else to say, at least nothing that wouldn’t make her feel like a body snatcher.

She nodded, shuffled from foot to foot. I’d always rubbed my fingertips against my thumb whenever I was nervous. I was watching her use my anatomy to translate nervousness into her native body language. “I actually decided to stop eating meat when I got this body.” This body. As if she’d picked it up off of the rack. And maybe she had.

She must have read something on my new face. She frowned. So that’s what it looked like when I did that. “Did I say something wrong.”

I started to shake my head but stopped. “Why did you choose it? Did you rifle through bodies like you were picking out new clothes, or were you looking for something specific, something that spoke to you?”

A woman breezed by between us, cutting through something not entirely unlike tension with coffee and phone in hand.

“Honestly, it made me feel like coming home. Finding peace.”

It was almost like she’d walloped me in the stomach and between the eyes. The blow wasn’t physical, but it was nonetheless staggering. “Like coming home,” I whispered. I felt as if I’d been cast out of mine. And yet… “No one’s ever told me they felt as if they’d come home when they were around me.”

She shrugged. “Sometimes strangers know you better than you do.”

“Except you don’t look like a stranger to me.”

We both smiled at that.

She stretched out a hand. “My name’s Vanessa.” The name didn’t match the form.

I took it, accepted the familiar curvature and warmth of it. “Natasha.” Maybe my name didn’t match my current form either. I wondered if this body’s former inhabitant had just left this very coffee shop before I’d entered. Maybe she would come in a few minutes from now. I looked around. She might be here right now, figuring out what to say to the woman wearing her skin, her experience, her home.  

Home

I thought of how many apartments I’d rented over the years. How it’d felt to see each one the first time, how I’d tried to picture myself living and cooking and eating and sleeping in each one, how I’d nested in each one, how it’d felt to leave each one for the last time, how it still felt to think back on each one.

Vanessa’s creased brow caught my eye. For a minute I’d disassociated and thought I was looking in a mirror. My/her/our brow relaxed on its own. “You okay?”

“Home.” I nodded. “I think I know what you mean now.”

How could I be upset with someone who found my original body to be one she felt at peace in? I’d had more of a hand than I realized in helping to create that peace for her. I’d accidentally given up my body, but she’d found it on purpose.

What was it that made any of that matter?

Maybe the answer was floating someone in the ether, looking for the perfect body it could use to speak itself into existence.

 

“The truth is, it’s often our job to report on bad news and offensive people”

Vignette inspired by: In Defense of Out Magazine: Don’t Shoot the Messenger, Out Front, September 23, 2016

 

The sunrise is beautiful in the way only a sunrise can be. It’s beautiful and warm and visually captivating and takes my mind off of the fact that someone I didn’t know I looked up to until now is pointing a loaded curse at me.

“Why did you meet with Baylin?” he asked me, emerald sigils and glyphs swirling in a geometric pattern around his outstretched hand. His name is Anderson Crohn, and he’s the most skilled spellslinger across five states. “Were you plagued with curiosity about why I cast him out of this dimension?”

I unhooked my eyes from him and the magic gathered around his palm and slid my attention over the edge of the balcony where the bottom of the gathered froth of clouds warmed to a sullen gold that blended and bled out to invigorated rust as the light scattered. “We deserve to know his side of the story.”

Anderson shook his hand out, dissolving the links of the curse and allowing it to fray apart to tatters and threads that vanished before they hit the marble at our feet. He walked around me and checked to make sure the cuffs around my wrist still paralyzed my fingers, keeping me from casting a curse or spell of my own.

I wish I’d listened to him when he’d urged me to learn how to channel magic through my third eye.

He swiveled back into my line of sight, flicking his eyes down to the charm writhing over my boots and locking my feet in place. “You don’t trust that I told you the truth about what he did? About how his toxic and overflowing contempt of his own kind gave every psychic within a 30-mile radius a nosebleed?”

I looked at him. “Baylin says you never asked him why he feels that every spellslinger is a genetic defect. He has a point; we can’t work with natural magic the way spellbinders can, every one of us is born infertile because of the virgo virus inside of us that allows us to channel magic, we can’t even donate blood magic.”

I would say that he stared at me then, but the way it felt with his eyes boring into my skull was more like he drilled into me, fired bullets into me, smashed twin hammers from his eyes into me.

“You let him get to you.” The air wrinkled around him. He was getting upset.

“No.” I fought not to swallow. My throat convulsed in protest. My Adam’s apple bobbed as I gave in. “I just wanted to have a better understanding of one of our community’s biggest assholes.”

Anderson gave a slow blink. “You don’t trust me?” It was a question this time.

I rolled my shoulders to ease the straining ache from them. Didn’t work. “Right now I feel like it’s you who doesn’t trust me.”

Even though I couldn’t cast magic, swing my arms, or kick my legs out, I felt like I’d hurt him. “Elon, I elevated you to Baylin’s old position. The station of Second Inquisitor requires a titanic degree of trust and the strictest of confidence.” He blinked, narrowed his eyes. “Why do you feel I don’t trust you?”

I exhaled air before I exhaled a response. “It’s not the truth you don’t trust me with, it’s the implications of the truth.”

A grin split his lips, peeled across his mouth and triggered a slow-boiling chuckle that slipped free and rattled the air. Did my words hit too close to home, or were they not even in the right zip code?

“He’s wormed his way under your skin.” We both looked over at the man with black hair slicked to the side in a business cut step out onto the balcony from inside the house. “You didn’t come back to tell us what you learned,” he said to me. “You aren’t entirely sure Baylin is the extremist you were led to believe him to be.” His dark cerulean eyes burnished brightly at the edges as they roved over me. He handed my phone in his palm over to Anderson. “I deleted their interview.”

“I uploaded it to my cloud as soon as I crossed back over to this dimension,” I told him.

“Did you?” He rolled his eyes up overhead as if he could see it. For all I knew, he actually could. “I hope it doesn’t rain its way back down to us in drips of bytes and drops of bits.”

Anderson held my phone out in his hand. “Yianpolisis.” Neon green cracks splintered across the surface of my phone a second before it disintegrated to a pile of black and silver polished sand. “Thank you, Illyrian.” He dropped his hand and let the particles trickle to the floor, dusting his palms.

I looked up from the pile. “Are you going to blast the memories from my head or twist my mind under your sway?”

Illyrian stepped over to the edge of the balcony in his dress boots, slipped his hands into the pockets of his slacks, and leaned against the banister to watch the continuing sunrise. “Neither. And we aren’t going to kill you either.”

Anderson finished for him. “We’re going to set you free with your truth and your memories, and your…implications of the truth.”

Confusion burrowed its way beneath my brow and made itself at home. “Then why bind me? Why delete my interview and destroy my phone?”

Illyrian turned to look at me. “Taking away someone’s power, their leverage, has a way of imbuing them with even more power, even more leverage.”

“Vacuums don’t exist for long. Eventually, they fill back up with something.” Anderson flicked a thick finger. I felt the cuffs on my wrist loosen, the sensation of frenzied sparks rushing over my fingers as movement returned. I could’ve at least blinded or stunned them both and gotten the hell out of there. But I didn’t. I’ll tell you why when I figure it out my damn self.  

“You want me to be a herald of the truth?” I opened and closed my hands. “Spread the true gospel of Baylin to everyone I meet?” The sun had fully risen now. It sat in the sky, staring and shining at us like an audience of one.

“Do you think that would do any good?” Anderson asked. “Baylin can no longer set foot, spirit, or essence in this dimension. Therefore, he no longer poses a threat to anyone. Is it really worth you scaring up old demons and old fears because you feel it’s your responsibility to share the truth with other spellslingers?”

I remembered the poisonous state of anger, malice, misplaced aggression, and contempt that choked our community when Baylin first shared his philosophy on the state and existence of spellslingers. I remembered the death threats, the actual deaths, the attacks on the streets, the in-fighting between Inquisitors. I thought about how much worse it might all be if I shared what Baylin had told me about spellslingers, about how we actually came to exist. I thought about how what I had to share might create another Baylin Milo. Or possibly something worse.  

“I can see you’re starting to realize how heavy the burden of truth is,” Illyrian said to me as he continued to lean against the balcony. He crossed his legs at the ankle. “Hell of an introduction to being Second Inquisitor.”

Anderson rubbed the back of his neck, grimacing as if he’d been freed from a yoke. I guess in a way he had been. Sharing the truth with someone is quite a freeing experience, a breath of fresh air, a sunrise after a long night.

“I’ll give him a platform if I tell anyone.” I was speaking more to myself than them. “I allow him to cross back over into this dimension once again.”

“Him and all the discord he churned up in his wake,” Illyrian muttered.

I looked out at the housing complexes filled with nothing but spellslingers. I turned to the city filled with nothing but spellbinders. The segregation was beneficial to both communities.

But it would likely all crumble to ruins if I pulled back the curtain.

I looked from Anderson to Illyrian. “I’ll choke on the truth for now. But that doesn’t mean it won’t eventually find its way to the light.”

Anderson gave a bitter smile. “My boy, just like justice, the truth is blind. Why do you think it takes so long to show itself?”

‘ “We messed up,” one of the officials concluded.’

Vignette inspired by: U.S. May Have Killed Prisoners, Not Troops, in Syria Strike, The Daily Beast, September 19, 2016

 

They didn’t even look like human beings anymore. They looked more like tangled mounds of splayed limbs, burnt flesh, fragmented skulls, and singed lumps all crusted with dried blood.

“Can you shut that off or something?” The man with a silver motorcycle helmet positioned on the circular table in front of him massaged his forehead as he dropped his eyes from the display.

The woman standing in front of the large screen displaying the gruesome image turned to him, tapping a finger on her elbow as she clenched her arms close to her chest. “Chopper, turning it off doesn’t change the fact that we’re responsible for all these deaths. All sixty-three of them.”

Chopper’s massaging turned into a kneading, an insistent pressing that sought to rub the image and the emotions hooked to it out of his skull. Out of his skull. Just like the cracked and blown-out skulls on the–He clenched his jaw and his fist at the same time. “It was a gahdamn accident, Trish.” He looked up and did his best to narrow his focus on her and not the image behind her. “We didn’t know there were civilians in the building. We didn’t know The Berserkers could mask a person’s vitals from all forms of detection. We didn’t know when the bomb was going to go off and destroy a quarter of an entire continent, which means we didn’t have enough time to be as delicate as we usually are, which now means it’s really no surprise that something like this–” He jabbed a finger at the screen without looking at it. “–fucking happened!” His chest bellowed in and out, his body quivered, his eyes flared, his gloved hand clenched, his blood pounded with the boil of emotions in his bloodstream.

Trish stared at him for a moment. She absently waved a hand at the screen, shutting it off, before tucking it back underneath her arm. “That kind of logic makes perfect sense, but it doesn’t apply. Not to us.” She spoke in low, even tones. “When you choose to become a hero, you operate under a completely different set of rules, rules that I don’t think even God himself can avoid breaking. But people still expect you, expect us, to get it right. Every time.” She uncoiled her arms, pressed her fingertips to the table, and leaned forward. “We’re expected to deliver a happy ending no matter how dire the circumstances. We’re expected to save everybody and do so without so much as a hair follicle out of place on anyone’s head. We’re expected to arrive just in the nick of time, not after the debris has settled and the smoke is still thick in the air.”

Chopper looked at her, tension leaking out of him with every labored breath. He slumped back in his chair. “Does the media know we caused this?”

Trish blinked, swallowed, looked down. “I short-circuited all cameras and cellphones in the area. I also scrambled the short-term memories of everyone in visual range of the building.”

Chopper bobbed his head back a bit, narrowed his eyes. “I didn’t–I didn’t know you could do that with your powers.”

“Neither could I.” She muttered it.

The man flicked his eyes at the blank screen before snapping them back to her. “So you just tried some new shit without being sure it wouldn’t backfire, possibly fry everyone’s brain and cause more damage?”

The tail she’d gathered her kinky black locks into slithered over her shoulder as she dipped her head down even further. “Chopper, we can’t afford something like this, not now when heroes are just starting to win back public favor.”

“Yeah, but what happened over the skies of D.C. three years ago wasn’t our fault. Other heroes are helping to rebuild the White House.”

She raised her head, dark eyes weighing on him like guilt and granite. “Still doesn’t change the fact that someone like us accidentally killed the President.”

Chopper’s tongue darted out and licked his lips. “So what do we do? Keep this a secret?” He shuffled his stance. “We’re gonna have to tell the others when they get back.”

She opened her mouth, swallowed whatever it was she was about to slip loose. She tried again. “We…we don’t have to.”

Chopper’s expression, body, eyes, essence stilled as he stared at her. He finally blinked after a few seconds. “Trish, we have to tell them.” Head shake. “We can’t keep this–” He pointed at the blank screen. “–from our teammates. You and I both know damn well they’re going to find out eventually. Cyberpunk may have already sussed it all out from his underground connections.”

She pushed away from the table, walked out of the briefing room. Chopper yanked himself from his statute state and hurried after her down the hall.

“This is gonna infect us like a gahdamn virus and slowly kill us if we don’t tell them, Trish. These are our teammates, they can help us figure this out.”

She shook her head as she strode down the hallway. “Or they might pick the bus up and smash us with it rather than throw us underneath it. You and I were the last ones to join the team; we don’t know them and they don’t know us as well as they know each other. They might feel they can sacrifice us if it means they get to stay together and keep doing what they’re doing.”

The truth of her words slithered into his ears, trailed down to his legs, grew roots, and anchored him to the spot for a moment. Possibilities flickered through his mind, gnawed at his guts. “Trish, sixty-three people are dead because of what we did, because of what we let happen.”

The rawness of his words slithered into her ears, trailed down to her legs, grew roots, and anchored her to the spot for a moment. Her fingers clenched into loose fists. “The one thing I’m having a hard time processing is the fact that neither of us used our powers to do this.” She stood with her back to him. “This all happened because we used Demo’s striker-spark.” She finally turned to face him, a smile jittering its way across her lips as she spread her arms and shrugged. “So, technically, she did this.” A bitter laugh.

Chopper walked over to her, stopping just out of her arm’s reach. “We messed up. It happens.”

“I should’ve been more thorough checking the intel.” She put her hands on her hips and looked at his chest rather than his eyes. “I know there wasn’t enough time, but…I should’ve…I don’t know, I should’ve made more time. Something.”   

He took a step closer. “We have to tell them. It’s better that it comes from us.”

Her expression paled. “Does this mean we’re murderers now too?” She drew her brows together. “But it was an accident, so it’s–it’s manslaughter.”

“Like a gahdamn virus,” Chopper muttered.

She reached a hand out and braced herself against the wall as she slumped, drawing in a deep breath and letting her eyes slip shut. “They didn’t tell us trying to help people would hurt so much.”

“Would you have refused to join the team if they had?”

Trish eased a breath out and let her head dip back. “How do we start to fi–to make amends for this?”

Chopper leaned against the wall and crossed his arms over his chest. “By telling someone.”

She dropped her head and looked at him. “Should we tell the team first, or the families of the deceased?”

He reached up and scratched at his cheek with a thumbnail. “Let’s start with our own family before we move on to anyone else’s.” He noticed her stare. “What?”

“What if this isn’t the last time this happens?”  

 

First Draft Freedom

I’ve been writing for about 15 years or so, and until recently I never really understood what the first draft of a story represents. Too often I try to write the perfect first draft and use the subsequent drafts to improve on that “perfection.” I saw every word, every keystroke as a brush of paint on a canvas, one that would soak through never to be undone, unstroked, unbrushed, undotted.

Recently, I’ve come to see the first draft for what it really is, which is a canvas rather than the paint. What I mean by this is that canvases come in different sizes and shapes, and you have to fit your work to the canvas. If you have a sprawling fantasy epic, you can’t use a small canvas the size of a saucer, and it just wouldn’t look right to paint a short story on a canvas that stretches from one wall to another.

I’ve also come to learn that first drafts are where mistakes go to be born and to die, but you have to finish that draft in order to determine which is which, and you can’t think about whether you’re making a new mistake or learning from one you’ve yanked out of yourself and have beaten into submission. The most important thing with the first draft is that you let the characters and the story have their say, that you let yourself vomit over the screen and keyboard before cleaning it up with the next slew of drafts.

There have been times where I’ve written something I know won’t make it into the second draft, but I write it anyway, I let it sit and simmer on the page between its brother and sister words and chapters. While that part might not make it to the second draft, it can spark an idea that will make it to the final draft. The idea came to me for a reason, so I might as well bring it along with me and see where it takes me.

One of the best things about writing that we don’t enjoy in life is that we don’t get to start over in real life, and we aren’t always in full control of what happens to us in life like we are with our characters. There are plenty of events in my life I wish I could live a second draft of (there’s a story idea), and I’m sure there will be plenty more in the future. Writing isn’t a way for me to live my life differently, but it is a chance for me to live multiple lives in multiple worlds, essentially reincarnating myself before I die. The first draft is where that life starts, and the subsequent drafts are where that life gets better, more refined, more focused. I know now there’s freedom, beauty, and lessons to be learned in that first draft (and in life), but I won’t get to notice them if I’m too focused on perfection.

After all, if the first draft is perfect, what else do I have to look forward to?

Ready, Willing, and Writing

It lodges itself in your mind, burrows deep between your lobes and extends its roots down your spinal column where it sends a disjointed chorus of shivers playing over your vertebrae. Writer’s block has got you in a chokehold and has cut off your supply of creativity.

This is a problem I’m currently having with my WIP…one of them at least. I’ve been working on Deserters Will Be Shot for about two months now, and while it’s going quite well for a first draft, it’s starting to show signs of losing steam. This is normally cause for alarm for writers, but I’ve learned that stories are sometimes like bottles of wine that have to breathe a while after they’ve been opened in order to be enjoyed in their entirety.

My second WIP is the third novel in the Furious series. Actually, it’s the second version of the third novel in the Furious series. When I first started writing it several months back, it felt like everything was flowing apace, but when I got to the second episode it became clear that I was taking too much control over the story and wasn’t listening to my characters as much as I once had. Because I’ve been wracking my brain over this novel for a while, you can imagine how frustrating it was to yet again run into another brick wall, experience another failure, endure yet another moment of what am I doing wasting my time calling myself a writer?

When I first started blogging, I felt I didn’t have enough writing experience to blog about nothing but writing, but these past few months (and years, in some ways) have showed me that it’s not how long you’ve experienced being a writer, but the experiences you’ve had as a writer that matter. I sometimes forget that writers operate on a different wavelength, as I touched on in my last post, but it’s always a pleasure to be reminded of that fact. Rather than feeling defeated at the thought of my story not panning out as I thought it would, I know it’s better to shift my focus, let my subconscious figure things out, and let the story have its say in its own time.

I also think part of my problem lies in the fact that modern day writers are often told they have to churn out books as fast as possible if they hope to make a steady income from their writing. While I can perfectly understand this as a freelance writer who gets paid by the word rather than the hour, I don’t feel this mindset is a good fit for me, at least not at this point in my writing career where I’m not yet making money from my books. I admire writers who are able to churn and burn out a first draft in a matter of weeks or days, even if they have a 9 to 5, but as with most things, advice is something we have to modify as needed.

I’ve always been someone who enjoys variety and shuffling the deck every now and then. Rather than fight this part of myself when it comes to writing, I’ve found it’s best that I embrace it, which is why I like to write one story while I’m outlining another. Whenever I get stuck on one, I can switch back to the other before doubt starts infecting my mind. I know that some writers don’t see outlining as actual writing, but I’m someone who works better when writing with an outline; I like to know where I’m going and how I plan on getting there. I know I can always go back and change things, and I always leave room for improvisation.

To wind this post up, I’m starting to learn that writing is a dance, one where the music changes and your dancing partner changes right along with it. Rather than fight the shift, it’s better to embrace the change and trust the story, trust your characters, and trust yourself. True writers know who they are, and they know they’re never working alone no matter how empty the room might be when they’re tapping away at the keyboard or scribbling in their notebooks. And when the story speaks, we’re always ready to listen.

Writer of a “Lonely” Heart

Recently a friend of mind shared a blog post in which the writer proposed that one way to potentially prevent the next mass shooting was to “notice those around you who seem isolated, and engage them.”

While I feel there’s nothing wrong with this strategy, I do feel it can send the wrong message both to introverts and the people around them. I’m sure a majority of writers will agree that we’re a solitary lot. We can’t write, determine where the story is going, have a soul-to-soul conversation with the characters swirling in our heads, or chip away at the imperfections of our stories if we never have time alone to isolate ourselves. We guard our privacy and alone time like the nonrenewable resources they are. When we’re in writing mode, the last thing we want is for someone to notice us and engage with us.

I usually tend to stay out of politics, trending news, and the like, but I can’t help but comment on the recent portrayal of those responsible for America’s latest mass shootings. One thing that’s gnawed at me is the shooters are usually described as loners who didn’t really talk to anyone and were on the fringes of society.

I’m a loner.

I don’t really talk to anyone.

I’m on the fringes of society.

What I am not is someone to be viewed with a critical and/or suspicious eye, nor am I someone to be seen as a sort of charity case. I’m a writer who finds serenity and self-realization when I’m isolated, not when I’m engaging with other people. This isn’t to say that everyone who’s isolated should be left alone, simply that not everyone has dozens of stories and characters to keep their minds occupied for hours on end, no matter if I’m surrounded by people or in my room by myself.

Just like I’ve found with freelance writing, not everyone views what writers do as actual work, something that shouldn’t be interrupted and something that engages the totality of your attention. The same can be said when people see someone eating or drinking alone in a restaurant or going to the movies by themselves. The story we see on the outside can be completely different from the story going on on the inside.

Something else to keep in mind with writers is that we’re never really alone. Speaking from my own experience, I often have a character (sometimes more) who insinuates him or herself between the crevices and folds of my brain and stays there 24/7. I see the world through this character’s eyes, try to mirror this character’s thoughts, think about how this character walks, talks, and interacts with the rest of the world. If you see me smiling or frowning for no discernible reason, chances are my character has said or done something to make the think. When you see my eyes light up when I’m staring into space, chances are I’ve had a “EUREKA!” moment and have experienced the breakthrough I’ve been waiting for.

Now, I don’t want to diminish anyone’s suffering and feelings of being alone. I do believe there are those of us who genuinely want to engage with the world and the people in it only to find that everyone is too caught up in their own little microcosms to notice another person’s silent suffering. As I said to my friend, sometimes just letting someone know you’re there for them if and when they need to talk is enough. Sometimes the best thing you can do is let people know the door is open and that they’re more than welcome to step through and share their Truth with you.

I hope my stories and my characters can be of great comfort to readers. I hope my stories make people feel like someone gets them, that there’s someone out there who feels the same way they do. I hope my stories can keep readers company while they’re waiting for a friend to show up for dinner, while they take some time to be alone, while they’re stuck in a roomful of strangers with hours to go before they be free.

I hope my stories and characters make people want to shoot questions instead of bullets.